“New York never stops. From morning-rush commuters to late-night club-goers, from school children on subways to seniors on buses, millions of people rely on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to get them through their daily lives. Without a robust and well-maintained network of railroads, subways, bus routes, bridges, and tunnels, New York as we know it could not function.” – Thomas F. Prendergast, MTA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is constantly running trains, but it is also constantly running a deficit. Unlike profitable transportation companies, such as the Hong Kong MTR, the MTA has few valuable real estate assets which could be adequately transformed into transit-oriented joint development hubs. Akin to other U.S. public transportation agencies, space for pragmatic and profitable commercial activities – including shops and offices operating on agency-owned land – is limited to a few select stations, yards, concourses, and passageways.
The city usually has design guidelines and requires the community to take care of the cost and maintenance. In San Francisco it’s called ‘Pavement to Parks,’ about 25% of the land in the city of San Francisco is made up of streets and public rights-of-way; this includes all the public parks as well. In this city lot of streets are excessively broad and most of it is not utilized for anything. Many such unutilized areas are near the junctions. There is lot of unutilized strategies in trading as well that Bitcoin Trader can use.
In New York City it is ‘Street Seats’ or simply the ‘NYC Plaza Program’ and in Los Angeles it is called the ‘People St. Program.’ Chicago, Philadelphia, and D.C. are just a few of many other cities that have similar programs.
However, while the MTA’s ability to remain revenue-positive or self-sufficient through real estate development is impossible, the MTA could nevertheless capitalize upon its few existing assets for additional revenue. The MTA could also work with the City of New York to develop a value capture mechanism in mixed-use commercial districts accessible by subway and bus routes. Moreover, the MTA can contextually transport value capture and joint development practices from abroad and overcome organizational barriers in order to ‘transport’ the MTA’s limited portfolio of assets into ‘transformation hubs’. While there is ‘room’ for improvement, institutional barriers ranging from cultural inertia to an unhealthy relationship between the City, State, and MTA would need to be transcended through coordinated reformation efforts.
Limited assets for joint development, and bureaucratic (dis)incentives — coupled with a lack of coordination between various agencies — have created a lethargic atmosphere for American transportation finance. There are few formal PPP development processes, formal value capture mechanisms, or coordinated T.O.D. zoning regulations. Entire swaths of New York have recently been up-zoned, allowing for an increased supply of housing, but the MTA is left playing catch-up with increasingly crowded, congested, and delayed trains. Meanwhile, New York’s supposedly progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio, refuses to provide increased funding for the MTA or support congestion pricing. He currently provides a meager $100 million; the MTA needs to fill a $14 billion gap for its 2015-2019 Capital Program.
“I do believe it’s important that we get a menu of different funding sources up there that are sustainable. Sustainable in terms of the revenue they bring, and sustainable in terms of their long-term. In the sine-wave cycle that some of these revenue sources have, you hopefully have ones that are in a peak while others are in a valley. Value capture on real estate… the idea of Seven West funding, where New York City is giving us [money] to fund the 7 Line is an example of that. There are cases… where someone bought a piece of property directly adjacent to the… Second Avenue Subway, and they’re selling that property at increased value… It’s reasonable to expect that some of those profits should be shared by the people who actually made the improvements to the infrastructure and replow those revenues to further increases in the infrastructure network. The other one is cap and trade.” – Thomas F. Prendergast, MTA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
While most public transportation agencies in the United States cannot be profitable, some public transportation corporations can be quite successful due to real estate assets. In fact, American railroads of the early 20th century maintained a profit partly due to the transportation hubs that they developed, owned, leased, or maintained vis-à-vis value capture and joint development. They did not yet have to compete with cars, trucks, planes, and the vehicular suburbanization of the latter 20th century. With less dependency came more capacity-building creativity and an incentive to actually be efficient.
Once (auto)mobility took over socially, economically, politically, and physically, these railroads could no longer compete. Government and market forces combined to suburbanize white people, divest from public transit, and build highways. Public transportation authorities were designed to operate transit, but not to own the assets that had been developed by prior companies. For American public transportation agencies today, value capture and joint development space for pragmatic and profitable commercial activities – including shops and offices operating on agency-owned land – is limited to a few select stations, yards, concourses, and passageways. The majority of profitable assets that had been owned by private railroads had long been sold before remaining infrastructure was annexed by the public sector.
