The lead-up to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address feels like a government-backed encore of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Instead of lords a-leaping and swans a-swimming, Cuomo brings infrastructure upgrades a-plenty in his 2016 Agenda. The governor promised funds to the Gateway and East Side Access tunnels, the Javits Center, new Metro-North stations in the Bronx, the MTA (wi-fi a-comin'!), and an airport on Long Island. Arguably the biggest proposal is the Empire State Complex, a $3 billion redevelopment of New York City's Penn Station and its surroundings. The plan seeks to make Penn Station, which sits beneath Madison Square Garden, less of a hellhole—nice, even. Built to accommodate 200,000 daily riders, the station now serves 650,000 people per day. Channeling public sentiment, the governor ripped on Penn Station in his announcement. "Penn station is un-New York. It is dark, constrained, ugly, a lost opportunity, a bleak warren of corridors. [It's] a miserable experience and a terrible first impression." The governor's plan calls for enhancing connectivity between the station and the street; providing wi-fi; and reducing congestion by widening existing corridors, creating better wayfinding, and improving ticketing areas. As hinted at in previous proposals, the massive, neoclassical James A. Farley Post Office, at Eighth Avenue between 31st and 33rd streets, could be converted into the "Moynihan Train Hall," a sun-drenched waiting area for Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, and MTA passengers. A pedestrian tunnel underneath Eighth Avenue will connect the train hall with the main station. With this 210,000-square-foot addition, the size of the station will increase by 50 percent. The governor reviewed possible redesign scenarios. In one, Madison Square Garden Theater would be demolished to make way for a block-long entrance to Penn Station, facing the post office. In another, a glassy entrance, with skylights, would be constructed on 33rd Street. The street would be closed and converted into a pedestrian plaza. A third, more minimal scenario would add entrances at street corners and mid-block. In 2013, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) hosted a competition to rethink Penn Station. MAS highlighted designs four firms—Diller Scofidio + Renfro, H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, SHoP Architects, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)—for an improved Penn Station. In addition to improved passenger flow, each proposal imagined the station as a civic hub and neighborhood anchor. The governor said that this would phase of the project would be completed first. The rest of the overhaul could be complete by 2019, an amazing feat in a city where infrastructure improvements can drag on for decades. The Empire State Development Corporation, the MTA, Amtrak and the LIRR will parter with private developers to spearhead the project. $2 billion will go towards the Empire State Complex, while $1 billion will go towards "retail development" on 7th and 9th avenues. $325 million is expected to come from state and federal governments. The rest of the project will be privately funded, in exchange of revenue generated by commercial and retail rents. Cuomo will be issuing invitations to private developers, with an April 2016 due date. Currently, Vornado Realty Trust manages land around Penn Station, though it's unclear whether this relationship will continue.
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After years of disinvestment, the New York park system is receiving the funding it needs to address more than a billion dollars of neglected maintenance across the state’s 213 parks and historic sites. Despite the much needed $89 million of funding received in 2012, thanks to a push from Governor Andrew Cuomo and an audit from the state controller’s office which found sections in the park in such disrepair that they had to be closed to the public, many parks are unable to operate in their full capacity due to crumbling amenities. The state plans to spend upwards of $900 million on improvements by 2020. This is a much-needed turnaround after 2010 when the state budget allotted no new money for improvements in the park system, triggering a report to be issued with the Alliance for New York State Parks called, Protect Their Future: New York State Parks in Crisis. However, most of the funding allotted to date is desperately needed to repair bathrooms, fix electrical issues, and pave roads—critical amenities—rather than to advance and improve the century-old park system. Compare this current situation to that of the 1950s and '60s, when a federally sponsored program called Mission 66 spent more than $1 billion between 1956 and 1966 to create modern infrastructure and improvements in the parks. The program created the concept of visitor centers and built more than 100 of them during its decade-long run. Architects like Eero Saarinen and Richard Neutra were commissioned to make parks a destination for architecture as well as landscape, and explore how the built and natural environments could play off of each other. That is not to knock the recent bout of funding, though. Letchworth State Park in Castile, New York, received a $5.75 million nature center in addition to a new electrical system and amenities; Niagara Falls has $50 million budgeted for upgrades to pedestrian walkways, lighting, and landscaping; and Jones Beach, on Long Island, is renovating a historic bathhouse and preparing the area to adapt to rising sea levels. Additionally, in January, the Excelsior Conservation Corps will launch its first group of 50 young volunteers who will work and live in the park system in exchange for a stipend. There are hopes that this movement is the beginning of many to usher in an era of the park system.
