Wednesday’s Headlines: Maybe the L-Pocalypse Wasn’t Such a Bad Idea After All

Yesterday was the opposite of a slow news day, which means the Post won’t have to fill the paper with animal stories today (um, not so fast). So let’s get down to business.

The biggest story was the MTA’s emergency board meeting to discuss Gov. Cuomo’s plan to fix the L train’s Canarsie Tunnel with a less-intensive, shorter-lasting and (possibly) toxic-dust-spewing approach that (on the plus side) avoids completely eliminating service between Brooklyn and Manhattan for 15 months:

  • The day started with Emma Fitzsimmons’s bombshell report in the Times confirming everyone’s suspicion that the MTA had considered the Cuomo plan before but rejected it as insufficient given the damage to the tunnel. That pretty much set the agenda for a contentious meeting…
  • The Post’s coverage of the meeting itself focused on how the pissed-off MTA board may still derail the truncated Cuomo plan.
  • The Daily News focused on how New York City Transit President Andy Byford has been sidelined from direct oversight of the new repair project in favor of the MTA’s construction chiefs.
  • Katie Honan and Paul Berger in the Wall Street Journal played it straight.

The most detailed coverage was actually on Twitter all day.

  • Dan Rivoli of the Daily News had an epic live tweet thread that summarized everything. After Streetsblog demanded Jim Dwyer’s response, the pro-Cuomo-plan Times columnist started his own thread.
  • Vin Barone of amNY’s long thread featured board member Carl Weisbrod pointing out his lack of confidence in hearing about the new plan from the same team that created the old plan (which had rejected the new plan).
  • Second Avenue Sagas also had a live thread, which pointed out that no one knows how long the tunnel repair will last.
  • Aaron Gordon of Signal Problems pointed out a great moment when one board member caused an awkward silence when he asked about the shortcomings of the Cuomo plan. Dana Rubinstein’s Politico story (subscription only) focused on the same thing.
  • Jake Offenharz of Gothamist offered some sympathy for DOT Commissioner — and MTA Board member — Polly Trottenberg after Interim MTA Chairman Freddy Ferrer was obnoxious.
  • Riders Alliance pointed out some shortfalls in a tweet of its own.

In other news, the governor revealed his preliminary budget, which had lots of policy ramifications:

  • The Daily News’s Ken Lovett said Cuomo’s speech had lots of talk, but no specifics, on fixing the MTA. He also pointed out, “The governor would also put off a congestion pricing plan until 2021.” (At Streetsblog, that’s what we call burying the lede.)
  • The Post gave the laundry list of the governor’s progressive agenda. The Times also focused on a governor who appears to be tacking left (isn’t that where New York is supposed to be?). The Wall Street Journal called it a “justice agenda.”
  • Transportation Alternatives put out the perfect statement, reminding straggling lawmakers that congestion pricing would help raise revenue for the battered subway, reduce congestion and create safer streets. And, lest we forget, a tiny number of New Yorkers regularly drive into Manhattan for work — and the ones who do are far wealthier than the middle-class that Assembly Member Helene Weinstein and her ilk think they are protecting.

And in other news:

  • Gothamist added some additional value to our scoop about how Corey Johnson isn’t too excited about Gov. Cuomo’s 290 speed cameras. Council Member Brad Lander is upset, too.
  • Cops say they arrested the man who drove off in the confusion as Borough Park residents harassed an NYPD tow operator with racial taunts. (NYDN)
  • Wired asks if bike activists are “selling out” by jumping to Uber, Lyft, Bird or other private companies.
  • The Post offered some video of the Tappan Zee Bridge being blown up. Too bad it couldn’t have been saved as an awesome vertical park and bike route.
  • Larry Littlefield

    “The Post gave the laundry list of the governor’s progressive agenda.”

    Tribalist agenda. Same with Trump. Same with all of them. Focus on the social issues and battles of the 1960s, among the generation that matters.

