Archive for 7 Line Extension

Here is an interesting tidbit from The Wall Street Journal: Frank McCourt has acquired a development site in Manhattan for $167 million two years after Sherwood Equities paid $43.5 million for the space. The area, which will host a 730,000 square foot tower, sits at 30th St. and 10th Ave., mere blocks away from the 7 line extension, and various stakeholders are crediting the new subway stop with spurring on the tremendous increase in property value in the Far West Side.

Jeffrey Katz, president and CEO of the site’s former owner, is one of those stakeholders. “I think if you asked people a year ago about this district, still they would say ‘Are you crazy?’ Quite a number of people now understand there’s something extraordinary going on,” he said to The Journal. “The surge in value on this site was so dramatic—it was unprecedented—that our rate of return could never have been higher.”

The one-stop 7 line extension to 34th St. and 11th Ave. is set to open by next June, and the city has paid over $2 billion to the MTA to build this transit spur in the hopes of realizing the value in Manhattan’s last undeveloped frontier. So far, what I once derided as a Subway to Nowhere is shaping up to be the prime mover in something that is most definitely transit-oriented development within the boundaries of Manhattan.

Categories : 7 Line Extension, Asides
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A switch in time (or at least the 7 line extension). Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

I haven’t had a chance to sneak a peek at the 7 line extension work since last February when the MTA lead a press excursion into the work site. In the intervening 16 months though, work has moved forward at a steady clip, and the one-station extension of the 7 line to 34th St. and 11th Ave. is on target for revenue service by next June. Today, the MTA unveiled a new series of photos of the work, and with 12 months left, it’s looking more and more like a subway stop.

We can see that tunnel systems are in place and signals are awaiting incoming trains (though some signals remain wrapped in plastic, not yet ready for tests that should begin in December). Inside the station cavern, subway platforms are taking shape and so are the escalator banks. The switch cabinets in place too, and I believe this area will host the incline elevator that will bring passengers deep underground.

I’ve long been critical of the approach to this project. Losing the station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. is a mistake New York City will live to regret, and I’m skeptical that, even with provisioning in place for two side platforms there, we’ll live to see the 7 make that stop. Additionally, the train could continue south (or even west, if Mayor Bloomberg has his druthers), but for now, we get one stop. That said, that stop will be key in bringing people to one the underdeveloped areas of Manhattan, and growth will boom with a new subway stop.

After the jump, a slideshow of all of the MTA’s photos showing the latest progress at 34th St. and 11th Ave. Read More→

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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The lack of development around the 7 line in Queens shortly after it opened did not condemn the subway extension to failure.

In the annals of New York City history, the construction of subway lines has regularly spurred on the development and growth of the city. The elevateds brought people north in Manhattan, and the famous photo above shows Queens at the time the 7 line started to snake eastward. Development, though, can take years, but eventually, it will come. Patience is a virtue.

A recent study commissioned by City Council member Dan Garodnick and released this week by the city’s Independent Budget Office makes me think we’ve forgotten about patience. The study assesses the amount of money the city has so far received from Hudson Yards development against the amount it has invested in the project. With subway construction not yet completed, the city still rebounding from a deep recession and no completed development at the site, as you can imagine, the study found that, so far, taxpayers have invested far more than they’ve gotten out of it. Should we condemn the project? Throw in the towel? Not quite yet.

The report [pdf] is heavy on numbers as IBO reports are wont to be. Its origins grew out of the Bloomberg Administration’s plan to rezone Midtown East. Garodnick worried that such a rezoning would lead Midtown East to compete with the Hudson Yards for development opportunities and dollars. If the city had too much taxpayer money riding on Hudson Yards, Midtown East may not enjoy the same benefits until Hudson Yards becomes self-sufficient.

As astute observers may have already guessed, the report found that Hudson Yards has a long way to go before it repays the city expenditures and infrastructure investments. The short of it is that initial city estimates predicated $283 million in tax and fee revenues through 2012 but the total actually collected has hit just $170 million. The city is on the hook for the increased costs of the 7 line extension, and the IBO highlights the need to cut the key station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. Ultimately, TEPs, PILOT revenue and taxes will begin to increase, but the IBO doesn’t expect serious jumps in revenue until late this decade or early next when the high rises go up.

