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Jim O'Grady

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TN MOVING STORIES: Scenic Roads, Deliveryman Crackdown, Subway Inspectors Charged With Lying

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Top Stories on Transportation Nation:

 As Cuomo Wins Support for Transit-less Tappan Zee, the Funding Request Barrels Forward

 Dukakis To Transportation Nation: You Were “Dead Wrong” on Romney and Infrastructure

New York City’s 5 Boro Taxi Plan: Winners, Losers and What’s Next 

JetBlue Fined for Keeping Fliers on Plane at Gate, Orbitz Fined for Hidden Fees

FULL LETTER: Tappan Zee Funding Request Approved

Texas to Investigate Health Risks of Living Near Drilling Site

Their main job is to get us from here to there, but some highways are a marvel in their own right: The World's 15 Most Amazing Roads. (Weather Channel)

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he's "very proud" of U.S. DOT's part in the Economic Recovery Act despite critics who say it didn't do enough to prevent unemployment, and cost $738,461 per job. (The Daily Caller)

Crackdown on Deliverymen Forces Hungry New Yorkers to Wait Longer for Food. (DNAInfo)

A tale of investment in dry times: how new water projects in Texas could help both rice farmers and highland lakes. (StateImpact)

Members of a major Pittsburgh-area transit agency voted 10-to-1 to ratify a new four-year contract aimed at heading off job cuts and service reductions. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The Sacramento City Council wants ideas for connecting an urban railyard with downtown and the riverfront. (The Sacramento Bee)

Ten workers at the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority have been charged with falsifying subway signal inspections. (The Wall Street Journal)

A man in San Diego County's backcountry thought seniors and disabled folks needed better--and free--public transportation ... so he bought two buses. (Valley Center)

A New Jersey State Assemblywoman wants a law requiring dogs and cats to wear seat belts. This editorial disagrees. (NJ.com)

From our Tumblr: check out this Berlin beer bike. (TN Tumblr)

Send this email to a friend so they can sign up too. Or follow TN on Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr.

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As Cuomo Wins Support for Bridge With No Dedicated Transit Lanes, Funding Request Barrels Forward

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo took to the podium at a marina in Piermont, NY, to talk about building a new Tappan Zee Bridge (in background). (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY – WNYC) It's going to take at $5.4 billion to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River north of New York City. Governor Andrew Cuomo gave the project a big push Monday by sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, asking for a $2 billion loan. Cuomo inked the request in front of a small crowd at a marina in the riverside town of Piermont, NY, that he might flourish his pen with the old, and beleaguered, Tappan Zee Bridge in the background.

But the new funding plans include no guarantee that the new bridge will have any form of public transportation, aside from a bus lane.

"The Tappan Zee Bridge is a metaphor for dysfunction," Cuomo said before the signing. He claimed the first plans to replace the bridge were developed before the turn of the millennium, as the bridge neared 50 years old.  "Think of all the hours in traffic people have been sitting on the bridge because that hasn't gotten done, how many wasted dollars patching that bridge," he said. "Think of all the pollution."

It took Cuomo many months to get to the moment. Key members of the The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, whose approval was needed before the loan could be requested, balked at a plan for the bridge that included no provision for a mass transit operation beyond a bus: options such as rail, light rail or a Bus Rapid Transit system linking to transportation hubs on either side of the Hudson. Cuomo won the votes of those officials by agreeing to form a task force to examine the issue and come up with recommendations.

There is also the question about where the state will get the rest of the money to pay for the massive construction project.  A Cuomo aide  recently raised the possibility of raising the bridge's $5 toll to $14 when the new bridge opens.  But after an outcry, the governor mounted a pro-bridge public relations plan, and then distanced himself from his own staffer's remarks.  Cuomo is known for running a tightly controlled administration, where subordinates generally don't speak out of turn.

In the Piermont speech, Cuomo merely promised to "keep tolls affordable."

And what if, the press asked Cuomo, the federal government doesn't come through with the loan? "I'm an optimist," he said. "They're going to say, 'yes.'" When asked if tolls would be raised even higher if the loan didn't come through, Cuomo repeated, "They're going to say, 'yes.'" Then repeated it a few more times.

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(UPDATED) Greyhound to Move into Chinatown Bus Market after Law Change

Friday, August 17, 2012

View through the window of a Chinatown bus. (photo by brotherM / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) UPDATE: A source in the NY State Senate says this bill is now a state law. Here's a few of the law's main points: 

Bus permit applications must include identification of the intercity bus company, buses to be used, and bus stop location(s) being requested; total number of buses and passengers expected to use each location; bus schedules; places where buses would park when not in use.

