Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Hunter College Report

Earlier this week, a team of Hunter College graduate students released an important new report on the Second Avenue subway project. This 122-page report looks at the project, in a significant amount of detail, with a particular focus on the impact that the construction has had, and will have in the future, on the Second Avenue corridor in Manhattan.

(The full report can be found later on in this posting.)

The idea for this project, entitled Second Avenue Subway: Lessons Learned, originated with the Hunter College adjunct professor, Richard Bass. Mr. Bass is also the Chief Planning and Development Specialist at Herrick, Feinstein, a New York-based law firm.

He proposed the work to Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney earlier this year and she agreed to be the client for the students' Spring 2011 Studio work on the Second Avenue Subway.

The eleven members of the team that worked on the project -- all students in the Master of Urban Planning program at Hunter College -- started researching the Second Avenue subway in early February 2011.

The students interviewed 26 stakeholders, conducted a survey of business owners and residents, mapped out conditions on 124 blocks of First and Second Avenues, and performed as much research as time allowed on the various topics. The full research team met twice weekly, and even often more in smaller groups over a period of about 10 weeks.

First drafts of the various sections of the Hunter College report were compiled by individuals or pairs in the group. Larger tasks were managed equitably by one or two team members, each focusing on different aspects of the project, including copy editing, organizing references and the bibliography, producing maps and other graphics, condensing the project into presentation form, transferring the report into Adobe InDesign, and compiling demographic and other background information.

The Hunter College report identifies eight areas in need of improvement, and suggests corresponding recommendations that address each of them.


1) Lack of communication, coordination, and oversight leads to construction delays and inefficiencies
- Designate oversight agency modeled on the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center (LMCCC)
- Mandate compliance through funding legislation

2) Subway construction will halt without continued political support
- Identify a “political champion” for each phase to build support for construction and advocate for funding

3) MTA and other agencies fail to adequately engage the community
- Create a community-construction advocate
- Expand the existing community liaison position
- Mandate that both positions answer to the community rather than the MTA
- Create a Community Coalition and a Community Advisory Committee
- Adopt an incentive bonus system to reward contractors who address community concerns
- Request that the MTA hire an SAS-specific public relations person to communicate through multiple platforms

4) East Harlem is threatened with displacement
- Create a Second Avenue special zoning district
- Eliminate vacancy destabilization
- Increase affordable housing through a trust fund or through mandatory inclusionary housing
- Develop an incentive program for long-term leases and commercial stabilization
- Limit the size of commercial units in portions of the East Harlem Special District

5) Second Avenue stores face a difficult business environment
- Establish a Small Business Service outpost
- Provide on-site business consultant services

6) Residents are displeased with non-contextual ancillary structure designs
- Create space for ground floor retail in ancillary structures
- Add design elements that relate to adjacent buildings

7) Construction corridor is visually unappealing and unsafe
- Incorporate specific expectations for street maintenance into construction contracts
- Use temporary art to improve construction sites and encourage community involvement

8) MTA has no funding plans for future phases of the SAS
- Nominate a political champion to lobby for funding for future phases of the SAS
- Use legislative mandates tied to funding to implement recommendations in this report


I was particularly interested in the report's recommendation that the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center (LMCCC), whose web site is shown below, could be used as a model to improve SAS-related communication, coordination and oversight.

If one compares the level of information on the MTA's Second Avenue Subway web page with the LMCCC web page, one can clearly see that the MTA's page is, as the Hunter College report points out, "not very user-friendly."

Another very interesting observation in the report was the conclusion that East Harlem is threatened with displacement if/when Phase II of the project is built.

The report argues that the arrival of the Second Avenue subway (in Phase II) will threaten the existing housing stock in East Harlem by causing market rents to soar.

The report recommends that the city create a special zoning district from 96th Street to 125th Street between Third Avenue and the East River in an effort to mitigate the threat of displacement of low-income residents once Phase II is built.

I found it particularly insightful that the students were able to identify this issue, considering that no one from the MTA or in political circles is talking publicly about beginning Phase II of the project any time soon.

