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But It's Farley From Over
New renderings revealed as Moynihan Train Hall reaches major construction milestone
Moynihan Station today, 10:45 a.m. – Dramatic stage lighting in New York colors illuminates bare steel trusses, a backdrop to the podium where the governor will talk up the new train hall, any minute now. Tables in the far back of the room, behind a crowd of hundreds of construction workers and sweaty guys in suits, are loaded with Penn-Farley coasters and free cider donuts. It's humid, dark, and a little dusty, but despite the large gathering, there was just a little news at the former post office today: The project's about to start full-on construction.
Governor Andrew Cuomo was in the city to announce a construction milestone at the Penn-Farley complex, the soon-to-be bigger and (hopefully) better train station on Manhattan's West Side. This was the last time the James A. Farley Post Office, re-christened as the Moynihan Train Hall, will be open to the public before it's transformed into a transit hub by SOM. Contractors had just knocked out the McKim Meade and White–designed hall's second-floor mezzanine, a move that allows the major interior build-out to begin.
In June, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) inked a $1.6 billion deal with a developer-builder team to transform the structure into a retail-office complex and train station. The three companies—Related Companies, Skanska, and Vornado Realty Trust—will contribute the largest share ($630 million) towards the project, with New York State kicking in $550 million. Money from Amtrak, the MTA, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, and federal grants round out the project costs.
The 255,000-square-foot station will serve Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak riders. Like the World Trade Center Oculus, or its slightly older cousin at Fulton Center, Moynihan's skylit concourse will be ringed by retail, more than 700,000 square feet of it. To make transfers easier, the just-completed West End Concourse will connect Moynihan to Penn Station, just across 8th Avenue. Construction began in September and the train hall is expected to be complete in 2021.
With New York City’s subway system in a dire state—extensive delays, people getting trapped in subway cars, derailments—public officials have been scrambling to find a way to repair its aging infrastructure. Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a "millionaire's tax" for wealthy city residents that would pay for infrastructure upgrades and reduced fares for other riders.
Now, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo revealed his own plan to raise funds and ease traffic at the same time: congestion pricing.
Congestion pricing was brought up by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg ten years ago but was quickly shut down because of concerns that it favored Manhattan residents. Cuomo is bringing it back as a solution to the city’s current transit crisis, according to The New York Times.
By putting tolls on roads and bridges leading into Manhattan, a constant funding stream will be created. It will also help to reduce traffic flowing into the city and on gridlocked streets. Congestion pricing is already in place in other cities like London, Stockholm, and Singapore.
Cuomo is piggy-backing on Bloomberg’s failed plan to create a new congestion pricing scheme that will win crucial support from stakeholders, including the State Legislature. “Congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come,” Cuomo said to the Times, though he added that his plan would be significantly different from Bloomberg’s.
Move NY, an independent transportation group, revealed its own congestion pricing proposal, offering a glimpse of what Cuomo’s plan may look like. Drivers would pay a toll of $5.54 in each direction for the four bridges that cross the East River into Manhattan, and also a toll to cross 60th Street in Manhattan northbound or southbound. The plan also proposes lowering tolls at other crossings. Move NY estimates that this system could yield around $1.47 billion in annual revenue, of which most would go towards repairing infrastructure. Alex Matthiessen, leader of Move NY, told The Times that group is talking with Cuomo's administration about developing the proposal.
While both de Blasio’s tax plan and Cuomo’s congestion pricing proposal have been getting attention, it does not solve the immediate issue of raising $800 million for emergency funds to finance immediate repairs on the subway. The state has already contributed $400 million and expects the city to fund the rest.
New York City streets are a decadent mass of pedestrians, cabs, delivery trucks, and the crosstown bus, all scooting somewhere quickly. But even as rideshare apps are pushing more cars on the pavement, there's one green and steadfast transit option that's seeing a surprising surge in popularity.
Right now, the city's streets host 450,000 bike rides per day, an increase of 280,00 trips from 2005. To meet accelerating demand, the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) promised on Monday to add 50 miles of painted bike lanes and ten miles of protected paths each year.
Over the last decade, New York has seen an explosion of bike infrastructure. Crain's reports that cyclists now cruise over 1,133 miles of bike lanes, up from a little over 500 miles in 2006. Of those, around 40 percent are shielded from automobiles by concrete or other physical barriers. These are the gold-standard tracks because of the protection they provide relative to painted paths.
But even this relatively robust network can't stop bike fatalities. Nine in ten cyclists killed while riding are killed outside of bike lanes. In response, the DOT plans to ramp up safety efforts in three Queens and seven Brooklyn neighborhoods where many bike fatalities and injuries occur.
Still, officials are optimistic that bikesharing, which was introduced only four years ago, will become further enmeshed in New York's urban fabric. City Councilmember Ydanis Rodríguez, who represents Upper Manhattan and serves on the council's transportation committee, would like to one day see free transfers between Citi Bike, the city's bikeshare system, and the MTA. (An annual Citi Bike membership costs $163.) Citi Bike broke ridership records with more than 70,000 riders on one day in June of this year, while last year, the system logged more than 14 million rides.
Despite their low cost relative to cars, and emissions-free crunchy-green aura that renders bicycles anodyne in most quarters, New Yorkers haven't embraced bike culture universally. On the Upper East Side last year, residents objected to bike lanes near a school, worried that speeding cyclists could mow down young ones. Though those crosstown lanes were ultimately approved, out in Corona, Queens, longtime Community Board 4 member (and unrepentant xenophobe) Ann Pfoser Darby called bike lanes in her neighborhood a waste of money, claiming they would be empty after President Trump deported the area's undocumented immigrants.
