The Week in Review


Yogurt or gasoline? Weekend ribaldry courtesy of the Neistat Brothers.

  • NASCAR took what may have been its final "victory lap" around Midtown week, its top drivers speeding and spinning through Midtown Manhattan, backing up traffic and hogging bike lanes. In other words, behaving pretty much like the average New York City motorist. And like the typical driver, NASCAR stars had the blessing of the city, which has its hands full with sass-mouth bike commuters.
  • Congestion pricing friends and foes had it out over what to make of the Congestion Mitigation Commission hearings. Environmental Defense found it encouraging that most who offered testimony supported some form of the mayor’s plan, while the Village Voice saw "a disturbing lack of interest on the part of the general public when it comes to voicing their opinions on a plan that would radically change the urban landscape." Luckily, local TV news watchdogs are on the case — and they won’t rest until you’re behind the wheel of a brand new 4Runner!
  • With a DOT meeting turnout of about 30, one could say Harlem residents showed a disturbing lack of interest in the effects of congestion pricing on neighborhood parking. Speaking of parking (and many of you have), new Yankee Stadium cheerleader Adolfo Carrion got a hefty campaign contribution from property owners who collected a much heftier stadium-related air rights fee from the city. Wonder what The Ethicist would say about that one?
  • Andrew

    One possible reason that folks didn’t make it to the congestion pricing/mitigation hearings is because DOT did a miserable job advertising them. I am on the Transportation Committee of my local community board, there was a meeting across the street from my apartment, and yet somehow I was not notified of the event. The Board unceremoniously got a flyer about a day before the meeting. Apparently eight people showed up. Item two: this summer I drove around eastern Queens for an hour looking for an event that was misadvertised by DOT. Trust me, I have plenty to say about congestion pricing – beginning with the ten billion dollars of transit infrastructure being invested in MANHATTAN while outer borough residents are being asked to ride already amazingly overcrowded trains for up to an hour and a half. Or pay more to drive. Great choice. The sad part of the story is that limiting vehicle access to the City in exchange for improved transit is a good idea. It’s just that bureaucracy seems incapable of packaging a good idea, discussing it, adapting it to reality, and then actually implementing it. Build me a dedicated bus lane to MH and then we’ll talk.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Trust me, I have plenty to say about congestion pricing – beginning with the ten billion dollars of transit infrastructure being invested in MANHATTAN while outer borough residents are being asked to ride already amazingly overcrowded trains for up to an hour and a half.)

    The only transit investment for Manhattan residents is three stations on the Upper East Side. Everything else is designed to help residents of other places get to the concentration of high-wage jobs in Manhattan quicker and easier despite living farther away, and to extend the CBD (ie. the Flushing Line extension). The beneficiaries are Queens and the Suburbs. Manhattan and Brooklyn pay.

  • Hilary

    Larry, That’s a bit disingenuous. What’s the price of those three stations vs. BRT for the outer boroughs? That’s an argument that won’t carry the day I’m afraid!

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    The only transit investment for Manhattan residents is three stations on the Upper East Side. Everything else is designed to help residents of other places get to the concentration of high-wage jobs in Manhattan quicker and easier despite living farther away, and to extend the CBD (ie. the Flushing Line extension). The beneficiaries are Queens and the Suburbs. Manhattan and Brooklyn pay.

    Don’t lay this on us in Queens. I’m sick of hearing this project referred to as “the Flushing Line Extension,” as though it’s got anything to do with Flushing. We’re perfectly capable of getting to jobs in Manhattan by subway; the westward extension of the #7 line will not benefit us in any significant way.

    On the other hand, the LIRR/Grand Central link will give us another (sorta) direct route to Grand Central. The planned “Sunnyside” LIRR station will allow people to transfer from buses to commuter trains. The main benefit to us is that the LIRR/Grand Central link and Third Track projects will hopefully take some cars off our streets.

  • Larry Littlefield

    When I said Queens would get a benefit, I was referring to East Side Access, not the Flushing Line extension.

    The problem with populist outer borough objections to a lot of things that benefit “Manhattan” is that lots of people from the outer boroughs spend a lot of time in Manhattan, and taxes collected in Manhattan spend a lot of time in the outer boroughs.

    So saying everything is to benefit Manhattan so it’s unfair to charge people elsewhere to drive there is disingenous.

