Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The aftermath of the grand jury decision in Ferguson

Last night, the grand jury declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 9, through an long-winded and dragged on announcement by the lead prosecutor handling the Wilson case.  Right after the announcement was made, some angry demonstrators looted stores and set other businesses or properties on fire.   Most other demonstrations across the nation were mostly peaceful.  I was at Brooklyn College where I saw a small group of about 20 demonstrators on Bedford Ave peacefully doing their thing.  But the thugs in Ferguson, MI who are burning the St. Louis suburb to the ground are clearly sending the wrong message by destroying property.  They are currently under the radar by the news media and the American public where most whites will less support for blacks and the racial divide between blacks and whites will grow bigger like a cancer growing.  Respectable black people will see the looting and destruction as unacceptable.  But as long as the few idiots make it look bad for race relations, there is a better way of handling this - - don't buy from white owned business.  If black people want to make a difference in stopping what they see as police brutality and killings against black people. they should have more of a concentrated effort in reducing the national homicide rates against black people.  Why isn't Al Sharpton speaking out the atrocity that 6.309 blacks were murdered in 2011 - - why are blacks silent about this.  Who in the black community is doing something to protest against gangs, many of them recruit black and Hispanic kids by bringing the issue of more affordable after-school programs and jobs for the work eligible teens?  When an innocent black kid's life is cut short by a stray bullet in the projects, do we read or hear about the massive protests against gun violence?  Are black people just talking about the problem or do they want to be a part of the solution?

   Here is one thing you can do if you have the time,  mentor a child on weekends.  If you are free in the afternoons, form a teen group where kids can shoot hoops in the courts instead of another type of "courts" they face when they join gangs.    Form a trip to a local library and open up a world of reading they haven't explored.  I know this may be difficult but if we can change one child a time then we may be able to stem the tide on black violence. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

MTA's 2015 fare hike and public hearings

Last Monday, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced a bunch of public hearings on what they call "Limited Fare and Toll Proposals" or modestly raise the fare and tolls across all modes of transportation with the MTA regional network they operate.  The fare proposals affect NYC buses and subways, the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North commuter railroads as well as the tolls on MTA Bridges and Tunnels which operate wholly within the 5 boroughs of NYC.  The breakdown of proposals are as follows:

  • NYC Subways, local buses and Access-A-Ride:  Two base fare proposals are on tap - - one proposal is to keep the $2.50 base fare (for Pay-Per-Ride cards) unchanged but eliminate the 5 percent bonus on Pay Per Ride fill ups over a certain amount.  A second proposal is to raise the base fare to $2.75 but offer a greater discount of 11 percent if $5.50 or more is added to the card (that's 2 fares). 7 day and 30 day regular Unlimited Metrocards rise top $31 and $116.50 respectively.  Express bus fare rises to $6.00 while the 7 day Express Bus Plus Metrocard increases to an odd $57.25.
  • LIRR and Metro-North:  4 percent average fare increase.  Cityticket weekend travel between most NYC stations and the CBD zones will increase to $4.25.  The $1 off peak Family Fare for each child remains unchanged at $1.
  • MTA Bridges and Tunnels  Two proposals like the NYC Transit proposals - - one to remain the base toll flat or increase it.  Both proposals have a slight increase for E-Z Pass users with NY metro area tags.
By laws, a public hearing must be conducted in each county within NY State where the MTA operates in any capacity.  Rockland and Orange counties served by MTA West of Hudson rail service (Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines) get their public hearing at West Nyack.  Long Islanders will have to travel to Melville for their public hearing.   The MTA will offer video testimony at Poughkeepsie station for Dutchess county and Ronkonkoma station for Suffolk county, where participants can submit a 3 minute video testimony for the MTA board to review.  There is no public hearing or video testimony offered anywhere in Putnam County  (that's between Westchester and Dutchess counties on Metro-North turf) or Nassau County

On some days, there are two public hearings on the same night.  This is wrong and must be fixed by the MTA as only half of the MTA board members can attend one hearing while the other half sleeps through the second hearing of the night.  The first day of the public hearings, December 1st, have venues in Manhattan and the Bronx.  The MTA Chairman, Thomas Prendergast, and NYCT President Carmen Bianco, cannot be at both hearings simultaneously, unless one takes the Lexington Ave IRT subway lines between both places.    The public deserves a full board in attendance at one venue for the night and they all must be attentive as each speaker comes to the podium.  Another issue is that some board members suddenly are tardy after the first or second recess.  From my past experiences, after the recess is over and the first speaker is called, only 4 or 5 of the 12 MTA Board members actually return to the hearing.   Perhaps recess should be 5 minutes longer.  Finally, one of the subway and bus proposals offers a strange 11 percent discount.  This is a cheap way out on offering the other proposal.

