Archive for Manhattan
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.
Shortly after 5 p.m. on Tuesday, November 12, 2013, the third term of Mayor Bloomberg effectively drew to a close. It may still be seven weeks before Bill de Blasio takes over, but when the City Council decided to block the Midtown East rezoning plan and the mayor withdrew it from consideration, Bloomberg’s hopes for one final signature effort to reshape New York City died. It’s yet another sign that New York will have trouble competing with global forward-thinking cities over the next few years and decades, but it’s also an initiative likely to be back on the table by mid-2014.
The coverage of the death of the Midtown East rezoning has ranged from bleak to not. Charles V. Bagli of The Times sees it as a sign of changing political winds, but once Mayor de Blasio realizes the need for revenue, the rezoning efforts will be back with a vengeance. Dana Rubinstein sees it more as a pause than a full stop with various stakeholders calling on city leaders to “get it right” rather than to get it fast, Jill Colvin struck a similar chord. I’m not inclined to see this as anything other than a temporary setback though I worry about the short- and long-term implications as New York can’t seem to build transit expansions in a timely and cost-efficient manner and can’t rezone an area to encourage growth.
The politicians struck a conciliatory tone in their various statements. Christine Quinn — remember her? — and Dan Garodnick issued the word from City Council”
“Creating new jobs in East Midtown – and across all of New York City – is essential. We can and should do more with the commercial corridor around Grand Central,” they said in a statement. “However, a good idea alone is not enough to justify action today. We should rezone East Midtown, but only when we can do so properly. After extensive negotiations, we have been unable to reach agreement on a number of issues in the proposed plan. Among other issues, we remain concerned with the price, methodology and timing of the air rights to be sold by the City for the District Improvement Bonus. We are also concerned with the certainty and funding level of the needed infrastructure improvements, which includes both above and below grade needs…
We are committed to making the best decision for this community and all New Yorkers. We want to see development in the area that is both responsible and encourages growth that keeps us competitive with other cities. But, with so many outstanding issues, there is no good reason to rush the proposal through.
We can achieve all of the goals set out by the Bloomberg Administration and do so in a way that respects the interests and perspectives of all of the stakeholders – the community; the workers who will populate and serve the new and expanded buildings in East Midtown; the landmarks in the area and the developers who support the current proposal.”
The mayor too, despite licking his wounds, recognized that a Midtown East rezoning is inevitable. “This will unfortunately cost the area hundreds of millions of dollars in badly needed subway and street improvements and $1 billion in additional tax revenue—as well as tens of thousands of new jobs that would have been created,” he said. “The inability to reach a consensus on the plan’s details is regrettable, but it was encouraging that nearly everyone involved in the process recognized the need for the area to be rezoned to ensure that it remains competitive with other business districts around the world, and we appreciate the time that Speaker Quinn, Council Member Garodnick, and Council staff put into this issue. We are glad to at least be leaving the next administration a blueprint for future action.”
But what about transit? Now that I’ve sufficiently buried the lede, though, let’s talk about these infrastructure improvements. In this statement, Bloomberg specifically highlighted some transit upgrades for Grand Central. “We have a financing agreement in place to pre-fund $100 million in mass transit and public space improvements before any new development could begin,” he said, “but that funding was predicated on future development, which now will not occur.”
It’s all well and good that Midtown East had a significant amount of money available for necessary Grand Central upgrades. After all, this isn’t a project the MTA would advocate for on its own quite yet, and Mayor Bloomberg has successfully championed other projects that benefit developers and growth. But why do we have to tie Grand Central improvements into Midtown East, other than due to the finances of the work?
As it stands now, Grand Central at peak hours is packed. There’s very little room on the IRT platforms, and even with trains arriving fairly frequently, crowding can reach dangerous levels. On the mezzanine level, the fare control setup is a mess, and navigating between the Lexington Ave. line and the Flushing line is a major hassle as well. These upgrades should happen regardless of the outcome of Midtown East, but they won’t because money is repeatedly an issue.
