Home Manhattan East 69th St. NIMBYs win as 68th St. station renovations move forward

East 69th St. NIMBYs win as 68th St. station renovations move forward

by Benjamin Kabak

Upper East Siders stalled this project for four years over the location of one entrance.

A whole bunch of years ago, back in late 2011, I covered sort of an ugly story concerning Upper East Side residents who lived on East 69th St. and a classist and racist reaction to a plan to build a new entrances to the perennially overcrowded 68th St. stop on the 6 train. This plan is now back in the news, and although 68th St. will get its additional entrances and ADA-compliant accessibility, the NIMBYs have seemingly won and at a cost to the MTA — and taxpayers — to boot.

Let’s take a quick trip back to late 2011. It was in October that the MTA announced plans to build two entrances at 69th St. — one facing toward Lexington and the other facing down 69th St. The latter did not go over well with some residents who said the increased foot traffic would “ruin the fabric of the neighborhood.” As another resident said, “people to the west don’t take the subway. Not to be elitist, but they don’t.”

A few months later, those same residents dug in and threatened legal action. They talked about the “pristine nature” of East 69th St. and the “bucolic” street that would be ruined by a new subway entrance. The dog whistles could not have been more deafening, but their tactics worked. It’s four years later and only now is the MTA getting ready to make the 6 train station accessible and with more entrances — but at a cost.

In last month’s MTA Board materials, the 68th St. station work resurfaced. By the MTA’s own admission, the project is four years late. Design work was supposed to be completed by April of 2012; instead, the agency expects to finish shortly. And why? In bureaucratic-speak, “this delay is due to additional time needed to address community concerns, raised by adjacent property owners at 69th Street regarding the location of the proposed street stair entrances.” In other words, NIMBYs have meant that thousands of subway riders — 68th St. sees 36,000 riders per weekday — have suffered through worse commutes for nearly half a decade.

The end result isn’t particularly comforting either. Here’s what the MTA had to say:

After extended negotiations, an agreement has been reached to place the stair entrance east of Lexington Avenue inside the Imperial House Apartments (between 68th Street and 69th Street). This entrance is in lieu of the street entrance at the Southeast corner of 69th Street and Lexington Avenue. The additional time is necessary to complete the property acquisition, environmental study, and additional design for the new work items.

The costs of this project have increased by around $8 million to approximately $65 million due to the MTA’s need to acquire property that belongs to the Imperial House Apartments. It’s also still not clear what the final scope will be as compared with the 2011 plans. DNA Info recently reported that the MTA could still pursue those plans, but MTA sources tell me the Imperial House plan is essentially the only way this project moves forward as East 69th St. residents will throw up substantial legal roadblocks otherwise. Construction may start later this year and end in 2020, well over three years after this project was supposed to wrap.

So did the NIMBYs win? I guess so. The project is more expensive and has been delayed, as MTA sources tell me, thanks to the back-and-forth between the agency and community groups. The scope will be reduced, and access to the station will be cut back by a half a block or so. It’s not nearly as encompassing as it was first proposed. But that’s what happens when a vocal minority of a community with resources bands together to fight something they see as intrusive. The rest of us suffer through worse transit options because of it.

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22r April 15, 2016 - 12:54 am

I don’t get it. Who is New York is so “elite” that they never take the subway?

Walt Gekko April 15, 2016 - 4:10 am

A lot more than you think.

To me, this was about people who in many cases likely are older, have lived where they have for decades and likely still think of the Subways as they were in the late 1960’s, ’70s and early ’80s when they system was falling into a state of disrepair in many cases and when crime shot up in general, in no small part due to a massive increase in the drug culture. Most of those types likely also have heirs who are likely in many cases looking to sell those properties as soon as those older pass away (and in many cases likely on counting on selling well into seven figures and even likely spent based on eventually getting that money) and likely were worried the originally planned entrances on 69th/Lex would have caused those properties to fall sharply in value because of other elitists who have the same attitudes on the subways and a fear of people who are “not their kind” more readily going onto such blocks and so forth.

That to me is the real problem as there are still many who have perceptions that date to the 1960’s and ’70s as well. They are the problem as much as the “elitists.”

Alex April 15, 2016 - 11:18 am

I agree that there are plenty of wealthy and older people who never use the subway. But their notion that “no one to the west” uses it reveals their own deep disconnect from reality. Many high-income people take the train, including senior management at my company and companies I’ve worked for in the past. It’s very much a cultural thing. Ironically, it seems to me that transplants of all income levels are often more likely to use the train than are natives. I suppose “the bad old days” persist in many people’s minds.

