Home Second Avenue Subway The son of the return of Midtown East rezoning

The son of the return of Midtown East rezoning

by Benjamin Kabak

The plan to rezone Midtown East has returned, and so too have these renderings of Grand Central.

In the waning days of the Bloomberg Administration, the ambitious plan to rezone Midtown East died an expected death. The lame-duck mayor wanted to push through his vision for a modern, revitalized and taller Midtown, but the City Council and various stakeholders were more interested in both not rushing and waiting out the next administration. Now, the Midtown East rezoning plan is back on the table, and with it, the call for transit improvements have returned as well.

The rezoning plan itself returned on a Friday a few weeks ago with little fanfare, mostly due to the timeline. Mayor Bill de Blasio has elongated the timeline, and while some work around Grand Central can begin soon, the full rezoning effort likely won’t wrap until mid-2016. Whether it needs to take that long is a question ripe for debate, but this is certainly the polar opposite of Bloomberg’s attempt to push through rezoning in three months.

The MTA, meanwhile, wants to be front and center during the discussion, and the longer timeline should benefit them. Andy Hawkins of Crain’s New York explored the agency’s view in a piece this week. He writes:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is eyeing big changes to subway stations within the footprint of the proposed midtown east rezoning, and will need a trainload of cash to make it happen…MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast said improvements would be needed at Grand Central Terminal, including the Lexington Avenue line and the shuttle to Times Square, and the E and F train station at 53rd Street and 5th Avenue, in order to accommodate more office workers that will come after the rezoning.

At Grand Central, new staircases linking the mezzanine where the turnstiles are to the ground-level station are under consideration, as well as improved pedestrian paths and sight lines to get straphangers from the platform to the mezzanine more quickly, an MTA spokesman said. Currently the station’s signal system allows for 29 trains to pass through every hour, but because of congestion typically only 26 to 27 trains make it through. Relieving that congestion would allow 4,000 to 6,000 more passengers per hour to move through the station.

In the past, Mr. Prendergast said, the development process has forced the MTA to be reactive to new construction, making transit upgrades only after large buildings have been built. “We didn’t do as good a job—we collectively, the city and the MTA—of making sure we identified those and dealt with them,” he said. But midtown east has been different. The MTA has had “a fairly long dialogue” with the City Planning Commission and the Department of Transportation about its funding needs for the rezoning. Those needs will likely be reflected in the MTA’s next capital budget, which is due in September.

When Midtown East first entered our collective consciousness, the MTA estimated its needs at around $465 million. It will update those numbers in the fall, and odds are the price tags have increased. Some of the funding could come from the planned sale of the MTA’s headquarters at 347 Madison Ave. and the transfer of the air rights exist above that rather diminutive building.

Still missing from the MTA’s wishlist for Midtown East though are future phases of the Second Ave. Subway. It’s not the easiest sell because these phases are years away from construction, let alone completion, but it’s possible to argue that nothing is more important to a successful rezoning effort, especially east of Grand Central, than a full-length Second Ave. Subway. Despite these planned renovations along the East Side IRT, the 4, 5 and 6 can’t really handle that many more daily riders, and the Lexington Ave. line doesn’t do the same job of redistributing commuters along the East Side as the Broadway and 6th, 7th and 8th Ave. lines do through Midtown West.

I’m not going to hold my breath here. The MTA is angling for incremental improvements to existing infrastructure — which it needs — but the future for SAS seems up in the air. I’ve heard rumblings that the MTA will soon look to refresh the Environmental Impact Statement for Phase 2, but Midtown East implicates Phases 3 and 4. Will we see those in our lifetimes? Your guess is as good as mine.

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Larry Littlefield June 11, 2014 - 7:30 am

“The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is eyeing big changes.”

I guess a few staircases now constitutes “big changes.”

I’d feel better about the future the generations in change have planned for us if they move forward with Phase II (originally part of Phase I) and build the Rutgers-DeKalb connection.

And then, acknowledging that there is already plenty of spare capacity in Lower Manhattan and that stations are expensive cut Phase III down to 55th Street, 42nd Street, and 14th Street, hooking onto Houston and merging into what is now the F-line north of Delancey.

