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Transportation Nation

SLIDESHOW: Art on NYC MetroCards

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"Single Fare 3" takes populist art seriously. Over 1,000 people answered a call to look at a MetroCard not as a $2.25 transit pass, but a tiny canvas instead. Their efforts are on display -- and for sale -- at RH Gallery in lower Manhattan through the end of next week.

If you can't get there in person, a slideshow (mostly taken during the packed opening night) is below. The art can also be found online here, where it's also been helpfully grouped into categories (such as "put a bird on it," "let's get naked," and "city scapes").

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Transportation Nation

Port Authority Denies Sandy Damage Will Delay Completion Of World Trade Center Transpo Hub

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Part of the transportation hub under construction at The World Trade Center. (photo courtesy of NY-NJ Port Authority)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Pulses were sent racing today when it was apparently revealed that the World Trade Center transportation hub, already years behind schedule, had suffered another setback because of Sandy.

Cheryl McKissack Daniel, a consultant for the $3.8 billion project, told the New York Times that water damage had significantly pushed back the hub's completion date of 2015.

"And now, after Sandy, that added another year and a half to the whole project," she said. "Everything was flooded — everything was new and flooded. And all of that had to be replaced because it’s all electrical work."

Not so, say spokesmen for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Tishman Construction Corporation, which has a major hand in building the hub. It was designed by star architect Santiago Calatrava.

"The anticipated completion date for the World Trade Center transportation hub remains 2015," said the Port Authority's Anthony Hayes. Tishman spokesman Brendan Ranson-Walsh echoed the sentiment in an emailed statement:

"Ms. McKissack Daniel incorrectly informed The NY Times about the completion date of the WTC Transportation Hub. Per the Port Authority of NY and NJ, which is overseeing the project, the anticipated completion date of the Hub is 2015. No change in date has been announced by the Port Authority."

Hayes said further that no part of construction at the World Trade Center has been delayed by Sandy, even though the site was inundated with millions of gallons of water. "There has been no impact because of Sandy in terms of completion times at the World Trade Center," he said.

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Transportation Nation

Five Lessons for Seattle Bike Share from Boston's Hubway

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Boston Hubway bike share docking station. (Photo CC by Flickr user JMazzolaa)

(Derek Wang, Seattle -- KUOWThe plan to create a bike sharing program in Seattle is clicking into a higher gear. Puget Sound Bike Share hopes to launch in 2014. Organizers updated Seattle officials Tuesday saying they hope to hire a vendor by the spring.

Initial areas for the plan include the University District, Eastlake, Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, Downtown and Queen Anne.

To get some guidance for the Seattle effort, KUOW spoke with the founder of one of the fastest-growing systems in the US, Nicole Freedman. Freedman started Boston’s program, The Hubway, which launched in 2011. It has 105 stations, more than 1,000 bicycles and 9,000 members. Members have taken about 675,000 trips; more than 500,000 of those trips were taken in the last year. Freedman is also an Olympic cyclist and has studied city planning at MIT and Stanford.

Tip 1: Choose The Right Business Model That Fits Seattle

Boston’s system is operated by a private company, but the system is owned by the city. In fact, city officials view it as part of the transit system. Right now no city money has gone toward the system. Freedman said it’s paid for by advertisements, sponsorships and grants. But as the system expands, the city might be required to spend money on maintenance and operations, like it would for any other transit system.

Seattle’s proposal is slightly different. It would be administered by a nonprofit group, but a private company would run the system’s day-to-day operations.

Tip 2: Locate The Bike Stations Close Together

During the startup phase, planners might be tempted to space out the bike stations to cover as many different neighborhoods as possible. That’s something to avoid. Freedman recommended keeping the stations between 200 to 400 meters apart.

“Let’s say I’m in a meeting in a skyscraper downtown and I have to get back to my office. If I go downstairs, out the door and the nearest station is three blocks away, it’s not worth my time to go walk three blocks, and get on a bike," she said. "If I then have another three block walk at the other end at my office, the efficiencies of saving time and using the bike are pretty much gone because of the walk time.”

[Related story: DC Bike Share Visualizer Shows How Neighborhoods Use CaBi Differently, by Clusters.]

Tip 3: Talk To Other Cities

A lot of other cities, including Washington, D.C., Denver and Chicago, have bike sharing programs. Other cities, such as Vancouver, B.C., Portland and San Francisco are still in the planning phases. Freedman says those cities have already done a lot of the groundwork and Seattle could benefit from looking at those different experiences.

