Meeting Minutes March 21, 2013

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NEW YORK CITYTRANSIT RIDERS COUNCIL

MINUTES OF MARCH 21, 2013

 
A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on March 21, 2013 in the 5th floor MTA Board room located at 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.

The following members were present:

 

Andrew Albert                       Sharon King Hoge

Stuart Goldstein                   Trudy L. Mason

Christopher Greif                 Edith Prentiss

William K. Guild                   Michael Sinansky

Thomas Jost                         Burton Strauss, Jr.

Toya Williford

 

 

The following members were absent:

 

Marisol Halpern                    Steven Mayo

Jessica G. Rojas
In addition, the following persons were present:

 

William Henderson              -PCAC Executive Director

Ellyn Shannon                     -PCAC Sr. Transportation Planner

Karyl Cafiero                         -Research Associate

Angela Bellisio                     -Outreach Assistant

Matthew L. Kessler              -LIRRCC

Frederica Cuenca                -MTA

Deborah Hall-Moore            -NYCT

Frank Ruchala                     -NYC Department of City Planning

Jen Fermino                         -NY Post

Gene Russinoff                   -Straphangers Campaign

Ann Guild                              -Concerned citizen

Matt Shotkin                          -Concerned citizen

Marsha Whitehead              -Concerned citizen

 

Approval of Agenda and Minutes

 

The agenda for the March 21, 2013 meeting was approved.  The minutes of the February 28, 2013 meeting were approved with a clarification of Stuart Goldstein’s and Trudy Mason’s comments.  An exchange with guest Robert Lai about whether riders were surveyed in planning for the Q70 as well as Mr. Goldstein’s discussion about restoring the old South Ferry Station was added.

 

Trudy Mason wanted to know if the Council members would like to see the letter that was sent on SBS issues.  She also stated that at the last meeting she had asked about stationing Ambassadors on the 34th Street SBS routes for the holidays and at the beginning of school and that Mr. Orosz said that they always look at the specific situation when they implement a SBS service.  A typographical error was corrected by replacing “land” with “lane” on the fourth page of the minutes.

 

Tom Jost inquired about the reactivation date for the old South Ferry Station.  Bill Henderson responded that it will resume service during the first week in April.

 

Mike Sinansky commented that NYC Transit should be getting some service up and running from the old station.  Ms. Prentiss noted that the temporary replacement station that is being opened is not accessible.

 

Chair’s Report

 

The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.

 

Ms. Mason said that she wanted to recognize Ellyn Shannon for her great job in putting together the report The MTA in the Age of Big Data.

 

Ms. Mason requested that an inquiry be made whether the part of the Bus Time pilot program that placed video screens with bus location data in businesses near bus stops will be incorporated into the project.  Andrew Albert said that he will inquire about the status of this element of the pilot.

 

Chris Greif commented that he spoke to people from NYC Transit Operations Planning at the B84 public hearing.  He wanted to know why this bus cannot go into the Gateway Mall property or at a minimum past the mall on the same side of the street as the mall.  He said that he was told that there is a plan to add a stop to the route at the corner of Vandalia and Erskine Avenues.  Mr. Greif said that he has heard that the new service will start in July.

 

Mr. Jost said that there are still complaints from Lower Manhattan bus riders about which buses are assigned to use the South Ferry Terminal loop as a stop.  Mr. Albert stated that the Council should recommend that wayfinding signage be installed to guide riders to their buses on State Street.  Mr. Jost also questioned whether the Council could inquire why the South Ferry Terminal loop was being used as an M15 stop but not as a stop for M5 and M20 buses.

 

Ms. Mason mentioned that she got on a downtown 1 train at Franklin Street, though she was intending to board an uptown train.  She left the train at Rector Street.  There she found no signs directing her to other bus and subway lines.  Mr. Albert replied that there should be clear signage to the R train at this point, as it is very close to the 1 train station.  Ms. Mason commented that there should be information on multiple transit services at Rector Street.

 

Edith Prentiss stated that there is also a need for information when an elevator is out of service in the system.  She said that the people answering intercoms in the subway system do not provide good information on accessible options and NYC Transit has no interest in improving the situation.

