Home 7 Line Extension The Lincoln Tunnel, 7 line and NIMBYism

The Lincoln Tunnel, 7 line and NIMBYism

by Benjamin Kabak

For New Yorkers attached to their subway system, the area of midtown west of 8th Ave. often feels like undiscovered territories. Parts of 10th and 11th Ave. in the West 30s or 40s are a good 15-minute walk from the subway, and as the rest of Manhattan has seen a spike in real estate value over the last 15-20 years, the area around the Lincoln Tunnel and in Hells Kitchen has been slower to grow. There are still, the romantics say, some true neighborhoods left on this island after all.

When the city and MTA announced plans to extend the 7 line west of Times Square to 11th Ave. and 34th St. with a station at 10th Ave. and 41st St., residents of the area reacted with something in between indifference and hatred. Despite living in a neighborhood that can feel marginalized and off the grid, these people weren’t holding their collective breath waiting for the train.

In fact, when the city discarded its plans for the station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. due to cost overruns, the neighborhood issued nary a peep. Not until recently did the Real Estate Board of New York, a powerful professional association, throw its voice behind a call to include this station in the 7 extension plans, and even then, those who live on the Far West Side stayed out of the debate. The silence was deafening.

At first, I didn’t understand why no one from Hells Kitchen seemed too concerned about the MTA’s plans. Those looking at the city on a macro level understood that New York was about to lose its best chance to bring subway service to an area woefully underserved by existing mass transit option. Any future investment would cost not the hundreds of millions the city claims a station at 10th Ave. would run them but in the billions. Provisioning for a station as the line is built would be far more economical than building one from scratch in the future.

Recently, though, after a few conversations with residents and a piece this weekend in the Daily News, I’ve come to understand why few in the area are actively calling for the city to build a subway stop there. It is, pure and simply, NIMBYism at its finest. The article in question is a neighborhood profile of the area around the Lincoln Tunnel. According to the News’ Jason Sheftell, this area has seen an explosion in the number of luxury buildings going up, and correspondingly, rents in the area are on the rise. Young people are moving in, and the old guard long used to being left alone in a relatively seedy area is getting squeezed out. Bringing the subway west will only exacerbate this gentrification.

One anonymous commenter on a post I wrote two weeks ago laid bare these concerns. While taking umbrage with my charge of NIMBYism, he said, “Families have lived in this area for generations and stayed here despite the rough times. Should they be forced out just to accommodate college kids who will move out anyway in less than five years?”

This argument against a subway station in a neighborhood in need of transit is the very definition of NIMBYism. Residents view a subway as desirable, but adding something desirable to the neighborhood makes the area more expensive. Rents go up; property values go up; property taxes go up; and some people are priced out of the area all because a subway stop grows. The same thing, by the way, is bound to happen along the Upper East Side in a few years.

But NIMBYism should not be an excuse for poor urban planning. On the grand scheme of the future of the city, the Far West Side will undergo a change no matter what. Whether we support Mayor Bloomberg’s blatant planning for the benefit of his friends in real estate, Related is going to build a transit-accessible mixed-use complex of residences and office space. The subway will run to 34th St. and 11th Ave., and the area will change. A lukewarm response from Hells Kitchen shouldn’t be read to mean that residents don’t want and the city shouldn’t build a subway there. The 7 should stop at 10th Ave. no matter what.

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20 comments

Jonathan June 22, 2010 - 12:34 pm

My new favorite quote, “The transportation infrastructure serves (not always perfectly) the people who commute now. New infrastructure is not really for them. It’s for the new people,” is perfectly apt in this situation.

The question you should ask your commenter, Ben, is this: would you prefer that the new luxury-tower neighbors get around with automobiles or on the subway and bus?

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Woody June 22, 2010 - 1:50 pm

Excuse me for always seeing issues of class and color in NIMBYism. But here, the old-time Italian and Irish survivors (from the era when this was the setting for West Side Story) went through decades when the Times Square subway station and its immediate surroundings were notorious. A lot of that stuff — drug dealing, street prostitution, public sex, drunkenness, public urination, street crime and violence, porno stores, etc. — spilled over to the west. So I understand why a lot of these folks think that keeping the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and the likes of them, a good 15 minutes walk away is just barely far enough.

