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Transportation

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Kings Park train station. Photo by Kyle Barr

Tired of delays, cancellations, safety issues and general stress of commuting on the Long Island Rail Road, several thousand Long Islanders have signed a petition asking for refunds and an investigation of the venerable rail system.

Nearly 3,000 people have signed an online petition demanding the LIRR investigate the rail line’s safety and inefficiency problems as well as institute refunds for canceled service. More are signing the petition every day.

For Commack resident and three-year LIRR commuter Eric Trinagel, 42, who started the petition, it displays just how fed up commuters have become.

People are worried that they’re going to lose jobs because the train makes them late.”

— Eric Trinagel

“If they’re working on construction, if they are going to short schedules, at least increase the cars,” he said. “Instead they’re reducing schedules and reducing car lengths from 12 cars to eight. Everybody standing and standing uncomfortably.”

Trinagel, a technical manager for Viacom, said he didn’t expect so many people to join the petition, originally only expecting he and his wife would support it, if that. Within a few hours, he said he watched as more than 1,000 people signed their names to his Change.org petition.

The current total of 2,781 petitioners as of Wednesday is only a drop in the bucket of the LIRR’s 355,000 average weekday ridership, according to the LIRR’s 2016 data. Still, its creator believes these issues of constant delays for riders is coming to a head. He said commuters are sick and tired of delays, especially if it means being late for work.

“People are worried that they’re going to lose jobs because the train makes them late,” Trinagel said. “People are looking for jobs outside of the city because of the LIRR.”

The LIRR is taking my hard-earned money and giving me next to nothing in return.”

Lorraine Mastronardi

Data on LIRR’s website shows July 2018 had an 88.9 percent on-time performance compared to 93.1 percent in July 2017.

Trinagel also said that the LIRR should look to reimburse at least a small part of commuter’s tickets if there are service delays, especially because of recent fare hikes. In March 2017, fares rose 4 percent across the board for train users, though the increase did not affect New York City subways. Another 4 percent fare hike has been proposed for 2019.

Many who signed the petition decried the amount they pay for their commutes compared to the level of service. People complained of overcrowded cars, rising fares and an overall feeling of being uncared for, especially when the railroad could be the determining factor if they are late for their jobs.

“Chronic lateness to work can jeopardize one’s career stability,” Mount Sinai resident Cynthia French wrote as she signed the petition. “Their traffic and weather reporters rattle off delays with a smile, but commuter stress is real.”

As the country heads into election season, multiple incumbents and candidates have also criticized LIRR’s recent performance. U.S. Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and his Republican opponent, Dan DeBono, have both criticized LIRR’s inefficiencies and called for an overhaul of the rail system.

We can’t be sitting on a train for an hour saying it’s just a signal issue, meanwhile on Facebook there’s a picture of two trains parked face to face a few feet away from each other.”

— Eric Trinagel

“The LIRR is taking my hard-earned money and giving me next to nothing in return,” Port Jeff resident Lorraine Mastronardi wrote. “I’ve been riding the LIRR as a commuter since 1988 and it has never been this horrendous.”

This comes as Phil Eng, the newly appointed president of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s LIRR, is overseeing several major changes to the rail system, including the Double Track Project, which would add a second track to the Ronkonkoma branch between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma train stations. The LIRR is also dealing with increasing calls for the electrification of the Port Jefferson to Huntington line.

LIRR officials did not response to request for comments by this publication’s press time.

The LIRR has outlined several changes with the intention of increasing customer satisfaction in its March Performance Improvement Plan. It called for an increase in rail inspections, improved rail monitoring systems, increased maintenance, hiring a new chief customer advocate and increased communication between LIRR leadership and customers.

Trinagel said he has spoken to Eng and they talked for approximately 40 minutes. While Trinagel said he respects Eng , he still calls for better communication between the railroad and commuters.

“We can’t be sitting on a train for an hour saying it’s just a signal issue, meanwhile on Facebook there’s a picture of two trains parked face to face a few feet away from each other,” Trinagel said. “We’re smarter than that.”

View the petition at www.change.org/p/andrew-cuomo-demand-better-safety-practices-and-fare-
refunds-from-the-long-island-railroad.

Cutting costs, growing local economy, combatting climate change, modernizing transportation among Romaine’s goals for ‘18

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine at his state of the town address April 3. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) is nothing if not confident about the future of the town he oversees.

Brookhaven Town’s leader delivered his annual state of the town address at Town Hall April 3 in which he touted its financial footing while also looking toward the future.

“The state of Brookhaven Town is good and getting better,” Romaine said. “Brookhaven Town, though not perfect, is still a town full of promise and hope. It is up to all of us who live here to help realize that promise.”

“Brookhaven Town, though not perfect, is still a town full of promise and hope. It is up to all of us who live here to help realize that promise.”