    As I said, all Manhattan RESIDENTS are getting from the system expansions now proposed is the upper section of the Second Avenue. I’d put the further expansion up to 125th as a maybe. The southern half will never be built, because anything that isn’t done by the time the baby boomers start retiring in large numbers never will be.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Following up the point, one of the pipe dreams to “benefit Manhattan” is to tear the borough up to extend MetroNorth and the LIRR to Lower Manhattan. Not going to happen, unless the existing system it connects to is left to rot.

    So I now think is the only solution to the misery of tranferring to the already-crowded IRT for the trip to Downtown is — bicycles. There is your feasible Velib program for NYC. Suburbanites who want to live longer can pick one up as part of their monthly ticket at GCT, Penn, or Atlantic Terminal, and ride them to Downtown.

  • Steve

    Larry, not a bad idea for a pilot velib–a few hundred bikes with stations to get them/leave them at Grand Central, Penn Station, PABT, and South Ferry. You could charge $2 a ride, take a big deposit on a credit card to cover the possbility of theft or loss, and people would still use them.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (You could charge $2 a ride, take a big deposit on a credit card to cover the possbility of theft or loss, and people would still use them.)

    I’d take the deposit, but I wouldn’t charge. If there is one group of people who are hurting the environment by riding transit, it is those who get on the Lex at GCT at 8:30 am. If they ride a bike, they are doing us a favor. The MTA could even put in locked storage areas around Downtown, perhaps incorporating them into the Fulton Transit Center complex.

    My first old/dog new/trick idea was that if I could have ridden one of those folding bikes to a commuter rail station, ride in, then ride the bike to work, perhaps living in the ‘burbs would have been more acceptable to me. The next was it would be better to ride a bike to the station, leave it there, pick up another in the city, and ride it to work.

  • James Goldberg

    The southern half will never be built, because anything that isn’t done by the time the baby boomers start retiring in large numbers never will be.

    I’m also beginning to think that the Second Ave subway, as much as I wish it existed, is just a huge boondoggle and mistake.

    With a fraction of the funds required to build just the uptown segment of the subway we could fully redesign and convert First and Second Avenues to a worldclass bus rapid transit system that, would be more than capable of taking the pressure off of the Lexington Ave subway.

    We could then go ahead and use those 2nd Ave funds to build out the entire citywide BRT network.

  • Steve

    I should clarify my comment–I’m in favor of free or nominal cost velolib, too. But what struck me about the idea of a limited velolib primarily for use in conencting midtown and downtown is that the need is so apparent that you could actually run it at a profit. If someone did so, it might make the city hasten its glacial pace in considering whether to implement a broader system on a public service basis.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (With a fraction of the funds required to build just the uptown segment of the subway we could fully redesign and convert First and Second Avenues to a worldclass bus rapid transit system that, would be more than capable of taking the pressure off of the Lexington Ave subway.)

    It wouldn’t be world class if it got stuck at stoplights at the major cross streets. Serious BRT requires grade separation, at least at major intersections.

    If you look at the numbers, the uptown M15 moves faster and has much higher ridership than the downtown M15. Why? First Avenue has an underpass at 42nd and passes under the Queensboro and Triboro bridges, rather than getting stuck. One could build a whole bunch of additional underpasses, but at that point you are getting almost as costly as the subway, and buses have much higher operating costs.

  • Hilary

    Ha ha – the three stations I was thinking of were the 2nd Ave subway! The “Flushing Line Extension” is another big ticket item. Together they make my point stronger – this pie is for Manhattan anyway you slice it! Not that they aren’t worthy projects, of course, but there is no equity. People in Manhattan getting a less crowded ride and a shorter walk. I suppose this will lure some of the black car riders to transit.

  • Hilary

    Larry – I think we learned from the failure of the proposal to bury RT 9 downtown that cost is not the only reason why these projects are doomed. People don’t want the entrance near them (though down here with the entrance to the Battery Tunnel is an example of how it can be landscaped and provide a certain amenity). Of course not every objector will be Goldman Sachs.

  • Ian Turner

    Angus, Hilary,

    I live on the 7 line in Queens, and I love the idea of the 7 line extension, especially if it were to have the extra stop at 10th avenue. Having the 7 train go that much further in Manhattan would make some trips direct that today require a transfer.