[Related: San Francisco Poised to Pick Alta to Run Bike Share.]
Tip 4: Don’t Be Discouraged By Reports Of Hardware And Software Problems

Some systems have had problems with bikes and the software that operates the system. Freedman says Boston was lucky and never had software problems. But she says the problem occurred when one of the nation’s leading vendors switched software developers. Freedman’s point is that the problems should not discourage planners because improvements are always being made. “There’s a lot of great choices out there,” she said. “Doing the homework early will definitely ensure the best system for Seattle.”

[Related: NYC Bike Share Delayed Until Spring]


Tip 5: Think Creatively About Encouraging Membership

Boston has made it a focus to offer service in poorer neighborhoods as well as more well-to-do ones. But low-income people often don’t have credit cards, which are required to become a member. Freedman said in Boston, they’re looking at social service agencies and the possibility that those groups could sponsor people looking to get a credit card.

Freedman has visited Seattle before and seemed excited about the prospects of a bike sharing program in the city. “I can guarantee that it’s going to be a huge success in  Seattle,” she said. “It’s a great city. You’ve got a great culture of people that want to be biking.”

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Might Re-Open The Old South Ferry Station, Just Don't Ask When

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

NY MTA shows Sandy damage to a control room at South Ferry Station at the southern tip of Manhattan. (photo courtesy of NY MTA)

(New York, NY – WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it’ll take two to three years and $600 million dollars to completely repair the South Ferry subway station, shuttered since storm Sandy. In the meantime, the authority is looking for ways to partially re-open the station and restore 1 train service to the tip of Manhattan.

 “We can’t have the impacts that people are experiencing today” go on much longer, said MTA executive director Tom Prendergast.

He was referring to the thousands of riders who pour off the Staten Island Ferry each weekday and must now walk several blocks to connect to the 1 train. Before Sandy inundated South Ferry, those riders could catch the 1 train quickly and easily by entering the spacious station and walking down a flight of stairs.

The MTA won’t give a timeline for the station's partial re-opening. That led City Councilman David Greenfield to ask whether Prendergast could provide “a timeline on when you would have a firm timeline?”

Prendergast answered, “No.” But he later said the authority could offer a timeline in "two or three months." Prendergast said he’s ruled out shuttle buses to replace the missing train service because the buses can’t carry enough riders, even when "swinging low," which is transit-speak for full-to-bursting.

He added that the NY MYA is thinking about re-activating the old South Ferry station, a landmark that  was mothballed when the new station got a top-to-bottom rehab and expansion thanks to $545 million in post-9/11 recovery funds. (The new station opened in 2009.) But the old station, with its tightly curved tracks, would need platform extenders and new entrances.

"There's also some equipment that’s now mounted on the platform," said MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg.

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Transportation Nation

School Bus Workers Face Cold Reality of Strike

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tommy and Dina Nero are school bus workers who have been off their route for weeks because of the strike. (Photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

(Stephen Nessen - New York, SchoolBook) Since January, Tommy and Dina Nero have been a presence at the picket lines nearly every day. A bus driver and matron, as well as husband and wife, the couple has been dedicated to their union’s position in the ongoing school bus strike but, as the dispute drags into it second month, they also are facing the real-life challenges of limited pay and not working at a job they love.

“Those children are our children, as far as I’m concerned,” Tommy Nero said. “The children on my bus now, I’ve known them for the last three and-a-half years. So, the parents know us. It’s like a family, an extended family.”

Buses at a depot in the Bronx (photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

The school bus strike has disrupted more than 5,000 of the 7,700 routes in the five boroughs. The last time this happened, in 1979, the strike lasted 13 weeks. And with all parties firmly entrenched in their positions, this one doesn’t have an end in sight. For the members of 1181 Amalgamated Transit Union, this means reduced wages and the loss of health care benefits.

And every week on strike has heightened the Neros’ anxieties.

There are the impending bills to pay: the mortgage on their Jackson Heights apartment, building fees, car bills, and college tuition for their 24-year-old son who has one more semester left at John Jay College. Also, Tommy needs a steady supply of inhalers for his asthma, a steep cost without health care.

Dina said she hit her head while doing laundry recently and it caused a big concern.

“I was like please, please don’t let me be bleeding, because I can’t afford to get stitches right now. It’s scary, because everything you do, you’re like ‘Oh I can’t get hurt,’ and it’s so on your mind,” she said.

Dina Nero on strike in the Bronx (photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

During a recent visit to their home, Tommy wore his silver hair slicked back. Under his black driver’s jacket he sported a grey sweatshirt emblazoned with “Alaska,” a memento from better times.

“Alaska was our trip of a lifetime. It was our retirement money. We always wanted to go there. Now, from here on end, we don’t know what we’re doing. All our vacations will be on the fire escape,” Tommy said.

