Home MTA Economics News Roundup: Columbus Circle real estate, Staten Island’s transit demands, the ‘Man-Spread’ blight

News Roundup: Columbus Circle real estate, Staten Island’s transit demands, the ‘Man-Spread’ blight

by Benjamin Kabak

The Commercial Transformation of Columbus Circle

The MTA’s rehabilitation of the Columbus Circle subway stop was an odd project. Like many before and after it, it took far longer than the MTA budgeted and ended not with a ribbon-cutting or even an announcement but with a whimper. One day, it was under construction, and the next day it wasn’t. It’s still not quite finished either as the corridor underneath 8th Ave. remains simply that.

As part of the original plans, this corridor was to become a commercial space with high-end tenants. It was, then-MTA head Jay Walder told me, to be the first of a new breed of MTA real estate. Instead of dingy newsstands and off-beat shops, Columbus Circle was to pave the way for a re-envisioning of subway real estate. It could be popular and a destination in and of itself.

Now, years after the renovation wrapped, that dream is inching closer to reality, Matt Chaban wrote in The Times this week. Chaban profiled Susan Fine, the current head of Oases Real Estate and the former MTA exec who was in charge of the rebirth of Grand Central, as she works to draw in tenants at Columbus Circle. Beginning 2015, 30 storefronts will line in the corridor as a set of shops called TurnStyle. These stores will include grab-and-go options such as Magnolia bakery, some electronics and high-end shopping spots, and larger upscale fast food types.

If Fine is successful — and that’s not a given as she has to convince New Yorkers to dine in a subway station — the MTA could bring this public-private commercial partnership to other subway stations with high foot traffic and open spaces. Taking up residence in the 7th busiest subway certainly won’t hurt the cause. “The trick was really figuring out strategies to slow people down,” Jessica Walsh, one of Fine’s partners, said. “If we can make it an interesting space with its own identity, we’re pretty confident we’ll not only catch commuters, but tourists and even people on their lunch break. Deep down, we all love the subway.”

CM Rose lead Staten Island calls for transit investments

As the MTA’s next five-year capital plan has come into view, complaints from Staten Island have increased. I wrote about the isolated borough’s complaints last week and pinpointed politicians as the leading cause of their problems. To be fair to Staten Island, though, not all of their politicians are as opposed to transit improvements as others, and this week Council Member Debi Rose flashed her credentials.

In a piece for the Staten Island Advance, Rose made the case for more transit investments for Staten Island. Not satisfied with the new ferries or the promise of new rail cars for the Staten Island Railway, Rose argued for some use for the North Shore and West Shore rights of way. She isn’t wrong, but her piece highlights the political problems here as well. Rose admits that the city doesn’t invest enough in transit, and although she rails against fare hikes and toll increases, she doesn’t propose a solution or a funding scheme.

As I’ve said before, the answer here is simple: Put your money where your mouth is, and the MTA will listen. If Rose wants BRT for the North Shore ROW, all she has to do is find a way to pay for it. But would she risk alienating Staten Island drivers, a strong constituency who will not be the first to support a congestion pricing plan? I doubt it. Without leadership that leads to dollars, nothing will happen.

The Man-Spread Blight

Finally, a more whimsical piece from amNew York that delves into one of the most egregious breaches of subway etiquette: the man-spread. We’ve all been there when some guy next to us is sitting with his legs spread far wider than any normal human would ever need. Perhaps it’s overcompensation; perhaps its ego or obliviousness; perhaps it’s a combination of all three. Whatever the cause, it drives me nuts.

In an amNY piece, Sheila Anne Feeney tried to get to the bottom of this phenomenon, and her article will in turns amuse and infuriate you. The perps and defenders act so righteous — “Men need space,” one person said — while those trying to find seats get glares or worse.

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John-2 October 10, 2014 - 1:28 am

Depending on how much the MTA wants to focus on the open mezzanine space that’s actually near station fare control entrances, if Columbus Circle proves to be a success they should look at the closed IND passageway on Sixth Avenue between 35th and 40th streets for future development.

The potential negatives for it are the same as the reason it was closed in the first place — the mezzanine has areas that are up to 600 feet from any actual fare control area. The upside would be that does allow the area to be set up more to directly cater to people going downstairs for the shops, to where the shops and the walkways don’t have to be constrained by maintaining fare control passenger flow.

Walt Gekko October 12, 2014 - 4:37 pm

35th-40th on 6th is something that has been discussed in other forums before:

That underground section, closed since 1981 or so is an area that if done right could be a prime underground mall for the MTA, especially if it included designated areas with free wifi where people could use without having to be above ground.

If you can make that into an attractive enough underground concourse for shopping AND ALSO are able to reopen the old underground passageway between Penn Station and 6th Avenue on 32nd, it would be great, especially in bad weather as it’s conceivable you would be able to walk from 8th Avenue and 31st Street all the way to 6th Avenue and 40th Street without coming up above ground.

bens October 17, 2014 - 3:55 pm

The MTA should consider leasing out that space to someone like Westfield or even a private developer from the beginning. Let them do the build-out of retail shops. The MTA would probably have to offer a very low initial rent to entice people willing to renovate the corridor into something usable, but if the rental term is, say, 20 years, once the project is successful it could be a real cash cow for the MTA.

