Source: Patrick Cashin / Metropolitan Transportation Authority

THE COMMUTE: Just when you thought all the subway lines had finally reopened in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, several weeks ago the MTA announced that the Montague Street Tunnel, where the R train operates, will be closed for 14 months.

In the aftermath of the storm, the MTA realized that more damage had occurred than was initially suspected. Additional components in the tunnel began to fail shortly after service was resumed following the storm. The salt is causing rust to corrode anything made of metal, including cables, wires, and signals. Three submersible pumps and two substations also will be replaced, according to the MTA.

The G train tunnel connecting Brooklyn and Queens also will close for five weekends beginning in July and for 12 weeks in 2014. However, that closure will have little effect on residents of southern Brooklyn. The Montague Street tunnel closure will significantly impact southern Brooklynites bound for lower Manhattan by forcing them onto already overcrowded IRT trains or to ride over the Manhattan Bridge to Canal Street and then double back to lower Manhattan.

The MTA may partially subsidize an expanded Citibike program so that the hipsters of Williamsburg will have an alternative to the closure of the G train between Greenpoint and Long Island City, according to the New York Daily News.

Another Mayoral Debate

Another in a series of mayoral debates was held last Wednesday at Baruch College in midtown Manhattan. Democratic hopefuls Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio were no shows. I also missed that debate. It is noteworthy for this column because there were questions about transportation, and candidates were in attendance who were not at the last transportation debate in February, namely Republicans Joe Lhota, John Catsimatidis and George McDonald and Democrat Anthony Weiner. I covered the last mayoral debate at the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center, in which transportation was barely mentioned by the candidates.

At this debate, Catsimatidis called for the building of a monorail in the median of the Long Island Expressway. Monorails have fallen out of favor by most transportation experts in recent decades. That does not mean however, that some type of elevated line similar to Airtrain could not be built. But it won’t come cheap if it costs nearly as much as the $3 billion AirTtrain. A monorail or similar proposal would have to be weighed against the costs and benefits of other projects such as the Tri-boro X Plan or reactivation of the Rockaway Line, for example.

To advocate a single plan by a mayoral candidate without looking at alternatives is really irresponsible. Lhota called for building more park and ride lots at the ends of subway lines and the extension of subways in the outer boroughs, as well as a subway tunnel to Staten Island. These are proposals I wholeheartedly agree with. The current city policy is to sell off municipal parking lots, including park and ride lots, and replace them with economic development, causing further traffic congestion. Streetsblog nicely summarizes the debate.

More About Weiner’s Plans For Transportation

Weiner has a four-point transportation plan as part of his 64 points. It is pathetic. His plan is to:

  1. Launch ferries in all five boroughs
  2. Install cell service in every subway platform
  3. Offer city tax breaks to encourage cycling
  4. Replace Access-a-Ride with accessible medallion cabs

Ferries require heavy subsidies and, while desirable, they will have little impact in making the trains less crowded. Even if many do choose ferries over the subways, what assurances do we have that the MTA would not reduce service to reflect those passenger losses, leaving the subways and buses just as crowded? None. He wants a ferry from Sheepshead Bay to Manhattan, a plan already rejected by the community board.

Regarding cell service, which the MTA is installing anyway — how will that make the subways run better? Weiner’s final point regarding the replacement of extremely expensive Access-a-Ride, which costs $66 per passenger, is worth investigating.

Weiner’s other plan for Bus Rapid Transit along Atlantic Avenue, which he mentioned at the debate, also shows his transportation knowledge is limited. Why would anyone propose a new bus line to limit capacity on the only area roadway that carries trucks and cars when a four-track subway (the A and C lines) already exists two blocks away along Fulton Street? That makes zero sense. But what would you expect from a man who now wants the city to promote bikes after first vowing to rip out all the bike lanes installed by the current transportation commissioner when he becomes mayor?

The Realities

While advocating for new subway lines is nice, it’s something that a mayor without the influence of a Mayor Bloomberg would not be able to bring about. Improving local bus service would be the cheapest investment the MTA could make. Unfortunately, expanding Select Bus Service (SBS) is the one-size-fits-all solution the candidates see as how to accomplish this. As I mentioned many times before, SBS is no panacea and brings with it its own problems. Meanwhile, no one has advocated for the restructuring of local bus routes that are outdated, circuitous, or do not serve residents well as a potential solution to improving mass transit by filling in service gaps that have existed for 75 years or more. These include the service gaps along Fort Hamilton Parkway and Empire Boulevard in Brooklyn.

Re-routings and new bus services would easily cut 20 to 30 minutes from many trips by providing more direct service. We also need to explore different types of new bus services to connect major economic centers. A bus driver should have the flexibility to choosing the least traffic-congested route as is currently done with the B110 connecting Borough Park and Williamsburg. The driver can avoid the BQE when it is overly congested, by operating along approved streets in Park Slope.

The MTA’s solution of limiting new services to every 30 minutes and perpetuating a system in which routes do not easily connect with each other by creating the B32 and extending the B67 to within a quarter-mile of the B32 are not what is needed to correct existing problems. A direct route from Park Slope to Williamsburg (B69) is preferable to an indirect B67 [PDF].

Prendergast Confirmed As MTA Chairman

Also in the news recently, after six months, the Senate confirmed Tom Prendergast as MTA Chairman last week. Prendergast knows the problems at the MTA well. Let’s hope he can change the culture there, giving more of an opportunity for employees with good ideas to express them without fear of punishment for rocking the boat. Let’s also hope he directs Operations Planning to make some meaningful bus improvements by listening more to bus riders; improvements that considers potential revenue and economic development, not only increased operating costs.

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).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

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  • sonicboy678

    Just to correct a detail: the bus between Borough Park and Williamsburg is the B110, not the B100 (Mill Basin to Midwood/Sheepshead Bay).

    While undesirable, it probably is for the best to close the Montague Street Tunnel until the repairs are complete. If the current infrastructure is failing now, what might happen if left unchecked will be far worse than just a ceiling collapsing.

    I don’t agree with Weiner’s plan, either. Having cell service throughout the entire subway system is not quite as crucial as it’s cracked up to be. Sure, it may be useful if, say, someone’s asphyxiating, but it probably won’t be used for that at all. The bikes are currently a plague for our traffic laws. Jaywalking is bad; speeding is worse. Bikers have some insane tendencies to use sidewalks instead of the roads, run through red lights, travel against the flow of traffic, etc. Granted, regular drivers and pedestrians tend to break their own traffic laws, yet bikers that break their laws are almost unheard of in the media. Ferries are impractical unless there’s some way to access them quickly. Considering how much of this city is away from a viable location for ferries, it’s probably not worth wasting money just to operate boats that might end up with low ridership.

    We already have issues concerning Bus Rapid Transit. We don’t need any impractical routes in such awful locations. We also don’t need to be too hasty about scaling back certain routes just to prioritize another. This is why I have an issue with Bx41 SBS. The plan is to absorb the southern portion of the Bx55 into the Bx15 and make it a Limited route to Manhattan while reducing the current local Bx15 to Bronx-only service between The Hub and Fordham Plaza. How is cutting the Fordham Plaza-Williamsbridge portion of the Bx55 supposed to help anyone?

    • Allan Rosen

      I have not studied the Bronx proposals, so I don’t really have an opinion. Regarding the B110, I realized the mistake right away and was waiting for a correction. Glad you picked it up. It’s sort of funny that Lhota is supporting these grand subway plans now that it won’t be in his power to do anything about them as mayor, but said nothing of the kind when he was head of the MTA. I sort of agree with your other points.

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