There ain’t no NIMBY like an Upper East Side NIMBY, and an Upper East Side NIMBY don’t stop.
Let’s take a trip to 68th St. on the 6 train. There, we will find one very crowded subway station and one very loud and particularly arrogant group of NIMBYs ready to face down the MTA. It’s not a very pleasant stop during most of the hours of the day. Last year. It was the 30th busiest station last year as over 10 million people entered the station, and with hospitals, Hunter College, Central Park and a densely populated residential neighborhood surrounding the station, it is a very popular destination for exits too (although those numbers are not available). For years, people who use that station have cried out for better exits and a handicapped-accessible station, and the MTA is ready to oblige.
Last week, at a Community Board 8 meeting, the MTA along with a joint venture between Urbahn and Dewberry presented plans to make the 68th St. station ADA-accessible. These plans include, of course, the installation of elevators at 68th St. and a slew of other changes that will make the station a more pleasant one to enter and exit. The authority plans to widen the staircases leading up to the street at 68th St. and will add entrances to the back of the platform at 69th St. as well. At a station famous for its exit time — some riders say it can take around five minutes during peak hours to leave — these changes would make it better for everyone.
But wait! As this is the Upper East Side, home of the people who want better subway access as long as it’s not going to disrupt their precious isolated existence, a group of folks on 69th St. say a subway station entrance will ruin their block. They don’t, as some residents at the meeting said, want increased foot traffic on a street on the Upper East Side in the middle of Manhattan. “It would ruin the fabric of the neighborhood,” Nancy Friedman, who lives on East 69th St. (with a roaring fireplace), told a reporter after the meeting. “It’s the most beautiful block in the city.”
DNA Info’s Amy Zimmer had a bit more from the meeting:
Particularly on the west side of the street, the entrance wasn’t needed, [Friedman] said, because “people to the west don’t take the subway. Not to be elitist, but they don’t.”
The MTA’s plans spurred one man from the ritzy block to accuse the transit agency of using the ADA requirements as a “charade.” Board members bristled at the accusation, with the committee’s co-chair calling the comment “offensive to disabled people.”
In support of the MTA’s plans, CB 8 member A. Scott Falk…told the residents at the meeting, “New York City is not a gated community. The whole idea of putting an entrance on 69th Street is going to open you up to marauding down the street seems a bit reactionary.”
But CB 8 member Teri Slater took umbrage at those remarks. “This is not an elitist argument,” said Slater, who believes that there is simply more crime concentrated around subway entrances. She didn’t think there was a “mandate” for the new entrances on East 69th Street and thought the MTA should redesign the plaza on East 68th Street in front of Hunter College to increase the size of the entrance instead. “There’s a fundamental disconnect between the MTA and the neighborhoods of the Upper East Side,” she said.
So here we have Upper East Side residents from East 69th Street between Lexington Ave. and Park Ave. bemoaning one subway entrance at the rear of the train because “people to the west don’t take the subway.” They think ADA accessibility is a “charade” and insist that “this is not an elitist argument.” And these people apparently
Now Teri Slater, for one, isn’t new to this fight. She’s been in the news for decades fighting ostensibly for Upper East Side preservation. Elizabeth Ashby, a preservationist who founded the group with Teri Slater, gave the first toast. “We’re here to protect the Upper East Side from bad ideas,” she said to The Times in 2004. “We want you to be part of our army.” Bad ideas, apparently, include anything which may draw attention to her block whether it be good or bad.
Now, the Upper East Siders claim that because their buildings are landmarked, so too must their street corner. It’s hard for me to find any compelling grounds though for giving heed to their argument (which one observer termed 28 Days Later rage rather than good old NIMBYism). They don’t want a subway entrance on their corner because they think only criminals are subway riders, and they don’t want to introduce unsavory elements to the Upper East Side. That is an insult to everyone else. It’s a slap in the face to subway riders and the handicapped. It is, truth be told, an elitist argument, and it’s why urban planning policy is stuck in a rut in New York City.