Jim O'Grady

Reporter, WNYC News

Jim O'Grady appears in the following:

NY MTA & Transit Union Blame Each Other For Delay In New Subway Service

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Some L trains during rush hour are too crowded to board. (Photo by Runs With Scirssors.)

(New York, NY - WNYC) UPDATED. It's going to take eight months for the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority to add extra weekend service to the crowded L train, which serves Lower Manhattan and fast-growing parts of Brooklyn. The NY MTA and a major transit union are blaming each other for the delay.

MTA spokesman Charles Seaton said it's a complex operation to revise a subway line's schedule and then allow the union the time it needs, by contract, to pick which workers will crew the new trains.

An email he sent describing the process had at least six steps. They included time for the union to"review and comment on the timetables and work program" and time for the authority to "make modifications agreed to with" the union. And that's only two of the steps.

Seaton said a schedule change like the one proposed for the L train can take up to ten months to implement.

Not necessarily, said Jim Gannon, a spokesman for the Transit Workers Union Local 100. He contended the MTA could add weekend trains on the L line right away by declaring it "supplemental service," as it does for major events like the World Series. Workers-on-call could then crew the trains until the formal process is completed and the schedule change made permanent.

The issue is pressing because over the past twelve years, weekend ridership on the L train has grown at three times the rate of the subway system as a whole, making it the fastest growing subway line. That's according to a new MTA study of the L line requested by State Senator Daniel L. Squadron, a Democrat representing parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

"I'm glad the MTA heeded my call to increase weekend service on the L," Squadron said in an email. "Of course, weekend service should be improved as quickly as possible. If there's a way to make it happen earlier within the MTA's budget constraints, then let's make it happen."

A staff member for an elected representative said the MTA called adding L train service outside the formal scheduling process "cost prohibitive." The MTA did not immediately return calls about the the union's call for supplemental service.

Gannon said the burden is on the MTA to provide a timely improvement. "If they wanted to add service on the L line, they could do it," he said. "They’re just being methodical. It seems like they’re pushing the burden of why this takes so long on us."

The Transport Workers Union contract expires in January.  The union has had a deteriorating relationship with MTA leadership over the years.

UPDATE: MTA spokesman Charles Seaton emailed with a new reason for why increased weekend L train service can't occur until June 2012. He said the authority plans to spend the first half of next year removing old track-side signals as part of an automated upgrade of the line's signal system, work that needs to happen on the weekends, when trains run less often.

"Remember, the Canarsie Line [L train] is only a two-track railroad," he writes. "We would not want to promise an increase in weekend service and then have to cut service back every weekend while the removals take place."

That means status quo service for L train riders on the weekend until next summer. More riders take the L on Saturday between 1 and 3 p.m. and after 8 p.m. than do during the week at those same times. Late afternoon on Saturday is also when the Brooklyn-bound L sometimes carries up to 35 percent more passengers than the prescribed maximum load, according to the MTA's report. If you must travel to Bushwick at that time for the latest cryptic public art happening, prepare to be squeezed.


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2 Struck By Subway Trains

Monday, October 03, 2011


Two subway passengers were struck by trains during the Monday morning commute.

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Yankees Fortunes Rise, But Parking Garage Woes Continue

Sunday, September 25, 2011


The New York Yankees are headed to the playoffs. But the company running Yankee Stadium's parking garages remains mired in a slump. With the baseball season just about over, the numbers are in: paying customers have filled only 45 percent of the stadium's 9,000 parking spots on game days this season.

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Yankee Stadium Parking Woes Drag On

Friday, September 23, 2011

Empty Yankee Stadium parking garage that could become a hotel and conference center.

(New York, NY - WNYC) The New York Yankees are headed to the playoffs. But the company running Yankee Stadium's parking garages remains mired in a slump. With the baseball season just about over, the numbers are in: paying customers have filled only 45 percent of the stadium's 9,000 parking spots on game days this season.

And now development officials say they are looking to tear down one of the garages and replace it with a first class hotel and conference center. The idea is that development will bring in extra revenue and make the remaining parking spots more valuable.The Yankees argued when seeking city council approval that it's new stadium would require more parking.  But the opposite happened.

