Highlights From Today’s City Council Transportation Infrastructure Hearing

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, center, with NYC DOT deputy commissioners Bob Collyer, left, and Joseph Jarrin, right.

Today, the City Council transportation and economic development committees held a marathon joint hearing on New York’s transportation investment needs. Top staff from the MTA and NYC DOT, including Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, fielded questions from council members for the better part of the day.

Here are some highlights:

  • Council members Jimmy Van Bramer and Julissa Ferreras both asked for more bike lanes in their Queens districts. “We are striving to build out the bike infrastructure in all five boroughs,” Trottenberg said, “and we have a couple of really big projects planned in Queens.”
  • Van Bramer also pushed for more details on when the delayed Pulaski Bridge protected bike lane would open. Deputy Commissioner Bob Collyer said the project’s contractor received final sign-off from DOT two weeks ago and will release a construction timeline soon. Collyer expected the bikeway to be complete sometime this spring.
  • Bus Rapid Transit also came up during today’s hearing. Responding to a question from Council Member Donovan Richards, a vocal proponent of BRT on Woodhaven Boulevard, Trottenberg said the city is speaking with U.S. DOT about securing funds for street redesigns that feature full-fledged BRT.
  • Not all council members were as enthusiastic about BRT. I. Daneek Miller questioned the wisdom of Select Bus Service between Flushing and Jamaica, which led Trottenberg to say the project is “not written in stone.”
  • Trottenberg said the mayor’s housing plan demands coordination between new housing and transportation infrastructure, and that BRT on the North Shore of Staten Island should be accompanied by zoning changes near stations to maximize ridership.

  • Prompted by Streetsblog’s Brad Aaron, Transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez asked the MTA what it is doing to improve bus safety. Bizarrely, MTA representatives responded by talking about subways, but eventually said they are looking at technology that warns bus operators about nearby vehicles and pedestrians and are working with DOT on street design at specific choke points on bus routes.
  • Recent reports from the Regional Plan Association and the Citizens Budget Commission urged the MTA to devote more resources to Communications-Based Train Control, which upgrades subway signals to improve reliability and allows for more frequent trains. Craig Stewart, senior director of capital programs at the MTA, said one big limitation on CBTC installation is finding contractors for the job. Right now, the MTA has two bidders qualified for CBTC and is in the process of approving a third potential bidder, which Stewart said could take years.
  • The MTA issues its CBTC contracts through a “design-build” process, which shifts the risks of project delivery to the contractor and can save both money and time for agencies that use it. Trottenberg said today that DOT is hoping to secure design-build capabilities through state legislation, and is focused on using design-build on some of its bridge repair and construction projects.
  • City Council economic development chair Dan Garodnick and William Wheeler, who serves as the MTA’s director of special project development and planning, engaged in a long conversation about what types of projects would make up the next generation of MTA expansion. Garodnick noted that East Side Access, the Second Avenue Subway, and other expansion projects have been discussed for years, and that while he would like to use the zoning code to secure financing for more transit projects, the MTA has not been clear about how it is looking to expand once it completes its current generation of mega-projects.
  • Rodriguez asked both MTA and DOT about funding solutions for the MTA capital program, including the Move New York fair toll proposal. While Trottenberg stuck with her line of refusing to take a position on the plan, Wheeler was a bit more receptive, though still careful. “We’re glad that Move New York is out there talking about innovative ideas to raise funds for transit,” he said, before adding, “It’s not an endorsement.”
  • Wheeler said the MTA Reinvention Commission, which convened a group of international transportation experts at the request of Governor Andrew Cuomo, is expected to release its recommendations “any time now.” The commission, which is set to consider everything from funding to system operations and expansion, met over the summer but has not convened since early September. Most observers expect its recommendations to come out after election day.

Mark your calendars for the next round of action in the transportation committee. Today Rodriguez announced an oversight hearing on the city’s bicycle policies on November 20.

