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Jim O'Grady

Jim O'Grady appears in the following:

Restoring Last Parts Of NYC Subway Is The Hardest

Monday, November 26, 2012

Salt-encrusted circuit board from a New York City subway tunnel. (Photo by Jim O'Grady.)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Seven of the eight subway tunnels flooded by Sandy are back in service. But New York City Transit president Tom Prendergast said it will probably be months before the authority finishes fixing the eighth tunnel, which carries the R train under the harbor between Brooklyn and Manhattan. He said the problem is with the tunnel's electrical systems, such as the switches that keep track of train locations.

"Electrical equipment doesn't like water for obvious reasons -- water is conductive," he told reporters at the Midtown headquarters of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "But salt water is very conductive and when salt water dries, it leaves salt, which is also conductive when it gets re-wet."

Prendergast said the authority does expect to get the R train running between 34th and Rector Streets--a normally busy stretch in Manhattan--within two weeks.

But he said the South Ferry subway station is also months away from re-opening. Sandy flooded that station to the ceiling, leaving little inside it untouched.

"You've got wall tiles that are down, you've got railings that are damaged," Prendergast said. "You've got possible damage behind wall surfaces, you've got electrical equipment in the form of elevators and escalators." (See a pic of drowning subway escalators here.) And as with the R train tunnel under the harbor, the station's electrical switches are coated in salt water and must be replaced.

The R train tunnel is one of the longest under-river crossings in the system and took more time to dry out, leaving more equipment damaged than in other tunnels.

A spokesman for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the MTA's price tag for damage caused by Sandy tops $5 billion.

(Click here to see what parts of the NYC subway system are still down.)

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Poll Captures Storm Surge Of Positive Feelings For NY MTA, Gas Rationing

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NY MTA chairman Joe Lhota, flanked by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, looking pleased while announcing the re-opening of a flooded tunnel last week.(photo by Jim O'Grady / WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Poll results show that Superstorm Sandy has remade two kinds of landscapes in New York: physical and psychological. Beachfront is gone, trees are uprooted and whole communities have been forcibly rearranged by a monster tide. No less dramatically, a majority of New Yorkers are expressing love not only for their elected officials but everyone's favorite bureaucratic whipping boy, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

You read that correctly.

The latest Quinnipiac University poll finds 75 percent of New Yorkers rated the authority's performance during and after Sandy at "excellent" or "good." That's better than the Red Cross's 66 percent approval rating, and the dismal 37 percent approval for the region's utility companies, which struggled at times to bring the power back.

NY MTA chairman Joe Lhota was highly visible in the days and weeks following the storm as his workers methodically pumped out no less than seven under-river tunnels and, one by one, got them back to carrying trains and vehicular traffic.

The NY MTA also showed a fair degree of nimbleness by running shuttle buses over cross-river bridges until the subways were dried out. (Taking a cue, the NY Department of Transportation today announced its plan to run a temporary ferry from the hard-hit South Shore of Staten Island to Manhattan.) And the authority captured the public imagination with an online map that showed the the subway recovering in real time.

The Quinnipiac poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 registered voters in New York, also reported that Mayor Bloomberg's odd-even gas rationing system won favor by 85 to 12 percent. Other winners: President Obama, New York Governor Cuomo and, with the best numbers, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. See the full results here.

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Crucial East River Tunnel In NYC Now Half-Open

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

NY Governor Cuomo, NY MTA Chief Joe Lhota and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announce partial opening of Hugh Carey Tunnel in NYC. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Cars can now use one of the two tubes of the Hugh Carey Tunnel, formerly the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, in New York.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who held a press conference at the mouth of the tunnel with NY MTA chief Joe Lhota and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, said crews have worked around the clock to repair Sandy damage.

"When you saw this tunnel just a week ago, it was filled with water floor to ceiling," he recalled. "It defied belief, what was in this tunnel. And now 15 days later, one of the tubes will open."

Cuomo said both tubes of the 1.7 mile tunnel--the longest vehicular under-river crossing in North America--were flooded with 43 million gallons of debris-laden seawater that damaged electrical, lighting, communications, surveillance and ventilation systems.

The eastern tube -- the one usually dedicated to vehicles traveling from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan -- is now open to Brooklyn-bound cars and buses for the evening commute from 3 pm to 7.  Friday morning, it will be open for Manhattan-bound traffic during the morning rush between 6 and 10. No trucks are allowed for now.

The governor said the western tunnel suffered worse damage and will not be open for another "few weeks." With both tubes in operation, the tunnel normally carries 50,000 vehicles on an average weekday.

Cuomo is asking the federal government for $30 billion in disaster aid, including $3.5 billion to repair the metropolitan area's bridges, tunnels and subway and commuter rail lines. That request is pending. In the meantime, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is pitching in with $10 million from the highway trust fund.

