Alex Goldmark is the senior producer of New Tech City, a storytelling show about how technology is changing society. Subscribe here to get New Tech City shows delivered right to your devices. Follow him on Twitter @alexgoldmark.
Year in Review New York: Sandy, Buses, Tappan Zee -- and Abandoned Bikes
Friday, December 28, 2012 - 02:29 PM
Sandy's storm surge flooded hundred-year-old tunnels, drowned power stations, and inflicted a commuting nightmare on millions of Northeast residents for weeks. It also caused a mini-boom in bike ridership -- and elevated climate change to a hot topic in transportation planning.
New York and New Jersey were both hit hard, but each state planned --and responded -- differently. NJ Transit took heavy damage with major routes offline for weeks after parking trains in a flood plain, because, as one executive said, "we thought we had 20 years to respond to climate change." That decision cost the agency $100 million. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was also hit by unprecedented flooding. While in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is saying the next generation of infrastructure must take climate change into consideration, we learned that across the river, Governor Chris Christie had deep-sixed his state's climate change research department.
The NYC subway was known to be vulnerable to a powerful storm surge, and flooded as predicted. In the storm's aftermath, the agency furiously tweeted updates and churned out service maps with lightning speed - .gif -- impressing even traditionally harsh critics. But while much of the damage was dealt with quickly, other assets -- like the South Ferry subway station, and the A train out to the Rockaways -- remain unrestored. Also unclear: how the agency will cover the $5 billion in damages. So far, the plan is to take on debt rather than pile on to an already scheduled fare hike.
Our complete Sandy coverage is here.
A New Tappan Zee Bridge Moves from Idea to Design Plan
The aging Tappan Zee Bridge is being replaced at the cost of several billion dollars -- making it the largest contract ever awarded in New York State. After a lengthy debate about adding transit, which some argued should at least include a plan for bus rapid transit, Cuomo said speed and cost outweighed the merits of adding a rail line. Transit advocates howled, and some key county officials held up a vote -- but the governor's vision ultimately prevailed: the bridge will be 'transit-ready' -- meaning plans for a rail link or a fully iterated BRT line have been tabled for a future date.
Meanwhile, the issue of how to pay for the bridge has yet to be resolved. The bridge wasn't included in the first round of federal TIFIA loans; the state has since re-applied. The governor said the brunt of the cost would come from tolls -- but the backlash to the idea of a $14 crossing was swift. A builder was chosen this month (see pics) and work will begin after the state comptroller okays the contract. The new bridge is scheduled to open in 2018.
Street Safety Investigations
We'll have more on this in the new year, but our work on monitoring safe streets in NYC continued with two investigative reports. In our report "Walking While Poor" we found that, in New Jersey, it is more dangerous to be a pedestrian in low income neighborhoods.
And in New York City, our report Killed While Cycling, uncovered why so few fatal bike crashes lead to arrest. The laws just aren't written to punish vehicle crashes with a criminal response and the NYPD has just 19 detectives assigned to investigate criminality when a car or truck hits someone or something. The department argues more lives can be saved by preventative methods, like speed traps. The result, families of those killed on NYC streets rarely feel justice is done.
After deadly crashes, Chinatown buses wane -- and Bolt and Megabus move in.
New York was the original nexus of a curbside bus network that became known as Chinatown buses because they picked up passengers from unofficial bus stops in Chinatowns up and down the Northeast corridor. But the busy corner under the Manhattan Bridge that was once the nexus of this travel network is now mostly empty.
After a deadly year of crashes in 2011, many said the industry was unsafe. While confused travelers tried to figure out just who regulates Chinatown buses, the government took notice. In June, the U.S. DOT shut down 26 bus companies that operate along the most popular routes: the I-95 corridor from New York to Florida. The DOT called it the “largest single safety crackdown in the agency’s history."
And while some Chinatown buses are still discreetly operating, they're losing market share: mainstream bus companies like Greyhound are expanding their curbside businesses, actively meeting with community boards to add stops in Chinatown itself.
This is one story that became way bigger than we expected. It started out simply enough: Transportation Nation asked readers to help map all of the abandoned bikes in New York City. (For those unfamiliar with NYC: abandoned bikes are strewn about our sidewalks like cigarette butts after a party, the detritus of modern mobility.) We wanted to know how many of these bike carcasses there were, and why they stayed so long encumbering walkways, taking up prime bike parking without being removed by authorities.
The response was overwhelming, both for our humble project and for the city. We found more than 500 busted bikes, cataloged in photos sent in from WNYC listeners. We mapped them through an online civic action platform (SeeClickFix )that anyone could update.
When we began to get inquiries from artists and abandoned bike fans (yes, they exist), we picked out our favorite bike photos from the stack and shared them with each other. WNYC listeners called in to confess and explained why they left cycles to rust away. The project spread to Washington, D.C. A nonprofit offered to recycle them. Several photographers sent in links to their own portfolios of abandoned bike art. And so we collected authentic abandoned bikes and turned them into an art exhibit. Meanwhile, the city also promised to collect more of them as they streamlined the process for reporting and removal.
See the full project here.
Lost Subways of New York
We kicked off 2012 with a look at the subway system that never was: dozens of tunnels and platforms that were either abandoned or were built but never used. They form a kind of ghost system that reveals how the city’s transit ambitions have been both realized and thwarted.