(New York, NY - WNYC) Several New York City subway lines are at or above capacity. Relief is coming for some riders because of technology.
The chronically overcrowded L train, which connects Manhattan to Brooklyn's fastest growing neighborhoods, is now running 98 more times a week. The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority just finished installing a new radio-based signal system that allows trains on the line to travel closer together and, as a result, more frequently.
Brooklyn Democratic District Leader Lincoln Restler, who joined elected officials at a press conference outside the Bedford Avenue stop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said it's about time. "The complaint I receive most frequently about quality of life for Williamsburg residents is L train service," he said. "It is terrible. We've been unable to fit onto trains for too long."
Ridership on the L train has grown 141 percent since 1998 because of a population boom in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, the chosen enclaves of NYC's hipster set and more recently, a hub of new condo construction. It's not unusual for riders during the morning rush to let a packed train pass because there's no room to board it.
The NY MTA announced a plan to increase service on the line eight months ago, which led to a squabble with its largest union over why the new schedule would take so long to implement.
Riders will now see 16 more trains on weekdays and 18 more trains over the course of a weekend.
The MTA says, during the morning rush, customers can shave 30 seconds off their wait with trains now arriving every 3 minutes. Non-rush hour weekday riders, as well as Saturday night revelers, can expect a train every six minutes, down from 7 ½ minutes. And Sunday evening straphangers can expect a train every 6 minutes, down from 8 ½ minutes.
State Senator Daniel Squadron said those improvements should lessen claustrophobia on the line. "That means that you're going to spread out that sardine can crush. It'll still be standing room only but it'll at least get us below over-capacity."
The NY MTA said the added service will cost $1.7 million annually.
The chronically overcrowded L train is now running 98 more times a week. The MTA just finished installing a new radio-based signal system that allows trains on the line to travel close together and, as a result, more frequently.
The New World can still learn a thing or two from the Old World – especially when it comes to transportation. Just as London had the tube before New York City got the subway, London has had a bike share in operation before New York City.
(New York, NY - WNYC) When we heard that Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, would be sitting for an interview with show host Leonard Lopate in a studio at WNYC, we made sure to plant a transportation question.
Johnson: My advice is, 'Enjoy it.' I think it's high time that New York had it. It's a great scheme; it will go well.
Johnson then described how London's bikeshare program has transformed street life in Great Britain's capital city, and what New Yorkers should brace for.
Johnson: I think drivers have got to learn to recognize they are going to find bikes on the streets. It's just a fact of life, and it will civilize the place. It will improve the atmosphere. There's nothing more immediately redolent of a village than loads of people wobbling around on bicycles.
Understandably, Lopate was suspicious of the idea that New Yorkers could be civilized, especially compared to Londoners.
Lopate: London's always had a bicycle culture. And bicyclists, at least when I rode around London, actually observed the traffic rules. We would signal left turn, right turn, and not go through red lights. That doesn't happen in this city. Has there been the kind of war between drivers and bicyclists that we've seen in New York?
Johnson: I wish everybody was as punctilious as you are, Leonard. I'm going to have to confess to you that we've got some bad habits now in London. There's loads of people who jump red lights, ride on the pavement, intimidate pedestrians and disobey the rules of the road. If any of them are listening, they know who they are.
Despite such problems, bikeshares have come a long way since the 1960s, when a Dutch anarchist group collected several hundred bicycles, painted them white and left them lying around Amsterdam to be used for free--a bold stroke that inspired this super-groovy song. Today's bikeshares, like Barclay Cycle Hire in London, tend to be organized, branded and growing.
Johnson: We've seen a massive expansion of cycling in London. Last year alone, it's gone up 15 percent. The cycle scheme we've got in is expanding very fast. We're at something like 40,000 rides a day. We will go further.
Still, the Mayor of London ended with a cautionary note about the need for police to crack down on bad actors.
Johnson: But there's got to be a reciprocal understanding by cyclists that they've got to obey the rules of the road.
Are you listening, New York City?
Here is a video about how London's bikeshare works:
(New York, NY - WNYC) - Manhattan, where the standard rate of movement is an all-out manic sprint, is about to be told by the NY Department of Transportation to slow down. At least in part: a couple of dozen blocks at the island's northern tip in the neighborhood of Inwood are on track to become the borough's first traffic Slow Zone.