At the press conference, LaHood explained: "I’m here because the president has said to us, 'Get to New York. Do what you can, when you can do it, as often as you can do it. Take your cues form the governor.'" He said the $10 million request was approved in two hours, before implying that President Obama will come bearing many more relief funds when he visits New York on Thursday.

When a reporter asked the governor whether the U.S. Department of Transportation could cover the whole price tag for the state's recovery from Sandy, Cuomo deadpanned to LaHood, "You don’t have $30 billion dollars, do you?" The answer was, no.

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Flooded Out Staten Islander Preps for Second Blow From Nor'easter

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Stephen Drimalas surveys his flooded-out home in Ocean Breeze, Staten Island. (Jim O'Grady/WNYC)

Staten Islander Stephen Drimalas is one of thousands of New Yorkers who are still without power. He's digging out from Sandy, showing up sporadically to his city job and, as of Wednesday, riding out a nor'easter.

The 46-year-old Drimalas lives alone in a small house in Ocean Breeze, Staten Island, a neighborhood that the storm submerged under eight feet of water. He works for the city Department of Transportation, installing signs and Muni meters. Seven years ago, he moved from Brooklyn to this modest beachfront neighborhood on Staten Island's east shore because it was cheap, beautiful and near the water.

He knew flooding was a possibility. So a year ago, he built a new foundation and raised his house by four feet. The night Sandy hit, he stepped outside to smoke a cigarette and check on conditions.

"As soon as I opened the door, the water started pouring down," he said. "By the time I got to my car, the water was up to my shin. Another minute or two and I wasn't getting out. That's how fast it came in."

Drimalas fled with the clothes on his back and some papers he managed to grab. Everything else was destroyed, including a set of appliances he'd just loaded into his house at the end of a year-long renovation.

He escaped but his neighbor, 89-year-old Ella Norris, did not. "She lived with her daughter here on Buel," Drimalas said on Monday as he stood outside Ella's house, his neighbors circulating around him as they cleaned and salvaged what they could. "She and her daughter got trapped in the house. Her daughter survived. Ella's in the funeral home right now. They're having a service for her, as we speak."

Drimalas has spent the last ten days piling garbage on the street and digging out from the mud, calling FEMA and trying to contact his insurance company. On nights when a friend can't put him up, he sleeps in his car.

Now comes a nor'easter with snow and slashing rain, high winds and forecasts of flooding. When reached by cell phone, Drimalas described how he was preparing for a second blow.

"I'm getting all the garbage out in case any winds pick up," he said. He added that he was hoping to stay with a friend, before cutting short the call. "I'm working outside," he said. "I gotta go."

To see more photos of Drimalas and his neighborhood, go here.

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Flooded Out Staten Islander Preps for Second Blow From Nor'easter

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

WNYC
Staten Islander Stephen Drimalas is digging out from Sandy, showing up sporadically to his city job and, as of Wednesday, riding out a nor'easter.

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NY MTA Chief Talks Fare Hikes & Why President Reagan Was A Hero Of Mass Transit

Thursday, October 25, 2012

NY MTA Chairman Joe Lhota. (photo by Stephen Nessen / WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Joe Lhota, chairman of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, was a guest on The Brian Lehrer Show Thursday, where he predictably resisted prompts to choose between two proposed flavors of subway and bus fare hikes: raising the base fare or the cost of unlimited cards.

"Reporters all want me to say what I want to do one way or the other," he said. "Here's what I want to do: I want to listen to the public." Eight public hearings on the fare and toll hikes will begin on November 7 in Long Island. Lhota said he'll participate in some of the hearings "until the wee hours of the morning," if necessary, to make sure every question has been answered.

(Go here for dates, times and directions to the hearings.)

Less predictably, Lhota held up President Ronald Reagan as an object lesson for Congressional Republicans who would cut mass transit funding. "We cannot be a car-only society," Lhota said, claiming that Reagan, too, "had that vision."

He then praised Reagan for dedicating six cents from an increase to the federal gas tax to mass transit.

"When I go to Washington and I talk to the folks in the majority in the House--and I have to deal with all of the Republicans, as well as the young Republicans who are part of The Tea Party movement--I'm constantly reminding them that the best and biggest supporter of mass transit in the 20th Century was Ronald Reagan," Lhota said.

Lhota also talked about Hurricane Sandy, which is expected to hit New York City on Monday. He said he'd already taken two conference calls to discuss preparations like "sandbags and getting buses to higher ground." But he didn't think he would have to shut down New York's subway and bus system, an unprecedented move that the authority took last year in advance of Hurricane Irene.

Listen to the entire interview:

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NY MTA: On Lettered Lines, Let PA System Be Your Countdown Clock

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"New technology is inherently risky," says the MTA's Craig Stewart in  the testimony at a New York City Council hearing.   "But public agencies such as ours are inherently risk-averse."