Can the latest plan to salvage LaGuardia take flight? New York Governor Cuomo unveils ambitious $4 billion airport redesign scheme
For New Yorkers and visitors alike, LaGuardia Airport is a confusing maze of disconnected terminals. Beset with delays, chaotic transfers, poorly designed wayfinding, and congestion for both passengers and planes, the airport was recently, not undeservingly, characterized by Vice President Biden as feeling like a “third-world country.” Now the facility is slated to get a much-needed, and long overdue redesign. Governor Cuomo presented a far-reaching plan to overhaul the tired facility, which would cost roughly $4 billion, and be completed over a 5-year period. Once the Board of Directors of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey green light the plans, construction will commence, with the goal of opening the first half of the project to passengers by early 2019, and then finishing up the second half 1.5 years later. The proposal was guided by the Governor’s Advisory Panel with recommendations from Dattner Architects, PRESENT Architecture, and SHoP Architects. It would bulldoze the airport's Terminal B building and essentially replace an existing series of small terminals with a single unified structure situated closer to Grand Central Parkway. According to the Governor’s website, the redesign would include new terminal space, a new arrival and departures hall, and a connection to Delta’s Terminals C and D. In addition, the Governor detailed plans to add transit with a new AirTrain and ferry service, as well as address potential flooding by elevating infrastructure. “New York had an aggressive, can-do approach to big infrastructure in the past—and today, we’re moving forward with that attitude once again,” said Governor Cuomo in a statement. “We are transforming LaGuardia into a globally-renowned, 21st century airport that is worthy of the city and state of New York.” Few can argue that LaGuardia, the smallest of New York’s three airports, needs to be re-imagined, but the question is whether this proposal is a band aid solution to a much more complicated problem that requires a greater comprehensive strategy. “The Governor's intentions are good, but the proposal is disappointing because it does not attempt to deal with the main problems plaguing LGA. Its runways are too short, which causes safety issues, delays, and limitations on destinations. It's in a flood zone and its level needs to be raised to deal with future storms. Furthermore, the proposed rail connection is terribly convoluted,” explained Jim Venturi, the principal designer of ReThinkNYC. “With people finally speaking seriously about closing Riker's Island, and with the airport's proximity to the Northeast Corridor, it is disappointing that the Governor did not take the advice of Vice President Biden and choose a more ‘holistic’ approach to solving the region's transposition problems. There are many opportunities that this plan does not take advantage of and we would urge them to rethink their approach.” Venturi recently detailed his own proposal for doing just that in a recent edition of The Architect's Newspaper. LaGuardia isn’t the only airport in line to be revamped. The governor stated that he will soon issue an RFP for a redesign of JFK International Airport. In the meantime, the iconic Eero Saarinen–designed TWA Flight Center will be transformed into a LEED certified hotel, consisting of 505 guestrooms, 40,000 square feet of conference, event and meeting space, and an observation deck. This will be JFK's first airport hotel.
Day One: New Yorkers rejoice as their governor, Andrew Cuomo, announces his intent to bring AirTran service to LaGuardia Airport. Day Two: Well-respected transportation blog The Transport Politic digs into the $450 million plan and shreds apart some of its ambitious goals, namely the time savings it takes to get to the airport. Using the LaGuardia AirTran would actually be a less convenient way to get to the airport than the slow and unreliable options that currently exist. The plan, which is in its early stages, would mean building an AirTran station by Citi Field, between an existing Long Island Rail Road stations and a 7 line subway station; the elevated train would then connect to LaGuardia via the Grand Central Parkway. The Cuomo Administration says the distance traveled is 1.5 miles, but Transport Politics puts it closer to 2.3. Since the new rail line would travel alongside a highway, it would cause minimal disruptions for existing neighborhoods, making this whole thing a much easier pitch for Cuomo, at least politically and financially. Cuomo says the state has the money to pay for the plan through existing funds. But if the LaGuardia AirTran is built as currently proposed, it would actually mean a longer ride to the airport from many major population centers. Travelers heading to LaGuardia from Midtown, Downtown Brooklyn, Central, Queens, and the South Bronx would be better off taking one of the bad public transit options that already exist. The new AirTran would, of course, be faster for anyone living near Citi Field, and would shave a few minutes off the ride from Penn Station for those taking the Long Island Rail Road. This is not the first time that the city has looked into ways to make New York City’s closest airport not feel so far, far away. A 1990's plan, for example, would have extended the N subway line from Astoria, Queens right to LaGuardia. But as Transport Politic noted, the extension was squashed by neighborhood opposition because people apparently didn't want an elevated rail line cutting through their neighborhood. Check out Transport Politic's handy chart below that compares travel times of that 90's plan, Cuomo's plan, and an alternate plan for a connector from Jackson Heights, Queens.