NYC DOT unveiled Slow Zones last year. The program calms traffic by lowering a neighborhood's speed limit to 20 miles per hour--the lowest in the city--and fitting it out with safety measures such as speed bumps, signs and street markings that either force or urge drivers to slow down. The city would also remove more than 20 parking spots in the neighborhood to open up sight lines at intersections.
Inwood's community board passed a resolution in February that unanimously supported the Slow Zone, which would cover the blocks west of Broadway from West 218th down to Riverside Drive near Dyckman Street. A vote by the full board will be held on June 26. Should the Slow Zone be approved, as expected, the NYC DOT is set to install it this summer.
Inwood is frequently used as a short-cut by northbound drivers who cut through it, especially during the evening rush hour, to avoid paying the toll on the Henry Hudson Bridge, which spans Manhattan and the Bronx. Drivers have also learned to avoid the traffic lights on Broadway by traveling on Seaman Avenue, a parallel street that is heavily residential.
In general, Inwood's streets are hilly, narrow and almost wholly disconnected from the street grid. For those reasons, the NYC DOT not only approved the neighborhood's Slow Zone application but doubled the size of the proposed area.
Resident Dave Thom, for one, is pleased. "Our neighborhood is packed with schools, churches and young children," he said. "I have a two year-old and three year-old myself and it can be nerve-wracking to see a car racing down our streets."
The city's first and only Slow Zone was installed in the Claremont section of the Bronx last year. NYC DOT is considering adding another 13 Slow Zones, including the one in Inwood, by the end of 2013.
Manhattan, where the standard form of motion is an all-out sprint, is about to be told by the NY Department of Transportation to slow down. At least in part: a couple of dozen blocks at the island's northern tip in the neighborhood of Inwood are on track to become the borough's first traffic Slow Zone.
(New York, NY - WNYC) A transit union says in a report that one cause of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority's recent fare hikes and service cuts has been hiding in plain sight: financial arrangements called interest rate swaps. Those are deals the authority made with banks on 10 percent of its $33 billion of debt —deals that have gone against the authority and in favor of the banks.
The deals were made between 1995 and 2007, when banks agreed to cover the fluctuating interest rates on some of the authority's bonds. In exchange, the NY MTA said it would pay the banks a fixed rate, plus a small premium. That agreement would've protected the authority if rates had jumped up. But the Amalgamated Transit Union says the NY MTA has taken a net loss on the deals since the economy crashed in 2008 and interest rates fell to sustained, historic lows.
The union says the authority is now losing almost $114 million a year ― and could continue to lose money on the deals for the next 20 to 30 years.
NY MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg disputed the union's calculations, saying the swaps brought predictability to the authority's budget, which needs to be balanced each year. "To compare transactions we entered into years ago, compared to what you can get in risky variable rate debt right now is either irresponsible or deliberately misleading," he said. "They are simply wrong."
He contended that the swaps allowed the authority to save $248 million. The report says that was true until 2007, when the arrangement allowed the NY MTA to pay off its debt at nearly a full point below interest rates that were relatively high. But that was before the economy tanked. Since then, the authority has lost money on the deal.
The report looked at 12 transit agencies or local governments that entered into interest rate swaps. The report's authors insisted in a conference call that, though the deals may have made sense when they were struck, these 12 agencies ― which includes the NY MTA and NJ Transit ― are now bleeding at least a half a billion dollars a year from the budgets of governments and transit authorities around the United States.
James Parrott, an economist with the Fiscal Policy Institute, called on agencies like the NY MTA to seek concessions from the banks, many of which received massive taxpayer bailouts.
He said he doesn't understand why the NY MTA isn't treating its bankers like any other business partners. “The MTA went to all of its vendors from 2008 to 2010 and got concessions from them to reduce the price of contracts," he said. "The only business they didn’t go to is the banks. Why?”
Parrott also noted that the NY MTA is about to go to market to sell billions in new bonds to refinance its capital construction program. "They could say to the banks, ‘If you’re unwilling to renegotiate these credit swaps, we’re not so sure you’re going to get a piece of these bonds,'” he said.