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority has installed subway countdown clocks at 156 stations on the numbered lines. They're popular, and riders want more. But the lettered lines have an outmoded signal system that can't relay the location of a moving train to a clock.

The exception is the L train, which got countdown clocks at all 24 of its stations during an overhaul of its signals that began in 2007. Throughout the subway, over 200 stations now provide some type of next-train arrival information.

The lettered lines have about double the number of stations and miles of track as do the numbered lines. An authority spokesman says fitting out the lettered lines with countdown clocks would cost $400 million and take 20 years.

In the meantime, the NY MTA is working on stopgap measures, like improving the public address system at 87 stations on the lettered lines so announcers can tell riders that their train is two or three stops away. The announcers will be working off dispatch and scheduling information, which is less reliable than knowing the location of a train. That's why the announcements won't tell passengers how many minutes until the arrival of their train, as do the countdown clocks.

For more on technology and the MTA, check out this episode of WNYC's New Tech City.

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Report: After Breaches, Lax Security At Newark Airport

Friday, October 19, 2012

Plane at Newark Airport. (photo by Flickr / Stephen Rees)

(New York, NY - WNYC) - An analysis by the federal Department of Homeland Security shows that corrective action was taken for only 42% of the security breaches recorded at Newark Liberty International Airport between January 2010 and May 2011. That's the lowest grade of six major airports analyzed for the report, which blacked out the names of the other airports examined.

The breaches included a man gaining access to the "sterile," or most secure, area of a terminal, which shut down operations for six hours. In another incident, a dead dog was placed on a passenger plane without screening the cadaver for a bomb. Corrective actions after such incidents can include fines, reprimands, suspensions and firings of employees.

Newark Liberty International Airport is located 14 miles from Manhattan. About 33 million people traveled through it in 2010, making it one of the country’s busiest airports.

As with most U.S. airports, Newark's security screenings are conducted by staff with the  federal Transportation Safety Administration. The report says most of the security breaches in which corrective action was not taken occurred in 2010, but goes on to add that security has been more aggressive: "Since 2010, Newark has improved efforts to correct security breach vulnerabilities."

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, who commissioned the report, concurred. "TSA has taken meaningful steps to improve performance," he said in a statement.

But the report goes on to slam the federal agency for its lack of coordination. "TSA does not have an effective mechanism in place to consolidate information about all security breaches and therefore cannot use information collected to monitor trends or make general improvements to security," say the report's authors. "It does not have a complete understanding of breaches occurring at the Nation’s airports and misses opportunities to strengthen aviation security.

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Mayor Bloomberg Is "Trying To Help" Nearly Bankrupt Yankee Stadium Parking Company

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"How'd you get to the game?" For most Yankees fans, the answer is not driving and parking in a stadium garage but riding mass transit. (photo by Flickr / wallyg)

(New York, NY - WNYC) With the company that owns the Yankee Stadium parking system staring down bankruptcy, Mayor Bloomberg called the situation "sad," and said his administration is "trying to help them."

Speaking during a press conference Q & A, the mayor addressed the issue of the stadium's foundering garages and lots, which have been only 42 percent full this season, according to this latest report.

"There just wasn't the business there that the owners, who made the investment, thought that there was going to be," the mayor said in answer to a question posed by a WNYC reporter. "If the owners of the parking garage can't make money, that's sad. We've got to find a way to help them."

The Bloomberg administration has already tried to help the company by having the city's Economic Development Corporation attempt to broker a deal with a real estate developer to build affordable housing and stores on some of the underused lots near an existing retail mall. But those talks have ended without a deal.

NYC EDC spokesman Kyle Sklerov wouldn't give specifics on the failed negotiations. Nor would he comment on an idea by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. to have the Bronx Parking Development Company build a hotel atop an empty garage. Sklerov would only say:“New options to develop the site will be considered moving forward as part of a larger effort by the BPDC board to get back on sound financial footing."

The scramble to find new revenue for the BPDC was set off by the company's long slide into default on $237 million in tax-free bonds. The NYC EDC acted as the conduit for those bonds, not the seller, so taxpayers aren't holding the debt.

Still, the default is a blow to the agency's reputation. Before the Yankees' new stadium was opened in 2009, Bronx residents and some civic groups tried to warn the city and the team that 9,000 parking spots spread across eleven lots and garages weren't needed. Their concerns went unheeded and the EDC facilitated the tax-free bonds that created a parking system sized to suit the Yankees' misguided desire.

The lots and garages have been underused--even during seasons, like this one, when the Yankees make the playoffs--and the BPDC is now in financial free fall.

Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg said it best when first asked at the press conference about the stadium parking: "Not everything works."

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Yankee Stadium Parking Company Defaults On Its Bonds

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mural near Yankee Stadium. (photo by Flickr / wallyg)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The Yankees are in the playoffs after another successful season. But a key part of their stadium operation is a failure: the company that owns the Yankees Stadium parking garages has defaulted on more than $237 million in bonds.

