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Jim O'Grady

Jim O'Grady appears in the following:

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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NYC Straphangers Could Lose Last Bit Of Bonus On A Multi-Ride Metrocard

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The value of a Metrocard would shrink if the NY MTA eliminates a bonus on multi-ride cards of $10 or more. (photo by ultrahi / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota wants to either take away or reduce the bonus money from subway and bus riders who use pay-per-ride Metrocards. Right now, riders get a 7 percent bonus when they put $10 or more on a Metrocard. Lhota says he’ll propose cutting the bonus as part of the transit agency’s effort to raise the $450 million needed to balance its budget next year.

"The stated fare price is $2.25 cents, and the average revenue we receive per rider is $1.63," he said. "It shows the depth of our discount system that goes on, and I think we really need to have a discussion of, 'Do we need a discount that deep?'"

Lhota says he'll formally propose the change next month. If the NY MTA Board approves the plan, which would be subject to public hearings in November, the bonus could be gone by March. That's also when fare and toll hikes of about 7 percent are scheduled to kick in.

For every $10 a rider adds to a Metrocard, the card comes out with $10.70, which brings down the cost of a subway or bus ride from $2.25 per trip to $2.10.

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, a transit watchdog group, said he opposes the idea of cutting the bonus because they're designed to help those with lower incomes. "It's accessible to poor people," he said. "You don't have to have $104 in your pocket the way you do with a 30-day pass, or $29 a week with the seven-day pass."

It was not hard to find riders at the Spring Street stop of the C / E train who frowned on the proposal. A.T. Miller, a temp worker and photographer from Brooklyn, claimed the bonuses have helped him. "If I'm going to do a gig for somebody and I'm shooting somewhere else, I usually end up using two and three rides and that becomes very expensive," he said. "And that helps out with the little bonuses that they give us for buying a $10 Metrocard."

Lower East Side resident Jasmine Villanueva was more direct: "I think that sucks, 'cause I'm already broke."

NY MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg countered that there's only three ways to raise the $450 million needed by the authority next year:

  • Raise the base fare in increments of a quarter. (Raising fares by nickels or dimes adds too much to the cost of collecting fares.)
  • Raise weekly and monthly pass prices in dollar increments.
  • Reduce or eliminate the bonus for buying multiple rides on a Metrocard.

“It's going to be some combination of those three,” he said, adding an assurance that cutting the bonus will not allow the authority to take in more than an additional $450 million next year.

Lhota unveiled the initiative on Wednesday in a Crain's New York Business talk in Midtown Manhattan. Talking to reporters afterward, he portrayed the bonus as an odd vestige of New York's retail culture.

"It's like this unique New York concept of, you buy 12 bagels, you get 13," he said. "I can't figure out when that started. But we had that same theory going on when you bought tokens. You buy 10, you got one free. So the thought was, if you buy $10, you gotta get something additional for it."

In fact, the NY MTA used a 20 percent bonus in the late 1990s to help entice riders to give up their brass tokens and switch to the then-novel concept of a Metrocard.  Over time, the authority reduced that bonus to 15 percent and then the current 7 percent.

Subway ridership dipped after the last bonus reduction and fare hike in 2010--but then rose past previous levels. That's part of why MTA Chairman Joe Lhota doesn't seem worried about reducing the discount, or eliminating it all together.

"There are some people who are basically saying, 'Look, if you don't give the discount, they won't buy a ten dollar card, they'll buy it individually.' I don't buy that, I don't buy it at all," he said. "New Yorkers love convenience."

Pay-per-rides with discounts are the most popular type of fare cards, accounting for more than a third of all Metrocards sold, and more than monthly or weekly passes.

http://zelenka.wnyc.org/audio/audioroot/main/news/news20120913_metrocard_2way_ogrady.mp3

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9/11 Anniversary Will Mark Rise of New Buildings, But No Museum

Monday, September 10, 2012

WNYC

Some family members of the victims of the September 11 attacks are angry that The National September 11 Memorial Museum will not have its planned opening on Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the attacks. Construction of the building has been halted since last December, when a multi-million dollar dispute broke out between the museum and the Port Authority, the site's owner.

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2 Dead in Empire State Building Shooting

Friday, August 24, 2012

A disgruntled former women's accessories designer shot a former colleague to death Friday and then was killed in a shootout with police near the Empire State Building that left nine others wounded, officials said.

The Latest:  Alleged shooter showed no signs of distress this morning, super says Some victims may have been hit by police bullets"One of them shot me in the arm," victim says • Six of the nine bystanders shot have been released from the hospital

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MTA, NY Pols Fire Off on Court Decision Striking Down Key Transpo Tax

Thursday, August 23, 2012

For the best summary of this issue LISTEN to this short conversation with WNYC's Matthew Schuerman:

(New York, NY - WNYC) When news broke last night that a New York Supreme Court Justice had struck down a crucial transportation tax, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority issued a tart remark that included a promise to “vigorously appeal today’s ruling."

Then the authority's financial officers had overnight to contemplate the prospect of having a $1.8 billion hole blasted into their annual budget if the ruling is upheld.

That could not have produced sweet dreams. Instead, it prompted the authority to send forth a more robust denunciation of Justice R. Bruce Cozzens Jr.'s finding that the tax, collected from 12 counties in and around New York City served by the NY MTA, was levied in a way that violated the state constitution.

MTA head, Joe Lhota said, "the ruling is flawed as well as erroneous." He added the lawsuit also contests four other dedicated taxes, totaling $1.8 billion per year. "The payroll mobility tax drives the entire economy of New York. Without the MTA, New York would choke on traffic," he warned.