Lisberg called the idea unrealistic. "We need these major banks to provide financing for us," he said. "We’re constantly in the debt markets, it’s how we and every other large government organization works. If we’re buying equipment to use over 30 years, it makes sense to pay for it over 30 years."
In 2010, the NY MTA plugged a budget gap by laying off 1,000 workers and eliminating 750 positions. It also enacted some of the deepest subway and bus service cuts in decades. Riders absorbed a 7.5 percent fare increase in 2011, and further 7.5 percent increases are scheduled in 2013 and 2015.
The banks that hold interest rates swaps with the NY MTA are JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, AIG, Morgan Stanley, BNP Paribas and Ambac.
A transit union says in a report that one cause of the MTA's recent fare hikes and service cuts has been hiding in plain sight: financial arrangements called interest rate swaps. Those are deals the authority made with banks on 10 percent of its $33 billion of debt —deals that have gone against the authority and in favor of the banks.
(New York, NY - WNYC) NY Governor Cuomo lets no appointment go unmined for good political effect. This round of appointments to the Port Authority Board is no exception: Cuomo has named a prominent Latina journalist, a real estate developer (and big political fundraiser), and a former top Clinton administration official to the Port Authority board.
The three appointees are El Diario/La Prensa Publisher Rossana Rosado, former state department spokesman and Bloomberg View editor James Rubin and real estate mogul -- and big-time political donor -- Scott Rechler.
Rechler has been serving on the board for the past year as vice chairman; his term will expire July 2018. Rosado and Rubin will take their seats immediately. Rosado's term ends July 2014, Rubin's term ends July 2017.
Rechler is the CEO and Chairman of RXR Realty, which owns and operates office buildings in the New York area, including some fancy addresses in Manhattan, and is worth about $4.5 billion. NYPIRG named him one of the biggest political donors in the state. He gave $55,000 to Cuomo's campaign, the group said. In 2008, he raised some $140,000 for the Obama campaign, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The NY-NJ Port Authority's facilities include America's busiest airport system, marine terminals and ports, the PATH rail transit system, six tunnels and bridges between New York and New Jersey, the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, and the World Trade Center. Last year, the authority moved 104 million airport customers, 74 million PATH train riders and saw 121 million vehicles cross its bridges and tunnels. The port handled 5.2 million cargo container units.
The commissioners vote on how to allocate billions in public funds to major transportation projects.
Almost everything seems to have gone wrong in last year's fatal Bronx bus ride from a Connecticut casino that left 15 dead. That's according to the National Transportation Safety Board's final report on the March 11, 2011 crash. The gruesome accident brought on a cascade of criticism about safety in the rapidly growing inter-city bus industry, proposals for federal and state legislation, and tough Department of Transportation crackdowns.
The driver had seven license violations and was suspended eight times in the six years prior to the crash -- but lied to his employers about that. In the three days before he drove off I-95, he got almost no sleep.
Truckers saw him traversing rumble strips, and watched as the driver made no correction and drifted off the road before hitting a guard rail. And the guard rail was "not designed to re-direct a heavy vehicle such as a motor coach," investigators said.
Investigators also ran simulations that showed seat belts, which were not available to the passengers, could've saved lives and prevented injuries.
The NTSB also released an animation showing the bus careening along the guard rail before crashing into a sign and tipping over the edge.
NTSB investigator Tom Barth said the passengers returning from the casino trip "had planned to gamble, but not with their lives."
We'll link to the report as soon as it's posted.
Peregrines prefer peaks. In New York City, that means the flat tops of tall bridges. Once again, it's time to cinch up the safety harness, scale a few feats of infrastructure and count hatchlings. Watch a video of the annual peregrine count.
(New York, NY - WNYC) Peregrines prefer peaks. In New York City, that means the flat tops of tall bridges. Once again, it's time to cinch up the safety harness, scale a few feats of infrastructure and count hatchlings.
The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, always casting about for ways to improve its perennially embattled image, has in recent years embraced and promoted its role as Haven of Hatcheries. The authority has allowed the city Department of Protection to build shelters for raptors atop its bridges, and to let city conservationists go into them once a year and band the newborn birds they find. The shelters are no-frills affairs with guano-speckled roofs. And the banding, according to Chris Nadareski, the conservationist in the video, doesn't hurt the birds--though it must be said, those chicks don't seem pleased.
