Sunday, October 24, 2010

Improving Second Avenue

The MTA decides that it is time to clean up Second Avenue

This surprising announcement, which was announced on the MTA's web site over the weekend, describes a wide-scale overhaul of the MTA's work sites between 69th and 100th streets on Second Avenue.

In their announcement, the MTA said that they have created a "comprehensive set of 'good neighbor' standards to upgrade the physical conditions around the construction site to improve the pedestrian experience, and keep businesses and residences fully accessible."

Some of the planned improvements include:
  • Implementing "way-finding" signage for stores that is uniform, legible and clean
  • Ensuring sidewalks are in good condition without holes, cracks, and trip hazards
  • Replacing bent/worn fencing
  • Painting all barriers
  • Maintaining sidewalks, crosswalks, and safe sight lines for pedestrians/vehicles
  • Maintaining full access to businesses/residences

According to the NY Post, the president of MTA Capital Construction, Michael Horodniceanu, ordered the makeover after hearing many complaints from business owners and residents during several trips to the construction site. "These are simple things that will make people happy, so people can actually be in that area and not hate every day they live there," Mr. Horodniceanu told The Post.

According to Tom Namako's story in The Post, the MTA will begin by upgrading the area between East 92nd and East 93rd streets.

The MTA posted these two images on their web site as examples of what the sidewalks in the construction zone might look like before and after the refurbishment.

Courtesy of the MTA
btw. 93rd and 94th streets - east side - looking S
Existing conditions

Courtesy of the MTA
Planned (artist's rendering)
i.e. what the area might look like.

What is somewhat odd is that this initiative was not raised or discussed at the recent Community Board 8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force meeting on October 12th. This would have been a good opportunity for the MTA to obtain community input on the aesthetic changes it would find most valuable.


Ironically, the MTA's announcement came on the same weekend that a group of affected Second Avenue residents and business owners staged a rally to protest the conditions in and around the construction zone.

The rally was held on 91st Street between 2nd and 3rd avenues. The protesters cited, among other complaints, 'three years of neglect and delay' and the absence of real government support.

A few images from the rally are shown below:

Marcelo Ronchini, the owner of Nina's Argentinian Pizzeria at 1750 Second Avenue, got things started at about 1:30 p.m.


Joe Pecora, the owner of Delizia's Ristorante & Pizza on the SE corner of 92nd Street and Second Avenue.

Ernie Raftopoulos, the apron-clad owner of the 3 Decker restaurant at 1746 Second Avenue.

Peter Yoo, owner of Buddha BBeeQ restaurant

Norman Siegel, a civil rights attorney and former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

I asked a number of people at the rally why they thought the MTA had decided to take action to clean up the work site now, three and a half years after the start of construction. The most interesting answers were:
  • Perhaps the MTA was reacting to the news that the residents and business owners in the affected area would be holding a rally, for the media, to protests the conditions;
  • Possibly the MTA realized that they needed take a fresh look at what they were doing after the The New York Times ran this front page story on October 5th;
  • Maybe this issue will be brought up at next week's MTA board meeting and the management at MTA Capital Construction wanted to be able to announce something prior to the meeting of the board;
  • Or perhaps Mayor Bloomberg is moving into Gracie Mansion.

Here are a few notable media reports from the rally:

"2nd Avenue subway construction protested" (2:18)
Reported by Jeff Pegues
WABC-TV - 10/25/10

"Subway Construction Affecting Bottom Line, Business Owners Say" (1:50)
Reported by Tina Redwine
NY1 - 10/24/10

"Second Avenue Subway Construction Hurting Local Businesses"
By Catherine Yang
The Epoch Times - 10/25/10

Along Second Ave., merchants protest as MTA pledges improvements
By Benjamin Kabak
2nd. Ave. Sagas - 10/26/10

"2nd Ave. Subway Affecting Old Buildings" (5:15)
Reported by Ernie Anastos
Fox 5 News - 10/26/10
Includes a lengthy debate between the blogger Benjamin Kabak of 2nd Ave. Sagas and Marcelo Ronchini, the owner of Nina's Argentinian Pizzeria on Second Avenue.