The city, prior to assigning an intercity bus stop, must consult with the local community board, including a 45 day notice and comment period.

Intercity bus permits would be for terms of up to three years; permits will cost up to $275 per vehicle annually; permits must be displayed on buses.

Intercity buses that load or unload passengers on city streets either without a permit or in violation of permit requirements or restrictions will face a fine of up to $1,000 for a first violation, up to $2,500 for repeat violations, and suspension or revocation of permit.

 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign a bill into law on Friday that would restrict where long distance bus companies can pick up and drop off passengers in New York City.

The bill becomes law if Governor Cuomo doesn't veto it by Friday at midnight, and would take effect after 90 days.

Greyhound and Peter Pan, two of the large carriers, are betting Cuomo will sign the bill: they're already vying for prime spots in Chinatown. Both have scheduled meetings next month with the transportation committee of Community Board 3 in Manhattan, which includes Chinatown.

The new law would require input from community boards before the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority could grant bus parking permits to a company. The permits would cost $275 per bus and be good for up to three years. Companies that operate curbside without a permit would risk a fine of $1,000 for a first violation and $2,500 for repeat violations.

As of now, bus companies can load and unload passengers at most legal parking spots in the city. Residents and officials in Chinatown, where many long distance bus companies do business, say that's causing crowding and pollution.

Greyhound operates discount carrier Bolt Bus. However, Greyhound spokesman Jen Biddinger said that if the company gets the new permits, they'd go not to Bolt Bus but "a totally new service operated by Greyhound." She declined to say how many spots the company is angling for. Greyhound currently offers curbside service at 34th & 8th at Penn Station.

Two accidents last year involving low cost bus lines killed 17 people. In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation shut down 26 "Chinatown" bus lines for safety violations.

State Senator Daniel Squadron alluded to those events when endorsing the current bill, "This first-ever permit system will bring oversight to the growing and important low-cost bus industry, helping to end the wild west atmosphere while allowing us to identify problems before they become tragedies," he said.

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Politics Heating Up Over Big Toll Increase For Trucks On NY State Thruway

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo is fighting with the state comptroller over a toll hike. (photo by azipaybarah / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The two-part political rule for any toll increase is a) voters will hate it b) officials must jockey to shift the blame.

That dynamic began today with the release of a report by state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli questioning the need for a proposed 45 percent toll hike on commercial vehicles using the New York State Thruway. He blasted the authority for an operating budget that has ballooned by 36 percent over the past ten years, and urged the authority to save money by "consolidating functions" and handing off control of the money-losing Erie Canal.

“Imposing a large toll increase could have damaging effects on consumers and businesses at a time when many New Yorkers are struggling to recover from the recession,” DiNapoli said. “The Thruway should do more before relying on yet another toll hike to make ends meet.”

Governor Cuomo did not disagree. He echoed DiNapoli in saying tolls should be raised as "a last resort." But while taking questions from reporters in Albany, the governor raised the specter of "a real crisis" for the state if the thruway authority doesn't have the revenue it needs to "fix roads and build new bridges."

Then the finger-pointing began in earnest.

Thomas Madison, the Cuomo-appointed executive director of the thruway authority, fired off a statement blaming DiNapoli's lax oversight for contributing to the authority's dire financial straits. "The Comptroller, and his audits over the years, have actually contributed to past problems at the Thruway Authority by failing to report years of fiscal gimmicks and deferred expenses," Madison said.

Knowing the timeline is crucial to sorting out the argument. Madison took over the thruway authority last September; DiNapoli has been comptroller since early 2007. Madison was essentially blaming prior administrations at the authority for taking out burdensome loans that are now coming due--and DiNapoli for not calling them on it.

Then Madison defended a toll hike this year, at least in theory:

“The fact remains that tolls for large trucks on the Thruway – mostly long distance haulers – are 50 to 85 percent less in New York than in comparable states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And each of these trucks creates thousands of times more damage to roads and bridges than a passenger car. Heavy trucks, not passenger vehicles, should bear these added costs, so that tolls can be kept as low as possible for all motorists.”

