Home Manhattan Link: On transit access and the Midtown East rezoning

Link: On transit access and the Midtown East rezoning

by Benjamin Kabak

Renderings show dramatically wider concourses and a reimagined Grand Central as part of the Midtown East rezoning.

There’s a bit more to say about Midtown East rezoning, especially in light of some of the Grand Central renderings the Daily News published earlier this week, but for now, I’d like to direct you to Stephen Smith’s post on the transit impact. As he’s argued in the comments here, he says on Next City that “Transit is not an issue when it comes to Bloomberg’s Midtown East rezoning.”

The argument is one I’ve pushed before as well. Essentially, there is a significant amount of transit capacity arriving in Midtown in the form of East Side Access and transit capacity on the whole shouldn’t be any sort of barrier to the rezoning effort. In fact, there’s going to be more capacity than demand along certain routes. Smith writes:

According to the Department of City Planning, the rezoning is realistically expected to yield 3.8 million square feet, net, of new office space — enough room for, the department estimates, 15,000 more office workers. Contrary to some press coverage, the rezoning will actually be relatively small. For comparison’s sake, around 25 million square feet of new offices alone, with millions more in housing and hotels, are zoned to rise at Hudson Yards.

Meanwhile, there is an enormous amount of new transit capacity coming to Midtown East, many times that provided by the one new Hudson Yards station on the 7 train…With an estimated 200,000 weekday riders, the $4.5 billion [Second Ave. Subway] project will divert many more commuters from the most crowded segment of the Lexington Avenue line than the rezoning will add. Next up is East Side Access, the Long Island Rail Road’s $8.4 billion effort to bring its trains to a cavernous terminal of its own near Grand Central, estimated to host 162,000 rides each weekday and set to open in 2019. Its projected ridership alone dwarfs the impact of any new buildings in the area. Most commuters heading to the new LIRR terminal will be diverted from Penn Station, from which many of them rode the E train to the east side, meaning that space will free up on that service as well…

Short of rebuilding the Third Avenue el or finishing the Second Avenue subway, it’s hard to imagine what other transportation improvements critics could want out of the rezoning. There may be other reasons for opposition, but anyone who takes a cursory look at the infrastructure under construction in the neighborhood can’t help but conclude that it’s slated for way more extra capacity than 15,000 office workers could ever fill. Simply put, transit is not an issue.

There are certainly discrete areas where transit is an issue. Without the rezoning, East Side Access won’t connect directly to the subway. But East Side Access itself won’t impact the subways because the vast majority of riders coming from Long Island won’t need a subway connection. Rather, the issues focus around Grand Central’s passenger flow. Crowding on the subway platforms may reach critical conditions without upgrades, but it’s already a situation that should be addressed, as I wrote this week, Midtown East rezoning or not.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to put a temporary halt on Midtown East rezoning if the major players feel it is appropriate, but Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio Dan Garodnik, the area’s councilman, have both vowed to move it forward. Any opponents who cite transit as an issue though are using something that isn’t a true overarching problem as a crutch.

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Susan S Klein November 15, 2013 - 7:14 pm

This is so awful, why does it always hit the “ugly” mark. Even this glamorized computer rendering cannot hide the low ceilings and the fact that there is no character or warmther to the plan. It looks like Penn Station. Have we not learned a thing from our mistakes?
I was,until recently, a small business owner in mid-town. The sidewalks are always packed, how do they powers that be plan to widen them?
The bus service is terrible. We wanted a downtown bus today and walked 35 blocks south before one even passed us. You can actually walk 2-3 miles faster than a bus! Midtown-East is a BAD idea. The only one to benefit are the landlords and the Real Estate moguls.

Woody November 16, 2013 - 1:30 am

Ugly, soulless, generic. The art could be a rendering for a proposed mall in Dallas or a bus terminal concourse. Well, maybe it is, and recycling the illustration saved a few bucks. But nothing here recognizes the essential quality of Grand Central. Ugh.

Yes, the sidewalks in Midtown are packed. Widen them by removing a lane of parking or a lane of traffic, or both.