In other news - construction work continues.

The following set of images was taken over the past two weekends, on the dates noted.


A new section of 30" gas main near 86th Street.

87th Street - looking S

Work continues on the same 30" gas main in front of the Food Emporium.

91st Street - looking N

The contractors continue their work in this area as they prepare for freezing the ground south of the launch box. (see the diagram below)

According to the MTA, the ground must be frozen in this location because the rock to be mined is unexpectedly poor. (Freezing makes the ground totally solid so the Tunnel Boring Machine [TBM] can bore right through it.)

Failing to freeze the ground could increase the likelihood of gripper problems at the face of the TBM. And because the sound rock cover above the tunnel area was found to be insufficient, this could increase the risk of tunnel collapse during the mining operation.

The contractors plan to start freezing the ground in this area by the end of November, so that it is solidly frozen before the TBM starts mining the east tunnel in early 2011.

The approved cost for the ground freeze operation was reported on the MTA's web site to be $6,582,000.

Source: CB8 SAS Task Force Meeting Presentation - 10/12/10


Just south of 91st Street - looking N


A close-up shot of the now buried freeze pipes.


Sections of aluminum pipe for the ground freeze.



A view the liquid ammonia ground freeze plant that has been set up on 92nd Street, just east of Second Avenue.

93rd Street - NE Corner - looking E

Preliminary work at the site of Ancillary Building No. 1 has now started.

btw. 93rd and 94th

A surveyor working on the project recently left these notations on the one of the buildings next to where Ancillary Building No. 1 will be constructed, on the NE corner of 93rd and Second Avenue. The exposed beam here appears to be made of cast iron.

95th - looking N

A view of the EE Cruz / Tully construction yard that is located on the west side of Second Avenue. Eventually, this location will be transformed into Entrance No. 3 for the 92nd Street station.

btw. 96th and 97th streets

A industrial flow meter.

btw. 96th and 97th street - looking W

The contractors at this location are in the process of excavating a new sewer trench on the east side of the avenue. A narrow sidewalk alongside the buildings allow pedestrians to access the shops in this area.

97th Street - NW corner - looking S

Work continues at the future location of Ancillary Building No. 2 for the 92nd Street station.


A close-up view of the auger bit shown in the preceding image.

97th street - west side - looking N

A new sewer trench with a section of the new 48" pipe installed.


The following set of images was included as part of the presentation that S3 Tunnel Constructors made at last Tuesday's meeting of the Community Board 8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force.

The photographer here is looking south towards the front of the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM).

Don't worry - the tracks shown here are not intended for the new subway line. They are for the muck train that transports the rock from the TBM mining operation back to the launch box in the 90s.

This is an image of a locomotive that is hauling a set of muck cars out of the rear of the TBM.

The passing switch shown in this image (which is located just south of the launch box) allows one muck train to pass another.

The muck cars are moved into the launch box and then they are positioned over a transfer pit.

The contents of each muck car are then dumped onto a set of conveyor belts that transport the crushed rock to the so-called muck bin, pictured below.

The muck bin, which is located near the north end of the launch box, is a location where the crushed rock is stored until it can be transported to street level for loading into trucks.

If you wish to view a PDF copy of the full set of presentations that was made at last week's Community Board 8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force meeting, please click on this link:

CB8 Task Force Presentation: Construction Updates, Ancillary Design Review, 86th Street Station Ancillary 2, 72nd Street Station Entrance 3 (elevators), Ancillary Facilities Equipment Screens, Ancillary Color Study - 10/12/10
(Note that this large PDF file make take some time to load.)


Here's a copy of the Second Avenue Subway MTA Capital Program Oversight Committee Report that was posted on the MTA's web site in anticipation of Monday's meeting of the MTA Board Committees.

