One Change That Should Not Be Made And Others That Are Long Overdue

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A mess of wires, somewhat representative of DOT signage. Source: HowardLake / Flickr

THE COMMUTEThe MTA financial situation could go from bad to worse. First we have the state stealing money from the MTA. Now we have the federal government trying to do something similar.

A proposed House bill ends the practice of linking the Highway Trust Fund, financed by the gas tax, to mass transit and reduces federal funding to transit. As MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota stated, without dedicated funding the MTA is in serious trouble:

“That billion dollars in funding is used to buy rail stock and switching and signaling equipment, critical to maintaining our system in a state of good repair.”

Republicans are now reworking that bill and there is also a competing Senate bill.

Reopening A Station Entrance

In local news, I suppose we should all be rejoicing that, after more than 40 years, the MTA finally reopened a shuttered entrance at Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street in Park Slope. But is the MTA doing this primarily for the customer, as they claim, or is it more to take advantage of neglected real estate they can now rent?

The station entrance, like many others, was closed in the 1970s when the city’s crime wave was hitting new highs and the city’s budget crisis, as well as the MTA’s, caused the MTA to look for ways to save money. They chose to close many lightly used station entrances or what they called duplicate entrances, like the ones on both sides of Fourth Avenue.

Particularly hard hit was the IND subway whose stations are spaced farther apart than the lines built earlier by the IRT or BMT. Many IND stations have entrances at the ends of the platforms rather than in the center. Those entrance and exit closings resulted in some people having to walk the entire 600-foot platform to the exit, and then walk the same distance again, once above ground and then another half mile to reach their destination.

The 1970s also saw an increase in deferred maintenance and reduced bus service across the board. Unlike recent service cuts, the ones in the 1970s affected the heaviest and most crowded bus routes like the B46 and B41, giving rise to gypsy cabs, which later evolved into today’s dollar vans. Some of those cuts were restored when MetroCard allowed for the creation of free bus / subway transfers in 1997, which greatly increased ridership.

How many more station entrances, such as the one at Fourth Avenue, also need to be reopened? The original reasons for closing them (high crime and the need to pay station attendants) are no longer valid. Although there is expense in reopening these closed exits and maintaining them, there are benefits to be gained as well. However, most will remain shuttered since, unlike Fourth Avenue, they do not provide the opportunity for the MTA to use its real estate for rental purposes.

Also, why should it have taken so long to make such a minor improvement? If it took more than 20 years to obtain the needed funding for this small but important change, what hope is there that we will ever be able to accomplish any major improvements?

Department Of Transportation (DOT) Overdue Changes

Click to enlarge. Photo by Allan Rosen

Keeping with the theme of changes that are long overdue, let’s change the focus to DOT. What could be their excuse for not updating signage or fixing problems they have been made aware of? Take the sign, for example, on Brighton 6th Street, which still asks you to feed the meters on Sunday although it has been more than six years since the law was changed making Sunday parking free. Unknowing motorists and visitors to the city are still paying on Sundays and perhaps summonses are issued on Sundays as well. Who knows how many others like it still remain because of DOT’s sloppiness?

Or how about the taxi stand on Coney Island Avenue south of Brighton Beach Avenue, just one block away? When was the last time you saw a taxi stand or park there? It has been more than 14 years since taxis would line up there to illegally transport Kingsborough College students for a dollar a head, cramming four students at a time into a taxi, yet the parking restriction remains.

The no standing restriction sign remains, more than 14 years since taxis would line up to illegally transport students to Kingsborough. Photo by Allan Rosen

How many other outdated signs are there that need to be updated? How many potential parking spaces are lost because the reason for the signage no longer exists? On Ocean Parkway, for example, I noticed one banned parking space in the middle of the block in front of a private residence. Today, what could possibly be the reason for that? There is no consistency why parking is allowed at some T intersections, but not at others. The point is that these anomalies would not exist if DOT periodically reviewed its signage. Instead, they only make changes in response to complaints or accidents.

