A new report from the Regional Plan Association (RPA) suggests that East Harlem may lose one-quarter of its affordable housing stock. The Manhattan neighborhood has one of the highest concentrations of affordable housing, and has long been a haven for people who could not rent or own in other neighborhoods because of institutionalized discrimination. The neighborhood is becoming less welcoming, however, especially to low-income New Yorkers: Between now and 2040, Harlem could lose between 200 and 500 units of rent-stabilized and public (NYCHA) housing per year. Right now, there are an estimated 56,000 affordable units in the neighborhood. The study, "Preserving Affordable Housing in East Harlem," was produced with long-time collaborator Community Board 11. Any new affordable housing, the report concludes, should be made permanently affordable by "restructuring existing programs, or supporting community and public ownership models including community land trusts, land lease agreements and expanded public housing." The neighborhood is slated for rezoning under Mayor de Blasio's intensive plan to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade. Unlike East New York, Brooklyn, the first neighborhood to undergo rezoning under de Blasio's plan, East Harlem has gentrified palpably in recent years: When the New York Times includes your neighborhood on its "next-hottest" list, some say widespread residential displacement is not far behind. Using the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development's (HPD) Office of Asset and Property Management, the city has managed to lengthen individual buildings' affordability reactively, though the process would need to be restructured so buildings are designated permanently affordable as a matter of course. The East Harlem Neighborhood Plan coalition, which includes Community Voices Heard, CB 11, and the office of New York City Council Speaker (and district representative) Melissa Mark-Viverito, incorporated RPA's work into their plan, which The Architect's Newspaper covered when it was revealed last fall.
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Two rail tunnels connecting New Jersey to New York are the main arteries of the regional transit system. Riders usually don't need to focus on the infrastructure that carries them to their destinations—unless something goes wrong. Each day, 500,000 commuters use mass transit—Amtrak, PATH, and NJ Transit—to travel from New Jersey to New York and back. After more than one hundred years in service, the rail tunnels are rapidly deteriorating. "Tunnel Trouble," a new video released by the Regional Plan Association (RPA), warns of the dire consequences for transit on the Eastern seaboard if one of the tunnels were shut down for extensive repairs. https://vimeo.com/143811940 The daily ridership on Amtrak and NJ Transit has more than doubled, from 35,533 passengers in 1990 to 85,869 in 2013. Over the next 25 years, ridership on these lines is expected to grow more than 40 percent. Each tunnel handles inbound and outbound traffic. Typically, 24 trains pass through each tunnel each hour. The RPA states that, if one tunnel closed, only six trains per hour could pass, reducing service by 75 percent. Those with cars may chose to drive, straining an already overburdened road network. Hurricane Sandy inundated the tunnels three years ago. Saline river water corroded the concrete lining and damaged the Depression-era wiring. Today, mechanical problems in the tunnels create a chokepoint for local train traffic and delay regional Amtrak trains coming in and out of New York. The RPA makes a strong case for building two new tunnels, while the current tunnels are still operable, to forestall an immanent transportation disaster. It appears, however, that the political will is lacking. In 2010, AN covered the defeat of the ARC project, an $8.7 billion transit upgrade between the New Jersey Meadowlands and Penn Station. The ARC proposed building two new single-track tunnels to alleviate the bottleneck under the Hudson. Today, and especially after the devastation of Sandy, investing in new tunnels is key to maintaining the economic health of the region.
The Regional Plan Association has announced that its president Bob Yaro is retiring and will be succeeded by its executive director Tom Wright. Yaro has been with the association for 25 years and served as its president since 2001. “I have been privileged over the last quarter century to guide RPA and help address some of the New York metropolitan region’s most pressing challenges,” Yaro said in a statement. “While I will miss working with the extraordinarily talented researchers and policy experts at RPA on a daily basis, I am thrilled to be leaving the organization in the hands of someone as accomplished and visionary as Tom Wright."
Consensus among the city's political players is growing in favor of the relocation of Madison Square Garden from its home atop Penn Station. Yesterday, City Council held a public hearing to discuss the future of the Garden and the overcrowded train terminal. Filmmaker Spike Lee, surrounded by an entourage of former Knicks players, testified on behalf of the Garden. According to the Wall Street Journal, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn expressed her support of a ten-year term limit for the arena in a letter addressed to the Garden's President and CEO, Hank Ratner, on Wednesday. The owners of the arena have requested a permit in perpetuity, however, several government officials and advocacy groups—including Borough President Scott Stringer, the Municipal Art Society (MAS), and the Regional Plan Association—have called for limiting the permit to 10 years. This comes after the City Planning Commission voted unanimously for a 15-year permit extension.
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.
