"Where the Second Avenue subway went wrong" (James Surowiecki)
New Yorkers once had train service all up and down Second Avenue. Here we see the old Second Avenue El (torn down in 1940-42) at 34th Street. [Click to enlarge.]
"The pool of dollars available for something like public transit is limited. The result of extravagant spending on subways and the like is that we end up with fewer of them than other cities. For the price of what New York spent on Calatrava’s PATH station alone, Stockholm is building nineteen kilometres of subway track and a six-kilometre commuter-rail tunnel. Worse, cost overruns fuel public skepticism toward government, making it harder to invest the next time around. It’s good for government to do big things, great things. But it’s better if it can do them under budget."
-- from James Surowiecki's "Where the Second Avenue
subway went wrong" in the Jan. 23 New Yorker
subway went wrong" in the Jan. 23 New Yorker
Welcome to NYC, Second Avenue subway, and congratulations on sending forth your first expired customer!
If you'll bear with me, there is, I think, a reason why non-New Yorkers might care about the past, present, and future of NYC's Second Avenue subway, of which the mile-and-a-half segment first segment, offering stops at 72nd, 86th, and 96th Streets, opened -- finally! -- on New Year's Day, as I noted here the following Sunday.
As to that first expired customer, DNAinfo New York published this account yesterday under the slug "Crime & Mayhem":
Man Found Dead on Second Avenue Subway Car, NYPD SaysAs far as I could determine, the medical examiner is yet to be heard from.
By Aidan Gardiner | January 31, 2017, 9:30am
MANHATTAN -- A man died after being found unconscious on a Q train as it pulled into the last stop of the Second Avenue subway Tuesday morning, NYPD officials said.
The man, who is in his 50s but whose name wasn't immediately released, was found on the train at the 96th Street station about 12:30 a.m., police said.
He showed no signs of trauma but was pronounced dead at Metropolitan Hospital, police said. [Note: The NY Post account expands on that "no signs of trauma": "Police said the man did not appear to have any signs of trauma on his body and likely died of natural causes."]
The medical examiner will determine his cause of death, police said.
MEANWHILE, SECOND AVEUNYUE RIDERSHIP
IS LAGGING BEHIND THE MTA'S PROJECTIONS
I don't think the shortfall is critical, and it certainly doesn't prove that the new subway-fragment isn't valuable to Upper East Siders. But it does focus a little more attention on the question of just what New Yorkers have gotten for our humongous investment. You can almost see beads of sweat dripping down the brow of NYS Gov. Andrew "The Second Avenue Subway C'Est Moi" Cuomo.
Second Avenue subway falls short of ridership projectionPart of the ridership lag, I think it's safe to say, has to do with the limited usefulness of the "Second Avenue subway-fragment" that we've gotten so far, passing itself off as "the Second Avenue subway." What we have is an eastward-and-northward extension of the Q line running up and down Broadway and Seventh Avenue -- first to the expanded Lexington Ave-63rd St stop, then northward under Second Avenue to 72nd, 86th, and 96th Streets. There's still no Second Avenue service above 96th Street or below 72nd Street.
By Danielle Furfaro | February 1, 2017 | 12:35pm
Ridership on the Second Avenue Subway line has been lower than projected for its first month, officials said on Wednesday.
About 155,000 riders are taking the new line daily, slightly less than the MTA’s projections, Gov. Cuomo’s office said on Wednesday.
Ridership started out at about 130,000 riders per day when it first opened to the public on Jan. 1. The line gained about 8,000 riders a week, hitting 155,000 on Jan. 27.
The agency came to those figures by collecting turnstile numbers in the three new stations and in 63rd Street, as well as hand counting how many people exited via emergency gates at the new stations and analyzing how many people would have transferred from other lines, said MTA spokeswoman Beth DeFalco. Of the new stations, 72nd Street had the highest ridership with 51,450 passengers daily.
The MTA had said it hoped to attract 200,000 riders per weekday, but that likely won’t happen until later in the year, agency officials said on Wednesday.
Cuomo said he believes the number shows the line was desperately needed.
“The Second Avenue Subway has already become an integral part of the Upper East Side and these ridership figures show just how important this expansion project is to the neighborhood and our economy,” Governor Cuomo said.
The new line, in effect a northward extension of the Q line running up and down Broadway and Seventh Avenue before swinging eastward to Second Avenue has also helped to ease overcrowding on the notoriously packed Lexington Avenue line, said officials, who said the morning rush hour on four Upper East Side 4, 5, and 6 stations has now decreased by an average of 46 percent.
Planning for northward extension to 125th Street is already in progress, and assuming that the funding falls into place, this Phase 2 may actually be built in our lifetimes. Southward extension, however, remains a drawing-board proposition.
