Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address comes little more than a week after the swearing in of New York City’s 109th mayor, democrat Bill De Blasio. It’s the first time we received a public view of how their platitudinal visions for the region will mesh and, thankfully, Cuomo dedicated a not insignificant balance of his speech on infrastructure development. (The speech touched on transportation issues without getting wonky; if you want the fuller plan [and I recommend it] you can check out the SotS booklet.) He concentrated on two topics: the airports and the Bronx.
(Before we go on, yes, his decision to endorse the construction of an interstate highway connector in the great frozen north of the state smacks of pandering to people who are nutty enough to live near the Canadian border. StreetsBlog covers it much better than I could hope to here.)
Cuomo’s espousal of an MTA plan to route New Haven line trains from Penn Station through the East Bronx while adding four new stations in under served communities in the process is a welcome start the year. The four locales that the MTA plans on adding stations to in the Bronx—Hunts Point, Parkchester, Morris Park, and Co-op City—don’t currently have transit access to Manhattan and adding the station stops could help spur some economic growth just by improving access to business districts on the island. Giving Metro-North trains a west side Manhattan terminus also means that commuters can potentially lop time off their morning and evening commutes and balance subway loads between the lateral sides of Manhattan.
(Oh, about those subways—well Cuomo didn’t offer up any plan to improve on the claustrophobic hellscape that is Penn Station during his speech. By shifting commuter loads from the east to the west side, you’re also putting pressure on an already dangerously overburdened Penn Station. Giving south bound commuters access to the different trains on their commutes is great but only if you can build out capacity in the stations, otherwise you’re just packing a lot more people into an already full [and shitty] sardine can.)
The plan isn’t transformative—the rush hour headways would be on par with the Q train I have to take in the morning, which is better than expected—but non-highway capital projects are getting rarer which means we need to stop holding our noses at pragmatism. Penn Station access is at least a little push back towards ambition.
Cuomo’s other transportation talking point hit a little closer to home. (And be warned: This is going to get a little Live Journal all of a sudden. Also this is a story about Newark which isn’t one of the airports Cuomo is talking about but whatever, this is Radials not the Times.) My girlfriend and I were on our way to Florida for a wedding last week and decided that we had enough time to hop NJTransit from Penn Station to Newark Liberty. Penn Station wasn’t as much of a terribly clusterfuck as I was used to and, even though the NJTransit train was packed to the point that I had to move out of the way whenever our conductor wanted to make a breathy, adenoidal announcement about station stops, we got to the Air Train station without much incident.
We come down the escalator into the waiting area for the Air Train (it’s a monorail, imagine something slightly shittier than Disney World’s) and it’s packed, probably a good 8 or 9 people deep. It’s never crowded. Newark is a very busy airport but the majority of customers would rather pay cab fare than the $20 you shell out for a train and Air Train ticket. It turns out one of the rails is broken—probably because it’s cold and monorails don’t work in the cold (?). Oh well, another perfectly good one is still going—though it’s moving kind of slowly and pulls into the station and some red-jacketed man is yelling “this train will not be returning to the terminal.”
For people who have never been to the Newark Airport Air Train station: there is no regular exit. Sure, you can trip the emergency doors and honestly no one really cares about them so that’s always an option but other than that there is no way to get out of the Newark Airport station without getting on another NJTransit train and getting off somewhere down the line. It is the most boring purgatory on earth.
So we wait, assuming the powers that be of Newark Liberty International Airport can’t possibly be dumb enough to 1) shut down the only transit link to their airport on a Friday evening at 6 PM and 2) not have any contingency plans like, oh, a fucking bus, to alleviate such a situation. Eventually, I get some valuable information from a young, also red-jacketed woman about a single bus that was coming to bring customers to the terminal. Naturally, being savvy ass holes, my girlfriend and I grab our stuff and wait by the only exit in the waiting area with the tacit understanding that if there is going to be a bus it is going to be outside of this door since the people designing this station were apparently close students of the Thermopylae school of architecture.
Needless to say we got on the bus while some 19 year old backpackers heading to France cried their eyes out because they were going to miss their hostel check in. Tough luck, kids.
The infrastructure connecting New York to its airports is godawful. There is no one seat ride to JFK and only a narrow band of the city has direct access to La Guardia via transit. I don’t agree with Gov. Cuomo’s assertion that somehow airport experience has a one to one relationship with tourism in New York City (people are going to come here no matter what) but there is a vast amount of ground to catch up on as far as logistics and convenience are concerned and Cuomo at least paid lip service to reestablishing both airports as main cargo hubs which means he’s also, hopefully, thinking of giving freight policy, an ugly but necessary sector of the economy, some much needed public light.
These are not sexy topics. It’s not a new subway system connecting currently hot neighborhoods or high speed rail that can get you from Grand Central to Syracuse in 20 minutes or, like, a fucking Hyperloop or something, but the improvements are, for lack of a better word, thoughtful. You don’t see balanced takes on wonkish topics from these sorts of speeches because politicians are too busy spouting platitudes about job creation and growth and pubic safety. Gov. Cuomo somehow found time to do both.