Aug
01

Doctoroff: SAS a ‘silly little spur that doesn’t generate anything’

By

Who needs a new subway station in developed areas anyway?

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.



67 Responses to “Doctoroff: SAS a ‘silly little spur that doesn’t generate anything’”

  1. John-2 says:

    It would be interesting to find out how many times Doctoroff (other than as part of some Bloomberg ‘common man’ photo ops) or Zucotti have actually ridden the Lex in their lifetimes. My guess is they could share a $10 Metrocard and never run out of rides on it before the thing expired.

    • tacony palmyra says:

      The fact that it works as a photo op is only half the equation: Bloomberg is driven to the express station at 59th (he doesn’t mess with his nearest local station at 77th St) and then gets out at City Hall. It’s actually the quickest reasonable way for him to get to work. For a mayor that’s all about efficiency, it makes perfect sense that he’d do this. Short of putting up police barricades and blasting through red lights with sirens, it’s the best way for him to get downtown.

      • Bolwerk says:

        I don’t see why Bloomberg’s/Doctoroff’s/Zucotti’s transit use is a political issue. Bloomberg’s habits obviously don’t translate to the needs of the 99% (or 99.99% for that matter).

        I kind of question the utility of SAS on opportunity cost grounds myself. It really is not much more than a relief line, but as a transit project it’s hard to say it’s not a worthy project based on ridership projections alone.

  2. Joseph says:

    Doctoroff is such a dingleberry. The guy has probably never been on a subway in his life. Anyone know his email address?

  3. Chet says:

    So, Dan Doctoroff is an asshole and John Zucotti has a parked name after him for what reason?

    Both should be made to sit in a subway station in their $3000 suits on a 98 degree, 95% humidity day for about a 100 hours.

  4. Larry Littlefield says:

    “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.”

    Spoken like someone who gets around in a limo and doesn’t care about the serfs.

    The Second Avenue Subway did generate something. The promise of it generated the Upper East Side, where people pay huge taxes. The breaking of that promise left them with beastial commutes.

    According to Doctoroff, he failed in that he didn’t do a better job promoting the Flushing Line extension to developers. If he had convinced developers to build all the buildings before the subway extension was completed, the city could have cancelled the extension and pocketed the money.

    Whatever business he goes into next had better be a monopoly of an essential service. Because you can say the same thing about the city’s high taxes, bad schools, etc. Until the customers take their business elsewhere.

    • AG says:

      well i don’t cry for the upper east side… no one should “count their chickens before they hatch”. they should believe it until the service was running.

  5. Jeff says:

    I thought the IND had always been criticized as overbuilt redundancies which were designed to steal customers away from the BMT/IRT and force them to tear down their El’s? On that regard it really wasn’t designed to make ANYTHING more convenient, more like a way to use the power of the government to publicize what were private institutions.

    Speaking purely from a purely economics standpoint, if you look at how subways are planned worldwide, its generally done exactly the way Doctoroff prescribed. They build subway lines to serve areas that aren’t served prior. This doesn’t just serve real estates interests, its a good economic move because it maximizes the value generated by public investment.

    Sure, the 2nd Ave Subway improves commute for a whole lot of people, and may even generate a few rides because a handful of rich guys who avoided the subway in the past may be more tempted to make the switch, but does it spur private development and create private construction jobs? Not anywhere to the scale that the 7-line will be doing. Does it generate a ton of additional economic activity and additional tax money for the government? Not at all. So is allowing for 200,000 people to take a less crowded train and maybe walk a little less worth the billions of dollars spend? Maybe to those 200,000 people. But NYC in general won’t be benefiting much.

    • Eric says:

      Every new passenger is one more trip, which means (roughly speaking) one more unit of economic activity. With the 7, all the new trips come from a single stop, so the resulting building is very concentrated and very noticeable. The SAS, in contrast, will generate trips all over the city. Obviously some UES residents will switch to it, but many in Harlem and the Bronx will begin taking the subway as well, because the 4/5/6 will now have room for them. So the resulting development and building will be spread out across the city. It will help the public at large, as opposed to the 7, which will only help a handful of real estate tycoons lucky enough to control land on the far west side.