The default means city taxpayers contributed about $39 million in subsidies to a project that is teetering on the brink of collapse. The city also spent $195 million to replace the parkland it gave to the Yankees, some of it now the site of languishing parking structures.

Financial advisor Edward Moran has told the Bronx Parking Development Company, a nonprofit that owns and operates the stadium parking system, that its cash flow can't keep up with its required payments to bondholders. Moran's analysis comes to a grim conclusion: “Unless debt service costs are lowered through a voluntary restructuring, bankruptcy will eventually be BPDC’s only option."

It is the Yankees' fourth season in their 50,287-seat stadium, a season that saw the team win its division while posting the second highest attendance in the major leagues. But the eleven parking lots and garages owned by the BPDC were only 43 percent full--and that's on game days. Other days, they're largely empty.

Most fans have been traveling to games by subway or taking a train to the new Metro-North station near the stadium. Others have looked for street parking or lots with prices lower then the $25 to $48 dollars charged by the stadium lots.

That means less money than expected for the company, which has been drawing from a reserve fund to pay off bondholders. That fund is all but depleted, which has thrown the company into default.

A source with knowledge of the company's finances tells TN that if bondholders can't be convinced to take less than the $15 million they're owed next year, the company is likely to declare bankruptcy. The next payment is due April 1.

Bettina Damiani of the advocacy group Good Jobs New York says Bronx residents tried to warn the city and the team that 9,000 parking spots weren't needed. "If only advocates and residents saying, 'I told you so,' would somehow make this go away," she said. "But the reality is officials and the Yankees refused to have anybody at the table on this decision."

The Yankees wouldn't comment for this story, except to say that the garages are owned and operated by a private company."The Yankees do not run them," spokeswoman Alice McGillion said.

But as TN has previously reported, the Yankees pushed hard in 2008 to add 2,000 parking spots, paving over parts of two nearby city parks to do it, even though the new stadium is smaller than the old one. The team made it a condition for staying in the Bronx.

Then Yankees president Randy Levine assured the City Council that despite the high cost of the new parking system, it would bring in sufficient revenue. "Those revenues will go back to pay the cost of the project and go to the city and a private operator," he said.

That hasn't been the case. Kyle Sklerov, a spokesman for the city's Economic Development Corporation, said that the BPDC owed the city $25.5 million in back rent and taxes as of the end of 2011. The company is obligated to pay its bondholders before it pays the city.

An arm of the city Economic Development Corporation approved the company's business plan before acting as the conduit for $237 million in tax exempt bonds. Sklerov said 5 percent of the corporation's bond issues are in default; the Yankee Stadium parking system has now joined that dubious list.

Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg, said in an email that though the city will not be required to pay off the BPDC's debt, "we are going to continue to work with creditors to get the project back onto sound financial footing." He wouldn't give details on how that might be done. He referred TN to the city's Office of Management and Budget, which did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Marlene Cintron, president of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, similarly refused comment. When asked whether the BPDC was in default, she said, "I’m not sure what the legal term is at this point in time."

In the meantime, Moran is telling the company that it "needs a dedicated manager and accounting person to control its operations." He also recommends wringing extra money from the parking spots during non-game days by pursuing deals with "circuses, ZipCar and auto dealer parking." BPDC attorney Steven Polivy didn't reply to emails and phone calls.

Damiani said the BPDC's default should be a lesson to the city. "If you're going to take your development cues from a corporation like the Yankees, I think it's safe to assume they don't have the residents' and the taxpayers' priorities in mind," she said, adding that "one of the lasting legacies of the Bloomberg administration, one of its most prominent economic development projects, is going down in flames."

The home games in the Yankees' playoff run will bring in more parking money. But then, the Yankees made the playoffs last year and that didn't prevent the company that runs the stadium's parking system from defaulting on $237 million of city-issued, tax exempt bonds.

Plan for a new Yankee Stadium with expanded parking.

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Pro-Tolerance Ads Begin Appearing In NYC Subway

Friday, October 05, 2012

Dueling NYC subway ads. (Photo courtesy of United Methodist Women)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Three religious groups -- two Christian and one Jewish -- have decided to fight speech with speech in the clamor over a controversial subway ad. Pro-Muslim ads from those groups have begun showing up in the New York City subway -- in some cases, cheek by jowl with an ad that equates the the word "jihad" with savages.

Harriet Olson, CEO of United Methodist Women, said she and her colleagues objected to the original ad and wanted to counter it with a "visual response." So her group matched the anti-jihad group's $6,000 ad buy for posters in ten Manhattan subway stations. “We think that respectful dialogue is absolutely important and that the work for peace is very difficult," she said in an interview with TN, before referring to the anti-jihad ad: "incendiary speech is not the way to get there.”