Many fans who drive to see the Yankees have been shunning the $35 spots for cheaper ones in the neighborhood. Even more fans have been taking the subway or Metro-North trains.

The Bronx Parking Development Company, which owns the eleven garages and surface lots that serve the new Yankee Stadium, built thousands of extra spots. One garage was erected on parkland that New York City, over many residents' objections, gave to the company. The city has worked since then to create an equal amount of parkland in the area, but progress has been slow: the All Hallows High School baseball team, just four blocks from the stadium, has been without a home field for five years.

Heritage Field, a set of regulation-sized baseball diamonds on the lot where the old Yankee Stadium stood, was recently finished. But they still can't be used: another month is needed for the sod to take hold. For now, they sit lushly--and idly--under the sun.

The new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009. Its extensive parking system has underperformed from the start. Now the Bronx Parking Development Company is struggling to pay back the $237 million dollars it owes in tax-exempt bonds.

The company's next bond payment is November 1. Company vice president Chuck Lesnick said he didn't know whether the company will need to dip into its cash serves to meet the obligation, a sign that the enterprise could be teetering on default. Lesnick said in an interview that he'd even be open to selling off surface parking lots around the stadium to raise extra money.

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NY Subways Take A Digital Step Forward With "iPad" Informational Kiosk

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Techno-glee. Press folk crowd a beaming MTA employee at unveiling of On The Go! touch screen at the Bowling Green subway station in Lower Manhattan.

(New York, NY - WNYC) To date, the NY Metropolitan Authority has relied on scratchy public address announcements and regularly vandalized signs to convey information to the subway-riding public. If any system within the system has been poised for a great leap forward, it is this one.

The MTA doesn't have a broad solution for the problem -- but it hopes to alleviate some of the real-time information gap by  installing digital kiosks with 47-inch touchscreens in stations.  Straphangers will be able to get information in some stations before they go through the turnstile, but not yet on platforms.

The MTA is calling it their version of an iPad. Riders can use a finger to call up travel directions, planned and unplanned service changes and whether the elevators and escalators at their destination station are working.

Other offerings include a map of the neighborhood around the station with walking directions and distances. The time and weather is displayed; a news ticker crawls across the bottom of the the high-definition screen. Third party apps provide local history and shopping and dining options.

NYC Transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges said the digital screens also give the authority the ability to quickly disseminate emergency information. "For example, with an event like Hurricane Irene, we can let people know the subway is shutting down," he said.

The service, called On The Go!, is part of a six-month pilot program that will be adding demonstration kiosks to Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, Atlantic Avenue / Pacific Street in Brooklyn and Jackson Heights / Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. The authority said a successful pilot would pave the way for installing the screens throughout the system's 468 stations.

The machine's software was developed jointly by NYC Transit and Cisco Systems. Cisco, which had a spokesman at the Bowling Green Station unveiling event, is paying for the pilot. NY MTA officials said they expect the program to generate a steady stream of revenue for from ads displayed on the bottom half of kiosk screens. That income, they said, would also pay for the roll-out of more machines.


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Water Main Break Shuts Down Several Subway Lines

Monday, September 19, 2011

Crew are working overnight to try and restore subway service on the A, B, C, and D lines in time for the morning rush after a water main break Monday. A 94-year old water main broke around 11:00 a.m. under W 106th Street at Central Park West, causing the shut down of the entire B and C lines and curtailed service on the A and D lines. 

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Tour Buses Not Going to 9/11 Memorial

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fewer tour buses than expected have been dropping off visitors to the September 11 memorial at the World Trade Center. Most ticket holders are arriving to the site using mass transit.


9/11 Memorial Crowds Changing a Downtown Neighborhood

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Crowds have been gathering at the corner of Greenwich and Albany Streets since the September 11 Memorial opened to the public on Monday. Until this week, the corner was a relatively obscure spot that saw but a fraction of the people who regularly crowd nearby Broadway and Church streets.


