Category Archives: northeast corridor

Do you have a backup plan?

I started a new job this week, and I’ve been commuting about an hour and a half via subway to my job. As a survivor of the 2003 Northeast Blackout, I can’t help but wonder how I will go about getting home in case of another blackout or subway outages. I work about 16 miles from home. Walking would take about 5 hours on a good day, so what should I do?

us_overflight 2003 blackout

My first plan is to stay put at my office. It might be the safest place to be, especially since I have snacks in my desk. If this is not possible for whatever reason, then I will try to get buses home, which might take up to 5 hours, too. The masses of people trying to get home would block streets and bridges, but at least I would be able to make it home if I absolutely had to.

During the Northeast Blackout of 2003, I was fortunate enough to pair up with some people in my office who found a rental car with a 1/4 tank of gas and made it home to Jamaica, Queens. However, I may not be as lucky this time as I work in Brooklyn and live in Harlem. Most of my neighbors don’t have cars and none of my coworkers live near me.

What’s your plan if the transit system shuts down or some emergency prevents you from getting home car-free?

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National Train Day 2009 (Photos)

While I am a transit fan through and through, I figured that it couldn’t hurt to attend National Train Day 2009 and see what all the hype is about. I got so many emails, tweets and saw so many ads about National Train Day! I was totally hyped – got up at 430am to catch the 527 NE Corridor to NYC, then hopped on BoltBus to Washington, DC, where the biggest festivities seemed to be being held.

Once I arrived in DC, I walked to the Red Line and took it over to Union Station. I would have walked the approximately 20 minute walk from the bus stop, but it was hot and humid in DC!

Union Station was PACKED with people, exhibits and Amtrak employees. I got as many pictures as I could, and waited an hour in line to tour an Acela high speed train. The enthusiasm of the crowds was contagious! I soon forgot that my feet hurt, it was hot inside Union Station, too and that the lines to see exhibits were long.

See my photos from National Train Day 2009:

NTD2009

Did you attend in your city? Or were you in DC, too? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

National Train Day

I will be in Washington DC for National Train Day on May 9. It would be cool to meet any of my readers at the events! Leave a comment, and let’s plan to meet! Ironically, I’m taking BoltBus to National Train Day, because it was only $2.50 round trip from New York City!

2009-04-20-IMG_1488
Creative Commons License photo credit: martin_kalfatovic

Why is there a push to restore train service NOW?

Many, many years ago… in the United States, there were literally dozens of train lines dotting the landscape of American cities. Most of those train lines are now gone, and depending on who you ask, car companies like GM are responsible for the disappearance of local public transit or cars are just a much better way to get around.

Whatever the reason is, many most US cities lack a comprehensive public transit system. Even major cities lack a full, comprehensive system like their European (and increasingly, Asian) counterparts have. Citizens’ livelihoods are tied to the car much like human life is tied to air and water.

There are pushes to restore train service now. One does not have to look further than NJTransit’s website for details on fantastic plans to restore service from the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania through the Lackawanna cutoff to Hoboken, where riders could connect to PATH or ferry service into Manhattan, (or to New York Penn Station) eliminating the need for the up to 4 hour bus trips one-way to/from the Poconos for commuters and tourists alike. Or, the proposal to use existing and new rail infrastructure to create a new heavy rail line through Middlesex, Ocean and Monmouth counties, connecting commuters with New York Penn Station via the Northeast Corridor or the North Jersey Coast Line. Or, restoring the train line torn up to build – what else? – condos!

People in the northeast are generally more open to transit than other places in the country, but even Phoenix is getting in on the demand for transit. Albeit, they only have one line in an area that is extremely low density, but it does have connecting bus service.

The push to restore train service (or build new service) seems to be correlated to gas prices. Last summer, we all remember gas prices approaching and surpassing $4/gallon in the United States. It seemed like everyone began using transit to save money. Prices went down, but ridership is still up in some areas. My guess is that riders realized transit is not that bad. I mean after all, being car free does rock, but what will happen when (if?) the prices go back down and stay down? Will the novelty wear off?

I really can’t think of any other reason to spur the interest in restoring train service now, so if you have some ideas, let’s hear it in the comments.

Will the stimulus mean more transit dollars?