Whatever the MTA decides, and they will decide quickly, the public will have to pay more but at a modest rate.  If only the MTA was concerned about how accurate their signs and information on their website.  The MTA board will vote on these proposals at the January Board Meeting, and the fares/tolls will take effect in March, 2015.  On the New Haven branch of Metro-North, fares in Connecticut will increase in January, 2015 and will not be a part of the MTA public hearing process as a prior public hearing and vote was already taken by the State of CT with the MTA earlier this year.   

Monday, November 10, 2014

Riders get screwed from missing service notice while MTA brass dances around Fulton Center

On Sunday 11/9/14, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) invited the press to a closed door conference and tour of the new Fulton Center. Among the MTA  dignitaries were MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast, NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco, MTA Captial Construction President Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, and  Paul Fleuranges, NYCT Senior Director of Corporate and Internal Communications.   MTA brass, along with elected officials including U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer, gave speeches and demonstrations to the press. Also during the course of the day, pictures of Fulton Center were tweeted by the official NYC Transit account

But as the top MTA brass were dancing around inside a glass house to the oohs and ahhs of the press who were covering the event, sans stones to throw, the customers they are empowered to serve were getting screwed at this complex because the MTA failed to post an important service change which took place all weekend.  As the MTA brass took a walk along the newly reconfigured West passageway just above the A/C platform within the doors leading to the Uptown 4/5 platform, the area required to be closed to the public, customers from the A/C or 2/3 were advised in making a detour.  Because of the Fulton Transit Center work, there were no free transfers between 2/3/A/C lines with the Uptown 4 and 5 lines.  Riders from the A/C or 2/3 were directed by station personnel to use the Downtown 4/5 to Wall Street then transfer to an Uptown 4/5.  Riders coming off the Uptown 4 and 5 after 8 AM Sunday when this platform reopened, were directed to the John Street exit, cross Broadway then enter on the Downtown side where they would have to tell a police officer or station personnel about their need to transfer to the A/C or 2/3 and be let in.  However, a check on the MTA website showed nothing about this service change.

4/5/A/C service advisories using the Weekender:


2/3 advisory?  Nothing

So anyone looking at the Weekender - - the "best" placed to check for service status along a station or route, has nothing about the closure of the free transfer.  The TripPlanner+  didn't catch it either, it should have suggested to use Downtown 4/5 to Wall Street then Uptown 4/5 to Brooklyn Bridge.

But the MTA brass were aware about the Uptown 4/5 transfer restriction - - Uptown 4 and 5 trains were bypassing Fulton Street on Saturday but on Sunday after 8 AM, they did stop at Fulton Street. Management did see the frustrated customers were forced to use the Downtown 4/5 but nobody bothered to checked on their phones or laptops to verify the existence of this service change while they gave the tour to the press.  For all the hype about Fulton Center and the willful omission of a service change which should have been posted proves one thing - they don't care about disseminating the correct information to their customers.  Nobody did anything to correct this missing service notice yesterday.

And the MTA is proposing an across-the-board 4 to 6 percent increase in fares and tolls within the MTA region in 2015 and 2017?   Maybe we need new management who should have more of a concern about how they communicate to their customers before they showcase the next "grand destination and meeting place" than their paychecks.

Later this week I will visit the Fulton Center and give a review of this important complex.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

NYC 25 MPH speed limit and Vision Zero

NOTE:  The opinions expressed by the author of this blog are entirely my own and not the opinions expressed by my current or former employers. 

