Today’s Headlines

  • MTA Policies Enacted Years Ago Are Making Train Delays Worse Today (NYT)
  • Meet the MTA Employees Who Spend Their Days Taking Hits for Andrew Cuomo (WSJ)
  • Center for an Urban Future: NYC’s Decrepit Infrastructure Threatens Tourism (Crain’s)
  • AMNY Previews Tonight’s L Train Forum
  • Final EDC Budget Proposal Doesn’t Fund the BQX (Crain’s)
  • Council Members Aim to Make de Blasio’s Lame Attempt at Curb Management Even Worse (Post)
  • Mayor Who Won’t Help the Poor Afford Transit Hires Staff to Hand-Hold Rule-Breaking Motorists (Post)
  • Justin Brannan Has Had It With Car Dealers Using the Sidewalk as Their Showroom (BK Daily)
  • Husband of Woman Killed by Brooklyn Car Wash Worker Has Died (Post)
  • Cops Don’t Want People They Stop to Know Who They Are (Post)
  • In Sit-Down With Trottenberg, Advance Bemoans Lack of SI Transit While Giving Side-Eye to Bikes

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Meet the MTA Employees Who Spend Their Days Taking Hits for Andrew Cuomo.”

    That’s what the Board is for. I wonder how many of them were around taking hits for George Pataki? Be a toadie is the future is sold down the river, you get to be on the board. It works in corporate America too.

    How many of the people on this Board signed off on all the debt that now has it saying the entire next capital plan, including the commuter railroads, has to be financed by a massive property tax increase in NYC alone — because all the money is going to debts and pensions.

    Ah, but they don’t say that’s what has happened, do they? They talk about “value capture.”

    Let met tell you about value capture. In the 1990s and 2000s stock market bubble, they had “value capture.” But the public employee unions, in the form of retroactive pension increases. But that value turned out not to be real. And now someone has to make up for the “value” that wasn’t actually there to be “captured.”

    Same with the latest real estate bubble. DeBlasio’s budget is balanced on the back of higher property taxes on multifamily properties with young people and immigrants packed in two to a room in what was once considered poverty. At some point, the whole thing is going to blow.

  • AstoriaBlowin

    From the Post article about Clear Curbs,
    “Under the proposed legislation, the Department of Transportation and other city agencies would have to first notify local Council members, community boards and Business Improvement Districts before making changes to street usage, parking and traffic flow for projects covering at least 500 feet or three consecutive blocks.”

    Say goodbye to any new bike lanes if this passes.

  • Since the 1995 crash on the Williamsburg Bridge, there hasn’t been another instance of a train operator being killed or even injured in such a crash, has there? If that’s the case, then the new spacing rules made back then are doing what they are supposed to do.

    And, before scoffing at the slow zones, let’s realise that, even after the 2007 rule changes, a track worker was killed by a train in 2016. This suggests that the rules about speed near work zones should be even more stringent than they currently are.

    I don’t like sitting in a train that is going nowhere any more than anyone else does. But we should acknowledge that the safety of our transit workers is far more important than the avoidance of delays.

    Still, the miscalibration of the signals is a serious bungle that must be addressed.

  • Knut Torkelson

    As per the article, the signalling changes have gone far beyond what was necessary to prevent the 1995 crash. Nobody is suggesting that we sacrifice MTA workers at the altar of having speedy trains, but clearly the current system creates incentives for trains to go far slower than necessary.

  • Fool

    A brutal and cold comparison of collected time wasted and time lost to employee death would disagree.

    Society does apply cost/benefit to job safety.

  • Larry Littlefield

    How would one weight the value of each person?

    New York is a place where the equal protection clause of the constitution is more honored in the breach than in the observance.

    And the riders aren’t worth much. Except when compared with future riders.

  • Joe R.

    The real solution if you want safety is to just shut down a line entirely for maintenance. Yes, that will mean sometimes lines will have no service for weeks or longer but it’s better than the current system where track work can last for years. The current system is, frankly, stupid. We spend an hour or two shutting down a section of track late nights, and maybe the same reopening it for the morning rush. Maybe 3 or 4 hours of productive work gets done. The end result is a job which might be done in a week if the work were done 24/7 stretches out for months, or even years.

    We do the same nonsense with street utility repairs. When they did the water main on my block each day they would remove the patches from the day before, dig, do whatever work they could, then put the patches back in place so they could leave before 5. End result was the water had to be shut off 4 or 5 times. I would rather just have had no water for, say, 24, hours, and have the work done in one shot. The world won’t collapse either if the street has no access for 24 hours.

    Same thing with the subways. If you take a line out of service for a week or two perhaps once a decade the sky won’t fall.

    And a lot of the track worker deaths have nothing to do with train speed. Sometimes the work site is improperly secured and workers fall to their deaths.