Jim Wallis of Sojourners, a Christian social justice group, said he was similarly offended by the original ad.  "As a rabbi wrote in The New York Times last week, this ad may be legal but it's wrong and repugnant," he said.  The Sojourners ad reads simply, "Love your Muslim Neighbors."

It will begin appearing on Monday, as will a separate pro-Muslim ad by Rabbis for Human Rights. That message reads:  “In the choice between love and hate, choose love. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.”

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the executive director for the group, which includes 1,800 rabbis. "We want it to be clear that the Jewish community doesn't support this de-humanization of an entire group of people, but rather the Jewish community values working in partnership with our Muslim neighbors," she said.

After the original ad caused an outcry, including a rowdy confrontation at a New York MTA board meeting last week, the MTA considered banning so-called issue ads from its properties. The authority decided instead to put a disclaimer on some ads that express political, religious or moral views. The disclaimer would read that the ad “doesn’t imply an endorsement” by the MTA. The pro-Muslim ad by United Methodist Women does not include a disclaimer.

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NYC Subway Announcements Go From "Grrble the Dmffbll" to (Mostly) Clear

Thursday, October 04, 2012

"Next stop, Times Square." (Photo by David23 / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) "This is 72nd Street. Transfer is available to the 1 train .... watch the closing doors!"

New York City subway announcements, like the one above, are  getting clearer. That's the verdict of a new survey by advocacy group Straphangers Campaign.

The group said 85 percent of announcements on subway cars that give basic information are clear and accurate -- as are the majority of subway car announcements about delays and disruptions. The group said those are the best results for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority since 1997.

“We found that transit officials are doing a better job keeping riders informed,” said Straphangers Campaign field organizer Jason Chin-Fatt.

The group says automated announcements on the 4 train are clear and accurate 100 percent of the time. The R train ranked last because it gave garbled or wrong information almost half the time.

Straphangers said the MTA gives train conductors a list of 18 official delay announcements, including “unruly person on the train ” and “waiting for connecting train.” Conductors are supposed to make an announcement immediately after a delay, and again within 2 minutes.

The group said staff members who conducted the survey came across their share of "meaningless announcements," or phrases that did little to inform passengers about what was wrong and when they could expect to be moving again.  Those included, “we have a red signal, ” “this local is now an express ” (with no explanation), or jargon such as, “we have a schedule adjustment."

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NY MTA Budget, Once Critical, Is Reviving Thanks To Rider $

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The burden of the NY MTA's financial recovery has largely fallen on riders. (Sculpture by Tom Otterness in a subway station stairwell. Photo by wallyg / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Fiscally speaking, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority has emerged from intensive care. That's in the judgment of NY State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who says the patient has recovered with the help of a potent medicine: a series of fare and toll increases, with more to come.

The report, issued Tuesday evening, notes that the NY MTA plans to raise fares and tolls by 14 percent between now and 2015--three times faster than the expected inflation rate. If approved, the fares and tolls will have risen 35 percent since 2007.

The MTA imposed a 7.5 percent hike in December 2010. The hike came with drastic service cuts, some of which have been restored. But overall, riders in New York City and its suburbs have been making do with less service and regularly rising prices.

Another financial bright spot for the NY MTA is the nearly 242,000 jobs added by the 12 counties served by the agency. That has boosted the use of mass transit. And revenue has been rising from the NY MTA's dedicated taxes, particularly those from real estate transactions, which are projected to grow at an average annual rate of five percent.

DiNapoli also credits the authority with cost-cutting measures expected to generate annual recurring savings of $1.1 billion by 2016.

Despite the relatively rosy prognosis, the patient could yet land back in the hospital. The first and foremost threat to the NY MTA's financial health is the specter of a repeal on constitutional grounds of the payroll mobility tax, which provides $1.8 billion a year.

The authority is also counting on reaching a deal with its unions that allows for no pay raises over three years--or raises offset by rule changes and productivity gains. That's no sure thing. Nor is the $20 billion needed for the authority's 2015-2019 capital program, the source of which has yet to be identified.

NY MTA Chairman Joseph  Lhota said he was pleased with the report. “I appreciate Comptroller DiNapoli’s thoughtful and thorough analysis of our financial plan," Lhota said in an email." His report recognizes the significant financial challenges the MTA faces in the near term, the aggressive steps we have taken to meet them, and our ongoing efforts to address longer-term challenges, including identifying funding sources for our 2015-2019 Capital Program.”

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19,000 Seats + Almost No Parking = More Foot Than Car Traffic at Barclays Arena

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Uptopian rendering of Barclays Center Arena in Brooklyn.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Jay-Z has been playing sold-out concerts at the 19,000-seat Barclays Center Arena in Brooklyn and, so far, the biggest traffic problem has been caused by crowds of people coming up from the Atlantic Avenue subway stop and streaming across the street to the arena before the shows. So few people are driving, the scant official parking spaces aren't even filling up.

