Today’s Headlines

  • Fixing the BQE Is DOT’s Top Priority, But It Doesn’t Know Where the Money Will Come From (Politico)
  • City Hall Reveals Potential BQX Routes (NYT); De Blasio Teases More Streetcars and Ferries (Crain’s)
  • No Relief in Sight for Crowded, Delayed Subway Trains (DNA)
  • DOT Has No Comment on TA’s Grand Street PeopleWay Proposal (DNAPost)
  • DOT Shifts Some Park Slope Citi Bike Stations (DNA)
  • New State Law Requires Motorists to Slow Down Near Sanitation Trucks (DNA)
  • Tourist Struck by Driver on Williamsburg Bridge Dies (Post, AMNY)
  • Van Driver Injures 13-Year-Old Girl in Forest Hills (News)
  • 67th Precinct Criminalizes Biking While Black (Voice)
  • Jersey Motorists Ponder the Seemingly Unthinkable: Consuming Less Gasoline (NYT)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

  • Syd Chan

    Unless you want the city to get sued by the parents of teenagers and other trespassers breaking into ex-highways/vacant land to party and get hurt, vacant land needs to be secured; and that costs money.

  • Joe R.

    The signal system was designed based on the capabilities of the trains in use at the time. More of the IRT has signal problems simply because the capabilities of the trains in use at the time it was built were less than those of trains in the 1940s and later. The IRT also has a lot more sharp curves. I realize there are inherent limits in parts of the system but there are many others where we constrain train speeds for no good reason.

    Most of the IND was designed (and signaled) for train speeds of 50 mph or higher. The Queens Boulevard line was laid out for 65 mph if I recall.

    The fact is we used to safely run trains faster than we do now. That’s not conjecture. We actually did it. The MTA doesn’t have a captive audience. If they keep up with the arrogant attitude that they can keep slowing trains down, increasing headways, and so forth people will find other ways to get around, or leave NYC if they can’t. It happened once in the 1970s. If the MTA has no money for more trains to reduce crowding it can decrease headways with the same number of trains by running the trains faster. Those in charge need to end what has amounted to a silly 20 year work slowdown. Restore the trains to their full capabilities, get rid of the timers other than around curves where speeds really must be reduced. In most systems the train operator controls speeds and/or acceleration rates. If the MTA’s train operators are so incompetent or poorly trained that they can’t be trusted to do this, then maybe we need to fast track automated trains.

  • fdtutf

    NYCT subways can’t use increased braking rates (and running trains faster all the time would mean braking faster all the time, not just in emergency situations) without modifying the block signalling system. Each block length was designed to accommodate a maximum speed and braking distance at the grade as the track was built, so to accommodate speeds higher than the maximum in a given block, the block length would need to be modified, which impacts the length of the next block, and the block after that, and so on until the entire system must be redesigned and all the signals must be moved and rebuilt.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “increased braking rates” and “braking faster.” Are you talking about increased rates of deceleration? If so:
    1. Increased deceleration rates mean shorter braking distances. That couldcould — at least theoretically obviate the need for longer blocks, overlaps, etc.
    2. Because the subway carries humans and not freight, and because some of the humans are standing, there are limits on deceleration rates.

    IIUC, the fundamental problem that led the MTA to slow down trains all over the system is that later generations of trains have insufficient deceleration rates (from the old maximum speeds) for the existing blocks and signal overlaps to provide adequate protection against collision. This was highlighted in a crash in 1995 in which a train was tripped, but couldn’t be stopped short enough to prevent it from hitting the train ahead.

  • Joe R.

    The issue was the newer composition brake shoes couldn’t stop the trains as rapidly at existing brake cylinder pressures compared to the older asbestos brake shoes. This is what led to the train overrunning the stop signal in the WB incident. Increasing brake cylinder pressure would have restored the original braking rates so existing signal spacing would have been safe in most cases.