When reporters asked Cuomo whether the thruway authority should take DiNapoli's suggestion and have the authority give up oversight of the corporation that oversees the the occasionally scandal-plagued Erie Canal, Cuomo dodged the question. "The canal is a great asset to the state," Cuomo said. "I don't think there's anyone who says that we should close down the Erie Canal. It's part of our legacy, it's part of our history, it's important for tourism."

Of course DiNapoli wasn't questioning the canal's importance, only that its operation had cost the authority more than $1 billion over the past two decades--and that the state would be better served to pay the canal's bills with revenue not collected from toll-paying drivers. Cuomo did concede that the canal was hurting the authority's bottom line: "It is not a money-maker at this point," he said.

The first of several public hearings on the toll hikes is scheduled for tomorrow in Buffalo. If passed, the hike would be the fifth increase since 2005.

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Surviving Penn Station

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Jim O'Grady, WNYC transportation reporter, and Nancy Solomon, managing editor for New Jersey Public Radio, discuss their reporting on the ups and downs of trying to get around Penn Station.

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Readers & Listeners Share Tips On Surviving The Present Penn Station, Identify Remnants Of The Old

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The muses in this public artwork seem to be beckoning passengers into the void. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Relish the wisdom of the crowd. Many of you have weighed in with your knowledge of New York Penn Station at the bottom of our previous post with additional strategies for navigating the nation's busiest train terminal.

We invited you to contribute to the list of minor amenities that New Jersey Public Radio managing editor Nancy Solomon and I came up with as we walked the overburdened transit hub and searched for coping strategies for the 600,000 travelers who squeeze through it every weekday.

A few readers said there are more water fountains than the one we found behind a pillar in the Amtrak Acela waiting room. George Gauthier wrote, "There are three other water fountains in the station, two in the waiting room for New Jersey Transit, next to the rest rooms. Another at the east end of the Long Island Rail Road station behind the police booth."

And after I described a filigreed entryway near the Long Island Rail Road waiting area as "the one thing commuters can see from the lost age of Penn Station," several of you brought up a wide staircase with thick brass handrails that riders still use to reach tracks 1-6. Eric Marcus said the staircase is another survivor from the original Beaux Arts beauty that opened in 1910. He added: "In some places you’ll see the old glass block floors in their cast iron frames above you. They’ve been covered over by terrazzo, so light no longer penetrates."

Marcus goes on to claim, intriguingly, that Amtrak has been collecting fragments of the original Penn Station from people who've saved them, with the aim of bringing these vestigial elements to a new station Amtrak is building across Eighth Avenue in the Farley Post Office. (See renderings of Moynihan Station here.) We've asked Amtrak whether that's true, and await their reply.

Which raises the question: how did regular people save bits of old Penn Station?

Technology consultant and native New Yorker David Hochman has an answer. He was seven years old in 1964, the year after the original station was dismantled and resettled as rubble to a wetland in New Jersey. Hochman's parents spotted an ad in The New York Times taken out by The Pennsylvania Railroad Company, which then owned the station, offering to send a memento of the monumental building to those who asked for one. The enterprising David sent in his request, and the railroad replied:

Some time later, a chunk of stone weighing "a few pounds" arrived in the mail. Surely young Hochman cherished it as a talisman from a more graceful age, and he will now be donating it to Amtrak. "Sadly," he writes, "I've lost track of the piece itself." He then rhetorically smacks his forehead while quoting Bugs Bunny, "What a maroon I am!"

(This excellent article describes even more slivers of the old Penn Station embedded in the new.)

Of course there were plenty of laments. To delve into the history of Penn Station is to realize its demolition remains an open wound in the psyche of New York. Commenter "Jorge" quoted Yale professor of architecture Vincent Scully's great line about the effect of removing passengers from the station's once-palatial precincts to an underground warren devoid of natural light:

“One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat.”

Reader Paul de Silva, an architect, added this critique: "The worst part of Penn is the track platforms. Much of the power of a well designed train station anywhere in the world is an open view of the platforms, as per original Penn."

Others added detail to a shortcut described by Nancy Solomon in the radio version of the story, which you can hear by clicking the audio player at the top of the post.

And several people wondered why the railroads that use Penn Station wait so long before posting the track number of a departing train. That's because the station handles close to the same number of trains as Grand Central Terminal on half as many tracks. Result: dispatchers don't know a train's track number until 10 to 12 minutes before it leaves, as opposed to the 25 minutes' notice that passengers enjoy at Grand Central Terminal. The shorter notice at Penn Station means people pile up under the information boards, blocking the flow of the hordes through the too-small halls.