Tommy’s grandfather was a union man, working in steel mills in Harlem. Several of his relatives also are school bus drivers and escorts who are on strike now. He said he’s not only concerned about his job, but about the future of unions in the city.

The union says the strike is about ensuring employee protections are put in all new city contracts, protections that would ensure that companies hire union drivers and matrons, and assign routes based on seniority. The city says it’s illegal to keep the protections in the contract.

The strike has been going on since January 16.

Listen to the story here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Snow Plow Tracking Site Too Popular for Its Own Good

Monday, February 11, 2013

Snow plows in the Boston area, February 9, 2013. (Photo by John Byrum)

Snow was still dumping down on Boston Friday evening when the city had to pull down its public website for tracking snow plows. Within a couple of hours of snowfall the site had over a million requests from users. Boston's total population is 625,000.

"[The site] couldn't handle all the traffic," said John Gulfoil, spokesman for Mayor Thomas Menino. "It was hurting our efforts to actually track our own plows," he said.

The city had built the GPS-enabled tracking website so the public could watch along in real time as plows made their way around the city street by sodden street. 

After the blizzard of 2010, New York City was trapped in piles of snow. Cars, buses, even ambulances were abandoned in streets that went unplowed for days.  stranded on unplowed streets and citizens crying foul that they couldn't tell when and where the cleanup was coming. In the aftermath, NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg said, "there was a discrepancy between information coming into and out of City Hall and what people were actually experiencing on the streets." He vowed to track each plow using GPS in the future. (More on that below.)

The blizzard this past weekend that hit Boston hardest, brought with nearly three feet of snow and the first real test (that we are aware of) of a GPS-managed snow plow fleet in a major snowstorm.

Boston has had a private GPS tracking system in place for smaller storms since. This was the first time the public was able to watch the plows move in real-time along with city officials.

The catch is that the same GPS system that populated the dots on the public website map also powered the Department of Public Works operational maps at its command center. The flood of interest from the public was clogging the servers and preventing plow fleet managers from doing their jobs. 

The Department of Public Works mustered private contractors to join the city fleet in removing more than three feet of snow from city streets. The GPS tracking system has been in place for years and helps hold the drivers accountable because managers can see where they are. "They can't hide," as Gulfoil puts it. “Hopefully next time there’s a major storm we’ll have all the bugs worked out,” Gulfoil said.

New York City had a similar website in place, though with much less snow to contend with -- and citizens out sledding and such in higher numbers -- the PlowNYC website proved less popular and less problematic. Keith Mellis of the NYC Department of Sanitation didn't have traffic numbers immediately available. "We had no interruption," he said. "It works." 

You can see where plows went in NYC hour by hour on this visualization of the PlowNYC data extrapolated by plow-watcher Derek Watkins.

 

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Transportation Nation

Purple Line Design Will Stop if Maryland Doesn't Get More Transpo Funding

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The proposed Purple Line Route (image via Maryland Transit Administration)

(Washington, D.C. - WAMU) Local officials are asking Maryland's Department of Transportation not to divert funding from the Purple Line, the proposed light rail line that would connect Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The agency is considering reallocating $41 million dollars in Purple Line design funding to other sources if state lawmakers fail to pass a transportation revenue increase in this legislative session. The move would  put the rail project on hold, which would be "unacceptable," according to Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro. She sent a letter voicing her concerns to MDOT's acting secretary this week.

"Montgomery County, specifically, is relying on these projects to continue our economic development strategies through our different redevelopment projects," Navarro says. "Many of the redevelopment projects that we have already adopted, all the master plans that we have adopted will mostly likely not be realized."

MDOT agrees, says agency spokesman Jack Cahalan -- which is why it believes the legislature should approve more money.

"The bottom line is, without a revenue increase, the state will simply not have the money to construct any new highway or transit projects," says Cahalan. "That's the reality."

The 16-mile Purple Line carries a $2.4 billion dollar price tag. Montgomery County officials say engineering funding for the Corridor Cities Transitway, a proposed bus rapid transit system, is also on the line.

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Transportation Nation

Officials: As Construction Site, World Trade Center Vulnerable To Floods

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

One World Trade Center with 9/11 in the foreground. (photo by melfoody / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) A Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official says a built-out World Trade Center site will be less vulnerable to future storms like Sandy once construction is done by 2020. But the authority hasn't decided what to do in the meantime to protect the site from rising tides.

Construction sites that include open pits, as does the 16-acre World Trade Center site, are vulnerable to flooding. And much of the site is built on landfill where the Hudson River once flowed--and would flow again if not for retaining walls.

But Port Authority executive director Pat Foye wouldn't elaborate on what steps could be taken to protect the site from flooding while under construction, and harden the site once construction is done in an age of climate change and rising sea levels.

