Posts tagged with "New York City":
Phase One Build gateway tunnels and a bus terminal in the basement of the Jacob Javits Convention Center. Phase Two Build Gateway East with through service at Penn South. Constructing Penn South with fewer, wider platforms and two new East River tunnels would increase throughput at Penn Station by 30% and greatly expand rail service for New Jersey Transit, Long Island Rail Road, and Metro North riders. New direct rail service into Penn Station for Bergen and Monmouth counties would reduce travel times and shift bus riders to rail in these under-served counties, relieving highway congestion and pressure on the bus terminals. Phase Three Build new tail tunnels to expand service and meet future capacity needsThe report in full can be found here.
Authorities expect the whole of Freshkills Park to be fully open by 2036. More information can be found on the park's website, here.
$243 million later, NYC’s Department of Transportation still fails to meet ADA regulations for street curbs
A recent study by a federal court monitor revealed that even after $243 million in taxpayer funds over the last 15 years were allocated to build curb cuts, the city failed to keep them up to the Americans With Disabilities (ADA) regulations. Curb cut, or curb ramp, is the term for a ramp created by grading down a sidewalk to meet the surface of the adjoining street.
There are 116,530 ramps across the city; some were built to ADA standards but never maintained while around 4,431 curbs were simply built without ramps.
Special Master Robert L. Burgdorf, who is also the original author of the ADA Act of 1990, blamed the city’s 2002 settlement with the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association. In a report he submitted to federal court, he noted that the settlement did not set up any timelines for building curb cuts, nor did it require ADA compliance for curb cuts.
“It is quite plausible that the 2002 stipulation may actually have slowed down progress in achieving accessibility of the curb ramps of New York City,” he wrote in the report.
According to Burgdorf, the city only built 198 ramps in 2016, down from 6,667 ramps in 2002.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) responded by saying it increased the budget—$800 million over the next 10 years—for inspection and construction of these ramps. “As the nation’s largest municipal transportation agency, NYC DOT takes its responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) very seriously,” Scott Gastel, a DOT spokesperson, said to DNAinfo.
Burgdorf’s report recommended that the city survey all curbs within 90 days, install ADA-compliant ramps for the curbs without them in five years, and repair all of the noncompliant ramps within eight years. However, city officials estimate that it could take another 20 years before all curbs are brought up to standard,
Broadway, Manhattan’s longest street and a main commercial drag, spans the length of the island from hilly Inwood to Lower Manhattan’s breezy Bowling Green. There are shops from nose to tail, but a recent survey found that Broadway is also home to almost 200 vacant storefronts, dead zones on one of Gotham’s liveliest thoroughfares.
Glaring vacancies aren’t limited to Broadway though. From Madison and Fifth Avenue to Broadway in Soho and Bleeker Street in the West Village, high-end commercial strips in Manhattan are having trouble attracting commercial tenants. A healthy vacancy rate is 5 percent, but some fancy areas are in the midst of high-rent blight, with one in five (20 percent) storefronts vacant.
Further north, in Washington Heights, a whole block of immigrant-owned businesses were essentially evicted after new landlords proposed a 100 percent rent increase and declined to renew their leases.
Why is this happening?
The causes are predictable, but the solutions are not.
High rent, high taxes, regulations that favor owners over tenants, and plain old capitalism—the incentive for owners to seek their property’s maximum value, and the consumer’s desire to acquire goods at the lowest price—all contribute to the twin plagues of vacancy and the mall-ification (national chains displacing small, local businesses) of Manhattan. Stakeholders, though, disagree on what should be done to solve a growing crisis at street level.
This spring, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office (MBPO) recruited volunteers to count all the vacant storefronts along Broadway, citing a dearth of information on how many vacancies exist, and where. The survey follows an effort from two years ago where the office reached out to small businesses and offered potential policy solutions to businesses’ problems.
But first the report had to determine what a small business is, a question that is not as obvious as it seems.
The federal government’s Small Business Administration (SBA) measures business size by number of employees or the company’s value, depending on the sector. The Small Business Act, though, uses a measure that doesn’t exactly conjure visions of mom-and-pops: It says small businesses have fewer than 500 employees. Under the same rules, a microbusiness has fewer than five employees and requires $35,000 in capital or less to get going.