MTA Capital Program Oversight Committee Report
Pages 33-40 (Second Avenue Subway)
(Note that this report is part of a large PDF document on the MTA's web site, so it may take some time to load.)

This interesting report was prepared by the MTA's independent engineer McKissack+Delcan.

The report says that the project is on schedule to meet the December 2016 revenue service date and the project is on budget.

The reports listed three specific issues that, "may lead to cost increases or schedule delays on individual milestones of contracts". They are:

Quoting from the report...

TBM Mining Tunnel No. 1
The original plan to finish TBM Run #1, with the extension to 65th St was January 15, 2011. The revised date based on a mining rate of 43 feet per day is February 15, 2011. Recent 20-day average has been 44.4 feet per day.
If TBM Run #1 is delayed beyond February 15, 2011, critical path float will be used. TBM mining must average 43 feet per day to meet this date.
Contractor has instituted a special scheduled maintenance system to minimize breakdowns or slowdowns of the conveyor system and muck removal operations.

Litigation 72nd Street Station
Litigation contesting MTA's compliance with the environmental commitments made in the project Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been initiated by the owners of a residential building located adjacent to the planned site of the 69th Street 72nd St ancillary facility for the 72nd Street Station.
FTA has determined that the proposed changes to the design of this facility are consistent with the project EIS. A court hearing on this matter is scheduled for January 2011.
The work impacted by the litigation has been segregated as an option to provide time for resolving the legal action.

Fragile Buildings along Second Avenue
Older, fragile buildings near the site of station and ancillary building (e.g. vent plant) excavation, many with pre-existing deficiencies, may require remediation as Second Avenue construction continues.
Temporary resident relocations and exterior and interior remediation work required in the area of the future 96 Street Station. Potential for similar impacts at the sites of the future 72nd Street and 86t Street Stations and the 63rd Street
Station. Costs to date have been within estimates and are manageable within available contingency funding.
Survey of fragile buildings was segregated and advanced independent of future construction contract awards in order for remedial work, if necessary, to be completed in advanced of actual construction start dates, Surveys will be completed by the end of 2010. Contractors to do remedial work, if necessary, have been identified. Both these steps will allow MTACC to progress and fund any needed work so that it minimizes adverse impacts to cost and schedule.


The following additional Second Avenue subway contract has just entered the procurement process within the MTA:

Solicitation Number C-26009
Tracks, Traction Power, Signal and Communications
Solicitation Notice (RFP) - 10/11/10
Current Opening/Due Date: 11/16/10

It's interesting to see just how many different communications and signal systems are needed to run today's NYC subway system.

Here's the list, from the RFP:

SONET and Ethernet fiber systems
Public address
Electronic Customer Information Signs and Evacuation Systems
Closed Circuit Television Systems
Office Telephone Systems
Emergency Telephone Systems
Public Telephone Systems
Intercom Systems (Public Help Point Intercom and Private Intercom)
Emergency Alarm System
Time Clock System
Radio Wireless System
Fire Alarm system
Intrusion Access Control
Supervisory Control and Data Access
Structured Cable LAN system
Booth Communications
Various miscellaneous NYCT standard communications systems.


Last Reported Location of the TBM
btw. 79th and 80th streets
as of Tuesday, October 12th

TBM Run No. 1 (west tunnel)
92nd Street to 65th Street
7,200 linear feet
40 foot starter tunnel
3,169 feet mined w/TBM to date
3,991 feet to run

September TBM Mining Data:
Distance mined: 1,053 linear feet
TBM mining days: 21
Avg. distance per day: 50.14 feet


Here's a listing of the recent additions
to the right-hand column of The Launch Box:

"Subway Work on 2nd Avenue Hobbles Stores"
- multimedia map
By Joseph Berger
The New York Times - 10/5/10

"Readers Tell of More Second Avenue Subway Woes"
By Joseph Berger
The New York Times - 10/5/10