The newcomers have a completely different situation. They are in high-rise buildings with doormen and security, and plenty of indoor parking as required by NYC zoning. In vertical gated communities, they may be little phased by any remnant lowlifes. If they do need transit, the Crosstown bus is slow, but connects with every bus and subway line in Midtown. Otherwise, they drive out of the secure parking garage, head two blocks west and get on West Street, a.k.a Henry Hudson Parkway/Hwy 9-A, and they’re on their way.

We should build the new station in any case, for posterity. But don’t expect support from the neighborhood(s).

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Alon Levy June 23, 2010 - 6:09 am

Yours is one way to view the class issue in the NIMBYism. But there’s another: the local middle class wants to keep the lower class away. The last thing the fourth-generation Irish- and Italian-Americans in the area want is to have transgendered homeless people and prostitutes on their streets. They know that theirs is the natural place for them to go after the city destroys gentrifies cleans up Eighth Avenue, and they’d rather let another neighborhood deal with them.

However, it’s politically incorrect for the NIMBYs to say what they think. In order to avoid coming off as the assholes that they are, they complain about yuppies and college kids instead. Yuppies are a more nebulous enemy, which also takes care of the empathy issue: anyone who suggests to the community that it has a responsibility to people who society has cast away can automatically be attacked as either a lowlife and a radical (if poor) or a gentrifier (if rich).

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AlexB June 22, 2010 - 2:04 pm

The best way to get the rents in the area to go down would be to somehow trick the developers into overbuilding to create a glut in the market. The increase in rents preceded the development, otherwise there would be no development. That’s how it works. Developers can’t affect your rent, unless their work involves a significant upgrade or downgrade.

If the subway stop is ever finished, it will be long after all the existing buildings have been replaced, and will mainly serve to relieve overcrowding on the Times Square station.

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ferryboi June 22, 2010 - 5:17 pm

I often wonder if areas “underserved” by mass transit (the far West Side, eastern Queens, most of Staten Island) should count their blessings. I live in a nice, quiet, inexpensive neighborhood in Staten Island and pay about one-half the rent on my studio apt (with harbor views) as I would in Manhattan. If they ever get around to building a subway to SI (not holding my breath btw), the resulting building boom and rent increases would chase out many residents and totally change the character of the n’hood. I’ll stick to the slow-moving ferry and transfer to the subway when I reach Manhattan.

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ferryboi June 22, 2010 - 5:22 pm

Actually, if the Daily News article is correct, I’m paying one-third the rent of an average studio in “The Linc” (man, don’t they give neighborhoods real names any more?!). Liking St. George more and more every day.

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John June 22, 2010 - 5:20 pm

As far as the West Side is concerned, I think the commute from there is pretty long for such a short distance in Manhattan. By public transportation, it is a 15-20 minute trip to Times Sqaure, a little over a mile away. That distance is only a 20-25 minute walk. Under the current circumstances, transit saves only 5 minutes.
The residents would have improved access to the rest of the transit system. That 15-20 minute trip could easily be cut down to 5 minutes. Even in those “gated towers”, I’m sure there are still a lot of people that would benefit from the 7 extension. Plus, the more affluent people would value their time more, and find it worth the extra rent if they could cut down their travel time by 10-15 minutes.
Also, the new 7 extension would bring in, not just residential development, but job development. Again, the more affluent people would be willing to see a rent increase if they are a 5 minute walk from their job.

By the way, AlexB, are you referring to the 10th Avenue station or the 34th Street/11th Avenue station?
As far as your comment goes, the developers wouldn’t affect the rent, but the subway would. The people in the older buildings would still see some sort of rent increase after the subway stop is built.

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AlexB June 22, 2010 - 6:09 pm

Yes, the subway would affect rents in that area. However, even if REBNY gets its way, they would only move utilities and maybe build a shell for a future station to be completed after the rest of the 7 is finished in 2013. If that station gets built right away, we are maybe getting a station there in 2015. There is not much “old” residential in the area west of 10th Ave or between the Port Authority and Penn Station that would house the sorts of people who were around when the area was total crap. The point I’m trying to get at is that this station is tangential to the existing neighborhood and the developers are not responsible for driving up rents either. The neighborhood’s rents are going up because it’s now safe and located between Midtown and the Hudson. If there is NIMBYism, it can’t be directed at anything anyone can control. Geography is the culprit here.

