Home Manhattan A transit opportunity, slipping away, arises with Midtown rezoning plan

A transit opportunity, slipping away, arises with Midtown rezoning plan

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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Alex C July 26, 2013 - 12:45 am

One of the problems is that developers seem perpetually stuck in a CARS CARS CARS mentality, even in New York City. All development here must have 20,000 parking spaces and then some more parking spaces.

Bolwerk July 26, 2013 - 2:01 am

I don’t think there are even parking minimums in this part of midtown, and there may be maximums.

Ben July 26, 2013 - 9:20 am

I’ve never seen a new commercial building in Manhattan that had parking spaces, period. Hudson Yards and the WTC certainly don’t. Nor do other new or new-ish buildings like the Bank of America Tower, the NY Times building or the International Gem Tower.

The only new developments that have a lot of parking spaces are in Brooklyn, and only because city zoning laws still have mandatory parking minimums there.

Larry Littlefield July 26, 2013 - 9:49 am

Unfortunately, the required loading bays are often used as parking, pushing the actual loading onto the street.

alen July 26, 2013 - 9:32 am

i take the train every day and know others who do as well. and we have cars that have to be parked. if you have a cheap or semi cheap space then its easier and cheaper to take the train. if not then you have to drive into manhattan and cause traffic

at least in the outer boroughs where almost everyone has a car, remove the parking minimums and people will use their cars more to drive into high density areas

Eric Brasure July 26, 2013 - 9:56 am

“Almost everyone” has a car in the outer boroughs? Where do you get this stuff?

2010 Census numbers, households with at least 1 car:

Brooklyn: 44%
Bronx: 46%
Queens: 64%
Staten Island: 84%

Eric F July 26, 2013 - 10:15 am

One of the big Queens trend in the very dense small house neighborhoods I’ve noticed recently is the paving of postage stamp front yards to create off-street parking. It is very ugly.

Bolwerk July 26, 2013 - 11:30 am

Do you think it should be banned?

There are grasses that can hold up to cars parking on them pretty well, at least for short-ish (if frequent) intervals to account for light needed for photosynthesis….

Eric Brasure July 26, 2013 - 11:34 am

I think it should be against zoning to have front yards. Build up to the property line and have a double-sized backyard. Do whatever you want with that, no one can see it.

SEAN July 26, 2013 - 8:20 pm

There are SFR’s like that in Guttenburg NJ off Boulevard East & it’s quite unatractive.

Hank July 26, 2013 - 11:35 am

It’s not “should it be banned”; it’s already illegal. Buildings needs to enforce the law.

Eric F July 26, 2013 - 11:42 am

I haven’t developed any thoughts on whether it should be illegal, it just looks awful. I suppose it adds additional impermeable surface that exacerbates storm water runoff, but I don’t know how substantial a difference it makes, probably not much.

Henry July 26, 2013 - 11:50 pm

Every little bit adds up to a lot in a city this big. It’s the same reason why Las Vegas will pay you to replace your lawn with rocks for water conservation.

AG July 27, 2013 - 10:55 am

Yeah – the problem in Vegas and other places from Texas to Southern California is that they don’t get much rain… so a pretty lawn is not really natural and taxes the water system. I’m assuming they prefer rocks because it probably absorbs heat instead of reflecting it like asphalt.
{On a side note – having just green grass is not natural either… it takes a lot of chemicals to do that… which is why they are having algae problems in Miami right now… all the chemical lawn care products run off and mess up the water quality.}

In NYC the issue is that there is plenty of rain… and the pavement causes the water to overflow the system and release sewage into the waterways.

Henry July 28, 2013 - 2:48 am

Yep. Here, it’s the exact opposite – every little driveway adds a lot of impervious surface. It’s a lot more considering the rate this is occurring at in the outer boroughs (where the sewer system is least able to handle this sort of thing)

AG July 28, 2013 - 8:43 am

so what happened with the law that was to ban it???

Henry July 28, 2013 - 12:24 pm

If I had a penny for every time NYPD didn’t enforce a law on the books, I’d be a billionaire.

Bonus points for enforcing laws that don’t exist!

AG July 28, 2013 - 2:45 pm

well the NYPD wouldn’t enforce that law…

AG July 26, 2013 - 4:44 pm

i’m not sure if it passed – but I know there was a measure in the City Council to ban the practice (especially in Queens and the east Bronx)… because it causes more water run off into the overwhelmed sewer system… raises the temperature (which causes more energy use) etc. etc.

Eric F July 26, 2013 - 9:37 am

Where are these new 20,000 parking space Manhattan garages that you speak of? Pretty much every parking lot, gas station, etc. has been or is being razed in Manhattan. New buildings are built without any parking whatsoever.

AG July 26, 2013 - 4:41 pm

it’s midtown… not sure what you’re talking about…

Russell July 26, 2013 - 8:14 am

Ben, this is about as vague a post as I’ve seen on this website. What exactly are you calling for here?

