Upgrade Subway Signals — Phase Out Phase II

This week’s Voice presents an excellent article by Aaron Gordon.

It says all that needs to be said. Here it is:

Maybe We Didn’t Need the Second Avenue Subway After All
The latest ridership numbers show that the MTA spent more than $300,000 for each new daily straphanger attracted by Cuomo’s much-heralded Upper East Side line

By Aaron Gordon July 18, 2018

All eyes were on Governor Cuomo when he celebrated the opening of the Second Avenue Subway in December 2016. Dennis Van Tine/AP Images
When the calendar flipped from 2016 to 2017, Governor Cuomo rode the subway. As you may recall, this was no ordinary subway trip: It was the inaugural run of the Q along its new route, down from the 96th Street terminus of the shiny, new Second Avenue Subway. You know, a ribbon cutting. Our governor loves ribbon cuttings.

With last week’s release of station-by-station ridership figures for 2017, we can finally learn the impact this long-awaited subway extension had on the system. As it turns out, the Second Avenue Subway is undoubtedly a benefit, but at $4.5 billion for just the three stations built so far, a very expensive one. And the stats also tell us much more about the problem the line was built to solve — and raise the question of whether that $4.5 billion would have been better spent elsewhere.

The Second Avenue Subway’s primary reason for existence was to lighten the load on the overburdened 4/5/6 Lexington Avenue line, the busiest subway corridor in North America after the Second and Third Avenue Els were torn down mid-century. This was a worthy goal, and to some degree, the new line accomplished this: The five Lexington Avenue stops closest to the subway extension — 96th Street, 86th Street, 77th Street, 68th Street–Hunter College, and Lexington Avenue–59th Street — saw 17,377,828 fewer swipes into those stations last year, or about 47,600 per day.

Meanwhile, the three new Second Avenue Subway stations experienced almost 21.7 million trips last year, or just a hair shy of 60,000 per day. After factoring in large ridership changes at other nearby stations — the Lexington Avenue–63th Street F/Q station saw a 1.3 million bump in trips, while the Fifth Avenue–59th Street N/R/W had 560,000 fewer — the total change in ridership after the Second Avenue line opened nets out to just a hair more than 5 million additional subway riders in 2017, or about 14,000 per day.

This is greater than officials projected in terms of ridership gained: MTA planners didn’t expect much new ridership from the Second Avenue Subway, knowing that it’s only two blocks from an existing subway. But in the grand scheme of New York City transit, it’s a pretty low number; it’s about the same number of riders who take the B36 bus between Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay each day.

But since construction began on the Second Avenue Subway in 2009, the subway’s performance has steadily declined to the point where it is now in crisis. The Second Avenue Subway’s opening was a short-lived respite of good news from the otherwise constant barrage of nightmarish headlines. State of Emergency, Subway Action Plan, declining performance, you know the rest.

At best, the Second Avenue Subway is the lone bright spot in an otherwise concerning trend of declining public transit ridership. Even with the increase in ridership on the Upper East Side thanks to the Second Avenue Subway, Manhattan still lost 10,821,930 subway trips last year. This ridership drop is almost certainly due to the increasingly poor service, which itself is a result of maintenance backlogs, antiquated technologies, and questionable management decisions.

As I have previously reported, while tunnel-boring machines were grinding their way underneath Second Avenue to relieve the 4/5/6, the MTA was installing unnecessary signal timers on the Lexington line that ended up reducing its capacity. The New York Times later found that in June and July of last year, during the average weekday rush hour window, 57 scheduled trains on the 4/5/6 simply do not run. Those ghost trains alone could have fit the number of riders who switched to taking the Second Avenue Subway.

Indeed, at the time the MTA was justifying the Second Avenue Subway, one of the key words involved was “overcrowding” — as in, crowding on the 4/5/6 was causing delays, and the only feasible way to address that was to build the Second Avenue line. This was the prevailing logic in 2009, and even for much of 2017 after the Second Avenue Subway was completed. Yet the new transit chief, Andy Byford, has since declared overcrowding is not, and never has been, the root cause of delays. Overcrowding is the result of delays, not the cause.

We know now that the Second Avenue Subway could not possibly have been the most cost-effective way to relieve crowding on the Lexington Avenue line. That would be upgrading the signals to Communications-Based Train Control, or CBTC. One of the first lines Byford wants to tackle is, in fact, the 4/5/6 from 149th Street–Grand Concourse in the Bronx to Nevins Street in Brooklyn. Doing so would allow the MTA to run trains much more efficiently, increase capacity, and turn those ghost trains into real trains.