"Port Authority people and outside experts are looking at how to make the site more resilient," Foye said. He wouldn't give details about possible mitigation efforts beyond saying, "The review continues."

Foye estimated it will cost $2 billion to repair storm damage to the World Trade Center, along with the rest of the authority's facilities, including airports, bridges and tunnels. Foye said $800 million alone is needed to fix the PATH train system, which only recently returned some of its lines to a pre-Sandy schedule.

Foye said insurance reimbursements and FEMA payments should cover those costs."There will be no material impact on the budget," he said.

Still under construction in Lower Manhattan is One World Trade Center, which carries a price tag of $3.8 billion, making it the world's most expensive new office tower. To offset the costs of the 1,776-foot skyscraper, the authority last year levied higher bridge and tunnel tolls and reduced spending on transportation infrastructure.

One World Trade Center is scheduled to be done by early next year. But some part of the larger World Trade Center site will be under construction, and vulnerable to flooding, for at least the next eight years.

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Transportation Nation

A Bike Lane Grows in Manhattan

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Members of the public line up to speak at the Community Board 7's bike lane meeting (photo by Kate Hinds)

The Upper West Side's 'bike lane to nowhere' will finally go somewhere.

After lengthy debate -- not to mention two months of committee meetings -- Manhattan's Community Board 7 voted Tuesday night in favor of a extending the Columbus Avenue bike lane from 59th Street up to 110th Street.

The lane, which currently stretches from 77th to 96th streets, is the only protected on-street bike lane in the neighborhood. The extension will connect it to another protected lane running south of 59th Street down Ninth Avenue, as well as bring the city's bike network north to the fringes of Harlem.

The vote came after four hours of debate and public testimony. One of the sticking points for many board members was how the lane will traverse the so-called "bow tie" around Lincoln Square, where Broadway and Columbus intersect (map). Some board members wanted to defer the vote until the city's Department of Transportation came up with additional safety amenities for that segment, and several amendments to the board's resolution were proposed. (TN will have the text when it is made available.)

But at the end of the night, the board voted 26 to 11 (with one abstention) in support of the full lane, with calls for ongoing dialogue with the DOT about its implementation.

This reporter's unofficial tally of public testimony (photo by Kate Hinds)

The evening had its moments of levity. When debate opened, one board member raised his hand and said that he had a couple of questions about "the second amendment."

Pause.

"Oh, I thought you were talking about gun control," Andrew Albert, the co-chair of the transportation committee, said dryly. The room broke up.

On Wednesday, DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan sent an email expressing her satisfaction with the board's vote. "The community’s ringing support will swing an even safer Columbus Avenue into high gear,” she said. “This project started with the community and Columbus is now a safer street with 100% of storefronts occupied. Residents, businesses and the entire community have seen that this project works.”

The DOT says construction of the bike lane extension will begin this summer and should take two months to complete.

Columbus Avenue bike lane, September 2011 (photo by Kate Hinds)

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Transportation Nation

New NYC Subway Map Zoomable

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

(click for link to map)

From the Department of Small but Useful Changes:

The MTA's got a new interactive map, though it's so basic you can't believe they didn't have it already.  At the MTA.info site, the subway map is now "interactive," meaning you can move it around and zoom in on parts of it, for "easier viewing of fine grain details," as the MTA put it in a press release.  Which also makes it easier to view on a tablet or smart phone. Before, there was just a static PDF.

 

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Transportation Nation

The High Cost of Traffic: Time, Money, and Climate Change

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Welcome to your commute, drivers. (Graphic courtesy of TTI)

Urban automobile traffic is better than it was at its peak in 2005 -- but the cost of traffic congestion is on the rise.

The 2012 Urban Mobility Report -- a ranking of traffic congestion from Texas A&M's  Transportation Institute (TTI) -- says the total financial cost of congestion in 2011 was $121 billion, or about $818 per car commuter. A big piece of that is wasted fuel, which the report says reached a total of 2.9 billion gallons.

But worse still than mulling that over is a new addition to the report: the tally of annual carbon dioxide emissions attributed to traffic. The TTI estimates it at 56 billion pounds – or about 380 pounds per auto commuter.

The E.P.A. considers carbon dioxide a major factor in climate change, and estimates that transportation accounts for about one-third of the country's CO2 emissions, second only to the generation of electricity.

Harder to quantify financially is wasted time: the TTI says the average car commuter spent an extra 38 hours traveling in 2011, two-and-a-half times worse than the 16 hours in 1982.

The report also measures a "planning time index," which show how much time drivers need to be sure they'll arrive at their destination.