Garodnick didn’t have too much to say about the report, but he commented for a Wall Street Journal article on the study. “It’s clear that Hudson Yards is moving slower than anticipated.” he said. “The city is on the hook there, which is a point of concern as we consider other development issues”

But should it be? How can we pass judgment on a project that isn’t close to completion yet and in fact has barely passed the point of commencement? The subway doesn’t start running to the Hudson Yards for another 14 months, and buildings are starting to go up in the area albeit slowly. Were we in this much of a hurry to judge new development throughout the city’s past, extending the grid into what is now the Upper East and West Sides would have come under heavy criticism far too early in time to pass real judgment.

At this point, the city is still investing in development of the Far West Side. A collapse of the New York real estate market five years ago and a slower-than-expected recovery means that the city won’t recoup its costs quite as quickly, but in 15 years, we won’t even remember this discussion. The pace of work at Hudson Yards shouldn’t be a concern quite yet, and it shouldn’t slow down the Midtown East rezoning effort. While time may not be on the side of elected officials constantly running for office, the Hudson Yards area has all the time in the world, and it will one day meet those economic expectations.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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In what is possibly the weirdest MTA-related story in years, DNA Info reports today that the 7 line extension is safe from electric eels. Now, an astute reader may be wondering how this came about a year before the project is due to wrap and why anyone would be focusing on electric eels in the first place. Well, the story is quite strange.

As Jill Colvin reports, MTA Board Member Charlie Moerdler raised the issue at a recent board member when he claimed to remember eels coming ashore and wreaking havoc on metal pipes during construction of the Javits Center. Moerdler helped the Javits Center secure an exemption to New York’s plumbing rules, and the convention center received permission to use plastic piping. “That’s the issue. Does it apply to the 7 line and does it apply to the area where the Hudson Yards is?” he asked.

Colvin dug up the March 1980 Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Javits Center and could find no mention of electric eels raising any alarms. She also spoke with the eel project coordinator at the Hudson River Eel Project who said that electric eels do not live in New York Harbor or the Hudson River. “I don’t think you have to worry about electric eel damage,” Chris Bowser said. The MTA, meanwhile, has no plans to to eel-proof the West Side subway extension, and I for one am glad that’s settled.

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The 7 to Secaucus will require the two states on opposite sides of the Hudson to cooperate.

The 7 to Secaucus will require the two states on opposite sides of the Hudson to cooperate.

For the past few years or perhaps centuries, New York has displayed a wee bit of a paternalistic attitude toward New Jersey. We scoff at the swamps and industrial areas that mar the landscape on the other side of the Hudson and view the state as some traffic-infested suburban wasteland rather than as a strong economic partner in the region. Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC Tunnel felt like the final straw. If New Jersey doesn’t care about its ease of access into New York City, then why should New Yorkers care if Garden State residents can get here?

For the past few years, though, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has tried to cut through this interstate rivalry, but he’s taking a very one-sided approach. Since Christie’s ARC move, Bloomberg has pushed the idea of sending the subway to Secaucus. It’s a New York-centric way of controlling cross-border travel, but it’s one that could see the light of day if the mayor can find money. Yet, much like ARC, it suffers from a lack of interstate cooperation. New York wasn’t putting much into ARC construction, and New Jersey is hardly chomping at the bit to fund a trans-Hudson rail tunnel, let alone an extension of New York City’s subway system.

Still, the 7 extension to Secaucus is the idea that just won’t die. Last week, New York City’s Economic Development Corporation termed it feasible, and Staten Island threw a fit. As the MTA remains skeptical and broke, Trenton has done little more than acknowledge this idea’s existence. The Garden State won’t complain if someone else wants to build a rail tunnel for them.

But what if New York can eke out more than just some cheerleading and a promise not to intervene from New Jersey? What if New Jersey could be a funding partner? Bringing in New York’s neighbors to the east would greatly improve the project’s odd, and yesterday, The Record of Bergen County endorsed the idea.

The ARC tunnel was an expensive proposition with limited benefits. The trains would run to a new subterranean station below 34th Street; it would not have given commuters access to Grand Central Terminal, as a similar project under the East River eventually will do for Long Island Rail Road commuters. Additionally, New Jersey was on the hook for all cost overruns. Christie killed the project citing those costs as the main reason.