      • Jeff says:

        I completely disagree that there will be a significant number of new riders. Most if not all commuters in the Bronx and Harlem already use the subway if they need to. There simply aren’t that many alternatives for them otherwise.

        High income individuals who currently rely on taxis and on driving are the ones who will switch due to the improved comfort and reliability provided by the SAS. So your added riders are simply those people, of which I doubt there are that many.

        • MH says:

          The alternatives for Harlem/Bx people will come when that 2nd ave line extends to 125th St. They’ll have a legit transfer to lines that serve further east in Manhattan and they don’t have to walk as far from the subway as they do now.

        • tacony palmyra says:

          There simply aren’t that many alternatives for them otherwise

          I disagree with you wholeheartedly. The alternatives are to 1) not make the trip at all 2) make the trip at a different time or 3) make the trip elsewhere. Tons of people avoid the 4/5/6 during rush hours because the of the crowding. Trips are delayed and travel times increase because of all the issues due to trains taking forever to leave stations with people standing in the doorways. Relieving congestion on the line will create significant new trips and allow increased economic activity on the East Side.

          And you’re discounting non-work trips as if nobody ever takes the subway unless going to and from work… c’mon.

      • Karm says:

        ppl in the bronx going downtown have seats on the 4/5/6… it’s the ppl after 125th that have to squeeze and stand.

  6. BBnet3000 says:

    I think I understand big NYC developers a little bit better. A greenfield mentality in Manhattan…

  7. paulb says:

    Both sides are right. Add capacity where it’s needed and run new lines where you want to encourage building. But the “real estate interests” that would build around a Nostrand Avenue extension, or a new line to eastern Queens or extensions to existing Queens lines, I doubt those are the same interests Doctoroff and Zucotti meet for tennis on weekends.

  8. llqbtt says:

    SAS will carry more passengers than the L?!

    One of my longstanding questions is headways. If SAS gets standard B Division headways, it won’t bleed so many riders from the Lex. However, and in light of this ridership project, the Q will have to run every 3 minutes at rush hour and quite frequently at other times.

    How is this planned for and/or how will this accomplished given fleet demands, scheduling, shared trackage issues as well as demand for the Q from 57 St to Coney Island?

    • John-2 says:

      The Q could be ramped up to the headways of the E or F on Queens Blvd, which would be on train every four or so minutes during rush. That would still leave space for the merger with the N, though the TPH would still be lower than the 6 during rush hours, since it’s a stand-alone line.

      The Q via Second Avenue won’t take the riders away headed for the east side south of 59th, but the schedule — and the availability of seats because the line starts at 96th Street — will likely pull in people headed to the west side between 57th and Herald Square.

    • Nathanael says:

      Yes, SAS Phase I will carry more passengers than the L.

      The Lexington Line carries more passengers than the entire Washington DC Metrorail system.

  9. David Brown says:

    What the REBNY wants is not necessarily what is in the best interest of the City. They cater to the NIMBY’s of the World (such as the one’s who are “offended” by Train Exits by their property or Bloomberg who thinks living in Gracie Mansion is “beneath him”), and they know as well as anyone, about the Laws Of Supply And Demand, which in this case, means that in certain areas (such as “The Meatpacking District”, Sutton Place, or East End Avenue), land and (or) available properties are scarce, thus worth millions, and people will pay that price to be away from everyone (except those in their particular Social Class). They are also very aware that the SAS is NOT “a subway that doesn’t have any value added” and a “pet project” of the MTA & Sheldon Silver.” But a project that will bring more people into areas like… Need I repeat myself, East End Avenue and Sutton Place (something those NIMBY’s do not want). From the REBNY perspective, the best interests of the City, Transit, and even Real Estate Development (Commercial and Residential alike)are not what really matters……….. It is money.

    • BoerumBum says:

      Fact-check: I thought Bloomberg didn’t live in Gracie because his girlfriend wasn’t allowed to live there with him?

      • Chris C says:

        It was Giuliani who moved our because his girlfriend wasn’t allowed to live there.