(Example: according to Google Maps, a trip from TN's offices in lower Manhattan to JFK Airport should take 30 minutes. But New York's PTI is 4.44 -- meaning drivers should allow 133 minutes to cover the worst-case traffic scenario. Meanwhile, the transit combo of the subway to the Air Train should take a little over an hour, says Google Maps.)

The report comes at a time when many states are struggling with how to replenish transportation funding coffers strained by aging infrastructure and increasingly diminished returns on the gas tax. Virginia is eying a new sales tax, Connecticut is debating new tolls, and some of Los Angeles's freeways are no longer free. Meanwhile, New York's MTA -- the nation's largest transit system -- estimates it sustained $5 billion in damage from Sandy.

Unsurprisingly, the TTI says the nation's largest urban areas see the worst traffic. DC tops the list for the fourth year in a row, followed by Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Boston. Although car traffic overall is down from a 2005 peak, as the economy recovers, the numbers of cars on the road is increasing.

The report offers up some suggestions. It cautions that there's no one-size-fits-all approach, but offers up a range of solutions from increasing capacity to developing land more densely. "Improving transportation systems is about more than just adding road lanes, transit routes, sidewalks and bike lanes," says the TTI. "It is also about operating those systems efficiently."

That last sentence probably will cause tension headaches for local transportation officials who have been trying to wring every last dollar out of their budgets. Funding was flat in the latest surface transportation bill.

But Slate contributor Matthew Yglesias offers up another solution, albeit one that has yet to be passed in an American city: congestion pricing. "Naturally an underpriced valuable commodity leads to over consumption," he writes. "Charge people enough money to eliminate routine congestion and you'll find yourself with fewer traffic jams and an enormous pool of revenue that can be used to maintain your basic infrastructure and upgrade your bus service."

Read the full report here.

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Transportation Nation

As Virginia Debates Transportation Funding Plan, EVs Put Gas Tax Under Microscope

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Chevy Volt at the 2012 NY International Auto Show (photo by Kate Hinds)

As both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly prepare to work to find common ground after passing different versions of Governor Bob McDonnell’s major transportation funding plan, critics say the governor’s proposal to eliminate the state gas tax and replace it with a higher sales tax would not provide enough revenue to satisfy the state’s transportation needs.

On Monday the House gave preliminary approval to a measure that keeps most of McDonnell’s proposals intact, including eliminating the state’s 17.5 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax.  In the Senate, a key Republican lawmaker is proposing a different solution: a 5.5 percent sales tax on the wholesale price of gasoline tied to inflation.

The bill approved by the House killed the governor’s plan to impose a $100 registration fee on alternative fuel vehicles.  The proposals are scheduled for a final vote today.

The McDonnell administration argues higher fuel efficiencies continue to eat into gas tax revenues so the tax should be replaced, especially as the adoption of hybrid and electric cars is expected to reduce gas consumption.

The latest hybrid and electric models are currently on display at the Washington Auto Show, where proponents say they have become much more practical for everyday use since the first generation models.

Mahi Reddy, the founder of SemaConnect, a manufacturer of electric vehicle charging stations based in Bowie, Maryland, says EVs are indeed becoming more popular, although they only represent less than one percent of all vehicles on the road today.

“Previous generations of electric cars struggled because they used lead-acid batteries. They used nickel-metal hydride batteries,” Reddy said. “The new generation all use lithium batteries, the same lithium technology that is in your cell phone. So that means these batteries are much lighter, they have much more range, and these cars are much better engineered so they are practical cars you can use to commute to the office.”

In his view, the biggest obstacle facing EVs is the lack of charging stations.

A report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments found our region has strong potential for EV growth, but an "underdeveloped charging network" is one of several problems.

But while the governor views improving fuel efficiency as a reason to dump the gas tax altogether, the Council of Governments executive director Chuck Bean takes the opposite position.

“In terms of transportation funding all of the options need to be on the table; gas tax, sales tax. We are really in a crisis of transportation funding and need to be very creative,” Bean said. “I would hesitate to reverse or eliminate any taxes because there is simply a great need for more funding.”

The potential of these vehicles does raise another potential challenge to funding transportation: as the U.S. vehicle fleet is comprised of more EVs and regular vehicle fuel standards improve, the gas tax will lose even more of its purchasing power. That would leave states looking for other revenue streams like higher tolls, more borrowing, higher vehicle fees, or higher sales or property taxes to pay for roads and rails.

The smart growth community says there is no way for Virginia to build its way out of its infamous traffic congestion and taht the solution lies in changing land use policies and urban planning strategies to maximize the potential for transit, walking, and bicycling.

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Transportation Nation

NYC Ready to Launch Taxi E-Hail Technology

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

(photo by bclinesmith via flickr)

(New Tech City - WNYC) New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission is starting a one-year pilot program February 15 that will bring e-hails to Manhattan for the first time.