On Friday November, 7, the City of New York's 25 MPH speed limit law takes effect citywide.  It's a beautiful day as one Mayor Bill De Blasio's centerpieces of his Vision Zero traffic fatility elimination plan now bears fruition.    What does it mean?  It means that the speed limit on all NYC roads without a posted sign otherwise, now have the speed limit lowered from 30 MPH to 25 MPH.  Most highways will see their speed limits remain the same, as well as other roadways with a higher or lower speed limit of 25 MPH.  20 MPH safety zones will remain in place as well.  As of Saturday 11/8, there are 30 MPH signs still posted on certain Bronx streets such as portions of Bronxwood Ave and East 222nd Street.  So what effect will the 25 MPH do on drivers?  .  Nothing, they will still driver recklessly with a wanton disregard for traffic safety.  Drivers will still speed, change lanes without signaling, blow past STOP signs and do everything on their dumbphones with one hand on the phone, the other hand on the steering wheel while in motion.  I was driving early Friday morning on the connector road between Dr. Theodore Kazimiroff Blvd and Allerton Ave, near the Bronx River Parkway when a driver behind me honked because I was driving at or close to 25 MPH.  That's New York for you, always in a hurry to get into an accident. 

You can read the entire Vision Zero action plan (in .pdf) right here

But something else bothers me too, about De Blasio's message.  It's not the message that bothers me, its who will be carrying out the message.  The National Waste and Recycling Association (NW&RA) endorsed a plan to carry free advertising with "I DRIVE 25" bumper stickers on their 9,000 carting trucks.  Maybe these trucks should have stickers carrying "I RUN RED LIGHTS AND DRIVE AGAINST TRAFFIC FLOW" too - - many trucks I see work late at night when few cars and pedestrians are visible on city streets.  Some of these trucks I observed drive the wrong way on one-way streets, illegally back into the one way street, or drive across the dual yellow lines to the opposite direction so they can collect the waste or recyclables.  Blowing past STOP signs is common about these trucks (and many other drivers across most modes of vehicular, and bike, transport).

Here are two videos of two different carting trucks in the Bronx - - shot in daylight.  You figure out the hypocrisy. 



Mayor De Blasio should think about stepping up enforcement on drivers of carting vehicles (both NYC Sanitation and private companies) first before sending a message out that private carting drivers are complying with the 25 MPH law. 

To make Vision Zero work, the NYPD should step up it's enforcement zeal. This is not about raising revenue, it's about saving lives.  It's not just the 25 MPH speed limit, it's about obeying every law within the NYC Traffic Rules and NY State Vehicle & Traffic Law, including making a proper STOP (not blowing by like the STOP sign doesn't exist), failure in yielding to pedestrians and other vehicles, fail to use turn signal at least 100 feet prior in changing lanes or making a turn, making illegal u turns on a crosswalk, tailgating (does anyone read their insurance documents, particularly the part where certain accidents are not chargeable against the policyholder?), slowing down in construction zones 24/7 and using a cell phone while actively in motion.

Here are two videos of drivers ignoring STOP signs - - one on southbound White Plains Road at Gun Hill Road, the other on East 222nd Street and Givan Ave, both in the Bronx.  The first video also shows a  NYC Transit bus operator on the Bx41 Select Bus Service+ route failing to obey the STOP sign. 

I would endorse a plan for the NYPD what they would use unmarked vehicles in following the driver of a specific vehicle who is breaking multiple traffic laws.  When an officer (armed with his dashboard camera) observes the driver committing 4 or more traffic violations of any kind, the officers should arrest and charge the driver with Reckless Driving, a misdemeanor.  Put into place a new law of aggravated reckless driving and make it a felony if one of the 4 traffic violations involve a school bus STOP violation, use of the cell phone while driving, or speeding in excess of 25 MPH - - as well as impounding the vehicle at the scene and a minimum 1 year license revocation if convicted on the felony Reckless Endangerment charge.  It's time now to change the culture of driving in NYC as well as setting an example for other major cities to follow, such as San Francisco which is making a major push in implementing their Vision Zero plans. 

Next month:  A follow up blog to Vision Zero and the 25 MPH law, including a video I will ask one of my passengers in my vehicle to take around the Bronx as I am driving - - in the post 25 MPH speed limit era.