    A desperate bipartisan attempt by Generation Greed to eliminate discussion of the ongoing generational economic and fiscal gang rape while keeping it going and making it worse. What they don’t want to talk about his this megatrend, which is apparently both “progressive” and “conservative.”

    https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2019/01/16/sold-out-futures-by-state-english-version/

    Under Omerta in NY, if not in the UK.

  • JohnBrownForPresident

    Larry, do you ever get tired of framing issues important to millions of people as “tribalist” or “identity-based” or whatever bullshit word is in season that moment?

    You seem like a smart person, so it boggles my mind you’ve fallen into the trap that lifting up people based on their lived experiences of prejudice, bigotry and history is a meaningless move.

    Mind you, I trust Cuomo to actually follow through with this exactly 0%. That said, stop being so dense about it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Mind you, I trust Cuomo to actually follow through with this exactly 0%. That said, stop being so dense about it.”

    That’s the point. All this stuff they are throwing out there is intended to distract people from and limit attention to what will actually matter to them in the end. It’s a game. I don’t like being gamed.

    Frankly, I find it infuriating to have the social issues of the 1960s refought over and over again while the downward trend in society continues. The alleged manipulation by Russia — sowing discord in an effort to advance a secret self-interest — was only a duplication to what has been going on internally for decades.

  • Elizabeth F

    > Too bad it (TZB) couldn’t have been saved as an awesome vertical park and bike route.

    Sorry, comments like this just make bicycle advocates look stupid. Amazingly enough, a lot of competent people were involved in planning the new TZB. As with any big project, multiple options were considered, including rehabbing the current structure. Some of those options are detailed in this report:

    https://www.newnybridge.com/documents/study-documents/old-study-docs/alt-analysis/rnr-chapter-8-200903.pdf

    It shows that rehabbing and then maintaining the old bridge for 150 years would have cost over $4b at net present value. If they just wanted to make it safe for bikes and peds (not cars and trucks), maybe the cost would have been less. But I doubt THAT much less. Certainly adding dirt and trees and grass would only increase maintenance costs, moisture continuously seeps from the biosphere onto the steel structure.

    In contrast, thew new bridge has an awesome (and wide) shared use path, with 6 belvediers along the way containing benches, resting points, etc. And at 1/10 the width of the overall new bridge, it cost “only ” ~$400m to build; plus another $70m net present value to maintain for 150 years. I think that’s a MUCH better deal than any “re-use” of the old structure.

    The TZB was frequently compared to the High Line. Other than being unused raised structures, there is little similarity. The TZB is twice as long as the High Line, and will only ever be accessible from its endpoints — both of which are low-density suburban villages. This is a very different setting from the High Line, and one would expect a LOT less use of it as a park. So how do you justify the high costs involved? Note that the High Line is already the most expensive park (per square meter) in NYC; and a rehabbed TZB could easily have cost even more.

    http://gothamist.com/2009/08/03/high_lines_high_maintenance_cost_ma.php

    The High Line is clearly a success; but trying to “replicate” it in the middle of the Hudson River would not have been. In any case, Tarrytown and Nyack already have plenty of existing high-quality parks; again, quite different from the setting in Chelsea.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “As with any big project, multiple options were considered, including rehabbing the current structure.”

    Again, why is the right answer for the Tappan Zee — a once and for all solution — the wrong answer for the L train tunnel?

  • Joe R.

    Here’s what bothers me about this entire L train debacle. It’s been over 6 years since Sandy. We could have built a third tunnel during this time, then shut down the existing tunnels one at a time for rehab. No reduction in service needed. When everything was finished, you would have had a third tunnel into Manhattan which would give the MTA more capacity and more operational flexibility. Why wasn’t this option done? And I don’t want to hear cost because NYC/NYS/Washington easily could have come up with enough to fund the third tunnel over 6 years.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Contradicts the mindset of “the American way.”

    For President Trump. “President” Cuomo. “President” DeBlasio. “President” Gillibrand.