This project alone would provide a benefit to Lexington Avenue line orders of magnitude greater than the Second Avenue Subway for a fraction of the cost. (Re-signaling the Queens Boulevard line from Kew Gardens–Union Turnpike to 50th Street is expected to cost $425 million; the Eighth Avenue line from 59th Street to High Street has a preliminary estimate of $375 million.) But the main holdup for Byford’s plan is he needs the money. Oh, if only he could have, say, $4.5 billion available, enough to upgrade most of the subway system to CBTC.

Most transit experts will tell you that thanks to decades of apathy the subway needs to build extensions and rapidly upgrade its existing infrastructure. No disagreement here; the best version of New York City is one where we can do both. But, as the last several decades and Byford’s ongoing efforts to secure funding illustrate, that isn’t the New York we have. Instead, the MTA is working on scraping together $6 billion for Phase II of the Second Avenue Subway, which will take it up to 125th Street — at that price tag, the MTA could almost certainly re-signal the entire subway system. The question isn’t why the Upper East Side can’t have nice things, but why, with so many dire, urgent needs across the system, the Upper East Side should be disproportionate benefactors.

In any case, the Second Avenue Subway extension has now been built, so we must do our best to enjoy it. The people who used to have a fifteen-minute walk to the subway but now have a mere ten-minute walk must savor those precious moments. The straphangers still taking the 4/5/6 ought to bask in the extra space they now have. Take an extra second to enjoy the world-class art in the new stations. Somebody has to, because Governor Cuomo won’t. He hasn’t ridden the subway since. After all, there haven’t been any ribbon cuttings.

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For Want of An Apron

The other day as I was scrubbing paint brushes at the sink, a fellow art student of a certain age told me that she had never learned to be neat. She blamed it on not having attended kindergarten. That omission, she said, affected her son. Decades ago he took an admission test to a significant pre-school in Manhattan. A perfect score was obligatory, but he missed one word. The one he had missed was so simple that his failure indicated a developmental problem, so they called his mother in. They said he was the only student they had ever encountered who had no concept of the word “apron.” She explained his ignorance – there was no such item in the home – and the boy was registered.
“If they had asked him about Doric columns, he would have done fine,” she said. “I think of that every time I hear that minority students do poorly on entrance tests. Maybe, like my son, those kids don’t have all the same reference points as the schools.”

Please leave a comment in the box below.

Must-reading on NYC’s subways…

Kudos to the N.Y. Times for its investigation into how the city’s subway system became the dangerous disaster it is today. With so many examples to choose from, the reporters omitted my favorite horrific Metropolitan Transit Authority blunder – the $530 million “renovation” of the South Ferry station that opened in 2009 and was knocked out of service  by Hurricane Sandy three years later as a storm surge poured through its entrances and crippled the entire system. It turns out that those who designed and approved the upgrade early in the 21st century forgot that the South Ferry station was next to New York Harbor. The MTA team neglected to engineer safeguards against rising sea levels and inevitable storm surges.

Not to worry about missing that one — read about how Governor Andrew Cuomo forced the MTA to used $5 million of its budget to prop up three upstate state-run ski resorts that were adversely impacted by a warm winter.

Readers can pick their own favorite blunders from the newspaper’s fine reporting here.

Please comment in the box below.

 

Williamsburg Tickets Cyclists!

More cyclists than commercial truck drivers in North Brooklyn are receiving tickets, according to NYPD data. As Gwynn Hogan reports in DNA Info,  between January and the end of September, cyclists in Williamsburg were ticketed 1,160 times for violations like running red lights and riding the wrong way on a one-way street. This is compared to 463 tickets written to commercial trucks for violations like texting while driving or not wearing seatbelt. I think we are supposed to be appalled that law enforcement is harder on cyclists than commercial truck drivers, but I am glad that bikes are getting some attention. If cyclists want to break laws with impunity, they should pedal over to Manhattan. It seems to me that their luck is better there.

Please comment in the space below.

Cruising the Hamptons Film Festival

The films Zoglin reviews will be coming to the city soon.

Zoglin's View

I just finished a busy weekend of filmgoing at the Hamptons International Film Festival. This annual Hamptons ritual — which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year— has always struck me as a bit of a superfluous stop on the film-festival circuit.  It overlaps with the higher-profile New York Film Festival, just a hundred miles to the west, and most of its big films are second helpings from more prominent festivals in Toronto, Cannes and elsewhere. Still, the festival always brings in a lot of interesting little films looking for attention (especially foreign ones and documentaries), draws an enthusiastic crowd of non-cineastes to its packed screenings, and is increasingly regarded by the film studios as a good place to generate buzz for their big fall releases. Nearly all the major Oscar nominees from last year were previewed at the Hamptons festival — including Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea and La La…

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Library Rose Room Reopens to All!