In New York State, small businesses are companies that employ fewer than one hundred people, while New York City’s Department of Small Business Services doesn’t set a number. Instead, it encourages any self-identifying businesses to seek out its resources.
Consequently, the MBPO’s March 2015 report called for a standardized measure of “small,” and the recommendations in its report are geared toward firms with 15 or fewer employees.
No matter how you define them, it’s clear that the not-so-invisible hand of the market is driving these firms out of business on Manhattan’s main streets. One problem? Stratospheric commercial rent increases. In 2014, the average asking rent in Manhattan was $65.14 per square foot. With ever-more high-income individuals flooding Manhattan, landlords are reluctant to offer 10- or 15-year commercial leases lest they get stuck with a lower-paying tenant as commercial land values in the neighborhood skyrocket.
Other problems, the report found, include businesses not having enough insurance, delaying tax payment, and under-budgeting for utilities. On the city side, some business owners in the report cited punitive agency inspectors who, instead of working with the owner to correct an issue, slapped the business with a fine.
Additional solutions don’t seem politically viable or aren’t effected at a scale that works.
A special tax for businesses in most of Manhattan eats into viability, too. In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio rejected the city council's proposal to alter commercial rent tax, an almost four percent surcharge on annual rent of $250,000 or more on businesses below 96th Street. As rents have risen, the tax threshold has stayed the same, and more businesses have become impacted. A bill (sponsored by Councilmember Dan Garodnick) that would raise the ceiling to $500,000 in annual rent didn’t make it into the final 2018 budget, though the item could be considered at a later date. If that limit were approved, the city would lose $52 million in revenue annually.
Zoning regulations encourage new development with huge storefronts that work for Chase and CVS but not for their independent counterparts. On the Upper West Side, though, neighbors are seeing mixed success from initiatives like a 2012 zoning change that limited storefronts to 25 feet, but don’t limit store size, as businesses are free to expand up or down as space permits.
But some advocates say these reforms don’t go far enough to stop business closures and the encroachment of chain stores.
“There is a crisis,” said Kirsten Theodos, cofounder of TakeBackNYC, an advocacy group for New York City small businesses. New York is losing 1,000 small businesses and 8,000 jobs per month. Theodos, who lives near the East Village, said all of this “fuels the hyper-gentrification and whitewashing of the city, a process that’s really accelerated over the past six years.”
Her group supports the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), a piece of local legislation that would set new rules around renewing commercial leases. Among other provisions, SBJSA would give commercial tenants, at minimum, a ten-year lease plus right to renewal and the option of arbitration to come to a new rent. The legislation is designed to slow, not stop, the rate of change in neighborhoods, and level the playing field for florists and bakeries competing for storefronts with Starbucks and Pottery Barn.
When the bill was first introduced in 2014, it had the support of 17 councilmembers—now it has the support of 26, or half the council. But in a city dominated by real estate interests, the bill is a nonstarter, Theodos explained. REBNY, the city’s largest real estate trade association, opposes the proposed rules, rallying around the idea that land values are subject to the “free market” and (incorrectly) deeming the rules “rent control.”
Even real estate boosters, though, acknowledge the downtrends in the market. According to REBNY, average asking rents in Manhattan this past spring fell in 14 of 17 of the borough’s top shopping strips compared with 2016 and record highs in 2014 and 2015. But the group maintains that a variety of factors set Manhattan apart from the suburbs, and grant the city a degree of immunity from experts’ dire predictions about the death of retail. In New York, REBNY says there are “strong market fundamentals,” including diverse food tenants, online retailers opening storefronts, and the eternal cache of a New York, NY address.
But to REBNY, doing well means collecting more rent. Fifth Avenue between 14th and 23rd streets (the Flatiron Fifth Avenue corridor) and Broadway between Battery Park and Chambers Street (the Lower Manhattan corridor) did the best, with ground floor rents rising by 18 percent to $456 per square foot in the Flatiron and 11 percent to $362 per square foot along the Lower Manhattan corridor. The report only looks at rents along main strips. Rents on side streets, according to the report, could diverge from the main drag; conversely, a gorgeous space on a prime corner may command greater asking rent and affect averages all along the strip.
