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The New Tappan Zee Bridge, Now With Rail

Officials from NYSDOT, the MTA, and New York State Thruway Authority have announced that the Tappan Zee Bridge/Interstate 287 Corridor Project has narrowed the designs for a new bridge from six to the two that are rendered below.

Interestingly, there appears to be images of other plans or different sections of the two preferred plans on Nyack-Piermont Patch:


According to LoHud.com:

A new span to replace the soon-to-be 55-year-old Tappan Zee Bridge is just one part of the $16 billion project. It also would add bus rapid transit from Suffern to Port Chester along 30 miles of Interstate 287 and would call for the construction of a new passenger rail line across Rockland, over the new bridge and into Westchester onto Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson Line, ending at Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.

The issue of how it will all be paid was addressed in Nyack News & Views:

NYDOT’s Phil Ferguson told the legislators he’s sticking with the project’s original $16 billion estimate — for now. But he cautions that the longer it takes to start the project the more it will cost. Ferguson says it’s important to position the project for future federal dollars like the proposed National Infrastructure Bank and look at value engineering to try to reduce costs.

There was also the reality check about pleasing all the people all the time:

Project Director Michael Anderson says that when the ribbon is cut for a new Tappan Zee Bridge sometime in the next ten years, the eight planned lanes won’t have enough capacity to support all of the cars, trucks and buses that want to cross the Hudson. But even if more lanes are added traffic would still be constrained by the roadways that feed the bridge. That’s why about half of the $16 billion planners are asking for the Tappan Zee Bridge/I-287 Corridor Project will be used to expand intra-county, inter-county and NYC-bound transit options. “We can’t build our way out of congestion,” he says.

It’s not just the bottlenecks at feeder roads that will constrain traffic. It’s the general principle of “traffic generation” that Robert Caro addressed in his biography of Robert Moses, “The Power Broker”. Basically the theory postulates that the number of cars on the road is not a static number. When you add an extra lane, an extra bridge, and/or extra tunnel, it’s just an invitation for even more drivers to use it. Nature abhors a vacuum.

All in all the plan is a refreshing return of the days when infrastructure was built to serve all forms of transportation. Robert Moses might be screaming curses, but Gustav Lindenthal might be wiping a tear of catharsis. Plan 5 is better because the lower level of the south span could double the number of trains in the future. Freight rail perhaps.


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“Third Avenue Subway” (Route #3 from 1905)

Supplementing the First Avenue Subway (Route #1) and—one would assume—eliminating the need for a 3rd Avenue Elevated, William Barclay Parsons designed a four-track subway to run under 3rd Avenue and Bowery. It’s complicated set of tracks in the Bronx belie an ambition of the original transit planners; to have the city’s subways operated by private railroad companies such as the New York Central Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad. In Midtown, there’s also an interesting crosstown connection along 35th and 36th Streets.

Here is a comparison of the 3rd Ave and 2nd Ave Elevateds with the Subway. The 3rd Ave and 2nd Ave Els are in blue and Route #3 is in red. Much of 3rd Avenue shows up as purple.

Starting in the Bronx we see an interesting setup of tracks. The western branch makes a loop up and around Lincoln, Morris, and 3rd Avenues. A complicated array of spurs would have connected it to the then proposed 138th Street Line, which is now a part of today’s Pelham Line operated by the #6 train. (On a side-note, reading through the description of these spurs, written in florid late-Victorian speech, was tedious to say the least.) Since the Pelham Line was built in the Dual Contracts period, it’s within the realm of possibility that a future connection to an East Side Subway (whether along 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Avenues) was kept in mind by the builders. Over on the eastern branch, it would have run down Bruckner Boulevard then veered into the rail yards south of 132nd Street. This indicates a possible connection with the now defunct New York, Westchester & Boston Railway.*