For now, riders to and from the up-and-running Second Avenue stations have to either:
• come up above ground and walk four blocks between the Lexington Ave-63rd St station and the 59th St station of the Lexington Avenue line for a free transfer to and from the very Lexington Avenue line whose sardine-can overcrowding and relentless service bottlenecks a Second Avenue has been needed to ease; or
• use Q service up and down Broadway and Seventh Avenue.
IT SHOULD BE REMEMBERED THAT WHEN THE OLD
SECOND AVENUE EL WAS CLOSED AND TORN DOWN,
in 1940-42 -- with the Third Avenue El slated to follow -- it was on the promise that a Second Avenue subway would be built to replace them. On the West Wide the demolished Sixth and Ninth Avenue Els were indeed replaced with the building of the new IND Sixth and Eighth Avenue subways in the early 1930s.
On the East Side, however, abandoned el riders have been waiting since the '40s, strung along with empty and repeatedly betrayed promises. Demolition of the Third Avenue El was delayed in good part because of this failure, but it too came down -- most of it closing in 1955, with a portion of its Bronx service lingering into the 1960s and early '70s. The never-replaced loss of that el service in the Bronx had a serious depressive effect on the once-thriving Third Avenue corridor, but then, that's the Bronx, so who cares? Unless you count the people who live and do business there, or might want to -- and not many people at the power levels of NYC planning do count them.
WHICH BRINGS US BACK TO WHAT WE'RE
GETTING FOR OUR 2ND AVENUE SUBWAY $$$
And for this, I direct infrastructure-interested parties to James Surowiecki's New Yorker "Financial Page" from two weeks ago (the Jan. 23 issue), "Where the Second Avenue subway went wrong," which begins:
On New Year’s Eve, at a party to celebrate the opening of the long-awaited Second Avenue subway, Governor Andrew Cuomo said the project showed that government “can still do big things and great things.” What he didn’t say is that the project also shows that government can do really expensive things. The line, which so far consists of just three stations and two miles of track, is, at a cost of roughly $1.7 billion per kilometre of track, the most expensive ever built. And it will keep that record as Phase 2 begins, at a projected cost of $2.2 billion a kilometre.
"Construction projects everywhere are subject to delays and cost overruns," Surowiecki notes. But nowhere, he show, are they anywhere near as delayed or overrunnier than in the U.S.
We used to do better. Hoover Dam was completed under budget, and two years ahead of schedule, and the Golden Gate Bridge, too, was finished early and cost $1.3 million less than expected.
SUROWIECKI ASKS, "SO WHAT'S GOING WRONG?"
"It's complicated," he answers. "One analysis of the problem cited thirty-nine possible causes." There are high land and labor costs, and "a plethora of regulatory hurdles and other veto points" ("a recent paper by Philip Howard, the chairman of Common Good, suggests that a more streamlined regulatory process, like those found in many developed countries, could save hundreds of billions of dollars"). There's our unique division of jurisdiction among local, state, and federal jurisdictions, and increasingly there are political obstructions that often lead to projects' being dramatically upscaled; "long-suffering engineers call this 'scope creep.' "
All of this is vastly better explained in the original than in my bare-bones sketch. At this point, however, I prefer to defer to the author:
A major cause of scope creep is the fact that infrastructure spending is at the mercy of political winds. Planners know that opportunities to build are limited, so when they do get a chance they tend to milk it for all it’s worth. Politicians, meanwhile, like big, splashy projects that will win headlines and capture the public’s attention. This is why we end up putting money into new projects while skimping on maintenance, even though the return on investment from simply keeping roads and bridges in good shape is usually higher.
Politicians are fond of a quote commonly attributed to Daniel Burnham, the father of Chicago’s Exposition of 1893: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” It’s an inspiring sentiment, but emblematic of what you might call the Edifice Complex, a habit, among politicians, of imagining that anything big and glitzy must therefore be worth doing. That’s how Detroit ended up with a People Mover monorail that moves very few people, why San Jose is set to spend more than a hundred and fifty million dollars on a transit station intended as “the Grand Central Station of the West,” and how New York managed to spend four billion dollars on a PATH station designed by Santiago Calatrava. On the Second Avenue line, too, the stations, which account for most of the cost, are lavish structures with huge mezzanines. They’re a pleasure to walk through, but more modest stations would have worked just as well.
Conservatives often reflexively dismiss infrastructure spending as a boondoggle, and liberals, perhaps in reaction, often reflexively defend it, no matter how wasteful. But the pool of dollars available for something like public transit is limited. The result of extravagant spending on subways and the like is that we end up with fewer of them than other cities. For the price of what New York spent on Calatrava’s PATH station alone, Stockholm is building nineteen kilometres of subway track and a six-kilometre commuter-rail tunnel. Worse, cost overruns fuel public skepticism toward government, making it harder to invest the next time around. It’s good for government to do big things, great things. But it’s better if it can do them under budget.