Today’s Headlines

  • DMI on Transit Options: Fare Can Jump to $2.60, or We Can Pass Congestion Pricing (News 1, 2)
  • 17 New York City Pedestrians Killed in "Accidents" in First 27 Days of 2010 (NYT)
  • NYC Transit Testing Out Low-Cost Subway Arrival Displays That Could Go Systemwide (News)
  • Council Transpo Chair Jimmy Vacca High on Ferry Service for NYC (AMNY)
  • Feds Dropping Hundreds of Millions on Electric Car Infrastructure for Urban Centers (NYT)
  • Curbside Parking in Jackson Heights: Way Too Cheap (News)
  • Parking Lot Next to Flushing LIRR Station to Be Replaced With Housing, Parking (Queens Chron)
  • Private Bus Operator Doesn’t Appreciate the Congestion-Busting Effect of MTA Rail (City Room)
  • MTA Offices Hampered By Windows XP (AMNY)
  • The Lake Wobegon Effect: Why We Need Texting-While-Driving Bans With Teeth (Cyclelicious)

More headlines at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

  • Councilman Vacca is correct when he talks about the “underutilized” waterfront, but that makes even less of a reason to push ferry service. As Human Transit blogger Jarrett Walker points out, the “radius of demand” of a transit station is fixed, but the area inscribed by that radius is (for a ferry) only half as large.

  • Larry Littlefield

    It’s clear that what Vacca wants is more highly subsidized services for those in areas of the city beyond the subway. Along with free bridges. And while he says he wants ferry service to be more affordable, he really means more heavily subsidized. I don’t think he is talking about cutting costs. They never to.

    It seems that the free bus to subway transfer has been forgotten about.

  • vnm

    The print edition of the Times story on death statistics has a detailed graphic. In 2008, there were 299 non-cyclists killed in motor vehicle collisions. 171 of those were pedestrians, so presumably the remaining 128 were occupants of the vehicles. There were 23 cyclist fatalities, 21 of them in collisions involving motor vehicles.

  • I used to think that a W-Burg/Manhattan ferry would be just the thing to take the load off the notoriously crowded L Train (made even more crowded by the out of control development in W-Burg). But I’m not so sure. Where would that ferry land in Manhattan convenient to public transpo? Nothing doing on the East Side.

    Also, I wish AMNY would have gotten Vacco to elaborate more on his comment on bike infrastructure: “I’m open to bike lanes, but there’s got to be some common sense as far as where they go.”

    I hope Vacco has the common sense to see that providing meaningful bike infrastructure (and yes, coordinating lanes so that they link up, and “go somewhere”) might be a cost effective alternative to subsidizing ferries as a way to relieve overcrowded transpo.

  • JK

    Who doesn’t love a ferry? The water is nature’s highway, great views, minimal environmental impact and consumption of land. Sounds great. The problem is that ferry service is very expensive. Where is the money coming from to subsidize ferry service at a time when bus and subway riders are getting socked with higher fares and service reductions? It very hard to justify the expense of ferry service given the increases in other transit service you can afford with the same subsidy. It is hard to fathom any ferry service of the kind envisioned by Councilmember Vacca being able to come out the winner in any rigorous benefit/cost or alternatives analysis with other forms of transit. There is great romance surrounding ferries, but Councilmember Vacca should take a clear eyed look at ferry financing and move onto transportation issues that better serve the people of this city.

  • David_K: you could run ferry service from East River destinations to the terminal just east of the Staten Island Ferry terminal, which has an easy transfer to the 1 and R, but that wouldn’t improve travel times to midtown.

    Larry, I agree. Sounds like we could see clones of the Hunter’s Point ferry, with its giant parking lot right off I-495, and too far to walk from any neighborhood sites. That ferry still didn’t make money despite charging more than twice the regular subway fare.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Sounds like we could see clones of the Hunter’s Point ferry, with its giant parking lot right off I-495, and too far to walk from any neighborhood sites. That ferry still didn’t make money despite charging more than twice the regular subway fare.”

    I doubt that’s what Mr. Vacca has in mind.