MTA to Spend Millions on Port Jervis Line Repair

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Flooding and other hurricane damage on the Port Jervis train line. (Photo by NY MTA.)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority is getting ready to invest millions of dollars to repair the Port Jervis train line on the western side of the Hudson River. The authority is paying an engineering firm $500,000 to figure out how to repair damage from Tropical Storm Irene.

That raises the question: why is the authority prepared to spend so much to bring back a relatively lightly used transit option?

About 2,300 riders take the Port Jervis train through Orange County on an average weekday. That's just a small portion of the thousands of riders who used to take the 37 bus lines in New York City that were cut last summer to save money. The B69 and B71 bus lines alone, which served Park Slope and Downtown Brooklyn, carried 2,300 weekday passengers.

MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said the authority has no choice but to make the repairs to the Port Jervis line--and to run 55 buses among eight stations, seven days a week, until the line is fixed. She couldn't put a price tag on the substitute bus service but said it was attracting about half the number of passengers who rode the  train before the hurricane.

The storm washed out 14 miles of track, and Anders said there are no alternative transit options like there are in the five boroughs. "Compared to Brooklyn, Orange County's choices are very limited," she said.

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign said he's conflicted: Port Jervis's ridership is low, but he agrees Metro North is the only way for many commuters to get to Manhattan. "It's the only means of transport for these people," he said.

Anders she said the engineering firm will come up with a price tag for repairing the track by the end of the month.

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MTA Readies to Spend Millions on Damaged Port Jervis Line

Monday, September 12, 2011


The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is getting ready to invest millions of dollars to repair the Port Jervis train line on the western side of the Hudson River. The authority is paying an engineering firm $500,000 to figure out how to repair damage from Tropical Storm Irene.

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NY MTA, Its Debt Downgraded, Shrugs

Friday, September 09, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) A bond ratings agency says there's a problem with the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's plan to pay for new construction over the next three years.

Fitch Ratings says the authority won't be getting the extra revenue it needs to pay off the $4.7 billion it wants to borrow to help plug a $10 billion gap in its capital construction program. Result: Fitch, the smallest of the three ratings agencies, is downgrading the authority's debt from "A+" to "A."

Charles Brecher, Director of Research for the Citizens Budget Commission, used a familiar analogy to explain the MTA's difficulty: "You can take on a big mortgage if you've got a big income. The problem here is they're saying we're taking out a bigger mortgage but there's no sign that our income is going up."

Specifically, the MTA's capital plan doesn't show it making enough money from cost-cutting, fare increases and dedicated taxes to back the new debt it says it needs to pay to complete large projects like the Second Avenue subway and keep buses, bridges, trains and subways in a state of good repair.

Fitch's vote of "no confidence" in the capital plan could raise the cost of borrowing for the authority, right when it is poised to seek more loans.

Brecher says more costly borrowing is now a danger for the NY MTA, but it's not automatic. The authority agrees. It said in a statement that it has weathered economic downturns and budget difficulties before, and that it doesn't expect the downgrade to substantially raise its debt payments. "While a downgrade is never welcome news," the statement said, the NY MTA's credit remains "fundamentally secure."

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Laughing at 9/11

Friday, September 09, 2011

If you made your living being funny, what would you do after 9/11? We spoke with a group of comedians who were working in New York about that day and what happened afterwards.

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Streets, Tunnels, Subways In Lower Manhattan Closed For 9/11 Anniversary

Thursday, September 08, 2011


If you're planning on driving to Lower Manhattan this weekend for the tenth anniversary of 9/11, don't. Or to use the language of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority: "Motorists are strongly cautioned to avoid driving in the area." Drivers will encounter tunnel closures, frozen zones and blocked streets throughout the weekend.


How 9/11 Changed Comedy

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Life changed for most Americans after 9/11, but comedians faced a very specific dilemma: when and how to make people laugh again. Comedic television programs like "Saturday Night Live" and "The Daily Show" struggled with this question as they began their fall seasons in late September of 2001, and comedians like Gilbert Gottfried faced decisions on whether it was appropriate to joke about 9/11 when performing live.