It’s not only high rents and taxes that are driving businesses to close. Online shopping is slaying retailers big and small, in Manhattan and the suburbs and beyond. Right now, unchecked real estate speculation and limited protections for small-business owners mean that there is little protection against ultimately having a national bank and pharmacy on every corner.
The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) filed plans for its $340 million expansion with the Department of Buildings (DOB) yesterday, an indication that the project is moving forward, according to Real Estate Weekly.
Designed by Chicago-based Studio Gang and officially named the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, the project was unanimously approved last year by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The 245,000-square-foot, six-story expansion will be erected on the western side of the museum.
The proposed building is noticeably different from the AMNH’s current architectural language of Victorian Gothic, Beaux Arts, and Richardson Romanesque, but the Gilder Center will act as connective tissue for existing exhibition spaces. (The museum's Ennead-designed Rose Center for Earth and Space, while modern, is also styled very differently.) In January, Studio Gang's founding principal, Jeanne Gang, revealed the latest interior designs, which are inspired by ice glaciers and canyons to create an organic theme.
The museum plans to expand its research, educational, and exhibition capacity by building a Butterfly Vivarium, an Invisible Worlds Theater, an insectarium, and new classrooms. The designs also include 30 new circulation connections meant to solve current wayfinding issues at the museum.
While the proposal cleared the LPC and garnered support from other officials and organizations, residents and preservation and park advocates had some reservations due to the building’s encroaching footprint on Theodore Roosevelt Park. But the designers adjusted their plans, and now the building will only take up less than two percent of the 10-acre park.
The Gilder Center is slated to open in 2020, if construction starts imminently.
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’s ferry service, which has seen a surge of popularity amidst the city's current transportation crisis, is looking to add two new routes that will cater to the Lower East Side, the Bronx, and Queens, by next summer, as first reported by DNAinfo.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation (NYEDC) filed an application with the Army Corps of Engineers earlier this month to expand the NYC Ferry service by building docks along the Soundview and Lower East Side route.
The Soundview route will stop at Clason Point, East 90th Street, East 62nd Street, and terminate at Wall Street’s Pier 11. The Lower East Side route will make stops at Long Island City, East 34th Street, Stuyvesant Town, Corlears Hook, and also end at Wall Street. The application also included a request to construct 22 floating docks for a “homeport” and boat barge at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a site that is going under extensive redevelopment.
The Army Corps is seeking comments and suggestions for the proposed new docks, one of which at the South Bronx landing is nearly 58 feet long. The responses will then be used to “issue, modify, condition, or deny a permit,” according to DNAinfo.
The ferry system is Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $55 million plan for a five-borough network that focuses on connecting residential areas to Manhattan’s business districts, as well as bringing increased transportation access to the city’s underserved communities. Rides are operated by Hornblower, a Californian company that has previously operated in New York before, and cost the same amount as a subway ride ($2.75). Current routes include an East River, Rockaway, and South Brooklyn. An Astoria ferry route is slated to begin on August 29.
This second phase of expanding NYC Ferry’s services, which only launched in May, comes after reports revealed the system had hit the one million rider mark in July. Both routes, if the application is approved, will begin next summer.
The proposal, approved 42-0, updates the area’s zoning code to incentivize new, dense development and revitalize the flagging business area in order to compete with the Financial District and Hudson Yards. The 78 blocks in the area are currently home to more than 250,000 jobs and generate ten percent of the city’s property tax base, according to a New York Daily News article penned by Councilman Daniel Garodnick. The city anticipates 6.5 million square feet of office space being added to East Midtown.
Developers can build higher and gain more floor-area-ratio (FAR) by either buying landmarked air rights or making specific transit improvements (targeted mainly at subway stations). Several recent changes include the lowering of the air rights minimum: developers can purchase air rights at $61.49 per square foot, of which the proceeds will go toward a public realm fund. Developers are also required pay upfront for transit improvements if they choose to go that route; buildings will not be occupiable until those improvements are finished.“The goal is to improve Midtown, not keep it as it is,” Councilman Garodnick said at the meeting.
The city has committed $50 million to start improving public spaces—before anything is built—and the first project includes a shared street on 43rd Street, near Grand Central Terminal. Over the next 20 years, the city estimates that up to 16 properties could take advantage of the rezoning.