The need to link development to transit investment


SHop’s Domino development will add a lot of subway riders to an area ill-equipped to absorb them.

It’s hard to believe less than a year remains in the reign of King Bloomberg. The Mayor since shortly after 9/11, Bloomberg has left a stamp, for better or worse, on the city, and the greatest impact of that stamp appears to be development related. From Atlantic Yards to Hudson Yards, from Long Island City to Williamsburg, developers have benefitted tremendously from Bloomberg’s three-term tenure. Unfortunately, transit hasn’t enjoyed the same boost.

It hasn’t always been from lack of trying. Bloomberg led an effort to implement a congestion pricing plan that would have generated hundreds of millions of dollars for the MTA’s capital plan that had the support of both City Council and the majority of New Yorkers. It died at the hands of Sheldon Silver in the back rooms of Albany, and Bloomberg hasn’t prioritized MTA-based transit since then.

Still, development has continued apace, and two of the last projects pushed by Bloomberg may yet have transit implications. The first concerns the Midtown East/Grand Central area, and it’s one I’ve already examined in depth. In a nutshell, by upzoning Midtown East, Bloomberg could strain transit offerings well beyond the point of acceptability in the area. The MTA has discussed the need for wider platforms and more entrances and has threatened temporarily closing station entrance points if crowding grows too extreme.

Some of the figures put forth by the Bloomberg Administration are coming into view though, and the money could alleviate the problem. According to The Post, district-improvement bonuses of $250 per square foot would go, by and large, to the MTA, and the agency could see as much as $750 million over the next 20 years. Now, $37.5 million per year isn’t all that much when you realize that the MTA spends $5 billion a year on capital construction projects, but that money can help with the Midtown congestion problem. We should know before Bloomberg leaves office if the rezoning goes through.

But what of another area that has benefited from pro-development and natural gentrification forces? In Williamsburg — an area with few options for transit expansion — Two Trees and SHoP unveiled their plans for the Domino Sugar factory area. It’s an ambitious plan for the Williamsburg waterfront. Nestled between the Williamsburg Bridge to the south and Grand St. to the north, it would bring office space and over 2000 apartment units to the area by 2013.

I like the look and feel of the SHoP plans, and I like the green space and park lands the developers will preserve. I’m concerned though about transit. The plans include a ferry stop, and the East River Ferries have been surprisingly popular. But most people will turn to the subways. The plans are weighted a bit toward the south — which should push subway riders to the J/M/Z stop at Marcy Ave., but those who live and work near Grand St. will be closer to the L at Bedford. The L at Bedford is one stop that can’t really absorb too many more straphangers.

Now, it’s tough to ask more of developers in New York. If we expect them to pay for transit infrastructure — which we should — can we ask them to also pay for affordable housing, community spaces and parkland? How do we begin to prioritize such demands? Yet, we can’t just ignore the need for adequate transit spaces. Adding hundreds of thousands of new square footage to Williamsburg will put more pressure on some of the city’s most taxed transit facilities, and someone has to pay for the upgrades. The folks who stand to benefit the most from developer should help foot that bill as well.

37 Responses to “The need to link development to transit investment”

  1. Bolwerk says:

    There are plenty of options to improve transit in Williamsburg. Williamsburg is about as good as Red Hook for a vintage streetcar service. Full LRT would be even better.

    Quick and dirty SelectBus service over the bridge and to LIC would be something.

  2. SEAN says:

    Now, it’s tough to ask more of developers in New York. If we expect them to pay for transit infrastructure — which we should — can we ask them to also pay for affordable housing, community spaces and parkland?

    Of course NYC can & should. Infact Portland OR has rules in place for just such development proposals. If you are building residential units, there’s a stipulation refered to as “The Metropolitan Housing Rule.” The requirement centers around one of two options… 1. afordable units are placed in the building being constructed or 2. afordable units maybe constructed in a seperate structure, but MUST be built in the same neighborhood as the first building. Also unlike most cities & counties, metro Portland DOESN’T allow for developers to buy there way out of this requirement & it hasn’t stopped the rapid pace of construction as there’s no sales tax to bond against.