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Subway Station Severely Damaged on 9/11 Now Fully Restored

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


NY MTA Chairman Jay Walder (center) cuts the ribbon on newly restored Cortlandt Street subway station. (Photo by NY MTA.) Also pictured (L to R) Assemb. Daniel Squadron, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Walder, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, City Councilwoman Margaret Chin

(New York, NY - WNYC) When the Twin Towers hit the ground on 9/11, large parts of the nearby Cortlandt Street subway station collapsed onto itself. Steel beams, concrete, conduit wires and assorted debris crashed down on the tracks, clogging and closing a key part of Downtown Manhattan's transportation system.

Ten years later, minus five days, the station has at last been fully renovated.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority joined various New York elected officials to cut the ribbon on the R line's new downtown platform, which has been closed since 2005.

"We made a commitment to fully reopen the Cortlandt Street station in time for the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and we are here today to fulfill that commitment," said NY MTA chairman Jay Walder.

City Councilwoman Margaret Chin said ten years of near-constant construction at the site has served as an uneasy reminder of 9/11's long reach.

"It told us that the subway is not complete, we're still missing something," she said. "But now ten years later, we're finally going to open this station. And then when we take the R train, we're going to feel the sense of rebirth, that finally it's done."

The station was shuttered for a year after the attacks on September 11th. It operated under makeshift conditions from 2002 to 2005 before undergoing a series of partial closings that allowed for a thorough renovation and the addition of a new underground passageway.

This latest and final bout of work cost $20 million and was paid for by the New York and New Jersey Port Authority and the NY MTA's capital construction budget.

The renovation restored twelve large ceramic murals installed in 1997 and collectively titled, "Trade, Treasure and Travel." The murals, which contain real and mythical creatures mingled with dollar signs and other signifiers of the nearby Financial District, were not damaged in the attacks. But they sat in storage until the station was ready to show them off again.

Cortlandt station mural (photo by Jim O'Grady/WNYC)


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Comedy Since 9/11: Comics Reflect On What It Took To Get New York Laughing Again

Monday, September 05, 2011


The dozen comedians interviewed for this story said similar things about the weeks and months following the attacks on 9/11. None of them wondered whether comedy would come back, or remotely agreed with Vanity Fair magazine editor Graydon Carter's contention from the time: "It's the end of the age of irony."

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Obama Calls on Congress to Pass Federal Transportation Bill And Keep The FAA In Business

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

President Obama, flanked by DOT head Ray LaHood and US Chamber of Commerce COO David Chavern. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

(New York, NY - WNYC) President Obama says nearly a million American workers, many of them in construction, will be unemployed within a year if Congress delays passage of the federal transportation bill. The president spoke at a press conference in the Rose Garden at The White House, where he was joined by some of those workers.

"If we don't extend this bill by the end of September, all of them will be out of a job because of politics in Washington, and that's just not acceptable," Obama said.

The House is proposing to renew the transportation bill at $230 billion over six years. The Senate wants to spend $109 billion over two years. The sides must be reconciled by September 30th to avoid interruption to building projects around the country.

"This bill provides funding for highway construction, bridge repair, mass transit systems and other essential systems that keep our people and our commerce moving quickly and safely,"Obama said.

The Senate bill would keep U.S. transportation spending at current levels. The House bill would constitute a 35% annual cut. Both bills are less than what the president has proposed: $500 billion, with another $53 billion for competitive high speed rail grants.

Petra Todorovich of the Regional Plan Association--a planning group covering New York, New Jersey and Connecticut--called the house bill "a brutal cut that will certainly be felt around the region in jobs and in the condition of our roads, bridges and transit systems."

The president said if the transportation bill is allowed to expire, 4,000 workers will immediately be furloughed. He added that if Congress remains at an impasse ten days after that, $1 billion in highway funds will be lost for good.

President Obama also called on Congress to extend authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. When the House and Senate deadlocked on the issue in July, the FAA endured a partial shut down for 13 days. The move threw 4,000 agency employees out of work and interrupted hundreds of airport construction projects. Thousands of construction workers around the U.S. lost two weeks on the job and the the federal government was not able to collect more than $350 million in taxes on airline tickets.

