For the estimated 24,100 New Yorkers who cross between Manhattan and Brooklyn on the L train every hour, 2019 is not looking so good. After being pushed back year after year, the 15-month L train shutdown to allow for repairs to the Canarsie Tunnel for Hurricane Sandy-related damage is finally happening next April. The city is hoping that riders will use alternative subway connections, or even alternatives to the subway, and is implementing changes across the subway system as well as establishing new shuttle bus routes and usage restrictions on the Williamsburg Bridge and 14th Street. At a May 16th town hall meeting in Williamsburg, according to The Village Voice, city and MTA officials were reluctant to reveal how many more trains can cross the Williamsburg Bridge on the J/M/Z lines, one of the proposed solutions for displaced L train commuters. But the answer eventually came: 24 trains an hour—in a best-case scenario. This number is just three trains over current capacity. A large part of the issue is due to the fact that the tracks feature S-curves on both sides of the bridge, which requires trains to slow down significantly to safely make the turns without derailing. The MTA is adding and reducing trains at other points in the system in an attempt to alleviate some of the problems for L-train commuters. Even still, this leads to a net reduction of capacity by 12.5 train cars, or 25,000 riders per hour, according to The Village Voice. This also means that beyond longer treks and numerous transfers, waits on platforms to get on packed trains may become even worse. There are currently plans to restrict travel on the Williamsburg Bridge to buses, trucks, and carpools and to restrict 14th Street to buses and local deliveries during peak hours, but borough politicians say this isn’t enough, and that restrictions to bus service and high occupancy vehicles needs to go beyond peak hours during the L train shutdown and call on the city to develop a 24-hour plan. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer sent a letter on Monday to Mayor Bill de Blasio calling on the city to provide 24-hour busway alternatives. As Adams and Brewer point out, they represent 24/7 communities and stated, “If we hope to persuade New Yorkers to continue to rely on public transit while the L train tunnel is closed, we must provide shuttle bus service that is seamless, efficient and reliable whenever our constituents need to ride.” The mayor has thus far opposed a 24-hour busway in favor of restrictions and shuttles for yet-to-be-defined peak hours. Many residents are divided on the issue. Regardless, as the shutdown rapidly approaches, the city must finalize a 24-hour plan to deal with the significant blow the loss of the L train will deal to commuters.
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While the city has kept Walmart at bay—for now—banks and/or drugstores continue to consume two, three, and sometimes four or five consecutive storefronts in many parts of the city. The Upper West Side has been particularly hard hit because most of its side streets are residential. The neighborhood primarily relies on the north/south corridors of Broadway, Amsterdam, and Columbus for its shopping needs. After hearing citywide complaints about the problem, City Planning has begun to address the issue through the West Side Neighborhood Retail Streets Initiative. It’s very, very rare for presenters to receive appreciative applause at a community board land use meeting, but that’s what happened last night when City Planning’s Laura Smith presented the plan to the CB7 Land Use Committee. Smith’s team began studying the problem in nine similarly vital neighborhoods back in 2008, before zeroing in on the West Side where the problem is most acute. “The goal is to preserve and restore multi-store frontages,” she told the crowd. “Banks deaden the streetscape.” The new zoning divides the area into two retail districts: one district for Broadway and another for Amsterdam and Columbus, both areas roughly stretch from 72nd to 110th Street. There are 23 banks in the district. Smith said that because Broadway was built in another time period that celebrated the larger retail establishments it shouldn’t be held to the same small-scale standards as Amsterdam and Columbus. For Amsterdam and Columbus the “enhanced commercial district” is known as EC2. There, the average storefront ranges from 10 to 17 feet wide. The proposal would require two storefronts per 50-foot lot with no store exceeding 40 feet and no depth less than 30’. What tenants and owners do beyond the 30-foot depth limit is up to them. Smith used an example of a Chase bank at 96th Street that uses a shallow 25-foot wide lobby at street level for bank machines, but the small space provides access to a much larger bank floor on the second floor. Banks would face the most stringent regulations with any new branches moving in to the area limited to 25 feet wide. Residential lobbies would be limited to 15 feet. Along Broadway the redistricting