The Second Avenue Subway south of 72nd Street, in other words, would be turned into an express line to jobs in East Midtown for residents of upper Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.

Brandon June 11, 2014 - 9:56 am

Yep. Hanover Square is not needed at all. Down to Houston would be great though (and up to 125th should be prepared to proceed immediately after Phase I construction, but we just arent good enough to get that happening in time).

Larry Littlefield June 11, 2014 - 10:18 am

Hopefully the MTA will be smart enough to acknowledge this and put it in the revised EIS. If more service were ever required there, there is plenty of capacity on the BMT. And the modification I proposed would allow a transfer to the Nassau Loop at Delancey, as well as keeping a station on the Second Avenue line in Sheldon Silver’s district.

Meanwhile, an express ride to East Midtown might induce some Brooklyn and Queens riders to walk over from Second Avenue rather than piling on the Lex Express. With the Rutgers/DeKalb connection, one or two lines through Atlantic and DeKalb could be routed through the Rutgers Tunnel and then up Second Avenue. One of the Queens Boulevard lines could be routed through the 63rd Street Tunnel and down Second Avenue.

The Second Avenue line could take transfers from the F on both ends, along with the J/M/Z at Delancey, L at 14th Street, and other spots in Brooklyn and Queens.

Larry Littlefield June 11, 2014 - 11:46 am

I mean think about it. Look at the map at the top of this site. You have eight stations south of 42nd Street, but no transfer from the J/M/Z, no through-running to Brooklyn, and no through running from Queens.

So you have a local train serving southern Manhattan residents, but another such train — the #6 — is not far away down there and not overcrowded. And Lower Manhattan as the potential for enormous service expansion on the BMT should the need rise.

A more logical alternative is an express train to East Midtown with through running from Brooklyn and Queens and transfers not only at 14th Street but also at Delancey.

Justin Samuels June 11, 2014 - 2:49 pm

Well, if the Second Avenue Subway is going to go down to Houston, just take it a little further and connect it to the Nassau Street line. With the M going up 6th Avenue and 2 extra tracks at many Nassau Street stations, the line is underutilized and already could serve as Phase 4 of the Second Avenue Subway. This would give the Second Avenue Subway direct access to Brooklyn, as opposed to a terminal that ends at Hanover Square.

Jerrold June 11, 2014 - 10:24 am

You mean the E and M station, right?
It WAS E and F for a long time, I know, so IT IS easy to get confused about it.

Benjamin Kabak June 11, 2014 - 10:57 am

I don’t mean anything. That’s from the Crain’s article. It’s their mistake.

Frank June 11, 2014 - 10:57 am

Wasn’t it the case that MTA never wanted to do phases 3 and 4 to begin with, but they were tacked on to win Sheldon Silver’s support? Now what’s he going to do if they don’t build it?

Larry Littlefield June 11, 2014 - 11:23 am

The MTA wanted to get approval to build to 125th Street, with the portion south of 63rd Street delayed until a later date.

Sheldon Silver held things up for two years by requiring the MTA to do an EIS for the whole SAS. With the resulting cost escalations, he succeeded in getting it cut back from 125th Street to 96th.

Justin Samuels June 11, 2014 - 2:51 pm

And where is Sheldon Silver in getting the package together for Phases 2-4?

Larry Littlefield June 11, 2014 - 3:47 pm

Sheldon Silver laughs in the collective faces of every state resident under age 60.

He’s the leader of the rearguard left behind to ensure those older take all they can before moving out of dying off.

tacony June 11, 2014 - 11:35 am

Why wouldn’t they want to do phase 3? It’s so bizarre to me that people are infatuated with schemes to build light rail lines through sparsely populated areas of the outer boroughs that wouldn’t spur much ridership while transit improvements that would be a slam dunk on the overcrowded East Side of Manhattan elicit shrugs, including apparently from the MTA? Prendergast almost makes it sound like ridership is an annoyance. The attitude seems to be that if only the MTA didn’t have all these people trying to use their services they could just run a train every 20 minutes and their lives would be so much easier.