Benjamin Kabak July 26, 2013 - 8:16 am

A redevelopment/rezoning plan for Midtown that includes a recognition that transit access in the area must be expanded and a funding mechanism that accomplishes such expansion.

Joe July 26, 2013 - 8:40 am

I think Ben is right, but I’d state it more explicitly.

Government needs to stop acting as a real-estate developer/broker/facilitator (except in extreme hard cases like Times Square 25 years ago). If the Government wants to facilitate more building in NYC (especially in Manhattan) the best and perhaps only legal way to accomplish this should be by increasing transit capacity.

If the transit facilities already exist, then developers will do everything they can to get more building in the space they are already zoned for, if sufficient demand exists then upzoning would be prudent. However, upzoning without addressing the lack of sufficient capacity will only serve to increase the problems that already exist.

Ben July 26, 2013 - 9:23 am

Except that’s not how it works. Right now, zoning in Midtown East is too restrictive for further development. It’s not economical to tear down an outdated 1950s office building if you can only build a replacement at the same height–or, in some cases, not even as high, as many buildings in Midtown East are now above permitted FAR as the city has needlessly tightened zoning in recent decades. Doesn’t matter how good the transit options are; developers won’t build if they can’t make money doing so.

Henry July 26, 2013 - 11:56 pm

To be honest, it’s because the whole “let’s build plazas for people to increase FAR” thing never really led to desirable outcomes.

Midtown is also pretty much saturated when it comes to transit and road capacity, so it’s not likely that a super-big development would be permitted there due to overcrowding issues.

Walt Gekko July 28, 2013 - 2:25 am

As said, to me what likely would need to happen if the kind of super development happens in midtown east is you would need to not only build the full SAS, but ALSO do a complete re-build of the 3rd Avenue El that also would include Bronx and Crosstown branches that would have BOTH an SAS and 3rd Avenue El line go over (Crosstown to 125th Street-12th Avenue and an expanded Columbia University, Bronx branch to the old Bronx 3rd Avenue El terminal at Gun Hill Road that would be rebuilt to accommodate it). The NIMBY might not be able to fight a rebuild of the 3rd Avenue El if the new buildings in Midtown East are actually built, especially if it were in addition to a full SAS.

Henry July 28, 2013 - 2:58 am

A four-track el is overkill, and no nation these days builds els down city streets that aren’t 8 lanes and a median.

Current IND signalling supports 30 TPH. CBTC can support 40 TPH, and systems supporting 48 TPH are being introduced around the world. A 10-car IND train holds about 2.5K people. This gives us capacity of between 75K and 120K people per hour, per direction. That is more than enough for the East Side, given that the majority of it was already upzoned in the ’70s because they thought the SAS was coming.

The idea behind Midtown East is upzoning in the area a ten-minute walk from Grand Central, where there is capacity expansion. A Third Av El is overreach and wishful thinking.

AG July 28, 2013 - 8:41 am

Well the SAS would be sufficient… but yes the 3rd. ave. line should be re-built in the Bronx… but not as El… it should be underground.

In any event – the rezoning doesn’t mean there ever will be a crush… because if it’s too crowded companies won’t want to relocate there so developers won’t build. they go hand in hand.

AG July 26, 2013 - 4:48 pm

you actually can’t do one without the other…. but if i’m not mistaken the sold air rights will go toward “improvements” in transit. that said – the real improvements will take billions that won’t be paid by any air rights (just like the supposed new Penn). In the meantime you can’t throw up hands and say “no – you can’t build buildings big enough to pay for modernization of office space”.

Eric F July 26, 2013 - 10:23 am

Are there actual, specific transit enhancements that should be considered? The only things that I could imagine would cost in the tens of billions of dollars and won’t be finance-able from increment financing from up-zoning. Another phase of the SAS would help, as would adding a second set of tracks to the 7, but that’s serious money.

Bolwerk July 26, 2013 - 12:39 pm

Light rail is cheap and high capacity, and could be river-to-river. Fast surface transit across midtown is probably the best bang:buck ratio there is.

Bus improvements are less high capacity, and more expensive over time, but cheaper upfront (if financing is the immediate concern).

A great deal of new subway service seems like overkill to me.

SEAN July 26, 2013 - 4:38 pm

A great deal of new subway service seems like overkill to me.

I agree with the light rail aspect, but aditional subway construction is ABSOLUTELY NOT overkill.

Bolwerk July 28, 2013 - 12:20 am

I meant a great deal of new subway access in Midtown would be overkill.

Around the city, it makes a lot of sense. And a bit more in Midtown wouldn’t hurt either, perhaps at least one more crosstown service.

AG July 26, 2013 - 4:51 pm

Yeah – I’m a fan of putting light rail on major cross town routes…

Henry July 27, 2013 - 12:00 am

SAS should be accelerated (to allow more trains to use a Second Avenue South stubway via 63rd St once CBTC on QBL comes online).