At issue is a "mobility tax" that collects 34 cents per hundred dollars of payroll from employers, excluding small businesses. The tax was created in 2009 to save the NY MTA from a budget crisis caused by the recession.

In addition to running the largest subway system in the U.S., the city buses, the MTA also manages regional commuter rail companies and the bridges used by them.

Late last year, Governor Cuomo reversed the tax for certain small businesses, promising to replace "every penny" with money from the state's general revenues.

Below is the MTA's most recent fighting words in full, followed by reactions from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg.

MTA Statement on Payroll Mobility Tax ruling

The MTA strongly believes that yesterday’s ruling from Nassau Supreme Court is erroneous. We will vigorously appeal it and we expect it will be overturned, since four similar Supreme Court cases making the same argument were previously dismissed.

The Payroll Mobility Tax maintains a regional transportation system that moves more than 8.5 million people every day and drives the economy of New York City, Long Island, the northern suburbs and the entire state.

Removing more than $1.2 billion in revenue from the Payroll Mobility Tax, plus hundreds of millions of dollars more from other taxes affected by yesterday’s ruling, would be catastrophic for the MTA and for the economy of New York State.

The MTA is getting its fiscal house in order. We have cut more than $700 million from our annual operating budget and eliminated 3,500 jobs. We are on track for this year’s discretionary spending to actually be lower than last year’s.

Without the Payroll Mobility Tax or another stable and reliable source of funding, the MTA would be forced to implement a combination of extreme service cuts and fare hikes. The Payroll Mobility Tax remains in effect for now, and we expect that it will survive this legal challenge.

Governor Cuomo told reporters this morning that he didn't think there would be a disruption to the NY MTA's budget, adding, "I believe this ruling is wrong and will be reversed."

In a separate event, Mayor Bloomberg told reporters that one way to make up for the NY MTA's potential loss of revenue would be to enact a congestion pricing plan like the one he proposed for part of Manhattan in 2008, which was defeated by a vote in the state legislature. The mayor then continued with a bit of sarcasm, "I betcha the legislature thinks they have a better plan. My suggestion is you address your question to those people who think they have a better plan."

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MTA: Plates Covering 2nd Ave Subway Blast Site Failed

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Steel plates covering a subway construction site failed to withstand the impact of a controlled blast that sent rocks flying into the street and damaged nearby buildings, the city's transit authority said Wednesday.

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TN MOVING STORIES: Stranded Ships, Manhattan Subway Explosion, "Talking" Cars

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

NYC Car Traffic Ticks Up, Biking Continues Rapid Rise

By More Than Two to One, New Yorkers Say Bike Lanes a Good Thing

PIC: Highway Overpass as War Monument

United Airlines Left a Little Girl Alone in an Airport, Twice

Minnehaha Creek flowing into Mississippi River (Jim Brekke/flickr)

Rivers are transportation corridors, too. Hundreds of ships are in lined up waiting to pass through an 11-mile stretch of the Mississippi River that has been closed down by drought. (The Takeaway)

Why did my apartment window just shatter? If you live on the East Side in Manhattan, it could be because of a not-so-controlled explosion in the Second Avenue Subway. (The New York Times)

California readies to grant driver's licenses to young illegal immigrants. (The Sacramento Bee)

U.S. DOT spends $25 million on test to get cars, tucks and buses to "talk" to one another, share the road. (Daily News)

Chicago starts building its first Bus Rapid Transit line, eyes other routes. (WBEZ)

The National Transportation Safety Board says 21 school-age children die in crashes related to school transportation each year. That prompts a Democratic state Senate hopeful in Indiana to ask, why not require seat belts on school buses? (Evansville Courier & Press)

The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority has fired three managers after a "security systems breach," but won't say what happened. Is that supposed to be reassuring? (Providence Journal)

Two young women die, though investigators are not sure how, as freight train derails in Maryland. (The Washington Post)

The Obama administration is pushing for an Amtrak route change that would allow additional daily round trips between Portland and Seattle. (The Oregonian)

U.S. DOT deploys Glee cast member in video deploring the hazards of texting while driving.

From our Tumblr: What is this cryptic, hieroglyphic street sign in Oakland saying? (TN Tumblr)

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NYC Car Traffic Ticks Up, Biking Continues Rapid Rise

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

(New York, NY - WNYC) It's a non-leading economic indicator: when the economy slides and unemployment rises, traffic in New York City declines. So make what you will of the fact that, after three years of slow but steady growth,  car traffic volumes are just about back to their pre-recession level. That's according to the Sustainable Streets Index, a grab bag of traffic and transit data published annually by the New York City Department of Transportation.

The report also finds that drivers have many more bicyclists with whom they're sharing the road. Department data show bicycle commuting in New York was up 13% from 2009 to 2010, and 7% in 2011.Those numbers continue the trend of large annual jumps over the last ten years, as the city added 255 miles of bike lanes and other bike and pedestrian-friendly amenities like protected islands in the middle of wide boulevards.

(Source: NYC DOT)

(Source: NY DOT)

Other tidbits: 10 percent of New York City residents primarily commute to work by walking, highest among the ten largest U.S. cities. Commuter cycling rose 289 percent from 2000 to 2011. The month with the most slow driving days in Manhattan is November, prime holiday shopping season.

For more transpo wonkery, including before and after photos of troublesome intersections made over with traffic calming measures, go here.

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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)

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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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