Despite all, reader "Andrea" complimented Amtrak for playing classical music in its waiting area. She says her dream job is "to be the DJ for Penn Station!"

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MAP/VIDEO: How To Survive, And Occasionally Thrive, In New York Penn Station, The Continent's Busiest Train Hub

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Passengers moving through the Connecting Concourse on Penn Station's lower level.

(New York, NY - WNYC) New York's Penn Station is rail hub as ant colony: tight-cornered, winding and grimly subterranean. Like ants, 600,000 passengers per weekday course through it, pausing only to stare at an overhead information board until their departure track is revealed and then, toward that specified bowel, they descend.

Even the transit executives who run the place understand that it needs a makeover: they've hired Los Angeles construction firm Aecom to draft a renovation plan, expected by the end of the year, called "Penn Station Vision." There's talk of moving back walls, upgrading signs and improving the lighting. But that won't happen until Amtrak decamps across Eighth Avenue into a new space at the Farley Post Office, which is at least four years away.

In the meantime, what can a traveler do to make her time in Penn Station more bearable? [VIDEO BELOW]

Typical fare on the lower level.

That's the question I set out to answer with Nancy Solomon, an editor at WNYC who's been commuting from New Jersey to the West Side of Manhattan through Penn Station for more than ten years. Our tour of the station on a sweltering summer afternoon revealed a bi-level, nine-acre public space that, in some places, barely functions. "The station is doing what it was never, ever designed to do, which is accommodate more than a half-million commuters," says Ben Cornelius, a former Amtrak worker and TN reader who toiled in Penn Station for six years. "It was designed to be a long-haul, long-distance train station, not a commuter barn."

Yet, Nancy and I turned up a handful of grace notes: a hidden water fountain, a sanitary restroom, decent sushi. And to our surprise, we stumbled upon a large, and largely overlooked, piece of the original Penn Station.


More than most municipal facilities, Penn Station is haunted by the ghost of its earlier incarnation--a Beaux Arts masterpiece by legendary architects McKim, Mead and White.

Postcard of the original Penn Station.

That station rose in 1910 and fell, against a howl of protest, in 1963. Its dismantled columns, windows and marble walls suffered the same fate as a talkative two-bit mobster: they were dumped in a swamp in New Jersey. On the levelled site rose Madison Square Garden and a nondescript office tower; station operations were shunted to the basement, where they remain. Here's one way to navigate it:

Penn Station users: What do you do to make it more bearable? Where do you eat, rest, go looking for shortcuts? We want to know!

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Piece Of Original Penn Station Hides In Plain Sight

Monday, August 06, 2012

There is a wide entryway in Penn Station that’s painted red with a stylishly carved leaf pattern. It frames the Long Island Railroad waiting room on the lower level and stands in stark contrast to the utilitarian style of the rest of the building. That’s because it’s a remnant of the old Penn Station.

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Piece Of New York's Original Penn Station Hides In Plain Sight ... Inside Today's Penn Station

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Entryway that is the only known piece of the old Penn Station to survive inside the current station. (photo by Jennifer Hsu / WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) At first, MTA spokesman Sal Arena insisted that no part of the architectural glory of the old Penn Station survived in the stripped down bunker of today's Penn Station. But the carved leaf pattern in a large steel entryway on the lower level seemed so at odds with the rest of the station's no-frills style that we asked him to re-check that.

Arena obliged. Then wrote back, "I stand corrected."

TN has learned that this entryway--part of the original Penn Station--was walled off in 1963, when the above-ground part of the station was razed. The destruction was decried by many as an act of "historical vandalism." (Public ire at the leveling of the 1910 building is credited with launching the modern preservationist movement.) Madison Square Garden and a blocky office tower replaced the formerly grand public space; the train hub was shunted into the corridors beneath them.

There the entryway lay hidden for 30 years.

Postcard image of the original Penn Station.

In the early 1990s, Penn Station underwent a major renovation, its first since the original building was demolished. That's when workers took down the wall and discovered the entryway. "It was found exactly where it is now," Arena said. "The contractor cleaned it, painted it and put in windows." It is now a deep umber color.

As far as we can tell, the entryway went back into service quietly--no announcement was made about the salvaged piece of history. It's safe to assume that a large part of the station's 600,000 weekday travelers pass by without an inkling of its provenance. In places, the paint on the entryway's columns is worn away from the hordes of commuters brushing past it, wanting only to leave Penn Station.

Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, called the discovery a "cool" but minor find. "It's the sort of thing that's a curiosity, an oddity, one of those pieces of history that you need a plaque to explain," he said.

He noted a remnant of the past that can also be found outside the present station: two stone eagles from the vanished building that flank an entrance at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue. Bankoff said they're handsome, if hard to see, and small consolation for the "interplay of space and light" that was lost when the original station was torn down and tossed into a trash heap in New Jersey.

Except for a pair of stone eagles and a strangely tenacious red entryway.

Detail of glass and steel entryway from the old Penn Station. (Photo by Jennifer Hsu / WNYC)

COMING SOON: A feature story about the some of the small conveniences in the present Penn Station that can make passing through it more bearable. We'll also be asking for your Penn Station tips.

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NY-NJ Port Authority Promises Reply To Charge That Exec Was Rude To Congress

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Pat Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.

(New York, NY - WNYC) The fight between New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and the NY-NJ Port Authority over "civility," which is a fight about so much more, took a small step forward -- or maybe, downward -- today.

Pat Foye, the authority's executive director, told reporters he'd be replying to a letter from the senator that complains the authority's deputy executive director, Bill Baroni, failed to show "decorum" during testimony before Congress in April. “We got the letter," Foye said. "We are taking it absolutely seriously. We will respond on or before August 14th and, beyond that, we don’t have any comment.”

Baroni was standing next to the podium at the press briefing so he could've addressed the issue, but Foye chose to handle it himself.

The letter comes by way of the Senate Commerce Committee and is co-signed by committee chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV). August 14 is the deadline set by Lautenberg and Rockefeller to hear from the authority about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's role in the authority's steep 2011 toll and fare hikes.

At the April hearing, Lautenberg was grilling Baroni, a Christie appointee, about the "fairness" of the hikes, when Baroni shot back with a reference to the senator’s use of an agency-funded EZPass: “It is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them.”

Rancor ensued, and continues to play out. Lautenberg's main nemesis in the state is Christie, and vice versa. In that light, the senator's fight with the Port Authority could be viewed as a proxy battle with the governor. If that's the case, expect more skirmishes.

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Straphangers' NYC Subway Report Card: 'Q' Is For Quality, 'C' Is For Crummy

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

(New York, NY - WNYC) For the fourth year in a row, the C train ranked last among New York City's 20 major subway lines. That's according to The Straphangers Campaign, an advocacy group, which says the C performed worst or next to worst on several measures:

Amount of scheduled service
Delays caused by mechanical breakdowns
Subway car cleanliness
Announcements
Style points

OK, we threw in that last one. But the train's rolling-tin-can look is part of what makes it so mockable. The R32 cars used on the line are nearly 50 years old, and have a hard time showing up more often than every ten minutes during peak periods. That's last among lines.

On the bright side, the C plied its route between East New York in Brooklyn and Washington Heights in Manhattan in a way that made it above average in two categories: regularity of service--which means it is infrequent but tends to be on time--and chance of getting a seat during rush hour. That matters because the cars' suspension produces a rocking ride that is better experienced sitting down or on Dramamine.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority did commit last year to spending $24 million to spruce up the cars on the line, which are among the oldest in operation in the world. But that was merely to stretch out their use until 2017.

The best-ranked line was the Q train, which Straphangers found to be clean with clear announcements, and least plagued by delays from mechanical breakdowns. It was the Q's first time in the top spot since 2001.

This is the Straphangers' 15th annual report card on the New York City subway system. The group said it's seeing "a positive trend for subway car breakdown rates and announcements," but that trains are getting dirtier. The group concludes: "Future performance will be a challenge given the MTA's tight budget."

To see the report, which includes profiles and comparisons of subway lines, go here.

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LaHood Invites Bids for Enriched Pot of Federal Transpo $, Winks at Tappan Zee Bridge

Friday, July 27, 2012

That's the Tappan Zee Bridge in the background. It spans the Hudson River about 25 miles north of Midtown Manhattan. At three miles, it is the longest bridge in the state. (photo by digitaltree515 / flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Step right up, we've got money for loans. That was essentially today's message from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to states with large public transportation works in the planning. That includes rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, about which LaHood and his chief financial officer spoke positively, if vaguely.

 “We have heard from very high officials in the state of New York about this project and we have directed them to the notice in the federal register,” said LaHood, referring to today's official announcement that the grant money is available.

