Recently in New York Category

The Argument for Platform Barriers

Alex Newmark at Transportation Nation reports NY MTA Tepidly Explores Platform Barriers After Subway Track Deaths … Again :

"Though the MTA would not cite a cost figure for installation, some proposals place barriers at over a million dollars per station. There are 468 stations."

Okay, lets use $468 million as our back-of-the-envelope price. The article also says:

"In 2012, 54 people have died on the tracks, either through falls, shoves or suicide."

Lets use $6 million as the value of a statistical life, consistent with US DOT. Let's assume there is a lifetime of 10 years, when the technology needs to be replaced. Let's assume no discounting. Let's assume it is 100% effective. The system will save 54*10=540 people for a value of $3,240,000,000 ($3.2 B), or a Benefit/Cost ratio of 6.9. I wish more transportation projects would get that.

We can make other assumptions, discounting, less than 100% effectiveness, higher prices fewer deaths per year and so on, which diminish this. There are additional benefits though (confidence in the system, fewer injuries, longer capital life, and so on) which would also need to be accounted for.

In the end, it sure seems like the B/C ratio would be well above 1.

The systems I have been in (like Kyoto below) that had them worked well. Of course retrofit is a more difficult issue, and this is New York, so the cost will inevitably be higher.

The Genius of Dirt Roads

In City Journal, Brandon Fuller writes: The Genius of Dirt Roads :

"Angel writes that governments in the developing world, whose financial capacity is often limited, should focus on what may sound unglamorous: establishing an arterial grid of dirt roads throughout each city’s future territory, much as the commissioners did in Manhattan. The grid should connect to the city’s existing network of roads, of course, and it should cover an area that the city expects its future population growth to require. These arteries will one day carry public transportation and private traffic, and such infrastructure as water mains, sewers, storm drains, and telecommunications networks will follow their routes."

The grid has advantages and drawbacks. In Planning for Place and Plexus we write:

The morphology and queuing properties of the plexus (its supply and demand) ultimately determine both the efficiency of the network in moving people and the efficiency of the land use. Radial (hub-and-spoke) networks allow easy access to the center but create inconvenient sharply angled parcels. In contrast, 90-degree grids maximize travel times (for anyone traveling in a diagonal direction) but create efficient parcels. A major issue with network topology is the interconnectedness of the network. Interconnected networks, be they grid or radial in nature, enable and even encourage through traffic, while a tree-like network discourages that problem. The topology of the network, grid, radial, organic (curvilinear) or otherwise, affects its performance.

The regular grid (with occasional interruptions) is arguably the most common topology for cities. It has been employed in cities for millennia. In the United States, the most influential legislation affecting the morphology of roads was the Land Ordinance of 1785. In many respects, it laid the foundation for future land use-transportation policy by adopting the Public Land Survey System, creating townships and subdividing them into 36 sections of one square mile (259 hectares) and 144 quarter-sections of 0.25 square mile (65 hectares) each. Roads delineating each of the sections were referred to as “section roads.” Subsequently, many urbanizing areas continued to use the centerlines of those roads as the location of present day arterials; the arterial networks are often further broken down into a finer grid of blocks.

A key point that has not been generally considered is the flexibility that the uniform and undifferentiated mesh networks (termed “grids” here) provide to changes in land use. A uniform grid allows alternative spacing between activities, spacing that can change with economies of scale. For instance, consider retailing. As described in Chapter 9, many stores—especially grocery stores—have been getting larger, while their numbers have dropped. Many New Urbanists, who advocate small-scale neighborhood retail, bemoan this phenomenon. Suppose that economies of scale indicate that it is efficient for the average retail store of a certain kind to increase in size from 1,000 to 2,000 ft2 (93 to 186 m2). Previously there may have been one such store every 10 blocks (one for every 100 square blocks); now there can be one every 14 blocks (one for every 200 square blocks). A grid allows the flexibility for re- spacing while keeping nearly optimal size stores. ...

A tree network, in contrast, fails to provide such flexibility; a store can locate either at the neighborhood center, at the community center, or at the regional center; it can serve perhaps 5,000 people, 15,000 people, or 60,000 people. A store optimally sized to serve 10,000 people cannot be located at a consistent node level—or, if it is, it cannot be efficient. A firm may need to locate stores in some neighborhood centers and not others, causing people to go into other neighborhoods in some places.
Recognizing that grid-based road networks might not lend themselves to locations that were not situated on flat, featureless plains, designers introduced several variations. To conform to the contours of the land, Frederick Law Olmstead employed curving streets in many of his designs (e.g. Roland Park, Maryland). Permutations continued to evolve over the years, and the “loop” and “lollipop” designs became the standard in suburban settings

I think the idea of a particular network topology (grid vs. tree) depends a lot on the topography. Getting this right is important. The idea of laying something out in advance (Angel's main point), so that property rights and development can occur on that lattice, seems a very good one.