Vision42 is the only Midtown light rail/tram proposal that I am aware of, and that was ridiculous on multiple levels. You could probably do a light rail on 59th, 53rd, or 50th.

M15 SBS is already in the area, and I guess you could maybe add a Madison/Fifth Avenue bus service with all the service options that would benefit from a bus lane there (and because Fifth/Madison residents and businesses would never let a subway be built there, transport capacity be damned).

Bolwerk July 28, 2013 - 12:24 am

I don’t see a huge problem with Vision42, but apparently there are busier surface transit corridors than 42nd Street (though 42nd is perhaps a little obstacle-ridden, so that might not be the best judge of demand).

Henry July 27, 2013 - 1:40 pm

Speaking of light rail, is that overhead wires rule for Manhattan still on the books?

Bolwerk July 28, 2013 - 12:26 am

Perhaps. Vision42 calls for using fuel cells, I think.

MH July 26, 2013 - 8:49 am

Kinda off topic, but when the 7, E/M, N/R/Q lines were built, why was the last stop in Manhattan always a Lexington Ave station? You would think they would build a stop at either 1st or 2nd ave for these lines or I guess transit’s way of thinking is that the 2nd ave line would of made these stations irrelevant. I think if there were stations built there it would of eased some of the crowds from the 4/5/6 lines and they could of later been used as a transfer point for the 2nd ave line

llqbtt July 26, 2013 - 9:45 am

It has to do with the need to be under the East River very soon thereafter. So the L for example and if I am understanding the concept, does not begin its descent until approximately Ave A (which hopefully will get an entrance soon!). That leaves about 3+ blocks for it (past Ave D) to reach a depth so that it can pass under the river. That’s how it can stop at 1 Ave. Same thing on the other side. A Kent Ave stop would be a boon for all the river side towers, but again the L is rather deep and the tracks are on an incline. So back to your comment, the 7 and E/M are at Third Ave and are already deep. That gives each about 2+ long blocks to complete the drop to below the river thereby rendering a stop at 1st Ave not feasible.

Quinn Raymond July 26, 2013 - 8:49 am

If you rezoned it as residential you could mostly eliminate the transit issue while also beginning to address the extremely high rents Manhattan.

lawhawk July 26, 2013 - 9:06 am

The rezoning plan doesn’t just allow for developers to build bigger skyscrapers; it’s an incentive to take older buildings that don’t have current class A office space and replace it with new modern class A space with efficient HVAC, and other modern efficiencies. That’s the incentive that will get developers to turn older shorter buildings around.

As for the transit piece, I’m in agreement with Ben; building new taller (presumably larger) buildings will mean more people coming to the area, and without better transit connections, the gains will be lost on people. Tax increment financing or PILOTs makes sense to help offset construction of future transit projects, whether it’s true BRT on the Avenues (with actual stations and separated bus lanes) or building the next phase of the 2d Ave line.

David Brown July 26, 2013 - 9:11 am

The main reasons why businesses prefer Downtown, and areas like Long Island City, to Midtown are. 1: The Rents (generally rents are higher in midtown). 2: The office buildings are either newer or upgraded with the technologies they require. 3: There is Residential Housing (complete with amenities) nearby. “Silicon Alley” is a perfect example of this, so is Wall Street becoming a 24/7 Community. 4: Outside entities such as First Class Parks and Schools. The last one is particularly important. No one, and I mean no one, could have predicted the impact of The High Line, on the “Meatpacking District.” It was conceived as a quiet, relaxing, out of the way area, yet look at all of the Condos and new office space being created there (despite being a “Transit Starved” area). You are seeing the same thing with DUMBO and Brooklyn Bridge Park (particularly as the Watchtower Properties get sold), and Greenpoint looks like it will be next area (the Condos and Parks are on the way). Basically, if people can avoid transit and the commute (in particular to Long Island, and Westchester, avoiding the LIRR & Metro North (not just the Lexington Avenue Line)), while getting what they want nearby, they will.

AG July 26, 2013 - 4:59 pm

you got it right with the first point… rents are cheaper outside of midtown. the office buildings are not more modern save the not yet completed WTC and Hudson Yards. In fact the reason midtown is more expensive is because most of the financial firms left downtown because they could get more “modern” space in midtown.
also it’s midtown east that the re-zoning is proposed…. other parts of midtown have the brand new spaces that attracted finance firms.
Ironically – the reason the financial district is becoming a 24/7 district is because when the finance firms left those old buildings the landlords realized they couldn’t attract tenants that would pay that type of rent – so they began converting them to residential space.

as far as Meatpacking and Chelsea – Google is what attracted all the tech startups there… and they bought their building because that are has kind of what you would call “internet hotels”… they needed to be near that infrastructure (most ppl don’t realize that NY is very important to internet traffic).