    There was a secondary issue when trains went through GOH in the 1990s. The motors were upgraded from 100 to 115 HP. This allowed higher acceleration rates once the train accelerated into the power-limited portion of the acceleration curve (i.e. above ~17 to 20 mph). In most cases the signal spacing was still adequate but the safety margin was reduced somewhat.

    The signal systems assume a certain emergency braking rate. In some cases (i.e. when a train is leaving a station) they may also be more closely spaced (to increase track capacity) under the assumption a train can’t physically exceed x mph because it can’t accelerate fast enough to do so. Both factors were in play in the WB incident.

    The brake rate issue could have been fixed by increasing brake cylinder pressure. That would have fixed the safety issues at the majority of signals. The higher acceleration rate issue could have been fixed by limited train speeds at signals where the spacing couldn’t handle higher speeds. If need be timers could have been installed at these locations to enforce these limits.

    The MTA unfortunately choose a “throw out the baby with the bathwater” solution which has so far condemned us to 2+ decades of much slower subway service. Any intelligent solution would have addressed the issue only in areas where there was really a problem.

  • fdtutf

    Thank you for the fuller explanation.

    I fully agree that the solution the MTA chose is a serious mistake. I remember how fast the trains were in the early 1990s before all this slowing-down was done.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, I recall the same. I remember the Queens Boulevard express accelerating out of Roosevelt Avenue going towards Manhattan and hitting 50+ mph by the time it was skipping the next station. Nowadays maybe I’ll see 42 or 43 under the same circumstances. Local service is what has really taken a hit. 5 to 10 seconds more between local stops really adds up. The trains used to accelerate strongly until about 30 mph. Now when they go past about 20 mph they just gather speed. I think I can accelerate from 20 to 30 on my bike faster than the subway trains do now. 😉

  • Syd Chan

    Yes, thanks.

  • Syd Chan

    You simply can’t remove ANY timers without rebuilding the ENTIRE block signalling system. The existing block signalling system is designed around using the timers to regulate trains to the predetermined speed that each block is designed for. And there’s no point in rebuilding the entire block signalling system for higher speeds when they’re trying to replace it with CBTC.

    It may be that there are sections of track that speeds are constrained for no better reason than the legacy block signalling system. There are trainsets are constrained from running at their full mechanical capabilities due to the safety features that the legacy block signalling system provides. But since, as I’ve already explained, the legacy block signalling system can’t be modified for faster speeds without modifying the entire signalling system, which is not going to happen until CBTC replaces the block signalling system, those trainsets and sections of track are simply going to have to stay constrained until CBTC is implemented on those lines sometime this century.

    As for the “arrogant attitude” that MTA supposedly has towards its riders, well, unlike private enterprises that must close if they have no customers, the MTA has other sources of funding than rider fares. Even if riders vote with their feet and mode shift to Ubers, etc., the MTA won’t completely shut down, because the MTA has sources of funding other than what their clientele directly pays. These sources of funding comes directly and indirectly from government stakeholders, whether its through the form of sales tax, state funding, city funding, etc., and the MTA must also answer to these government stakeholders, who also can’t provide all the funding needed in the short-term to keep the system in good repair, such as funding for the CBTC work. Of course, the government itself ultimately responsible to the people, so if you want to fast-track CBTC and automated trains, you need to work on getting elected officials to provide more funding for the MTA, and not yell at the MTA for not doing things without money that they don’t have and ultimately don’t control.

  • Joe R.

    How come the MTA added timers without rebuilding the entire signaling system? If you’re talking about restoring the signal system to the state it was in when the line was built I’m all for it since there were a lot fewer timers back then. Adding junk to an existing system is always problematic. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if many the of the signal problems the MTA has had lately are precisely because we’ve cut and spliced the signal system to add timers.

    The best solution is to obviously fast track CBTC so train speeds are limited solely by train performance and track geometry.

  • fdtutf

    Sure. 🙂 I just wanted to make sure I was understanding you correctly.