So we’re stuck. The City Council hasn’t yet acted to encourage developers to replace subpar office stock with new, taller buildings that can compete on a global scale with cities challenging New York for global dominance, and we won’t have transit upgrades because no one will invest in that carrot without a stick. It’s likely a temporary overall setback, but it makes me question why these proposals have to be so intertwined.
When the MTA rehabilitated the Columbus Circle complex at 59th St., the project, like many others, was delayed and overbudget. By the time the rehab wrapped in 2010, there was no formal ribbon cutting or acknowledgment of the project’s end. It was just done, and the MTA had a shiny new station at its disposal.
With the new station came a new retail opportunity. The corridor underneath 8th Ave. contains approximately 11,500 square feet of retail space outside of fare control, and the 13 stores gave the MTA an opportunity to show that they can encourage high-quality retail. Yet, since open the station, the only thing that’s happened was an RFP issued in mid-2012. Now after fits and starts, the MTA is set to award a master lease to the space to a group headed, in part, by a former MTA real estate executive.
In materials distributed to the Board’s Finance Committee this week, the MTA has unveiled that an entity called Drop By at Columbus Circle has won the bidding to take over the maser lease for the space. The lease will run for 20 years with a 10-year option held by Drop By, and rent payments with start at over $700,000 a year with Drop By owning, by year three, 20 percent of operating income over $2.775 million. The breakpoint will increase periodically over the term of the lease, and Drop By will have the ability to sell digital advertising in the space once the MTA’s current deal with CBS Outdoors expires.
So who won? Drop By is a joint venture between Susan Fine, the former MTA Director of Real Estate who was responsible for the retail revitalization at Grand Central, and 40 North Properties, an investment company held by Howard Glatzer. The MTA doesn’t explicitly address the appearance of a conflict of interests in award Fine’s group the lease but notes that Drop By’s bid offered the highest guaranteed base rent. She has also worked in the private sector for a while since leaving the MTA.
With the lease situation cleared up, the MTA has high expectations for the space. According to the Board materials, the MTA expects “retail uses of the level of quality generally prevailing at other high quality shopping malls associated with transportation facilities in New York City, such as, by way of example, the below-grade retail concourses at Rockefeller Center and the up-to-date terminals at the New York area’s major airports.” The MTA also expects Drop By to fulfill the promises of its RFP as it installs air conditioning in the circulating space and corridor underneath 8th Ave. in the station complex.
It’s interesting that the MTA’s points of comparison here are airports and Rockefeller Center but not Grand Central. It seems a more modest goal for Columbus Circle. Still, it’s clear that Drop By, between the long-term commitments and promised capital upgrades, has higher goals in mind. And those goals matter because the MTA is undergoing a similar process with a more important piece of real estate in Lower Manhattan.
As the Columbus Circle RFP process took a little bit longer to resolve than the agency would have hoped, the Fulton St. Transit Center is set to open to the public in June. It won’t be fully completed by then, and it’s unlikely that any of the retail spaces will be in use. But the MTA wants a similar master lease executed with one entity responsible for filling the spaces there. Think, then, of Columbus Circle as a test run. If the MTA can find a tenant here willing to invest in an underground space, it may be even easier to convince potential investors to look at the Fulton St. Transit Center as a bigger and more visible opportunity.
When we last saw the plans to turn the M60 into a Select Bus Service route, it had died an ignominious death. NIMBY opposition and hollow appeals to the process led DOT and the MTA to shelve the plan. Locals and La Guardia-bound travelers would simply be left with the status quo in which buses sit idle on 125th St. more than 60 percent of the time.
But! Unlikely so many tales of incremental and inoffensive transit improvements, this story has a happier ending than most. After an election that saw a slight but significant power shift in Harlem, community outcry and political pressure, DOT has revived the M60 Select Bus Service plan, and the route — still in its abbreviated form — will debut in May along with some streetscape improvements.