    A cross river ferry like that one has a very short trip before it can turn around and pick up more passengers. Thus, the cost of labor and equipment can be divided over more passengers.

    A ferry from City Island to five stops in Midtown and Lower Manhattan might require Paratransit type subsidies. We’ve now seen what different types of service cost the MTA. More subsidized ferries make as much sense to me as free subways, unless Mr. Vacca has a plan to cut city support to the MTA below zero.

  • Larry Littlefield

    By the way, in case you are wondering, a “cheap” way to provide a countdown clock is to use track circuits to sense of there is a train.

    The circuits cannot tell what kind of train it is, however, so whenever you have multiple routes on the same line that later diverge, you won’t know if your train is coming. It also doesn’t automatically provide recordkeeping now done manually, or automatically operate switches.

    It sounds as if Siemans and ATS have failed.

  • Check out the countdown clock picture at It doesn’t say which flavor of train is coming, just which track it’s on.

  • Boris

    A $2.60 fare (still reasonable, considering inflation and MetroCard discounts), AND congestion pricing, AND union and pension cuts- then we are getting to the level of funding European and Asian transit systems enjoy. Only one of the three would simply take us back to 3 years ago but without the crazy real estate tax windfall. The MTA would be able to maintain today’s service, but it’d still have to borrow too much.

    It’s a heavy burden to carry for New York State because of the size of its transit systems. We get screwed simply because the federal government has a preference for highways over transit.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Then we are getting to the level of funding European and Asian transit systems enjoy.”

    Except they don’t have all those existing debts. PUT BANKRUPTCY ON THE TABLE! Not only do all those things have to happen, but those debts have to go away, either through inflation or default or (as I proposed by two years ago) a massive exit tax on those selling homes and leaving combined with taxation of retirement income on the same basis as wage income.

    Even then, it may be too late.

  • JK

    David_K, I like your idea of substituting low cost bike infrastructure paid for with capital dollars for expensive ferry operating. Problem is, NYC doesn’t have a transportation decision making process which allows for this kind of benefit/cost comparison across modes, agencies and funding sources. There is no transportation master plan, or master strategy, that actually looks at biggest bang buck results for capital or operating dollars. So, MTA subsidies for Access A Ride have no bearing on potential subsidies for ferries. For sure, the MTA is not going to subsidize ferry service. So the money would have to come from city operating funds. Given the budget crises, by far the most likely scenario resulting in a big increase in ferry service would be to take potential toll/pricing money as part of a political deal in return for council support: essentially a “ferry bribe.” Otherwise it’s going to be really hard to get council (and city unions) to agree to subsidizing private ferry operators while fire stations are getting closed.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Here are the fares for the Sea Streak ferry from Atlantic Highlands NJ. This ferry is self funding and not in jeopardy, and is probably non-union and/or has no legacy costs. It caters to wealthy Wall Streeters working in Lower Manhattan, but also stops on the East River at 35th Street. Like a ferry from City Island or Whitestone, it has to travel a long way to reach its destination.


    Round Trip $40 One Way $23

    40 Trip $625

    40 Trip off peak (valid on any NJ departure after 9:30AM and on any return trip from NYC; tickets are directional) $490

    10 Trip $192 Child RT (5-12) $16
    Child OW (5-12) $9 Bike $5

    E. 35th St. to Pier 11 $5

    That’s $15.60 per ride for daily commuters, which is what the 40 trip package is for. In Lower Manhattan you can walk from the ferry, but in Midtown you can’t. Another $5 for your bike.

    Could more ridership and larger vessels lead to a lower subsidy? Possibly, and bikes could help by providing a way for riders to get to the ferry that doesn’t require so much land for parking. Multiple orgin stops could also help: ie. City Island, Country Club, Throggs Neck, Whitestone, College Point, and on to the destinations. But it won’t be cheap $10.00 per ride if we are lucky.

  • Red

    I’m not worried about MTA staff using Windows XP and Office 2003, but it’s troubling that the article seems to suggest their planning staff does not have access to GIS software…

  • J:Lai


    LL – I’m with you on this one. The more I think about it, the less I see any workable alternative (allowing the transit systemt to fall apart due to disinvestment over the next 10-20 years is not a workable alternative.)

