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John Petro

Without Transit Improvements, NYC growth will stagnate

It's frustrating to hear elected officials suggest that New York City should put transit expansion projects, like the Second Avenue Subway, on hold because of MTA budget shortfalls. Our trains and buses are already at capacity. Overcrowding during rush hour actually results in fewer trains per hour because of the amount of time it takes for passengers to get on and off the trains.

This overcrowding doesn't just result in slower commutes; it also slows the city's growth.

For example, the proposed New Domino development on the Williamsburg waterfront is facing stiff neighborhood opposition. This is a shame because the project would be 30 percent affordable, would likely bring a new supermarket to the area, would have 150,000 square feet of community space, and four acres of new open space along the waterfront.

The project does have its problems, though. With 1,700 new off-street parking spaces, the New Domino development would increase the rate of car ownership in the city when the city should be actively trying to reduce the rate of car ownership. And with only 450 bicycle parking spaces, the development falls 1,200 spaces short of achieving the city's new minimum bicycle parking requirements.

Another concern is the impact the development would have on the area's transit infrastructure. The 6,700 new residents that the development would be expected to bring to the area by 2020 would likely overwhelm the area's buses and trains. Some buses would see twice as many passengers during the morning and evening rush. The city estimates that the L and J/M/Z trains would get 1,120 new riders in the morning and 1,350 new riders in the evening.

These numbers are just estimates. But as anyone who rides the L train in the morning can attest, it is difficult to see how these new riders can be absorbed at the current levels of service. And when you consider the other 4,000 new residential units planned for the neighborhood, the prospects for an even remotely comfortable transit commute are not good.

Without new transit infrastructure, new residential development will not be possible. New York City's roads are already overburdened with literally no physical room to expand major roadways. The only way to accommodate new residents is to provide new transit service.

Which brings me back to all those parking spaces. It is estimated that an underground parking space in New York City costs between $30,000 and $50,000. Even at the lower estimate, that's $50 million dollars. What if instead of providing so much parking, the developer only built half of the parking and diverted the rest of the money to improving transit service? What about an express bus service during peak hours from the development to, say, Union Square? Radical thinking, perhaps, but without innovative solutions, New York City's growth will stagnate.

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Posted at 1:39 PM, Mar 16, 2010 in Urban Affairs
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