Walt Gekko April 15, 2016 - 11:32 am

Many of those types as noted in other posts likely think of the subways as they were in the 1970’s when a drug culture caused crime to skyrocket in general. It may actually be their heirs who were pushing this out of fear new entrances where they were supposed to be would drive their property values down out of fear people “not their kind” would suddenly show up in droves and cause crime to spike (even that is proven not to be the case because these people often think like it’s still the ’70s). The heirs may have in some cases already spent money thinking they would get it back in a sale once the current occupants pass on and that to me is the problem.

Bolwerk April 15, 2016 - 11:53 am

“Drug culture” causes crime like trade causes climate change. You’re skipping some steps.

This isn’t hard to understand: these people don’t want poor/black people near their houses or any kind of change at all ever. It’s bad enough that a heavily minority-attended campus is a block away, but it has been there for over a century. Any real concern about crime, bucolic qualities (it’s a single fucking staircase, maybe two?), or any other imagined externalities is too easy to refute with simple data. It wouldn’t have made a whiff of difference for safety in 1978 either.

They don’t care about that stuff. If they cared as much as they pretend, they would have already moved to Florida (which has had more crime than we do for at least most of the past generation, but nevermind facts). The people waging this are just entitled, antisocial misanthropes, and priggy right-wing liberals are endlessly willing to lick their boots.

Walt Gekko April 15, 2016 - 12:51 pm

True, they are that, but there are heirs who likely are fearful of ANYTHING that might reduce the value of such places that they likely are counting on selling at an extremely high profit once those actually in the house pass on. Some of these are likely counting on millions and are afraid a new subway entrance will cause some to not look at their places they are expecting to inherit when such occupants pass on. There are too many of those types as well.

Just a bunch of idiots who don’t want change at all.

Samantha April 15, 2016 - 11:49 pm

I attended Hunter College 15 years ago and am really familiar with that stop, also because I was recently there during rush hour over a period if a few days on business. The stop is certainly crowded, but not to the point that it was ridiculous like Main Street is these days. I am all for improving public access and infrastructure and still regularly take the subway, but if the building in which the MTA wants to build/make the new stop is private property, I think the residents have a point here. The MTA can’t just decide to take take over the property (even if they offer generous compensation), unless they receive permission from the owners of the building/residents. Maybe I am missing something here and the building is not private property?, but if it is, this falls under the purview of eminent domain. In that case neither the MTA nor anyone else has the right to take over any part of the building no matter how much it would relieve traffic congestion and benefit the MTA or the 36,000 subway riders. Private property is private property – one of the cornerstone principles this country was founded on. Unless the owner agrees to sell a part of the building to the MTA, this project should not move forward.

Benjamin Kabak April 15, 2016 - 11:51 pm

They’re not taking private property; they’re buying private property with the consent of the owners because residents threw a few over the public property upon which they were going to site the new entrances.

Walt Gekko April 16, 2016 - 10:43 am

I think you meant “threw a fit,” and I think it may have actually been the heirs of such property owners who first threw fits at the owners to where the owners then threw a fit. Some of these heirs as said likely have been in their minds looking at MILLIONS for the properties once the current occupants actually pass on and likely thought if the entrance had been built as originally planned, they would have seen the types they think will pay the most money go elsewhere solely because of such entrances (especially those who grew up in the 1960’s or earlier and still think of the subways as they were from say 1970-’86 when crime was a big issue in NYC), having to take as much as $2-3 million less from someone willing to buy. Some of these heirs as noted likely have already spent thinking they will be getting as much as $10 Million in my opinion and that’s what I think led to their opposition.

adirondacker12800 April 16, 2016 - 12:35 am

The government and by extension the MTA has the power of eminent domain. See:


AMH April 15, 2016 - 2:25 pm

It’s like they don’t want their doormen and housecleaners to be able to get to work.

Bronx Resident April 15, 2016 - 3:07 am

This is madness.

Manuel April 15, 2016 - 7:36 am

To be honest fu3k the upper east side and anybody who lives there rich clowns always complaning about something and are the worst tippers…

Liam Jeffries April 15, 2016 - 9:38 am

This is nothing. Just wait till you see the people we have to fight to get bike lanes there.

nb8 April 17, 2016 - 7:56 am

Agreed, except for the poor Hunter college students & hospital workers that have to use this overcrowded undersized station.

eo April 15, 2016 - 9:07 am

Even though I tend to agree with you about how we should not allow a vocal well connected and rich minority to influence important transportation decisions, I actually like it better when the entrances are incorporated into the buildings, so that the street remains free of obstructions. The extra costs aside, I do think that such an approach should be used a lot more often than it is actually used. In fact it is a great pity that the MTA sucks at long term planning (50 years ahead). If they were doing everything the way it should be done every time a builder gets permits to tear down a building near an existing or future subway station, the MTA would review the plans and demand where appropriate the necessary easements for future entrances inside the building envelopes. Most of the time the MTA will need to do nothing as the building in question while close to the station will not be of interest due to its specific location or the fact that the station already has enough entrances.