Even when DOT is notified, it can take years for them to correct a problem if they do so at all. Several years ago I reported a speed limit sign on Corbin Place that was hung too low and dangerous for pedestrians. The sign was replaced one month later at a proper height but wasn’t fastened correctly. It fell off after only one month during the first big wind and it was never replaced again although I notified DOT that it had fallen off.

Photo by Allan Rosen

I also reported a mistake in their parking regulations database more than a month ago and it still has not been corrected, but I did get an automatic e-mail reply the following day thanking me for reporting a defective sign that they will investigate.

What Is Wrong With The DOT Sign Installers?

Several years ago I reported a one way sign blocking a street sign at Avenue Y and East 11th Street. It still has not been corrected.

Photo by Allan Rosen

When I reported three school crossing signs that appeared in the same week, all blocking Yield to Pedestrian signs, two of the Yield to Pedestrian signs at West End Avenue and Cass Place / Shore Boulevard were promptly removed, instead of being relocated where they could be seen. The third one at the corner of Brighton Beach and Coney Island Avenue still remains.

Photo by Allan Rosen

I didn’t even bother reporting the school crossing sign completely blocking a bus stop sign near St. Marks Church.

Photo by Allan Rosen

How Competent Is DOT?

When the blinking yellow light was installed at Oriental Boulevard and Ocean Avenue several years ago, I wrote to inform them that they placed the signs in the wrong place, notifying the pedestrians that they have to push the button for the walk signal to light up and the traffic signal to change to red for Oriental Boulevard. To be seen, it is necessary to turn your head 90 degrees or more to the right to read the sign. When walking you generally look straight ahead of you, not 90 or 100 degrees to the right. Consequently most visitors to the park and beach do not even see the signs and generally cross on the blinking red light and Don’t Walk sign. Some even push the button when they want to cross Ocean Avenue, instead of Oriental Boulevard. DOT responded that they sent someone to investigate and failed to see any problem with the signs. Do you see a problem from looking at the picture?

Photo by Allan Rosen

I guess I was correct when I called them “a bunch of idiots.”

Is Safety Really DOT’s Primary Concern?

DOT claims that safety is their primary concern. However, when a community in Queens once requested a change at a dangerous intersection, DOT responded that no one was killed there yet. Also, they do not replace lane markings until they are almost totally worn out, and they never check the length of yellow traffic signals, some of which are much less than the required three-second minimum.

Look at the two videos I took five years ago at Sheepshead Bay Road and Shore Parkway south service road where the amber signal alternated between one and one third seconds and one third of a second in length. After I complained, the length of the amber signal was increased to about one and a half seconds. A year later it was increased to about two seconds, and now it is finally correct at three seconds long.

 

I wonder how many accidents are caused by:

  1. Left turn lanes that appear without any upcoming warning, causing unfamiliar motorists to switch lanes at the last possible moment;
  2. Lanes disappearing or merging without any warning;
  3. Dark sections of highways in the city due to lamp posts that are non-operational for three months or even a year or longer;
  4. Amber traffic signals that are excessively short because they are not periodically calibrated or checked unless there is a complaint or accident;
  5. Lane markings and directional or street signs that have not been replaced for years, such as the street signs missing for three years at Sheepshead Bay Road and Emmons Avenue and;
  6. Unrepaired potholes.

We are just lucky we’ve had a very mild winter so pothole season shouldn’t be so bad this year.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

  • Anonymous

    It’s an uphill battle. Most of the country and congress is anti train.But even here in NY State and City,there has been almost no new train service,since the 1940s.The new Second Ave,and 34 St lines are still years away from opening. The future for train service,is not good.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wi-Cho/100000600687310 Wi Cho

       Actually no new train service since 1989 when MTA open the 63rd Street line (now run by the (F) train) in Manhattan.

      • Ron123

        The MTA completed a connection from Queensbridge in LIC; (the terminal of the 63rd Street line) to the Queens Blvd trunk lines. That connection allowed greater use of 63rd Street & 53rd Street tunnels. THat connection was completed in the 1990’s

        • BrooklynBus

          That connection of 1200 feet took 20 years to construct.   By comparison the first IRT line from 145 St to South Ferry only took 4 years.