This year's total of newborn falcons on three bridges operated by the MTA: seven. Their wide-eyed adorableness on a scale of 1 to 10: 10. Interesting stat: when diving for prey, peregrines can exceed 200 miles per hour, making them the fastest birds in the world. It also puts them in sync with the city's unofficial motto: "Move swiftly or starve. "
New York City is home to more than 20 pairs of peregrine falcons. Two of the newest ones are called Lief and Skye, which are names you can soon expect to be attached to Brooklyn tots. The birds were nearly wiped out in the 1960s because of pesticides and remain on the New York State endangered list. But, thanks in part to the MTA's hospitality, it is increasingly common to see a raptor in search of a fish wheeling in the sky above the harbor. Hence the video's closing invitation+ warning:
"Look for the peregrine falcons...but not while you're driving."
Some City Council members are pushing for subway station grading system similar to the one used to rate restaurants’ cleanliness – but the MTA is red-lighting the proposal.
(New York, NY - WNYC) Don't even think of driving to the Barclays Center when it opens on September 28. That was the thrust of a traffic management plan presented by consultant Sam Schwartz at a public hearing in downtown Brooklyn on Tuesday.
"We're going to reduce the number of cars coming to the arena," Schwartz emphasized. "That's our mantra."
The plan would cut parking at the Barclays Center, future home of the Brooklyn Nets, from 1,000 to 541 spots. Ticket-holders will be urged to arrive by Long Island Rail Road or one of eleven subway lines that meet beneath the arena. Schwartz says another way of keeping vehicles out of the heavily congested area will be to encourage drivers to park at a half-priced lot a mile away near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and take a free shuttle bus.
However, the arena's website makes clear that suite-holders will get priority parking: " You will have a reserved spot within a one to two block radius from the premium entrance. Important to note that our parent company controls parking both on the Arena site and surrounding areas that will enable us to deliver the most convenient parking access possible to our suite customers." Jane Marshall, a spokeswoman for arena developer Forest City Ratner, said 150 of the 541 spots will be reserved for suite and season-ticket holders.
The Schwartz plan also calls for HOV spaces for cars with three or more people. And if drivers want to park near the arena, they'll be encouraged to go online and pay for a reserved spot at a lot or garage before leaving. Schwartz said that should cut down on drivers circling the area while deciding where to park. And the plan offers yet another incentive to leaving the motorized vehicle at home: 400 bicycle parking spots.
Despite such measures, car owners who live near the Barclays Center still worry that people driving in to attend a Nets game or concert will take up all the parking spots in nearby neighborhoods, especially now that the Schwartz plan seeks to slash the number of spots at the arena.
Those residents learned that the city won't be granting their request for residential parking permits any time soon. The New York City Department of Transportation's Christopher Hrones said his agency is still studying the issue.
"We're not in a position, for several reasons, to have a residential parking permit in place when the arena opens on September 28th," he said. He added that even if the city were to approve a parking permit program, it would need permission from the state, and that takes time. Because of the format of the evening -- questions submitted on cards with no possibility of follow-up -- there wasn't an opportunity to get further clarification on residential parking permits.
Around Yankees Stadium in the Bronx, motorists continue to look for on-street parking to the consternation of local residents, as we've reported.
The arena's traffic management plan now enters a 30-day public review period.
You’ll want to think twice, or maybe even a third time, before deciding to drive to Barclays Arena when it opens on September 28. The parking plan for Barclays is being cut from 1,000 to 541 spots.
(New York, NY - WNYC) Readers of TN know that transportation is not just a way of life, it is the key to the meaning of life. And now the George Mason University Class of 2012 knows it, too, after listening to a commencement address by National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman.
"Congratulations, Patriots," Hersman began, referring to the school's sports teams, before orienting her audience to the intensity of her job as head of the federal agency charged with showing up after a deadly crash and figuring out what happened.
"I have been at 19 major accident scenes and there is nothing - nothing - that makes the point about the importance of family and friends more than seeing how things change in the blink of an eye," she said. "You can send a loved one off on a routine trip and then nothing is ever routine again."
Her conclusion? "Treasure each day ... each moment ... each other."