—Ed Romaine

Brookhaven has a structurally balanced budget for the current fiscal year that stays within the state mandated tax levy increase cap, in addition to maintaining its AAA bond rating from Standard & Poor’s financial services company. Romaine detailed a few cost-saving measures he said he’d like to accomplish going forward, including more sharing of services amongst other municipalities as a way to streamline government and save taxpayer money.

“Sharing resources and services to reduce the size, scope and cost of government is one of the best ways to control and reduce expenses,” he said, adding the town remains in the running for a shared services grant from New York state that, if selected, would add $20 million to Brookhaven’s effort. “We must continue to closely monitor our capital and operating expenses. Our residents cannot pay more in taxes. Too many Long Islanders are leaving.”

He said growing the local economy through additional jobs was another priority for him and the town going forward. Romaine said he still hopes Brookhaven will be selected as the second national headquarters for Amazon, which he said could bring in about 50,000 jobs to the town. He also praised the work of the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, an arm of municipalities dedicated to funding projects that will stimulate job creation and economic growth.

“The IDA closed on 20 projects that will result in $435 million of private investment and the creation of 4,050 permanent or construction jobs,” the supervisor said. “In addition, the IDA has 13 approved projects that have or are about to close in 2018, with the potential for another $440 million of private investment into our town, creating or retaining another 1,000 jobs.”

Romaine detailed several “green” initiatives already underway or on the horizon in 2018, noting the real threat to Brookhaven posed by climate change and sea level rise.

“With the largest coastline of any town in New York state, the Town of Brookhaven knows full well that global climate change and sea level rise is real and poses significant challenges in the decades ahead.”

— Ed Romaine

“With the largest coastline of any town in New York state, the Town of Brookhaven knows full well that global climate change and sea level rise is real and poses significant challenges in the decades ahead,” he said.

He said the town has adopted a practice of “strategic retreat” from commercial and residential development in low lying areas to allow nature to reclaim wetlands. He called land use and zoning among the most important powers a town government possesses. He also pointed to the imminent closure of Brookhaven’s landfill as a wakeup call in need of attention in the coming years. He said the town is ready to work with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and other towns to formulate a regional plan for solid waste disposal.

The supervisor also made an impassioned call for updates to the Long Island Rail Road, including electrification of the Port Jefferson line east beyond the Huntington station, adding he co-authored a letter to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority asking for just that with Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) and Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R).

“It is time for a better transportation system, one based on 21st century innovation, not 19th century technology,” Romaine said.

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A postcard of a family canal boat on the Erie Canal being pulled by mules. Image from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The changes in transportation that began in the early 1800s were dramatic and far-reaching. They made it possible to lower costs of food and fuel, expand settlements, open western New York and the Midwest and provide employment for thousands of immigrants. Before steam power, transportation on land was limited to walking, riding horses and going by horse and wagon. On the water there were sloops, schooners and larger ships that traveled around the world. All of these were dependent on organic modes of transportation: wind, current, animals and feet.

By the 1850s and 1860s schooners, barks and full-rigged ships were setting speed records on the China trade route and around Cape Horn to the California coast. Sloops and schooners brought goods to and from Long Island, carried cordwood into New York City and eventually carried coal from Jersey City and Newark to communities on Long Island.

Because it was so difficult and time consuming to sail upstream, great American rivers such as the Hudson in New York and the Connecticut River remained underutilized. It was realized that the steam engine applied to a boat would allow for on-demand propulsion for the first time in human history. In the first decade of the 1800s, New York State offered a prize, the exclusive commercial route up the Hudson River, for the first steamboat to travel the route at an average of 4 mph.

May 1895 the schooner Commerce, loaded with 91 tons of eggs and stove coal, left Perth Amboy and sailed with the cargo to New London, Connecticut. Painting by Ron Druett; photo by Beverly C. Tyler

Robert Fulton, an artist in Paris and a self-styled engineer, with financing by Robert R. Livingston, realized that a large paddlewheel, attached to the side of the vessel, rather than a screw propeller at the stern, was the answer to go upstream. In August 1807, Fulton’s North River Steamboat achieved 5 mph from Manhattan to Albany, and he received the prize.

DeWitt Clinton, mayor of New York and former U.S. senator, was elected governor in 1816. He began construction of the Erie Canal from Lake Erie to the Hudson River with state and private funding on July 4, 1817. The canal opened in sections and every section became proof of the canal’s value as a propeller of commerce. Completed in 1825, the canal quickly exceeded all expectations. Goods from Cleveland got to Manhattan within days. Chicago was easily accessible from New York. The Erie Canal was the first large commercial canal in America.