Btw – Met North is much more well liked than LIRR

JMB July 26, 2013 - 9:11 am

I think there is more to this than meets the eye. Like a great chess player, they think 2-3 steps ahead of the game. City Hall more likely than not understands the value of transit, but has learned you can’t ram things through like yesteryear. Rather, a better approach is to create a scenario in that they have the full support of a huge portion of the city who has to deal with the overburdened east side line by making the situation worse. Think about it; most people will come together and rally for a true solution to a problem when it becomes unbearable for too many demographics to be ignored.

I’m betting my 2 cents on this being purposely done to garner more support for expanding 2nd ave subway to at least phase III.

Michael K July 26, 2013 - 9:34 am


llqbtt July 26, 2013 - 9:53 am

Additionally, the Mayor (despite what the candidates say) has very little control over transit in their own, so what’s he to do, wait another 10 years before the State and MTA sign on board? This is why we can’t compete globally on infrastructure. It’s the too many cooks problem and too much regulation/process:

NIMBYs with an outsized voice

Bolwerk July 26, 2013 - 11:44 am

In Strasbourg, light rail lines are crossing international borders with the stakeholders being:

Strasbourg Transport Company (a private corporation in HURRR!!11! SOCIALIST France)
Strasbourg the city
The Alsace région
Kehl (Germany)
Baden-Württemberg (German Land)
The European Union
Possibly SNCF
Somehow, everyone manages to work together, despite the involvement of a similar number of stakeholders to what the MTA has to deal with and a language barrier. Plus, France is arguably the NIMBYistan of Europe.

Henry July 27, 2013 - 1:49 pm

Working with CT has generally never been a problem, since all they want is their MetroNorth service.

NYS generally causes the most problems for the MTA (raiding them for money, complaining about blue flashing lights, etc.)

You might as well separate the MTA into separate fiefdoms, because that’s what it is. You’ve got:


Of these three, LIRR is by far the most spiteful. At least MetroNorth is willing to accept city passengers. LIRR is only willing to accept them if they live along the Port Washington Line. They don’t want the riff-raff dealing with their main customer base. LIRR is also generally spiteful when it comes to other agencies – MetroNorth didn’t want to deal with them so they forced them into a deep cavern, and Amtrak is building an interlocking specifically to avoid dealing with them.

If you can break LIRR, you can bring any MTA agency to heel. Until then, though, LIRR is going to do whatever the damn hell it wants to do, which is basically how it’s been since its inception.

Nathanael July 28, 2013 - 6:27 pm

Meaning, since 1834.

Even the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad never actually merged the LIRR, leaving it as a separate company with its own culture. Unfortunately, the LIRR culture has gotten more and more deranged in the years since the purchase of LIRR by NYS in 1966. (I can’t really be sure of the period before that, as it is not so easy to find documentation of the intangibles which make up institutional culture before that.)

It may be time to dismantle the institutional structure of the LIRR. Unfortunately, the organization which could do that — the state government — has left substantial power in the hands of deranged Long Island NIMBY politicians, who have actually been causing a lot of the MTA’s *other* problems.

John-2 July 26, 2013 - 9:31 am

The Midtown real estate market will likely self-adjust with the arrival of East Side Access, but it’s a bit of a quandry — the more destination points there are around Grand Central, the less ESA riders would need to take an additional subway, but the more points if travel there that are built, the more you’re likely to glut the Lex from people coming in from other areas of the city.

Even then, if you don’t built the new offices, you’re likely to still get the LIRR riders swamping Grand Central, simply from people who see no benefit from changing trains at Jamaica for Penn Station, along with those who actually do work in the area. And ESA passengers wanting other parts of the city will always choose the Lex for North-South connections instead of walking two blocks east. So the extension of the SAS is always going to be about getting Manhattan riders of the 4/5/6 off those trains and onto the new line.

The 63rd Street connector will do that in part, but for those wanting to go to-from downtown, the Q will be a very limited option, and SAS really won’t be of much better use until the MTA gets all the way to Phase IV (or opts to tie the line into the Center/Nassau loop). But it may take jamming the Lex express trains south of Grand Central even more than they are now to even spur the momentum to get Phases II and III started, let alone Phase IV.

SEAN July 26, 2013 - 4:52 pm

Lets not forget that location managers in many corporations have changed there tune regarding access to transit over the past decade. As a result, East Midtown will be on the radar as ESA moves closer to completion & office leases will need to be signed along with them being built/ outfitted.

Henry July 27, 2013 - 1:50 pm

Phase II is pretty much done – all that’s left are the stations and that weird jog west to Park Avenue.

Nathanael July 28, 2013 - 6:29 pm

The turn west to Park Avenue and the 125th St. station are actually pretty complicated, due to the need to underpin the Lexington Avenue line (four tracks, stacked on two levels) and the Metro-North viaduct.

