A City That Moves
As a recent New York Times expose illuminated, public transportation in New York City is in a state of crisis. For years, we have neglected an aging and decrepit subway system to the point that delays are the norm, not the exception. Data released by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) earlier this year show that delays are up from about 28,000 per month in 2012 to 70,000 per month this year. And that was back in February, before what many called the “Summer of Hell.” That should not be the case, not in a world class city like New York. The problem remains, how do we, as a city, fix a 24-hour system that is one of the largest in the world? In speaking with experts, as well as everyday straphangers, it is clear that, fortunately, there are some good options worth talking about.
First of all, we need to make sure the MTA Capital Plan is fully funded. We must include new sources of revenue for the MTA, which I believe includes a robust conversation around congestion pricing. Also, we must demand accountability in regards to how this money is spent. The MTA should spend its funds first and foremost toward track and signal improvements — the “spine” of the subway system as stated by Roger Toussaint, former President of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 — the MTA’s largest labor union. That should be objective number one, above any other. (It’s also worth noting that TWU Local 100’s Work Boots on the Ground plan has some solid ideas on how to fix the MTA that I believe are worth discussing. Everything must be on the table.) That said, the current pace of signal modernization needs to be hastened. At the present pace, this project will not be completed for another half century. That’s correct. 50 years. We need to find ways to speed up this process. This will undoubtedly lead to the one thing no one wants to hear: large scale subway closures. While controversial, as a community, we will benefit from shared sacrifice now, so we do not have to experience system which further deteriorates to the point of no return.
Secondly, we need to ensure continued investment in cherished transport mode that is near and dear to the heart of every East Sider: the Second Avenue Subway. It may be controversial to promote both the maintenance and repair of existing stations and infrastructure as well as the expansion of the Second Avenue Subway. But, put simply, it’s mission critical. The 4/5/6 subway lines are the most crowded in the entire city with ridership exceeding 125% capacity during rush hour. Phases 3 and 4 of the Second Avenue Subway — the construction phase that will bring the line all the way down the East Side of Manhattan to Hanover Square — must be fully funded and implemented on time.
Lastly, there is a short term issue that directly affects the East Side, and that is the impending L Train shutdown in 2018. This closure will be greatly affect the commute of tens of thousands of commuters who rely on this line to access transfer points, both east and west. The First Avenue stop alone is one of the busiest in the City. Needless to say, the L shutdown will have dire consequences for commuters if no intelligent alternative is presented. One such proposal, which has been put forth by Transportation Alternatives, is called the 14th Street PeopleWay. The PeopleWay would reconfigure 14th Street to limit cars while reconstructing the thoroughfare to include dedicated bike & bus lanes and the widening of sidewalks for pedestrians. This would lead to a safer, more efficient cross town journey for the residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village and the Lower East Side. In addition, seniors and people with disabilities will benefit from the improved service and refurbished bus stops. And for those concerned about the effect on the small businesses along the 14th Street corridor, this method has been proven successful on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, where small businesses are flourishing.
Just as there are many challenges facing our city’s subway system, there are also many opportunities for our city and state policymakers to rise to the occasion and provide solutions. It is our job to hold those policymakers accountable and ensure that they are doing all they can to improve a broken system that has been a long time coming.
Mike Corbett, a staff member with the New York City Council and a former officer of Teamsters Local 814, is a candidate for the New York State Assembly’s 74th District, which includes the Lower East Side, Gramercy, Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, Waterside, Kips Bay, and Murray Hill.