  • Larry Littlefield

    CBTC was supposed to allow for more speed and recovery time. ATS was supposed to make sure trains didn’t enter work areas. That’s a couple of $billion spent right there.

  • Joe R.

    At least the trains run unneutered under CBTC. The problem is all the delays installing it. CBTC was supposed to be operational on the #7 over a year ago. Now they say maybe by 2019. I’m not holding my breath.

    The state of transit in this city, whether you go by bus, subway, car, or bike, has me glad I rarely need to go further than my feet can carry me.

  • Vooch

    Value of a life ?

    depends if they are a member of the placard class or not

  • Vooch

    wow !

  • The real solution if you want safety is to just shut down a line entirely for maintenance.

    I’m for that.

  • Simon Phearson

    No surprise that the authoritarian-leaning communist with the job flexibility to just not work whenever he wants to and the guy who works from home and bikes primarily at two in the morning are okay with completely shutting down subways in order to get work done.

    The system may be imperfect, but some of us have actual jobs to get to and lives to lead.

  • Joe R.

    What’s the cumulative impact of a week or two of complete shutdowns versus a year of partial shutdowns? Thankfully, the subway system is fairly redundant. If you need to shut down a segment of a line for a week or two there are often alternatives. And you can have shuttle bus service to bridge the closed stations if necessary.

    If we didn’t use equipment well past its intended life, there might not be as much need for maintenance in the first place. A lot of the signal system is older than my mother.

    Obviously, any non-track work can and should be done without shutdowns.

  • Simon Phearson

    Joe, you’ve convinced me – you have absolutely no idea how people live. Why don’t you ask someone who relies on the 7 whether they’d prefer intermittent service curtailments to two or three consecutive weeks of closures of the entire line?

    When they shut down the E/M tunnel for a full week last winter, they inconvenienced five million riders. They did that to avoid several weekends of closures. Which would I have preferred? The latter. Why? Because my transit needs are different during the weekends than the weekdays, and the inconvenience of alternatives is more pronounced depending on why I’m traveling.

  • Joe R.

    I have no idea of how far in advance the MTA let people know about the one week closure. If it was days in advance, then of course it inconvenienced lots of people. If it was months in advance, like it should be, then people had plenty of time to figure workarounds. The key here is letting people know well ahead of time. The MTA is horrible in that regard. You often don’t know of weekend service changes until the Friday before. Don’t think lots of people already aren’t inconvenienced by closures or outages simply because the MTA doesn’t keep people informed.

    Also, your comparison of a few weekends of closures versus one week is probably a red herring. When work is done piecemeal, a lot of the time is spent setting up and tearing down. It would have been more like a year of weekend closures versus one week.

  • Joe R.

    By the way, look at #2 here:

    https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/06/16/five-ways-to-fix-nycs-subways-right-now/

    When the MTA finally announced that the L train’s Canarsie Tunnel would need serious repairs as a result of Superstorm Sandy, it gave the public two options: drag out the work and retain some level of drastically reduced service for years, or shut down the line completely for around eighteen months to complete the repairs. At community meetings it held about the matter, MTA officials were surprised by the overwhelming response in favor of a total shutdown.

    Despite what you say, if put to a vote the majority would favor shutting down portions of a line for a much shorter period over years of reroutings, delays, and service changes.

    Yet another option is shutting down the subway daily from, say 1AM to 5 AM, to perform routine maintenance. By regularly performing routine maintenance you largely avoid the need for major repair projects which might drag on for months or years.

  • Simon Phearson

    Despite what you say, if put to a vote the majority would favor shutting down portions of a line for a much shorter period over years of reroutings, delays, and service changes.

    Do you think the Canarsie tunnel work is representative of the phenomenon we’re talking about? It doesn’t surprise me that people would be in favor of a shutdown, given the alternatives that were proposed. It’s going to be commuting hell one way or the other.

  • Simon Phearson

    I have no idea of how far in advance the MTA let people know about the one week closure. If it was days in advance, then of course it inconvenienced lots of people. If it was months in advance, like it should be, then people had plenty of time to figure workarounds.

    It does not take months to “figure workarounds.” Any experienced New Yorker has a back-up plan anyway. What you’re thinking people would do is schedule their vacations around these closures. Most people can’t do that, and it’s asinine to suggest that they could.

    Also, your comparison of a few weekends of closures versus one week is probably a red herring.

    Try reading about it. Coverage of the closure quite clearly stated that the alternative to the week-long closure was about five weekends of closures.

  • Joe R.

    I’m not saying everyone can schedule vacations around closures. I’m just saying it’s one of many alternatives. Others include telecommuting, cycling, taking alternate lines (including buses), or even driving.

    As for the closure, I honestly didn’t even know about it until you mentioned it. I had better things to do this winter, like dealing with my mom in a rehab place. Also, I wouldn’t put too much stock in the “about five weekends of closures”. When work is done piecemeal, contractors and unions like to milk it to the maximum extent possible.