 

 

Board Report

 

Mr. Albert commented that he attended the Bronx service change public hearing the night before.  There are a number of changes that are proposed, including the expansion of the Bx15 limited stop bus route so that it goes from Kingsbridge to 125th Street and 12th Avenue.

 

Mr. Albert said that the March 13 Board meeting was the shortest Board Meeting in some time.  He said that one highlight in the committee meetings was the explanation of the Contra Pest system, which is designed to sterilize rats who eat the treated food that is to be placed in the subway.  Testing the system will not cost NYC Transit anything, and this will be the first trial of this product in a transit system.

 

With the Sandy recovery funding flowing to the MTA, there will be more FASTRACK and FASTRACK-like shutdowns in the subway system, Mr. Albert explained.  There will be more work done without subway alternatives, but shuttle buses will be provided.  He noted that the work has to be done, but 10 pm is a very early hour to shut down the system.

 

Ms. Prentiss commented that in Washington Heights during the last FASTRACK shutdown the signs were wrong and there were no shuttle buses provided.  In short, there was inadequate alternative service provided.  The elected officials in the area are upset about this situation, but they do not get much from the MTA and are used to this kind of treatment.

 

Old Business

 

Ms. Mason discussed at length that there are issues on Lexington line with the scheduled bus service that is offered as an alternative to local subway service during outages for construction work.  She said that there are crowds gathering at bus stops and long waits for buses.

 

 

New Business

 

Mr. Sinansky said that on the past Sunday the New York Road Runners Club had conducted their half marathon.  He said that information about bus reroutings in Battery Park City during this event was sorely lacking.  Mr. Sinansky said that he tried calling 511, but the only information that he received from an automated message after 5 minutes of navigating the system was that all service is normal except for detours.  The MTA website had M20 service change information, but nothing for the M9 bus.  There were signs posted in Battery Park City informing riders that the M20 would not run there during the half marathon, but they offered little other information.  These postings did, however, include a phone number:  888-NYCT-BUS.  Unfortunately the number no longer provides information and instead directs callers to the 511 system.

 

Mr. Sinansky said that a letter to NYC Transit should be sent addressing the following points: why there was no information posted for the M9 bus, why the 888-NYCT-BUS number is given although it is not functioning, and why there is no indication of the length of the race.  He noted that the race was over by 10:30 am and that after that hour there were only a relatively small number of walkers who could be accommodated without closing the roadway.

 

Sharon King Hoge asked whether this letter could suggest that the race sponsors should pay a fee to defray the cost of posting information.  Mr. Sinansky said that his main point is that there is no timeframe given for the race, and he questioned why the race organizers cannot be given a time at which the course must be moved to the sidewalk for the few remaining walkers.  Ms. Prentiss said that her neighborhood has Coogan’s Run, which also poses problems for bus riders in the area.

 

Matt Kessler said that he was attending the meeting as a member of the Queens CB14 Transportation Committee and wants to get an update on the schedule for restoration of Far Rockaway A train service.

 

Mr. Albert responded that all service west of Beach 99th Street had damage and requires reconstruction.  He said that the assumption being made by NYC Transit is that they will be able to complete reconstruction to the point where they can restore A train service by June.  Mr. Albert said that the shuttle bus to Howard Beach is a fast bus service but is no substitute for a train.

 

Mr. Greif inquired whether NYC Transit will be opening the Beach 116th Street station before A train service is restored.  He also asked whether there is a possibility that the H shuttle train can be operated after A service is restored.  Mr. Jost remarked that the City is conducting workshops on Sandy recovery and that they are discussing restoration of infrastructure in the workshops.  He suggested that Mr. Kessler attend them.  Mr. Kessler said that he is aware of these workshops.

 

Burt Strauss said that three weeks ago the Madison Avenue bus lanes went from operating during limited periods of the day to 24 hour operation.  He said that this change is tying up traffic, although the bus lanes are lightly used at some times of day.  Mr. Strauss said he never saw anything about this change until it was made.  Mr. Albert asked whether a similar change has been made on 5th Avenue and said that the Council will inquire about this.