Brandon November 15, 2013 - 7:35 pm

What about the E train? I guess eastbound from Penn to 53rd would be helped out by ESA, but coming from Queens during Rush Hour is still non-functional.

AG November 15, 2013 - 9:32 pm

It’s all about union concessions…. they can dress it up however they want.

Walt Gekko November 16, 2013 - 1:11 am

As mentioned previously, in my view, if you are going to do this kind of re-zoning, I think you need to BOTH finish the SAS AND rebuild the 3rd Avenue El, as I do think doing both not only will help the kind of building planned for midtown east, but also I think will be needed to spread out the building of more taller structures over time. Whatever daylight on 3rd Avenue that would be lost by a rebuilt el I think would be more than made up by other factors, including along with the SAS (both of which would have a Bronx branch on a rebuilt Bronx 3rd Avenue El).

In my view, it may get to the point where the NIMBY’s may have no choice but to allow the building of such a line no matter how much they might whine about it.

Bolwerk November 16, 2013 - 11:47 am

The new Third Ave. el idea is silly no matter how many times you say it. If that route is ever called for, it is a perfectly acceptable subway construction expenditure.

Bolwerk November 16, 2013 - 1:31 am

Seems to me most of the transit problems that exist there, even without SAS, are surface transit problems.

Larry Littlefield November 16, 2013 - 8:46 am

I suspect this is about collecting campaign contributions and promises of affordable housing (in lieu of transportation improvements) in exchange for the rezoning.

Bloomberg was about to give the executive/financial class a whole bunch of publicly created wealth for free. The political/union class wants a piece.

As usual, no one gives a damn about the serfs.

David Brown November 16, 2013 - 9:09 am

The Benefits of East Side Access are not coming for at least another fifteen years. Check out this quote: “Everything you heard about me is true.?.?. I am not a free-marketeer.?.?. I believe in the heavy hand of government,” de Blasio stated matter-of-factly during an hour-long presentation to some of the city’s biggest real-estate developers…
Now, of course, I believe that approach is wrong. But, I give this man credit for intellectual honesty (unlike most “Progressives” who claim to be for Adam Smith when they prefer Karl Marx).
Knowing this, if I am a Developer and (or) a Land Owner in this area, I just do not build anything new, and hold on to what I have (or sell), until the combination occurs of him leaving office in 2022 and Second Avenue Subway Phase III getting completed ( Particularly if he goes beyond tax increases, and does the next steps in Socialism 101 which is building more NYCHA Projects (the obvious way to create more “Affordable Housing” without helping Developers) and enacts Commercial (as well as Residential) Rent Control). Assuming it is God’s Willing to make it there, I will be lucky next month to be in Arizona and not having to live even one day under Comrade Kaiser Wilhelm ( De Blasio).

Brandon November 17, 2013 - 11:29 am


Woody November 18, 2013 - 2:21 am

Don’t let it bother you that at no time has de Blasio suggested building new public housing.

I’m hoping that he gets us more affordable housing by eliminating the extremely expensive parking requirements — which would be far more ‘free market’ than the current system.

Anyway, don’t worry about the big developers. Somehow they’ve survived Fiorello LaGuardia, John Lindsey, and David Dinkins, even thrived under them. They’ll survive de Blasio. You can count on it.

But do be careful for your poor little defenseless self. I think there’s a particularly ferocious Socialist hiding under your bed, just waiting for you to turn out the lights to pounce!

Bolwerk November 18, 2013 - 12:57 pm

They somehow survived under Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg too. I really would like to attribute the delusions people have about Dinkins teh Big Spendin’ Librul Crimemaker to being emigres whose only sense of New York political history comes from reading the likes of right-wing slopebrows like S.E. Cupp or Steve Cuozzo, but the fact that I hear it so much from natives suggests that a lot of the NYC public is more gullible than anyone wants to admit.

Socialism in David’s context literally means using state and police power in a way he doesn’t like. If it’s government authority he does like, it becomes freedumb.

AG November 19, 2013 - 2:46 pm

Woody – the economic climate in NYC was abysmal from the late 60’s until at least the late 80’s…. Only then did all the tax breaks offered did the bleeding stop.