Ki Mae Heussner is a staff writer at GigaOm who has reported on smartphone apps that people can use to hail taxi cabs.

"Half the cabs going around the city don't have passengers in them and investors have put millions of dollars into this space because they think they can make a lot of money by better pairing drivers and passengers," Heussner told New Tech City host Manoush Zomorodi.

If the pilot program is a success, apps like Get Taxi, Taxi Magic, Uber and Hailo could end up on the home screens of thousands of iPhones and Android devices in New York.

Read the fine print of NYC's e-hail resolution here.

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Transportation Nation

LaHood: There's a "Sense of Urgency" on Transit Aid

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Ray LaHood (photo by Martin DiCaro)

(Alec Hamilton-WNYC News) U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says area transit agencies should be able to be ready to withstand future storms.

"Nobody's sitting around,” LaHood told WNYC's Soterios Johnson. "There's a sense of urgency about getting this done, getting it done the right way, making sure that it's done correctly -- and making sure that it's done in a way that will withhold the kind of storm that hit the region during Sandy."

On Monday the Federal Transit Administration said it would start releasing  $2 billion of the $10.9 billion in transit aid voted into law last week.

New Jersey has requested $1.2 billion of that aid, New York close to $5 billion.  Neither agency has released a complete breakdown of how those funds would be spent.

 

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Transportation Nation

Ed Koch, Staunch Supporter of Transit, Inadvertent Boon for Biking, Dies at 88

Friday, February 01, 2013

Ed Koch reclines in the office of his campaign manager in September 1977-as seen in "Koch". (Courtesy of the film.)

Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch died on the 100th birthday of Grand Central Terminal. That's a poetic coincidence, but not a random one. Koch played a crucial role in ensuring America's cathedral to public transportation lived to see its centennial celebration, fiercely advocating for its preservation first as a Congressman and then as mayor. (Here's the Grand Central Terminal preservation story told with charming archival audio).

That's just one of many of Koch's  staunch stances during his three terms from 1978 - 1989 that has transit advocates heaping praise in memory of the bellicose mayor who helped pull New York  out of dark times.

In fact, many of his most controversial moments have to do with transportation, including famously walking across the Brooklyn Bridge in protest of the 1980 transit workers' strike. 

Though, his biggest impact on transportation may have been through a project that never was. Early in Koch's tenure, NY Governor Hugh Carey pushed for a highway megaproject known as "Westway" to put the West Side Highway underground, a plan the federal government would only fund if the mayor also signed off on it.

Koch refused until Carey promised the state would subsidize the NYC subway enough to avoid any fare increase for four years. The governor kept his word for two years, then reneged. But Koch -- with his subway loyalties -- had the last laugh.

In 1985, a legal challenge and Congressional opposition doomed the Westway project. Koch and then-governor Mario Cuomo chose not to fight to resurrect Westway and instead scrambled to "trade-in" the federal funds to be reallocated to transit, yielding more than $1 billion for subways and buses according to Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. (See video of Koch discussing Westway below.)

The NYC Straphanger's Campaign also said in a statement of condolence to Koch's family that the former mayor inherited a subway system with ridership at the lowest level since 1917. Yet when he left office, the system was on the rise. 

"Mayors have limited powers to affect subway and bus service, which is run by a State public authority. Mayor Koch used his to the fullest, employing his bully pulpit to drag public promises out of transit executives before the glare of cameras, such as improved announcements and a crackdown on subway graffiti. Under pressure from Mayor Koch, the MTA completely eliminated graffiti on subway cars in 1989, during Mayor Koch's last term in office. In the mid-1980's, Mayor Koch doubled the City's commitment to the MTA's vital five-year rebuilding program."

Inadvertently, Koch gave a boost the the NY cycling community as well: by trying to ban bikes from Midtown in 1987. What was meant as a crackdown on weaving bicycle messengers transformed hordes of casual riders into activists, or at least supporters of advocacy groups like Transportation Alternatives, which saw membership sign-ups increase ten fold. The bike ban was eventually voided over a legal technicality, but the organized bike lobby remains strong to this day. 

Koch's memory has been firmly fastened to transportation with the most sturdy and standard of civic tributes: the Queensboro Bridge has been renamed the Edward Koch Queensboro Bridge. "There are other bridges that are much more beautiful like the George Washington or the Verrazano but this more suits my personality," he told WNYC, "because it's a workhorse bridge. I mean, it's always busy, it ain't beautiful, but it is durable."

