On the allure of Manhattan-centric transit growthBy
Historically, the New York City Subway system has always focused on delivering people into the heart of Manhattan. It grew out of the need to bring people from the north, south and east to Wall St. and spread it tentacles through midtown, upper Manhattan and the Outer Boroughs always shuttling people to what we now know as the Manhattan Central Business District. The alluring draw of Manhattan still dictates the city’s expansionist transit policies, but should it?
The MTA likes to tout its megaprojects, and since the start of the century, they have embarked on a rather ambitious expansion plan to grow the transit network. The Second Ave. Subway will alleviate congestion on the Lexington Ave. IRT while better providing transit access from the Upper East Side to Midtown and Lower Manhattan. The 7 line extension will open up a new frontier of development along Manhattan’s Far West Side while East Side Access will bring LIRR to Manhattan’s East Side. The Fulton St. Transit Center and the new South Ferry station are all a part of the comprehensive effort to develop Lower Manhattan.
Take a deep breath because that’s a lot of Manhattan. At a time when areas in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens are undergoing rapid transformation as residential neighborhoods, job centers and desirable places for growth, the New York City subway system remains singularly focused on bringing people into Manhattan, its own job since the early 1900s. On the one hand, it should be concerned with Manhattan because most commuters want to get to and from Manhattan every day, and since Manhattan is an island, it has only so many entry points.
On the other, the Manhattan-centric nature of the subway system makes interborough and some intra-borough travel quite complicated or convoluted. It’s nigh impossible to travel from Bay Ridge to JFK Airport on the subway without a considerable investment in time, and many of the job centers focused around health care remain frustratingly out of the way for straphangers. Yet, the only non-Manhattan projects involve some Select Bus Service corridors that take forever to go from planning to reality.
Meanwhile, city officials starting at the top are making noises about another Manhattan-centric subway project. Mayor Bloomberg, as we know, wants to build an extension of the 7 train to Secaucus. Doing so would funnel more workers from Hudson County, New Jersey, into Midtown via the Hudson Yards development. It’s a developer’s dream and one that would improve both mobility and desirability west of the Hudson.
That said, I don’t blame Staten Island politicians who feel slighted over the rumored plans. The city would rather build the subway to New Jersey than ponder Outer Borough expansion plans. After all, those expansion plans wouldn’t have the same impact as a subway that funnels commuters straight into midtown would. Still, as Bloomberg draws responses to his proposal for a new high tech campus somewhere in the city, the push to add jobs outside of Manhattan will inevitably lead to demand for better transit options.
The short wishlist of Outer Borough transit projects is centered around the Triboro RX line. Last mentioned by the MTA in 2008 as part of Lee Sander’s 40-year plan, the Triboro RX line would use preexising rights-of-way and tracks to connect Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx while staying clear of Manhattan. It would pass through job hubs and offer connections to at least 17 other subway lines. It could be amended to cross the Narrows to Staten Island and would extend somewhere into the Bronx.
Beyond that, the city could use better transit access to LaGuardia, a Nostrand and/or Utica Ave. subway extension and service past Flushing/Main St. on the 7 line. None of these projects offer the sexy political allure of Manhattan, but they would do wonders for mobility in and around the region. The dollars and the will though just aren’t there, and we’ll watch as Manhattan remains, for better or worse, the center of attention.
Addendum: As the good Cap’n just reminded me, he offered up his take on Manhattan recently. Check out this piece for a different view on why Manhattan has all the fun.