In February, the state applied for a $2 billion loan for the Tappan Zee Bridge from the U.S. DOT fund known as TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act). But TIFIA turned it down.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has been undeterred. He continues to apply political muscle to the project: this week, he appointed a former TV anchorman as Special Advisor to the The Tappan Zee Bridge. But he has yet to explain how the estimated $5.2 billion cost of the rebuilding will be funded. Given the state's limited finances, it would seem to behoove the governor to scoop up some of that TIFIA cash.

TIFIA functions as the U.S. DOT's infrastructure investment arm. In the past, it has paid for projects like an upgrade to the Staten Island Ferry and an extension to the President George Bush Turnpike in West Texas.

The fund is newly infused with $1.7 billion from the recently enacted federal surface transportation bill. LaHood said that money can be leveraged into $17 billion worth of "loans, loan guarantees, and standby lines of credit to major infrastructure projects with the potential to create jobs and spur economic development and growth." That's a big jump up from the last round of $120 million, which was used to dole out $1.2 billion in loans.

U.S. DOT chief financial officer Chris Bertram said the department favors projects that have "a revenue source like a dedicated sales tax or, in the case of the Tappan Zee Bridge, tolls." He said that reassures the department it will be paid back.

Department spokesman Justin Nisly said the sooner a grant application is received, the sooner it will be dealt with. "We will begin evaluating letters of interest immediately, and announcements will be made on a rolling basis."

U.S. DOT will also launch a unit that will help state and local governments figure out how to finance their transportation projects. According to a press release, the Project Finance Center will act as a wise uncle to bureaucrats seeking "to analyze financial options for highway, transit, rail, intermodal and other surface transportation projects facing funding challenges." 

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PHOTOS: London's Tower Bridge Framed by Fireworks as Olympics Kick Off

Thursday, July 26, 2012

 Kaboom! (photo by Steven Z. Ehrlich)

Let other countries brag of the High Modern sleekness of their spans: Amsterdam's sinuous Python Bridge; Korea's space-age Media Bridge; even the skeletal steel lines of New York City's George Washington Bridge, which, aesthetically, have worn well.

The Brits want none of that. They'd rather invest their identity in that dowager of All Built Things, that dowdy Queen of Crossings: London's Tower Bridge.

First, it's a drawbridge. Second, it has castles. Third, look at it.

 Zoom! (photo by Steven Z. Ehrlich)

Now come the London Olympics. Which means it's time to bathe the old girl in bordello lights, drape a five-ring necklace on her collarbones and shoot fireworks from her head. We know that sounds like they've gone and made her up like a tart, and they have, but we like it.

 Gasp! (photo by Steven Z. Ehrlich)

Do you? Leave us a comment.

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Train Tix Get Longer Shelf Life...and Refund Time

Monday, July 23, 2012

WNYC

Starting in September, Long Island Railroad and Metro-North riders have more time to use their tickets.  Tickets will be valid for two months, up from its current two week lifespan.

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Tix On NY Commuter Trains Will Be Valid Longer...But A Refund Will Still Cost $10

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tickets on this Metro-North train will be valid longer, starting in September. (traingeek/flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Starting in September, Long Island Railroad and Metro-North riders will have more time to use their tickets. Tickets will be valid for two months, up from their current two week lifespan.  And riders will have two months to seek a refund, also up from two weeks.

But a refund will still cost ten dollars — even if the price of the ticket was less than $10.

The policy irks Bill Henderson of the Long Island Railroad Commuter Council. He says Macy's doesn't charge its customers for a refund and neither should the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "There's things that are part of the cost of doing business and we think refunding the cost of a ticket ought to be one of them," he said.

Henderson pointed out that riders seeking a refund on a ticket worth less than ten dollars could conceivably end up owing the railroad money.

The NY MTA countered, saying the charge is needed to partially cover the "the administrative expenses of issuing and mailing [refund] checks." The authority also said it will cost $6 million a year to extend the validity of its train tickets.

(Ten-trip tickets will remain valid for six months, and riders will have six months to refund them.)

The two-week validity and refund periods on tickets began in December 2010. The MTA says it enacted the changes "to reduce revenue loss from uncollected tickets and...partially cover the actual cost of processing the refund." But in an unusual admission, the authority said, "These policies generated numerous complaints from customers and elected officials" and led to today's about-face.

The changes will take effect on September 4.

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Advocates: Thanks, NY MTA, For Restoring Some Bus / Train / Subway Cuts. Now Where's The Rest?