Monday, November 3, 2014

One World Trade Center finally opens

On a sunny Tuesday morning in New York City, the peace and calm of Lower Manhattan and the world was shattered when 19 of the 20 terrorists hijacked 4 passenger aircraft and carried out two attacks, one using 2 planes at the World Trade Center complex, one plane damaging the Pentagon in Washington, DC and a failed attempt in attacking the White House when passengers on board attempted to retake the plane back from terrorists - - all this happened on September 11th, 2001. The 9/11 terrorist attacks as Americans call it was the most horrific attack on United States soil in modern American history. Today, the new One World Trade Center finally opened it's doors to the first tenants inside North America's tallest building, 13 years, one month and 22 days after the 9/11 attacks. Condé Nast, the first WTC tenant to make this announcement, moved 170 of their 3.400 employees into the gleaming skyscraper, marking the first time that a company has physically moved into One WTC. The remaining employees at Condé Nast will move into One WTC early next year, around the same time the Observatory Deck near the top of the building, will open to the public. Although the building is only 60 percent leased by tenants, the opening of One WTC marks an important milestone in taking back Lower Manhattan and keeping America strong. I could go on and on about how long it took to start building, this complex like 5 years before the first beam was installed at the WTC site in 2006 but it's finally open. One WTC building rises 1,776 above ground level, the same year when the U.S. declared it's independence from British rule. Everyone who is an American should be proud of our country, and proud that we (eventually) can overcome from the darkest days in rebuilding Lower Manhattan. Today's opening of One WTC represents a symbol of the strength and resiliency of New York City and the United States.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

What's wrong with MTA and NYC Transit (along with MTACC) - part 4 - - mega projects

In July, 2003 the Metropolitan Transportation Authority created the MTA Capital Construction Company (MTACC) to oversee all MTA expansion projects as well as the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan's transportation infrastructure, specifically the Fulton Transit Center and the new South Ferry Terminal.  MTACC currently manages on behalf of the MTA five projects including the following:

  • Phase 1 of the Second Ave subway line from East 63rd Street and Laxington Ave station to East 96th Street and 2nd Ave 
  • Fulton Street Transportation center
  • East Side Access (ESA) project, allowing Long Islanders to have a one seat ride on the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Terminal
  • 7 line extension to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and the Hudson Yards area at 11th Ave and West 34th Street - - now scheduled to open on February 24, 2015
  • New South Ferry Terminal (SFT)
All projects, including the "completed" South Ferry Terminal are behind schedule and over budget.    Managing these projects is a complex task which requires coordination with multple entities - - such as Con Edison (utility work), NYC Department of Transportation (roadway closures).  Projects which requires miles of new tunnels and track require intricate planing and execution.  Sadly only one project since 2003 was completed, South Ferry Terminal and that station took a devastating hit from Hurrican Sandy.  Let's take a look at the original estimates (cost and timeable) then see about their current statuses.

Second Avenue Subway:    You cannot lay the entire blame on the MTA for this project - - it was envisoned by the City of New York as far back as 1929 with connections to the IRT White Plains Road (2/5) and Pelham 6 lines in the Bronx (and track modications to the wider guage on these lines - - subway cars on lettered lines cannot run on numbered lines). The MTA was not created by NY State until 1968.  Each time the 2nd Ave line would start construction, it would be halted before the first shovel was dug due to lack of funding by the city and state.  The first phase of the 2nd Ave line started in 1974 but a year later the city of New York experienced the worst fical crisis which put them on the brink of bankruptcy.  The city's 1975 fiscal crisis activated the emergency brakes on the 2nd Ave subway project and constructed was halted until 2003 when the MTA Capital Construction proceeded with Phase I from 63rd Street-Lexington Ave station on the F line, then up 2nd Ave to 96th Street station with two intermediate stations; 72nd Street and 86th Street.  Groundbreaking was made on April 12, 2007 which started Phase I - at an original cost of $3.8 billion and a expected 2013 completion date (that was last year,).  Currently Phase 1 of the SAS is 3 years late (expected "completion" date now December, 2016) at a running tally of $4.451 billion.  These numbers aren't too bad, given the MTA's notoriety in these megaprojects.

Fulton Street Transportation Center:  This Lower Manhattan project requires six different contracts totaling an initial budge of $1.4 billion, including the grand Fulton Street entrance with the infamous Oculus scheduled for 2011 completion.  The Fulton Street transit hub is intended to expand passenger capacity, improve transfer access between the 2/3/4/5/A/C/J/Z lines, make the entire complex ADA accessible (also making the first station in Manhattan on the J and Z lines to be ADA accessible) and create new retail space.  Currently the project is over 3 years late, however it still comes in at the same $1.4 budget originally planned in 2007.  The FTC building was to open this summer - - that season came and went.  Then the building was supposed to open in the Fall, that was delayed.  Maybe they will tell us that he building will open sometime in 2015.  At least that will give the MTA another year to complete FTC.