The other two stations could be built pretty much immediately. They could be done in 2015 if they started now.

alen July 26, 2013 - 9:35 am

why not encourage development in queens and brooklyn? lots of places by the east river with junk that can be used for development. in the end it will save a lot of money in upgrades to the transit in manhattan

Epson45 July 26, 2013 - 1:12 pm

Sure, build right near East River if we get more Hurricanes.

alen July 26, 2013 - 1:16 pm

and manhattan doesn’t have any rivers close by?

and its going to be cheaper to build new tracks in parts of queens and brooklyn then around grand central

Benjamin Kabak July 26, 2013 - 1:20 pm

Manhattan has elevation that the areas right along the East River in Brooklyn and Queens do not.

alen July 26, 2013 - 1:28 pm

i bet its A LOT cheaper to build flood protection for buildings in queens and brooklyn than new tunnels in manhattan

even then the chances for all the conditions for another sandy happening are pretty remote. you need the storm to hit at high tide and around a full moon

Nyland8 July 26, 2013 - 6:28 pm

… but Sandy was a small storm – only 75mph winds – barely a “Category 1”.

Nathanael July 28, 2013 - 6:30 pm

Brooklyn Heights has elevation.

Henry July 27, 2013 - 12:05 am

That “junk” is still important – it houses all the industry that New York still has (we still do quite a bit of manufacturing) and is home to the terminus of the oil pipeline that pipes oil in from the Gulf.

The waterfront in Queens and Brooklyn also has worse transit access than the waterfront in Manhattan, because there isn’t a highway separating the East Side from the Lexington Avenue Line.

Eric F July 26, 2013 - 9:40 am

The transit is in adequate in midtown, but even the sidewalks are inadequate. Within a several block radius of Grand Central, the sidewalks are literally inadequate for the pedestrian traffic. The area is quite a mess.

Eric Brasure July 26, 2013 - 10:00 am

This is an excellent point. There needs to be a serious discussion around pedestrian flow and traffic in midtown. Perhaps taking a traffic lane for expanded sidewalks.

Eric F July 26, 2013 - 10:27 am

That’s the obvious way to do it, but the sidewalks are the worst on Lexington, which has the narrowest roadway and 42nd, which a main crosstown street, and both of these streets are key bus routes.

Eric Brasure July 26, 2013 - 11:29 am

Obviously the solution is to implement congestion pricing, close 42nd and Lexington to private traffic, and implement BRT on those routes, using the newly freed-up street space for expanded sidewalks.

Of course this will never happen.

Eric F July 26, 2013 - 11:44 am

“close 42nd and Lexington to private traffic”

I don’t see a lot of people joyriding down these streets. Most of the traffic appears to be livery, buses and commercial vehicles. A lot of the putative “non-commercial” traffic are people with special government employee placards that would let them drive anyway.

Eric Brasure July 26, 2013 - 11:49 am

Yeah, you’re right. My brain always lumps taxis and liveries into the “car” category, so I should have said “close it to everything but buses.”

Bolwerk July 26, 2013 - 11:54 am

Evaluate what traffic you need and where it can go.

Livery can go on other cross streets, and even the Very Important can deign to be let out at the corner and walk. Or can buy themselves a palanquin. Stocking can be done off-hours, leaving the corridor free for undisturbed surface transit during the day.

If you ask me, this system of wide and rather arbitrary crosstown arteries is a bit screwy. 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 59th, 86th, and 125th are all examples. Basically, if they looked like every other cross street, most drivers would probably treat them like every other cross street and traffic would be distributed better. Maybe I’m wrong though.

Henry July 27, 2013 - 1:52 pm

This is theoretically happening on the Fulton Mall. Not sure if this is actually the case.

Nathanael July 28, 2013 - 6:31 pm

The Very Important can probably be carried by pedicab.

alen July 26, 2013 - 11:46 am

toll the Koch bridge. last time i drove crosstown, but east side had insane traffic and the number of cars lessened as i drove west. a lot of people are driving across the koch bridge because its free

toll the bridge and i bet you increase subway ridership as well

Bolwerk July 26, 2013 - 11:55 am

It’s called the Queensboro Bridge, and the Koch’s poltergeist is currently unavailable to contradict me on that.

Toll all the bridges equally. Or, better yet, toll none of them and use CP instead.

Henry July 27, 2013 - 1:51 pm

CP probably would use all of the bridges as a cordon anyway, because it’d be cheaper to implement. I think that’s what the City Council plan ended up being.

AG July 26, 2013 - 5:03 pm

well if sheldon silver and his like didn’t fight congestion pricing… there would be might be less traffic… but regardless what it would have been would be a steady stream of transport funding.

Henry July 27, 2013 - 12:07 am

They wanted to pedestrianize Vanderbilt Street and create some wider sidewalks in the zoning update.

AlexB July 26, 2013 - 9:41 am

1) The area needs to be rezoned regardless. If we’re building ESA under 50 yo buildings, it’s silly not to double down on our investment by encouraging developers to fix the place up. Furthermore, NY has gotten all too used to the Empire State Building being tall. Like the Woolworth before it, technology has rendered it a bit obsolete. All the buildings in Midtown East should be close to that height.