Some Sandy links:


(1) Subway Recovery:

In general I am really impressed with the speed of the subway recovery. If periodic flooding does not destroy the network, maybe New York does not need to relocate or build really expensive defenses, just take a 1 or 2 week vacation every hurricane.

From WNYC: Subway Network Recovery animation

From NYT: New York Subways Find Magic in Speedy Hurricane Recovery

(2) Gas Rationing:


From NYT: In New York Gas Shortage, Missed Opportunities and Miscalculations

From NYT: Odd-Even License Plate Rules Have a History

We really need to invent/deploy gasoline-powered gas stations and refineries. It seems many stations had gas they could not pump for lack of electricity. Obviously lots of other problems as well, and I am sure there are risks of sparking near lots of gasoline, but this should be a solvable problem.

HOV3 and Casual Carpooling

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MSNBC: 'Pure mayhem' as New York City tries to get back to work :

"That led some people to try to hitchhike their way into Manhattan, with drivers eager to pick them up to make the three-person-per-car quota.

'Some folks offered me a ride,' said Melanie Bower, 30, who lives in Fort Greene. 'I was touched by their kindness at first. But then I realized they just needed me so they could have three in their car.’ 
Bower walked into Manhattan instead, and then caught a bus uptown."

It seems casual carpooling is running into some moralizing. The gain from trade (I give you a ride, we both save time) appears wrong to at least some travelers. People in other parts of the country have gotten over this, I am surprised New Yorkers, living in the home of capitalism, are having trouble.

Streetsblog on the HOV-only bridges and tunnels in NYC will really help buses: Bloomberg Announces Carpool Rule for Manhattan-Bound Drivers : "After a morning and afternoon when car traffic completely clogged NYC streets and river crossings, Mayor Bloomberg announced new restrictions for drivers entering Manhattan via bridges and tunnels on Thursday and Friday. On most crossings, only cars with three or more people will be allowed to enter Manhattan."

I hope Casual Carpooling takes off.

New New York and New New Jersey

Does the US have an obligation to rebuild New York's subway? Does New York have this obligation? Randal O'Toole (The Antiplanner) goes there: Should New York Rebuild the Subways? :

"As long as New York already had a subway, it probably made sense to maintain it. But building new subways, such as the Second Avenue subway which is costing more than $2 billion a mile, makes no sense. Will it make sense to perform costly repairs of the subways heavily damaged by Sandy?

There are those who argue that density has a great economic value and that all cities would be denser if it weren’t for barriers put in the way of density. On the other hand, if densities were lower, the damage from storms such as Sandy or other events such as earthquakes would be a lot lower.

Operating and maintaining New York’s transit system costs than $10 billion a year more than fare collections. While increasing fares by an average of $2.50 per ride could cover those costs, this wouldn’t be enough as the system isn’t being maintained to a state of good repair. Most of the subsidies come from auto users, out of either federal gas taxes or bridge tolls that are diverted to transit.

There are two alternatives to rebuilding the subways. The drastic alternative is to simply let the city fend for itself without subways. A more realistic alternative would be to convert the subways into underground busways. Electric buses could move just about as many people as the subways do with far less infrastructure.

"

Does the US have an obligation to bail out coastal regions which built where they shouldn't have? Matt Kahn goes there: Rebuilding New Jersey and Coastal Moral Hazard

" I predict that in the "no FEMA" equilibrium, that the state's residents and leaders would invest in taking many more precautions to reduce their exposure to flood and hurricane risk. Zoning laws would change to discourage construction in the riskiest areas and to reduce population density in those areas. Coastal home owners would be incentivized by the state to take much greater precautions to reduce ex-post damage. "

Comment: Just as there are positive externalities to density, there are negative externalities which are subsidized by others, and there is moral hazard there - overbuilding due to social insurance. Moralizing and "must"-ing as politicians are wont to do does not get us to the right answer, it just reaffirms the status quo of existing built form and real estate markets. There may be better solutions which we fail to seek in the rush to rebuild just as we were.

Sandy and Redundancy

New York should be thankful it has bridges as well as tunnels, just as after the 1989 earthquake, The Bay Area was glad it had the BART Tunnel in addition to the temporarily damaged Bay Bridge. Redundancy has many dimensions, both multiple paths with the same technology and multiple technologies serving similar ends. But redundancy is not the only key to reliability.