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Transportation Nation

VIDEO: The Secrets of Grand Central Terminal

Friday, February 01, 2013

Grand Central terminal, viewed from the catwalk (photo: Maya Bernstein)

Last year, Jim O'Grady, Stephen Nessen and I got to take a cool tour of behind-the-scenes places at Grand Central -- the secret engines seven stories below that had to be guarded from Hitler, the hidden staircase behind the opal clock, the clock tower, and yes, the catwalks (pictured).  Here are the highlights: (video: Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

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Transportation Nation

VIDEO + PICS: As Grand Central Bustles, A New Station Is Clawed From The Rock Below

Thursday, January 31, 2013

http://youtu.be/ULIx8QVZbKU

(New York, NY - WNYC) Michael Horodniceanu, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's master builder, was sweating as he stood in a cavern blasted from the layers of schist below Grand Central Terminal, which marks its 100th year on Friday. He was considering the question of which, in the end, would be thought of as the bigger job: building the original terminal or the the tunnels that the authority is bringing into a new $8.24 billion station it is constructing beneath the existing one.

"This one," he said. "Because people have been building above ground for a long time. We've been digging for a long time--we have about 6 miles of tunnels just in Manhattan. We've been digging under the most expensive real estate you can find in New York."

What's he and hundreds of sandhogs are creating is a project called East Side Access: 350,000 square feet of track, platforms, escalators and concourses that will, for the first time, connect Long Island Railroad to the East Side of Manhattan. It will double the size of Grand Central Terminal without enlarging its footprint, and it is expected to shave 40 minutes off the commutes of about 160,000 passengers per weekday. Currently, Long Islanders who work on the East Side of Manhattan must travel to Penn Station, on the West Side, and double back.

The project is $2 billion over-budget and its 2019 completion date puts it six years behind schedule--another reason Horodniceanu is sweating.

This is people-intensive work," he said. "We use the best technology but, in the end, it takes people." As he spoke, a worker operated a backhoe that clawed rock from a watery pit. The pit was lit by a high-intensity kleig light, which barely held back the subterranean gloom.

Scene from the massive East Side Access project beneath Grand Central Terminal. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

Every day 750,000 visitors pass through Grand Central Terminal, making it the largest hub for train traffic in the world. Of East Side Access's impact on Grand Central Station, Horodniceanu said, "What we are doing now is we are basically preparing it for the next 100 years. "

On left, Michael Horodniceanu, president of MTA Capital Construction, takes an elevator to an excavation site 160 below Grand Central Terminal. (photo by Jennifer Hsu)

(photo by Jennifer Hsu)

(photo by Jennifer Hsu)

(photo by Jennifer Hsu)

(photo by Jim O'Grady)

(photo by Jim O'Grady)

(photo by Jim O'Grady)

(photo by Jennifer Hsu)
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Transportation Nation

How Grand Central Terminal Survived the Wrecking Ball - And Lived to 100

Thursday, January 31, 2013

(New York, NY - WNYC) Soon after Grand Central Terminal opened in 1913, it was viewed as an one of the great public spaces in America, an icon of modern travel. By the 1940s, a popular radio drama bearing its name would open with a blast from a locomotive whistle and an announcer crying, "Grand Central Station! As a bullet seeks its target, shining rails in every part of our great country are aimed at Grand Central Station, part of the nation's greatest city."

Thirty years later, developers wanted to take a wrecking ball to Grand Central and replace it with an office tower.

In truth, the place was seedy. That's according to Kent Barwick, a former head of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and a key player in the effort to prevent the destruction of the terminal to make way for an office tower. "It was pretty dusty and the windows were broken," he recalled of Grand Central back then. "It was dark and and littered with advertising everywhere. And there wasn't any retail except for a couple of newsstands that had near-poisonous sandwiches and undrinkable coffee."

(We've done some terrific coverage of Grand Central in the past year:  a tour of the Grand Central clock tour with The Invention of Hugo Cabret author Brian O. Selznick here and a cool behind-the-scenes video of Grand Central's secrets here.)

The Fight Is On

The terminal was owned by the Penn Central Railroad, a company in decline because of America's move to the suburbs and car-dependent travel.  The much vaunted Interstate Highway Bill also spelled death for long-distance rail travel. In 1975, Penn Central was careering into bankruptcy and desperate to squeeze a windfall from its prime Manhattan real estate. So it proposed to do to Grand Central what it had done to Penn Station: sell the development rights to a company that would tear down the Beaux-Arts masterpiece and erect a steel and glass tower.

But Grand Central, unlike Penn Station, was landmarked.

The owners sued in state supreme court, claiming the new landmark law was unconstitutional. The railroad won, and moved to demolish Grand Central. The preservationists scrambled.

Barwick and his colleagues at The Municipal Arts Society called a hasty press conference in the terminal at Oyster Bar. Barwick's boss, Brendan Gill spoke first. "If we can't save a building like this, what can we do?" he asked.