As years pass, it seems more likely the governor wanted the state funds committed to ARC for other transportation projects. Christie has provided no leadership on a new tunnel project. He has publicly been open to all suggestions, but has not put his political muscle behind any – not the possibility of extending the subway to Secaucus or the Gateway project that would allow for more Amtrak trains to cross under the Hudson.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which controls the New York subway, does not support Bloomberg’s plan. It does not see it as an economically viable project. There were no financial specifics in the report issued last week, so we are skeptical the MTA can make a valid judgment at this juncture. No doubt, Bloomberg sees the benefits for Westside development with an enhanced No. 7 subway. But the subway runs both ways and access to the Westside in Manhattan is access to North Jersey. The subway expansion would spur development around the Meadowlands and further support the proposed American Dream project…

The greater metropolitan region needs more than one trans-Hudson solution. None of these solutions will be inexpensive and all will take many years to complete. As superstorm Sandy showed us, our infrastructure is vulnerable. We need more transportation alternatives – traditional rail, light rail and subway. And we need them soon.

The most convincing argument in favor of the 7 line extension is in this editorial. It’s not just about development in New York City, and it’s not just about development in New Jersey. It’s about the potential to improve cross-Hudson travel while connecting New Jersey commuters and residents with Grand Central and spurring on development in the nearby Secaucus and Hoboken communities. It’s about realizing the economic power of the region rather than the isolationism of each state and the silo approach to transit planning.

I’d like to see The Record take its suggestions one step further. New Jersey should become a partner in the trans-Hudson efforts. Right now, Bloomberg is pushing his 7 line plan with no sure signs of success, and it’s not clear his successor would pick up the effort come January. Meanwhile, Amtrak is the only entity behind the Gateway Tunnel right now as New York and New Jersey have taken a step back there. Only through an interstate embrace will the region move forward with a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel. Otherwise, this is all just talk from lame-duck politicians and planners dreaming big but with no money to back it up.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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Albany: Home to a bunch of crooks, stool pigeons and politicians who are adept at cutting off their noses to spite their face. We know that Albany’s relationship with sensible transit planning isn’t a particularly strong one, but Diane Savino, a State Senator from Staten Island takes the cake this week. In response to the EDC endorsement of the 7 line to Secaucus, Savino has vowed a war. She will do all she can to block any state funding for such a subway extension until and unless Staten Island gets a subway connection to the rest of the city first.

“Are they out of their minds?” Savino said to the Staten Island Advance. “We are part of New York City, we are a borough of over half a million people, it is past time we have similar transportation alternatives that are provided to the other boroughs. The NYCEDC would be better served by following their mandate, serving the people of the City of New York.”

Savino’s attitude is beyond provincial and focuses far too much on state borders instead of the proper measures of use, efficiency and economic development. Would a subway from Staten Island to Manhattan (or even to the R train along 4th Ave.) be feasible, cheaper and, most importantly, as heavily utilized as an extension into Secaucus? Without much further study, we don’t know, but the Hoboken/Secaucus area has a much higher population density than Staten Island. Were Savino to make good on her threat, it could seriously impact a project that could be of great benefit to all of New York City.

Meanwhile, if Savino is serious about a subway to Staten Island, she could start by being a better transit advocate. Over the years, she has voted to reduce MTA subsidies without reading the bill at hand, she has urged for a repeal of the payroll mobility tax, and she has was disproportionately outraged over a request for information the MTA issued two years ago.

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As the transit world once debates sending the 7 train to New Jersey, the MTA has once again attempted to douse this fire. In a very brief statement in response to the Economic Development Corporation’s report, the agency said simply, “We don’t see this as an economically viable idea.”

This is not the first time MTA officials have added a dose of reality to the project. Last April, then-MTA Chairman and CEO Joe Lhota issued a similar statement. “It’s not going to happen in anybody’s lifetime,” he said. “the expense is beyond anything we’re doing.” Of course, one of my complaints about the EDC report is that it doesn’t mention costs at all, but needless to say, those costs would be steep.

The Mayor, though, remains undeterred. In his own statement, he calls the 7 to Secaucus a “promising potential solution.” Said Bloomberg:

“It’s been a century since there was a new rail tunnel under the Hudson, and demand for travel between New Jersey and Manhattan is growing rapidly and quickly exceeding the capacity of existing transit infrastructure. The lack of new transit investment is creating a serious and urgent threat to New York City’s economic competitiveness. Extending the 7 train to Secaucus is a promising potential solution – it would leverage existing investments and be compatible with other proposed projects – and is deserving of serious consideration. We look forward to continuing to discuss this option, as well as other feasible proposals, with the numerous stakeholders involved.”