    Finally, as an engineer, I can tell you that a lot more things can go wrong when you do work piecemeal. Besides interrupting the natural progress flow of a job, there’s a chance tools or equipment can be left behind with each teardown. There’s also a chance not all procedures to get the line up and running again will be followed in the rush to clear the tracks.

    I realize any closure or service change will cause people inconvenience but we should do things in ways which make the most sense from an engineering perspective. The hard fact is people are no longer tolerant of anything which interrupts their lives these days. I tell a lot of people if we fought WWII today we would lose because people wouldn’t accept the sacrifices necessary.

    Oh, and I dealt with my share of subway mayhem going to high school and college in the late 1970s through early 1980s. For all the complaining people do now about line closures scheduled in advance, how about riding trains where 1 in 3 broke down en route? Not to mention when the trains did work, half the doors and lights were out. I think the people back then would gladly have traded off having their line closed for a few weeks if it meant reliable service.

  • “But we should acknowledge that the safety of our transit workers is far more important than the avoidance of delays.”

    I’m not convinced blanket statements like these help with the debate. And I’m also not convinced that our only two options are (1) the current safety regime that has led to significantly slower trains and self-inflicted capacity crunches or (2) unacceptably dangerous conditions for workers. We’re also risking conflating issues here. Timers due to a crash caused in part by human error were an overreaction. I’m not prepared to pass the same judgment on the flagging rules, though ops experts I’ve spoken with believe they too err on the side of overcaution.

    Whatever the answer is, we haven’t struck the right balance right.

  • Joe R.

    Granted, the Carnarsie tunnel project is far from typical but in general if given a choice the majority of people favor much shorter major disruptions over lesser ones which drag out for months or years. One thing to remember is the system as it is has little tolerance for delays. That partial closure which in theory causes minor problems only does so if everything else runs perfect. Throw in your normal occurrences like signal problems, sick passengers, and so forth, then suddenly the partial closure is the straw which broke the camel’s back. So in reality the choice is probably between months of major delays, as on the #7, versus a few weeks with no train. I’m not saying the latter is a picnic, but the city can plan for it. If the #7 were hypothetically shut down, you could have buses only along Roosevelt Avenue for the duration of the project. You could also put one or two bus only lanes parallel to the #7 viaduct on Queens Blvd., and also on the Queensboro Bridge.

    Of course, drivers will cry havoc if we appropriate street space for buses when there are line closures, but so be it.

  • Joe R.

    One thing which has me skeptical of the flagging rules is the fact railroads usually don’t slow down to under 10 mph when passing track workers, and yet there’s no rash of fatalities. For example, I recall on the NEC Amtrak slows to I think 45 mph or 60 mph (I forgot which) when passing track workers. Trains are big, heavy, noisy. If the TO lays on the horn when it’s maybe 20 or 30 seconds from a work zone, it’s hard to see how track workers can fail to not get out of the way.

  • Shutting a line down for a week or two does not mean leaving people stranded or scrambling for alternatives. Obviously there would be a shuttle bus replacement, just as there was for the recent long-term closure of sections of the M train.

  • Larry Littlefield

    You have to understand the culture of NYCT. When a train ran over the track worker, RTO would defend their TO to the death and MOW would defend their worker. So you had to have a solution that satisfied everybody.

    At least those in the room.

    There has got to be a way to move the curve, instead of just moving along it.

  • Komanoff

    I’m with Ben K on this.

  • I realise that there are improvements to the miscalibrated signals that can be made that do not put workers in danger.

    And the draconian punishments of train operators could be relaxed, so that they are not incentivised to exaggerate the slowness beyond what is necessary to avoid crashes.

    I’m not prepared to pass the same judgment on the flagging rules, though ops experts I’ve spoken with believe they too err on the side of overcaution.

    If that were true, would we have had a track worker killed as recently as a couple of years ago?

  • Joe R.

    Posted this in response to the NYT article:

    I’m failing to understand how timers could be miscalibrated to the point that TOs feel the need to go 10 to 15 mph under to be sure of not tripping the emergency brakes. I’m an engineer. To the best of my understanding, the timers work as follows:

    1) Train passes signal at the start of the timed section. This lowers the trip cock for the signal at the end of the timed section, and starts a timer which runs for x seconds (x depends upon the length of the section and the speed restriction).
    2) The signal at the end of the timed section remains red until the timer stops. After the timer stops the signal goes green and the trip cock is raised.
    3)If the train passes the second signal before the timer stops the emergency brakes will apply.

    The controlling factor here is the accuracy of the timer. Last I checked a cheap quartz oscillator in a $2 watch is accurate to about 20 parts per million, or 0.002%. For the MTA’s purposes that means a timer set for, say, 30 mph might be off 0.0006 mph in either direction. Of course, that assumes the distance between the signals was measured accurately. However, that should be a problem. We already measure distances in the subway quite accurate. At most the error would be a few inches. Given the distances between timed signals of 100+ feet that gives at worst a few tenths of an mph error.