East Side Access Project:  This project should be called the "Big Dig" of New York State.  The term Big Dig was used for a mind boggling mega project in Boston, MA which was to reconfigure Interstate 93 through a maze of underground tunnels and a new bridge within Downtown Boston.  That project was 8 years late at a total cost of a staggering $22 billion.  The MTA's East Side access project was to bring Long Island Railroad (LIRR) service to Grand Central Terminal for the first time in the railroad's 180 year (as of 2014) history.  The original cost/target date was $4.3 billion with trains running to GCT by 2009  (five years ago).  Now because of "complexities and unforeseen issues" in this project, the target completion date is now 11 years later at anywhere between 2021 to 2023 at a cost now pegged to be nearly $11 billion.  $11 billion to save 30 minutes off a typical commute for 162,000 customers -  which means more trains must be added.  Meanwhile the LIRR's Ronkonkoma branch is going to have a full length second track, eventually, while further west the third track on the LIRR's main line from Hicksville to Floral Park stations won't happen.  And now recently on 10/30, a subcontractor made a nearly fatal mistake by drilling a hole inches away from an northbound F train filled with passengers near the 21st Street-Queensbridge station - - once again the ESA project was shut down while the MTA investigates this bizzare incident.  The drill came very close to shearing the train, averting a tragic incident. 

7 line extension:  This project represents the first major subway line extension since the 63rd Street line to 21st Street-Queensbridge opened in 1989.  The 7 line would be extended from the current terminus of Times Square to a new station at the intersection of 11th Ave and West 34th Street, called 34th Street-Hudson Yards.  There were plans to build an intermediate station at West 42nd Street and 10th Ave but the station plans were scrapped due to budget constraints.  However, the 7 line extension will help foster commercial and residential development near the 34th Street-Hudson Yards subway terminal as well as serving an expected 35,000 passengers who will use this station.  The 7 line project started in December, 2007 with an expected December, 2013 completion date.  The cost of this project was orginally $2.1 billion - - expected final price tag will hover under $2.4 billion.  Problems with escalators/elevators and the ventilation plant contributed to the construction delays of the project.  At least the cost of this project didn't spiral out of control unlike ESA. 

New South Ferry Terminal:  The new South Ferry terminal was designed to replace the 1905 era old South Ferry loop, a single curved platform under the Staten Island Ferry Terminal which could only accomodate 5 cars of a 10 car train.  The loop track was actually the outer portion of a two track, two platform loop station, while the inner loop platform is no longer in use.  The South Ferry loop station was a problem for tourists because they may not be familiar with the subway system and may not know in making sure they are at the first 5 cars of the subway train. Additionally the curved platform constricted train operations (even though it's been there since 1905) when entering and leaving the station, as well as prohibiting ADA aqccessibility.  The new South Ferry was supposed to address these concerns through a 2 track, 10 car straight platform with ADA accessibility and climate controls.   Total original cost was $400 Million.  Final cost was $527 million with minimual delays. 

But as soon as the South Ferry terminal opened and the old SF loop station was "closed and decommissioned", leaks being to appear on the station walls.  The MTA forced the contractor to remediate the problem but that would prove useless when Hurrican Sandy hit NYC and the station was completely submerged in water, destroying all station and electrical components needed to operate this terminal.   The 1905 South Ferry loop station suffered minimal damage from Sandy and reopened in April, 2013 so customers will have direct access to the Staten Island Ferry from the 1 line.  While Hurricane Sandy was a an unexpected storm of gigantic proportions which caused massive damage to the new South Ferry Terminal and other low lying areas in Lower Manhattan, the MTA and NYC Transit were still warned about the water leaks prior to Sandy and did nothing in protecting critical components from damage.  Granted, the process of planning and coordinating this work might have taken years beyond when Sandy happened so the damage was going to happen to South Ferry Terminal anyway.

MTA is planning a across-the-board fare hike in March, 2015 and will hold public hearings related to these fare hikes next month.  Perhaps the MTA should look at MTA Capital Construction and how their lack of oversight caused billions of dollars in waste on tardy mega projects.    Taxpayers deserve better than a mismanaged public authority such as the MTA.