2) These changes aren’t even supposed to come into effect until 2017, after the first phase of the 2nd Av line is running. Isn’t that particularly important transit improvement to take note of?

3) The area seems more crowded than it is because the sidewalks are far too narrow. 20-30 feet wide sidewalks and frequent pedestrian plazas should be the norm, and should be taken directly from space currently given to cars.

4) The transit improvements that have been discussed (more stairs to the platforms and exits at street level) would do a lot of good and could be implemented relatively quickly. In the longer term, politicians should be pushing for 2nd Av subway phase 3 ASAP.

5) The problem here is really one of perceived priorities from Bloomberg. He’s not doing anything that wrong, but if he put more emphasis on the experience on the street rather than the profits, he’d get a lot more support.

Henry July 27, 2013 - 1:53 pm

The problem is that the chunk of Midtown in question is closer to Grand Central, and the SAS doesn’t go south of the park.

AlexB July 27, 2013 - 3:08 pm

But it will still relieve crowding on the 4/5/6

marv July 26, 2013 - 9:44 am

Midtown has an underused jewel that could greatly enhance mass transit (and allow for more developement. The times square shuttle was built as part of the original IRT trunk line and has 4 tracks. When one considers the use of the rest of this original line, one has to wonder why the portion between Grand Central and Times Square was not put to better use.

Extending east to Queens with an East River crossing at either 42nd Street or further uptown (allowing for 1 or more additional east side stops) would allow for a wide range of new lines in Queens.

Extending to the west would require a major project lowering the west side IRT one level down but would allow creation of a 4 track line out to NJ providing service to both the east side and Times Square in a fashion far more cost effective than any of the current cavern in the ground ideas.

BoerumHillScott July 26, 2013 - 10:52 am

How would you expand she shuttle to the east? There is a maze of existing tracks and passageways in the way.

It would be cheaper to build a 50th street cross town line (not that I advocate that).

Henry July 27, 2013 - 1:54 pm

“relocating the west side IRT one level down”

and how the damn hell would you propose going about that? The West Side IRT is used to move trains to and from yards.

marv July 27, 2013 - 10:26 pm

Similar to how they rebuild elevated highway while the the existing highway remains in use. (Consider Boston’s Big Dig.) It is expensive but doable and in exchange you get a 4 track trunk line that could service 60+ trains hour in each direction (from Queens and NJ).

llqbtt July 26, 2013 - 9:47 am

If I’m reading your piece correctly, are you suggesting the T be re-engineered to curve closer to GCT? (perhaps Third Ave)? I agree with this and perhaps it could dive deeper and parallel ESA, putting it at GCT before returning to 2nd Ave.

Eric Brasure July 26, 2013 - 10:03 am

This is what I’m wondering. While the plans for the Second Ave subway include transfers to trains from the 42nd St station to Grand Central, it’s going to be a long walk underground–a little under twice the length of the transfer between the Times Square station and the Eighth Ave line, for instance, which is already a notorious transfer.

Depending on how it’s engineered, a transfer to the 7 train from the Second Ave subway won’t be as bad, as the 7 train platform starts at 3rd Avenue.

Henry July 27, 2013 - 12:09 am

Most likely, the MTA will create a wide passageway and outfit it with moving walkways (similar to the Queens Plaza passageway).

I’m surprised the MTA didn’t put a moving walkway in the Dey Street Passageway, but I’m guessing an out of system amenity is out of the question.

Walt Gekko July 26, 2013 - 10:30 am

Better idea to me would be to keep the SAS along 2nd Avenue as planned and in addition to the SAS, re-build the 3rd Avenue El as I detailed in another post. I suspect BOTH lines would be needed if the re-zoning happens as planned.

Eric Brasure July 26, 2013 - 11:30 am

New els in Manhattan are a non-starter.

Walt Gekko July 26, 2013 - 11:37 am

While that is true now, the kind of building density to me may force changes there. Remember, the idea here would be a full 3rd Avenue El IN ADDITION TO a FULL SAS. Sandy to me may force serious re-evaluations of how things have been done.

Bolwerk July 26, 2013 - 11:59 am

A third avenue subway is perfectly reasonable. You can make the case for an el in Astoria to get to the airport, where the engineering calls for it and NIMBY whiners deserve to be offended at any cost regardless of economic considerations, but an el on Third Avenue is a silly idea when a subway is actually financially defensible.

Henry July 27, 2013 - 12:12 am

It’s a bit more complicated than extend an el and be done with it. There’s no clearance available for an el due to a runway facing the south, and there’s very little room for an at-grade extension of heavy rail.

Honestly, the MTA is better off creating a Sheppard-West style stubway between Ditmars and the airport, designed to be extendable both east and west to 125th St and Flushing. If that isn’t in the cards, a light rail might be in the cards.