Following several key revisions, Midtown East’s rezoning plan was unanimously approved by both the City Council Land Use Committee and the subcommittee on zoning and franchises today.
The rezoning of Greater East Midtown has been in the works for five years and has been making its way through the public review process. The plan, which hopes to rejuvenate and attract businesses back to the area, will pave the way for more than six million square feet of new office buildings. It allows developers to increase the floor-to-area ratio (FAR) of their buildings, provided that they either make specific transit infrastructure improvements or buy landmarked air rights.
Several amendments were made to the proposal during the zoning committee meeting before it was approved.
A hotly contested topic, the sale of air rights from landmarked buildings, was one of the main changes. The mandatory public contribution decreased to $61.49 per square foot, down from $78.60 since it was last presented to the City Council, according to The Real Deal. The money from those sales will go towards a public realm improvement fund that will deal with aboveground infrastructure, and the city has committed $50 million to kick-start the fund.
“This is what we call a fair compromise,” Councilman David Greenfield said at the land use meeting, defending the decision to lower the air rights minimum. “When everyone around the table is not happy, it means we probably got it right.” The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) had asked for a much lower minimum, claiming that even with the new minimum, the price point was too high to attract and induce deals.
Under the revised plan, five blocks from 46th to 51st streets along Third Avenue will be left out, following opposition from Turtle Bay residents who said that their neighborhood was mainly residential and should be excluded. Other changes include the requirement that for any building larger than 30,000 square feet, developers must improve Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS). This will bring an estimated 16 new POPS to the area.
Transit infrastructure improvements were specified in this new proposal as well—if developers choose to go this route, they will have to create new street-level exits and widen staircases for subway stations in the area. The city estimated that $500 million will go towards these improvements.
Councilman Daniel Gardodnick, one of the project’s main supporters, proclaimed “East Midtown is back,” on the steps of City Hall after the subcommittee approved the vote. "This is a plan that will re-establish East Midtown as the crown jewel of our business districts, as an economic engine for our city and and will strengthen its future for many years to come.”
The full council, which usually adheres to the committee’s decision, is expected to meet for the final vote on August 9.
Action Plan Onboard
Subway service stinks and the MTA has a new plan to fix it
- Speeding up the replacement of the 1,300 most troublesome signals (40 percent of signal mechanisms are more than 50 years old)
- Starting a Emergency Water Management initiative to seal leaks and clean grates
- Increasing the number of train car overhauls from 950 to 1,100 per year
- Creating a new MTA app and a separate online dashboard to keep riders informed on MTA activities and improvements (the dashboard will be available in the next month to six weeks)
- Initiating a pilot program to remove some seats from select cars on the Shuttle (S) train between Grand Central/42nd and the L train
- Adding seven more EMT teams at various stations to handle sick customers
- Initiating a public awareness campaign to stop littering on the tracks, which can lead to track fires
- Increasing the rate of station cleaning from every six weeks to four weeks
- Adding 12 emergency teams to 12 locations to speed up incident response times
- Eliminating recorded announcements on subway cars
Trains, Planes, Automobiles
The Port Authority is seeking bids for JFK airport's $10 billion overhaul
$1 Billion Life Line
Cuomo declares state of emergency for New York's subway system
The cheek of it. Governor Andrew Cuomo waltzes into a press conference and announces he is going to save the subway. After years of denying the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) the funds to upgrade the subway, Cuomo on Thursday declared that the system was in a state of emergency and pledged $1 billion to fix the issue. But a knight in shining armor he is not. New Yorkers know how overdue this is, and so does he.
According to the New York Times, Cuomo fled the scene immediately, revealing no details as to where that money would come from. The New York State Governor will also reportedly sign an executive order to usher in repair work and new gear to bring the subway up to speed.
The announcement comes after an A Train derailed earlier this week, leaving 17 hospitalized and others with minor injuries. Other subway horror stories abound. This is the culmination of a beleaguered 112-year-old system that has been crying out for help for decades since its popularity boomed in the early 1990s. As more and more use the system, the worse it gets. In 2007, 94 percent of 1 Trains were on time. Fast forward ten years and that performance meter has dropped to 70 percent. That's better than the rest of the subway's lines which, on average, are punctual 59 percent of the time. The problem is overcrowding (which accounts for more than a third of delays today) and, of course, this means more delayed passengers angrily tweeting venting their frustration—so the more we hear about it. (The Architect's Newspaper recently spotted this poster at the 49th Street N/Q/R/W subway stop.) Signals, way outdated and faulty beyond belief, are also the source of other delays, as are faulty tracks and switches.
Though ironically delayed, Cuomo's rhetoric will be welcomed by subway riders more accustomed to hearing about train traffic ahead of them. “We need new ideas, delivered faster," the governor told reporters and entrepreneurs who attended the speech. “It will no longer be a tortured exercise to do business with the MTA,” Cuomo continued, announcing an ideas competition to improve the subway.
Put in place to oversee to all this is the new chairman of the MTA, Joseph J. Lhota. "The governor has made it clear he wants a new MTA, a new approach," he said. “We know what we need to do. He mentioned the subway’s aging signal system. We live in a digital age. Our signal system isn’t even analog. It’s mechanical.”
Lhota now has 30 days to change the turn the MTA into an agency that "performs a function." In addition to this, Lhota, who only heard about the $1 billion pledge at the conference himself, must review the MTA's capital plan within 60 days. Though deriding the subway system as it is, Lhota is optimistic. "I know what the subway system was, and it can be the crown jewel of New York,” he said. “No idea is too crazy. No idea is too ambitious.”