 

Introduction of Frank Ruchala, East Midtown Project Manager – NYC Department of City Planning, and Frederica Cuenca, MTA Director of Corporate Initiatives, to discuss the proposed East Midtown Rezoning and its implications for transit.

 

A copy of Mr. Ruchala and Ms. Cuenca’s presentation is on file in the PCAC office.

 

Mr. Ruchala said that the area being considered extends between 57th and 39th Streets and from 5th to 2nd Avenues at its widest point, although most of the district is bordered by 3rd Avenue on the east.

 

Mr. Ruchala explained that the City has been looking at future of this district and as a result has identified a number of challenges to East Midtown maintaining its position as a commercial center.  The average office building in the area is 70 years old, and the space in most of these older buildings is not very functional.  There has not much been much replacement of existing office buildings taking place in the area, and only two new buildings have been constructed there in the past ten years.  Seeing these problems, the City started looking at zoning, especially in the Grand Central Terminal transferable development rights area.

 

Ms. Hoge asked why the district narrows in the north.  Mr. Ruchala responded that the eastern area near 2nd Avenue is more residential at the northern end of the district, and thus was not included.

 

Other cities such as Tokyo, London and Chicago are encouraging replacement offices, and they are getting more construction. Mr. Ruchala commented that the City is concerned that the area’s transit infrastructure be used to support office uses and that the area not become more residential, which would not be an efficient use of this transportation infrastructure.

 

The current allowable floor area ratio for most of the district is 15, with a ratio of 12 allowed in midblock areas.   The City is proposing that this be raised as of right as long as the proposed development is commercial and sustainability requirements are met.  For this increased density to apply, the main site must be a minimum of 25,000 square feet with 200 feet of frontage on a wide street.  The City is looking for a few major buildings to be built.  Mr. Ruchala said that they believe that new office buildings will generally be a full block long and that they are looking for a 5 percent growth in floor area.  The resulting buildings would be like 383 Madison, which has a 21.6 floor area ratio.

 

To get a higher floor area ratio, a development would have to contribute to a district improvement fund.  The proceeds of this fund would be used to make above and below grade pedestrian improvements.  Combing this proposal with special permit would allow a floor area ratio of up to 30 for projects that go through the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Process.  Noncomplying buildings in the district would be eligible to be replaced with structures having the same floor area ratio if the developer makes a discounted district improvement fund payment.

 

Mr. Albert asked what this proposal does for the owners of landmarked buildings.  Mr. Ruchala responded that it would give them an increased chance to transfer development rights and wouldn’t hurt them.

 

Ms. Prentiss asked about the buildings in the district that may be eligible for landmarking.  Mr. Ruchala stated that the Landmarks Commission has identified 32 candidates and is investigating which of them should be landmarked.

 

Ellyn Shannon asked about provisions for preserving sightlines to landmarks.  Mr. Ruchala stated that this issue is being addressed in the project’s environmental review and that the City is sensitive to this issue.   He said that most development would likely be on the south and east side of the district, lying east of Grand Central Terminal.  The contribution rate for development in the district is $250 per square foot, which is projected to generate $500 to $750 million for pedestrian improvements.

 

A key priority is improvements for the Grand Central subway station.  The work contemplated includes qualitative improvements as well as an increase in capacity.  The City is proposing pedestrianizing Vanderbilt Avenue and creating a loop road north of Grand Central Terminal in the area of 45th and  46th Streets to maintain the flow of traffic that had previously used Vanderbilt.

 

Frederica Cuenca discussed the benefits of the plan for transit in the East Midtown area.  She said that 80 percent of East Midtown workers arrive by transit and that this rises to 88 percent if pedestrians are excluded.  Transit in the area serves a total of 700,000 riders per day.  There are three subway stations and three Metro North lines in the area.

 

The benefits of the plan for transit include directing public investment to the places where private investment is taking place and improving public realm planning.  Coordination would be improved through negotiations with the MTA on improvements needed for increased density.  The process also removes these improvements from competition for funding against all other MTA capital needs.