"Businesses cope with 2nd. Ave. Subway Construction" (1:59)
WABC-TV - 10/5/10

"Mistake in Second Avenue Subway Work Cuts Gas Off"
By Joseph Berger
The New York Times - 10/14/10

"Second Avenue Subway Offers Wealth Of Lessons" (2:05)
By John Mancini
NY1 - 10/16/10

Along Second Ave., building a better ancillary structure
2nd. Ave. Sagas - 10/20/10

"After temporary eviction due to Second Ave. Subway work, residents to return home"
By Patrick Egan
The Real Deal - 10/22/10

"Subway salvation - Prettying-up for 2nd Ave. dig"
By Tom Namako
New York Post - 10/23/10

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rapid Transit Returns to 2nd Avenue

-- Two (2) updates can be found below


Rapid Transit Returns to Second Avenue
after an absence of almost 70 years

The service, a bus rapid transit line with with the name +SelectBusService (SBS), was formally launched by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) on Sunday, October 10th. The new SBS M15 route on First and Second avenues was the first bus route in Manhattan to be selected for this service.

In planning since 2006, the service is intended to bring faster, more efficient transit to Manhattan's east side while construction of Phase I of the Second Avenue subway continues.

According to the MTA and the DOT, faster bus transit times on the route will be achieved by:

- using dedicated bus-only lanes from 125th Street to Houston Street

- pole-mounted cameras to enforce bus lane regulations (starting in November 2010)

- off-board fare collection (i.e. collection of the fare before boarding the bus using an on-street payment machine)

- the use of low floor buses (i.e. access and egress without the need to climb steps)

- entry and exit of the SBS bus through any of the three available doors

- fewer stops on the route, and

- traffic signals that give priority to the SBS bus (to be activated in 2011 on some parts of the route).

When +SelectBusService was launched in the Bronx on the SBS BX12 route, bus speeds improved by 20% and ridership increased by 30% over the service that it replaced, according to the MTA.

Edward Reed / Courtesy NYC Mayor's Office via Flickr

Image of Mayor Bloomberg, DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan, and MTA Chairman and CEO Walder (in the image above and below) at the announcement of the start of +SelectBusService related construction earlier this year.

Edward Reed / Courtesy NYC Mayor's Office via Flickr

The new SBS M15 service, which replaces the M15 Limited, is provided using a dedicated fleet of 46 new semi-low floor articulated buses. The buses were manufactured by the Canadian company Nova Bus, which is a division of Swedish company Volvo Bus.


To date, many of the press reports have been rather critical of the MTA and DOT's new service, as Ben Kabak over on 2nd. Ave. Sagas noted in his posting "SBS reaction as a microcosm for the MTA" on October 14th.

Despite some poor reviews, I decided to try the service on my way to the Community Board 8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force meeting last Tuesday.

Here's my report of what I observed --

Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Route: 125th Street to 68th Street on
Second Avenue using SBS M15

5:40 p.m.
Swiped my MetroCard at the on-street fare machine.
At first, I was not clear why I had to push a "start" button on the machine before inserting my card. An MTA spokesperson later told me that the "start" button unblocks the opening so the fare media can be inserted. Since these machines are exposed to the elements, these openings must remain sealed when not in use.

I observed that most people attempted to insert their MetroCard into the machine before pushing the "start" button. This is understandable considering that Select Bus Service in Manhattan has only been operating for a few days.

For those interested, here's a copy of the front and back of the SBS fare payment receipt that I received from the machine:

5:43 p.m.
Depart 125th Street (on-time)
I observed delivery trucks parked in the dedicated bus lanes near 122nd Street.

Inside the SBS M15 bus that I boarded.

5:48 p.m.
Depart 115th Street
It was interesting to see that the bus did not wait for people in line at the on-street fare machine. This is not the norm with New York City buses today; everyone knows that when you're in line to get on the bus, the bus won't leave without you (unless it's full).

5:51 p.m.
Depart 106th Street
A woman stepped on the bus at the front entrance. Since she was unable to swipe her card on the bus, she had to step off to get a receipt before reboarding the bus.