          • Andrew

            You have your connections mixed up.

            It’s the 63rd St. line (ending at Queensbridge), 3.2 miles long, that took 20 years to construct. Construction on the short connection to the Queens Blvd. line started in 1994 and service began operating in 2001.

          • BrooklynBus

            I thought it was longer but 7 years is still a long time for 1200 feet.

            Maybe you can answer this for me. I was at the Queens Museum on Saturday and there is an exhibit there about the third water tunnel. Apparently tunnel 1 took 4 years to construct. Tunnel 2 took 5 years to construct. Tunnel 3 is three times as long as Tunnel 2 and I believe 24 feet in diameter as compared to 20 feet for Tunnel 2, but Tunnel 3 will take 55 years to build, started in 1970 to be completed in 2025. As far as I know the work has been continuous, unlike SAS. Do you have any idea why it should take so much longer than Tunnel 2 to complete. I can see 4 or 5 times as long, but not 11 times as long.

          • Andrew

            It’s a long time, but don’t forget that it had to be threaded into the middle of a busy four-track railroad without shutting down service. There was also a lot of other work – courtesy of nycsubway.org:

            The MTA completed all EIS and preliminary engineering work in the summer of 1992. Parsons-Brinkerhoff began design of the 63rd Street Connector in 1992; construction finally began in July 1994 after the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) concluded a Full Funding Grant Agreement with the MTA. The MTA spent a grand total of $645 million on the project, with the FTA’s Section 5309 New Start program supplying $306.1 million and the MTA the remainder. This diagram details the construction work and contracts of this project.

            The Connector project actually consisted of several tasks involving significant engineering challenges:

            Extensive rehabilitation of eight miles of the existing 63rd Street tunnels, including new signals and track crossovers.

            Extending both levels of the 63rd Street tunnel 1300 feet and joining the upper level to existing subway lines by means of new ramps; the lower level, belonging to the LIRR, was extended as MTA proceeded with plans to connect this tunnel to the LIRR’s Main Line and Port Washington Branch.

            Widening the main Queens Boulevard corridor line between 33rd and 36th Street to six tracks, two of which being ramps entering below the main line and rising to switches west of 36th Street station, allowing trains to access either local or express tracks.

            Constructing diversion tunnels to allow existing subway services to continue operating without interruption.

            Tunneling 20 feet under the Northern Boulevard subway, and underpinning, the existing Northern Boulevard roadway, buildings and express tracks. This required the contractors to cut deep shafts through 140 ft. of rock after slurry walls were built. The new tunnels then had to penetrate an inverted concrete plug.

            Providing up to 90-foot wide temporary roadway surfaces to allow automobiles to operate unimpeded.

            Integration of two four-story, 8,000 square foot ventilation buildings located at 29th Street and 39th Street.

            Lowering of a sewer siphon 50 feet to make room for a new tunnel.
            Mitigation of significant ground water.

            Construction of a new TA employee facility.

            The 63rd Street Extension had cost $898 million; the total cost of the completed line as of 2001 came to $1.54 billion. The Connector’s work was performed mostly outside of business hours and on weekends, over seven years, in order not to disrupt existing subway service.

            Sorry, I know virtually nothing about the water tunnels, and I haven’t been to the Queens Museum since the Robert Moses exhibit was on 5 years ago or so. (I do need to get back there, even though I don’t live in Queens anymore.)

          • BrooklynBus

            Andrew, what I don’t understand is why the brand new 63rd Street tunnel would have to undergo eight miles of extensive rehabilitation.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

     The MTA owns a lot of property that it could be renting and doesn’t. Look at Sheepshead Bay Road Station. There is storefront to the east of the station they could rent, as well as one to the north.