Private railroads built many of America’s beautiful structures. Pennsylvania Railroad built Hotel Pennsylvania across from their iconic station in the Big Apple. Meanwhile, New York Central Railroad built the Helmsley Building at Grand Central Terminal, whilst developing an entire neighborhood, known as Terminal City, atop its rail yards. Even the former Hudson and Manhattan Railroad, which built the network that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s PATH subway operates today, developed the predecessor of the World Trade Center, Hudson Terminal, atop its hub in Lower Manhattan. Private railroads were profitable even in Los Angeles, where the Pacific Electric Railway system, owned by Henry Huntington, was built because “Huntington believed he could increase his fortune by coupling streetcar expansion with real estate investment – namely, purchasing inexpensive land on the metropolitan fringe and increasing its value through the provision of rail transit services” (Bernick 20, 1997).
Vukan Vuchic, transportation expert, writes that since the 1980s, public agencies have been adopting “some forms and practices of private companies for greater operational efficiency” (Vuchic 299, 1999), and to reduce “political pressures and achieve competitive pricing, public agencies contract some sections of transit services to private operators” while retaining control “to ensure that public interest is not subjugated to short-term economic efficiency” (Vuchic 299, 1999). As such, public transportation agencies have begun practicing joint development, which is when they develop their assets, typically in a public-private partnership (P3).
Public transportation agencies across the United States and the world are developing land atop their stations. The 7 Line Extension to the Hudson Yards in New York has been funded entirely by 28 million square feet of value capture in Manhattan’s newest neighborhood (Rubinstein, 2014). This project did not require any funds from New York State in order to complete.
Yet no other MTA asset will reach the grandeur of Grand Central Terminal. The Beaux-Arts terminal, which only earned the MTA $7 million prior to a 1994 renovation, earned the MTA $27 million in 2011. Former MTA Chairman Joseph J. Lhota stated, “Grand Central will always be the greatest train station in the United States and the crown jewel of the MTA’s transportation network”, as it is a “focal point for the economic and social life of the region and a superb setting for the daily business of moving people” as the second most-visited place in New York City with 750,000 visitors a day. This additional real estate revenue will be used towards funding for the Second Avenue Subway, East Side Access, and the Fulton Center. The MTA may eventually buy GCT from Andrew Penson, the current owner, once his air rights have been sold as part of the East Midtown Rezoning. Alternatively, SL Green will contribute funds to the MTA for Grand Central Tower, bypassing Andrew Penson.
According to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the MTA provides service for one-third of the transit riders in America, employs over 67,000 workers, covers an area of approximately 5,000 square miles, and moves 8.7 million customers a day. This system spends approximately 11 billion dollars on operational costs each year, with an additional 5 billion dollars spent on maintenance and improvement. The Port Authority, meanwhile, subsidizes PATH and other development projects with tolls and fees from bridges, tunnels, and airports.
The MTA owns and operates many rail yards, but most of them are in far-flung locations. According to Robert Paley, Director of Transit-Oriented Development at the MTA Real Estate Department, developing atop of them would require interrupting service because the tracks, unlike at the Hudson Yards in Midtown Manhattan, were not designed with adequate space for future support infrastructure (Paley, 2015). The Hudson Yards were reconfigured in the 1980s for the MTA from a freight yard for the railroad that was operating the tracks that became today’s High Line Park. The MTA’s other yards, which are not in prime locations, were not designed for future joint development, so implementing a project on these properties would be too expensive. Work would need to be completed during the night (requiring exponentially increased salaries), service would need to be disrupted, and countless engineering challenges – ranging from track ventilation to fire insulation – would need to be addressed. According to Robert Paley, due to these costs, most examples of development occurring atop rail yards are due to the yards being demolished or replaced. Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards was moved and the Upper West Side’s Penn Yards were scrapped for Donald Trump’s Riverside South. The success of value capture at the Hudson Yards will be difficult to replicate elsewhere due to the MTA’s limited assets, and due to the difficulty in measuring increased value due to transportation.
New York’s joint development concerns are shared by other American cities, which are also exploring real estate opportunities. According to the Wall Street Journal, the “nation’s transit agencies, long tasked with helping people get around, are putting more effort into giving them a place to live, work and play”. Phoenix, Arizona, and Salt Lake City, Utah, have been developing light rail, even though they are red states, because voters understand the benefits to businesses and to traffic alleviation. Phoenix, despite being in a desert where the temperatures routinely exceed 120 F in the summer, is one of the largest in the United States, and the largest in the Southwest, as well as one of the fastest growing U.S. cities due to its cheap (and sprawling) Sun Belt housing developments. With the economy recovering and with aquifers drying up, farmland is being bought for suburban housing within the blink of an eye. The city is expanding its highways and growing outward until reaching Native American land. Yet in order to keep up with growth, the city is also actively seeking to densify itself with the development of the Valley Light Rail, a clean, fast, efficient, but limited service in the region. Furthermore, the trained eye can see solar panels popping up on many rooftops.