The report that has been produced by this small group of graduate students at Hunter College is, in my view, a very significant and important piece of work. Their independent research into this multi-billion dollar project has clearly identified a number of critical concerns that need to be addressed, as the students said, at the political level, the community level and within the MTA.

Whether this actually happens remains to be seen.

The full report can be viewed on Scribd here:
Second Avenue Subway:Lessons Learned
(click on the "view in fullscreen" button above)

Or the report can be downloaded here:
Second Avenue Subway: Lessons Learned (PDF, 43 Mb)
By Adam Benditsky, Erin Durkin, Chris Ell, Neil Garry,
Laura MacNeil, Nick Mosquera, Lucian Reynolds, Kristin Shiller,
Aga Trojniak, Angela Tovar and Sandy Wolff
Hunter College Department of Urban Affairs and Planning
May 2011

A copy of the students' PowerPoint presentation, which was presented on 5/11/2011 to members of Congresswoman Maloney's staff and other invited guests, can be found on this link:
Second Avenue Subway: Lessons Learned - presentation (PDF, 9 Mb)


And now we come to the video of the day:

"Second Avenue Subway Project May 2011" (7:10) By YouTube user NYCityResident posted 5/15/11 The video, which was apparently produced by a resident on Second Avenue, documents several of his (or her) concerns regarding the MTA's construction site just north of East 69th Street. In particular, the video provides visual documentation of workers smoking on the construction site - a place where explosives are being used in close proximity on a regular basis. The video also documents examples of MTA contractor construction activity taking place after their official 10 p.m. curfew. (Note in particular how the video first documents the time of day by showing his/her television tuned to the 10 p.m. news before panning to a shot of heavy machinery moving around on Second Avenue.) A spokesperson in the MTA's Media Relations office told me earlier today that the MTA has seen the video and that they are investigating. :: On a lighter note - The Final Edition, a satirical version of the The New York Times, "revealed" recently that a bike lane would be added to the Second Avenue subway tunnels, as shown in the image below. Courtesy The Final Edition The full story can be found on this link: "New Second Avenue Subway Will Include Bike Lanes" The Final Edition (In case you are wondering - this is not actually going to happen.) ::::: Here's a listing of the recent additions to the right-hand column of The Launch Box FTA Technical Memo No. 8 Accessing Design Changes: 86th Street Station Ancillary Facility #2
Federal Transit Administration, DOT

Monday, May 2, 2011

Station, Superstructure and Steam. . . Rising

Rehabilitation of the existing Lexington Ave / 63rd Street Station has begun.

This project, which is referenced by the MTA as Contract C-26006, was awarded to Judlau Contracting Inc. in mid-January. The award amount for the contract was $176,450,000.

An early indication that the work is, in fact, underway can be seen on 3rd Avenue (yes, Third Avenue) in the photo below.

63rd & 3rd Avenue, NE corner - looking N

This small structure was built a few weeks ago. It sits atop a section of the station that was built in the 1980s but that continued to remain unused for over three decades.

The MTA took care when they designed this structure. The colors that were chosen closely match the buildings in the area, and the roof is removable so that the contractor can easily lower material from the street into the hole below without causing much interruption at street level.

Artists' Rendering of Planned Entrance No. 3
Lexington Ave / 63rd Street Station

When the rehabilitation of the station is completed in 2014, a new station entrance will be installed at this location. The entrance will most likely look something like the artists' rendering shown above.

3rd Avenue, just north of 63rd Street - looking S

When I walked by this location to take pictures on Friday April 22nd, I overheard a woman ask her son, "What... is that?" The son, who must have been about 9 years old, knew exactly what it was. He said, "It's for the new train."

They paused for a moment to read the sign on the door, and then moved along.


A close-up shot of the sign that was posted on the door of the structure.


The Lexington Avenue / 63rd Street subway station, which was originally opened in 1989, consists of four tracks today. However, only two of the tracks are currently in revenue service.

The two subway tracks that are not in revenue service -- behind the existing orange wall (shown below) -- were included as part of the original design for this station back in the 1970s. These tracks, which were built for the Second Avenue subway years ago, are currently being used exclusively for the storage of trains.