So is this all just a game of politics and economics? It seems like it. The 7 to Secaucus is the Mayor’s pet project, and it came about originally with virtually no input from the MTA. The MTA, with its own capital priorities, isn’t about to sink its finite resources into a subway to New Jersey, and if the mayor wants such a tunnel to be his lasting legacy, he will to find a way to promote — and pay for — this project whatever the costs may be. I tend to think Lhota was right a year ago; I doubt we will see this in our lifetimes. But it sure does have everyone thinking.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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An overview of the 7 to Secaucus. Click to enlarge.

An overview of the 7 to Secaucus. Click to enlarge.

The idea of sending the 7 train under the Hudson River to Secaucus just won’t die. This proposal first came about when Mayor Michael Bloomberg started yakking after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pulled the plug on the ARC Tunnel. It would be our very own answer to the trans-Hudson rail capacity problem, albeit one focused exclusively around a subway ride. Despite Joe Lhota throwing a bucket of very cold water on this hot idea last April, it’s come roaring back in the form of a feasibility study commissioned by the New York City Economic Development Corporation and released Wednesday morning. So let’s humor it.

The report issued yesterday isn’t quite an endorsement of a project Bloomberg is pushing as one for the history books. Despite the headlines and the excitement, the feasibility analysis [pdf] — a document that took the better part of 18 months to produce — essentially says that sending the 7 train to Secaucus is feasible from an engineering perspective and it would attract riders. Stop the presses, right?

Now, before I delve in with a hearty dose of skepticism, we should cover a few basic premises. First, while the EDC published the report, it was prepared by Parson Brinckerhoff, a company that would benefit tremendously from cross-Hudson extension of the New York City subway. Still, it presents a fair assessment of the question at hand, but the question itself is a pretty basic one. We’re not concerned with a few key factors I’ll cover shortly; we just want to know if it’s possible.

Second, extending the 7 line to Secaucus would lead to a projected 128,000 daily riders, and approximately 24,000 of those would be diversions from autos. In other words, it would likely generate far more than enough ridership to justify the construction. For more on this idea, check out Cap’n Transit’s thoughts on defining “enough” riders. So ridership and the engineering work aren’t the big deals.

So what then, you may be wondering, is in this report and why should we view it with a healthy dose of skepticism? Well, the bulk of the report is devoted to the how of it all. It charts the 7 line’s path from 34th St. and 11th Ave. to Secaucus. The route involves a tunnel along the ARC alignment beneath the Hudson River, a curve through New Jersey and then a climb of nearly 200 vertical feet to an above-grade terminus around 76 feet in the air at the Frank Lautenberg station in Secaucus. The PB study also includes building our dearly departed station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. and implementing platform access improvements at all of the 7 train’s current Manhattan stations. As to travel time, the engineering firm estimates an eight-minute ride from Secaucus to 34th St., 12 minutes to Times Square and about 16 minutes to Grand Central. It’s hard to do much better than that for a swipe of a MetroCard.

The 7 to Secaucus would include a side-platform station stop at 41st St. and 10th Ave.

The 7 to Secaucus would include a side-platform station stop at 41st St. and 10th Ave.

The questions though outweigh the answer. First, the report dispatches with the idea of any additional stations on the New Jersey side of the tunnel. It should at least contain a stop in Hoboken, if not a second prior to the Secaucus terminal. Second, the section on legal issues raises a number of concerns that warrant more than a few paragraphs in this feasibility study.

Some of the preliminary issues are easy to deal with. Real estate acquisition is simply a matter of cost, and and the same can be said of design considerations. But the real problem here is interagency cooperation. The MTA would need assistance and support from New Jersey Transit, and even though the right of way would be a good 40 feet off from NJ Transit’s and Amtrak’s current space, this type of interstate, interagency unity is rare for numerous reasons.