    • AG says:

      there are similar affordable housing provisions in quite a few cities… including right here in NYC… but that has nothing to do with transit… which is what the author was referring to.

  3. David Brown says:

    I actually do not think things are that bleak when it comes to transportation in Williamsburg. They already brought back the B-39, which takes people over the Bridge into Manhattan, and there is a decent chance they will be adding a ‘G” connection at either Lorimer or Hewes St (Although I think the East side entrance should be reopened if they add the “G” connection there). It will be interesting to see what happens with the “G” and what changes they make with it. If the “G” changes are done right, it will go a long way towards improving things for Williamsburg, because a connection to the “J” and lesser extent “M” offers a much faster commute into Lower Manhattan.

    • A few points: By and large, it’ll be OK for riders coming from Domino to Lower Manhattan because they can use the J or Z at Marcy. Midtown-bound riders could use the M also if they’re on the southern end of the complex. Otherwise, the G is pointless here. The nearest G stop is a longer walk than both the L at Bedford and the BMT at Marcy. This development will further overtax the L. There’s no real way around it.

      • mdh says:

        Ben makes all the right points. Short of building an entirely new subway line (as suggested by “Someone”), the existing JM and L Train stations close to the Domino site will be overwhelmed with the influx of new passengers commuting to Manhattan. CBTC on the L Train will help but it won’t be enough.

        This location screams out as an ideal candidate for 1) an East River Ferry stop; 2) expanded bus service with additional buses along the Q59 route and additional stops for the B39; and 3) an extension of the planned Nostrand Avenue-Rogers Avenue Select Bus Service to the Domino site.

  4. Jason says:

    Maybe its time aspects of the 2nd system should be looked at. Bedford is packed and the M train will quickly be strained to absorb all these newbs trying to get to Midtown. Specifically, how costly would it be to connect the stub tracks at 2nd ave to a new station terminal in Williamsburg (perhaps the S4th st station shell?). Leave stub track provisions for future expansion as well.

    • Someone says:

      There’s six tracks in that station shell in W’msburg. Relax.

      • Jason says:

        Excellent observation Capt. Obvious 🙂 Its not like 2 couldn’t be used to connect LES to Williamsburg.

        • Someone says:

          Haha. 😀 Oh, you’re not kidding.

          Its not like 2 couldn’t be used to connect LES to Williamsburg.

          Then use 4. 2 from SAS and 2 from 6th Ave. At the end of Phase 3, the T train can exclusively serve Williamsburg.

    • Someone says:

      If and when this is built, the MTA should implement BRT and/or extend G trains to 600 feet long, since people won’t be able to make the 1/2 mile walk to Marcy Avenue in inclement weather.

      Or better, find a way to get more Q59 service in the area.

  5. John-2 says:

    If this is built, it’s a lock that some of those buying high-priced condos virtually under the Williamsburg Bridge will soon be complaining to The New York Times and elsewhere that it’s too long a walk in bad weather to the Marcy Avenue station, because those buying the properties didn’t figure out that the J/M/Z trains are on the Williamsburg Bridge, and there is no way to put a stop on the line close to the East River.

    Which also means those at the northern end of the development are going to flood Bedford Avenue on the L. Those nine-car Eastern Division trains are going to look more and more necessary the more and more the river turns from commercial/industrial to residential development.

  6. Someone says:

    (Sorry, I meant to put this here)

    If and when this is built, the MTA should implement BRT and/or extend G trains to 600 feet long, since people won’t be able to make the 1/2 mile walk to Marcy Avenue in inclement weather.

    Or better, find a way to get more Q59 service in the area.

    Or get LRT in the area.

    • Extending the G to 600 feet doesn’t really have anything to do with this project. It’s a longer walk to the G than it is to either Bedford or Marcy. So I guess for those heading between Domino and LIC or Downtown Brooklyn, the G makes sense, but not otherwise.

