The need to link development to transit investmentBy
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.