Posts Tagged ‘New York’

Over a year ago this blog discussed the proposal to turn the old monorail tracks into an elevated walkway, in the context of comparing it to New York’s famous High Line. The argument was made that the former metropolitan goods line, or at least the remaining portion of it between Central Station and the light rail line, was a better comparison. This is being converted into a pedestrian space, providing both a means of travelling around the city on foot as well as being a destination in its own right.

High Line 2/2

The New York High Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

But there is one place in the Sydney CBD that is similar to the High Line: an uncompleted portion of the Western Distributor at the Southern edge of Barangaroo. Much how the High Line in New York was a disused freight line that was later converted into public space, this never completed section of the Western Distributor lays dormant and unused.

The story behind it goes back to the 1960s, when the Western Distributor was first being built (documented in great detail at the highly recommended Ozroads website). The Harbour Bridge, whose construction was concluded in the early 1930s and not extended further due to Depression and war, had been extended further East via the Cahill Expressway as part of a post-War expansion of the roads network with plans for a continuous freeway all the way through to the current Syd Enfield Drive at Bondi Junction. The Western Distributor was to be the first part of a freeway linking the Southern end of the Harbour Bridge West to the M4 at Concord and South to St Peters. To this end, it was designed as a two level viaduct. The then Department of Main Roads provided this description: “The top level will consist of a divided six-lane expressway…between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Ultimo Interchange…The lower level will be mainly a collector-distributor road with a number of connections to the city streets” (Source: Ozroads).

The first stage, from the Harbour Bridge to the Pyrmont Bridge (now fully pedestrianised, but back then still open to vehicle traffic) was completed in 1972. However, by 1977 the government dumped plans for a freeway all the way to Concord and St Peters, making the two level viaduct plan unnecessary. The Western Distributor was therefore only built as, and today remains, a single level viaduct.

But there is one section of the lower level that was built, at the Southern end of Barangaroo, around where the currently under construction Wynyard Walk (designed to allow pedestrians to travel between Barangaroo and Wynyard Station) comes out from underground at the Barangaroo end. With a bit of work, there is no reason why this cannot be linked up to the Wynyard Walk and converted into public space. It won’t be the size of the New York High Line, not by any means. But given its location, it certainly has the potential to be an iconic piece of the public domain in its own right.

Images below are from the author of this blog. Click to enlarge.

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2013-07-15 STA bus time lapse

Visualisation of STA buses in Sydney at 9:01AM on a typical weekday. The bright vertical line in the middle is the Harbour Bridge. (Source: Flink Labs)

Some interesting time lapse visualisations of commuter transport from around the world. All of these show vehicle movements (trains, buses, etc), as opposed to passengers movements, unless otherwise stated.

Sydney

This first video is STA buses only. That means the government Sydney Buses, as well as the Parramatta-Liverpool T-Way buses. Despite the limitations of its data, and that it is now a few years old, it’s also quite clear and easy to watch.

Major corridors like Anzac Parade, Oxford Street, Parramatta Road, Victoria Road, and Military Road stand out quite well. They are the brightest during the day, and the only ones still operating late into the night. By showing busier corridors as brighter, you really get a good idea of what frequent services look like, as opposed to a bus map where all lines look the same.

This is another video of Sydney. It is more recent, includes all modes of public transport, and goes out as far as Newcastle and Wollongong. Trains are shown in the same colour as the line they operate on. It’s also a bit crowded, and harder to follow than the previous video, so it’s recommended that you watch it directly on Youtube with the settings set to 720p(HD) for better quality if it doesn’t do so automatically here.

Melbourne

A similar video to the earlier Sydney bus video, but this time from Melbourne for trains. Blue is for city bound, while yellow are outbound.

Auckland

This video was created by Chris McDowall, but the blog post associated with it no longer appears to be working. So instead, here is a short piece about it from Human Transit, in which the vehicles are described as “tadpoles”.

London

This video is from an article over at the Atlantic Cities, which is worth a read for some background. This shows passenger movements via the collection of Oyster smartcard data. Inbetween the morning and evening commute, passangers are shown as a red dot while at work.

New York City

This video of New York City includes the subway and bus system, as well as some longer distance commuter rail trains (these are most noticeable in Long Island on the right hand side of the map which is otherwise mostly blank). New York has one of the few transport systems in the Western world that runs 24/7 at decent frequencies, with most subway lines running at 20 minute frequencies all night. You can see this in the video, as unlike other cities here where transport is almost non-existant between 2AM to 5AM, because at no point do the dots stop moving around. New York really is the city that never sleeps!

As with before, best seen on Youtube with 720p(HD) settings.