The president also proposed an initiative aiming at cutting waste in transportation spending and giving states greater control in choosing projects.

"No more bridges to nowhere," he said. "No more projects that are simply funded because of somebody pulling strings."

He said that at the urging of his Jobs Council, he'd be directing federal agencies to identify high priority infrastructure projects that are already funded and then "expedite permitting decisions and reviews necessary to get construction underway more quickly while still protecting, safety, public health and the environment."

US DOT secretary Ray LaHood, who joined the president at the podium, continued the theme of linking transportation to jobs on his blog: " It's time to have a serious conversation in Congress about making smart investments while interest rates are at historical lows and unemployment is high." The president wants to publicly have that conversation on Tuesday, September 7th, when he's requested a joint session of Congress to lay out his job creation plan.

Today, Obama said such spending was urgent not only to create jobs but to stop from falling behind countries that are spending at a healthy clip on roads, railways, mass transit and airports. He said that ten years ago, U.S. infrastructure ranked sixth globally -- but now ranks 23rd.

"We invest half of much in our infrastructure as we did fifty years ago with more than one-and-a-half the number of people," he said. "Everybody can see the consequences. That's unacceptable for a country that has always dreamed big and built big, from the transcontinental railroads to the interstate highway system."

UPDATE: 4:07PM: Congressman John Mica, the Florida republican who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, released a statement about the president's speech. “In the interest of getting Americans back to work and moving vital transportation legislation, Republicans are committed to working with the President and Congressional Democrats," he said, before blaming Democrats for the funding stalemate. "During their control, they neglected aviation legislation for more than four years and left major transportation legislation in the ditch for more than a year."

Mica has been vocal about wanting a six-year authorization bill, and floated one last month. But it sounds like he's willing to make concessions. "I will agree to one additional highway program extension," his statement read, "this being the eighth of the overdue transportation reauthorization."



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After Irene: Your Morning Commute

Monday, August 29, 2011

WNYC transportation reporter Jim O'Grady discusses the effect the storm has had on this morning's commute. How are you getting to work this morning?

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Reporter's Irene Notebook: That's It?

Sunday, August 28, 2011


"I by the tide / Of Humber would complain."

--To his Coy Mistrees by Andrew Marvell

From the admittedly jaundiced vantage of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Hurricane Irene was the girl who threw the party of the year, showed up briefly and didn’t dance.

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NYC, Transit Included, Readies For Hurricane

Friday, August 26, 2011

Worst-case projection of storm surge flooding in Lower Manhattan.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Of all New York City's infrastructure, its underground transit system is especially vulnerable to storm surges produced by hurricanes like the one that is expected to soon work its way up the east coast. Planners agree on this, but not on how best to prepare for what could be more and worse hurricanes in the coming decades as the climate warms and sea levels rise. Here's a reprise of a story about all that, with link to a New York City flood evacuation map.

Malcolm Bowman, an oceanography professor from Stony Brook University in Long Island, recently stood at edge of the Williamsburg waterfront and pointed toward the Midtown skyline. "Looking at the city, with the setting sun behind the Williamsburg Bridge, it's a sea of tranquility," he said. "It's hard to imagine the dangers lying ahead."

But that's his job.

He said that as climate change brings higher temperatures and more violent storms, flooding in parts of the city could become as routine as the heavy snows of this winter. We could even have "flood days," the way we now have snow days, he said. Bowman and other experts say the only way to avoid that fate and keep the city dry is to follow the lead of cities like Amsterdam and Saint Petersburg, Russia, and build movable modern dykes. Either that or retreat from the shoreline.

Higher sea levels will give severe storms much more water to funnel toward the city. Bowman pointed first north, then south, to depict surges of water coming from two directions: through Long Island Sound and down the East River and up through the Verrazano Narrows toward Lower Manhattan. The effect could be worse than anything seen before.

Here is that flood map.

And here is the rest of the story.


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