  • Bolwerk

    The Reinvention Commission has experts on it? Who knew?

    CBTC probably won’t save much money until they can reform labor at the MTA. There is a possibility that it is a backdoor way to make things more expensive for them. It does reduce signal maintenance costs, of course, but probably not by the billions it costs to install.

  • BBnet3000

    Is there any interest in finishing the 1st/2nd/8th/9th protected bike lanes in Manhattan?

    If we cant even do that I can only imagine the danger and discomfort of an attempt at protected lanes on any major road in Queens.

  • walks bikes drives

    How does the ability to computer control trains, and therefore add capacity, make it a backdoor way of making it more expensive? Yes, it is more expensive, but the ability to add more trains makes it possible for our transit system to keep up with the demand that will only be increasing. And “reform labor” sounds like simple union bashing. Am I wrong?

  • Bolwerk

    People who read things I didn’t write are de facto wrong!

    Seriously, I’m not anti-union. But they are forbidden by contracts to reduce the costs CBTC is meant to reduce. Every added train still requires two persons, even if we ignore the added costs buying the equipment and storing more trains on these most busy lines. There go much of the purported cost savings.

    There is an upside: cutting wayside signals out reduces maintenance costs. The question then is, does that by itself make up for the billions$ that it costs to implement and then maintain the CBTC system? I really don’t know for sure, but my guess is no.

  • Joe R.

    It sounds like Bolwerk simply means “get rid or reassign no longer needed employees” in the context of labor reform. Hopefully the MTA can fix that in the next contract. Any entity should always retain the ability to get rid of people when the job they’re doing is no longer necessary. If some of these employees can be put into (non-make work) positions the MTA needs then wonderful but the general idea stands. With CBTC you need no more than one person per train. In theory you need zero.

  • Joe R.

    CBTC should enable trains to get over the line quite a bit faster than now. In theory you could have more frequent service with the same number of trains. Remember the MTA reduced the top speed AND also the acceleration rates of their trains after the Williamsburg Bridge crash. This was a short-sighted move as most lines didn’t have the issues which caused the crash. Nevertheless, reduced acceleration and top speed, combined with timers even on dead-straight express tracks, has resulted in a substantially slower system. CBTC in theory should actually allow faster running than even before the trains were slowed down since the new trains are capable of accelerating quite a bit more rapidly than what we had 20 years ago. IIRC, the old DC motor trains held their initial 2.5 mph/sec acceleration rate up to about 17 mph. The AC motor trains can hold it past 25 mph. This should greatly improve local service in particular, but expresses will also benefit if they can just accelerate to 55 mph, then stay there until the next stop. On the Queens Boulevard line in particular, I’ll bet this could shave 6 or 7 minutes off the schedule on the express portions of the run through Queens.

    Here’s one CBTC cost effectiveness study I found (didn’t read it yet):


  • sbauman

    CBTC has virtually no effect on service level capacity. Servic level capacity is determined by equipment acceleration and braking rates, train length, station dwell time and signal system reaction time. Signal system reaction time, even for the relay logic used by most railroad systems, is less than 5 seconds.

    The intermediate station single track capacity for most subway systems is around 40-47 trans per hour or a headway of 77 to 90 seconds. The Third Avenue El operated at 42 tph, according to a 1949 BOT report. It definitely did not use CBTC. The TA reported actual peak service levels for the 14th St Line (L) were 24 tph back in 1954; the latest Hub Bound Study reported the same line operated 18 tph in 2012 with CBTC.

    Decreasing maximum speed has only a negligible effect on service level capacity. The NTSB report on the Williamsburg Bridge crash showed that the emergency braking rate failed to meet the TA’s modest 3.2 mph/sec spec. The TA chose to reduce maximum speed rather than bring their emergency brakes up to spec or modify the signal system to accommodate the reduced emergency braking performance.