That's according to Sam Schwartz, who was hired by Barclay's  Center management to come up with a traffic plan for the area during arena events. Neighbors had feared traffic bedlam because the center sits at a complicated intersection of three major thoroughfares notorious for its danger to pedestrians, and that's before the sports and entertainment complex came to town.

But now walkers are winning. "As the herd of pedestrians comes out, we shut down Atlantic Avenue for cars and get the people across the street for about ten minutes and then we let the cars flow," Schwartz said. "It hasn't backed up traffic much."

Schwartz says more than half of all concert-goers so far have come and gone by subway. Besides surges in turnstile use at the Atlantic Avenue stop, riders have also been using subway stops a short stroll from arena: the Fulton Street stop of the G, the Lafayette Avenue stop of the C, and the Bergen Street stop of the 2 and 3.

Others have walked, and about 1,200 people have taken Long Island Railroad trains.

Relatively few fans seem to be driving, judging by the lack of gridlock and the fact that the arena's surface parking lot, with its 541 spaces, has been half empty. Schwartz added that, as of now, not many drivers have been patronizing a group of satellite lots up to a mile from the arena that offer half-price parking and free shuttle buses.

The prospect of drivers circulating en masse through the nearby tree-lined streets looking for free street parking has also failed to materialize. "I've heard no complaints about parking," said Robert Perris, district manager of New York Community Board 2, which includes the area around the Barclays Center Arena.

In hearings and planning meetings leading up to the opening of the arena, residents have been vocal about calling for a parking permit program to keep fans who arrive by car from parking on their streets. The NYC Department of Transportation has so far declined to institute such a program.

Perris said he joined other city officials in inspecting the scene on opening night last Friday. "Traffic was heavy but moving in a well-managed way," he said. "There were police officers or traffic engineers at all major intersections, and pedestrian managers at the crosswalks, both sides. People were going where they were told."

Perris said traffic flow in the streets around the arena, which was heavy before the Barclays Center opened, might be benefiting from the small army of police and traffic managers. "My question is whether we’re always going to have the same level of resources as we had on night one," he said.

Despite the traffic plan's initial success, officials caution that results are preliminary. Brooklyn Nets games may draw greater numbers of fans who arrive by car. And planners will be watching to see how Barbra Streisand's fans choose to travel to Barclays Center Arena for her sold-out show on October 13.

The arena is accessible from 11 subway lines and commuter rail.

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Tonight: Will Perfect Traffic Storm Around Barclays Arena Paralyze Brownstone Brooklyn?

Friday, September 28, 2012

(Photo by Jim O'Grady.)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Here's what will be converging tonight on the area around the new Barclays Center Arena in Brooklyn: rush hour crowds pouring onto and out of nine subway lines that sit beneath the intersection of three major thoroughfares; 19,000 ticket holders on their way to a sold-out Jay-Z concert; massive thunderstorms.

And another sign of a looming traffic-pocalyse: the guy hired to devise a traffic plan for the arena has issued a Gridlock Alert for the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, right where the Barclays Center sits. Traffic engineer Sam Schwartz, known as Gridlock Sam, says ticket holders headed to the 8 o'clock concert will swell the area's normally heavy rush hour.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority is adding extra subway service on the Q and 4 lines in the form of “gap trains,” or trains held in reserve to respond to a surge of customers. And double the number of late-night Long Island Railroad trains will run after the show. These “game trains” will arrive every 15 minutes and hold about 1,000 passengers each.

City planners have been trying for months to discourage driving to Prospect Heights, Park Slope and Fort Greene--brownstone neighborhoods with tree-lined streets that surround the Barclays Center arena. They've taken steps like reducing the arena's parking spots from 1,000 to 541. They've also launched a pro-transit publicity blitz that got The Harlem Globetrotters, who'll be playing a game at The Barclays Center on October 7, to ride the rails with reporters.

(Photo courtesy of the NY MTA)

"I'm Big Easy of the world famous Harlem Globetrotters," said Big Easy two weeks ago, while standing on a train platform at a transit hub in Queens that city-bound riders of the Long Island Railroad use to switch to the subway. "We’re going to take a train to the Barclays Center."  And then he did. The trip took 20 minutes, which was faster than driving, with or without a Gridlock Alert.

But planners know not everyone will heed the call to take transit to Brooklyn Nets games and concerts by Barbra Streisand and Rush. That's why they hired Schwartz to come up with a plan that would, in his words, "intercept drivers before they approach the arena."

Schwartz is setting up half-priced lots with free shuttle buses up to a mile from the arena. Fans can also pay to reserve a parking spot online, which is supposed to cut down on drivers circling around in search of parking. And Nets tickets will feature mass transit directions but nothing about how to drive to the stadium or park a car. There will, however, be plenty of parking right at the arena's entrance ... for 400 bicycles.