Andy October 10, 2014 - 1:45 am

What was the retail area of Columbus Circle like before they renovated it? Was there retail, or just a large passageway?
I’ve only seen it as an empty passage way with placeholders for shops.

Bgriff October 10, 2014 - 5:09 pm

There used to be one or two shops down there, most notably a barbershop that got forced out when the renovations started. There were spaces for other shops but I don’t remember anything being there in the few years before renovation.

Biggest problem is going to be that, like all subway stations, that corridor can get quite warm and the air rather unbreatheable in the summer. (Indeed, parts of the downtown 1 platform are among the hottest spots in any station, in my experience–only competitor would be 2nd Av F.) I can’t imagine willingly lingering there and eating a cupcake in the hallway. But, best of luck to them. Better than having the space sit vacant.

SKE October 10, 2014 - 8:06 am

“We’ve all been there when some guy next to us is sitting with his legs spread far wider than any normal human would ever need.”

Seriously, what’s with the stereotypes? I’ve seen many men behave impolitely, and many women behaving impolitely too. Why is it OK to stereotype this one group, when stereotyping any other group would be completely unacceptable? For example:

“We’ve all been there when some females next to us are giggling non-stop and screeching about the latest Bieber CD in tones higher and louder than any normal human would ever need.”

“We’ve all been there when some African-American next to us is sitting with their pants sagging lower and their rap music blaring louder than any normal human would ever need.”

VLM October 10, 2014 - 8:19 am

The point could not have sailed more over your head if it had wings.

Webster October 10, 2014 - 8:23 am

He’s probably a leg-spreader.

I will add that people (okay, a lot of them are women, but not all of them) seem to think it’s okay that their bag[s] get a seat as well.
In my experience, this has been a much larger problem.
They should just incorporate seats that have indentations, so it’s uncomfortable to sit in between seats as well.

Eric October 13, 2014 - 8:40 am

No, I’m not a leg-spreader. Sorry to destroy yet another stereotype.

At least you are willing to admit that the problem is “people” (some of them” rather than all “men”.

Eric October 13, 2014 - 8:42 am

SKE=Eric (I know there are other Erics here, so I chose a pseudonym for a post I knew would be unpopular. Sorry other Erics for my accidentally blowing my cover.)

Eric F October 10, 2014 - 9:11 am

That man spread thing is why I really hope there is a Hell. The perpetrators of this abomination are all headed there if there is one.

Chris C October 10, 2014 - 6:42 pm

On one trip to NYC I saw an elderly lady sit next to but a little squashed by ‘spreader’ and in a loud voice said ‘my husband has to sit like that because of his hemorrhoids’

Cue some laughter (not from him) and a closing of the legs.

No idea if her husband was a sufferer or not but it got her her space.

Don’t think she’d take any nonsense from the ‘my bag needs a seat too’ group either

Matthias October 20, 2014 - 9:43 am

That story just made my day.

normative October 10, 2014 - 9:48 am

“Instead of dingy newsstands and off-beat shops, Columbus Circle was to pave the way for a re-envisioning of subway real estate. It could be popular and a destination in and of itself. ”

You mean places working-class new yorkers can grab a coffee or a cheap haircut, instead of an overpriced bakery for transplants?

Quirk October 11, 2014 - 2:56 am

“working-class new yorkers” “cheap haircut”

What rock did you crawl from? Its 2014 not 1970.

sonicboy678 October 11, 2014 - 10:59 am

Tell a place in the Times Square complex that.

Ryan October 10, 2014 - 11:57 am

Personally I think we should remove all seats from all subways and force everyone to stand.

That would solve these anti-social problems involving subway seating quite nicely.

Michael October 10, 2014 - 8:29 pm

The ‘Man-Spread’ is simply just another way of “controlling” the space around us while traveling in public. There are several methods folks use to be “private” in a public space like the subways.

A pet peeve of mine are the folks on the buses who take the outer seat leaving the window seat empty on the forward-facing two-seat sets of seats. Both men and women do this. The basic idea is not to be “bothered” by the other riders, to reduce having another rider sit next to you, and also have an easy way to exit. Anyone wanting the window-seat now has to disturb the outside-rider for both entry and exit.


SEAN October 10, 2014 - 9:00 pm

As America’s girth grows ever wider, the leg spreading thing becomes ever more problematic. One person could take up three subway seats if they spread out & if they are riding the bus – oh my fogetaboutit! I saw something of that nature on a Bee-Line bus the other day, but it wasn’t as bad as described by others here.

Bolwerk October 11, 2014 - 11:00 am

People sit in the outer seat for any number of reasons, including sight lines. I personally do it if I know I’m getting off before most people. There is nothing wrong with asking someone to let you in. Either disturb me to get in, or I’ll disturb you to get out.

Barring Sean’s point that maybe some people are just too preposterously fat to avoid it, the leg-spreading thing is almost pure selfishness.


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