By 1862, the canal had a depth of 7 feet and could handle boats carrying 240 tons. In 1882, the canal was made free. It had earned $42 million above the original cost and the expenses of enlargement, maintenance and operation. The success of the Erie Canal set off canal mania in other states: the Ohio and Erie Canal from Cleveland to the Ohio River 350 miles south and the Miami and Erie Canal from Toledo to Cincinnati. By 1830, the population in the Northwest (now the Midwest) doubled to 1.6 million and by 1840 doubled again to 3.3 million. Canals had opened what is now known as the Midwest. By 1850, the two major American ports were New York and New Orleans.

Now areas near the Great Lakes — from the Allegheny River to Pittsburgh and the Monongahela to the Ohio to the Mississippi, to the Gulf of Mexico — were commercially more connected to the American south than to the Atlantic coast with its population in the millions. The Wabash and Erie Canal was a shipping canal that linked the Great Lakes to the Ohio River via an artificial waterway. The canal provided traders with access from the Great Lakes all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Over 460 miles long, it was the longest canal ever built in North America. Due to canal mania in the north, the railroads were slow in starting, lacking investment and behind the British in the manufacture of iron. By 1837, there were only 1,500 miles of track in America. Track construction accelerated right after the panic of 1837. By 1840, Cornelius Vanderbilt had bought and sold enough steamships and steamship routes to amass a fortune. Running through Long Island Sound, Vanderbilt had the fastest boats from Manhattan to Providence to Boston. Canals and steamboats made long-distance transportation viable, but canals were a temporary solution. The railroads would soon become the vehicle that united America with steam power.

In the next History Close at Hand article, railroads, specifically the Long Island Rail Road, will be explored. Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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A historic look at Smithtown’s first LIRR trestle. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

By Marianne Howard

It wasn’t until the arrival of the Long Island Rail Road and a few transportation innovations that Smithtown began to flourish as a place to live.

Prior to the LIRR arriving in 1872, Smithtown was solely connected to New York City through the Long Island Sound transport and dirt roadways. With the railroad, travelers from New York City were free to access areas like St. James and Kings Park as day trips, which previously would have never been considered.

As more and more people began coming into town, economic and business development around town boomed. Local farmers could now load wagons full of produce onto flatbed railroad cars headed for New York City. Travelers who initially came east for fresh air eventually concluded that there were residential possibilities in Smithtown and settled into the area.  However, the horse and buggy was the most accessible way to travel on the area’s dirt roads.

Old Hauppauge Road in 1910. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

Country sleighing was a favored pastime by early residents, according to “Images of America: Smithtown” written by Bradley Harris, Kiernan Lannon and Joshua Ruff. The book cites Alma Blydenbyrgh’s 1833 diary entry for Jan. 17 , in which she wrote, “Mr. Floyd been to the river and took Em and myself for a sleigh ride. Good sleighing!”

Getting to and from Smithtown remained difficult for years to come. The main obstacle to Smithtown’s connection to the northern spur of the LIRR was the Nissequogue River. To accomplish fully connecting the LIRR, engineers crafted a trestle to span the river valley, the largest iron structure of its kind on Long Island. When completed, it stood over 50 feet high and spanned a distance of 490 feet.

In the 1890s, bicycles first became a popular fad in the area. Bicyclists were urging the town and the county to construct dedicated bicycle paths to improve riders’ safety. Millionare Richard Handley personally funded a bike path from his estate in Hauppauge out to Smithtown. Eventually, Suffolk County constructed a path along Jericho Turnpike. 

Bicycling quickly became a nuisance to town officials. In 1911, Smithtown’s town board issued a motion banning bicyclists from riding on town sidewalks. Any rider caught violating the order could be fined up to $5.

Thirty years after the railroad came to town, automobiles began appearing. By the 1920s, the automobile was replacing the horse and buggy. Town officials were eventually forced to pave the roadways, and by the 1930s, the town was primed for a boom in both population and land development.

Marianne Howard is the executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. For more information on the society, its events or programs or on becoming a member, visit www.smithtownhistorical.org or call 631-265-6768.

A scene from a recent plane crash in Setauket. File photo

Following a spike in small plane crashes over the last few years, U.S. Sen. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) called for an investigation, and he got answers.

On March 3, Schumer sent a letter to the National Transportation Safety Board asking for an in-depth analysis of recent U.S.-registered civil aircraft accidents on Long Island to help develop recommendations to prevent future incidents.

“I strongly urge you not just to conduct yet another investigation … but to also undertake a comprehensive and system-wide review to understand why these accidents are happening, and what can be done in order to decrease the occurrences,” he wrote in the letter. “The number of airplane crashes across the system must be reduced.”

This request came after a recent crash in Southampton, though others have also occurred in Shoreham, Port Jefferson, Setauket, Kings Park and Hauppauge in recent years.

The board, in a letter of response to Schumer, said it examined data from accidents in New York over the last five years, including the number of accidents, types of injuries, types of operations, causes of accidents and locations.