Still, it's not hard to find doubters of the plan. Neighborhood resident Gib Veconi came to the center's symbolic ribbon-cutting last week in part to protest what he sees as a looming traffic disaster.  "If you're coming to park here, you can try to get into one of the 500 spaces down on the other block there for the arena," he said. "But if you can't, you're going to circle these streets looking for a free place to park--streets that are already jammed."

Will the near-nightly migration of tens of thousands of people to and from the Barclays Center Arena turn out to manageable or chaotic? Tonight is the first test.

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(AUDIO) NY MTA Votes To Keep Taking Controversial Ads -- With Disclaimer

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pamela Geller defending her anti-jihad subway ads during the public session of the MTA meeting (photo by Jim O'Grady)

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority has voted to keep accepting "issue ads," with a disclaimer that the ad "doesn’t imply an endorsement." The authority will only put disclaimers on ads expressing political, religious or moral views.

(You're safe, Dr. Zizmor.)

The agency's monthly board meeting got a bit rowdy during the public comment session on Thursday, thanks to a controversial ad in the  subway that equates the word 'jihad' with 'savages.'

Many came to speak because the MTA had let it be known that it might vote to ban all issue ads in the subway. That brought out a group of Occupy Wall Street protestors, who criticized the anti-jihad ads. Seth Rosenberg echoed several speakers when he called the ads "racist, anti-Muslim and vile to the core."

Pamela Geller, the woman who paid $6,000 to place a month's worth of ads in ten Manhattan subway stations, was there to defend her investment."The reason why these ads were run, so we have just a little context, is there were a series of anti-Israel ads that were running in the subway," she said.

Geller was referring to subway ads bought last year by a group called Two People One Future. Those ads said, "We are the side of peace and justice ... End U.S. military aid to Israel."

Though Geller said she found the Two People One Future ads offensive, she "didn't deface them." That was a pointed reference to to the fate of her own ads -- which, soon after their appearance on Monday, were affixed with stickers reading "Hate Speech."

When members of Occupy Wall Street tried to drown out Geller as she spoke at the meeting, NY MTA chairman Joe Lhota ordered the protestors removed.

Advertising produces one percent of the MTA's yearly revenue. And issue ads make up one percent of that - a total that comes to $1.3 million out of the MTA's annual budget of $1.2 billion.

You can see a photo of the ad below.

(photo by Jim O'Grady)

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Anti-Jihad Ads Posted in NYC Subway Stations (UPDATED)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Subway rider Javerea Khan reads anti-Jihad poster at the Times Square Station of the NYC subway. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

UPDATE 9/25/2012 12:45 pm: Barely a day later, and the ads in many stations have already been creatively defaced by a what appears to be vigilante poster graffiti.

(New York, NY – WNYC) A controversial ad is now up in ten New York City subway stations. The ad features two Stars of David and paraphrases a quote by Ayn Rand, saying, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man,” followed by the tag line, “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."

The American Freedom Defense Initiative, an advocacy group, paid $6,000 to buy space for the message. The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority turned down the ad when the group submitted it a year ago on grounds that it violated a provision in the authority's advertising code that bars “demeaning” speech. A federal court ruled last week that the ad was protected under the First Amendment (full ruling here).

Javerea Khan, a 22 year-old student from the Bronx who is a Muslim of Pakistani origin, disapproved of the message. “It’s hard for me to look at this poster and actually take it seriously," she said, adding that most Muslims view jihad primarily as "an inner struggle to be closer to God. But when your religion is attacked, you go out and fight against it. We need to fight against this bigotry."

Paul Plunkett, a 29 year-old tourist from Georgia, viewed the ad differently. "I agree with it," he said. "I agree in supporting Israel. We help set up the country, we might as well. They're our strongest ally in the Middle East. And any religious extremism should be put down: jihad would be Muslim extremism."

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NYC Suggests You Avoid Getting Killed By Looking Up From Your Smartphone

Thursday, September 20, 2012

NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan (left) unveils new street safety campaign with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. (Crouch down, Ray, like we rehearsed.) (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY -- WNYC) The one-word street markings started appearing around Manhattan in mid-summer. An eagle-eyed TN reporter snapped a photo of one and, with no help from the city's tight-lipped Department of Transportation, deduced it was the start of a new pedestrian safety campaign.

That $1 million campaign has now been officially launched with the help of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who joined NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan at the corner of Second Avenue and 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan to show off an oversized stencil that read "LOOK!"

That's better. (photo by Jim O'Grady.)

The emphatic order is meant to be spotted by a pedestrian with his head buried in a smartphone as he launches into traffic. The "O's" in LOOK! also double as eyeballs pointing toward a presumed onslaught of vehicles. Sadik-Khan said New Yorkers need the heads-up: more than half of those killed in city traffic accidents are pedestrians. She added that at that very corner, 75 people were hurt in crashes between 2006 and 2010.