Washington DC

The Washington Metro trains are shown as the colour of their line, while buses are the white dots. Long distance commuter trains (mostly to the North of Washington) are large dots with a while tail. Once again, if it doesn’t show up well here, then try it on Youtube with the maximum 720p(HD) settings.

More videos

If you’re interested in seeing more, the second Sydney video, as well as the New York and Washington videos are from a group called STL Transit, and their Youtube page is full of many other videos. And for a more detailed description of their Vancouver video, make sure to check out the Human Transit post on that particular video.

It didn’t take long after the closure of the monorail was announced for someone to suggest that it be converted into an elevated walkway, using New York’s High Line as an example. While this initially sounds like a good idea on paper, it soon becomes clear that it would not be workable, and the 1m wide beam should definitely not be compared to the 6m wide High Line in New York. (Alan Davies explains why in more detail over at The Urbanist.)

A more recent proposal which received government approval last month, but seemingly less media coverage or public interest, was the conversion of a portion of the former Goods Line at Ultimo into a public space. It too has been dubbed as Sydney’s version of the High Line. Importantly, this proposal represents both a destination as well as a means of getting from one place to another (New York’s High Line is mainly the former, while the monorail proposal was entirely the latter). It is this combination of factors that Jesse Adams Stein, blogging as Penultimo, argues will make The Goods Line superior to the High Line, and I think that hits the nail on the head.

The Goods Line artists impression

Artists impression of The Goods Line. (Source: ASPECT Studios.)

I was in New York earlier this year and visited the High Line on two occasions. It’s a great piece of public space, a former elevated rail line converted into a public park and walkway. But it doesn’t take you anywhere you want to go, it’s just a destination. So by the time you finish walking to one end, it’s time to turn around and go back the way you came. The Goods Line, on the other hand, will connect up to the Devonshire St Tunnel, allowing a pedestrian to walk North from Central Station at Chalmers St all the way to the Powerhouse Museum unimpeded.

High Line 1/2

The New York High Line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author.)

High Line 2/2

The New York High Line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author.)

Sydney’s CBD actually has a fairly good collection of pedestrian links at the moment, and is adding to them. A collection of major ones that currently exist or are planned are shown in the map below (blue are underground tunnels, green are pedestrianised surface spaces).

CBD pedestrian spaces

Pedestrian spaces in the Sydney CBD. Blue are underground tunnels, green are surface spaces. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author created on Google Earth.)

Right now, a pedestrian across the road from the George St Cinemas can take an underground passage to Town Hall Station, through the QVB, across to Myer and come out the other end at Pitt St Mall. All of this without having to worry about vehicle traffic or the elements up on the surface. Continuing North for two blocks past the pedestrianised Martin Place is the Eastern entrance to Hunter Connection, which will take you to Wynyard Station, where another underground tunnel (soon to be the upgraded Wynyard Walk) takes you through to Barangaroo. By the end of this decade, a large chunk of George St will also be pedestrianised, and one of the features of the redeveloped Darling Harbour will be a pedestrian boulevard running North to South.

When it comes to transport, we are all pedestrians at the most basic level. So it’s good to see a bigger emphasis being placed on creating good quality public spaces that prioritise people above vehicles.

A series called Moving Beyond the Automobile has done a piece on car parking in New York called parking reform. It outlines how cheap (often free) and plentiful on street parking in effect provides a subsidy to car drivers and questions whether there is a better use for the public space currently given away to cars for free. (Props to Reinventing Parking for posting it.)

Ideally, parking would happen off street in parking garages that charge a market rate, with some limited short term on-street parking for car drivers who need to make quick trips. Otherwise, it is normally ridiculious to use such a limited resource (street space) for the indefinite storage of automobiles.

I liked the New York transport system a lot when I was there a few weeks ago. But one thing I think they can definitely improve on is the clarity of their subway entrances. Some were relatively easy to find, while others were so well hidden you would not know they were there unless you were standing right in front of them. I’ve included a couple of examples to illustrate my point.

First is a good subway stop. It is clearly obvious from afar that it is an entrance to the subway, and you can also see which lines it serves. If applicable, this would also state which direction the trains from this platform go in (a quirk which applies to some stations on the New York subway system, whereby the entrance is to only one platform and not the other, but to no other system I’ve ever been on).

Good subway entrance.

Good subway entrance. (Photo: Bambul Shakibaei)

Compare that to this other subway entrance near Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan. I knew there was a subway entrance nearby because Google Maps told me so, but could not find it anywhere on the street. If you can find it, then you’ve done a better job of finding it than I had done.

Subway entrance - hidden.

Subway entrance - hidden. (Photo: Bambul Shakibaei)

In case you need some help, this is what you need to be looking for.