I agree that phase 4 is unnecessary but SAS needs to go to Houston Street to relieve rush hour crowding.

Bolwerk June 11, 2014 - 1:11 pm

Hell, I don’t think the SAS is that important….the way it’s being built. Don’t get me wrong; it matters, but not that much. At its expense, we probably really could just stop after reaching 125th because the southerly segments just won’t be that important.

But I think we should be getting is something much bolder: it should be quad-tracked going south. Or at least have accommodations for being quad-tracked, if practical. The current segment could eventually connect The Bronx or Upper Manhattan, with another northern segment crossing to Queens from Lower Manhattan, and the two southern directions connecting to Brooklyn and SI respectively.

Why a bolder project? Because then it’s a meaningfully useful project for the mobility of the whole city, and not mainly a late gift to developers who overbuilt Second Ave..

AlexB June 11, 2014 - 3:37 pm

“we probably really could just stop after reaching 125th because the southerly segments just won’t be that important.”

Huh? The southern sections connect the East Side to Brooklyn and pass through the biggest concentration of high paying jobs in the country. I think phase 3 should come before phase 2 if anything

Bolwerk June 11, 2014 - 8:00 pm

I can understand wanting to connect to Brooklyn (though a full-length SAS only does that half-assedly, as Larry pointed out), but who gives a shit about what the jobs pay? A king pays as much as a pauper to swipe on, and NYS royalty probably finds ways to evade paying that.

I’d wager most of the people working those jobs walk from the UES or use existing, mainly crosstown, subway services. They could probably use the bus, but wouldn’t deign to. If you want transit to stimulate job growth/accessibility, you should aim rail at poorer neighborhoods.

tacony June 13, 2014 - 10:28 am

Ride the 4/5/6 from GCT to 14th St at 6pm tonight. It’s a madhouse. People are left waiting on the platform a lot. The Lex line needs relief below the UES as well. I agree that whether people make a lot of money doesn’t matter but the sheer amount of demand for transit in Midtown East is extreme during the peak of rush hours.

Also I think you’re very wrong that “most” people working in Midtown East “walk from the UES” or are using mostly crosstown lines. People who work in Midtown East are coming from all over the city and the suburbs, and tons are transferring between the 4/5/6 and the L, F/D/M, etc to get there from the boroughs.

Bolwerk June 13, 2014 - 12:07 pm

~20 northbound express trains arrive at GCT during that time. Looks like the 6 could be about 15 (“every 3-6 minutes”), but there isn’t a precise number in the schedule. They could probably do to add some more.

Also I think you’re very wrong that “most” people working in Midtown East “walk from the UES” or are using mostly crosstown lines.

I agree, but you aren’t responding to what I said. Read AlexB’s comment for the context of mine. He was referring to “biggest concentration of high paying jobs in the country.” People come from all over, yes, but the ones on the Lex, which is fed by the likes of The Bronx and Crown Heights, probably aren’t the wealthiest. I could be wrong, but I am guessing those either live nearby or are more likely to come by the services from Queens or Penn Station.

Admittedly I wasn’t considering the southbound 6 Train probably takes a load of them from the UES, which the SAS might be more suitable for when it’s ready. But that’s the segment of the SAS we’re certainly building, not one of the southerly segments.

Boris June 11, 2014 - 11:50 am

If Bloomberg can rush through a rezoning or real estate deal, de Blasio can rush through a new subway line. We have seen the MTA work well (nay, much better) under stress and tight deadlines. I don’t know what kind of emergency can be fabricated to speed up SAS design and construction, but there are ways to speed up the process.

Justin Samuels June 11, 2014 - 2:54 pm

Yes, de Blasio can and should rush through a new subway line. He just needs to identify funding. Bloomberg rushed through the 7 line expansion. He sold bonds, and backed them up by the real estate taxes from the West Side area that the 7 train would serve. De Blasio could use east side real estate taxes (subway expansion spurs development) along with tolls as the source of revenue to back up the bonds for the Second Avenue Subway.

Brandon June 13, 2014 - 9:37 am

The problem is that much of the East Side development already happened. The area was rezoned decades ago when they were going to build the SAS the first time.