If you’re not a fan of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, then LaGuardia Airport really has nothing to offer you. Besides travel-friendly food options like “jalapeño and cheese pretzel dogs" the aging, dirty, sometimes-leaking airport is by all accounts a disaster. Just ask Vice President Joe Biden who once said that if he blindfolded someone and took them to LaGuardia they would think they were in “some third world country.” The Vice President adding, "I'm not joking." A few months after the Veep made that non-joke, he appeared alongside New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to announce design competitions to revamp LaGuardia and JFK, as well as the smaller Republic Airport on Long Island and Stewart Airport in the Hudson Valley. Those competitions will be launched in 30 days and last for 60 days; three finalists will be awarded $500,000. The New York Observer reported that the governor wants to see better retail and restaurant options at the airports (move over Auntie Anne's!), a Long Island Railroad link and ferry connection to LaGuardia, faster rail connections to JFK, and tax-free zones around Republic and Stewart airports. At LaGuardia, at least, the results could possibly look like the totally non-official rendering above. How would any of these changes be funded? That’s a question the governor did not address at the event. According to the Observer, "[Cuomo] did not tell reporters how the cash-strapped state, Port Authority or Metropolitan Transportation Authority would pay for these upgrades, but told reporters all options ‘were on the table,’ including new tolls on bridges.'” Cuomo later told the New York Times that designs had to be selected before financing could be secured, and he deflected criticism that his competition would get in the way of the Port Authority's multi-billion-dollar plan to overhaul LaGuardia's main terminal. There's no word yet on who will oversee that project, or what it will entail, but the Port Authority's very announcement of its plans earlier this year led to the exciting, but entirely unsolicited, completely non-official rendering at top.
Manufacturing is returning to Buffalo, New York in a big way. In late September, SolarCity broke ground on a 1.2-million-square-foot solar panel manufacturing plant that will be the biggest facility of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. The company, which Elon Musk chairs, is investing $5 billion into the project that will rise on the site of a former Republic Steel factory. When fully operational, the panels produced at the factory are expected to generate one gigawatt of energy, that's roughly enough power to power 145,000 homes. New York State has also put forth significant funds for the project. "Under the deal with SolarCity," explained the Buffalo News, "the state will spend $350 million to build the sprawling factory on South Park Avenue and provide $400 million in funding for equipment, with the state following the economic development model that it used to build up the semiconductor industry in the Albany area. Under that model, the state invests in state-of-the-art facilities and equipment that typically are too costly for companies to acquire on their own and then signs agreements with companies, like SolarCity, that want to access it." The facility is expected to open in 2016 and provide 3,000 jobs for the Buffalo region, according to the Cuomo administration.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill that allows New York City to lower its default speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25. The legislation, which is expected to go into effect within 90 days, is part of the city's ongoing effort to reduce traffic fatalities. Specifically, reducing the city's speed limit has been one of the central pieces of Mayor de Blasio's Vision Zero agenda. "This is another vital step toward making New York City streets safer for every family," Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. "Our Vision Zero initiative’s mission is to save lives, and that is precisely what this legislation accomplishes."
The New York Times has published a blockbuster story on the Cuomo administration’s repeated efforts to undermine the anti-corruption commission that the governor set up himself. According to the Times, the Cuomo administration blocked efforts by the commission to subpoena the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) over “its political donations, its materials related to a valuable tax break for new housing, and its communications with public officials, including phone calls with lawmakers." The commission also planned to note emails from Extell Development Company, which mentioned how a loophole could be used to funnel money to Cuomo through LLC's. Ultimately, the loophole was mentioned, but Extell was not.