The preservationists knew they were fighting to save not only the building but the landmarks law itself. And they knew from press descriptions of them as "a troop of well-known New Yorkers" that some of their opponents were painting them as elitists who wished to suspend New York in amber. Former consumer affairs commissioner Bess Meyerson spoke next, and addressed the issue.

"It's not really a question of change," she said. "If any city understands change, it's our city. But I think it's high time that we ask that very important question, 'Change for what?'"

Cause célèbre

The next speaker was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, whose presence transformed preservation from a stuffy to a glamorous pursuit. "I think if there is a great effort, even if it's at the eleventh hour, you can succeed and I know that's what we'll do," she said.

The New York Times prominently featured her in its coverage the following day, noting her "eleoquence," as well as her "two-piece tan dress adorned with heavy long gold chain." The effort to save Grand Central was, from that moment, a national issue.

Barwick recalled that Onassis also wrote a letter to Mayor Abe Beame, and that the letter began, "'Dear Abe, How President Kennedy loved Grand Central Terminal.'"  Barwick laughingly added that, "I don't know, and I don't need to know, whether President Kennedy had ever expressed himself on that subject."

Not long after, Beame told the city's lawyers to appeal the state supreme court's decision, an appeal the city won. The case then moved, in 1978, to the U.S. Supreme Court.Penn Central again argued it should be able to do what it wanted with its property. New York's lawyers said the city had the right to regulate land use through the landmarks law.

The verdict

The justices sided with the city. Grand Central Terminal was saved and, in the early 90s, underwent a restoration that brought back its luster. Penn Central Railroad eventually became Metro-North, which last year saw near-record ridership of 83 million passengers.

Barwick said that today, the city can't imagine being without Grand Central Terminal. "You see New Yorkers all the time, staking a claim in that building, pointing up to that cerulean sky and saying, 'Hey. this belongs to us,'" he said.

Grand Central Terminal turns 100 years old tomorrow.

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Transportation Nation

Basketball Arena Spurs LIRR Ridership Spike

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Barclays Center (photo by Kate Hinds)

The Brooklyn Nets may have been humbled by the Miami Heat Wednesday night, but their transit stop has never been better.

The NY MTA says Long Island Railroad ridership surged 334 percent since the Barclay's Center arena opened last fall, with an average of 3300 suburbanites taking the commuter rail to the arena each event night.

The night the Nets hosted the Knicks, 4852 riders arrived by LIRR, and 5377 riders departed, a record.

The arena was built with the highest ratio of seats to parking spaces in the country (about 19,000 seats, 500 spaces) in part to encourage transit usage (nine subway lines go directly to Barclays Center, 2 more nearby, plus the LIRR).

Other data compiled by TN of subway ridership also confirms game night surges.

Neighborhood groups predicted the arena would cause car traffic snarls, and a high demand for on-street parking, but so far, traffic on game nights hasn't met those predictions.

However, the arena's developers, Forest City Ratner, have yet to construct more than a dozen high-rises above and near the arena, slated to created the densest census track in the nation.

 

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Transportation Nation

DC Bike Share Visualizer Shows How Neighborhoods Use CaBi Differently

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Washington, D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare released its latest batch of customer trip data -- and the fine folks at Mobility Lab turned it into an interactive map. What's interesting about this visualizer is that it sorts trips by neighborhood cluster.

Instead of seeing all the trips everywhere -- which is beautiful --  you can see how a given station connects to the areas around it. The more rides between two stations, the thicker the red line. Click on most downtown stations and it looks like a starburst of rides.

Trips on the National Mall tend to stay on the National Mall or head over the Jefferson Memorial.

Bike Share trips on the National Mall, Washington D.C. 4th Quarter, 2012.

Mobility Lab has also set the map so you see the direction of trips, including "unbalancedness" between stations. That's when trips tend to be in one direction more than another. It's not so surprising that more people ride downhill on Connecticut Avenue from the Van Ness station to Dupont Circle. But it is interesting to see how many more people ditch the heavy bike share bikes at the bottom and return by some other, presumably less tiring, means. Of the 203 trips between those two stations in the 4th quarter of 2012, 82 percent of them were downhill.

(Read TN's article on how DC rebalances bike share stations here.)

Trips from Van Ness bike share station in 4th quarter 2012

Michael Schade over at Mobility Lab has pulled out a few more interesting data points. Alexandria, Virginia, joined CaBi last year. Most of those bike share trips appear to be heading to or from the two Metro stations.  So Schade concludes bike share in Alexandria is being used to solve a last-mile transit problem.

See his full analyses and more maps here.

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