AG June 11, 2014 - 5:25 pm

Well the #7 extension actually came out of the idea for NYC to host the Olympics…. Hudson Yards came about when the stadium planned failed… The Olympics were indeed the catalyst though.

orulz June 11, 2014 - 12:20 pm

Instead of Phase 4, south of Houston just connect it to the unused pair of tracks alongside the J/Z from Bowery to Chambers. This extends it an extra mile with very little construction – the stations, platforms, and tunnels already exist. The only major expense is the connection.

Justin Samuels June 11, 2014 - 2:46 pm

The MTA considered that as a possibility when doing the engineering study. Build the first three phases of the Second Avenue Subway and use the underutilized Nassau Street line for Phase 4.

John June 11, 2014 - 8:00 pm

The platforms would need lengthening to handle the 600 foot 10 car trains. I think those Nassau street stations are about 480 feet.

Michael June 11, 2014 - 12:50 pm

I am going out on a limb here to say that I think ALL FOUR phases of the Second Avenue Subway are very important to build.

a) Yes, the portion that I called the “Stubway” from 63rd Street to 96th Street is important, as well as the connection to 125th Street. Those segments are important for the Upper Eastside and East Harlem residents to reach mid-town, to have easier access to the westside, etc.

b) Yes, the midtown portion, called Phase 3, is very important and the zoning changes for the eastside of Manhattan, both the new zoning changes and the previous zoning changes in anticipation of the Second Avenue subway. This segment is important for the eastside areas not well served by transit. While some have suggested connecting the Second Avenue subway to practically every existing line about and south of Houston Street, and others often also suggest that no further building of the Second Avenue subway proceed further south. On that point I disagree.

c) The Phase 4 section of the Subway is very important due to the distant and built-up places that are not well served by the existing lines. The current M-15 and SBS M-15 buses that are packed with riders, even on the weekends shows that there is a need for transit service in these distant areas.

d) I have been accused of being “long-winded” in my replies so I’m going to keep it short. Basically the major issues that were discussed concerning the NEEDS for the Second Avenue Subway in the 1968 master plan for NYC remain relevant for today. We should have learned already that just “building the parts” does not really work as a transit solution – that is it important to build the full system!


Larry Littlefield June 11, 2014 - 2:12 pm

As for phase IV, I think it is relevant that there are vastly fewer people working downtown today compared with 40 years ago, and still will be after the WTC is rebuilt. You just don’t have hundreds of thousands of financial clerical workers down there anymore.

The employment that remains has shifted west, to the WTC and Battery Park City. Meanwhile more older office buildings are converted to residential every day.

BoerumBum June 11, 2014 - 4:11 pm

Playing devil’s advocate here… if the Financial District shifts heavily in favor of residential, wouldn’t Phase IV be useful to allow the residents to access jobs in Midtown East?

Personally, I’d like to see it built, if only as a platform from which to build additional connections across the East River to serve Brooklyn (perhaps to Red Hook via Governor’s Island).

Brandon June 13, 2014 - 9:39 am

Theres already existing capacity between the Financial District and Midtown East though.

BoerumBum June 13, 2014 - 4:05 pm

I’m not sure what line(s) you’re referring to. The east side IRT is packed to the gills, there are people hanging off the roof of the M15 SBS. Which lines have existing capacity during the morning and evening commutes?

Bolwerk June 13, 2014 - 6:52 pm

I’m not sure about rush hour, but for much of the rest of the day both the 6 and probably the M15 SBS could do to have more equipment run.

Shit, the M15 should probably be railstituted.

AG June 11, 2014 - 5:28 pm

the financial firms left – but the media and tech firms are moving in. Plus the population down there is up over 200% since that time – and continually growing.

beatrice June 11, 2014 - 5:21 pm

So this may be complete ignorance on my end but aren’t these changes to the station and not GCT- or does the MTA count the subway platforms as part of the terminal?

John-2 June 11, 2014 - 6:39 pm

SAS Phases III and IV are both better served with a direct connection to Brooklyn, either via the under-used Rutgers tunnel or the under-used Montague tunnel via Nassau Street. Even without the DeKalb-Rutgers connection mentioned above, the Culver line has surplus express trackage all the way to Kings Highway (allowing for both express and local service to Manhattan), while Fourth Avenue has the same situation on its local tracks, following the M’s former route to Ninth Avenue or Bay Parkway.

