The Regional Plan Association (RPA) has released a report proposing many ideas for managing the New York area's transportation needs; the ideas were reported in the Wall Street Journal (Nov. 30, by Paul Berger) and in the New York Times (Dec. 1, by Winnie Hu).

Most eye-catching of the proposals was that NYC Transit should end its long-standing practice of running subway trains all night long; few urban rapid transit systems in the world follow this practice, which makes system maintenance much more difficult.  NYC Transit has in recent years been practicing a selective closure of lines overnight, called "Fastrack;" the RPA proposes a regular overnight shutdown systemwide, beginning late Sunday nights and continuing through Thursday morning; Thursday, Friday, and Saturday overnight service would apparently not be affected, under the proposal. But Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Joseph J. Lhota quickly called the overnight shutdown idea "inappropriate" and "a bit draconian." Follow-up news stories found many riders who found overnight subways indispensable to their life and cited a city plagued with insomnia.

The RPA's plans have been published infrequently, sometimes decades apart, but have been influential in the actual evolution of the area's transportation network.  An early proposal, for example, recommended moving the then-unbuilt George Washington Bridge from 57 Street to 178 Street, which became the actual location. Reports also credited the RPA with the recent completion of the Second Avenue Subway fragment now in service on Manhattan's Upper East Side, although the plans for that line date back to the 1930s or so.

The Wall Street Journal article says there are dozens of proposals in the RPA's report, and listed a few. One recommendation is an overhaul of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to improve its governance and operations. The report also calls for "transforming" New York's Penn Station into a through-running facility, with trains continuing deep into neighboring states -- New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut, presumably -- instead of "forcing passengers to transfer."  And in a sure-to-be-controversial idea, at least among transit bureaucrats, the report recommends the combination of NJ Transit, Long Island Rail Road, and Metro-North Railroad into a single "trans-regional express network," which the RPA dubbed "T-REX," apparently creating a new, instant dinosaur of an operation. The Times article said the RPA wants to create a new "subway reconstruction and public benefit corporation," and that it should have a dedicated source of funding.  That, at least, MTA Chairman Lhota found he could endorse. For bus commuters, the RPA endorsed a proposal to build a second midtown terminal for buses, at the Javits Convention Center.

In the RPA's detailed proposal, not generally covered in the media, there are many possible additions to the area's transit network.  These include ideas for new commuter rail services via former commuter lines to Paterson and West Nyack, NY; extension of the Newark Light Rail line to Paterson; and even connection of NJT in Hoboken to the Long Island Rail Road in Brooklyn via new tunnels crossing through Manhattan. In south Jersey, the RPA envisions commuter rail through Freehold to Lakewood.  Entirely new light rail lines might be built from Staten Island through Brooklyn and Queens to the Bronx, and on Long Island light rail might replace LIRR lines and create a through service from Valley Stream through Hempstead, Garden City, and Mineola to Oyster Bay.

As for the subways, in addition to the overnight closures, the report says the system should be "modernized within 15 years" and build eight new lines to serve underserved areas including the southeast Bronx, Manhattan's Lower East Side, and central and northeast Queens. The overnight closures, which would continue even after major repairs are complete, could be replaced by bus services.  The report noted that London and Paris systems, similar in age and capacity, shut down for several hours each night; the overnight shutdown of commuter services in Japan spawned the development of "capsule hotels," tiny spaces in which commuters who missed the last train could avoid an unaffordable taxi ride home. The Journal reported that late-night riders were not impressed by the idea of a shutdown, quoting one rider: "A bus is not a great option."  Specific ideas for improving the subway experience were detailed in the Times article, including larger entrances, enlarged mezzanine levels at stations, improved light and ventilation, better access for disability-challenged users, and removal of clutter from station platforms -- including newsstands.