Friday, July 20, 2012

G, thanks, MTA for restoring some service. But where's the rest? (photo by bitchcakesny / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Want to know what transit advocates think of the news that the New York MTA is expanding and restoring bus and subway service? We at TN collected the responses and fed them into the Scrambletron 5000, a machine that transforms numerous opinions into a single collective sentiment. (Stick with us on this one.) Here's what came back:

"Thanks, NY MTA, for restoring a third of the service you cut two years ago. But we still we want the other stuff back."*

Most responses from NY metropolitan area transit-watchers began with praise, like this line from the The Working Families Party, which had agitated by online petition for making a temporary extension of the G train permanent:

"We're very excited that the MTA made the right decision."

That means, yes, the G train will retain the five extra stops that take it deeper into brownstone Brooklyn. And the NY MTA's announcement brought more bounty: five new bus routes serving neighborhoods with sharp population growth, including the Far West Side of Manhattan and the Brooklyn side of the East River between Greenpoint and Williamsburg; 25 bus lines' service will be restored or extended; enhanced off-peak service on some Metro-North and Long Island Railroad lines.

About those upgrades, City Council Speaker and likely mayoral candidate Christine Quinn said, "I applaud [NY MTA Chairman Joe] Lhota for his plan to restore critical service and urge the [NY MTA] Board to approve the proposal without delay."  (The board is scheduled to vote on the plan next Wednesday.)

She further lavished praised on a new bus line serving the "Tech Triangle" between NYU's planned tech campus in Downtown Brooklyn, the burgeoning hive of internet start-ups in nearby DUMBO and, next to that, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, home to Steiner Movie Studios. She also applauded increased bus service to "underserved" Red Hook, a Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood with no subway.

She then raised the specter of the "devastating" 2010 service cuts that the NY MTA enacted to plug a hole blown in its budget by the recession. Those cuts saved the NY MTA about $90 million a year. The proposed service restoration, which rolls back the cuts by a third, will cost $29.5 million--that's out of the $6.4 billion the authority takes in annually from subway, bus and train fares, and tolls on its bridges and tunnels. So relatively little is being spent to generate a fair amount of goodwill.

But Quinn, echoing several advocates, pointedly called for the changes to be a "first step toward restoring full service."

Another reason the NY MTA can afford to increase service now is the seven percent fare hike scheduled for 2013, which is expected to generate $450 million a year for the agency. Chairman Lhota knows upcoming public hearings about the hike will bring heat down on the authority, so he's creating some goodwill now--in part by postponing a planned fare hike from January 2013 to March. He acknowledged that political reality at a press conference yesterday: "It's really hard to go into a period of time where you're talking about a fare increase when you're reducing service or you're not increasing service."

Tri-State Transportation Campaign, in its statement, described the MTA's p.r. problem: "Unfortunately, next year’s looming fare increases cast a shadow over the good news."

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign pointed out another rider-unfriendly aspect of the 2010 cuts: allowing more crowded subway lines. Russianoff reminded the public and the press that the new package of service changes "leaves in place less generous 'loading guidelines... that allow more standees and less service on subway lines."

And City Councilman Brad Lander--who lobbied for, and got, more buses to Red Hook--immediately started calling on the MTA to restore the B71 bus, a line that the MTA has decided to leave in mothballs, at least for now.

That's a sampling of reaction. Stay tuned for more.

*Quote generated not by an actual person but the Scrambletron 5000, a made-up thing.

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BREAKING: NYC Transit Says G Train Expansion Permanent, Adds New Bus Routes

Thursday, July 19, 2012

(New York, NY -- WNYC) UPDATED New York's MTA will  add five new bus routes, restore one route, extend 13 existing bus routes and add midday, night or weekend service on 11 bus routes in all five boroughs. The temporary extension of the G subway line to Church Avenue during reconstruction of the Smith/9th Street station will be made permanent.

Full list here.

In all, the service enhancements add new routes to rapidly growing neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Dumbo, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard (home to Steiner movie studios)  where new housing and warehouses have been added to the city at a rapid clip. Manhattan's Far West Side, the South Bronx, and Brooklyn's East New York will also get brand new routes.

As unusual as the service additions are in a national environment where transit service is being routinely cut, they don't fully restore service to the level it was two years ago, before the NY MTA cut two train routes and dozens of bus lines, the biggest cuts in a generation.