The value capture and joint development policies that will work in New York will not necessarily work in Phoenix, or most of the rest of the country, where the cultural context (and demographics) are starkly different, leading to a different socio-spatial dynamic. After all, this is a city where it is strange to walk to destinations, where downtown consists of parking lots and empties out at night, and where public transit is only seen as a welfare service. Yet it is one of the fastest growing (and most affordable) cities in the country. The entire city is designed as a suburb bordering deserts, mountains, farms, and Native American reservations/casinos…
Moreover, the Los Angeles Metro has 80 stations, 47 of which have had land leased for development since 1999. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has received $20 million a year from leasing properties, including Southern California’s transportation hub: Union Station. Yet this historical terminal’s improved public spaces and new restaurants are only part of Metro’s developments; in fact, Metro is one of the largest “public real-estate developers in Los Angeles County, with thousands of residential units – many designated as affordable – on properties the agency owns and leases to developers” (Dulaney, 2014). For instance, on Hollywood Boulevard, luxury condominiums and a W Hotel above a Metro station provide $750,000 annually due to the prime T.O.D. location.
Additionally, Atlanta’s MARTA will be developing 1,400 residential units on parking lots and 50,000 square feet of retail space on property near a dozen of its 38 stations. In Washington D.C., the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which has “one of the oldest and most established” real estate teams, “sells and leases excess land around its 91 stations”. The revenue from these leases is transferred into a unique fund used to invest in infrastructure renewal and station accessibility. 32 leases thus far have brought in more than $140 million since 1997. These practices are being explored by the MTA as well, which faces a $15 billion gap for its capital program. According to the Wall Street Journal:
“For decades, city and county transit agencies have leased out kiosks or small storefronts in their rail stations to businesses such as newspaper stands and coffee shops. Now, agencies are far more ambitious, developing large-scale, rent-producing developments, including hotels, apartment buildings and shopping malls, around their rail hubs. Transit officials expect real estate to become an increasingly important revenue source, amid stagnant federal funding and rising costs of upkeep for aging systems. According to APTA data, public transit ridership grew 13% in the U.S. from 2000 to 2013, with commuter-rail ridership climbing 62% in the period. But riders’ fares don’t nearly cover agencies’ operating costs, at a time when their worker-related expenses such as health-care and pension costs are also rising. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation’s largest transit agency, expects to pay out about $1.3 billion in pension costs this year, compared with $480 million a decade earlier”.
In Boston, New Balance is building its own commuter rail station, and other P3s are underway in the CBD. Boston’s South Station used to have plenty of commercial space, but most of it has been destroyed. North Station and South Station do not connect, and neither do the MBTA’s Red and Blue Lines. The 2024 Olympics proposal may provide an incentive for the state to fund transit improvements, even if most proposals are never built, as has been the case with Big Dig mitigation efforts. But the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and MassDOT have been working on the South Station Expansion Project, a public-private partnership that would remove a “major corridor chokepoint and unlock greater growth for both intercity and commuter rail” (Fichter, 2013). The expansion plan would allow for properly-ventilated joint development atop the MBTA-owned station platforms and on adjacent properties, while expanding the number of platforms in order to increase capacity, connectivity, and growth.
Chicago, which is arguably the only other American city that even comes close to New York’s dense, skyscraper grandeur, complete with extensive and intensive public transit infrastructure, has similar transit woes. Danielle Dai, while a student at the University of Chicago, wrote about the CTA’s joint development practices…
The success of the CTA and Apple public-private partnership for the refurbishment of the North and Clybourn Red Line station demonstrates the potential of planning and implementing joint development projects in Chicago. From my findings, I make five recommendations to make joint development a more attractive and viable option in Chicago: 1) adopt formal, yet flexible, joint development guidelines or policies; 2) support private sector participation through workshops; 3) explore opportunities within the zoning ordinance to encourage more investment in transit; 4) encourage the new transportation authorization bill to incorporate policies for joint development, value capture, public-private partnerships in transit, and transit-oriented development; and 5) open public forums to foster communication about joint development deals. (Dai)
Chicago’s CBD would not be nearly as dense without the Loop, yet the CTA rarely receives funding from nearby businesses for station improvements.