Just to give you an example of what I mean: the MTA should have demanded easements from the new tower on 57th and 2nd before it was built( they are just wrapping construction now, the crane came down only a month ago) for entrances for the station when they eventually get to building the third phase of the Second Avenue Subway. Even though I do not know for sure, I doubt they did that, so eventually when they get to that phase they will either go for street entrances contributing to the sidewalk clutter( most likely choice because it will be cheaper) or will end up ending a fortune obtaining the easements and reconfiguring everything inside the corners of that building.

Avi April 15, 2016 - 9:17 am

Forget easements, the new owners should be building the entrances. Make it similar to affordable housing programs. Build a subway entrance and get extra square footage. An extra floor at the top of a building is worth a lot more than the ground floor space the MTA would use so the owner gets more value and the MTA gets a new ADA compliant entrance paid for by private funds. It’s a win win.

AlexB April 15, 2016 - 10:13 am


Maybe I’m strange but I’d love to live in a building that incorporated a subway entrance. I’d pay a premium for that convenience.

Miles Bader April 16, 2016 - 7:52 pm

I think many people would love it, because it’s obviously super convenient.

Especially good is if the building owner is really on top of things and actually takes advantage of the new entrance, by making sure there’s direct building access from the subway entrance without going outside, and perhaps by having more retail space that hangs off the access. You can have a basement-level retail level that wouldn’t be very viable on its own, but becomes far more viable if it’s incorporated into a subway access path, e.g. going up the stairs to exit, the stair landing immediately below the ground would also have a direct open entrance to the retail space.

Larry Littlefield April 15, 2016 - 9:37 am

It’s the Prospect Park bike lane, 125th Street bus lane, and LIRR third track all over again.

What is the actual dominant philosophy of New York? “Progressive?” Hardly.

As I noted when I ran against it more than a decade ago:


The State of New York represents feudalism, American style.

Under capitalism, you get what you earn, at least in theory. Those who believe that people need an incentive to work and innovate can agree with that. Under socialism, you get what you need, at least in theory. Those who believe that we are all part of one human family can agree with that. But over time, when you have the same group of people in power, both capitalism and socialism degenerate into feudalism, under which the privileged expect to continue to get what they have been getting, and perhaps a little more, whether they need it or not, deserve it or not. For those who have real needs, and who produce real earnings, it’s just tough luck. The feudalism of unearned privilege explains much about the state of the State of New York, where all past deals are set in stone.

SEAN April 15, 2016 - 9:57 am

But over time, when you have the same group of people in power, both capitalism and socialism degenerate into feudalism, under which the privileged expect to continue to get what they have been getting, and perhaps a little more, whether they need it or not, deserve it or not.


Could you say the same on both a national & global scale as well?

Larry Littlefield April 15, 2016 - 1:07 pm

Houston put through that bus system re-org. That could never happen here.

SEAN April 15, 2016 - 4:12 pm

Yes it could. You just need to be willing to but heads & not be sorry about it.

Bolwerk April 15, 2016 - 6:34 pm

We probably need less route reorganization and more organizational restructuring. Though bumping frequency would be nice on some routes too.

Nathanael April 24, 2016 - 11:19 pm

Larry, you’re absolutely right about feudalism. But it gets worse.

In a *functioning* feudal system, the feudal lord understands that he survives by making sure his serfs get their basic needs met. If he doesn’t, the serfs may swear loyalty to a competing prince who will make war on the feudal lord and kill him and replace him.

Right now, Andrew Cuomo is an idiot feudal lord who is making lose-lose-lose moves which hurt everyone. And yet somehow he hasn’t been dislodged from his perch yet.

The construction contractors who collect billions while *failing to get the job done* are another example of this. People tolerate feudal lords when they *get the job done*. If they don’t, next step is traditionally a feudal war.

The blatant failure by the NYPD to actually do their jobs of keeping people safe from random violent mayhem is another example, and probably the one most likely to lead to actual warfare.

SEAN April 15, 2016 - 9:44 am

One thing that bothers me in regards to this beyond the elitist atitudes is… does this open a pandoras box ? Put another way, Could this be a roadmap for other well connected groups to throw up there own roadblocks when the MTA wants to make some improvements?

Benjamin Kabak April 15, 2016 - 9:50 am

Yes. I’ve had the same worry. It’s a blueprint for obstructionism and getting what you want at the expense of better transit for everyone else.

SEAN April 15, 2016 - 10:07 am

The only way out of this vishous circle is for the MTA to do the work it wants anyway & defy any & all court orders to stop. And not be nice about it.

Alex April 15, 2016 - 11:27 am

There’s also letting the legal fights play out and hope for a win. That seems to be the case with the Prospect Park West bike lane. It’s my personal opinion (and deep hope) that the judge allowed the case to proceed there specifically so the courts can find for the city to set a legal precedent against that kind of nonsense. That could potentially help the MTA, too. Fingers crossed it plays out that way.

