London Reconnections heads to New York and brings you the first part of a mini-series on transport matters from across the Atlantic. To kick off the series we talk to Ben Kabak who gives us an overview of the transport politics, policy and projects in New York.

Ben Kabak is the Editor of the 2nd Avenue Sagas a website covering all matter transport in New York. What started as a blog in 2006 to trace the progress and politics of the 2nd Avenue Subway has since morphed into a site the spectrum on transport stories: from politics to long range planning, capital investment, funding challenges and new technology adoption.

Ben gives us an introduction to transport in New York’s metropolitan area by outlining the fragmented governance structure with its many institutions in charge. This plays itself out in transport policy and infrastructure pipelines for the region. It does not appear to be leading to coordinated and integrated transport planning for the metropolitan area. Are politician’s ambitions distorting transport investment? How is funding choking transport investment and maintenance of good repair?

Tune in to hear about the challenges of the institutional arrangements, political horse trading and funding for providing transport in New York and some suggestions on how they might be overcome.

Check out Ben’s transport blog where you can find more detail about a lot of the issues touched upon in this podcast, such as the large infrastructure projects such as the Second Avenue Subway, the TriboroRX line, and 7 line extension. For an overview of the instutional arrangments for transport provision in New York, I would recommend the report Getting to the Route of It – The Role of Governance in Regional Transit by the Eno Center for Transportation and Transit Center offers an overview of the institutional arrangements for transport in different US city regions and includes a chapter dedicated to New York.

Look out more episodes of the mini-series coming soon.

How to listen

You can find our main podcast stream at, and you can subscribe on iTunes here:

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You can also listen directly through the internet via the embedded player below.

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There are 10 comments on this article
  1. Old Buccaneer says:

    Those on this side of the Atlantic may like to see the below, on the subject of those commuting from further out:

    (Take off “m=1” if not on mobile)

    Warning: much of the language in the blog would not meet LR’s high standards.

  2. Chris C says:

    I’ve been reading Ben’s blog for longer than this one even though I’m in the UK.

    It really is an eye opener in brining out the differences between transportation in the US and the UK but also the similarities in many of the issues involved. It really is worth a read.

    There was also a separate blog covering the Long Island Rail Road but that, unfortunately, closed down.

  3. alanbluemountains says:

    While on America I hope that LR can find someone with the knowledge to cover the nec corridor and the chronic under funding of life expired tunnels, bridges and the ROW in general in a very busy if not critical part of the USA rail network. It really seems to be republicans with heads in ground, but very much a case of decaying infarstructure with insufficent funds to keep in state of good repair let alone enhance to meet demand. Amazing in a rich country.

  4. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ Alanbluemountains – I only occasionally dip into American transport issues but you get some really bizarre contrasts. You have states and some cities that are happy to raise local tax funding and build good light rail systems with reasonable bus networks. However many are solely focussed on highways and any public transit is barely a safety net level of service never mind an attractive service. You have fairly dense districts with either no bus service or a bus once an hour. I’ve looked to see if I get to certain places / businesses in cities I might like to visit – completely impossible to get around in any viable way on public transport. I recently read a couple of State transport strategies which were all about roads and bridges with negligible recognition of bus, rail, cycling or walking or efficient local freight and distribution. All a bit bizarre when you consider how effective US continental rail freight businesses are so it’s not as if the US can’t do rail transport. I’m not very familiar with Amtrak other than knowing it is a dreadful “political football” at a national level but actually seems to be popular with passengers and in some states where the connectivitiy benefits are recognised. We may criticise our transport provision but it’s a damn sight better than in a lot of the USA.

  5. Walthamstow Writer says:

    So to summarise the state of transit in New York (and just about anywhere else in the world!)

    – not enough funding to do the right things.
    – politicians who only like “shiny big projects”.
    – politicians don’t like or understand buses.
    – many of the public are deeply cynical about improvements until they experience them directly.
    – the organisational and operational structures are fractured and sub optimal
    – politicians argue like “cats in a sack”.
    – fares are a political football and a complete unintegrated mess.
    – there are NIMBYs and clueless “blue sky thinkers” in NYC as well as London.
    – there is endless consultation and discussion but very little gets decided to allow a definitive way forward.

    I’ve dipped in and out of 2nd Avenue Sagas over the year so am aware of the some of the recurring nightmares in New York’s transit system. The funding situation in NYC has long struck me as insane but then we can hardly comment in London – ours has gone from reasonably stable about 5 years ago to “committing hari kari” now. I was also struck by the lack of mention that NYCMTA has at least tried some decent bus priority on a crosstown Manhatten route (IIRC) with good quality stops, off bus ticketing and multi door boarding to try to get dwell times down and average speeds up. Perhaps that’s for a future podcast?

    Also nice to hear that the opening of the 2nd Av subway line is due reasonably soon. Unfortunately I am unlikely to ever go back to see developments if our currency remains in freefall. NYC was never a cheap city but it must be horrific now for UK based travellers.

  6. BRIAN BERKE says:

    Welcome to NYC from this uprooted Londoner. Be sure to visit the mall, sorry railway station for PATH downtown, and take PATH to Newark. There you can take the Newark Subway (trams).

    As for the NYC Subway, I just returned from a week in London and warm tube trains, so enjoy the ride, especially the bizarre ‘street entertainment’ that will be imposed on your space.

    The views from the elevated lines in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens add to the fun.

  7. Chris C says:

    Here is an article from the New York Times about many of the issues facing New Jersey Transit which include

    Ageing infra structure
    Political interference
    Lack of leadership.

  8. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ Chris C – a good article with some horrendous problems being highlighted. While TfL does not have as bad a set of problems as NJT clearly has there are, for me, some very ominous warning signs from that article that could transfer to London. A conflicted political situation (now), removal of operating subsidy, a potentially declining revenue base (due to a fares freeze), no solution on how to reduce costs to meet the reducing revenue base, a risk to the share of business rate funding to TfL (previously entirely hypothecated), investment projects such as line upgrades potentially at risk. Clearly TfL doesn’t have the safety breach / external regulator issues but LT did get there 30 years ago and it’s perfectly possible for us to end up there if a series of poor decisions are taken. Let’s hope the situation in New Jersey resolves itself but I’m not hopeful for as long as Chris Christie is in charge. He’s clearly clueless on transit matters but at least state elections are due in New Jersey in 2017 and he can’t stand then for a further term.

  9. An articulate summary of the transit situation in the New York City metro area. Ben covered all the major issues.

  10. Walthamstow Writer says:

    I’ve just been looking at the MTA Capital Program, as you do 😉 , and was surprised to see that the Second Avenue Subway actually has no overall plan or funding to deliver all 4 phases. The first phase is (allegedly) nearing its opening day while they’ve barely started work on Phase 2 which extends the line northwards to 125th Street. There is no funding for phases 3 and 4 that would send the line southwards through the east side of Manhatten. I have to say I’m rather astonished that something which has as much importance attached to it, in terms of congestion relief / improved access, hasn’t at least got funding for the planning and design work needed for later phases. Given the snail like pace at which transit developments move in the USA it could decades to complete the line. Makes LU / TfL achievements seem almost “Usain Bolt” like in terms of their delivery speed (GOBLIN extension, Battersea extension, even possibly the Croxley link (although that might be pushing things)).

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