“The 125th Street corridor is a vital thoroughfare for Harlem residents and businesses alike,” MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast said in a statement announcing the reversal. “I’m glad we will be able to improve service for our customers while still maintaining commercial loading zones for businesses in the area. Select Bus Service will speed up bus service by as much as 20 percent on the M60 where half of the route’s boardings and alightings happen right on 125th Street.”
Per details from DOT, new plan will transition the M60 local to the M60 SBS, reducing the number of stops from 11 to six along 125th St. while maintaining connections to Metro-North and the various subway lines across the thoroughfare. Dedicated bus lanes will be in place in both directions between Lenox and Second Avenues, but unfortunately, cars will be able to enter the bus lane to make right turns at various intersections. DOT claims such a move “balanc[es] the needs of other motorists on the corridor.” To cut down on double parking and speed up the road for all, commercial loading zones will be put in place, and meters will be installed east of Fifth Ave. Left-turn restrictions will be implemented at Fifth and Lexington as well.
In addition to the bus lanes and speedier crosstown service, 125th St. itself will see a variety of improvements. The street will be lined with 62 energy-efficient LED street lights that will soon be popping up throughout New York, and the new pedestrian wayfinding signs will be a part of the 12 SBS stations. These signs are supposed to have real-time bus arrival information as well.
In announcing the revival of this key route and corresponding improvements, DOT stressed the 50 meetings they hosted over the last year with “extensive outreach” but Community Board leaders still bemoaned the route, solidifying my belief that Community Boards are generally barriers to, and not instruments of, progress in the city. Meanwhile, while various state officials including Bill Perkins, Adriano Espaillat and Melissa Mark-Viverito joined the announcement, Inez Dickens was notably absent from the parade of political quotes. Read into that what you will. The good news is that this project is happening, and it’ll be live in eight months.
“With new businesses and historic destinations drawing record numbers of visitors to the heart of Harlem, 125th Street has never been more dynamic, yet congestion has kept buses at a standstill,” DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said. “By bringing dedicated bus lanes and speeding up boarding times, SBS will provide a lifeline to thousands of residents and visitors and bring world-class streetscapes to one of the world’s most famous streets.”
As part of its Next New York series, the Forum for Urban Design has been posting a variety of project proposals on a new website. For the dreamers among us, these visuals are a rabbit hole of urban delight. Head down the path to find a world in which the Triboro RX exists or another with a one-seat ride to La Guardia Airport. Many of the transit plans are ideas I’ve explored in depth in the past, but here’s a new one: a Midtown-Queens Tramway.
Put forward by Claire Weisz, Mark Yoes and Jacob Dugopolski from WXY Architecture + Urban Design, the idea is a simple one: Extend the Roosevelt Island tram west to Central Park and east to Queens Plaza. The designers call this a “new uninterrupted connections across the river, linking major destinations across the five boroughs.” Though it’s tough to see how this tramway improves upon the preexisting two-stop subway connection via the R train between Queens Plaza and Central Park, it’s certainly intriguing to see a direct tram connection between Roosevelt Island and Queens.
The overall view for the sky and water links from the WXY architects goes like this:
First, we could extend the Roosevelt Island tram in both directions, creating a new link from Queens Plaza to Central Park. The tram could be a high-visibility attraction, steering tourists from Central Park to the museums and galleries of Long Island City. And it would serve commuters as an above-grade transit option with a fantastic view that links Queens Plaza with Midtown Manhattan or the new Roosevelt Island campus and innovation hub.
The East River Ferry could also be expanded to bridge neighborhoods directly across the river from one another. Paired with new bikeways and express bus routes along the waterfront, the ferry would offer a quicker transportation alternative to existing multi-stop bus and subway routes. The ferry should create new access points at Roosevelt Island; Pier 35, Houston Street, and Stuyvesant Cove in Manhattan; and Jay Street and the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Brooklyn.
Finally, we could invest in new bridges to unite our waterfront greenways. We could link Governors Island to Red Hook, Greenpoint and Long Island City along Manhattan Avenue, Harlem and Yankee Stadium along W. 153rd Street, Hunts Point and Soundview along Lafayette Avenue, and Gowanus and Red Hook along Centre Street.
