Home Manhattan What The Times missed about East 69th St.

What The Times missed about East 69th St.

by Benjamin Kabak

A new subway entrance could tear asunder the entire fabric of an Upper East Side block, says its residents.

Over the weekend, The Times’ Metropolitan Section took on the dispute over the MTA’s planned expansion of the 68th St. subway station. As we know, Transit is planning to make this busy station ADA-accessible and an overall easier place to exit the system by building new entrances and some elevators at 69th Street, and the residents along one part of 69th St. doth protest too much.

Cara Buckley penned The Times’ take on the dispute, and it’s a perfectly sterile piece. Those crazy one-percenters, it seems to say. Here’s how Buckley writes it:

There is talk that the proposed newcomer will bring riffraff to the block, or rats or outdoor urinators. That things will be noisier. Squishier. That property values will drop. Such are the fears running along 69th Street near Lexington Avenue, home to the Union Club, neo-Georgian homes and carriage houses. They are fears normally associated with the less-charming realities of urban life, like a homeless shelter or a late-night dive bar. But in this case, they are focused on something quite different: new entrances to a subway station.

Some New Yorkers can only dream of having a subway train ferry them straight to their front door, but residents of East 69th Street say the entrances have no place on what they believe to be one of the prettiest streets around. They have formed a block association and hired lawyers, and they plan to tap an engineering firm to conduct transportation and environmental assessments that will likely show that the entrances can and should go elsewhere, or perhaps are not needed at all. Residents are feeling, in the words of one, “hysterical,” all the while trying to defuse charges of Upper East Side snobbery.

“It’s not as though any of us are sitting there riding around in limos and saying other people should ride the subways, like Marie Antoinette,” said Charles Salfeld, who has lived at the Imperial House on East 69th Street since 1976. “What we object to is this access to and from the subway done at the expense of the residential and pristine quality of 69th Street.”

Actually, that’s exactly what those folks said at previous meetings, and now they’re trying to backtrack. What Buckley only tip-toed around when describing a block a few feet from Lexington Ave. and Hunter College were the clear racial undertones of the residents’ statements. During an October meeting, one resident said “people to the west don’t take the subway. Not to be elitist, but they don’t.” In January, another said the new station would “attract people looking to hang out.”

Now that these East 69th St. residents had time to compose themselves, their language — still ludicrous — has lost its edge. They speak of rolling a bowling ball down the block at night without hitting anything. They call the MTA’s new “absolutely preposterous” and worry about property values which will somehow go down with better subway access. They’ve lawyered up and toned it down.

This story runs deeper than just some neighborhood opposition to a new subway entrance. It’s about a group of people who think they’re better than everyone else and want to keep their quote-unquote pristine block of urban space shoved between Lexington and Park Avenues in Manhattan, the nation’s most densely populated area, to themselves. This isn’t a quaint dispute with some self-centered Upper East Siders. It’s elitism, classism and maybe even some racism at its worst, and that deserves attention.

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John-2 February 27, 2012 - 4:41 pm

The fun test would be to see if they remain hell-bent against the new entrances if the MTA redid the renderings to show the stairs/escalators would be all pointed towards, or located on, Lexington Avenue. If they still opposed the entrances once the need for any of the riff-raff to trod their pristine street to access the entrances is taken away, then they’d have to come out and say they don’t even want those people going near their street.

At which point, they should probably just go all-in and demand the city make East 69th Street a gated community, so not even the plebeian cars and taxis can ruin their well-above-average quality of life conditions (and on a side note, it would also be fun to find out the campaign donations, if any, of the 69th Street crowd, my guess is a number of “Do as I say, not as I do” types would show up).

Benjamin Kabak February 27, 2012 - 4:42 pm

It’s really tempting to host a SAS meetup on 69th St.

Bolwerk February 28, 2012 - 4:13 pm

The problem is there isn’t anything there. You’d probably need to go to Third Ave.. 🙁

R. Graham February 27, 2012 - 4:45 pm

I am not surprised at all. My wife used to work at a bank in the area and stories like this one were a daily tail.

Wilbur February 27, 2012 - 5:10 pm

I’m not surprised. Sounds like a bunch of unhappy leftist liberals. It is NYC after all.

VLM February 27, 2012 - 5:12 pm

Really? Are you dense or dumb? If anything, it sounds like a bunch of intolerant hateful 1-percent conservative assholes. But then again, I wouldn’t expect someone complaining of “leftist liberals” to understand who actually supports public transit expansion efforts and which type of protest are racists.

John Jacobs February 27, 2012 - 8:19 pm

VLM – Wilbur’s right. Nice of you to name call though. Just like your leftist friends protesting the subway entrance. Grow up pal.

Benjamin Kabak February 27, 2012 - 8:25 pm

Do you know how to lose your commenting privileges? Replying to your own comment from the same IP address with a different name in order to start a fight. Don’t do it again. Final warning.

Seth R February 27, 2012 - 8:46 pm


Jerrold February 27, 2012 - 9:10 pm

Ben, you’re a damn good detective, and I mean that seriously, NOT sarcastically.