The bus was slowed by numerous red traffic lights en route.

Two cars were idling in the bus lane near 104th Street.

2nd Avenue & East 100th Street

5:53 p.m.
Depart 101st Street (1 minute late, per schedule)

More red lights slowed the journey down Second Avenue.
There was no dedicated bus lane on this section of the route due to the subway construction.

I was not able to understand the announcements that the driver made. I would have preferred automated announcements as found on MTA's newer subway cars.

5:59 p.m.
Depart 88th Street

I was very impressed by the speed with which people were able to enter and exit the bus, when all three doors were available. It looked as if many museum tourists were boarding at this stop.

6:03 p.m.
Depart 79th Street

6:11 p.m.
Arrive at 68th Street
The trip took 28 minutes from start to finish. This was not bad at all considering that I had traveled 57 blocks on an MTA bus during the rush hour.

People waiting for the SBS M15 (or the local M15) at 68th Street.

A woman hurries to get a fare receipt before the bus departs.

(I happily rode the SBS M15 bus again on Saturday to collect a small set of images to accompany this posting.)

A question, an observation and a concern:

A Question:
Is it permitted to board a regular M15 local bus using one of the SBS off-board fare collection receipts?
(I asked two MTA employees this question last Tuesday. In both cases, I was told that this really wasn't permitted.)

If not, then I think the MTA should reconsider this since policy since this is impractical for many bus users on Second Avenue.

For example:
(a) You're a tourist and you swipe your MetroCard at the off-board fare collection machine because you assume that this is how you pay your fare on this bus line. However, you actually want to ride a local M15 bus.

(b) You swipe your MetroCard in the off-board fare collection machine but you then decide to take the M15 local because it arrives first.

(c) You accidentally swipe your MetroCard in the off-board fare collection machine during the hours when Select Bus Service doesn't operate. (The payment receipt is valid for only one hour.)

UPDATE: I was told late today by an MTA spokesperson that customers may now use the SBS proof of payment receipt to pay the fare when boarding an M15 local bus.

An Observation:
It's probably going to take a long time for New Yorkers to understand that the Select Bus routes are meant to be rapid transit service, like the subway. This means the bus pulls in to its stop, unloads and loads its passengers and then it departs. If you're only in line a the fare collection machine when the bus pulls in, you'll probably have to wait for the next bus.

I saw many agitated people on my two Select Bus journeys who were expecting that the SBS bus would wait for them while they obtained a fare receipt from the machine.

A Concern:

What is to prevent someone from passing on (or selling) his/her SBS fare payment receipt when he/she gets off the bus? In theory, I suppose that it is possible for a number of people to use the same receipt before the hour period expires. (The MTA told me that the receipts are only valid from the stop where issued. However, unless an inspector takes very careful note of the people getting on and off the bus, this would be very difficult to control.)

Considering that this was the first week of service for a radically different kind of transit in New York City, I was impressed with the SBS M15 service.

People need to understand that this is meant to be a rapid transit service, and not another regular MTA bus. In one swoop, the SBS M15 service changes the way we approach moving at street level, just like that.

Yes... the fare machines will run out of paper, people will try to ride the SBS bus for free, and of course the SBS buses will get stuck in traffic and held up at red lights.

If you're not yet convinced that this service is radical in its approach, just think back to some rainy day in the past when you've sat on an MTA bus waiting for a line of 20, 30 or 40 people to slowly but surely shuffle on to the bus so it can depart. How many wasted minutes passed? Now it all changes - everyone just steps right on and off, and your bus is on its way.

A footnote to this posting -

The last rapid transit service to operate on 2nd Avenue was the Second Avenue Elevated Line. This service operated from 1880 until it was closed down in 1942.