Given that the third floor of The Stephen A. Schwartzman Building on Fifth Avenue, formerly known as the main branch of The New York Public Library, is now as densely packed with visitors as Times Square or the #6 subway line, I think it is time that the NYPL board and administrators, who encourage this crowding, hire a grad student to dress up as a topless Jane Austen. She could pass her drawstring bag around for funds. Maybe they could add a Bob Dylan. Literature has super heroes too.
Even if the likes of students, scholars, researchers and writers are no longer enough to justify fund-raising among the 1 percent, the larger issue is that yet another bastion of excellence is destroying itself. Let’s all go visit a fire station to make those cost-effective too. Currently, the only people allowed to enjoy these publicly-owned properties are those who need to be there. Let people in so they can slide down the poles!
Of course the magnificent Fifth Avenue library building should be appreciated by as many as possible, but the hordes now overwhelming the guards and librarians need to be actively policed. This month’s NYPL press release says of the Rose Reading Room: “The entire Room is designated for research and quiet study and there is a small viewing area where visitors can admire and take non-flash photography of the room and ceiling.” That is not the situation unfolding. (text continues below the photos)

NYPL patrons as zoo animals

If you can’t get to the zoo, photograph in the Rose Room

Scholars use the Rose Room

Patrons fill the North Rose Reading Room awaiting close-ups to be taken by visitors coming in from the rain

Visiting teens like to stand on this balustrade.

Liability issues ahead, NYPL!

So, here are some suggestions on how to re-civilize the former main branch of The New York Public Library:

  1. Inform all library guards about the rules of behavior for those wandering and photographing the reading and research rooms and its true patrons. Have them enforce the rules, which they are trying to do now with only moderate success.
  2. Designate guards to take the place of those going on their well-deserved breaks since rubberneckers swarm in taking photos and dragging children unless a guard is standing in the door of the north reading room (which is nearly identical to the south room and is supposedly off-limits to those not using NYPL materials).
  3. Ban strollers and children under the age of 12 from both reading rooms or, better, yet from the entire third floor.
  4. Rope off more lane lines so those attempting to request books can get through the clot of rubberneckers standing in doorways.
  5. Increase your toilet paper budget and improve plumbing because the bathrooms are overwhelmed, as are cleaning people.

  6. Increase your liability insurance because someone is going to get hurt. Before the Rose Room closed, I panicked when I saw a teenager standing on the balustrade on the third floor north side stairwell to impress his terrified buddy. Had the daredevil fallen three stories down to the hard marble floor his grieving parents would have had quite a payday. The building might have had to be sold and turned into condos to pay the legal judgement. Could that be idea? That Wells Fargo guy could buy an apartment in the Rose Room. Please comment in the reply box below.

Airing Facts about AIRBNB

If the legal owner/occupant of a residence is in residence when he/she rents out their home, I have no objection. However, if they are not present, if they permit friends, family and strangers to occupy their property, it is their neighbors (as I have learned) who will bear the brunt of visitors’ carelessness, cluelessness and just plain not knowing that every time they drop their combat boots on the bare floor, the person living downstairs will suffer. Here’s a wonderful explanation about the dangers and dishonestly of AirBNB — and why it must be closely regulated — from http://www.gothamgazette.com and the hotel industry.

Please comment below.

Bill Cunningham: Nobleman of Style

Bill Cunningham, the street photographer, cyclist, one-time milliner and incomparable New Yorker died this week at 87 and none will ever take his place. He had such a reverence for life and so keen a sense of the sacred that he was able to discern that even fashion has a soul. His best comment ever on his N.Y. Times blog went something like this: “People say that New York isn’t what it used to be. Are they crazy? (his voice rising) Have they seen the wisteria?”

Here is a selection of his many blogs, a link to the wonderful documentary about him, and photos that I had the gall to snap when I found him at work on his beloved 57th Street:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking Up With The Pope

I really thought this relationship was going to work, especially since this time I wasn’t demanding perfection. However, now it is clear to me that he isn’t the person I thought he was. More to the point, he isn’t the person I wanted him to be.

Things fell apart soon after we got close physically. Well, close physically in that a few Sundays ago I was in Vatican City where he lives rather than in New York where he does not. I have taken some time to decide whether we are truly finished and, yes, we are. He did two things that broke us up:

Papal audience

I felt we were getting closer (see him above red banner looking right at me)

First, he met with Bernie Sanders, a man who also  insulted the laywoman who was supposed to be running the conference where Sanders appeared. She had said his visit was inappropriate. Sanders came anyway and then refused her handshake after he barged in. The prolonged muddle forced me to face the fact that if the Vatican does not want a woman to run a parish church, it probably does not want a woman to run the United States of America.