In addition to spending on prevention (of storms, i.e. weather control and climate management), we need to spend on defense (sea barriers), mitigation (pumps), and in some cases accept the damage. It seems New York primarily (and by default) chose the ``accept'' strategy this time. In the future there should be a more multi-pronged strategy.

Above and Below New York

In the light of the recent closure of the New York Subway, some history on how it opened. From the forthcoming The Transportation Experience, 2nd Edition:

The London Underground opened in 1863. By 1870 other cities tried to copy. In New York, the publisher of Scientific American, Alfred Beach constructed, in secret, a short pneumatic tube railroad under Broadway. That it was constructed in secret (at night) is surprising to modern eyes, and was done because Beach did not have the approval of the Boss Tweed ring then governing New York City. Ultimately Tweed killed this nascent technological path though his influence over the Governor, who instead approved charters for elevated railroads. Though Beach tried to lower costs by switching from shield-tunneling to cut-and-cover, and Tweed soon went to jail, he could never get enough financial support to proceed. New York was condemned to elevated railroads rather than subways for the next 34 years when a new, non-secret, subway was opened.

Elevated Railways (Els) were constructed in Manhattan beginning in 1870. The initial foray using cable technology was soon replaced with steam engines, basically a railroad in miniature (though the gauge was standard). Els were eventually found on 9th, 6th, 3rd, and 2nd Avenues, and the latter two of these routes were ultimately extended to the Bronx. Manhattan Railways, their operator, was controlled by famed rail financier Jay Gould along with partner Russell Sage. These were electrified between 1900 and 1903 adopting the Multiple Unit Control system developed Frank Sprague, which was also applied to streetcars.

Despite New York's vastly greater population, Boston preceded New York in operating a successful subway line, opening in 1897 with trolley cars operating in a subway adjacent to Boston Common. Electricity enabled deep-bore subways (which steam made infeasible for anything but cut-and-cover technology). For instance, the Pennsylvania Railroad, which previously served New York City via Ferry from New Jersey, now could tunnel under the Hudson and open up a station on the island of Manhattan.

In 1894 municipal voters under the leadership of New York Mayor Abram Hewitt approved the Rapid Transit Act, authorizing a new Rapid Transit Commission to contract with a private firm to construct and operate for 50 years a subway line. The Rapid Transit Construction Company (later the Interborough Rapid Transit Company) was formed to bid on this contract, led by John B. McDonald and August Belmont. After being awarded the contract, it acquired the Manhattan Railway company, operator of the Els, so that it could offer integrated service. Fares were capped at a nickel. The initial route was dubbed Contract One, and its extension Contract Two.

Advantages of shallow excavation (cut-and-cover) over deep bore tunneling included easier access to the tunnel from the ground, and once operating shorter distances for travelers, so that elevators would not be required. The major downside was the expense of utility relocation and shoring existing buildings.

The new cars were eventually built of steel rather than wood. Though there was some concern about the greater difficulty of rescue given a crash with steel construction (axes have a hard time breaking through steel), the greater protection in event of crash proved to be a more important consideration.

In the first year, the New York Subway attracted 106 million passengers.

Advertising on the subway platforms was an early issue. The franchisee for advertising was Artemas Ward (descended from the eponymous US Revolutionary War general). Opponents were not happy that advertising obscured the then new and nice tilework in the subway stations. Proponents argued that advertising provided useful information for potential customers. This tension would last for decades. The Washington Metro famously limited in-station advertising, while other systems (less graced by federal largesse) embrace it more widely.

Belmont's IRT ultimately took over the Metropolitan Street Railway Company, consolidating control over transit. However the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (operator of the Els in Brooklyn) was given authority to build subway lines into Manhattan. The BRT entered Manhattan in 1908 taking its elevated trains across the Williamsburg Bridge into a Manhattan subway.

The control of transit became one of many fronts in local newspaper rivalries. The New York Times supported Belmont and continued private control of the subway, suggesting the test of a subway was a ``reasonable certainty of profit.'' while William Randolph Hearst's newspapers supported municipalization.

The 1908 Elsberg Law shortened the length of contracts, which made it more difficult for potential competitors to enter the subway market (as they would have less time to amortized fixed capital facilities like power stations), and was passed over the opposition of the Rapid Transit Commission.

The Dual System was established in 1913, locking in the BRT and the IRT as the dual private subway providers. The Dual System established the network for each, providing competition in Manhattan, while the IRT dominated the Bronx and BRT was the primary provider in Brooklyn and Queens. Initially IRT and BRT supported the five cent fare because it provided a minimum floor that could not be violated. It later turned into a difficult ceiling for them.