The LOOK! markings are installed at 110 crash-prone intersections throughout the city, with 90 more to come.

LaHood said it's critical for pedestrians to remain alert while crossing the street because even when they're in the right, they can still be hurt--more than half of all New Yorkers killed last year by cars at a crosswalk had the green light. "Having the right-of-way does not guarantee your safety," he said. "Hold off on emailing or texting until you've crossed the street."

Sadik-Khan said she got the idea for the markings when she visited London and came across its well-known suggestions to "Look Left" or "Look Right" before crossing.

How London does it.

The NYC DOT isn't putting the burden of safety solely on walkers. The LOOK! campaign includes ads on the backs of buses that admonish motorists to "Drive Smart / LOOK!" Other ads tell drivers to yield to pedestrians when turning at an intersection.

A NYC DOT spokesman said the campaign is largely funded by the Federal Highway Administration.

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Court Rules That NY MTA Must Run Anti-Jihad Ad

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

(New York, NY - WNYC) On Monday, ten New York subway stations will display an ad that uses block letters on a black background to proclaim, "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man,” followed by the tag line, “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

The ruling comes as anti-American protests are erupting around the world over an anti-Muslim film trailer widely circulated on the internet.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), an advocacy group,  bought space for the ad in the subway a year ago. But the NY Metropolitan Authority rejected it before it could run, explaining in a letter to the group that, "Your proposed ad contains language that, in our view, does not conform with the MTA's advertising standards regarding ads that demean an individual or group of individuals."

This as by the American Freedom Defense Initiative will appear in 10 New York City subway stations beginning Monday.

AFDI sued, and won, on First Amendment grounds. The NY MTA appealed, and lost.

The judge in the case denied the authority's request for an extension that would've allowed its board to meet and consider a rule change to ban non-commercial ads, also known as issue ads, on its property. (See the ruling below.)

NY MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said today that the fight is now over.  “Our hands are tied," he said. "The court found the MTA’s regulations on non-commercial ads violated the First Amendment."

The NY MTA will not follow the lead of San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency, which ran the same ad on its buses next to an ad of its own that condemned "statements that describe any group as 'savages.'"

This is not the first time that AFDI has placed an ad with the NY MTA. In August, the group launched a campaign with ads in Metro-North commuter rail stations that cited tens of thousands of "Islamic attacks" since the 9/11 attacks. The authority said it displayed them because the ads did not include demeaning language.

AFDI says it "aggressively seeks to advance and defend our nation’s Judeo-Christian moral foundation in courts all across our nation." Its executive director is Pamela Geller, who was instrumental in protests against Park 51, a mosque-community center two blocks from the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.

Afdi v Mta Ruling 1

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NYC's Disabled Can Now Call A Cab Without Wave Or Whistle

Friday, September 14, 2012

There are only 233 taxis with ramps in NYC. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Handicapped New Yorkers now have several ways to hail a wheelchair-accessible cab--no whistle or wave necessary—as long as they're in Manhattan.

The city has launched a dispatch system that lets disabled riders summon one of New York's 233 wheelchair-friendly cabs by telephone, text, the internet, or a free smartphone app called “Wheels on Wheels.” Until now, the only way to catch a cab with space for a wheelchair was by calling New York's helpline, 311.

The "Accessible Dispatch" app allows a disabled rider to request a taxi from a dispatcher in Connecticut. The dispatcher uses a GPS system to locate the nearest cab-with-ramp (see photos) and sends it to the rider, who can chart the cab's approach by phone.

When offered a trip, the cabbie must accept it within two minutes and proceed directly to the rider. The dispatch service pays drivers for that travel time. Yellow cab medallion owners pay $98 a year to fund the program; no tax dollars are used.

An alternate design for wheelchair-accessible NYC taxi. (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

The fare is the same as for any cab ride. Drivers must take a disabled rider anywhere in the five boroughs, Westchester and Nassau Counties, and the three major area airports. Riders must be in Manhattan if they want to use technological means to hail a wheelchair-accessible cab.

By city rule, regular yellow cabs can pick up street hails but aren't allowed to be dispatched. The New York Taxi and Limousine Commission is making an exception for disabled riders--and the Wheels on Wheels app.

But with so few cabs designed for handicapped riders, even a swift hail by app can result in a wait of up to 30 minutes when cabs are occupied or many blocks away. NY Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky conceded it was a problem at a Friday press conference in Manhattan. “Two-hundred and thirty taxis is too few,” he said of the wheelchair-accessible cabs. “We’re going to have to put new cabs on the street.”

Early this year, the New York State legislature authorized the sale of 2,000 new wheelchair accessible cab medallions as part of a bill that would allow non-yellow cabs to take outer-borough street hails. That law is now tied up in the courts. Until the matter is resolved, the new medallions sit in limbo.

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