AG July 27, 2013 - 11:08 am

Go check the Brian Lerher show on wnyc.org
He interviewed the new head of the MTA…. In a response to a question of why there is no rail access to LaGuardia – he said 1st priority is get SBS to LaGuardia and then try to get rail to go there. He was trying to be nice… but you can tell he was trying to say off the cuff “ppl complain about every plan so it slows us up”.

Larry Littlefield July 26, 2013 - 9:54 am

The problem is that the cost of construction, subway and office building, is so high, that the available taxes would not sustain it. Which is why Bloomberg proposed a bunch of modest improvements funded by such revenues, rather than phase 3 and 4 of the Second Avenue Subway.

Once could say the Upper East Side got robbed. The upzoned, and a large share of the area went from tenement to luxury high rise. Those buildings and the people who live there pay enormous taxes. Bonds were passed for the Second Avenue Subway, three times. And all we will get is a three station extension of the Broadway Line, while everyone else packs on the Lex.

Before considering additional revenue, you need to consider where the existing revenue goes — and what we get for it — to understand the lack of money for expansion (and maintenance) other than debt.

Walt Gekko July 26, 2013 - 10:09 am

This to me if it happens may very well require not only the full SAS as planned, but ALSO re-building the 3rd Avenue El that I would be looking at doing anyway, most likely as a four-tracked, double-decked line in order to accommodate all the new people that likely will be working there. As I would do it, the key to this would be express runs that would go from 14th to 42nd Streets and 60th-63rd Streets to 125th Street (while the local would serve other stations plus the express stops, with 60th-63rd being the big station with transfers to the Lexington, Broadway and 6th Avenue lines there).

Such would be done where the express line would continue to the Bronx and be joined by an SAS trunk line (most likely the T) while the local would then go across 125th Street and be joined by the Q that would run to Broadway-12th Avenue. The Express in this would be the South Ferry branch and run the old route south of Chatam Square while the local would be the World Trade Center branch and actually go to Battery Park City, providing residents there with what would be the only train service (on the south part) that would go to the World Trade Center, Park Row (via the old El route) and then midtown.

Would there be opposition and would laws have to be changed? Of course (on both counts), but one thing Sandy showed is that EVERYTHING needs to be re-evaluated. This incarnation of the 3rd Avenue El would be a modern El, built much stronger and quieter than any other current El structure and able to withstand storms much stronger than Sandy. With the number of new workers in midtown with these changes, adding a re-built 3rd Avenue El ALONG WITH a full SAS may be needed for this to work.

Henry July 27, 2013 - 12:16 am

Absolutely not. The first and foremost objection of any Third Avenue El is that the last time one existed, it destroyed the entire street environment and made living there rather unpleasant. There’s a reason why property values shot up once the El was torn down. You couldn’t put enough window dressing on an El to lessen its shadows. There’s also no room for an El plus the stations in the street width – the El stations back in the day took up a lot of space, and even then they weren’t particularly wide.

We would be better off decentralizing employment to the transit hubs in each borough (Flushing, Jamaica, Fordham Plaza, Downtown Brooklyn, etc.) The current development pattern is too taxing on the transit system and creates unbalanced loads in and out of the CBDs.

AG July 27, 2013 - 11:13 am

Yeah are correct… El’s were built because they were earlier technology… subways were generally the better choice. Underground subways are better for street life also… even for stores.

As to your second point… the economy of NYC has been decentralizing itself for 20 years now. Job growth in the outer boroughs has been faster during that time.

Henry July 27, 2013 - 1:56 pm

That’s mostly been because of education, hospitals, hotels, and retail. I’m talking about encouraging the relocation of offices.

AG July 27, 2013 - 6:48 pm

Those are jobs though… increasingly for the 21st century especially. Those neighborhoods you named though all have seen an increase in office space… Dwntwn BK and LIC the most…

You cannot force advertising/publishing/the myriad of finance sectors/media to move out of Manhattan. A Manhattan address in many industries still means a lot.

Henry July 28, 2013 - 3:03 am

I’m not saying we shoudl force them out – we should, however, encourage new offices to sprout elsewhere. During the 2000s, offices were developed in Exchange Place because it was convenient to all of the skilled office workers coming in from New Jersey, and it was close to the airport. Today, we have Long Island City, Jamaica, and Flushing – all transit hubs used by many professionals, with easy access to airports. LIC has the Citigroup tower. Flushing is home to some small and mid-sized banks catering to the Asian community. Jamaica and Flushing are both developing hotels and amenities.

In addition, Metrotech could develop further as a office/tech hub, due to the presence of NYUPoly and the presence of Atlantic Terminal, which is also a hub for professionals. So it’s not unfeasible to see faster office growth in the outer boroughs.

AG July 28, 2013 - 8:45 am

Well the “problem” (a nice one to have) is that NYC has more private sector jobs than it ever has (and more ppl). So everything is stretched.

Metrotech and Dumbo and the Navy Yard are already a tech center…. and only growing.