Unless Weisz and her co-designers are using high speed ferries on a rather narrow waterway, the boats won’t offer up “quicker transportation” than existing subway routes, but these boats, as the success of the East River ferries has shown, can connect waterfront neighborhoods that may not have easy subway or bus access.
This idea, though, is all about the tram. It’s dramatic with great views and can offer up a different transit mode. I don’t know how much such a proposal would cost, and I’m not going to say it’s definitely something to consider. But it’s something to dream about as we focus on New York’s future. As Daniel McPhee, an executive with the Forum for Urban Design, said to the Daily News, “Some of the more speculative proposals sort of ignites the dialogue about how to make our city more sustained, more competitive and more livable.”
While exiting the Times Square station near the Shuttle platform’s Track 4 exit today, I noticed the sign you see at the top of the post. For Manhattan bus riders, a big day is coming soon as the MTA has promised that BusTime, it’s real-time bus tracking system, will be available on all of the borough’s buses some time this month. I reached out to the MTA for more details and was told that the announcement will come next week.
BusTime is the MTA’s distance-based bus location system that was developed in-house. While the system does not include countdown clocks, it comes with a text message-based system and smartphone enabled apps as well. For Manhattan bus riders, the arrival of BusTime will take the guess work out of waiting for some of the city’s least reliable and slowest bus routes around. It’s a solid first step.
As the Midtown East rezoning vote nears, there have been a few articles published worth a bit of our attention. In today’s The Times, the City Club of New York takes centerstage as they bemoan the economic machinations behind Mayor Bloomberg’s plan.
The long-dormant good government group has issued a 24-page position paper on the rezoning plan, and essentially, they claim that the city’s plan amounts to an effort to sell development rights in the rezoned area for $250 a square foot. The money would go to transit improvements, but none of it, they say, is a constitutionally permissible taking. I’m not well versed enough in New York City property law to pass a judgment one way or another, but the point remains that this group is going after the fund designed to boost transit capacity.
If Mayor Bloomberg has his way, one more time, the rezoning and this fee could generate around $500 million for transit investment in the Midtown East area. The Commercial Observer recently ran down the list of improvements, and although it’s one I’ve covered before, it’s worth revisiting. For $465 million — not much less than the cost of the dearly departed 7 line station at 41st St. and 11th Ave. — the list features “widened stairways, additional escalators (leading to and from subway stations at Grand Central, Lexington Avenue at 51st and 53rd Streets and Madison Avenue and 53rd Street), and a pedestrian passage between the Grand Central subway and Long Island Railroad platforms.” Will these upgrades truly solve the capacity crunch and why does this cost so much?
While I’ve burned a lot of pixels on the QueensWay recently, the city’s other rails-to-park project is slowly inching forward. The LowLine, an ambitious plan to bring natural light underground in order to turn the Essex St. Trolley Terminal into a park, has garnered a lot of attention as a creative idea. Not surprisingly, I’ve been very skeptical about a plan that involves during unused transit infrastructure into a green space, but the organizers have assured me that there is no real transit use for it in 2013.
Lately, in between fundraisers and Kickstarters, the LowLine has developed a following of politicos. Last month, Manhattan representatives urged the EDC and MTA to work out a transfer of the space. The letter claimed that the Delancey Underground park “could generate at least $15-$30 million in economic benefit to the city by way of increased sales, hotel and real estate taxes and incremental land value,” and a Who’s Who of New York politicians, including our two senators, members of Congress, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Dan Squadron and Council Members Rosie Mendez and Margaret Chin, all appended their names to the effort.
And yet, the money needed is very problematic. While the founders have been able to fundraise minimal amounts to put together prototypes and other exhibits, Kim Velsey in The Observer highlighted the considerable obstacles that remain. Construction could cost anywhere from $42-$70 million, and annual maintenance would run around $2.4-$4 million. Even the most popular parks in New York can’t cover their expenses from concession revenues.