    I’m not seeing any good reason why these signals should have such a large margin of error. What exactly is the MTA using to time out the interval? Sundials?

  • Joe R.

    Read my post above on the “miscalibrated” signals. I’m failing to understand how the timers could have the kinds of errors they do. Even a ticking mechanical clock movement would be good for plus/minus a few hundreths of an mph. There’s no technical reason the timers shouldn’t be dead nuts accurate. Ditto for the train speedometers (well, maybe I’ll allow a few tenths mph to account for wheel wear). Worst case a cautious TO might enter a timed section 1 mph under but if designed correctly there’s no reason even for that.

    Don’t know why the train speedometers don’t read to tenths of an mph like my bike computer, either. That and properly calibrated timers would let TOs go within a few tenths of the timed speed with no worries about tripping the brakes.

    If the timers really are off by this much, it speaks volumes about the incompetence of those in charge.

    Totally agree the punishments for TOs getting tripped up by timers should be relaxed, regardless.

    If that were true, would we have had a track worker killed as recently as a couple of years ago?

    How do you know train speed was a factor? Train tracks are an extremely hazardous environment. Any number of things can kill a person, including falls and electrocution.

    And strictly speaking, there’s really no speed above zero which is safe. A train barely moving can crush a person. The key is trains need to give warnings well in advance so workers don’t stray into their paths. If they do that, their speed is a non-issue.

  • Joe R.

    There has got to be a way to move the curve, instead of just moving along it.

    There is. Fire everyone who works or worked for the MTA from the top dog down to station cleaners. Then put the entire system under the control of the Japanese, with total freedom to hire who they want, set pay scales, etc., except they can’t hire past or present MTA employees, nor could they use any of their contractors. Certain performance metrics in terms of train performance and cost would have to be set.

    The idea is to start with a clean slate, totally remove anyone who would continue the present mentality. There’s no other way to fix organizations which are rotten from the top down. If you keep even one old person in place, you could be right back to square one a few years later.

  • AMH

    You’ve got it pretty much right:
    1) Train passes signal at start of timed section, starting timer and RAISING
    tripcock at end of section.
    2) Signal at end of timed section remains red until timer stops, then clears (yellow/green or some combo thereof) and LOWERS tripcock.
    3) If train passes second signal before timer stops, emergency brakes engage.

    Part 3 is the kicker. It’s not even the calibration as much as the fact that the operator has one chance to meet the speed limit with severe consequences for failing. Even if everything is calibrated perfectly, running through a 20mph segment at 20mph means hitting the tripcock at the exact moment it lowers. No one is going to cut it that close. They’re going to slow waaay down so they have enough time to stop if the signal doesn’t clear. The only way to solve that problem with this signal timer technology is to use multiple-shot timers, which is way more complicated and expensive. The other solution of course, is to get rid of all these timers, since things worked just fine before.

  • AMH

    Exactly–LIRR barrels past track workers at 50+mph and SEPTA (very similar to IND) uses something like 30mph.

  • AMH

    There’s no proof that the timers have prevented any crashes, nor that track worker deaths have been caused by train speed rather than, say, poor communication. There are many ways to improve safety without destroying service, and the MTA should start with those.

  • Joe R.

    But if they could be assured timers were calibrated perfectly, they might run through a 20 mph timer at 19 mph, not 9 mph.

    Agree the unneeded timers, which is most of them, should be removed. I can understand using timers to protect a curve, but so many instances of them on dead straight track. And there are better ways to enforce train speed. ACSES is one. If a train overspeeds, it just brakes until it’s under the speed limit. That’s how speed control should work in the subways.

  • AMH

    I just had another idea, which would be a countdown on the red signal to reassure the operator that it’s about to clear. That could get them running closer to the limit. Still complete removal is better, and of course better technologies like cab signaling.

  • Joe R.

    That’s sort of how I use pedestrian countdown timers to gauge whether or not I can make a light while I’m riding. If I’m a block away and there’s 8 seconds or more left, I can easily make it. 6 or 7 is possible if I hustle (i.e. the goal is to clear the intersection before cross traffic gets the green). Anything less, forget it. I just slow down, prepared to treat the red as a yield.

  • AMH

    And if there were a spike strip that raised on red, you’d approach the red very cautiously even if you knew it was about to turn green, just in case!

  • Adrian Horczak

    Yes! What about the safety of cyclists and pedestrians. Clearly that’s of little iomportance

  • Joe R.

    Actually, not a worry in my case as I’ve been using airless tires for the last 8 years. But point taken. A spike strip is functionally similar to the timers on the subway. You don’t take any chances of hitting them.