Alex Engel February 29, 2012 - 2:42 pm

Damn! That’s good.

Bolwerk February 27, 2012 - 8:23 pm

He’s obviously not very politically literate, if he’s using such a blaring oxymoron. That said, the neighborhood is probably full of both conservatives and limousine liberals, neither of which are remotely “left-wing.”

Regardless, things like this show how NYC is one of the most conservative places in the country in many ways.

Tsuyoshi February 27, 2012 - 10:35 pm

I would say that it shows NYC is no different from other parts of the country. This same sort of belief that better transit spreads crime is common pretty much everywhere in the US.

The really funny part though, is that people on the UES think that an extra entrance, saving a block or two of walking at most, will result in hordes of ill-mannered poor people overrunning their block. Usually in other cities this comes up when an entire new transit line is proposed, rather than just an exit.

Alex C February 27, 2012 - 10:48 pm

I looked at this place in person just to check. Their block is far from secluded. It’s in between two insanely busy avenues with Hunter College right there. These people are full of it.

Bolwerk February 27, 2012 - 11:40 pm

Well, I think all these things are said for their emotive effect. Like Alex C says, they’re full of it. But at least sometimes, just saying these things works. And even if they fail sometimes, they contribute to high costs of making service extensions and improving amenities (e.g., NBBL). So even failure is a success, since it feeds the persecution complex these people no doubt have.

Alon Levy February 28, 2012 - 2:27 am

The southwestern half of the UES votes about 50-50, and is the most Republican part of Manhattan.

Chris February 27, 2012 - 5:31 pm

I hear a lot of NIMBY bashing, but very few complaints about those who designed and maintain a system such that a few dozen people have such a meaningful voice in guiding the decisions that affect tens or hundreds of thousands. These NIMBYs did not create the rules that allowed this largely unremarkable block to be “landmarked” and did not create the laws requiring years of impact assessments before public authorities make relatively minor improvements. The story here isn’t that a few dozen people are elitist or classist, it’s that the rest of us listen to them.

Bolwerk February 27, 2012 - 8:28 pm

I agree with this. What we need are more sensible rules that neutralize this type of behavior, or even punish it.

DavidDuck February 28, 2012 - 10:05 pm

Fine. But realize that the reason things are this way is the abuses of the Moses era. Engagement with the public has huge advantages.

Bolwerk February 28, 2012 - 11:41 pm

Engagement is fine, but so is discretion. There are cues, like even public opinion polls, that can discern the difference between legitimate public dissent/opposition and butthert NIMBYs.

Biebs February 27, 2012 - 5:42 pm

I have to say, while the Times article was “sterile” since it wasn’t an opinion piece. It’s pretty clear from the article that the writers believe that the complaints are silly.

I do wish they went into the costs and time waste of the delays that the groups would cause.

Matthew February 27, 2012 - 8:30 pm

Fortunately, the MTA has federal law on it’s side; ADA access is required at this station.

It’s quite nice of them to build a new entrance to the station to keep from having to close the station while they make the ADA improvements.

John-2 February 27, 2012 - 8:57 pm

The other thing to remember is that (hopefully) within the next half-decade, East 69th Street will have two subway entrances; one for the 6 at Lex and the other for the Q at Second Avenue, as part of the 72nd Street station. So that means the ‘hordes’ coming west to the stop are probably going to be limited to those living on Third Avenue, while if you believe the 69th Street crowd’s early talking points, nobody west of Lex uses the IRT, anyway.

The station’s main entrance will remain 68th Street, and 69th will just provide some overflow, mainly to make rush hour entrances and exits easier. If the MTA also does shift the entrances so they’re on or pointed at Lexington, the block’s residents aren’t going to have to stay up at nights worrying about their street turning into something resembling Broadway in Brooklyn after the 1977 blackout.

Duke February 27, 2012 - 10:35 pm

Eh, the point is, saying “don’t ruin my pristine little piece of the world” when you live in the middle of Manhattan on a public street is out of touch with reality and indicative of an overwhelming sense of entitlement.

And this is true regardless of race or anything else you can come up with an “-ism” about. Bringing -isms into it just adds unnecessary charge to the debate.

Let’s just call it what it is: stupid.

Bolwerk February 27, 2012 - 11:44 pm

I don’t agree with this. There are perfectly legitimate problems with some public amenities: parking lots, distribution centers, highways, buses, and even els all contribute to noise and often other types of pollution. (And there are other types of risk. Modern LRVs might actually so quiet you don’t hear them coming until they squash you!) Not saying those things should ever be done, but they at least cause real problems that deserve attention.

Underground railroads and subway entrances just don’t want can’t count among those though.

Bruce M February 28, 2012 - 12:46 am

“. . . nobody west of Lex uses the IRT, anyway.” I’ll bet that their maids and nannys do!