  • Hilary

    Great, but eliminating a transfer is not the impact of eliminating a car commute. We’re just saying that if you were looking for the projects with the biggest bank for the buck in reducing traffic in the city, these are probably not the ones. Their rationales are more to do with economic development. I’d like to see an analysis of the cost per VMT saved for each project — and where those VMT would be.

  • Hilary

    that should be bang for the buck of course.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    If you look at the numbers, the uptown M15 moves faster and has much higher ridership than the downtown M15. Why? First Avenue has an underpass at 42nd and passes under the Queensboro and Triboro bridges, rather than getting stuck. One could build a whole bunch of additional underpasses, but at that point you are getting almost as costly as the subway, and buses have much higher operating costs.

    Thanks for that argument against non-grade-separated BRT, Larry. Also, don’t forget that First Avenue bypasses most of the traffic for the Queens Midtown Tunnel.

    This kind of grade separation is not unheard of; the Grand Concourse has it at all major intersections – originally for the trolleys.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (This kind of grade separation is not unheard of; the Grand Concourse has it at all major intersections – originally for the trolleys.)

    Plus lots of trolley systems had tunnels for congested CBD areas — Newark, San Francisco, Philly to name a few. I see Manhattan as a place where BRT just won’t get it done — unless you are talking about taking over the FDR for buses.

  • You don’t necessarily need grade separation to make BRT work in Manhattan.

    Buses should have signal priority — the ability to turn the traffic light green when it approaches the intersection.

    If you converted avenues back to two-way operation and let the BRT run right down the middle of the avenue you also eliminate all of the curbside loading conflicts and many of the turning conflicts.

    Bogota and Paris both have some excellent examples of BRT working entirely on surface streets, no tunnels.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Buses should have signal priority — the ability to turn the traffic light green when it approaches the intersection.)

    Major cross town routes would’t move at all in that case, particularly on streets with one bus after another going by.

    There is a problem generally, in fact, that neither the avenues nor those major cross-town streets can have signal priority. That’s why cross-town buses are useless.

    My view is in Manhattan you need grade separation at least at major streets, if not all streets, for surface transit to work.

  • Andrew

    Larry: how does the $2B Fulton St rehab benefit Queens? How does the $2B 2nd Ave subway benefit Queens? How, honestly, does the $2B east side access project benefit a wage worker from Queens? How does the $2B JFK-lower MH rail link benefit the “populists” of Queens? How does the $2B #7 extension benefit someone in far eastern Queens who doesn’t have access to a train or good bus today? It is simply beyond argument to think that this menu of $10B couldn’t have been much more well spent to bring more NYC residents closer to Manhattan more efficiently.

    How about subway line extensions further into Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx? How about adding lanes to roads to create BRT lanes? How about improving service on the permanently disabled G line? Reactivating abandoned LIRR ROWs or train stations in the boroughs. East side access indeed. Lower MH rail link, argh. These should not be at the top of our list.

  • But, Larry, you’ve also got to assume that in any such “worldclass BRT system,” most if not all of the major crosstown streets will be BRT routes with private motor vehicle traffic either eliminated or heavily restricted.

    I suspect this discussion will be moving from theory to practice pretty soon and we’ll be seeing at one or more major crosstown streets converted to BRT before the end of the Bloomberg administration.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Larry: how does the $2B Fulton St rehab benefit Queens?)

    It benefits residents of Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx who work in Lower Manhattan. Remember, hundreds of thousands of Queens resident work in Manhattan every weekday.

    (How does the $2B 2nd Ave subway benefit Queens?)

    That three station extension is the one major project in the hopper that primarily benefits Manhattan residents.

    It would, however, also improve transit access for others to the hospital complex on the Upper East Side, a considerable employment center in its own right. If phase 2 is extended to 125th, then Bronx residents and MetroNorth riders would be able to swtich there and get improved access.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (I suspect this discussion will be moving from theory to practice pretty soon and we’ll be seeing at one or more major crosstown streets converted to BRT before the end of the Bloomberg administration.)

    Giving major crosstowns with bus routes signal priority would certainly be an appropriate response to a vote-down of congestion pricing. “You don’t mind gridlock, well then we won’t worry about it.”

    But remember judges get parking permits. And an environmental lawsuit with an injunciton in place could be extended for decades if a judge permits ongoing requests for “more information.”

  • Billy Soograw

    My colleagues needed to fill out http://goo.gl/Vag13C WI DoR S-240 last month and located an online service that hosts lots of form templates . If people need WI DoR S-240 too , here’s

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