    • Allan Rosen

      I wish one of the Comptrollers would look into that.  I think the problem is that they are very selective on who they choose for tenants. You know the subways have a certain status they have to maintain.  They may be asking rents that only a chain can afford to pay and consequently are losing out on way too much revenue  by choosing to keep their property vacant.  I think it took like three years for them to rent the available space at Stillwell Avenue terminal, after kicking out the former tenants who were there before the renovation and I’m not sure it is even fully rented todav.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

         In this case we have two stores unrented since the late 1980s. Landlords recognize when that when they can’t get a higher rent they take whatever the`market will give them. Otherwise they lose too much income for too long. Not every station is going to have the rental potential of Times Square. So adjustment is necessary.

        I’m quite sure the acclumative loss from these and other vacant spaces is in the millions.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

         I think the last vacant space at Stillwell Terminal was rented finally last December.

        • BrooklynBus

          There are so many inefficiencies within the MTA, that I am sure if they looked hard enough they could find enough money to restore the services that were cut. As I said the controller needs to look into all these vacant MTA properties that could be earning income.

          • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

             They still have a lot of property that could be sold or rented. I sometimes suspect that they’re not keeping track of their holdings very well.

    • Georgia

      I recall this store it was a ladies stocking store and this store had anything and everything that had to do with legs. They were great quality also. That has to be empty about 25 years. 

    • guest

      The north store was a flower shop for a little while maybe 10 years ago. That place has a huge rat problem now. They pop out every time I walk by. Now I don’t walk by

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

        I thought that they were selling flowers only outside the storefront. Last store I remember was a hero place, something like Subways.

        Empty buildings will definitely draw vermin.

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  • guest

    Hate to be the pessimist but regarding the three second amber light, I strongly suspect that if one of those spy cameras is in the area, if the amber is malfunctioning they leave it so they can ticket poor motorist caught by the deceitful trap. We really need to impeach Bloomberg and Ms. Khan for what they have done.

    • Allan Rosen

      So far they haven’t done that here that I know of, but there was a case several years ago, I believe in Maryland where all the ambers on one street were set to 7 seconds (they do that in New Jersey), and one was set to 4 seconds and they installed a red light camera at the 4 second light.  Somebody took the city to court and they claimed it was an innicent error and then set all the cameras to 4 seconds and refused to invalidate any of the fines collected.  Government could get away with stuff like that while an individual would be put in jail or severely fined.

  • LLQBTT

    Kinda off topic because there never was an entrance there, but how much $ would it take to construct an entrance to the L at Ave A & 14 St?  This fits into your description of the entrance being at the far end of a station which further makes an already inaccessible neighborhood that much more so.  This can’t cost that much say compared to the 1 stop 7 extension?

    • Allan Rosen

      It should be much much cheaper than the #7 train extension. It should be comparable to the proposed new subway entrance at 69 St on the Lex which is projected to cost $57 million.

      • LLQBTT

        WOW! That’s lots of $$ for a few stairways! (I know that it’s a little more involved than that, but $57m?)  Perhaps you can make MTA construction costs a future article.

        • Allan Rosen

          That’s not my specialty.  But it also includes elevators due to ADA requirements.  I still can’t figure out how they didn’t have to put in elevators when rebuilding the Brighton Stations.

          Nothing is cheap.  The Second Avenue Subway costs $2.3 Billion per mile.  To show you how costs have risen, if you remember when they added a new platform to Bowling Green and a new mezzanine, new escalators and new stairways and new tile, in the late 1960s, I believe,  I thought that was expensive at $13 million.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_G5XFTHBYBUWDXDNRZEE67JSOTQ Bill

    Allan:

    Maybe I’m still bitter about my last couple of years at NYCDOT, but my impression from 2500 miles away is that Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan is very preoccupied with trendy “smart growth” projects like car-less times square at the expense of supporting basic transportation infrastructure. It’s too bad that folks like you the outer boroughs are getting the short stuck.