David Brown February 28, 2012 - 9:51 am

To be honest I don’t support the people around 68th & Lexington Ave, but it is not simply Republicans vs progress. Rather, it is standard operating procedure for NIMBYS to oppose almost anything growth related, particularly if it is related to homeless shelters, colleges and (Or) transportation, yet they demand that more shelters, more services, and better transportation be made available, but at the same time, other people must take them, and of course, pay for them (See the Ultra-left Greenwich Village Community Board 2 vs NYU as the poster child for this). I also think of the people in Astoria who prevented a transportation expansion to La Guardia Airport. What we really need is elected officials who have some spine and backbone, and who will stand up to the likes of Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Historical Society, and these various pressure groups who oppose almost any growth in their little corner of the world (68th and Lexington Ave included).

Frank B. February 28, 2012 - 10:53 am

If the entrance is truly the issue, and they’d like it to match with their landmarked block, why don’t they all pitch in some money so the MTA can afford some classic cast-iron and glass IRT Kiosks?

Those would surely match much more nicely than the “Modern” monstrosities of entrances like at 21st-Queensbridge, Van Wyck, or South Ferry.

Surely these would look better on the IND Second Avenue Line as well, without adding that much more in cost. (Modern architecture is surprisingly as expensive, if not more expensive than more traditional forms of architecture.)

Of course, this whole thing is hardly about architecture. It’s about keeping the ‘riff-raff’ and the ‘muckity muck’ away from your home at all costs.

These people would be afraid of a butterfly coming to close to their highly allergic dogs.

BrooklynBus February 28, 2012 - 12:26 pm

I am definitely not with the NIMBYs, but I was just wondering if anyone did any projections to show if the proposed new entrance would still be needed due to overcrowding once SAS opens? If this is just a temporary solution for a few years, it might not be the best expenditure of limited resources.

Bolwerk February 28, 2012 - 12:35 pm

I don’t know about studies, but a lot of the crowding is due to Hunter College. I don’t think the SAS is likely to drive enrollment at Hunter College down.

And “needed” or not, it’s convenient to have an entrance to the north for people not heading to the college. And it hurts nobody.

BrooklynBus February 28, 2012 - 3:07 pm

Although there is a 69th Street entrance to the college, I think most would still prefer to use 68th Street because that’s where the bult of the school is. Of course it would be convenient fo some. That’s not the point. There have to be a lot of other stations that could use additional entrances too. The question is if it is worth the expense if SAS would relieve the overcrowding without building it.

Bolwerk February 28, 2012 - 3:37 pm

I’d agree, but I see no sensible reason to think the SAS would relieve that or any other station. Unless you already live on First or Second avenue, near a station no less, what reason would you have to prefer the SAS? The closest SAS stop will be at 72nd Street, no fewer than three blocks away assuming it happens to stretch down to 71st.

And I really don’t buy that people in the boroughs are going to leave the Lex to get to the SAS if they need to stop at a local Lex stop.

crescent February 28, 2012 - 3:44 pm

Southern entrance to 2nd/72nd station will be at 69th St.

Bolwerk February 28, 2012 - 4:15 pm

I thought it was oriented more toward the north. Either way, that’s a bit far when the Lex is right there at 68th and Lex, near the three major entrances to Hunter.

BrooklynBus February 28, 2012 - 6:46 pm

The Hunter students will obviously continue to use the Lex. But if enough users from the Lex are diverted to SAS, there will that much more room on the platforms and stairways for those Hunter riders. Isn’t that the purpose of SAS anyway to take some of the load off the Lex? If not why are we even building it?

Bolwerk February 28, 2012 - 11:50 pm

Hunter is the predominant reason to use that station. Regardless of average loads, peak loads are caused by Hunter. OTOH, the Hunter science building I guess will be closer to the Second (I think on Third).

I really don’t buy these arguments that a huge load is going to come off the Lex either when Phase 1 or Phase 4 is complete. That part of Manhattan needs a subway regardless of the Lex.

DavidDuck February 28, 2012 - 10:09 pm

Well, there is the ADA issue too.

Shannon February 28, 2012 - 12:42 pm

Well… I’m taking some CE classes at night at Hunter right now and usually walk the 15 blocks or so home rather than take the subway one stop… after this article, I’ll be sure to take a shortcut down 69th Street every time now, just to do my part in increasing the dreaded foot traffic.

Stu Sutcliffe February 28, 2012 - 1:56 pm

I’d love to see someone from East 69th Street respond to Ben’s outstanding piece and the comments here. Somehow, I don’t think that they will, though.

crescent February 28, 2012 - 3:46 pm

Look, it’s a bunch of landowners protecting the value of their investment. You put your apt up for sale and a few people don’t bid on it because they don’t want to live on the a block with a lot of foot traffic.

I get it- they are allowed to squwak- but they have no legal or moral basis to stop MTA if that is what MTA wants to do, and with the ADA point and the fact that the 30th busiest station has only 2 exit/entrance now, they seem to have more than enough reason.

Eric McClure February 28, 2012 - 11:26 pm

Nice post, Ben, and well articulated. Seems as if Park Slope’s cynically named “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” have some close cousins on the Upper East Side.


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