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The biggest New York City transportation stories of 2023

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This column originally appeared in On The Way, a weekly newsletter covering everything you need to know about NYC-area transportation. Sign up to get the full version in your inbox every Thursday.

This year marked the 119th anniversary of New York City’s subway, the 55th anniversary of the MTA, and one of the most consequential years ever for both.

After more than a half-century of trying and failing, New York officials finally moved forward with a plan to toll motorists who drive into the busiest parts of the city. With the MTA board’s approval of congestion pricing last month, the agency is on track to charge motorists a $15 daytime toll to drive south of 60th Street in Manhattan as soon as the spring.

The plan still risks being halted by a series of lawsuits filed in federal court, but if all goes as planned, money from the tolls will fund $15 billion in upgrades to the city’s transit infrastructure. That includes new train cars, more subway elevators, modern signals to help speed up service, and the long-sought Second Avenue subway extension into East Harlem. 

The MTA desperately needs those upgrades to lure back riders and the fares they pay. Subway usage has increased since last year, with turnstiles clocking more than 4 million entries during the busiest days of the week, compared to 3.6 million this time in 2022. 

But that’s still far short of the 5.5 million daily subway riders before the pandemic upended commutes in the Big Apple. The MTA needs ridership to return to pre-pandemic levels to balance its books and pay off its massive debt pile.

This year also saw progress on other work that’s slated to change the region, including the groundbreaking of a pair of new Hudson River rail tunnels that are slated to cost roughly $17 billion and take 12 years to build. Those tunnels are designed to run into an expanded Penn Station, which would require the razing of an entire block south of West 31st Street. 

The MTA and Amtrak spent much of the year arguing over the station’s design — and former NYC Transit President Andy Byford (a.k.a. “Train Daddy), who now works for Amtrak, even voiced opposition to the demolition plan.

Penn Station’s future will likely be a big story in 2024.

Progress on those projects — as well as the return of riders to mass transit — would have lasting impacts on New York for generations. If they fail, or even stumble, New York will suffer. 

Curious Commuter

Question:

Why is the IBX a light rail?
– Caleb from Brooklyn

Answer:

The MTA considered three options for its planned Interborough Express line between Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and Jackson Heights, Queens: A heavy rail line (like a subway), a dedicated bus road and a light rail line. Because the route largely runs along an existing freight line, officials thought it less efficient to build a bus line. The MTA considered moving forward with a heavy rail line, but ran into a few issues. Most notably, an old tunnel in East New York isn’t big enough to fit regular subway or commuter rail cars. To make the line work, officials would need to procure slightly smaller subway cars, like the ones that run on the PATH, which risked delaying the project. The MTA is now moving ahead with the environmental review process for the work — and plans to build the city’s only light rail line. 

Have a question? Follow @Gothamist on Instagram for special opportunities and prompts to submit questions.
You can also email cguse@wnyc.org or snessen@wnyc.org with the subject line “Curious Commuter question.”

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