John-2 November 16, 2013 - 11:47 am

I think the train patterns/subway use that will come with ESA are still to be hashed out, in that it may shift current transfers in Jamaica to other trains to Penn Station or to the E train over to the Grand Central area, depending on how the MTA opts to allocate the new track space (i.e. — Do they simply do a 1-for-1 swap with trains currently destined for Flatbush Avenue, or do that move some current Penn-bound/departing trains on the time schedule to Grand Central and distribute the Flatbush trains between both terminals?).

If you’re working downtown right now and your 6:20 a.m. train to Penn becomes a 6:20 a.m. train to Grand Central, odds are you’re just staying on that train and taking the 4/5/6 instead of transferring at Jamaica to still take the 1/2/3 or the A/C/E from Penn (and the same would be true if your now arriving downtown via Flatbush and your train is re-routed to Grand Central — if anything, ESA may cut 2/3/4/5 crowding from Brooklyn to lower Manhattan). Along with the office space changes due to rezoning that would make the East Side’s workday commuter population rise, that’s also something planners and the MTA need to take into account in future development.

D in Bushwich November 16, 2013 - 10:23 pm

My objection to the Midtown East Rezoning plan is that dozens of century old buildings would be destroyed surrounding the iconic Grand Central. Those surrounding buildings are just as important for the context of the world-famous terminal. Their design is unique and increasingly rare and simply destroying them to build a big glass box only makes sense from a developer’s point of view.
Allow some new big towers where appropriate for the context of the neighborhood. If that isn’t enough in the coming years, then decide to destroy additional older buildings in order to make more money for some connected rich guy.

Woody November 18, 2013 - 2:25 am


More of these graceful commercial buildings need to get landmark protection. Then the owners need to be compensated by allowing transfer of air rights anywhere in Midtown.

D in Bushwich November 16, 2013 - 10:24 pm

My objection to the Midtown East Rezoning plan is that dozens of century old buildings would be destroyed surrounding the iconic Grand Central. Those surrounding buildings are just as important for the context of the world-famous terminal. Their design is unique and increasingly rare and simply destroying them to build another big glass box only makes sense from a developer’s point of view.
Allow some new big towers where appropriate for the context of the neighborhood. If that isn’t enough in the coming years, then decide to destroy additional older buildings in order to make more money for some connected rich guy.
Problem solved.

Ron Aryel November 17, 2013 - 10:06 am

Yes, the arrival of LIRR at Grand Central will represent a huge boost to transit capacity.

But why do you claim LIRR riders won’t have access to the subway without rezoning? Are they arriving at a different Grand Central that the one well-served by five IRT lines?

Benjamin Kabak November 17, 2013 - 10:28 am

Direct access. They’ll have to go up into the main terminal and then back down into the subway.

johndmuller November 17, 2013 - 4:20 pm

I’m sure that the long trek would get to people after the novelty wears off, but really, how different is it from a MN passenger who ends up on a western side lower level platform. On the LIRR hand, there’s a very long escalator ride leading to a tour of Grand Central, on the MN side, there’s a modest ramp to walk before the Grand Tour and an only slightly longer walk to the Lex.

I don’t know the exact geometry, but I suppose it would be feasible to make another escalator bank on the east side of one of those east-west passageways down in the lower caverns that would end up somewhere appropriate for connecting to the Lexington Ave. Subway (although I hesitate to mention additional project $cope here).

If nothing else, a passageway just from GCT’s lower level to the Subway would be nice. What is behind that wall down there anyway, someone’s secret basement? Lex Luthor’s hideout? It appears that the space above the secret room is part of the upper level – shops, passageways, etc.

Mike November 18, 2013 - 2:01 pm

I still think if they eventually do go through with the Midtown East rezoning that they build at least part of SAS Phase 3 – at least as far down as 42nd Street – to help take the pressure off the Lex. It likely won’t see a lot of ridership from GCT-bound LIRR riders, but more East Harlem/Upper East Side riders will be likely to opt for the T if they work closer to 3rd Ave. The 4, 5 and 6 will see more ridership from Long Island-based commuters who work on the East Side, so it might be very helpful to have the T running at least to 42nd St to free up some capacity on the Lex.


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