Subway entrance - close up.

Subway entrance - close up. (Photo: Bambul Shakibaei)

I did end up finding it, but only once I got right up to it. There was another subway entrance, on the South East corner of Central Park, which I literally did not find until it was right in front of me. And in that particular case I had both found it on Google Maps and asked a local for directions. Despite both these things, I could have sworn there was nothing there. The example from above was actually easier to find, as I managed to spot it on my own.

I’m guessing this is largely due to the New York subway being so old, though why the signs can’t be changed seems strange to me. It definitely is an example of something that is done better in Sydney than New York when it comes to the trains. On other measures, however, Sydney is far behind New York.

I recently got back from a 3 week holiday from all over the USA (which also explains the lack of activity here of late – my apologies for the lull, but I’ve had a bunch of things to catch up on and this hasn’t been high on my priorities). As it’s my first post since I getting back, I thought I’d write a bit about my encounters with public transport during my travels.

  1. Monorails are quite common. I saw them at a number of airports (Orlando, Atlanta, JFK and San Francisco) as well as both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. I took a video in the Orlando Airport one and included it below. In all these cases (with maybe the exception of Disneyland) they were used as a form of mass transportation, rather than a glorified tourist trap like the Sydney monorail
  2. Wheaton Station on the Washington D.C. Metro has the longest escalator in the Western Hemisphere. I went there to check it out for myself, and took two and a half minutes to get to the top of it. See video below.
  3. Los Angeles really is designed for cars, rather than public transport. The city actually has a good network of cris-crossing lines that can get you from just about anywhere to just about anywhere else, but because the city is so spread out this can take a very long time. Only the poor people who cannot afford their own car use public transport. I drove there for one day, and the freeways seemed quite well designed, operating at full capacity, but with the use of traffic lights on the on ramps to keep them from going over the maximum capacity and leading to traffic jams on the freeway. This leads to localised traffic jams around the city, but keeps them from spreading through to the rest of the city via the freeways.
  4. New York (Manhattan in particular) is very easy to get around on trains, buses and on foot. I wrote a post about it on my travel blog while I was away which I will repost below, and which you can read here.
  5. San Francisco has more modes of transport than I have seen anywhere else: heavy rail, light rail, trams, cable cars, trolley buses, buses and ferries. I also wrote about it on my travel blog (here and here), and have again reproduced the relevant portions below.

Above: Wheaton Station escalator.

Above: Orlando Airport monorail.

New York Transport

There’s a lot of transport options in New York, so much so that only something like 25% of Manhattan’s 1.5 million residents own a car. There’s long distance Amtrak trains which will take you to Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC or pretty much anywhere else in the Northeast United States. Ten there’s commuter rail, like Long Island Rail if you’re going to Long Island (past Queens and Brooklyn) or PATH if you’re going to New Jersey, but I’ve also seen trains that go to nearby Connecticut. All these trains tend to go either to Grand Central Terminal (if the come in from the North) or Penn Station (if the come in from Long Island), with PATH trains just terminating on the Western edge of Manhattan.

On top of that there are also ferries to take you to one of the many islands around here. It’s easy to forget that of New York City’s 5 boroughs – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Statten Island – only The Bronx is on mainland America.

Buses are either local or express. Local buses fit in to the subway system, so I’ll talk about them later. Express buses cost $5, which is expensive when compared to a local bus or subway trip at about $2, and I don’t know much more about them than that.

The subway is quite a complicated tangle of lines, but for the most part follows Manhattan’s street grid system. Most lines go North/South along the Avenues. At their Northern ends, the lines either terminate in uptown Manhattan, continue North into The Bronx, or turn East into Queens. On their Southern end, the lines either terminate in downtown Manhattan, or turn East into Brooklyn. All the trains therefore indicate their direction by saying uptown/Queens or downtown/Brooklyn. This is important as some entrances/exits are for only one direction, and if you get it wrong then you must exit and pay to enter on the other end. Here’s one example, you can see which lines serve this station and also the direction in which they go (some entrances will let you enter to either platform, as this one indicates).

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There are also a couple of East/West lines, though only 2 of these are East/West the whole way in Manhattan, with the rest spending part of their time in Manhattan traveling North/South. Not only do most subway lines travel along the Avenues, but they have stops on the same Streets. I’ll use my experience as an example.

I’ve spent most of my time in midtown Manhattan, which you can see below.