would be called EC3. The 25-foot wide bank limit would apply to Broadway as well, but the residential lobbies would be bumped up to 25 feet. Existing business would be grandfathered in to the law and would be not be required to meet restrictions. Schools, houses of worship, and supermarkets would be exempt. For both districts a “50 percent transparency requirement” would require store frontage to be transparent from 2 feet to 12 feet. The detail grew from community complaints about advertising that enveloped entire window displays, essentially creating sidewalk level billboards. But the City Planning proposal doesn’t dictate what goes on behind the glass storefront. The community board leadership indicated that they would continue to push for window signage regulations. Architect Page Cowley, chair of CB7 Land Use, told the crowd that she was generally pleased with the proposal but had a few concerns about the formulaic approach. “By trying to characterize spontaneity, you’re in danger of creating homogeny,” she said. She remained concerned with the window requirement, particularly along Amsterdam and Columbus where original window dimensions vary more than along Broadway. The new district could become a template for other neighborhoods. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer told the crowd that the proposal has “city-wide applications.” Council Member Gale Brewer concurred, “This could be a model.” But in a telephone interview Michael Slattery, senior VP of the Real Estate Board of New York, said that the new regulations would harm the very businesses City Planning is trying to preserve. He added that the proposal’s discretionary waver arrangement would add a layer of ULURP that smaller businesses wishing to expand would not be able to afford. “Landmarks is already problematic,” he said of the Historic District designations. “It’s creating another layer and it’s the smaller stores that’ll have the greatest difficulty.”
It has not been a good day for Gary Barnett and his Extell Development. First, the Post's ur-real estate columnist Steve Cuozzo gave Barnett a hard time for delays at his skyline-bursting Carnegie 57. (How come Tony Malkin didn't complain about this one, by the way?) And this evening, Borough President Scott Stringer has announced he is giving the project his ULURP thumbs down. What more does everyone want? Barnett has promised to build a school, to up the affordable housing from 12 percent to 20 percent, and he has hired one hell of an architect. But this is far from enough apparently, given Stringer's strongly worded announcement. There are two schools of thought when it comes to ULURP: community boards and BPs who do not like a project can either approve with modifications or disapprove with modifications. Though there is an open debate as to which sends a stronger message to the City Council, which has ultimate say on land-use projects, Stringer tends to subscribe to the former school, saying "yes, but" far more than he says "no, but." In other words, a "no" from Stringer is a rare thing (see: 15 Penn, Manhattanville, etc.) and should probably give Barnett pause. Here is the rationale, from Stringer's announcement:
Riverside Center development is the largest development site remaining on the Upper West Side. The proposal includes five mixed-use buildings, 1,800 public parking spaces, an elementary/middle school, 135,000 SF of ground-floor retail, and an automobile showroom and service center. Its redevelopment has the potential to improve existing site conditions, create thousands of new jobs, and provide much needed neighborhood amenities. Riverside Center is also the last remaining undeveloped or unplanned piece of the Riverside South development, which failed to achieve broad consensus and resulted in detrimental impacts on the community. [...] While emphasizing that the “development of the [Riverside Center] site is desirable to the Upper West Side community,” the borough president’s recommendations identifies several areas that necessitate improvement and modification. The current proposal lacks good site planning, creates inactive streetscapes, and obscures access to the proposed open space. Additionally, the proposed project has many environmental impacts that require real mitigations. The borough president’s recommendation advocates for the inclusion of public amenities such as a public school of an appropriate size to meet the needs of the community and additional active recreational space.Granted Stringer's recommendations are wholly advisory, but they do point to the rough road ahead, not least because City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden aired her own reservations about the project when it was certified back in May. Local City Councilwoman Gail Brewer has also expressed skepticism and is not especially pro-development by the council's standards. Still, Barnett has repeatedly shown his willingness to compromise on the project. To see it built, he will almost certainly have to continue doing so.