*Fascinating thing about the NYWB. According to Clifton Hood’s “722 Miles”, they deliberately put their terminal at 132nd Street in the Bronx because it was assumed, around this time, that the 125th Street corridor would become a new central business district (CBD) just as 14th St, 23rd St, 34th St, and 42nd St would each acquire new importance as the city advanced north. This theory was based on the success of Pennsylvania Station (at 32nd Street) and Grand Central Terminal (at 42nd Street) which were both considered part of the outskirts of the young city. That is, until the city itself came northwards to their very doorsteps. This however did not happen to 125th Street, because the CBD would go no further than 59th Street; the foot of Central Park. Clifton Hood lays blame with the 1916 Zoning Laws, but perhaps the profitability of keeping the Upper East Side and Upper West Side as high-rise, residential/mixed neighborhoods stymied that northward expansion of strictly commercial space.

Route #3 crosses the Harlem River from Lincoln Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard to 3rd Avenue in Manhattan and the two 2-track branches merge into the 4-track trunk line making a straight shot down to Bowery…

…but with a very fascinating pair of spurs at 36th Street and 35th Street. They appear as hairlines on the map because they are in fact 1-track routes each. One track of rail for westbound trains along 36th Street and one track of rail for eastbound trains along 35th Street.

Here’s a little preview of Route #5 (Broadway/Lexington Avenue Subway) in the original plan this route and the aforementioned spurs of Route #3 would have shared space between Lexington and Fifth Avenues.

The ultimate destination of these two spurs would have been 7th and 8th Avenue subways. The traffic along the 34th Street nowadays would have been greatly eased if these routes were ever made.

Back on 3rd Avenue we reach 14th Street where it would conveniently transfer with the existing 3rd Avenue station on today’s Canarsie Line. I suspect that the Canarsie Line’s 3rd and 1st Avenue stations indicate an investment in the future construction of Route #1 (1st Avenue Subway) and Route #3 (3rd Avenue Subway) more so than providing a transfer for the elevated lines. These plans laid out in 1905 indicate a long-term vision of eliminating all of the els in Manhattan.

Bowery has been one of the major thoroughfares for downtown for centuries, so it would be a natural location for a subway line. However with the emphasis put on 2nd Avenue instead, it was the blocks between Chrystie and Forsythe Streets that would be razed to make way for a subway/expressway combo. More on that in a future post.

South of Chatham Square, Route #3 splits into two branches. The east branch would continue to follow the 3rd Avenue El and serve a portion of Lower Manhattan that would no longer have rapid transit service since the elevated was torn down with no replacement. The west branch is effectively the Centre Street portion of today’s BMT Jamaica Line (currently operated by J and Z trains). Between Pearl and Water Streets the two branches merge and continue down Broad Street, but then make a dramatic departure from the way the Broad Street line is now built. It veers west under South Street right along the shoreline and terminates in a hook shape under Battery Park. This terminal seems to skirt around the old South Ferry Loop and may have provided access to it’s platform.



Digital Bulletin Boards for Subways

In an effort to provide real-time information to riders, the MTA is installed large LCD monitors at Grand Central Terminal and Atlantic Terminal that display the constantly updated status of subways.

Dan Brinzac for the New York Post
Image courtesy of mta.info

MTA Chairman Jay Walder has been pushing for practical customer service in today’s digital age since his arrival at the MTA. Technologies such as digital bulletin boards and countdown clocks can be found in subways and metros around the world.

Image courtesy of mta.info
Image courtesy of mta.info

The news from the New York Post:

The agency plans to outfit the entire transit system — from trains to bus stops to even private businesses near bus shelters and subway entrances — with digital screens that show real-time statuses of buses and trains, as well as service announcements.

For example, the screens — a prototype of which is now being tested at Grand Central Terminal — would note delays but also offer alternate train or bus routes for commuters.

New York 1 has a video rundown of the story

A new pilot program from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will use digital screens to alert subway riders to service disruptions and alternatives before they head to their stop.