BRT went into receivership in 1918 (after a strike and the resulting tragic Malbone Street Wreck, among other events). It was reorganized as the Brooklyn Manhattan Transit Company (BMT). The IRT narrowly averted the same fate.

In 1924, a new Independent City Owned System (IND) was established (opening in 1932) to compete with the private BMT and IRT, with a line from the Bronx through Manhattan to Brooklyn. While fares were fixed, competition was hoped to improve quality of service and the new line would add needed capacity on a system now handling over 700 million riders per year.

The capacity on the different services varied, as they were constructed at different times and used slightly different technologies. At the time of the IND opening, the IND could move 90,160 persons per hour per track, the BMT 73,680, and the IRT 59,400. Later technological improvements in signaling improved capacity on BMT and IRT. Turnstiles also were innovated to improve flow entering congested stations and the accuracy of revenue collection.

The downturn in the US economy was felt in New York. The IRT went into receivership in 1932, like the BRT before it. The private lines were municipalized in a process called Unification that was complete in 1940. Only $19 million from the IRT (and none from the BMT) was recovered to repay the funds laid out by the city as part of the Dual Contracts.

References:

B.J. Cudahy. Under the Sidewalks of New York: The story of the Greatest Subway System in the World. Fordham University Press, 1995.

C. Hood. 722 miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

D. King. Developing Densely: Estimating the Effect of Subway Growth on
New York City Land Uses
. Journal of Transport and Land Use, 4(2), 2011.

KingsDream

Skyways, not just for Minneapolis. David King sends me this link from Untapped New York: Don’t Forget to Look Up: The Skybridges of New York City « Untapped New York: ""

Livehoods

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Jason Hong sends me to his project: Livehoods:

About the Livehoods Project The Livehoods Project presents a new methodology for studying the dynamics, structure, and character of a city on a large scale using social media and machine learning. Using data such as tweets and check-ins, we are able to discover the hidden structures of the city with machine learning. Our techniques reveal a snap-shot of the dynamic areas the comprise the city, which we call Livehoods.

Livehoods allow us to investigate and explore how people actually use the city, simultaneosly shedding light onto the factors that come together to shape the urban landscape and the social texture of city life, including municipal borders, demographics, economic development, resources, geography, and planning. Livehoods is a research project from the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University.

Cool maps at the site.

Haiku

The Week: New York City's 'adorable' haiku traffic signs: "By rewriting traditional street-sign warnings in haiku form, New York City is using poetry to urge motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians to think about safety. City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan unveiled the new Curbside Haiku campaign on Tuesday, saying the city is "putting poetry into motion with public art to make New York City's streets even safer.""

A nice write up of the BitCity Conference: Transportation, Data and Technology in Cities conference at UntappedCities.com, including a link to the video..

(Via conference co-organizer David King.)

The Tappan Zee Bridge

A Big Bridge In The Wrong Place and The Tappan Zee Bridge on why the Tappan Zee bridge is mis-located. It has to do with toll revenues.

Planet money writes:


So I wanted to answer a simple question: Why did they build the Tappan Zee where they did, rather than building it a few miles south?


I started digging through newspaper clippings from the 1940s and 1950s. It turns out, the bridge was part of a much larger project: The New York State Thruway, one of the first modern highway systems.

The clippings also reveal something suspicious. There was an alternate proposal for a bridge at a narrower spot nearby. The proposal was put forward by top engineers at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

But that proposal was killed by New York governor Thomas E. Dewey. The New York Thruway was his baby; in a 1954 speech he proclaimed that it would be "the world's greatest highway."

I called historians, and libraries and historical societies. No one seemed to know for sure why Governor Dewey did what he did. Then I found Jim Doig, a professor emeritus at Princeton.

Doig interviewed some of the key government officials involved in the project, and knew the answer.

The Port Authority — the body that proposed putting the bridge further south — had a monopoly over all bridges built in a 25-mile radius around the Statue of Liberty.

If the bridge had been built just a bit south of its current location — that is, if it had been built across a narrower stretch of the river — it would have been in the territory that belonged to the Port Authority.

MTA.ME

MTA.ME New York's subways in musical motion

Cities are more profound at night.

Cities are more profound at night. Pictures of cities lit at night make them seem much more important places than those same cities in the light of day.


At night, colors are muted, it is not quite black and white, but the garishness is avoided. Perhaps this is why I prefer London to New York, Black Cabs are just cooler than Yellow Taxis.

See e.g. this video of New York by James Ogle (via Infrastructurist)

new york city. from James Ogle on Vimeo.

Map of How Manhattan's Grid Grew

Map of How Manhattan's Grid Grew, from NY Times (get it while it's free) ...

