When I think about the benefits of the Second Ave. Subway, my thoughts turn to property value. Already upzoned in anticipation of the subway decades ago, the Upper East Side will see real estate prices spike when the subway debuts. It will provide significantly faster and more comfortable rides for 200,000 subway riders per day and will open up a large portion of the neighborhood closest to the East River to transit access. I’d think, then, that real estate developers would love the idea of a subway line.
I would of course be somewhat wrong. Amongst some circles of developers, the Second Ave. Subway is a useless vanity project while the real value lies in sending the subway to unchartered territories. The 7 line extension is instead the worthwhile project. Of course, it helps if this world view comes from the man once in charge of ensuring that the 7 line extension went forward, but the thinking underscores why developers do not often rush to embrace funding mechanisms for new subway lines in the city.
While speaking at the Forum for Urban Design’s Next New York dinner last night, both John Zuccotti and Dan Doctoroff issued statements arguing against the Second Ave. Subway as a worthwhile project. Stephen Smith was on hand to report, and he filed a story for The Observer. As Smith noted, Doctoroff had some choice words for this site’s namesake. “A silly little spur that doesn’t generate anything other than some convenience for people who are perfectly happy to live where they lived before,” Doctoroff said. He referred to it “a subway that doesn’t have any value added” and a “pet project” of the MTA and Sheldon Silver.
Smith’s reaction tracks mine:
Are we talking about the same subway…? The one that will serve one of the densest neighborhoods in the city? The one that’s supposed to relieve a subway line that carries more passengers than the entire Washington Metro system? The one that’s been planned for the better part of a century? The one that Yorkville was upzoned in anticipation of decades ago? The one that, despite having only four stops, is projected to carry more riders than the entire length of the L train?
…But alas, the comments were the perfect illustration of the mile-wide chasm between transit planners and real estate folks when it comes to picking projects. Transit planners think of projects in terms of the riders who will be served (200,000 each weekday for the Second Avenue line’s first segment, from 63rd Street to 96th)—to many transit advocates, a neighborhood with an existing population deserves infrastructure more than an empty one whose sole constituency is developers.
Real estate insiders, on the other hand, think of transit primarily as a way of spurring development, and are not swayed by arguments about easing overcrowding or serving tax-paying citizens. And it wouldn’t be the first time Mr. Doctoroff has argued that transit should serve the needs of developers over existing New Yorkers—when the 7 train stop at 10th Avenue and 41st Street was cut, he downplayed the significance, since buildings were already going up in Hell’s Kitchen without it. (By that logic, what was the point of the entire Independent Subway System, now the A/C/E, B/D/F/M and G trains?)
As you may have expected, Zuccotti expressed his support for the 7 line extension — a subway route to an area primed for new development. Doctoroff, who was in charge of the project while serving in the Bloomberg Administration, was forced to cut a station that would have served preexisting buildings at 41st and 10th, but that point isn’t important to developers.
This story and these comments detail, as Smith notes, the disconnect between transit planners and real estate developers. It’s why no one in Brooklyn is agitating for a Utica Ave. or Nostrand Ave. subway extension, why the Second Ave. Subway enjoys lukewarm support from REBNY and why the 7 line has been celebrated in some circles. Until we figure out a way to bridge that divide, built-up areas that need subway service for reasons other than virgin development won’t get the transit infrastructure they deserve. What a shame.