Walt Gekko April 15, 2016 - 11:27 am

Actually, it would not surprise me if in this particular case it’s the heirs of the current owners of the properties that forced this change who influenced such owners to do that. It would not surprise me if many of these heirs like the actual occupants themselves have pre-conceived notions of who rides the subways and assume that people “not their kind” will show up, in many instances because they still think of the subways as they were in the 1970’s when a drug culture caused crime overall to shoot up dramatically, where it would in many instances remain until after New York became “The Murder Capitol of the World” in 1990. That likely to the heirs has them fearing that new entrances on 69th would automatically cause their property values to plummet because of increased crime, especially in cases where the heir(s) may have already spent money expecting to be able to get it back when the places are sold after the current owners pass on.

That to me is the heart of this.

SEAN April 15, 2016 - 3:51 pm

But easy access to the subway actually increases property values, but never mind facts.

Walt Gekko April 15, 2016 - 7:46 pm

You and I are likely correct, but the problem is, in this case, the worry of the heirs is those property values could drop by millions because in their minds they are likely catering to a specific group of individuals who either have contempt for the subway OR as said think of the subway like it was in the 1970’s with no consideration things may have changed just a little in the past 40 years.

Alex April 15, 2016 - 11:38 am

This kind of NIMBY obstructionism is the legacy of the Robert Moses mentality and Mid-20th Century highway building that destroyed neighborhoods and cities. The pendulum has swung away from the “build at all costs, everyone be damned” mentality to the other end where people think they have the right to control every tiny aspect of the area where they live. The justified anger over the destruction that occurred in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s has evolved into an insidious notion that if even a few people dislike a change they have the right to stop it. We see it with bike lanes, bus lanes, transit improvements, housing development, and just about anything that “changes the character of the neighborhood”. And sadly, the city, state, and courts generally abide in it for fear of being accused of “not consulting the community” not to mention protracted frivolous lawsuits by wealthy NIMBYs (see the Prospect Bike Lane case).

Walt Gekko April 15, 2016 - 11:53 am

Well, the problem was, Moses had a TON of power to where not even the Mayors or the Governors challenged him. It would likely back then have taken an Executive Order for Moses to stop but Presidents were often too pre-occupied with what overall were bigger problems of the time (especially World War II and later the Korean and Vietnam Wars). That me is why Moses was allowed to abuse power for as long as he did.

The courts are likely afraid of another Robert Moses emerging if they ever went back on past orders from the 1960’s and ’70s.

Alex April 15, 2016 - 12:20 pm

Yup, exactly. Moses absolutely had too much power and people were right to rise up against that kind of literal and figurative bulldozing. But the mentality entrenched so deeply and combined with our litigious culture that today it’s hard to get much of anything done.

NFA April 16, 2016 - 4:29 pm

I think someone even wrote a book about it 😉

TomS April 15, 2016 - 7:22 pm

To go with NIMBY: BANANAs. build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone.

Duke April 15, 2016 - 11:40 pm


This, absolutely this.

Jerrold April 15, 2016 - 12:06 pm

But since when does the MTA NOT have the resources to fight back? Why do they have to be afraid of the people who live on that block, who can get together and hire expensive lawyers? Oh, I suppose that the MTA cannot afford equally good lawyers! They could have built that entrance, and told those rich people to go to hell.
AND, where is de Blasio while all this shit is going on? He is not Bloomberg, so why isn’t he ACTING like a Mayor who is not Bloomberg?

SEAN April 15, 2016 - 4:07 pm

Why do they have to be afraid of the people who live on that block, who can get together and hire expensive lawyers? Oh, I suppose that the MTA cannot afford equally good lawyers! They could have built that entrance, and told those rich people to go to hell.

We have another untapped resource to unleash – the mafia. Send a few guys out to send a message – problem solved.

BruceNY April 15, 2016 - 9:21 pm

How was the MTA able to defeat the NIMBY’s in Yorkshire Towers, who fought having stairs in front of their building at 2nd Ave. & E.86th? They lost all their appeals, and I imagine still have to pay their lawyers some hefty fees.
So, what was so different on 69th St.?

AMH April 15, 2016 - 3:13 pm

Love the spelling of “STREEL”–is that an image from the MTA?

Jerrold April 16, 2016 - 10:35 am

Also, at one point it says “threw a few” instead of “threw a fit”.

Roger April 16, 2016 - 8:36 pm

Instead of building a subway exit that the locals don’t want, why not open those closed exits, at least the stations with ADA access already.

greenpointrez April 19, 2016 - 9:22 am

Great point, Roger. There are many opportunities to re-open entrances along the G line that would do wonders for the rapidly changing areas around them. It’s one of many examples of the MTA failing to serve the community.


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