Interactive Map

article

The grid certified by the city's street commissioners on March 22, 1811, spurred development by establishing seven miles of regular, predictable street access. It also laid the groundwork for nearly 2,000 acres of landfill that would be added to the island over the next two centuries. The commissioners concluded that New York "is to be composed principally of the habitations of men, and that straight-sided and right-angled houses are the most cheap to build and the most convenient to live in."

Capital New York writes about: The New York subway-map wars, continued

Subway map design can get quite contentious, as it represents how people view the city. This meeting seemed fairly pleasant though.

A nice pro- NYC propaganda film

My colleague José Holguin-Veras at RPI recently completed a study on scheduling freight deliveries in New York City. The conclusion was not surprising to those in the field, there are gains to be had from scheduling deliveries outside the peak; surprisingly though, this is not done already (analogous to the economist's $10 bill lying in the street, but in this case a $1000/month check going uncollected). This is the result of coordination and principal/agent issues (it costs receivers more to receive off-peak), which information and appropriate pricing and incentives should be able to solve.

From one press release: NYC DOT Pilot Program Finds Economic Savings, Efficiencies For Truck Deliveries Made During Off-hours.

New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan today announced that a pilot program undertaken with the trucking industry found that trucks making off-hour deliveries between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. instead of at peak hours experienced fewer delays, easier parking, reduced congestion and significant savings for the 33 participating delivery companies and business locations receiving shipments. The study, the first that engages both delivery companies and businesses, also found that businesses overwhelmingly supported the benefits, with travel speeds improved as much as 75% and a sharp reduction in parking tickets and fines which exceeded $1,000 a month for each truck. Several participants continue to make off-hour deliveries and DOT is now developing ways to build upon this pilot. Joining the Commissioner was U.S. Department of Transportation Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) Administrator Peter Appel at a 14th Street location of Foot Locker, one of the retail participants in the study, as well as representatives from Sysco, Whole Foods Market and New Deal Logistics. ... More information on the Manhattan Off-Hour Deliveries Pilot can be found at http://transp.rpi.edu/~usdotp.

The project's premise is

Receivers, by virtue of being the carriers' customers, have a significant power in setting delivery times and, consequently, trucks' time of travel.

Carriers cannot switch operations to the off-hours, without receivers willing to accept Off-Hour Deliveries (OHD).

In equality of conditions, carriers will prefer to deliver during the off-hours because of the higher productivity and lower costs (even when paying prime wages to the crews).

The carriers' cost savings are not large enough to enable shipping cost discounts large enough to attract receivers to OHD.

I will be at High Speed Rail: Leveraging Federal Investment Locally at NYU on Wednesday:

HIGH SPEED RAIL: LEVERAGING FEDERAL INVESTMENT LOCALLY
The Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management is pleased to announce High Speed Rail: Leveraging Federal Investment Locally, a symposium to be held on June 16th, 2010.

Following the January 2010 rail funding announcement by the U.S. Department of Transportation, interest in rail investment - and what it means for American communities - has continued to expand. Conversations are taking place across the country, bringing in new participants as well as experienced professionals from around the world to discuss the new corridors. In focusing on how to implement new rail corridors there is a risk of overlooking the need to manage the regional impacts of the nodes that comprise these systems. Leveraging Federal Investment Locally will enhance the national dialogue on high-speed rail investment through a focus on how new facilities will be linked to existing regional transportation infrastructure and economic development efforts. In addition, there will be an examination of the political context of establishing new rail infrastructure in a democratic nation where land use is controlled locally.

Presenters include:

Polly Trottenberg, Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation
David Levinson, University of Minnesota
Anthony Perl, Simon Fraser University
Frank Zshoche, Managing Director, Civity Management Consultants, Hamburg Germany

The event is co-sponsored by Parsons Brinckerhoff and presented in Partnership with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

When: 6/16/2010 8:30am-2:00pm
Location:
The Kimmel Center, Rosenthal Pavilion
60 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012 map

Shut it down and fix it

From reader DK:

Jay Walder is thinking about switching the New York City MTA's approach to subway repairs. They would go to full closure to repair and reconstruct rather than trying to keep the line open during construction, apparently drawing from Walder's London experience, the Daily News reports

New MTA plan would shut each subway line until it's fixed

In my view, London doesn't do this enough. This saves money, and in the long run may even save user time. (Big delay for short time may or may not be less than a short delay for long time, it just depends). There needs to be some planning for travelers who would switch to alternatives. Further it avoids all the construction set up and take down time resulting from trying to do work only at night.

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

Access to Destinations

Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

View David Levinson's profile on LinkedIn

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