  • Syd Chan

    I would believe timer signals were added the last time they did a systemwide rebuild of the signal system in the 1940s-1960s; on the IRT and BMT lines, this apparently was a replacement of the signalling system from when those lines were built a century ago. Many of the signal problems that NYCT has had lately is because no one any longer manufacturers signal components designed 60+ years and multiple signal system generations ago, so replacement parts are scarce and custom-made for NYCT.

    Please don’t tell me you’re actually advocating running modern trains on a revival of the signalling system from a century ago, when trains were shorter and workplace safety was nonexistent. The other option, to fast-track CBTC, is easier said than done; until billions of dollars can be found to finance the rebuild, any statements about how we need to fast track CBTC is just hot air.

  • BubbaJoe123

    “And indeed high rise sites at the base of the Manhattan Bridge will go for billions”

    Are you really this colossally ignorant? I showed you conclusive proof that your estimates of land value is at least 25x too high (and probably more like 50x).

  • BubbaJoe123

    Much better to put it underground. For a change, would be nice to see Manhattanites actually get something back from the city, rather that just massively subsidizing the outer boroughs. In retrospect, Manhattan should have dumped the Bronx, rather than merging with Brooklyn.

  • Joe R.

    Umm, not really. The MTA added a timer on the express track near the Roosevelt Avenue station within the last few years just from memory. Timers were added on the CPW express run. I’m not a regular rider any more, but any regulars can tell where timers have been added when the train always slows down in spots where it didn’t before.

    Please don’t tell me you’re actually advocating running modern trains on a revival of the signalling system from a century ago, when trains were shorter and workplace safety was nonexistent.

    No, restore the signals and trains to what they were in the early 1990s. It worked just fine. Despite what you may think, there won’t be a rash of deaths or crashes if we do this. These changes will be good enough until we have the funds to install CBTC system-wide.

  • Syd Chan

    So all you’re doing is complaining about a few blocks where they decreased maximum speeds (decreasing speeds doesn’t require a block signalling system rebuild) and slowed down a small percentage of overall riders? I’m sure they had valid safety-related reasons to implement the slower speeds on these blocks, or to enforce existing limits that weren’t enforced strictly enough before.

    I suspect that, on the CPW express runs, they are simply enforcing pre-existing maximum speeds more strictly; in this case, it’s comparable to a highway where the speed limit is 65 mph but drivers usually go 80 mph until the cops come around. Operationally, the difference between a highway and a subway is that, of course, on the subway, the main signal control room are the cops, and they have the power to enforce the maximum speed on all train operators and not just only the unfortunate drivers that get pulled over.

  • Joe R.

    You forgot they also detuned the trains? That adds 5 to 10 seconds between local stops. 20 local stops could take a few minutes more each way. In a week that could be another half hour wasted. The lower performance also adds time to express runs.

    Basically, the time added by all this BS is the time a train would take to complete its run if it was limited solely by train performance and track geometry versus what it actually does take. Just for one example, trains can physically do the Queens Plaza to Forest Hills express run, which has a stop a Roosevelt Avenue, in about 8 minutes. The MTA has it scheduled for 12 to 14 minutes. That’s 4 to 6 minutes unnecessary travel time added each way just on one small portion of a run lots of people do each day. That’s assuming the trains aren’t delayed, which they often are. Ask all those people if they’ll take saving at least 8 to 12 minutes on a round trip each day with no decrease in safety.

    I suspect that, on the CPW express runs, they are simply enforcing pre-existing maximum speeds more strictly

    Why do you need speed limits on the dead straight portions of any express run? That’s my problem with this. I have no issue with enforcing track speeds via timers on curves where excessive speed can cause derailments. You don’t need them on straight portions of runs. Subway trains don’t go all that fast even when they’re not artificially limited. MTA rolling stock tops out at 55 mph or thereabouts. It should be wide open throttle until you hit a curve or the next station.

  • Syd Chan

    It sounds like, if you drove a car, you would be one of those people who also have no issues tailgating another car at 100 mph on a dead straight road. Sure, many cars have the performance to go 100 mph on a straight road, and drivers who do so save a bit of time, but it’s still above the speed limit, you’re still risking a crash since you’re tailgating, and the cops will still give you a ticket for unsafe driving.