The park proposal has had more staying power than I ever imagined it would, but I still grow uneasy about turning over transit infrastructure to anything other than transit. It’s exceedingly difficult to find money and the will to build new transit spaces in New York City. Reserving pre-existing ones for future uses should be a priority. The LowLine is a creatively futuristic idea, but can it ever be anything more than that?
As Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure rushes to an end, his effort to rezone Midtown East is coming to a head as well. Bloomberg wants to see this project through before he leaves office, and while many stakeholders are objecting to the relative breakneck pace of a project that has to go through a mandated review process, the rezoning is moving forward. Last week, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer gave the Midtown East his OK, conditioned on promises from the Bloomberg Administration to fund transit improvements. It’s a start, but is it enough?
“In order to make East Midtown’s plan a success, greater density in East Midtown should follow significant investments in its infrastructure,” Stringer said in his report. Expanding density before preparing the transit infrastructure, he says, “will have undesirable consequences for the City as a whole, [and] the ramifications of adding density to the already overloaded capacity of the local transit infrastructure raises serious questions about a development-first approach.”
Stringer’s ULURP review and the subsequent report focused largely on the impact the rezoning would have on the transit infrastructure currently in place. As regular riders of the Lexington Ave. IRT know, the Grand Central station is ill-equipped to handle more passengers. The trains themselves are packed, and the station — without much platform space or a large mezzanine area — can feel dangerously cramped at times. East Side Access will bring more riders into the area, and the rezoning would boost ridership on the line by well over 100 percent.
So what do you do with 15,000 new workers who will fill up 3.8 million square feet of office space and a few hundred thousand more square feet devoted to retail and hotels? In February, the MTA presented their mitigation plans, and Stringer grants his approval for the project as long as these plans are implemented first. These plans include new stairways — which eliminate some platform space — an enlarged mezzanine, new exits and an additional train per hour for the Lexington Ave. line. The 7 line would enjoy a few new staircases and high-speed escalators as well, and additional mitigation plans are being developed.
To fund all of this, Stringer calls upon the city to move towards what he calls comprehensive planning. “The City should advance proactive funding mechanisms, which could include, but are not limited to, direct capital investment, bond financing, or a special tax assessment district,” his report says. “Such funding mechanisms can provide capital dollars today that could be paid back by the proposed source (i.e. the DIB) over time.”
Now, this is all well and good, and Stringer is right to worry about the impact on transit such a rezoning would have. The system at Grand Central cannot handle many more people without some serious expansion efforts, but I worry that the proposed mitigation efforts aren’t enough. Incremental improvement is fine, but sweeping change may be in order. Plus, the rezoning isn’t the only project that will impact the area as two new East River high rises are going up in the East 30s.
The solution should be an increased focus on Phases 3 and 4 of the Second Ave. Subway. Now, I realize the MTA has only just started thinking about Phase 2, but as these Midtown East rezoning efforts move forward, Phases 3 and 4 are becoming even more important. This southern extension can siphon riders off of the Lexington Ave. line and to the new office space that will be developed. Additionally, bringing the subway south into an area with new office space could gain the approval of the Dan Doctoroffs of the city who would no longer view the subway line as a “silly spur that doesn’t generate anything.” It would generate relief for the Lexington Ave. line and could be a key selling point for new development in a rezoned area.
Ultimately, the rezoning will move forward, and without a champion, these phases of the Second Ave. Subway won’t for now. But they could be the key to the entire project, and Stringer’s report, while omitting reference to these phases, nearly says as much. “While the proposed rezoning targets development, any additional density onto a system that is over capacity will inevitably lead to potentially dangerous conditions,” he said. “It is therefore critical that the City mitigate the existing overcrowding conditions and create a real plan for investment in the East Side’s transportation infrastructure, including improving conditions at Grand Central.”