Walt Gekko July 28, 2013 - 2:33 am

Different time and place. This would be a modern El as noted, and it would be to serve a vastly overbuilt midtown east to take pressure off BOTH the SAS and Lexington Avenue Subway.

Also, Chicago has the El run through much of that city and much of it is well built up.

That said, I do agree in trying to spread out businesses more so you don’t have overbuilt CBDs like we are looking to have in Midtown (especially in the future) to better balance the load.

Henry July 28, 2013 - 3:27 am

The Els in Chicago are built in the medians of expressways and alleyways, so the concern about pedestrian environments does not apply. In fact, Chicago has been looking to tear down its els for a very long time – plans to replace the Loop have existed for decades, and CTA is considering a plan to demolish the northern Red Line and replace it with a two-track subway.

Decades of innovation have made els better, but the fundamental problems are still the same. Sure, it’s made of concrete, which is quieter than steel, but that’s about the only advantage.

You can’t have median supports, because Third Av is one-way. So supports would still be obstructing the sidewalk.

R160s are about ten feet wide. So you need twenty feet for the tracks alone. For side platforms (what I’m assuming you’re going for here), you need fifteen to twenty feet for the platforms. You need to build it wider wherever you’re building the exit and elevators and fare control. So that’s another ten to fifteen feet per platform.

On the low side, that is seventy to ninety feet required for a two-track el built to handle today’s crowds and to today’s accessibility standards. Third Avenue is a hundred feet wide, including sidewalks – stations would be only five to fifteen feet away from building walls. And because we have seen what gargantuan concrete overpasses have done to cities in the past, this will form a concrete barrier that will block sunlight to the street below, ruin the pedestrian environment of entire neighborhoods, depress property values, and scare away the residents and businesses that this line was supposed to serve in the first place.

Els are also much more difficult to maintain than tunnels – over the years, chunks of el across the city have been falling off, even on sections made of reinforced concrete such as the Culver and Queens Blvd viaducts. Tunnels cost less to maintain.

SAS should be more than enough for the East Side’s needs once completed, and a Third Av El is simply out of the question.

Walt Gekko July 28, 2013 - 7:21 am

If that’s an issue, you can do it like CPW so the platforms are both on the same side, which would reduce the width, which would already be smaller than the old version with two tracks across instead of three (albeit two levels of such). For express stations, you could have island platforms on each level with separate stairwells to each of the two levels.

Obviously, the first thing that needs to be is to complete the SAS. The real problem is, the kind of building that is planned for midtown east could very well make it so an ADDITIONAL line is needed besides the SAS.

Nyland8 July 28, 2013 - 6:29 pm

You seem to be fixated on a 3rd Ave el – and nothing could be more delusional. There are no circumstances under which it will ever become a serious consideration. No political change, no legislative change, no population change, no zoning change – nothing. Advocating it under any imaginary pretext is a waste of time and effort.

If we had 100 other subway system expansions throughout the 5 boroughs, a 3rd Ave el would still not make the list of the next 100. We can’t even get an elevated train to run 2-1/2 blocks past Ditmars Blvd to service a busy metropolitan airport. We are more likely to see hovercraft zipping by our windows a la the Jetsons than to ever see a 3rd Ave el. So why do you persist?

What is your agenda?

Nathanael July 28, 2013 - 6:36 pm

Chicago has voted repeatedly to keep its elevateds, including the Loop.

It’s worth noting, however, that the surviving elevateds in Chicago are generally *two track* structures in the center of a *four lane* right of way. They don’t cast much of a shadow on shopfronts.

Steel to concrete conversions to reduce noise have been done everywhere an L line has been rebuilt.

Nathanael July 28, 2013 - 6:37 pm

The width is roughly 40 feet at stations. The L lines were designed with stair access, however. Retrofitting elevator access is a pain in the neck, as they generally require dual elevators (ground to mezzanine and mezzanine to platform).

Ian MacAllen July 26, 2013 - 11:04 am

Americans are really bad at being proactive about building transit. Its far more common to overburden the system and then fix it after the fact. While as a nation, we always seem willing to expand a highway before its necessary (and highways end up becoming self fulfilling prophecies, if you build it, they will come), we’re awful at assuming the same is true with transit. Its better to upzone around Grand Central, increase the density and let the crush of passengers serve as driving forces for better transit in the area than to expect transit improvements first.

Richard Layman July 27, 2013 - 6:48 am

I made the same point in a blog entry in February about the need to add transit capacity if you want to support adding density to Midtown. (Of course, the other issue is there really that much additional demand, plus the various development-upzoning efforts elsewhere in Manhattan and Brooklyn from Hudson Yards to Atlantic Yards.)


DC of course is a different case, we are much smaller, less dense, but we have some of the same issues with the need to expand capacity of transit because of the coming reaching of max. capacity of the downtown-serving sections of the system.

Jerrold July 27, 2013 - 8:51 pm

So Ben, are you saying then that in terms of the time sequence, they should make Phase 3 into Phase 2, and vice versa?


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