The EIS currently calls for the Water Street routing, and a new line for thew far east side of downtown would be nice, but it would suffer the same problem as the 1 formerly had before the Whitehall connection was opened, in being of limited use at its southern end due to a lack of connectivity to Brooklyn (and the 1 also has the advantage even with Whitehall shuttered of abutting the Staten Island Ferry terminal; a T train ending at Hanover Square would be less likely to attract Staten Island customers).

AG June 11, 2014 - 10:12 pm

and it should go all the way up to The Bronx as it was originally supposed to.. especially in light of the loss of the 3rd Ave El

Christopher June 11, 2014 - 7:48 pm

TIFs! TIFs! TIFs! I don’t understand why we won’t attach upzoning to funding mechanisms for transit improvements. And really don’t understand why the real estate industry doesn’t attempt it itself. Certainly what is happening elsewhere in the country, even places where the existing transit connectivity is high. This is dumb to just keep giving away deals to builders without mechanisms in place to capture some of their bounty.

tacony June 13, 2014 - 10:32 am

The 7 extension to Hudson Yards is partially funded using a TIF-type scheme, to my understanding…

Joel Bowser June 11, 2014 - 9:04 pm

Reconfiguring or building a few stairs cost 465 million?
They say the MTA is chronically underfunded, especially starting in the Pataki/Giuliani era.
Now to inform you, I’m 100% pro-mass transit.

But if socialist France can build for 500 million a mile (so I hear), then the 4 billon for phase one of the SAS should be enough to build most of the entire line.

Bill de Blasio says he’s a progressive. Can he prove it? Doesn’t look like it. Not a single so-called liberal, or democrat, or progressive dares to look at NYC public infrastructure costs and fix it.

Ryan Mcdermott June 11, 2014 - 10:08 pm

honestly…what were once good liberal ideas has turned into nightmares…a generation or two after these regulations were created, it is now impossible to get past the over-regulation.
Now i’m a transit advocate.

Ralfff June 12, 2014 - 1:49 pm

It’s only a slight exaggeration to call him a “limousine liberal”. He may be sincere in his convictions but he’s part of the Park Slope crowd with multiple millions in assets who consider themselves the pinnacle of the New York City middle class- and in a sense they are. They own cars and have nice, urban houses in a good neighborhood. But their perspective is fundamentally that of someone who sees transit as something for poor people they don’t know: important, to be sure, but not something that in their ideal world everyone would have to rely on.

To be fair, it’s really not his job either. He does not control the MTA, and it does no one any good to have a mayor screaming insults at Albany (like they all do), however Albany deserves it. What would do some good is campaigning with pro-transit candidates for the legislature but unfortunately the “serious” candidates for such offices are de Blasio-like in their transit outlook, at best.

The fact that Republican Nicole Malliotakis is one of the most intellectually honest legislators when it comes to the MTA is not encouraging. And often overlooked in these comment sections is what Larry Littlefield observed, above. The enemy is not upstate, for the most part. If it’s not in the suburbs, it’s in the city itself, and Sheldon Silver is perhaps the very worst. And he’s not going anywhere.

Benjamin Kabak June 12, 2014 - 1:51 pm

The fact that Republican Nicole Malliotakis is one of the most intellectually honest legislators when it comes to the MTA is not encouraging.

Can you elaborate on that? I definitely don’t feel the same way about Assembly Rep. Malliotakis.

Ralfff June 12, 2014 - 5:26 pm

While searching for the articles I was thinking of I was reminded of the V-N toll discount. oops.

But still, that’s de rigeur pandering for any Staten Island politician. I was thinking of http://www.silive.com/opinion/.....break.html and http://www.silive.com/news/ind.....ing_t.html
Which really impressed me at the time, as lazy MTA-bashing was all the rage then. I don’t recall any other Staten Island legislator doing jack other than protesting service cuts they had caused, particularly Malliotakis’s predecessor if I remember it right. That woman, a Democrat, voted to cut MTA support and then blamed them for cutting service on Staten Island.