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My hostel is on the corner of 23rd Street and 11th Avenue (middle on the left), which means I have to walk along 23rd Street until I reach 8th Avenue, where I can get on the subway station there. Or, if I want to get on another line, I just keep walking East along 23rd Street until I get to 7th Avenue, 6th Avenue, 5th Avenue or Park Avenue, where there are other stations. And this is where the local buses come into play. Each of these streets with subway stations along it has a bus line running in each direction. So if you want to get anywhere, you catch a bus East/West, then get a train North/South and get to where you’re hoping to get to. It’s that simple.

If you’re going further, then the lines start to deviate, but criss cross in order to allow you to change from one train to another in order to get to where you need to go. The first few times you use it, it’s easy to get lost or disorientated (such as going in the wrong direction or taking an express train instead of a local – all stops – train), but pretty soon it becomes second nature.

Since I’m here for 8 days, I just paid for a 7 day unlimited pass. It cost me $29 and let’s me travel on the subway and local buses as much as I want for a week. Considering I spent $46 for a little over 4 days in Washington DC for transport on the metro, and even then I was restricted to travel only after 9:30AM on weekdays, it’s a really great way to get around. And even then, because the city is so compact and dense, it’s massively walkable. Many times I don’t even bother getting a train or a bus, I just walk. Sure beats having to hire a car in LA, that’s for sure!

San Francisco Transport (part 1)

Much like New York, San Francisco is misunderstood. People, myself included, assume that San Francisco is a large city, but it is only one city in a larger metropolitan area known as the “Bay Area” that includes cities like Berkley, Oakland, San Jose, etc. This is much like how Greater New York City is a huge metropolitan area, but when people think of New York, they are actually thinking of Manhattan island.

This confused me a little with transport, because both San Francisco and the Bay Area each have their own public transport (MUNI and BART respectively). BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is a rail system that goes around the entire Bay Area and would transport me between the airport, San Francisco and Lafayette. MUNI (Municipal Railway) is only for San Francisco itself, and is the transit agency that runs the cable cars, trams, light rail and trolley buses that San Francisco is famous for.

It took me a little while to work this out, and to then work out how to pay (New York, and it’s unlimited weekly ticket, had spoiled me a little) but I was soon off on a BART train to San Francisco. I had a few hours to do some sightseeing before getting back on the BART to Lafayette, so I headed off to the iconic Castro area of the city.

It was around here that I also saw my first San Francisco tram! The trams in San Fran are either the old street cars, which run entirely above ground along Market Street into the city and then down to Fisherman’s Wharf, or they are light rail which run above ground in the suburbs but underground underneath Market Street next to BART until they reach the city. The tram I saw was one of the light rail trams.

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After the Castro I got on one of the above ground street cars and headed down Market Street into the city. These street cars are all PCC model street cars, and are the North American equivalent of the W Class trams you see in Melbourne on the City Circle route. Each of these trams has a sign on the side telling you which city they were originally from, as many American cities had streets lined with trams in the first half of the 20th century which were often sold to San Francisco when these lines were decommissioned (since San Francisco kept its trams, just as Melbourne did). I even saw a tram from Italy! Each of these trams has information on the inside about its history and where it is from. It was very fascinating to take in these little details.

San Francisco also has trolley buses (which use overhead wires for power, rather than petrol) and cable cars (which are the street cars going up and down the steep San Francisco hills which people often associate with the city). But I didn’t go on either on the Saturday, so that’s all I’ll say about them for now.

San Francisco Transport (part 2)

I took the F-Line tram around to Fisherman’s Wharf. This is the same tram line that I caught [earlier] that runs on the surface of Market Street and uses heritage trams. Fisherman’s Wharf seemed very touristy, based on how crowded it was. From there you can get a view of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. I walked over to a pier so that I could get a better sight of both.

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Then it was time to get the cable car back to market street. The cable cars don’t use electricity, instead they are powered by a cable running underground that the cable car grabs on to in order to move. This allows it to climb San Francisco’s steep hills. The line is quite long (I waited 40 minutes), the journey isn’t quick (roughly half an hour) and the fare is relatively expensive ($6, compared to $2 for MUNI), so few commuters use the cable cars. It’s mainly tourists who use it.

There are 3 cable car lines. I took the Hyde-Powell line, which goes from Fisherman’s Wharf back to Market Street. The cable car is quite crowded, so I didn’t get to see as much as I wanted to, but I still got to see plenty from the hills of San Francisco. We also went past Lomard Street, the famous windy road in San Francisco. But as my view was partially blocked, I didn’t really get a good look at it.

At the end of the cable car ride it was back on BART and off towards the airport. The wait for the cable car had been longer than I had expected, so much like my transport to the airport at the start of my journey, I was cutting it a bit fine and arrived with only an hour before take off. But I made it, and am now writing this somewhere over the Pacific near New Zealand.