Whenever I think of the Lexington Avenue line and Midtown on Manhattan’s East Side, I am reminded of a Yogi Berra quote. “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded,” the famed Yankee catcher once said. On its surface, it’s a silly line, but when you think about, it’s makes a lot of sense. No one new will go somewhere that’s too crowded.
Midtown East and the Lexington Ave. line fulfill Yogi’s Yogism perfectly. Both are so crowded that no one wants to go there anymore. Riding the 4, 5 or 6 trains at peak hour is a singularly unpleasant experience, and walking around Midtown during the work day isn’t any better. As far as the eye can see, there are people, and no one moves as fast or as efficiently as anyone walking through this mess of humanity would hope.
Furthermore, because of these crowds, many new businesses look elsewhere for office space. They look to the Flatiron District, Silicon Alley or Chelsea. They look for places with diverse transit alternatives that are more accessible to other parts of the city. They look for places where people go because they aren’t too crowded.
Now, don’t get me wrong; Midtown is still an exceedingly popular place to work. Few firms are jumping ship, and the convenience of Grand Central as a hub for subway riders from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Westchester and points north remains unparalleled throughout the city. But this is my roundabout way of asking if we need more office space in the area without addressing transit capacity concerns. It’s a vital question as the mayor’s last great plan to reimagine Manhattan — a rezoning plan, at that — moves forward.
The Midtown rezoning effort seems like a fait accompli. Nearly everyone seems to recognize the major issues with the plan, but no one is willing to stop it. Bloomberg has reshaped as many parts of the city as he can, and in the last five months of his reign, he wants to upzone Midtown as well. It sounds good, but do we need it? On one the hand, with the Hudson Yards and 1 World Trade Central on the way, New York will have a glut of office space hitting the market over the next decade. On the other, we could always have more. The costs though aren’t commensurate with the increase in square footage, and another major issue remains: The plan does not increase transit access.
In a meandering piece that takes a stand against Bloomberg’s plan, Michael Kimmelman of The Times touches briefly upon the transit issue. The following three paragraphs should be the centerpiece of any argument against the Midtown rezoning and a hint toward the right path:
New York can surely never win a skyscraper race with Shanghai or Singapore. Its future, including the future of Midtown real estate values, depends on strengthening and expanding what already makes the city a global magnet and model. This means mass transit, pedestrian-friendly streets, social diversity, neighborhoods that don’t shut down after 5 p.m., parks and landmarks like Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building.
If New York wants to learn from London, Tokyo and Shanghai, the lessons aren’t about erecting new skyscrapers. Big cities making gains on New York are investing in rail stations, airports and high-speed trains, while New York rests on the laurels of Grand Central and suffers the 4, 5 and 6 trains, which serve East Midtown. They carry more passengers daily than the entire Washington Metro system.
Improving the lives of the 1.3 million people riding those trains would instantly make the city more competitive. Adding thousands of commuters who work in giant new office buildings without upgrading the surrounding streets and subways — the Second Avenue subway won’t do it — will only set the city back.
There’s no doubt in my midn that Kimmelman is correct. Without paying attention to the transit needs, the Midtown rezoning plan will overburden and already overtaxed transit line. The 4, 5 and 6 cannot fit more people, and the inbound 7 trains to Grand Central are nearing crush loads as well. East Side Access will help deliver more suburban commuters to the area, but the subways cannot handle the load.
Yet, instead of sacrificing the Midtown rezoning to the transit gods, what if we turned the plan into a transit savior? Through the proper combination of tax-increment financing and assessments on developers, the city can rezone Midtown while collecting money to ensure that the Second Ave. Subway can move forward — and through the upzoned area. Such a plan would be a win-win for a neighborhood that needs new building stock but also needs better transit access.
We shouldn’t be afraid of Bloomberg’s plan to upzone Midtown, and we shouldn’t be afraid of more density. We should be concerned with a plan to increase office space without a corresponding bump in transit capacity though. A creative solution isn’t far away, and a true leader would bring the two to the public in tandem. It’s not too late, but Bloomberg’s lame-duck clock just keeps on ticking.