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Justin June 22, 2010 - 7:37 pm

I live on 34th street between 9th and 10th and I am thinking about moving to the new buildings on 37th and 10th. I think the reason no one is excited about the 7 line extension is that 1. it is still a ways away 2. they have a subway line on 8th avenue. Tell me this, would you rather live on the upper east side on York, 1st or 2nd, or live on the far west side when you have the A,C,E on 8th ave.

My girlfriend lives in the upper east side 80s on York, and it takes forever just to walk to Lexington. At least living on the far west you walk two avenues and you end up at the subway and Penn Station.

So when the 7 line comes it will be great, but until then it really isnt that bad.

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John June 22, 2010 - 7:55 pm

But from the West Side Highway to 8th Avenue is 4 blocks, compared to 4 blocks from York Avenue to Lexington Avenue. Sure, not as many people live on the far West side, but it is still the same ditance.

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John June 22, 2010 - 8:00 pm

The thing about the 7 line is that it should really extend further down in order to be useful. Ideally it would go down to the World Financail Center at West/Vesey Streets. However, since the tracks extend to 26th Street, it should really go down to Chelsea Piers at 23rd Street (it would have to be extended a few blocks) or to 14th Street.
That would allow it to have potential as another north-south trunk line. I’m sure just as many residents of the far West Side work in Lower Manhattan that work in Midtown.

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Alon Levy June 23, 2010 - 5:19 am

Manhattan doesn’t need more north-south trunk lines than the existing ones plus SAS. It needs east-west lines.

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Jerrold June 22, 2010 - 8:21 pm

How many rich people take the subway anyway?
It seems ridiculous to me to say that a station at 10 Ave. and 41 St. would mostly benefit the rich.
If a landlord is looking to rent to rich people, it would be useless for him to advertise the building as being close to the subway.

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John June 22, 2010 - 9:13 pm

Mayor Bloomberg. But he only takes it pretend that he can connect to the average New Yorker. But still, the Upper East Side is a very crowded portion of the Lexington Avenue Line, and it is the richest neighborhood in the city. All those people take the subway.
Like I said, there are upper middle class/upper class people that value their time and are willing to spend extra money on rent just to be near their job, or near a subway station.

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Marcus June 23, 2010 - 10:50 am

Nothing moves faster in New York than an express train. Rich and poor alike appreciate this.

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Al D June 22, 2010 - 9:50 pm

Can’t stop progress. The neighborhood is already changing and without the subway stop. You’ll just have a changed neighborhood with inconvenient subway access. Therefore the station should be built.

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A. Scott Falk June 22, 2010 - 10:07 pm

I can’t stop imagining how great it would be for Off-Broadway theaters in the area of 42nd and 10th to have this new stop. There are a lot of venues over there that would be able to benefit from easier access for their audiences.

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JP June 23, 2010 - 7:29 pm

So the issue is there aren’t enough places for young, rich people to live? Somehow I don’t think that’s true.

Say what you will about neighborhoods fighting back, and look no further than eminent domain for your usual resolution. The Robert Moses superprojects of the 20th century displaced tens of thousands of people at a time in New York City. The UESers milking a mint off the MTA don’t know how good they’ve got it. The Clinton/Kitcheners should be so lucky.

“But NIMBYism should not be an excuse for poor urban planning.”

But it is a powerful emotional basis for argument. If it were me and mine, it would go something like this: From my cold, dead hands.

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Alon Levy June 24, 2010 - 1:50 am

Be careful there. Being too intransigent creates a strong emotional argument on the other side: “eminent domain is what those assholes deserve.”

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To save a 7 station, a obvious redesign at 41st and 10th :: Second Ave. Sagas June 30, 2010 - 4:15 pm

[…] in this process, REBNY President Steve Spinola gave a nod toward the residents, many of whom do not actually want this station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. anyway. “This funding is an important first step in fulfilling the […]

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