House Democrats have released a draft of the $275 billion federal stimulus package, including about $30 billion for highways and $10 billion for transit. 25% of transportation dollars spent on transit is slightly better than the usual 20% transit typically gets through legislation, earmarks, entitlement funds, etc.

Here is the excerpt that is most relevant to transportation:

MODERNIZE ROADS, BRIDGES, TRANSIT AND WATERWAYS

To build a 21st century economy, we must engage contractors across the nation to create jobs – rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing public buildings, and putting people to work cleaning our air, water, and land.

Highway Infrastructure: $30 billion for highway and bridge construction projects. It is estimated that states have over 5,100 projects totaling over $64 billion that could be awarded within 180 days. These projects create jobs in the short term while saving commuters time and money in the long term. In 2006, the Department of Transportation estimated $8.5 billion was needed to maintain current systems and $61.4 billion was needed to improve highways and bridges.

Transit: Public transportation saves Americans time and money, saving as much as 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline and reducing carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons each year.

  • New Construction: $1 billion for Capital Investment Grants for new commuter rail or other light rail systems to increase public use of mass transit and to speed projects already in construction. The Federal Transit Administration has $2.4 billion in pre-approved projects.
  • Upgrades and Repair: $2 billion to modernize existing transit systems, including renovations to stations, security systems, computers, equipment, structures, signals, and communications. Funds will be distributed through the existing formula. The repair backlog is nearly $50 billion.
  • Transit Capital Assistance: $6 billion to purchase buses and equipment needed to increase public transportation and improve intermodal and transit facilities. The Department of Transportation estimates a $3.2 billion maintenance backlog and $9.2 billion in needed improvements. The American Public Transportation Association identified 787 ready-to-go transit projects totaling $15.5 billion. Funds will be distributed through the existing formulas.

Amtrak and Intercity Passenger Rail Construction Grants: $1.1 billion to improve the speed and capacity of intercity passenger rail service. The Department of Transportation’s Inspector General estimates the Northeast Corridor alone has a backlog of over $10 billion.

As a transit planner and activist, I am encouarged by the increased amount of spending dedicated for transit projects. However, I see a few problems – $2 billion could easily be spent by New Jersey Transit or the NYC MTA on improving JUST their stations and/or infrastructure. The distinct advantage for obtaining funds for projects will go toward the larger, pre-existing agencies, versus smaller agencies or for agencies that have yet to be started. Additionally, we do need to spend more money on our infrastructure than ever before – the stimulus will provide start up funds, but with erroding tax bases and cuts on all levels of government – local, county and state – where will the matching funds come from?

Are we just setting ourselves up for additional frustration and failure? Or will the stimulus mean more transit dollars in the long term?

How do I get around?

Since I am going to talk about living car free, then I guess I should tell you a little about how I get around without a car.

First things first, I live in New Brunswick, a small (in size) town in New Jersey, which has a connection to the Northeast Corridor and good access to New Jersey Transit and county buses.

I also have Rutgers’ FREE campus bus available for my use when I am not walking. I do think biking is a great idea, but I am deathly afraid of “me vs. a car,” so I do not bike here.

Friends often ask me, “How do you get your groceries?” I get my groceries delivered via Peapod, which is a service from local grocery store Stop and Shop. The fee is about $6.95 to $9.95, and they deliver 7 days a week between 7am and 10pm. You order online, pick your delivery time, and just wait for your delivery.

If I need to do major non-food shopping, I can take either a NJ Transit bus or a county shuttle bus from the train station directly to one of several of shopping centers nearby. I have several options to get coming home – I can either get a taxi, take the NJ Transit bus or the county shuttle home. It really depends on how much I purchased or how lazy I am feeling that day. Taxi rates start at $6. The most I ever paid was $10 and that included a big tip for the guy carrying my bags up to my apartment.

Any other places I like to go – the mall, the movies, dining – I can do with either walking, taking a bus or shuttle, the train or a combination thereof. The train runs pretty frequently during the day and even on the weekends/holidays.

While a less hardy soul would be depressed at being stuck in Penn Station after missing a late night train and having to wait another hour for the next train out of NYC, I take it all in stride. Penn Station is a perfect people watching place and has lots of food options for folks like me who love junk food.

I don’t miss having a car most days, but on those cold, windy and rainy days of winter, I might change my tune!