        As for Bloomberg he just preferred to live in his existing home. Which also saved the city some $$$$ in expenses.

        His view is that his successors shouldn’t live their either and just use the mansion for official functions.

        And it was only in the 1940’s that it became the Mayor’s official house so it’s not like he broke a long term tradition.

    • Henry says:

      At least REBNY had the decency to fight for 41st and 10th, even though it was far too little, far too late.

  10. R2 says:

    If you’re Big Real Estate (the Vornados, Relateds, etc.), then that point of view makes complete sense. It’s the delta where they will make the most profit. The railyards are about as virgin territory as you can get in Manhattan these days. As point out, the Upper East Side is well-developed so not nearly as much profit potential (unless you re-zone to allow ginourmous buildings). A bunch of smaller developers WILL benefit from the Second Avenue Subway but the small guys are not the ones running REBNY.

    I see SAS as fulfilling a promise made long ago. Of course, I’d love to see Doctoroff pushed and shoved on the Lex on the hottest days and then see if he tries to reiterate his original position.

    • Jeff says:

      Its not just about big guys and small guys. Its about which option creates the most economic impact in general. And clearly it’ll be the 7-line. What SAS does is change people’s commuting habits but its not going to be bringing enough new people into the neighborhood to make the line provide any significant or calculable economic impact.

      • The point about SAS isn’t that it, by itself, won’t change the neighborhood. It’s that zoning changes implemented years ago in anticipation of a subway line changed the neighborhood, and real estate interests certainly benefited from that.

        So you can draw a few conclusions:

        1. Promise subways, upzone everywhere and never deliver to benefit the real estate interests.

        2. Only build subways into underused areas.

        3. Real estate interests are only a part of a larger picture.

        • Jeff says:

          Here’s where you don’t seem to understand real estates at all.

          “Promise subways, upzone and not deliver” doesn’t benefit real estate interests, at least not in the long term. Real estate prices are driven by supply and demand and sure, speculation of potential transportation improvements in the area WILL drive up price. As investors they bear the risk of whether things being promised to them will ever bear fruit. If they pay more to buy a property then they need to expect that the prices can come down if the promise is broken.

          But if people are willing to keep paying that price even after the government makes it clear that they aren’t going to deliver on their promise, then it means the demand for real estates will be there regardless of transit. Which means the transit improvement wasn’t going to deliver much added value to the neighborhood in the first place.

          • Which means the transit improvement wasn’t going to deliver much added value to the neighborhood in the first place.

            Disregarding your unnecessary insult in the first line of your reply, what happens when property value and rents go up more while some developers take advantage of zoning to build up? You’re telling me that’s not economic activity that won’t be captured once Phase 1 opens? Because if so, I’d wager you to be wrong there.

            This isn’t to say that Doctoroff is wrong. I think he’s been unnecessarily confrontational and a bit obtuse. And, yes, developers will always prefer extending subways into unbuilt areas instead of into areas with preexisting building stock. But to claim that SAS is a vanity project that won’t generate much in the way of economic activity is to miss the forest for the trees.

            • Jeff says:

              I never said there won’t be upzoning or increase in rent. If you look below I addressed that part. I don’t think the value added will be nearly as much as some people think. For one – the UES is already well-developed with some of the highest real estate prices in the city. Two – prices continue to increase regardless of transportation improvements. Three – the tremendous presence of NIMBYs and political will in the area will prevent large-scale redevelopment from occurring anyway.

              • Nathanael says:

                At some point, transport overcrowding starts to choke a city. You have to relieve it.

                You’ll be surprised at how much of a boom SAS will deliver on the upper east side — maybe not as much in the southern half of it.

                Starting at 96th St, the route goes past a bunch of towers in a park” constructions, all gratuitously set askew from the street grid. These 1950s-1970s constructions do not have a big consituency.

            • Joseph says:

              Jeff is right. You dont quite understand.

              • Then enlighten me. This is adding nothing.

                • SEAN says:

                  Ben, I agree with you.