 

Mr. Albert asked who makes the decision for the improvements.  Mr. Ruchala responded that under the proposal there will be a committee composed of five mayoral appointees, including the Planning Commissioner.

 

Mr. Albert asked whether fees generated by a building constructed in one part of the district could be used for improvements anywhere in the district.  Mr. Ruchala responded that they could and that this is one of the positive points of the proposal.

 

Ms. Prentiss commented that the Grand Central Shuttle station is one of NYC Transit’s 100 key stations.  Ms. Prentiss asked whether improvements to the Times Square Shuttle station would be able to be funded from the development fees.  Mr. Ruchala responded that the proposal does not permit this and that this is a concern.  There is a similar situation with respect to the station at Bryant Park. Ms. Prentiss also wanted to know what teeth would be available for enforcement of the proposed system.  Mr. Ruchala replied that, in contrast to previous floor area ratio bonus programs, under this proposal the developer is responsible only for writing a check, and then the MTA and the City are responsible for constructing the improvements.

 

Ms. Shannon wanted to know if MTA will get a portion of the increased annual property tax revenues in the district.  Ms. Cuenca commented that this question is more properly part of the larger debate over sources of capital funding.

 

Ms. Cuenca pointed out that the Grand Central subway station has problems.  She said that NYC Transit would like to improve the platform circulation in the station and that they would like to add a staircase on shuttle side of the existing escalators to increase capacity.  In addition, Transit would like to remove seven escalators and re-establish the stairway to the Lexington Line platform on Shuttle side of the station.

 

Ms. Mason wanted to know when the projects described would be implemented.  Ms. Cuenca replied that the improvements that she had just described are in the current Capital Program and that she had presented them as examples of how we could improve access in the station.  Ms. Mason asked the source of the priorities assigned to improvements and whether there will there be consultation with the MTA.  Mr. Ruchala responded that this is a fair point, and that he believes that the consultation with MTA in determining priorities would occur as a standard procedure.  He said that the proposal may be changed through the public input process to make this consultation more explicit.

 

Ms. Cuenca also noted that stair capacity can be increased by opening up mezzanines in the station.  She said that an initial $25 million improvement is funded in the Capital Program, but that $125 million is needed for the whole set of necessary improvements.  Mr. Ruchala said that they expected development of an additional 4.5 million square feet of space in the district, which would generate $600 to $750 million for Transit

 

Mr. Albert questioned what guarantees riders would have that the new development will have enough transit service.  Mr. Cuenca responded that NYC Transit now schedules 29 trains per hour and is able to operate 26.  She said that the limitation on service is not related to willingness to provide it, it is related to operating conditions and if we reduce delays, we can get more trains through the system.  Ms. Cuenca noted that the MTA can make improvements to send Metro North riders directly to the subway and reduce crowding in Grand Central Terminal and subway access points.  There are also provisions for bypassing crowded areas when East Side Access is completed, and there are plans to improve access to the 7 train by moving escalators toward the Shuttle.

 

Ms. Mason asked how the MTA will deal with East Side Access customers, which are expected to number between 40,000 and 60,000.  Ms. Cuenco commented that most of these riders are traveling to the East Side destinations directly from East Side Access and are not going into the subways.  She said that of the 65,000 people expected to use East Side Access, 58,000 of them previously traveled to Penn Station.  Their purpose in using East Side Access is to make a trip that will allow them to walk to their final destination.  Only 10 percent of East Side Access users are expected to transfer to the subway.

 

Mr. Albert noted that the LIRR’s service plan is very important in determining how many riders use the subway.

 

Mr. Sinansky questioned whether the funds raised from development fees will be spent on improvements other than Transit.  Mr. Ruchala replied that there is provision for spending the funding on above grade improvements, but most of the funds raised will be in Transit improvements.

 

Ms. Prentiss pointed out that there is not enough elevator capacity at the Grand Central subway station and the plans that have been presented do not add any elevators.  She also suggested looking into means of access other than stairways.

 

 

Adjournment

 

The meeting was adjourned at 2:15 p.m.

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

William Henderson

Executive Director

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