While I commend his work in bringing the New York Subway into the digital age, I feel that the recent news that cell phone and possibly wi-fi service will be made available underground, is a better return-on-investment. Everyone checks their phones for updates on the minutiae of their daily lives; status updates, restaurant reservations, tweets, baseball scores, blogfeeds, etc. and there are countless mobile phone apps and app developers who want to meet those varied demands. They compete with one another to provide a better product or service. So why not do the same with subway and bus schedules, service changes and itinerary planning. Instead of making such large capital investments in big LCD screens, installing them, wiring them, and constantly maintaining them in all 277 underground stations, why not allow that info be delivered by mobile phone service providers who can then package/customize the information to the needs of an individual rider and compete with one another to keep the product fresh and useful. Have the LCD screens in high traffic subway stations, but not necessarily everywhere. And while subways and metros around the world have these screens available in almost every station, they do so because their investment in such technology predated the arrival of mobile information technology and new media. Here’s my analogy; why wire a new, multi-story house with an expensive intercom system (à la “Home Improvement”) when the residents will most likely “ping” each other from distant rooms/floors with the cell phones they carry around with them almost always.



Lifestyle Studio “Gytha” Opens on 92nd & Lexington

My friend—designer and entrepreneur extraordinaire Niraj Parekh—has opened up a new “lifestyle studio” on the Upper East Side at 92nd Street and Lexington Avenue, just across the street from the 92nd Street Y.

“Step into my new store “Gytha” and you are spirited away to an exotic land, full of beautiful designs for your home and yourself!

A unique Lifestyle Studio that combines exotic, sumptuous and beautiful fabrics from all over the World and a collection of contemporary and antique jewelry, silk scarves and more..

Location – 1384 Lexington Avenue, New York, N.Y – 10128 (Between 91st and 92nd St) Across from 92Y Ph # – 212 289 4114”

Niraj Parekh on the left with your humble blogger.

I swung by the store after seeing the video below. The staging of the shop is great, I love it’s intimate scale and the way all the fabrics and textiles create such texture on the walls.

Here’s a great video introduction to the new store.

I applaud Niraj for coming this far after arriving here in the States just four years ago. Please come by for a visit whenever you can, if only to see the beautiful handmade jewelry designed by the proprietor himself.



No Pain, No Train on 2nd Avenue

It took close to 90 years to get this far in the construction of the 2nd Avenue Subway, but now it feels like the construction itself will take another 90 years. In the meantime many stores at the are launch box site are shuttering.

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

This is a great image above. It’s such a contrast from the clean, rosy illustrations rendered in the early EIS reports.

Now, this isn’t news. For years since the April 12, 2007 groundbreaking of Phase 1, the media has discussed the tribulations in store for the Upper East Side.

Jackie Ladner for New York Magazine from 2008

But what troubles transit advocates and rail fans is the time and treasure needed to get just Phase 1 done. The IRT was built from City Hall to 145th Street in four years, from groundbreaking 1900 to opening in 1904. The pace of construction was more or less kept in the boom years of subway construction. This could have been accomplished because of the circumstances of the time, such as cheap labor, no OSHA, lower cost of materials (no BRIC countries and oil sheikdoms to compete for scarce resources), fewer regulations, etc. However, the method of construction employed by the IRT, BMT, and IND—namely cut-and-cover—was far more invasive and disruptive, but could accomplish the task faster because long stretches of subway could be built in a single go. Plus express tracks could be added.

In contrast the 2nd Avenue Subway will be built using a TBM, the world standard nowadays. But it will use just one TBM that will go south from 96th Street to 63rd Street to carve out one tube and backtrack up to 96th Street to complete the second tube. The analogy I make is “typing out War and Peace…one hand at a time.”

In the meantime, business close or barely skim the bottom. The city as whole pensively waits to see if this thing will actually get done and if this is the way subway construction will be from now on.



Subterranean Cell Phone Service You Say?

Image courtesy of thenextweb.com

Love or hate the prospect of it…underground wireless reception for the subway may have taken a significant step forward according to Businessweek.

“AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile USA customers will have mobile-phone service on New York City subway stations after the carriers signed 10-year agreements to access an underground network being built by Transit Wireless LLC.”


Image courtesy of dnainfo.com

It has long been a big idea, but one taken with the dreadful prospect of the unleashing of thousands of cloying chatterboxes and neurotic attention-whores. Those of us who frequent the above ground portions of the subway system can attest to this at some level. Some—not all, some—chat loud, some chat long, and a rare few chat with the desperation of someone terrified of being alone with one’s own thoughts, but it is not a mindless din of shouting matches coming from all sides. Now, with that said, there is no telling what Brownstone Brooklyn and Manhattan commuters are capable of when given license to make a phone call whenever and wherever at their own discretion.

Image courtesy of cbsnews.com

On the flip-side the sheer practicality of being able to be in touch in an emergency or when delayed. Plus there’s an added advantage of having text message alerts be sent out for sudden service changes as well as subway train ETAs. Imagine a planned trip on the #6 on a weekend in winter. You check your phone for next arriving train. 15 minutes it says. Time better spent getting a cup of coffee and keeping toasty inside and above ground until your train is close to arriving. How much more efficient is this compared to having to wire, install and maintain electronic signs in each and every subway station when practically each and every rider has a portable “electronic sign” in their pockets. Efficiencies, streamlining, economies-of-scale. This the way to run a railroad.

Image courtesy of gothamist.com

Speaking of which, Michael Klurfeld at thenextweb.com makes an great observation on just how is thing going to be paid.

“What’s interesting about this particular network buildout is the funding scheme. New York City is not paying a dime of tax money for this. In fact, Transit Wireless is paying New York $46 million to install these devices. The money is coming from the wireless providers. Carriers who want their customers to have service in the station will have to pay a fee to TW.

The brilliance in this is in the marketing. Basically, if one carrier starts to pay for this service, New Yorkers who don’t want to be incommunicado while in transit are going to jump ship. The rest of the carriers know this. So they’ll start paying to use Transit Wireless’ service. So unless AT&T wants to lose its New York clients to Sprint, it’ll buy in for at least the same amount of coverage Sprint offers.”

I do love it when good old fashioned marketing, incentives, and payment schemes can net out such benefits for the public. Very reminiscent of the brilliant idea of having Spanish firm Cemusa install and maintain bus shelters and newstands out of their own pockets in exchange for all revenues from the selling of advertising space on the said installations.

Now with all that said, I say bring it on. Just make sure you have your music player charged and good pair of headphones handy or those noise-canceling headphones available when those one-sided conversations start. Just sayin’.



I.M. Pei’s Hyperboloid vs. Grand Central Terminal

Take I.M. Pei’s plans with a mix of relief and regret. Imagine an alternative-universe New York City, where a hyperboloid skyscraper; a narrow, vase-shaped tower stands proudly over the Midtown skyline. Standing haughty, unique, and unforgettable—right on top of what used to be Grand Central Terminal.

The video is beautifully done and it certainly does more justice to the building than any of the renderings I’ve seen of it. (And I do like the creative touches the director added like the kitschy, Mad Men interior decorating from 1:36 to 1:49.) Perhaps Robert Moses would have approved the plan if he saw that video instead of the image below. And thus, would have probably made this the most hated building in NYC.


The plans for I.M. Pei’s Hyperboloid date to 1956, which by my account predates Charles Luckman’s plans for replacing Penn Station with the latest incarnation of Madison Square Garden. Strange to think of an alternative universe where the public outcry toward the demolition of Grand Central Terminal lead to the survival of Penn Station. And as the sun rises on this New York, long shadow of the Hyperboloid is cast over the granite eagles of Penn Station. It seems that one of them had to be martyred for the cause of landmarks preservation.

It would still be a nice building to have…off of any priceless, well-maintained and irreplaceable landmarks thank you very much. An ongoing discussion about the building can be found on this forum.