For further information I would suggest:

"Select Bus Service Debuts on Manhattan’s East Side" (3:49)
By Elizabeth Press & Clarence Eckerson Jr. & NACTO

"How to Ride the M15 Select Bus" (2:10)
MTA New York City transit- 10/20/10

+SelectBusService - First/Second Avenues
NYC Department of Transportation

Select Bus Service
MTA New York City Transit

"Rolling Out Speedier Bus System, to Glitches and Grumbles"
By Michael Grynbaum
The New York Times

The National Bus Rapid Transit Institute

"Fallen Transit: The Loss of Rapid Transit on New York's Second Avenue"
By Alexander Nobler Cohen
The Third Rail
July 2001


An Update - 11/19/10

The MTA announced, with this press release, that camera enforcement of bus lanes along 1st & 2nd avenues would begin on Monday, November 22, 2010.

An Update - 3/21/11

CIVITAS conducted a survey of Select Bus Riders between November 1, 2010 and January 3, 2011 to gather rider feedback on the first three months of the Select Bus Service (SBS) on First and Second Avenues.

The results of the survey can be found on these two links:
Letter of Recommendations to the MTA - 3/21/2011
Summary of Comments based on Select Survey Ridership - March 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A New Map, and a Few Old Ones

This posting will highlight five maps of the Second Avenue Line - one new one and five old ones.

The first map, embedded below, is a new multimedia map of Phase I of the Second Avenue Subway. It was created using Google Maps, a web application and technology service.

It's much easier to view and work with this map using a larger image.
To view the larger image just click on this link:
Second Avenue Subway, Phase I

The map shows the approximate location of the planned stations, entrances, and ancillary buildings on the route.

It also shows the approximate location of the tunnels that were built back in the 1970s as well as the location of the last remaining car of a ten-car prototype train set that was purchased in 1949 for the Second Avenue Subway.

Note that you can click on any of the objects on the map for further details related to that object -- including an architectural rendering of each of the station entrances and ancillary buildings. (with a few exceptions)

Most of the information that has been detailed on this map was sourced from one or more of the presentations that the M.T.A. made to Community Board 8's Second Avenue Subway Task Force over the past few years.

Alternatively you can click on one or more of the signs shown below to jump directly to the detailed map for each future station.

These signs were produced for me by
the Brooklyn-based firm Underground Signs.

Underground Signs is in the business of creating custom and replica New York City Subway signs: made-to-order, using authentic metal construction. They are officially licensed by the M.T.A.

# #

The pictorial map shown below provides a street-level view of the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) launch box from high above Second Avenue at a given date and time.

An aerial view of the TBM launch box
on 6/2/2010 at 7:35 a.m.
Courtesy of JSL
(click on the image for a high-definition view.)

# #

The map below is the the official M.T.A. map of the entire Second Avenue Subway line, as currently planned.

"New York City Subway Service with Second Avenue Subway Line"
Final Environmental Impact Statement
Second Avenue Subway Project, Figure 2-1

# #

The two maps below, from 1939 and 1929, detail plans for expanding the New York City subway system around a core 4 to 6 track trunk line under Second Avenue.

Project for Expanded Rapid Transit Facilities
New York City Transit System
Board of Transportation of the City of New York

Proposed Additional Rapid Transit Lines and Proposed Vehicular Tunnels
Board of Transportation of the City of New York
Engineering Department

# #

Readers who wish to learn more about mapping of the Second Avenue line should visit this entry on Andrew Lynch's blog Vanshnookenraggen:
"The futureNYCSubway: 2nd Ave Subway Future"

# # # # #

The next meeting of the
Community Board 8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force
will on
Tuesday, October 12th at 6:30 p.m.

The meeting will be held at The New York Blood Center at
310 East 67th Street (btw. 1st and 2nd).

1. Construction Updates
2. Introduction to 72nd Street Cavern Excavation Contractor
3. Review of Ancillary Facility Architecture
4. 86th Street Ancillary Facility Design Update
5. 72nd Street Elevator Entrance
6. 72nd Street Station Ancillary Facilities – Rooftop Equipment Screens
7. Old Business
8. New Business