                  There are different ways to mesure value. Vornado & Related look at NEW BUILD construction as a way to maxamize value. Others look at PREEXISTING construction & renovation as a means to maxamize that same value. The former isn’t nessessarily wrong, but it discounts the importence of current & future infrastructure like the SAS wich is unfortunately so shortsighted when you need to look at longterm value.

                  Another thing to consider is the concept of “the 30-year cycle.” For those who don’t know what that is, after 30-years it is cheeper in many cases to replace a building instead of rehabbing it. South Florida, Atlanta & the Southwest deal with this moreso than other parts of the country. Infact the 30-year cycle is harsher on the retail & residential markets in those places rather than the commercial side. The Northeast, Chicago, the Twin Cities & the Pacific Northwest don’t seme to have those problems for one reason or another.

                  I hope that helps.

                  • Henry says:

                    It’s because the Sunbelt built miles and miles of stereotypical cookie-cutter houses that just generally look the same. In the Northeast and around Chicago, you generally have more resilient variety – the only place without a lot of housing stock variety or value would be Detroit.

          • Bolwerk says:

            …for real estates will be there regardless of transit. Which means the transit improvement wasn’t going to deliver much added value to the neighborhood in the first place.

            You seem to be putting way too much stock in how important real estate values are. There are economic values beside real estate. Reduced delays and better commutes means hundreds of thousands of people potentially experience better labor productivity (I’d mention more time to themselves, but that probably is irrelevant to the Doctoroffs of the world). SAS is far enough away from the Lex that it means Midtown actually has a larger labor pool, which is ultimately good for employers and might be critical someday if the economy ever turns around.

            If anything, it’s the 7 extension that doesn’t have these benefits.

  11. aestrivex says:

    That the second avenue subway won’t generate real estate development is true only in the very short term. Another example of the American tendency towards myopia in economic development.

    • SEAN says:

      Well said.

    • Jeff says:

      Unless someone decides to drastically change the zoning rules in the area there won’t be enough spurred development to justify the billions spent. SAS is strictly for commuters’ benefit.

      • John B says:

        thankfully building construction is not the only way to generate money. something we as a country are slowly realizing in this depression.

        • Jeff says:

          Its the best way to significantly increase economic output in an area, especially an undeveloped one.

          And in an area where economic output is already high, like the UES, you’re not going to improve it much using any other methods.

          • John-2 says:

            It is quite possible that a Q train that results in fewer riders on the Lex from 125th to 59th would actually make some Bronx real estate more valuable along the 4/5/6 by making those lines less oppressive to ride during the rush hour (i.e. — you could end up with gentrification in areas of the South Bronx that, down the line, could result in the Lex being just as crowded as it is now, only with more riders making extended trips under the Harlem River).

          • Henry says:

            The Second Avenue Subway would allow capacity relief on the Lexington Avenue Line, and provide increased pedestrian traffic in the streets surrounding stations, driving up retail rents. As of right now, the East Side still has a “small charming neighborhood” sorta feel, which is quite a contrast to the places closer to the subway.

            Besides, the point of a subway is first and foremost the needs of commuters, not promoting some TOD in some far-flung corner of the boroughs.

        • matt mahan says:

          supper important though

      • M.L. says:

        “SAS is strictly for commuters’ benefit.” (quoting Jeff)

        Which is, according to me, the very first reason why any transit project should be built! The Big Apple is a strange place where you guys are debating the merits of SAS on the sole real estate point of view. Damn. Transit serves people first. And by only taking in account the so-called rich folks of the Upper East Side, you forget all the actual and potential users of Lexington Avenue line which is presently overcrowded on rush hours. Right, some of these people live in UES and some of them earn much more than you and me, but thousands live elsewhere, like in the Bronx, and actually often experience a bad “transit experience” and loss of time because Lex service isn’t up to the level the MTA would like to provide to the population. Most of straphangers don’t give a damn about real estate: they just want to get from point A to point B in a reasonable time with some confort. By providing more service to this area, SAS will relieve Lex line and, overall, transit service will be much better, and thousands and thousands of New Yorkers and others will get benefit, enjoying a faster and more comfortable and convenient commute. Increasing mobility for the benefit of the whole, that’s what we should focus first.