Madison Square Garden has been on the move since its inception in 1879 as a 10,000-square-foot boxing, bike racing, and ice hockey venue in an old railroad depot at Madison Avenue and 26th Street. The facility later moved into an ornate Moorish-style building designed by famed Stanford White, architect of the Penn Station, which the arena notoriously replaced at its fourth and current home on 33rd Street in Midtown (after a brief stop on 50th Street). Now, if community boards, civic and planning groups, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer get their way, the venue will be sent packing once again. With MSG's special use permit to operate at its current site—originally issued in 1963 with a 50-year term—up for review, opposition is now mounting to relocate the arena, increase the capacity of one of the city's biggest transportation hubs, and restore some sense of "civic dignity" to the site of New York's most famous demolished train station. Last month, Community Boards 4 and 5 unanimously voted to deny the arena's owners request for a permanent extension of the permit, which would have guaranteed the arena's site for eternity. Seconding that decision, New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, who has supported moving the arena for over a year, penned a scathing screed on why the arena must go:
The last thing New York needs is to enshrine the aging and oppressive Garden, which may be the world’s most famous arena but is also one of the ugliest and, for millions of commuters using the station trapped beneath it, a daily blight.On March 21, the Municipal Art Society and the Regional Planning Association joined forces to push for reconsidering MSG's current site. According to a joint statement, the groups want "to overhaul Penn Station and reconsider the location of Madison Square Garden atop our busiest and most vital transportation hub." The two groups issued a statement:
Penn Station’s problems aren’t only aesthetic. The station is so space-constrained that it struggles to accommodate passenger traffic from the rail systems that currently use it or absorb future passenger growth and new services such as high-speed rail. While large cities around the world—and New York’s own Grand Central Terminal—have built and transformed rail stations into appealing destinations for residents and visitors, Penn Station has never been a magnet for west Midtown.Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer issued his own opinion this week on the matter, proposing a limited ten-year extension to MSG's special use permit, noting that the arena "stifles" Penn Station's ability to grow, which could bring negative long-term consequences to the city and region. Stringer noted in his press release that Penn Station already operates at well over 100 percent of its capacity, handling more than 640,000 people daily, triple the 200,000 capacity the station carried 50 years ago. With expansion on Manhattan's West Side and proposed tunnels to New Jersey, estimates show that use will increase some 40 percent over the next two decades. “It is time to build a more spacious, attractive and efficient station that will further encourage transit use, reduce driving into the city, and spur economic growth throughout our city and our region,” Stringer said in a statement. “While we need to ensure the Garden always has a vibrant and accessible home in Manhattan, moving the arena is an important first step to improving Penn Station.” Among the challenges to updating Penn Station are the support beams for the arena, which land between tracks leading into the station. According to the New York Times, the station also fails to meet current fire codes and other safety regulations MSG's current site, Stringer continued in his press release, will ensure that Penn Station "remains a confusing, subterranean, three-level maze with indiscernible entrances, low ceilings, and exit points that are severely limited. It is simply unacceptable to continue to subject existing and future users to the current Penn Station. Failing to account for Penn Station’s current and future needs could have devastating effects and enervate New York’s ability to compete with world cities.” His proposal called for a comprehensive study of the Moynihan-Penn Station area to create a master plan that could guide growth. During the ten-year extension, an alternative site for MSG could be found. While there has been no official proposal for a relocation site, several observers have issued their own recommendations. In another New York Times piece, Kimmelman suggested another site on the West Side such as the giant Morgan General Mail Facility that covers two entire blocks. Kimmelman conceded, however, "The point isn’t deciding which possible site is best right now. It’s knowing there are paths worth pursuing, and focusing the next decade on exploring them." The Dolan family, owners of MSG, will appear before the New York City Planning Commission and eventually the full City Council this summer to make their case for renewing the permit and keeping the arena at its current site. A public hearing at the Planning Commission is scheduled for April 10 and the RPA will be hosting a forum on the arena on April 19.
The Regional Plan Association played a crucial role during the Great Depression, helping guide the Roosevelt administration's recovery efforts. While the tri-state advocacy group has been less visible during the current crisis, the RPA still plays an important roll in shaping transportation and infrastructure policy, both locally and nationally. The group may be jockey to kick up its profile as it replaces its outgoing chair, little known real estate attorney Peter Herman, with former MTA boss Eliot "Lee" Sander. Sander is no stranger to getting his hands dirty, as he wrangled mightily to get the MTA in order amidst Albany's opposition. He was eventually forced out of what he once wistfully called his dream job after the Paterson administration reorganized the agency, where Jay Walder now runs the show. Since then, Sander has moved to AECOM, where he is the "group chief" for global transportation. Last week, the RPA board unanimously voted Sander to be its head. "I can think of no better person who understands the challenges we face and possesses the skills to set a bold agenda for both RPA and the region," Bob Yaro, the RPA president, said in a release. This is not Sander's first brush with the group, as he and Yaro founded the Empire State Transportation Alliance in the late '90s to rally business and civic interests behind mass transit.