2016-06-08 / Front Page

Sunnyside Chamber Talks AccessQueens.Org

By Thomas Cogan

Melissa Orlando of Queens Access and #7 Train Blues stands in the newest No. 7 station, 34thStreet-Hudson Yards, with a sign expressing the perils of that particular train line.  On either side of her are Christian Amez (left) and Brandon Mosley of Queens Access.  Of the station, opened in mid-September, she says that while it’s a beautiful sight to see, its various problems (leaks and other faults) should have been discovered and repaired in advance of the opening. Melissa Orlando of Queens Access and #7 Train Blues stands in the newest No. 7 station, 34thStreet-Hudson Yards, with a sign expressing the perils of that particular train line. On either side of her are Christian Amez (left) and Brandon Mosley of Queens Access. Of the station, opened in mid-September, she says that while it’s a beautiful sight to see, its various problems (leaks and other faults) should have been discovered and repaired in advance of the opening. During the May luncheon of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce at Sidetracks restaurant on Queens Boulevard, Melissa Orlando, of the web site AccessQueens.org and the Facebook news and information site #7 Train Blues, said she was quite aware that subway and elevated lines all over the city have their maddening drawbacks but she singles out the no. 7 line for criticism because it’s the one she most depends on.  She started #7 Train Blues last year, at first as a site to protest Mayor Bill De Blasio’s plan to build high-rise housing over the Sunnyside Yard and the Long Island Railroad and Amtrak tracks.  When furor over that proposal died down with the Mayor’s retreat from it, she turned to the No. 7, which, it seemed, was becoming more crowded and less reliable with every passing day.  #7 Train Blues, which has about 2,100 followers, is teamed with AccessQueens.org, which she says is “a coalition . . . committed to sustaining vibrant, diverse communities.”  

There were reports in the media recently that citywide train ridership last year reached its highest point since 1951.  Orlando told the luncheon audience that that as an example of increase, the Vernon-Jackson station on the No. 7 line gained 12 percent in 2014 and gained again, by a lesser amount, in 2015.  She said the return to levels of ridership last seen in the early post-World War II years was a long recovery from years of decline.  “Ridership came back,” she said, only to find the system’s infrastructure, principally trackage and signaling, was in bad shape.  Additionally, signals, even when well-maintained, were of early 20th century vintage, more than a century later.

She had a slide show to go with her talk, full of photos from the Access Queens site and a striking multi-bar graph constructed from Metropolitan Transportation Authority information, showing average weekday ridership in all 22 No. 7 stations from 2008 through 2015.  There are five stations that unfailingly exceed the highest shown level of weekday ridership, 28,000.  Three are in Manhattan:  Times Square, Fifth Avenue and Grand Central; the two in Queens are 74th Street and Main Street.  (As seen on the graph, the 45th Road-Court Square station has a curious history.  It broke through the 28,000-plus line in 2008, when unifying the underground Court Square and 23rd-Ely stations with the elevated 45th Road station was completed, but by 2012 had lost more than 10,000 daily riders and has since recovered only about 3,500.)  

Orlando said that Access Queens may be Queens-oriented but believes it can have influence elsewhere in the city.  She was especially pleased by City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer’s most recent town hall meeting with transit officials, in early April, where she was part of the panel and was impressed by both the new head of New York City Transit, Ronnie Hakim, and the comparative restraint of the audience.  When she asked for questions, however, Dorothy Morehead, a chamber board member, asked if anyone is compiling data to counter MTA propaganda.  (An example of the latter that she might have had in mind is CBTC, Communication-Based Train Control, which the MTA has touted for some time as the answer to signal problems and says is currently installed on 90 percent of system trains, though its full installation on the No. 7 line, promised for the last quarter of this year, has been pushed into 2017.)  Orlando herself was not pleased with the state of stations and said the one on the line in worst shape is the 52nd-Lincoln station in Woodside.  She also disputed the Straphangers’ Campaign’s all-around rating of the No. 7 line as the best.  “It’s not,” she said.

For the rest of this year, she plans further publicity, but now, with Access Queens having received a small state grant, it will be multi-lingual, beginning with Spanish.  She and AQ will continue to pursue issues such as overcrowding in stations, which she finds gravely serious, especially when there’s a collection of annoyed people in close proximity.  “Lost tempers could lead to lost lives,” she said.  She also believes the MTA should better run Access-a-Ride, a service it controls; and says, as many MTA critics have said for some time, that a bus should run through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel from Hunters Point to Grand Central Terminal as an alternate, in case train difficulties arise.  The MTA has refused to entertain this idea through many a weekend service shutdown, but Orlando said she recently heard an MTA man say there should be daily standby buses to alleviate train difficulties.  At first she thought he was joking but at last discovered he was serious.  She seconds the motion.



 


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