    BTW, timetables usually have extra time built in at specific locations, since “delays” at that location are so common that they are scheduled in. Usually, those “delays” aren’t really delays, since the train operating plan has those trains waiting for another train to pass on another track in front of it before they can cross over. Without the built-in wait, both trains would either move to occupy the same track at the same time (crash!), or the other train would have to wait for the first train to move, which causes those riders are “delayed” instead. In the interest of fairness, when they have the express train pass the local trains on the express track, the express train is usually held when it gets to the crossover back to the local track, since the express train is already saving time, while the local train would only be even slower if the express was given priority.
    Of course, theoretically, one would plan to build express tracks to particular lengths so that these wait times are minimized. But in the real world, where station locations are located at busy locations and interlockings are located for other operational needs, theory isn’t practical and express trains need to wait a few minutes until they can cross over into their slot between local trains.

  • Joe R.

    You do know most of the NYC subway has separate express and local tracks? There usually isn’t a need to cross over.

    I also know about slack time. Typically train schedules have 5% or 10% slack time added to minimum running time just to account for normal variations in passenger load, occasional unexpected things, and so forth. The slack time is also there to allow trains to make up time if they run late so they still reach the terminal on time. This prevents them starting the run in the other direction late.

    It sounds like, if you drove a car, you would be one of those people who also have no issues tailgating another car at 100 mph on a dead straight road.

    How does any of that follow from what I wrote? Obviously trains still need to be spaced properly but the signal system takes care of that. Also, with the headways we typically run trains at they’re not going to be spaced so closely at top speed that stopping before hitting the train in front is an issue. At 30 tph and 55 mph trains are spaced 1.8 miles apart. A subway train can stop from 55 mph in perhaps 800 feet. You still have a huge safety margin.

    The thing here is I’m sick and tired of excuses from the MTA and from politicians. Fix the f-ing trains before the 1970s come again. I was there. I remember a time when every other train was pulled out of service for mechanical failure. It started just like this. Each year more delays, slower trains, more excuses from the MTA about how they couldn’t do this or that. NYC goes as the subway does. When people can’t get to work on time, the city will start hemorrhaging jobs. Tax receipts will go down. Less money for police, schools. Crime will go back up. More people will leave. All because the MTA can’t figure out how to run trains efficiently on track it has complete control of. I can actually excuse late buses because the MTA can’t control traffic. I refuse to do the same for the subway.

  • Syd Chan

    You do know that there are a total of zero subway services that run exclusively on express tracks, right? And save for the two services that don’t share any track with any other service, every subway line, and every subway train, does the “who goes first” dance with another service when it arrives at the crossover to switch onto the shared portion of the track. At many of these switches, it’s where an express service crosses over or merges to take up the local track. But when the express service arrives at the switch, it doesn’t “play chicken” with the local train to see who goes first – the scheduled operations plan and thus the dispatcher gives priority to the train that is scheduled to go first, which is usually the local train since the express train folks already saved a bunch of time traveling on the express.

    What I’m sick and tired of is armchair transportation critics who don’t know hooey about transit operations and how much care and calculations engineers and planners at the MTA spend on subway and bus operations planning. Instead, you blame transit agencies for not serving your own personal transit needs over the needs of everyone else and then claim that the transit agencies aren’t being “customer focused” because they don’t seem to react to your entitled sense of personal worth. Meanwhile, transit agencies like the MTA are busy trying to reach consensus so that they can serve the most people the best they can with the resources they have at their disposal now and today. And while it’s true that, now and again there’s an idea coming from the outside that can revolutionize operations, 99% of the “ideas” that armchair transportation critics come back with again and again are rehashed versions of things that have already been carefully considered by the transit agency engineers and planners. Yet you still continue to push your own agendas as if we’re idiots who need to be told how to think your way, while not even giving any other remotely useful critiques or proposing feasible solutions to any other of the 99 transportation problems that we’re trying to solve at the same exact time. You might not think a transportation solution is “efficient” because it doesn’t perfectly solve your own transportation needs; but transportation needs to solve society’s needs, and not just the needs of the loudest person in the room.