Lexington Ave/ 63rd Street station

In this image, you can see that the contractor has started to remove some of the existing false ceiling in the station.

Lexington Ave/ 63rd Street station

Here, the contractor has built a temporary (blue) construction wall. I would guess they have done this so that they can start removing the existing brick wall the separates the two tracks on each level.


Now, returning to street level --

73rd Street, SW corner - looking SE

Just south of 73rd Street, I came across a crew that was in the process of constructing the superstructure for the MTA's planned Muck Conveyance System.

This system, which was presented by the MTA at the last meeting of the Community Board 8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force, in theory will lessen the environmental impact (i.e. noise and dust) that this project is having on the neighborhood.

This is a rendering of the planned Muck Conveyance System.

btw. 72nd & 73rd Streets - looking N

A pair of workers can be seen here working to connect a section of steel superstructure.



It's clear from these pictures that machines cannot do all the necessary work.



69th Street, SW corner - looking W

On 69th Street I came across this odd looking piece of mining equipment that appears to be a rock drill. Most likely it will be used during the construction of the 72nd Street station cavern.

The machine was manufactured by the firm Oldenberg Cannon.


As you can see, this machine comes without a steering wheel. It is controlled instead by levers that move a large number of hydraulic valves.


btw. 84th & 83rd streets - looking S

Up in the 80s, I came across workers from the contractor J. D'Annunzio & Sons who were laying down some fresh asphalt.

84th Street - looking S

Another view of the work site in the 80s, where the contractor is still working to relocate utilities. The most recent schedule that I have seen says that this contractor will be wrapping up his work at this site in September 2011.

btw. 83rd & 84 streets - looking N

just south of 86th Street - looking W

A view of two pieces of construction equipment that were parked near Schaller & Weber.

87th Street - looking S

More fresh asphalt (my lucky day!).

87th Street - looking S

Notice the steam rising from the layer of freshly laid asphalt. The asphalt here was probably about 300 degrees (F) when was it was dumped from the truck.

92nd Street, SE corner - looking E

This unremarkable image shows the site where the ground freezing plant was, until a few weeks ago, previously set up on 92nd Street .

btw. 92nd & 93rd Streets

The workers above are packing up a set of core samples. (Click on the image to zoom in for a closer view.)

95th Street

Yet another image of the maze of utility lines that exists under Second Avenue.


Last Reported Location of the
Tunnel Boring Machine

just north of 87th Street
as of 4/30/11

TBM Run No. 2 (the east tunnel)
Tunnel length: 7,789 linear feet (LF)
Start: just south of 92nd Street
End: 63rd St / Lexington Station
1,116 LF mined as of 4/30/11
6,673 LF to run

April TBM Mining Data:
Distance mined: 885.76 LF
TBM mining days: 21
Avg. distance per day: 42.18 LF


Second Avenue Subway
Occupying the Emergent Underground Commons

By Stephen Y. Huang
Masters in Architecture Thesis
Harvard University Graduate School of Design

For those readers who just can't read enough about the Second Avenue subway... here's a link to a Master's Thesis on the topic.

The thesis, which is 262 pages in length, provides the reader with an interesting collection of images, charts, graphs, and diagrams that are all, in various ways, related to the Second Avenue subway project.

Update 5/3/11:
Late today the author decided to remove his thesis on the Second Avenue Subway from the web site for reasons that I cannot explain. We can only hope that he has a change of heart at some stage.


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

Construction Update and Muck Conveyance System, April 4, 2011
Presentation to CB8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force
MTA Capital Construction

Muck Conveyance System - 69th and 72nd Street Shafts
Presentation to CB8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force
MTA Capital Construction

Full Height Fixed Wall System
Video Animation for the CB8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force
MTA Capital Construction

Option with Roof and Roll Up/Down Doors - Nighttime
Video Animation for the CB8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force
MTA Capital Construction

Option with Roof and Roll Up/Down Doors - Daytime
Video Animation for the CB8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force
MTA Capital Construction