In addition, Metro-North Railroad will enhance service on the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven l with increased half-hourly frequency. West of the Hudson, a new round-trip peak train will be added on the Pascack Line.

The Long Island Rail Road will provide increased service from Ronkonkoma every 30 minutes on weekdays after the morning rush and during some weekend periods. Extra trains will accommodate increased rider demand on the Long Beach, Port Jefferson and Montauk branches. Trains from Atlantic Terminal will also be extended until 2 a.m.

Brooklyn is getting two new bus routes -- including one along the fast-growing Williamsburg waterfront and another connecting Dumbo, Downtown Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, home to Steiner movie studio

Services will be also restored on the following routes:

Bx13, Bx34, B2, B4, B24, B39, B48, B57, B64, B69, X27, X17, M1, M9, M21, Q24, Q27, Q30, Q36, Q42, Q76, S76, S93, X1, X17

 

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Bayonne Bridge Will Be Raised In Time for Super-Ships: PA

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The New York-New Jersey Port Authority says the roadway of the Bayonne Bridge will be raised in time for the arrival of the next generation of extra-large container ships. The $1 billion project has been fast-tracked by the Obama administration, putting it six months ahead of schedule.

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Duane Reade Moves To Electrify Some of its Fleet

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

(photo by Edgar Zuniga Jr. via flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Duane Reade, the largest drug store chain in New York City, says it will electrify a quarter of its truck fleet .

The company claims converting 14 of its 60 trucks to electricity will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about 20 percent.

(Which they say is, in technical parlance, "the nitrous oxide equivalent of 1,000 tailpipes removed.")

Environmental group Mission Electric is working with Duane Reade to let the public vote on the first seven stores to get the green trucks. The company will be rolling out the voting Wednesday at an event held in conjunction with Mayor Bloomberg's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.  Office director David Bragdon said "Duane Reade’s investment in electric vehicles will help meet our ambitious PlaNYC goal of reducing NYC's green house gas emissions."

Duane Reade says the move will reduce air pollution, noise, and congestion. One added benefit -- especially welcome to sleep-deprived New Yorkers: "Because the new trucks do not require combustion, their operation is almost silent, reducing noise levels from overnight deliveries."

 

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Private Ferry, Floated By Municipal $, Flourishes In New York

Monday, July 16, 2012

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn ride the East River Ferry with the Williamsburg Bridge in the background. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Several Brooklyn-to-Manhattan commuters were baffled at 7:45 this morning to find an unexpected boarding ritual taking place at the head of the gangway leading to their ferry. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a likely candidate for mayor, stood there waiting to shake hands.

"Congratulations!" Quinn told the riders, one by one. "You're among the million passengers to take the East River Ferry!"

That's a million paid customers in just over a year, more than double the initial projection of 409,000 annual riders. But that success comes at a price to the city: a $3.1 million subsidy per year over the three-year life of the pilot program.

The money comes from the city's Economic Development Corporation. Private ferries that criss-cross the Hudson River, connecting New Jersey to various parts of the harbor, do not receive subsidies.

The East River Ferry started with 12 days of free service last June. From the beginning, it proved popular with New Yorkers and tourists. The boats follow a route that goes from Wall Street to East 34th Street in Manhattan with stops along the way -- four in Brooklyn and one in Queens. Then they ply the trip in reverse. (Bloomberg and Quinn boarded at the North 6th Street stop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for a three stop ride to Wall Street.) In spring and summer, the ferry adds a Brooklyn harbor loop and makes the short hop from Lower Manhattan to Governor's Island.

Weekend service is especially popular in the warm months. Billy Bey, the company running East River Ferry, says it has had to operate larger vessels on the weekends to hold the crowds, and a new landing at Brooklyn Bridge Park has been fitted with wider gangways to speed boarding and disembarking.

The ferry isn't cheap: $4 for a one-way trip, compared to the $2.25 base fare per subway ride with a Metrocard; and the ferry charges $140 for a monthly commuter pass, compared to $104 for a 30-day unlimited ride MetroCard.

But sometimes a passenger like Bloomberg can catch a break. The mayor ordered a $2 cup of coffee from the on-board concession stand, which a woman who gave her name as Jennifer served up gratis. Jennifer said she was happy to do it "because he's the mayor," although she initially called him Mayor Giuliani. But Jennifer also noted a Bloombergian particularity: the mayor added milk to his Joe but, true to his crusade against empty calories, no sugar.

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