  • Joe R.

    So you’re an expert now? What’s your position at the MTA? You’re telling me more stuff I already know. The stuff about schedules is particularly meaningless if neither locals nor expresses keep to their schedules, which happens more often than not these days. At that point it’s the dispatcher’s call which train goes first.

    Tell me why 25 years ago it often took me 30 to 35 minutes from the time I caught the bus to the subway until I was in midtown and now it takes a good 15 minutes longer? I’ll grant that probably more than half of that extra time is because the bus runs slower due to heavier traffic (something the MTA has zero control over) but why should the subway take so much longer (and yes adding ~4-5 minutes to what was maybe a 16 minute trip is in fact a lot in terms of percentage).

    And FYI I talked to people who worked in the MTA. Most of them agree 100% with my thoughts. Travel time is paramount to everything except safety. And most agree that the slowdowns have done little to enhance safety. One person told me they were mostly lawyer driven.

    Stop defending mediocrity. Every other first world subway system is doing far better in nearly all metrics than the MTA is doing. I’ll be the first to compliment them when they do something right, like changing the recent train order to mostly open gangways. Most of what they’ve done lately is less than inspiring. Before you chime in about funding again, part of the job of the MTA’s leadership is to make a case for needed funding. Another part is to ensure money is spent effectively. Neither is being done to my knowledge.

  • Syd Chan

    All I see is whine, whine, whine. Instead of just complimenting MTA on doing something right, why don’t you actually do something about it, like actually work for the MTA and effect change from the inside? Instead of complaining about how things doesn’t get down, and then handing off the job of finding financing to get those things done to the “MTA leadership”, why don’t you be a leader yourself and help raise funding?

    Believe it or not, mediocrity is not a synonym for consensus building. And I firmly believe that, in any political organization, consensus is the cornerstone of the political process. And if what comes out of consensus is judged to be “mediocre,” well, then, that’s just some prissy, judge-y, opinionated person’s finding that it’s not up to their oh-so-high standards. I’ld rather take anyday something that works for society as a whole and not for me over something that works perfectly for me but doesn’t work for everyone else.

  • Joe R.

    My understanding from talking to the people who have worked for the MTA is that it’s an organization which stifles innovation and penalizes anyone who rocks the boat with new ideas. I wouldn’t fit in there, and frankly given what I see I think I would be grossly overqualified for any position they’re likely to offer me. I’m also tied up caring for my elderly mother in the early stages of dementia. I’m currently on a decent but high-pressure consulting gig doing a high-level research project for a major company which I can do at home and get paid over $100 an hour. If you’re interested in my background, I’m a Princeton graduate, class of 1985, with a BSE degree in electrical engineering and 28 years of practical experience. I’m almost 54 years old with neither the time nor desire to start a new career with anyone, let alone the MTA. Point of fact, I’m hoping to semi-retire by the time I’m 60 or thereabouts.

    NYC’s subway system actually was a source of considerable pride for me at one time. I used to brag about to out-of-towners. Now I’m embarrassed of it. Sorry for you if you think that’s prissy or opinionated but I find stuff like the excuses for endless delays and overcrowding in that DNA article totally unacceptable. If I did that on my current consulting gig I would be fired. When a problem comes up, they want solutions, not excuses. The issue here isn’t that the subways aren’t working perfectly all the time. Nobody expects that. The issue is that more often than not they’re not working by any reasonable standard of the word. Delays of a few minutes once or twice a month are expected. Long delays on a nearly daily basis are unacceptable. Two months ago it took over two fucking hours to get home from Penn Station. Two hours. That’s a trip which very reliably took me 40 to 45 minutes in the mid 1980s. There have been long delays almost every time I’ve ridden the subway in the past year. Others I know have said the same thing.

    Oh, and consensus only works when you have intelligent people with the same goal. That’s almost never in a quasi-public, highly political organization like the MTA.