My former hero said that anyone who thinks meeting Sanders was an endorsement needs a psychiatrist. Maybe Freud could tell us how a man who was in charge of the Catholic Church in troubled Argentina, and who has been a world leader for three years, could fail to understand how meanings are telegraphed to the world. Is the Catholic Church rooted in Rome or in the inscrutable Orient? Interestingly, Bernie has a pattern of being curt to powerful women, but of course he wouldn’t be finding any of those at the Vatican. See Bernie here with Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee. What if he gets to meet Angela Merkel and Christine Lagarde?

Anyway, I learned enough from my break-up with former longtime love Ralph Nader to know that I had to avoid the Socialist from Vermont. Trust me, with Ralph I felt the burn (although there was also my underage thing with JFK). But back to my more recent break-up:

The second final straw was His Holiness’ trip to Lesbos and his airlifting of three vetted Syrian Muslim families to Rome to set an example to us all. Problem for me here is that a few nights earlier, while returning from a visit to Emperor Augustus’ Altar of Peace, I turned on to the Via della Conciliazione where it meets Saint Peter’s Square. Living in New York City, I should be used to suffering humanity by now, but the street’s doorstops writhed with men, including refugees, bedding down under thin blankets, homeless and possibly hungry. I sped past them, fearful and somewhat ashamed. Perhaps His Holiness will soon walk a few hundred meters from his dwelling place to meet these men and to highlight the needy we have literally underfoot. And here’s my other nagging question – why not denounce leaders and movements that drive people from their homes rather than urge the faithful to spare despots by ameliorating crises that should be solved at their roots?

Okay, perhaps I am just a little bitter, but you know how when you look back over a failed relationship you see something that should have brought you to your senses months earlier? Something that lights up a situation like a drone strike? I should have paid more attention last October when he called “dumb” some anguished people of Chile who had strong reason to believe that the new bishop he appointed had collaborated in the sexual abuse of children.

Sometimes breaking up is ultimately not so hard to do. I am starting over. I recall the joy I had with the Dalai Lama. Sure, over the years I got used to him and took him for granted, but he never let me down. Yes, we come from different religions but he lives the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. Of course, as stated I have been wrong before but I remember my happiness of years gone by and so I will reach out to him on Facebook. The guy I am leaving can take consolation – the Dalai Lama qualifies as a refugee!

Please share your thoughts by clicking on the headline OR on the blue (sometimes grey) bubble at the top of this post. Thanks!

Diversity Is MIA at Halftime

 

Since this year’s Oscars nominations inspired a worthwhile discussion of diversity, I’ve been waiting for the entertainment media to say more about inclusion – or the lack of same – at the Sunday Super Bowl halftime show. None of the vanilla-talking CBS announcers mentioned the appearance of The Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles. Nor did I hear those boys mention Gustavo Dudamel, the charismatic music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. If they did, it wasn’t enough, even though they fell over themselves promoting Beyoncé and Bruno Mars. (Chris Martin, not so much).

On Monday the twitterverse and post-show analysts gave Chris Martin flack for being less vivid than Beyoncé and Bruno Mars. He received scant credit for generously inviting them to join him on the show in the first place. Nor was Coldplay’s front man hailed for inviting The Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles to back him up. Perhaps he would have gotten his props if he had featured dozens of women cavorting in thongs. That worked for others.

I was in on the Dudamel-YOLA secret because I am a regular listener of the classical music station WQXR. It became my go-to background station when I realized it would keep me in my chair. Stravinsky’s rousing Firebird, unlike Katy Perry’s Firework, is impossible to sing or dance to (except for those on pointe).

WQXR hosts in the week leading up to Feb. 7 mentioned that Dudamel would be appearing with YOLA, the group of disadvantaged young musicians he founded. This led me to believe that I would see something generous as well as fun at the Super Bowl halftime. I thought the uninitiated would discover the joys of classical music. Not at all, as it turned out. However, one did see some diverse if uncredited faces behind Martin as he ran around bringing the camera to as many of them as possible. Asians! Latinos! Possibly a blonde! Parts of a few kids were glimpsed in the tight shots of Martin, Beyoncé and Mars, but mostly it was their clothing.

Those kids were happy. I’m hopping mad. So here’s my new song of choice: Coldplay’s Life in Technicolor. Since it includes singing, working hours I will go with Vitamin String Quartet’s version.

Please comment below, especially if, unlike me, you heard mention of Dudamel or YOLA. This is a blog of facts