      • John-2 says:

        Expanded overnight and weekend M service to Manhattan would be more beneficial to new residents along the river than adding railcars onto the G, since the G pulls away from the East River between Newtown Creek and Broadway, since south of Williamsburgh the G was routed to take passengers away from the BMT’s Myrtle Avenue el (now if they had simply routed the G down Bedford Avenue towards downtown Brooklyn, adding cars onto the line would help the shoreline situation).

        Nine-car L trains would also help, but that would require new cars fitted with the Siemens CTBC system (i.e., you can’t just grab some of the incoming R-179s and slap them on the Canarsie Line). The new Williamsburgh residents will still yelp about having not enough L trains and having to schelp all the way past Bridge Plaza to get to the J/M/Z trains, but short-term, that’s all the MTA can do without a major infrastructure upgrade.

        • Someone says:

          You can’t just grab some of the incoming R-179s and slap them on the Canarsie Line

          Why not? The R179s can be transferred from the J/Z to the L. After all, they do already have interchangeable rolling stock.

        • al says:

          If the R179 linkbar and comm/electrical connections are compatible with R143, then it can be done. You need a B car. The consist would be ACBDA-ABBA
          A car – cab car R143
          B car – R143 no cab
          C car – Tachometer CBTC R143 car, no cab.
          D car – R179 B car, no cab.

      • g says:

        Increased G service would siphon some of the ever increasing stain off the L which will rise again with Domino going up. The G is just sitting there waiting to relieve some of the passenger load from the eastern side of Williamsburg. Reopen the closed stairwells at Metropolitan, pump up the schedule during rush with longer trains, and add couple shuttle trains for rush that turn back to Court Square on the center track at Bedford-Norstrand. Midtown bound riders will just trade a transfer at Union Square for a transfer at Court Square.

  7. Michael says:

    Maybe it’s time to start a BRT from Williamsburg to midtown through the midtown tunnel. This was suggested once by Cap’n Transit in 2008, and it’s so obvious. We need to focus on getting as many people off the L as possible and a well designed, 20 minute one-seat ride on a bus to Midtown might be preferable to say, taking the L to the 4,5,6. BRT could easily flow from Queens, down McGuinness BLVD and then turn off, either towards the water front or inland.

  8. TP says:

    The MTA should just extend the B39 to loop around at the Domino site if people want a one-seat ride to the LES. The B39 currently just shuttles people across the bridge from one JMZ stop to the next. Pretty redundant. This would give the bus some use for the non-disabled/elderly.

    Otherwise the Q59 already goes from a block from the site to the Marcy stop. Of course it’d make more sense to put this kind of density at the corner of Marcy and Broadway instead of the waterfront, but there are a hundred reasons why that won’t happen anytime soon.

    • Someone says:

      The B39 currently just shuttles people across the bridge from one JMZ stop to the next. Pretty redundant. This would give the bus some use for the non-disabled/elderly.

      What’s ironic is that the B39 bus already is doing that, “shuttling” riders from Essex St to Marcy Avenue, the latter of which is ADA accessible and the former of which is not. That’s the B39’s sole purpose.

  9. A Charlie Rose show/episode, replete with experts on Grand Central Terminal (and including former Metro-North President Peter Stangl), suggested that parks also have evolved during the Bloomberg years. So while development certainly has been a factor, yea verily a big factor, stamping it with an automatic No. 1 ranking doesn’t “appear” quite right — even allowing that this is, after all, a transit blog.

  10. capt subway says:

    With all the talk about transit I think we’re all missing one very important point – a point that no one has raised anywhere in all the articles on this project that I’ve seen thus far. This is in a Zone “A” flood area – expect flooding from any category hurricane or tropical storm. What’s going to be done to harden this site?

    • g says:

      Two Trees understands that. They’ve already said this will be accounted for when designing the buildings including but not limited to having all the electrical and mechanicals at higher levels.

    • AG says:

      developers know that if they don’t build up to standard…. there development will flop.

  11. capt subway says:

    As to transit options: the J, M, Z are not presently running at capacity, nor are the tracks at full capacity. In the peak periods, between the J. M, Z there are slightly less than 20 trains per hour scheduled over the WB Br., roughly a 5 min h’dway on the combined J/Z for 12 TPH and an 8 min h’dway on the M for 7.5 TPH. There is room for more trains, if not on the M, since that has to mesh with the F, the E and the R, a scheduling nightmare with little wiggle room, but certainly on the J/Z with some trains continuing on to Bklyn through Montague St, where there is spare capacity.

