A whole bunch of years ago, back in late 2011, I covered sort of an ugly story concerning Upper East Side residents who lived on East 69th St. and a classist and racist reaction to a plan to build a new entrances to the perennially overcrowded 68th St. stop on the 6 train. This plan is now back in the news, and although 68th St. will get its additional entrances and ADA-compliant accessibility, the NIMBYs have seemingly won and at a cost to the MTA — and taxpayers — to boot.
Let’s take a quick trip back to late 2011. It was in October that the MTA announced plans to build two entrances at 69th St. — one facing toward Lexington and the other facing down 69th St. The latter did not go over well with some residents who said the increased foot traffic would “ruin the fabric of the neighborhood.” As another resident said, “people to the west don’t take the subway. Not to be elitist, but they don’t.”
A few months later, those same residents dug in and threatened legal action. They talked about the “pristine nature” of East 69th St. and the “bucolic” street that would be ruined by a new subway entrance. The dog whistles could not have been more deafening, but their tactics worked. It’s four years later and only now is the MTA getting ready to make the 6 train station accessible and with more entrances — but at a cost.
In last month’s MTA Board materials, the 68th St. station work resurfaced. By the MTA’s own admission, the project is four years late. Design work was supposed to be completed by April of 2012; instead, the agency expects to finish shortly. And why? In bureaucratic-speak, “this delay is due to additional time needed to address community concerns, raised by adjacent property owners at 69th Street regarding the location of the proposed street stair entrances.” In other words, NIMBYs have meant that thousands of subway riders — 68th St. sees 36,000 riders per weekday — have suffered through worse commutes for nearly half a decade.
The end result isn’t particularly comforting either. Here’s what the MTA had to say:
After extended negotiations, an agreement has been reached to place the stair entrance east of Lexington Avenue inside the Imperial House Apartments (between 68th Street and 69th Street). This entrance is in lieu of the street entrance at the Southeast corner of 69th Street and Lexington Avenue. The additional time is necessary to complete the property acquisition, environmental study, and additional design for the new work items.
The costs of this project have increased by around $8 million to approximately $65 million due to the MTA’s need to acquire property that belongs to the Imperial House Apartments. It’s also still not clear what the final scope will be as compared with the 2011 plans. DNA Info recently reported that the MTA could still pursue those plans, but MTA sources tell me the Imperial House plan is essentially the only way this project moves forward as East 69th St. residents will throw up substantial legal roadblocks otherwise. Construction may start later this year and end in 2020, well over three years after this project was supposed to wrap.
So did the NIMBYs win? I guess so. The project is more expensive and has been delayed, as MTA sources tell me, thanks to the back-and-forth between the agency and community groups. The scope will be reduced, and access to the station will be cut back by a half a block or so. It’s not nearly as encompassing as it was first proposed. But that’s what happens when a vocal minority of a community with resources bands together to fight something they see as intrusive. The rest of us suffer through worse transit options because of it.