Archive for Manhattan

The dedicated bus lane will run Lenox Avenue to Second Avenue.

The dedicated bus lane will run Lenox Avenue to Second Avenue.

When the MTA Board’s Transit committee meets later today, one of their agenda items includes a formal blessing of the unnecessarily controversial M60 Select Bus Servicer route. After months of planning, rollbacks and NIMBY opposition that highlighted the flaws with the process, the committee will vote on the reduced plan, and thousands of bus riders who need better service to Laguardia Airport and down 125th St. will get it. We can celebrate the moment, but it’s also yet another example of missed opportunities for relatively cheap and easy transit upgrade.

In announcing the new route this past fall, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast spoke generally of the improvements. “The 125th Street corridor is a vital thoroughfare for Harlem residents and businesses alike,” he said in a statement. “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.”

The Board materials fill in the details. The new SBS M60 will be a 24-hour bus line that fully supplants the route’s current local service. (The remaining 125th St. crosstown local buses will continue to serve all stops.) Service frequency will increase by 10 percent on the weekdays and around 14 percent on the weekends, and with a dedicated bus lane, for all 125th St. buses, that will run for a little less than one mile between Lenox and 2nd Avenues.

The Board committee book describes the bus lane: “Most of the bus lanes will be offset, or one lane away from the curb, which will accommodate deliveries, community parking needs, and right turns; the bus lane between 3rd Avenue and 2nd Avenue will be curbside and only in the eastbound direction.” It’s better than nothing, but even as the MTA stresses that it and NYC DOT “attended over 50 community meetings,” I can’t help but feel this whole thing is another missed opportunity.

As this new service gears up to launch in the spring, it is definitely an improvement so long as bus lane enforcement comes with it. Outside of the need to improve access to Laguardia, a bus ride down 125th Street is often an exercise in patience and futility. This wide cross-street is chock full of traffic stretching from Fairway on the West Side to the Triborough Bridge on the East. Parking and double parking are constant problems, and as with 96th St., it can be faster to walk at rush hour than to sit on a bus.

With 125th St., the city could have taken the opportunity to rebuild the street space. The street is wide enough to support true BRT with center-running lanes and dedicated boarding areas. It has the ridership to warrant such improvements as well. Instead, Community Boards concerned with the loss of a few parking spots and one quarter of the local bus service threw up road blocks after road blocks to the point that the MTA and DOT never shelved the idea for good. Even after local politicians intervened, the plans are a watered-down version of the initial proposal, and parking will still obstruct the bus lane at certain points. Certain Community Boar members too are still unhappy with any plan that removes parking spaces and improves transit.

So again, the needs of the few and loud outweigh the needs of the many, and we applaud the SBS M60 plans because they will exist in a few weeks. It will be easier for commuters, students and New Yorkers to journey down 125th St. and for travelers to reach Laguardia. For the airport, ultimately, though, what New York City truly needs is a direct subway connection, and for a cross-street, we need bus rapid transit. For now, we’ll just have to keep dreaming.

Categories : Buses, Manhattan
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Dyckman St. 1 IRT Station after an extensive two-year rehabilitation that saw the addition of an elevator linking the mezzanine level and the southbound platform. Photo: MTA / Patrick Cashin

I couldn’t make it up to Inwood this week, but the MTA and local pols cut the ribbon on the rehabbed Dyckman Street station. After two years, $31 million and one lawsuit, the station, its new mezzanine and downtown-bound elevator opened. There’s also a new Arts for Transit installation at the station which finds itself on the National Register of Historic Places.

In conjunction with the rehab, Jim Dwyer penned a The Times column about the impact of the elevator on accessibility. It’s certainly worth a read as it provides a glimpse inside the travels of those who cannot easily get around. MTA officials, meanwhile, praised the spruced-up station. “We have been able to fully rehabilitate this historic station improving the structural aspects and customer amenities while retaining the unique architectural features that have made this station so visually special,” NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco said.

Outside of the good news in Inwood, there’s a light slate of work this weekend. Let’s dive in.

From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, February 8 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, February 9, 2 trains operate in two sections due to track panel installation work north of Nereid Av.

  • Between Flatbush Av and E 180 St, and via the 5 to/from Dyre Av.
  • Between E 180 St and 241 St. To continue your trip, transfer at E 180 St.

From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, February 8 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, February 9, 2 trains run express from Wakefield 241 St to Gun Hill Rd due to track panel installation.

From 3:45 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Saturday, February 8 and from 11:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. Saturday, February 8, to Sunday, February 9, 5 shuttle trains are suspended between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E180 St due to track panel installation work at Nereid Av. 5 Shuttle service is replaced by 2 trains between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 10, A trains run on the F line between Jay Street-MetroTech and W4 St due to emergency Verizon cable replacement in the Cranberry tunnel.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 10, A trains are suspended between Jay St-MetroTech and Utica Av in both directions due to track tie renewal north of Hoyt-Schermerhorn. Transfer between A trains and free shuttle buses.

From 11:15 p.m. Friday, February 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 10, C trains are suspended between Chambers St and Euclid Av in both directions due to track tie renewal north of Hoyt-Schermerhorn, and emergency Verizon cable replacement in the Cranberry tunnel. Uptown C trains run express from Canal Street to 59 St Columbus Circle.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 7, to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, February 9, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, February 9, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 10, Manhattan-bound E trains run express from 71 Av to Queens Plaza due to track maintenance at 46 St and 36 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 7, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 10, Manhattan-bound E trains skip Van Wyck Blvd and 75 Ave due to signal modernization at Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 7 to 5:00 a.m. and Monday, February 10, Coney Island-bound F trains are rerouted on the M line from Roosevelt Av to 47-50 Sts Rock Ctr due to Second Avenue Subway construction

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 7 to 5:00 a.m. and Monday, February 10, Coney Island-bound F trains skip 4 Av-9 St, 15 St-Prospect Park, and Fort Hamilton Pkwy due to signal work at Church Av. For service to these stations take a Coney Island-bound F train to 7 Av or Church Av and transfer to a Queens-bound F or G train. From these stations, take a Queens-bound F or G to 7 Av or Smith-9 Sts and transfer to a Coney Island-bound F.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 7 to 5:00 a.m. and Monday, February 10, Coney Island-bound F trains skip Sutphin Blvd, Van Wyck Blvd and 75 Av due to signal cable installation.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 7 to 5:00 a.m. and Monday, February 10, Church Av-bound G trains skip 4 Av-9 St, 15 St-Prospect Park, and Fort Hamilton Pkwy due to signal work at Church Av.

From 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, February 8, and Sunday, February 9, Bay Ridge-bound R trains run express from 71 Av to Queens Plaza due to track maintenance work at 46 St and 36 St.

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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.

Categories : Manhattan
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With the Midtown East rezoning on hold, so too are needed upgrades to the Grand Central transit infrastructure.

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.

Categories : Manhattan
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The MTA is finally set to award a master lease for the Columbus Circle retail space. (Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin)

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.

Categories : Manhattan
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The dedicated bus lane will run Lenox Avenue to Second Avenue.

The dedicated bus lane will run Lenox Avenue to Second Avenue.

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.”

Categories : Buses, Manhattan
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The Roosevelt Island Tram, extended. (Via Next New York)

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.”

Categories : Manhattan, Queens
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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.

Categories : Buses, Manhattan
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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?

Categories : Asides, Manhattan
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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?

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