In Hong Kong, joint development and value capture allow for the MTR Corporation, a privatized company with a majority of shareholdings owned by the government, to be a profitable public transportation company. In Hong Kong, the government is relatively centralized and land ownership laws are not as individually-oriented as in the United States. Hong Kong’s model also works because Hong Kong is one of the densest cities on the planet, and the MTR feeds people into its transit-oriented malls, apartments, and offices. According to Dorothy Chan, a Senior MTR Manager, and Sai-Ping Chin, an AECOM Executive Director, the MTR’s sustainable financial model integrates living, working, and playing into interconnected T.O.D. neighborhoods. The MTR typically owns property below ground, including countless retail outlets, and it will work with developers to sell, lease, or manage property atop its stations, including the tallest buildings of Hong Kong. According to Vukan Vuchic:
“Many extensive rail and bus transit systems in Hong Kong and Japan operate successfully under private ownership. Population densities are extremely high in Hong Kong and Japanese cities such as Tokyo and Osaka. Use of automobiles in these cities is not only limited by space, but it is more expensive than in the U.S. and most European cities. Car travel is less subsidized by direct and indirect measures, such as tax exemptions for many trip categories, company car ownership, cheap or free parking. Land uses, including major activity centers, are planned with rail transit lines and located around their stations. In Japan, many regional rail companies own housing complexes, department stores, shopping centers, amusement parks, and other commercial developments whose income is used for partial support of transit operations. Although privately owned, many transit companies have various arrangements for cooperation, financial support or guarantees by the government in such aspects as infrastructure investments and social fares”. (Vuchic 435, 2005)
By building offices, apartments, and stores directly above stations, the MTR is able to use value capture mechanisms in order to actually be profitable (Loo, 2010). Due to Hong Kong’s density, the percentage of residents who ride mass transportation is the highest in the world (Suzuki, 2013). This equitable, sustainable, and feasible efficiency (Zhao, 2011) is coupled by the fact that the government technically owns all land and leases it only for certain periods of time, it is relatively easy for the MTR to acquire parcels for transit-oriented joint development atop station entrances, and then sell or lease these properties to developers. Furthermore, unlike American public transportation authorities, the MTR is privatized and operates on commercial principles, whilst being controlled by the public vis-à-vis majority shareholdings by the local government. Public-private partnerships (P3s) require immense resources which are difficult to synergize (Enoch, 2002). Often, the public sector does not know how to regulate the private partner, and the private partner cannot think in political terms (Davis, 1986).
“Mass transit’s falling fortunes – eroding ridership, ballooning deficits, second-class image – are often explained as unavoidable consequences of the automobile’s ever-growing popularity. While true to a degree, we believe another factor, often overlooked, is that America’s cityscape has increasingly turned its back on new mass transportation investments. Too many recently built light rail, heavy rail, and commuter rail systems in the United States feature stations enveloped by parking lots, vacant parcels, open fields, warehousing, and marginal activities. This stands in marked contrast to the colorful streetcar suburbs that sprung up along trolley lines around a century ago, or to much of urban Europe where apartments, shops, cinemas, and offices continue to cluster around rail transit stops”. (Bernick XI, 1997)
In Hong Kong and Japan, railroads are profitable primarily due to mixed-use T.O.D. densities that support farebox revenues, because development nearby stations increases demand on the trains. More people live, work, and play in those areas, especially with joint development practiced on railroad property, thereby further increasing revenue and creating a positive feedback loop. Moreover, Hong Kong and Japanese cities are much denser than most American cities, for various reasons. All of this density allows for railroads to be profitable, so they are also privatized, incentivizing less bureaucratic mismanagement and less wasteful spending.
In America, Amtrak cannot be profitable, unlike Japanese railroads, which operate in a relatively small and dense country interconnected by efficient high-speed rail. The United States used to have profitable railroads, but it has since sprawled away from T.O.D. and has depended on highways. The country is also a lot bigger than Japan, and high-speed rail could make sense in only a few corridors, where it could potentially be better than flying, such as the Northeast Corridor (NEC). Along the NEC, Amtrak actually is revenue-positive, but because all of its other routes lose money, and because it has to maintain infrastructure, it requires subsidies.
This does not mean that the government should stop funding Amtrak. Highways also require subsidies, especially in rural areas, and the government is not threatening to end the Interstate Highway System. It’s a myth that the gas tax is a user fee, and that it pays for highways entirely. Indeed, the gas tax is not a user fee because drivers pay for gas even when they’re not on highways, and it also rarely covers maintenance costs for our roads by itself.
In New York, which has areas that are as dense – if not denser – than Hong Kong and Tokyo, there are areas served by subways that could be up-zoned further. However, NIMBYism tends to counter up-zoning near stations, thereby leaving stretches of the subway running below capacity. Yet where zoning has been up-zoned, trains are becoming more and more crowded, and revenue is increasing, but so are delays.