In case that wasn't sobering enough, Hersman added this statistic: "Since I graduated from high school in 1988, more than 300,000 people have been killed in impaired driving accidents."
She blamed part of the problem on the dangers of distraction. "We've seen what can happen when pilots don't monitor their airspeed, locomotive engineers run a red signal, or drivers are distracted," she said.
Her conclusion? "Life is fleeting and precious. Be present ... be there ... be in the moment."
Avoiding distraction is especially important for transportation professionals, Hersman declared. "Sadly, in our investigations, too many times we see the consequences of tired transportation workers. Pilots who overfly their destinations and don't respond to air traffic controllers, drowsy bus drivers on overnight trips...and more."
She then used a--what else?--transportation metaphor to describe the relentlessness of change. "In transportation, cables and pulleys were replaced by hydraulic systems, and these in turn, are being replaced by electronic sensors," she said. Conclusion: "You can resist change ... or you can embrace it. I recommend the latter."
Hersman wrapped up by describing her main satisfaction as head of the NTSB: "Our work saves lives. It doesn't get any better than that."
She acknowledged that humans have been known to celebrate large achievements, lke graduating from college, with alcohol. Conclusion: "Please make the life-saving choice to designate a driver or take a cab home."
(New York, NY - WNYC) The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is beefing up customer service at area airports — and getting some James Cameron-style help in the form of avatars.
The avatar is a life-sized flat screen in the shape of a woman who activates when a customer approaches. In a perky, smirky, sexy voice, she dispenses flight information and tips about airport services like the location of shuttle buses, rest rooms and taxis. She gives the same spiel to every customer.
Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye unveiled one of the computerized avatars at a press conference at LaGuardia Airport Monday morning. He said the machines are meant to supplement the airport's 350 flesh-and-blood customer representatives, who will soon be joined by 70 new hires.
A total of five avatars are scheduled for installation at LaGuardia, JFK and Liberty Newark airports in early July. Unlike most humans, they won't be interactive. But Foye said he hopes a future iteration of the talking machines will hold conversations with passengers.
That didn't stop the demonstration avatar from extolling her advantages over human employees: "I never take a break, don't charge overtime, hardly ever take sick leave and I don't need a background check." Later, she smiled suggestively and said, "I can...be just about anything you want me to be."
(In the video above that's PA Chief Pat Foye, with white beard and glasses, in the background around the 35-second mark.)
The Authority also unveiled new airport apps and dozens of information kiosks and electronic device charging stations to help travelers.
Air passengers will also soon encounter what the Port Authority is calling the first use of avatar technology at North American airports: holograms in the form of customer service representatives.
(New York, NY - WNYC) Documents released by federal investigators show the driver involved in a deadly Bronx bus crash when returning from a Connecticut casino last year was hired in 2007 to drive a city bus. An MTA background check kept Williams off the road, but only until a private company hired him.
On his job application with the MTA, driver Ophadell Williams admitted his driver's license had been suspended from 1996 to 2003 because of "child support." He also wrote, "I made a couple of mistakes in my life."
That did not stop the MTA from hiring him. But then a background check revealed Williams had failed to disclose a pair of felony convictions. A superintendent, on finding that out, wrote in a memo that "It is imperative that Mr. Williams" termination be completed as soon as possible." Williams resigned a few days later, after two weeks on the job. The MTA says Williams never got behind the wheel of a bus with passengers.
Private tour bus operator World Wide Travel hired Williams as a driver in 2010. He was driving a bus for the company in March, 2011, when he crashed on I-95, killing 15 passengers.
National Transportation Safety Board documents released today show that Williams' cellphone and rental car were in almost continuous use during the three days before he made a pre-dawn run from Connecticut to New York City--times when he said he'd been sleeping. A preliminary report last year said Williams was speeding at 78 miles per hour shortly before he lost control of the bus, which struck a highway signpost.
A toxocology test cleared Williams of drug use, and a breath test that he took at the scene of the accident showed that he hadn't been drinking.
The NTSB says it will release "an analysis of the collision, along with conclusions and its probable cause" on June 5. Williams has pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
Documents released by federal investigators show the bus driver involved in a deadly Bronx crash when returning with passengers from a Connecticut casino last year was hired in 2007 to drive a city bus.