    And this would not be a GM-style bankruptcy, this would destroy the pensions . . . a hard decision that requires a hard scapegoat to make it politically expedient. Maybe our 3rd term mayor?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “And this would not be a GM-style bankruptcy, this would destroy the pensions.”

    I doubt NYCT pensions would be affected at all, though workers could be required to pay more for them. The “private” LIRR might take a hit. Work rules and retiree health care would probably take a hit. Bondholders would take a big one. With bankruptcy on the table, you might get some concessions without actually going through the process.

    It would mean no more borrowing, except for state bond issues passed by referendum. Go ahead, make my day.

    In any event, by the time the MTA gets around to it, there will be LOTS of precedents.

  • Times article on accidental deaths:

    Hmm, the Bureau of Epidemiology Services says that the Health Dept. aims at “developing interventions for certain dangers and to ‘decrease these situations.'”

    Nice to know. In talking with an ER doctor friend about speed limits and car-on-ped injuries, he was excited at the public health argument for speed-taming. Perhaps the Bureau of Epidemiology Services is a potential key ally of the livable streets movement?

    Also, dig the Fire Commissioner on fire deaths:
    “One death is too many. There is no reason why we cannot reduce it any further.” Too bad traffic deaths are okay.

  • Ha, I hadn’t yet read the latest Reclaim when I commented above, so I didn’t know T.A. had already sat down with the health department’s chief, as reported in a later sblog story today! T.A. kicks butt in case anyone wasn’t sure.

  • Galls

    Larry, while I agree bankruptcy for the MTA might be the only politically feasible way to rid it of some expenses. However, aside from the go back to privatized operations scheme I love, your plan would never be allowed to go forward by the city, state and federal government.

    Muni Bonds are considered relatively risk free because it is believed they have the full faith and backing of various levels of government, additionally it is hard to argue in a court that an organization with the ability to levy taxes has reached a point where it can no longer pay its obligations.

    If one muni fails, same as if a GSA (Government Sponsored Agency) fails then the cost of debt for every single muni, city and state in the country skyrockets immediately.

  • Times article:

    “Fatalities for bicyclists decreased to 23 in 2008, from 29 in 2007, despite a boom in commuters who bike to work.”

    Despite? Someone needs to inform the author on how more bikes = less collisions. It’s a proven fact.

  • The Times: “Seven pedestrians were fatally struck by vehicles from Jan. 3 to 9, the police said. By Jan. 27, the tally was 17…. Still, the longer-term trend for pedestrian deaths is down, too: in 2001, there were 191.”

    By my calculator, that puts NYC on pace for 230 pedestrian deaths this year, a substantial increase from 2001’s 191.

  • Streetsblog = Mac; MTA = PC

  • Larry Littlefield

    The problem isn’t Windows XP. The problem is that the last time I worked at NYCT, the biggest part of my job was to take information from one system, type it into a budgetary form, get a bunch of signatures, and give it to someone else to type into another system. My only impact on NYCT was the possibility of creating a typo, which would then require a repeat of the whole process for one cent. A job worth automating out of existence, but they’ve never been able to do it.

    Of course when I worked for NYCT in logistics in the mid-1980s, I had three count-em three computers on my desk. There was a once a week batch connection between two of them.

    Of course lots of private sector companies have had trouble integrating their IT. Citigroup for example. Uh oh.

  • J:Lai

    Galls –
    not necessarily true. GO bonds are backed by the ability of the municipality to levy taxes and, while not risk free, are considered to be low risk (usually). Revenue bonds, however, are what would typically be issued by an agency like the MTA and are backed by a specific revenue source (tolls, fares, etc). These can be considered quite risky, depending on the revenue source, as there is no implicit guarantee.

    However, I do believe that an MTA bankruptcy where bondholders get hosed but the pension liability does not get substantially reduced (like GM) is not tenable. Even with a new revenue source on the scale of congestion pricing, MTA will still need debt funding for the forseeable future. I think that unless the hit to the pension holders is roughly equivalent to the hit to the debt holders, the cost of borrowing becomes too high post bankruptcy.