    As for “President” Pataki. “Senator” Giuliani. “President” Christie. “Governor” McCall. “President” Lindsay. “President” Rockefeller. Etc.

    No no no no no NO NO NO!

  • Joe R.

    Unfortunately, everyone on your second list is either dead or no longer relevant.

  • Larry Littlefield

    That’s not unfortunate at all! What’s unfortunate is that some of their burdens are still very much alive and being added to by the first set.

  • Joe R.

    I wasn’t really sure what you meant here. I thought you meant the second group as a whole at least saw NYC as something worthwhile, even if they added to the debts to keep it going.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The second group cashed NY in too, so it isn’t unfortunate they aren’t still around — although it still seems like they are.

    For public consumption, Republican and Democratic politicians, Cuomo and DeBlasio, are at each others’ throats. But will any of them, any at all, object to continuing to spend tomorrow’s money today, or at least raise questions about tomorrow?

  • Andrew

    The Daily News focused on how New York City Transit President Andy Byford has been sidelined from direct oversight of the new repair project in favor of the MTA’s construction chiefs.

    To clarify what’s happening here:

    New York City Transit, the agency of the MTA that runs the subway system and (most of) the bus system and is run by Andy Byford, has a Capital Program Management division that manages nearly all of the capital work on the subway. NYCT’s CPM has overseen all of the post-Sandy rehabilitation work to date.

    An entirely separate MTA agency, Capital Construction, was created in 2003 to manage “mega-projects”: Second Avenue Subway, East Side Access, and the like. This agency is run by Janno Lieber. I believe it is no exaggeration to state that every single one of MTACC’s projects has been significantly late and over-budget. MTACC also has no experience managing projects on active railroads – with the one exception of Fulton Center, all of MTACC’s work has been on line extensions or branches, so that, except where the branch connects to the preexisting line, the contractor has had 24/7 access.

    (One interesting bit of trivia: the new South Ferry terminal that opened in 2009 was built by MTACC. After it was destroyed by Sandy in 2012, its replacement was built by NYCT CPM.)

    In other words: the agency that will now be managing this project has no prior experience managing Sandy rehabilitation projects, has no prior experience managing worksites that need to reopen to subway service on a strict timeline every morning, and has never completed a project on time or on budget (or anywhere close).

    This was clearly a deliberate act to push out Andy Byford, who was willing to question aspects of Cuomo’s plan, for fear that he might derail it – even though he and his agency are going to have to deal with the mess that results (but hopefully no derailments) every morning when service resumes.

    For anybody who wasn’t watching yesterday’s board meeting live, it’s quite worth watching it now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmcR05qVWPc

  • Joe R.

    Cuomo owns this now. If it’s a success, he’ll look like a hero. If it’s a miserable failure, he and he alone should get the blame.

    I’m really amazed Byford hasn’t resigned by now. Having to deal with a subway in sore need of major rehabilitation is one thing. That’s what he signed on for. Dealing with NYC and NYS tribal politics is quite another thing. Unfortunately, you also sign on for that when you’re head of NYC Transit.

  • AMH

    Byford has always said that he could manage NY politics, and I’ve always wondered how he would walk that line. I was pleased to see him insisting on a careful review of the new “plan” and am very dismayed to see him being sidelined. This does not bode well for Fast Forward.

  • Joe R.

    Remember Fast Forward still needs to be funded. I personally think it’s possible via some combination of cost cutting at the MTA, congestion pricing, and getting more money from the feds/NYS.

    While I remain very concerned about this new plan, I’ll give Cuomo props for taking a big political risk here in order to accomplish something worthwhile. Too many politicians these days play it safe, with the end result that nothing gets fixed, and nothing gets built (except megaprojects which give them a photo-op).

  • Lincoln

    Building a third tunnel would be a cost that was orders of magnitude higher, and connecting it to the existing system would have been disruptive to a similar degree as just rebuilding the existing tunnels would be.

    At the end we’d have a third tube, which is utterly useless in normal operations. You get no additional capacity from a third track without a giant yard at each end.