Buildings will soon rise to new heights alongManhattan's Hudson River Park. Governor Cuomo just signed legislation to allow the cash-strapped park to sell 1.6 million square feet in air rights to developers. The bill will enable developers to build new projects one block from the five-mile waterfront park, which can now include commercial tenants, schools, performing art organizations and venues, and TV film and media studios. For the last few years, the commercial tenants at Pier 40 have failed to generate enough money for the park, leading the Hudson River Park Trust to look for new revenue sources. The crumbling 15-acre pier—made up of ball fields, offices, and sports facilities—requires around $118 million in renovations. This plan has been controversial and incited protects from historic and environmental groups. With the city still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, the Sierra Club and New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) have encouraged the governor to reject the new bill, which they said would put new developments at risk. “Governor Cuomo has rightly called for plans to ensure that the State of New York is better prepared for and more resilient to future severe storms. It would be foolhardy to encourage development in such a storm-vulnerable location,” said Laura Haight, NYPIRG’s senior environmental associate, in a statement.
Yesterday, something remarkable happened. More than a decade after the destruction of the World Trade Center, the walls and fences surrounding a small corner of the site came down and the public was able to glimpse a new stretch of Greenwich Street—which will eventually bisect the site—as well as Fumihiko Maki's completed 72-story tower, Four World Trade. The minimalist tower is the first completed building on the site, though tenants will now begin building out their floors. “Today’s opening of 4 WTC is a truly momentous occasion in New York’s history,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. “Twelve years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this building stands tall as a symbol of our nation’s resilience and strength. It will also contribute to the revitalization of Lower Manhattan, connecting mass transit, business, government and tourism all on one site. As we move forward in building a new World Trade Center, the opening of this first tower is a significant milestone and illustrates that, even in the face of great adversity, New York rises.” Progress on the site is becoming more evident on the site, with the ribs of Calatrava's transit hub rising above the fence line, the base of Three World Trade now boasting Richard Rogers–designed trusses, and One World Trade just officially declared the tallest building in the US. The Memorial has attracted millions of visitors and the Memorial Museum will open to the public next spring.
With the launch of the Citi Bike share program around the corner, New York City's bike advocates are focusing their efforts on the next cycling obstacle: the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Harbor Ring, an advocacy project of the Regional Plan Association, is calling for a 50-mile cycling and pedestrian route encircling New York harbor. The group has published a new petition with over 1,000 signatures at press time pushing for the construction of a bike and pedestrian lane across the double-decked suspension bridge, which turns 50 next year. The Brooklyn Daily reported that bike advocates are hoping Governor Cuomo will support the proposal for the new bike path, which would not only connect Brooklyn and Staten Island, but also provide a critical connection for the Harbor Ring. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has said it will “consider conducting a feasibility study,” but not until 2014 or later. MTA spokesperson Judie Glave told the Daily, "MTA Bridges and Tunnels is considering this issue as part of a future Belt Parkway ramp reconstruction project." This proposal to add a bike path isn't new: A feasibility study conducted in 1997 by the Department of City Planning revealed that it would be possible to build a bicycle lane without removing any vehicle lanes, but could cost around $26.5 million.
The debate over the future of the abandoned Rockaway Long Island Railroad (LIRR) line is heating up, and while a proposal to convert the viaduct into a version of the High Line called the QueensWay has gained early momentum with support from the likes of Governor Cuomo, it looks like an alternative proposal to restore the long-defunct rail line is picking up steam as well. According to the Queens Chronicle, a source revealed that Representatives Hakeem Jeffries and Greg Meeks will call for for federal transportation subsidies to return the line to rail service. For residents, the reactivation of the railroad could mean a significantly faster commute into Manhattan. Restoring the 4.2-mile Rockaway Beach Line, abandoned in 1962 and running from Rego Beach to the Rockaways, would cut commute times between Penn Station at the peninsula on the edge of New York City in half—from 80 minutes on a subway to 40 minutes. New signals, tracks, and a third electrified rail would need to be installed as well as major repair or replacement of spans along the route. An estimate by the Rockaway Subcommittee of the Regional Rail Working Group put the project cost at $400 million. Recently though, the QueensWay plan to transform the railway into 3.5-miles of a High Line-esque parkland, has been garnering a fair amount of attention. In the New York Times opinion page last week, Eleanor Randolph endorsed the linear park plan saying that it "offers far more promise than a forest that only thickens while people nearby yearn for places to walk, ride, snack and play." In December, Governor Cuomo donated nearly half-million dollars to the Trust for Public Land to conduct a feasibility study for the Queensway conversion, which got underway on Thursday. But then, there are a number of residents who would like to see the rail line left alone. Neil Giannelli, a Woodhaven resident whose house borders the tracks, founded the group "NoWay QueensWay" which is trying to derail both plans and leave the route as is. According to the group, a survey of 230 residents along a portion of the route resulted in 98 percent preferring no change.