    Decreased speed does increase trip duration which means that more equipment and personnel are required to maintain the same service levels. CBTC will not increase emergency braking levels; that’s a rolling stock parameter. New rolling stock has not mandated any meaningful improvement in emergency braking performance. Therefore, under a CBTC system trains might move at a faster rate but the CBTC system will have to enforce a greater distance between trains. The net effect will be no change in service level capacity.

    DC motors are not limited to 2.5 mph/sec. That’s the TA’s design parameter. The BMT spec was 4.0 mph/sec for their modest order of 1930’s equipment. This equipment was used on the 14th St-Fulton St Line. It ran from Lefferts Blv to 8th Ave in less time than today’s A train. It did this despite making more stops.

    CBTC is an important prop for management despite not providing any service level improvements. It cannot be implemented incrementally for its supposed benefits to be realized. It will take decades to reach that stage. The managers who advocate its use will have derived two benefits. Current performance can be excused by not having CBTC in place. They will have long retired before it will be in place.

  • Joe R.

    I’m not sure that you’ll need to enforce a greater distance between trains with CBTC than with the current signal system. It all depends upon the existing signal spacing. In many cases, the signal system can accommodate 55 to 65 mph operation as is even though we’re not running at those speeds with the current fleet. IIRC the Queens Boulevard line is mostly designed for 70 mph operation, at least on the express tracks.

    DC motors are not limited to 2.5 mph/sec. That’s the TA’s design parameter. The BMT spec was 4.0 mph/sec for their modest order of 1930’s equipment. This equipment was used on the 14th St-Fulton St Line. It ran from Lefferts Blv to 8th Ave in less time than today’s A train. It did this despite making more stops.

    That’s true of course but maintaining the initial acceleration rate is ultimately limited by some combination of power and weight. Those old BMT trains were very light by today’s standards. That’s a good thing but current standards would most likely preclude ever building equipment that light again. The new AC motors are rated at something like 150 HP, compared to 115 HP for the old DC motors. That’s a 30% increase, which in theory lets you hold the initial acceleration rate for 30% longer. It also results in higher acceleration rates at speeds where the initial acceleration rate is no longer in play.

    I wonder if the MTA can tune the initial acceleration rate? With AC motors in theory it should be as simple as putting in new software. No reason we can’t have at least 3 mph/sec rates with today’s equipment.

  • sbauman

    “I’m not sure that you’ll need to enforce a greater distance between trains with CBTC than with the current signal system. It all depends upon the existing signal spacing.”

    I did not mean to imply that CBTC would effect the distance between trains. I stated that faster speeds require more distance to come to a complete stop at the same emergency braking rate. If CBTC’s selling point is that it will allow faster speeds, then there must be greater separation between trains because of that faster speed.

    In the end, the extra time taken by a train to traverse the extra distance at the increased speed will cancel itself out. So, there will be no change in service level capacity due to higher speeds for equipment running at higher speeds. However, if the signal system is designed for higher speeds and the trains operate at a slower speed, then the increased operating speed will decrease service level capacity.

    “the signal system can accommodate 55 to 65 mph operation… IIRC the Queens Boulevard line is mostly designed for 70 mph operation, at least on the express tracks.”

    The signal system was designed for a max of 55 mph operation. This was the balancing speed for all subway rolling stock since 1904, with one exception. That exception was the R44 series. This was the first set designed by the MTA after it captured the TA. Its balancing speed was 70 mph. A test train did achieve this speed briefly, while operating on the LIRR mainline. All those train motors burned out shortly thereafter.

    “The new AC motors are rated at something like 150 HP, compared to 115 HP for the old DC motors.”

    There are a different number of motors per train.

    There are 40 115 hp motors per 10 car train for a total of 4600 hp per train. This is what powers the R62 IRT trains that are currently used on the 1 and 3 lines.

    A 10 car train of R142’s consists of 4 A types and 6 B types. These are the trains used on the 2, 4 and 5 lines. There are 4x150hp motors on the A types but only 2x150hp motors on the B types. This comes to 4200 hp per train.


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