In a similar vein, the feds too would be involved in a subway that crosses state boundaries. What sort of FRA regulations would impact this project? And if the feds are funding it, in part, as PB assumes, what sort of control would they attempt to exert? Can the labor issues that would arise be easily resolved? And could a 7 to Secaucus simply piggy-back on environmental impact work already completed for ARC, as the report’s authors believe? These aren’t simple questions by any means, and many have never been asked, let alone answered, in the region before.

Beyond the legal concerns are the more practical considerations. PB and the NYC EDC punt on costs. Estimates for both the capital and operations costs, they say, will come about if this project moves into the Advanced Planning phase. And although PB estimates a three-year environmental review process, it’s not clear when work would begin or end. Ridership assumptions use 2035 as a baseline, but if Bloomberg wants this tunnel to be his legacy, he won’t argue for something that won’t see the light of day until he turns 93.

So where does this leave us and the 7 line extension? The report is too fresh for any of the next concrete steps. I like the idea of a subway to Secaucus and a one-seat ride from New Jersey to Midtown. I love the idea of building out the side-platform station at 41st St. and 10th Ave., but I’m not about to begin a countdown until the 7 train is in revenue service to Lautenberg station. From funding on down, the number of obstacles remains high, but if the city wants to turn this into its pet transportation project, there’s no need to stand in its way.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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This photo shows the latest progress of construction on the extension of the 7 subway line as of December 6, 2012. This is a view of the future mezzanine of the new station at 34th Street and Eleventh Avenue in west Midtown Manhattan. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin.

With just 319 days remaining in the final year of Michael Bloomberg’s third term, the rush is on for the mayor to see his pet projects through. An effort to rezone Midtown East and a ban on toxic, carcinogenic styrofoam containers will be among his final pushes, but the mayor also has his eye on the Far West Side.

In comments this morning, Bloomberg spoke about the looming final 10 and a half months, and it’s clear that he wants to take a ride on the new 7 line extension while still in office.

Considering the MTA’s projected timeline, Bloomberg better get those pushing muscles ready. The 7 line extension, once projected for revenue service by December of 2013, is not expected to be in revenue service until mid-2014. Perhaps, as a symbolic gesture for the outgoing mayor, the MTA will be in a position to run a photo-op train from Times Square to 34th St. and 11th Ave., but I’m not holding my breath.

One may be wondering why the mayor cares so much about the 7 line extension when his record on rail-related transit issues has been spotty at best. The 7 line is a tortured part of his legacy, and he wants to point to the new subway line as an accomplishment of his years in office. Fully funded by the city, the 7 was an integral part of the mayor’s failed efforts to bring a stadium and the 2012 Olympics to the Far West Side. Even once the Olympics bid faltered, the mayor pushed forward with the 7 line as a driver of Manhattan’s last undeveloped frontier.

The project, of course, has not been without controversy. Due to rising costs, a second planned station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. that would have served a rapidly growing area with few current transit options was shelved, and only the barest of provisioning was put in place to ensure a build-out if money ever materializes. If the mayor is going to be so keen to embrace the subway extension, we shouldn’t be so quick to excuse him the project’s flaws.

The 7 line extension won’t be, as I once called it, the subway to nowhere. It’s going to spur growth in an area that will soon be filled with mixed-use buildings and office space. Yet, the extension represents missed opportunities as much as it represents growth, and the last missed opportunity will likely be Mayor Bloomberg’s chance to ride the first 11th Ave.-bound train while he’s still in office.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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The 7 line extension has turned into the MTA’s silently (quasi-)successful capital project. Its initial problems — the lack of a station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. — and a subsequent short delay in revenue service have faded from the news, and now the MTA and its contractors are engaged in a race to the finish. In about 12-18 months, the first subway extension in decades will open.

For a while, I called the 7 line extension the subway to nowhere. It was proposed to serve the Olympic village that never happened and a Hudson Yards development that will take decades to realize. Lately, though, the main driver for development has been moving forward. While Related still isn’t obligated to make payments to the MTA, that date is nearing, and officials gathered to commemorate groundbreaking at the site. With Coach on board and L’Oreal nearing a deal, tenants are starting to snap up the space, and the subway line will deliver workers to Manhattan’s final undeveloped frontier.

So what does a subway line nearly finished look like? That’s what MTA videographer Shawn Kildare wanted to know, and he produced the video embedded above. There’s some work to be done yet, but the 7 line, sans that important Hell’s Kitchen stop, is heading down the home stretch.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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