Justin Samuels June 12, 2014 - 2:24 pm

Albany doesn’t have to fund transit expansion. The city could do it. Bloomberg issues bonds to pay for the 7 train expansion to 34th and 11th, and those bonds were backed up by the real estate taxes of the area. There’s no reason why de Blasio can’t do the same for the East Side of Manhattan and the Second Avenue Subway. But he didn’t use transit in his campaign, he campaigned on affordable housing.

Bolwerk June 12, 2014 - 4:27 pm

The 7 extension is still overpriced. Issuing bonds is easy enough, but issuing laws that fix our dumb inflated costs would make the money raised by that bond issuance go much further.

AG June 12, 2014 - 9:25 pm

yes – his base would denigrate him as “giving trains to the rich”

Bolwerk June 12, 2014 - 4:35 pm

“Liberal.” “Progressive.”

Nobody is going to get it right as long as the vocabulary is wrong. BdB is a conservative. He feels a little noblesse oblige for the peasants – he even respects their rights, a little! – but doesn’t give a crap about wider reforms. Transit? Throw some buses at the problem. Housing? Build some housing, house some of the proles, but actual reform is going a little too far.

Bloomberg was the liberal. He was willing to throw old ideas aside. The new ones he replaced them with were pretty hit or miss, but he was at least occasionally willing to target his lance at the status quo.

Ralfff June 12, 2014 - 5:43 pm

Interesting take. I don’t think Bloomberg can be called a liberal simply because he tried new things. Reactionary Republicans in say, the Kansas legislature are trying “new things” that are horrible ideas. He might have been liberal in the sense that he did care about social good, albeit mostly in paternalistic, authoritarian way. He clearly did not care about a social safety net all that much. I would agree, though, that Bloomberg was progressive in the sense you describe.

de Blasio, on the other hand was shrieking “progressive” throughout his campaign as a totemic signifier even as he had very few policy plans made public during the primaries and by any measure was not “the most progressive in the race” as he claimed. He subscribes to a kind of check-box liberalism with raising taxes on the rich and universal pre-K, but his housing ideas are definitely more liberal and progressive than Bloomberg’s, if still probably inadequate to the challenge. But as mayors learn, and voters don’t, the mayor has limited power to effect change in many ways. Both mens’ behavior can be partly explained by their lack of statutory power and their need to work within a system designed to resist change.

LLQBTT June 12, 2014 - 1:14 pm

Adding a few more stairwells is fine, and sorting out the chaotic mezzanine at Grand Central is critical, but what about the additional train service that’s going to be needed and the track space on which to put the trains?

Thomas Graves June 14, 2014 - 12:41 pm

The ‘improvements’ the MTA contemplates to handle east side rezoning are a pathetic joke. This corrupt plan to destroy most of the beautiful historical buildings around Grand Central and replace them with massively larger glass and steel shoeboxes is designed solely to further enrich the plutocratic mafia which controls NY real estate. The redevelopment as currently envisioned would effectively double density of workers in the area with zero provision for extra mass transit outside of a few more staircases. That sure is the way to compete with London, Shanghai and Dubai. Any rational human (or city planner in Hong Kong or London) would realize in a heartbeat that the only way to handle the crush of additional workers would be to expedite the full completion of the Second Avenue subway. But this is NY. So nothing will be done, other than a select crowd of filthy-rich billionaire developers will further line their pockets with gold. Good luck to those of you looking forward to taking the SAS down to Houston Street. Given Gotham’s track record with subway infrastructure expansion, you’ll enjoy the ride in 2080. Maybe.

Peter Laws June 15, 2014 - 8:56 pm

$465M? Is there *anything* transit-related in NYC that can be done for $465M?

$500M to rebuild South Ferry and another $600M to re-rebuild it 5 years later,
$1200M for a 1.5 mile extension of the 7,
$1500M for Fulton Center or whatever they call it
$3500M for PATH at WTC,
$10,000M for East Side Access …

and they expect you to believe that they can do *anything* for $465M?

Come on.


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