  12. Spendmore Wastemore says:


    I see a lot of mention of trains per hour as the limit factor. Is the space between trains governed by time or distance? Is there really a hard limit of 20 TPH, or is it a limit of 2, 1, 3/4 or whatever miles distance between trains?

    I should think that 1/2 mile is enough distance for the current slow moving trains, and one mile would be more than enough for a train moving at 60mph, a speed not attainable with the governed/de-powered cars now operating.

    1/2 mile and 30 mph is a one minute headway, or 60 TPH. Perfect consistency is not going to happen, but even a 50% degradation is 30 trains/hour. If that isn’t enough … knock down some buildings move people somewhere else! There’s a limit to how many bodies can be crammed into a constrained space without making misery for all but the wealthy.

    • capt subway says:

      Signal design plus manual train operation plus the various & sundry rules & regulations governing train operations limits the track capacity on most tracks in the NY subway system to 30 trains per hour maximum. Even prior to 1970, when the “key-by” rule (the ability to pass a red automatic signal at very slow speed) was amended due to a number of rear-enders, the best they could get was around 33-34 TPH.

    • Someone says:

      TPH is the measure of trains per hour on a stretch of track. Theoretically, if Tracks A and B both have wayside signals, then Track A has two services that run 15 TPH, and if track B has three services that each run 10 TPH, they’ll have the same TPH measure. If Track B then gets another service with 10 TPH, and a CBTC system to go with it, then Track B might be able to run 40 TPH. It’s not a flat limit factor, but rather, the amount of trains passing through a certain segment of track in an hour, including stopped trains at stations. The distance really doesn’t matter in that context, but it’s optimal to keep trains at least 1200 ft (1/4 mile) apart.

  13. Frank B says:

    Let’s be realistic here; Google Maps Shows Marcy Avenue Station (BMT Jamaica) to be a 15 minute walk from 316 Kent Avenue (The site of the Domino Sugar Factory itself, as well as the rough center-point of the development.)

    Google Maps also shows the walk to the Bedford Avenue Station (BMT Canarsie) from the same location to be a 16 minute walk; an extra minute that’s largely insignificant here.

    Does anyone here know what a 16 minute walk is? Sure, it’s a warm summer night if you’re not carrying anything or if you’re walking with a pal to speed up the time, it’s not a huge deal. And it sure beats a neighborhood where walking to a train is damned near impossible, like Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, or Mill Basin, Brooklyn, or Travis, Staten Island.

    However, that doesn’t mean that its at all enjoyable, or practical, to do this each and everyday. Since the dawn of the century, and going into today the New York City Subway is meant to provide service to anyone living within a half-mile of the stop; a 10 minute walk based on average human speeds. But look, there’s going to be the Richity Rich living at this development; they’re going to have serious money, and they’re going to have kids; they’re not going to bother with a 15 minute walk to the subway.

    I’d imagine, like they do at that ridiculous yuppie Brooklyn Bridge Park Development, they’ll have some kind of shuttle service to either BMT line running at very poor frequencies; a two seat ride that I’d never bother with again in my life. (Try getting to the IRT from Bayside and you’ll see what I mean.)

    They’ll likely take the East River Ferry to get into the city; between the Long Island City development, Domino Sugar and Brooklyn Bridge Park, soon the ferry will be running at headways that are close to the subway; hell, maybe eventually it’ll become self-sustaining and the city can completely eliminate the subsidies.

    In a perfect world with unlimited funds and exponential resources, I’d say damn Robert Moses and his asphalt! Dig up that blacktop to find that precious cobblestone and our precious, eviscerated, streetcar tracks; and finally, open up the Essex Street Trolley terminal back for use for our citizens.

    Sigh; that’ll never happen, but a man can dream…

  14. petey says:

    the buildings in that image are simply appalling.

  15. Matthias says:

    Hear, hear.

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