Since 2012, 156 aviation accidents have occurred, with 140 of these aircraft operating as flights under Part 91 of the Federal Aviation Regulations — small noncommercial aircraft. The causes have been similar in nature for the incidents with completed investigations. Most included safety-related issues, like loss of control, which occurred in one-third of aviation accidents. An in-flight loss of control accident involves an unintended departure from controlled flight, which could be caused by an engine stall, pilot distraction, loss of situational awareness or weather. According to the letter, the board said that preventing loss of control in flight in general aviation is currently on its 2018 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.

Other causes of aviation accidents included loss of engine power, controlled flight into terrain and hard landings.

Moving forward, the board plans to reach out to the general aviation community and host a safety seminar later this year.

“We consider Long Island a suitable venue for this safety seminar because a number of general aviation accidents have occurred in that area and because we believe the robust general aviation community there will be receptive to our safety outreach,” the letter stated. “We anticipate that this seminar will help raise awareness about these recent accidents in New York and around the country and about specific issues affecting the general aviation community.”

The Port Jefferson jitney stops on Arden Place near Mariners Way. Photo by Elana Glowatz

The village jitney is up and running again, shuttling residents and visitors through Port Jefferson on summer weekends. But in its third year, village officials may take things up a notch.

At a village board of trustees meeting last Monday, Trustee Larry LaPointe announced they had received a $12,600 grant from Suffolk County to build three small shelters for people waiting to hop on the jitney.

It is a matching grant, so the village will have to kick in as much money as it accepts from the county. That may be slightly lower than the total available, as the trustees approved a proposal from Freeport-based Columbia Equipment Company to build the three red shelters for $19,500 — meaning each municipality would kick in just shy of $10,000.

LaPointe described the shelters as aluminum squares measuring 5 feet by 7 feet — the ridership numbers don’t justify building big shelters, he said — without benches inside.

“Benches attract people who want to take a nap,” he said.

Port Jefferson officials often contend with loitering vagrants or drunken people. There are frequently homeless people sleeping on the few benches around the area.

While the village could choose to put in benches down the road, LaPointe noted that because the shelters are small, leaving out a bench would improve access to the shelters for people in wheelchairs.

The shelters would be installed at the three points along the jitney route: at its start uptown on the east side of Oakland Avenue, near the Long Island Rail Road station; on the north side of Arden Place close to East Main Street; and at the harborfront park off East Broadway.

Those shelters are going to be red so they match the color of the shuttle bus.

“The shelters will really brand it — red jitney, red shelter,” LaPointe said.

The bus service, which resumed on Memorial Day, will keep trucking until Labor Day. Fare is $2, but children under 12 can ride for free.

When the jitney first started running in summer 2014, the village board saw the shuttle as a way to connect the vibrant downtown and the struggling uptown areas.

“It’s a good way to start bridging the gap between upper and lower Port,” Mayor Margot Garant said at the time. “We’ve got to get people circulating back up and down.”

Port Jefferson Village parking committee chairman George Westbay had originally presented the concept as a year-round service to link uptown and downtown, given the village’s push to revitalize the upper Port area and with a new apartment complex going up on Texaco Avenue to bring in more residents. He also saw it being used by visitors who could take the LIRR to Port Jefferson and then use the bus to go to a waterfront festival, for instance, instead of using a car.

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Thanks to a recently passed transportation bill in the United States Congress, small communities like those across the North Shore can more easily invest in bicycling. Stock photo

By Dan Rowe

At a time when public opinion of the federal government seems to be at a historical low, I want to commend Congress for passing the FAST Act, a five-year transportation bill, and specifically thank U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin for his support and leadership throughout the process.

I am a member of the Hauppauge, Long Island, business community and the vice president of sales for Finish Line Technologies, a leading producer of bicycle maintenance products. We employ more than 30 people year-round in our Hauppauge headquarters. We pay local, state and federal taxes while supporting the local community in a number of other ways, including donating bicycle maintenance products to local teams and cycling clubs.

Bicycling provides important benefits to our community. Making modest, cost-effective investments in bicycle infrastructure increases property values, boosts retail sales, improves transportation choices and creates healthier, more active communities. For example, several of our employees participated in our local Long Island Bike to Work Day on June 24, 2015. This one-day event was a fun and effective way of building awareness of safe cycling and bicycle commuting on Long Island.

Safe and appealing places for bicycling encourage more people to bike and good things follow. Communities become more active and road congestion and air pollution are reduced. Cities become more attractive for people to live and work. No wonder so many mayors, community leaders, developers and businesses are getting on board with bikes.

I am grateful for Rep. Zeldin’s leadership on the passage of the five-year transportation bill. The FAST Act opens the door for communities to continue to make modest, cost-effective investments in bicycling infrastructure. Thank you, Rep. Zeldin for your support of more and better places to ride.

Dan Rowe works as vice president of sales for Finish Line Technologies.

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