  12. SEAN says:

    Dumber words have never been spoken. If you want to talk about vanity projects, I’ve got one… Select Bus Service. The techknology behind it is antiquated & doesn’t have propper lane seperation amung other issues.

    • Select Bus Service is not a good example of a vanity project.

        • SEAN says:

          Ben,

          Curious… why do you think that SBS in it’s current arangement is a poor example of a vanity project?

          I need some help with that one.

          • Henry says:

            Because it does actually improve transit times, and it doesn’t cost very much at all since they’re using buses they would’ve bought anyways, and the street furniture is all DOT-maintained.

            It actually improves operations costs, since faster runtime = less buses needed to provide the same amount of service.

          • Bolwerk says:

            I don’t think that some of the existing SBS routes are vanity projects. They may not be good enough, but that doesn’t mean they’re not big improvements.

            Pols have seized on SBS to pander to voters, of course, and so far they aren’t paying enough attention to be insulted. Things like Quinn’s SBS Triborough RX would be a vanity project, if ever built.

        • llqbtt says:

          Right, they keep calling it a hub, but it’s a terminal, the last stop, just like Church Ave on the G, or Rockaway Parkway on the L. I’m not seeing the difference, honestly. Now, the Fulton Street Transit Center IS a hub.

          • SEAN says:

            I think the correct term at this point on the 7 extention should be stub since there’s no place to go beyond Javitts. On the Main Street end, that’s a hub with numerous businesses as well as connecting busses & the Port Washington line of the LIRR.

  13. D in Bushwick says:

    And now you know why it has taken decades to get the SAS going.
    These guys don’t care about how the serfs trudge to and from work. All that matters to them is developing new areas for the most profit they can possibly take.

  14. Eric F says:

    “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”

    Assuming this quote is within context, that’s quite jarring, but not really surprising. I understand that Bloomberg has never been much of a fan of the SAS, and basically for that very reason.

    To take on the quote itself, I’d say

    (1) the people are happy to live on the UES (and above and below) in spite of the Lex line conditions, not because of them

    (2) quality of life is sort of a key government interest, isn’t it? That’s sort of why they are there, I thought

    (3) Beyond “convenience” (which I read as quality of life), the redundancy benefits of a second line are so obvious that you really have to wonder if some context might just be missisng there. I get that some people don’t see the necessity of the SAS but that doesn’t mean that they don’t get the benefit of it. I may not think that my neighbor spent wisely in buying a $10,000 whole house generator, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand why it’s useful.

  15. paulb says:

    Doctoroff may have been deliberately undiplomatic, but I’m not sure he is so wrong if SAS goes no further than phase 1. I guess the thing to hope for is that phase 1, ESA, and the 7 extension are enormous successes and create an actual appetite, and willingness to pay, for transit construction.

    • John B says:

      it will also depend on what success is supposed to look like. given doctoroff’s views even if 2nd Ave is wildly popular and utilized it will still not be successful because it will not spur the same amount of new development as the 7 one stop extension. it appears that he is already positioning the narrative for the 2nd ave subway to be seen as a failure (defined in his myopic viewpoint).

      he’s taking a page out of the political world, stake a position so far from reality that once its brought back a little you’ve already moved the center more to your liking.

  16. johndmuller says:

    Mayor Bloomberg would seem to be hoping to put through an upzoning of portions of the midtown area before leaving office. While I suppose that this is largely related to new incoming commuters via East Side Access, it would also be supportive of and/or symbiotic with Phase Three of the SAS.
    Not one of his worst ideas (for that, consider his comments on stop and frisk).

  17. dungone says:

    I tend to side with the developers on this one. Manhattan doesn’t need existing property values to go up; it could use more affordable housing, instead. That said, it seems like the 2nd Ave line would relieve congestion for people coming in from the Bronx, so developers could build some stuff over there and kill two birds with one stone.

  18. Karm says:

    Ben – I’m a bit disappointed in the reporting. This marks almost of sensationalism. Doctoroff and Zucotti are not stopping the project – regardless of their personal feelings. My thing is – why not report on the issues brought up at the Next NY meeting. A lot of good ideas came about.

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