Alon Levy, who is, in my opinion, one of the best writers on transit in the world, agrees with me that T.O.D. is always good, generating demand for the MTA, especially where service capacity can be increased. Yet he is not keen on value capture for two reasons, writing:
First, it’s a tax on TOD. Do they tax new subdivisions as a way of funding roads? No, they don’t. And second, because it’s an opaque source of funding – unlike either profits from the farebox or income and sales taxes – it can be levied without either economic input from riders or political input from voters. The result is that it’s easier to waste the money.
In the end, with or without value capture mechanisms, TOD will increase ridership on the MTA. Alon Levy recommends safe and secure biking facilities at major transfer points, “especially end-of-line stations like Flushing, Jamaica Center, and Brooklyn College” and in buildings. These facilities could be part of future P3 joint development buildings atop stations. Perhaps public-private developments can halt the soaring costs of public capital construction projects in New York, which tend to be 6-7 times higher than Paris.
So, how can we bridge the gap and invest in neighborhoods akin to those in Baltimore? Partly, with better transportation accessibility and mobility! Transportation hubs with additional ‘creative’ space don’t just increase revenue for transportation agencies. If there’s office space, retail space, and housing there as well, then it also impacts other social, economic, and political indicators. How about a rooftop farm, solar panels, community space for meetings, and local artwork to help with place-making efforts? These hubs can help to bridge the gap between communities by offering enhanced physical mobility, but also enhanced socioeconomic mobility as centers of transit-oriented employment and housing. Yet transportation cannot be ‘transported’; context is extremely important in the transformation process. Transportation infrastructure is planned in accordance with many contextual powers, identities, and ideologies. We must think beyond borders and buildings.
Transportation hub infrastructure can be transformation hub infrastructure, as it is in Hong Kong and Tokyo. But for value capture and joint development to improve in New York, the Port Authority, New Jersey Transit, Amtrak, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority need to cooperate on regional housing and transportation planning amongst themselves and amongst respective municipalities. The bureaucratic underpinnings of these authorities do not provide incentives for collaboration, and politicians are pressured by developers to keep real estate in private hands, whilst not providing much funding for public transportation to operate and improve (Musluoglu, 2015).
From the Fulton Center and Grand Central Terminal to the Atlantic Yards and Hudson Yards, organizational barriers ranging from bureaucratic regulations and powerful public unions to a lack of public-private partnerships and collaborative efforts, coupled with a lack of opportunity sites and market potential, are stifling growth in New York City and beyond. The city will not be able to handle continued population growth without a coordinated value capture zoning mechanism for T.O.D. housing and transportation planning. Albany will remain unresponsive as long as the Governor remains unpressured to change policies, and as long as most people remain clueless about New York’s real troubles beyond the day-to-day headlines. Additional funding from the City of New York and New York State is necessary. Political resolve and inspired leadership are necessary in order to transform New York’s transit into the 21st century. Joint development will increase transit usage and revenues and catalyze transit-oriented development. But first, New Yorkers need to demand collaborative, contextual, connected change.
So do people elsewhere…
In order to densify…
In the end, America’s infrastructure is crumbling because a GOP Congress does not want to raise the gas tax or invest in public transit. The country is falling behind, spending approximately one billion to subsidize Amtrak, while China spends $128 billion per year on rail transport. In New York, the Mayor and Governor can’t seem to find the money for the MTA’s Capital Program, even though the city has a budget surplus, and has a record number of private jobs, with more people moving to New York than to Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and D.C. combined.
For better or worse, America’s car-centric, Manifest Destiny culture of individualism, complete with a lack of cultural homogeneity and a lack of trust in government, have created a toxic atmosphere for public transit. Unlike European countries, public transit in America is generally considered a service to the poor, and is feared as a sign of an encroaching strong, centralized federal government. Apparently, Americans would rather have crumbling infrastructure in order to pay less in the short-term, and suffer the consequences later.
As such, we need to prioritize P3 transportation finance, capitalizing upon agency-owned real estate in order to bridge the gap and build interconnected, healthy communities for the 21st century. Cities need to formalize value capture mechanisms and streamline joint development processes. From solar bike paths to mixed-use transportation hubs, cities need new, creative tools and techniques for the 21st century renaissance of American transportation networks.
Born and bred in Brooklyn, my name is Rayn Riel, and I’m an urban planning graduate student at Tufts University. I’ve designed Tufts’ only undergraduate urban planning degree in International Urban Development, I’ve founded Tufts only undergraduate urban planning student organization, and I’ve also been working as a GIS Lab Assistant. I have been interning at the NYC Department of City Planning for the past two summers, and this summer, I’ll be interning at the MTA. I will graduate with a B.A. and M.A. in Urban Policy and Planning in May 2016.
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