    BH

    • Allan Rosen

      Didn’t realize you were bitter, but your impression from 2500 miles away is not inaccurate. The bicycle proponents have her ear and she is not trying to improve transportation for those who cannot bike. Pedestrian plazas and bike lanes have their place, but not when cars and transit has to suffer for it. The MTA claimed that the midtown plazas added ten minutes to the buses routed through there.

      • http://twitter.com/Lostinservice Lostinservice

        How fast you forget the $5 Billion project to rebuild bridges along the belt. Allan, you gotta stop picking and choosing what the DOT does to create a narrative that makes it seem as if cars and drivers are being made out to be victims. Stop pretending as if 99% of DOT’s budget goes to bikes/pedestrian plazas. There are many changes that need to be made and levels upon levels of bureaucracy to get through to accomplish them, and it’s even more difficult to accomplish those changes for cars because they cost more. It’s cheap to paint bike lanes and to give people an alternative transport method and even cheaper to maintain roadway that’s exclusively used for bikes. How about you stop arguing against DOT accomplishments, ones that required less funding and effort, because you don’t feel they benefit you personally. Stop pretending there’s some boogeyman at the top of the DOT who’s out to get you and your car. You want to make an argument against bike lanes/pedestrian plazas, compare the money spent on them vs money spent for cars and you’ll see a completely different picture than the one you’re painting.

        • Allan Rosen

          No one has forgotten the $5 Billion project to rebuild the Belt Parkway bridges. The fact is those bridges will be 75 years old by the time they will all be replaced.  They have outlived their useful life.  Replacing them now is the prudent thing to do. That does not mean that DOT is pro-car and driver.  (The alternative was to wait for one of them to collapse causing a catastrophe.)   

          The sensible thing to do when replacing those bridges is to plan for the next 100 years. The Belt Parkway carries something like ten times the traffic it did when first built.  The bridges should have allowed for a fourth traffic lane between Knapp Street and Cross Bay where there are no service roads to allow for eventual expansion of the Belt. This would have only amounted to a one-third increase in capacity and is certainly justified especially when no one is talking of building any new cross Brooklyn mass transit line.  Yet that is not what DOT chose to do.  IF they were pro-automobile, they would have done that.

          I never even mentioned bikes or pedestrian plazas in the article, so for you to state I am pretending 99% of DOT’s budget goes to bikes/pedestrian plazas or that I am arguing against bike lanes per se is not justified.  I merely stated in the above comment that midtown plazas have slowed down MTA buses by 10 minutes. I guess you would just rather ignore that.  I am also not against bike lanes like the ones proposed in Canarsie which I thought were a good idea because they did not impact traffic. The NIMBYs were against it, not me.  

          You are bringing up subjects I did not even mention in the article.  So why don’t we just stick to that.  If it is cheap to paint bike lanes, why does DOT wait until traffic lanes are virtually totally worn out creating dangerous conditions, before replacing them? Why do they resurface streets like Shore Boulevard when there are others that are much more in need of resurfacing? Shore Boulevard was in good condition when it was resurfaced. You don’t seem to have a problem with how they install their signage?  That was the gist of the article. Are they doing that correctly?

          This administration has emphasized the needs of pedestrians and cyclists more than any other previous administration and there is nothing wrong with that, but not when it unfairly inconveniences other users.  Vanderbilt Avenue was an excellent alternative to Flatbush Avenue because it moved well even during rush hours.  You could get from Grand Army Plaza to Atlantic Avenue in two or three minutes before DOT decided to reconfigure the street and turn it into a parking lot that hardly moves. 

          Your last sentence is utterly ridiculous.  Are you implying that DOT should spend the same amount of money to construct bicycle lanes and pedestrian plazas as they do to maintain the roadways?  And because they do not, that means they favor the automobile? The money they are spending on roads is just to keep them in passable condition.

  • Anonymous

    I think they just need to employ people specifically for these issues (and pay them well enough that they want to do their jobs well – or pay them by the amount of issues they fix – that’ll get people working) Also they should hire commission only personnel to deal with property issues – that way the person’s individual paycheck depends on whether they find someone to rent the property or not – guaranteed they’d find them much faster.

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