Value Capture and Joint Development

What does real estate have to do with public transportation? Actually, quite a lot.

From Michigan Central Station in Detroit to the Hudson Terminal, Helmsley Building, and Hotel Pennsylvania in NYC, American railroads of the 20th century maintained a profit partly due to the transportation hub real estate assets they developed, owned, leased, and/or maintained vis-a-vis value capture and joint development. But as (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.

Detroit (ABOVE) and Dallas (BELOW)

Detroit, the Motor City, is antithetical to railroad terminals, so it is sadly fitting that Amtrak trains are rerouted from the city’s abandoned central station to an “Amshak“. However, the city has recently added commercial tenants to the Rosa Parks Transit Center. Meanwhile, Dallas has been building the DART Light Rail, hoping for a more lively downtown and for more infill.

ABOVE: Michigan Central Station in the Motor City…

ABOVE: The CBD People Mover and Detroit…

ABOVE: Dallas DART Light Rail Station (EMPTY SPRAWL SPACE!) 

According to Levinson, Zhao, and Iacono (University of Minnesota), there are various tools and techniques that can be used in order to implement value capture. Special assessment districts levy an additional tax on land parcels that receive a direct benefit from transit. Transportation utility fees are fees assessed on beneficiaries of transit infrastructure based upon how likely these beneficiaries will be using transit, thereby, for instance, reflecting the building’s density or parking capacity. Tax increment financing is a tax policy that captures the incremental difference in tax revenue after construction of transit facilities, in order to pay for the financing costs. Development impact fees are one-time fees assessed to developments, and are determined formally through policy. Negotiated extractions also are one-time fees assessed to developments, but they are negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Joint development is a public-private partnership between a developer and a public agency. And, last but not least, air rights are the sale or lease of air rights above a transit facility. Often, these tools and techniques are used together in order to complete a project; for instance, a developer may be using tax increment financing in order to practice joint development, while using air rights in order to increase density bonuses.

Private railroads tried to stay afloat by selling air rights in the age of competitive air travel, thus creating Madison Square Garden above the contemporary Penn Station and the PanAm/MetLife Building above GCT in NYC. Their remaining real estate assets were also sold, with reverberations of these deals remaining today, as seen with the air rights controversies surrounding Grand Central Terminal, owned by Andrew Penson, and One Vanderbilt, a proposed skyscraper part of the East Midtown Rezoning.

Penn Station, NYC

The government agencies that now tend to operate (or contract out) public transportation have few incentives to remain revenue-positive or self-sufficient through real estate development, since they are largely dependent upon taxes and fares. They also may not have the authority to conduct real estate deals, nor the transit-oriented assets to do so in the first place. In New York, the MTA faces institutional barriers ranging from cultural inertia to an unhealthy relationship between the State, City, and MTA. The public authority also simply doesn’t own much land that could be commercially developed, besides atop train yards (i.e., Hudson Yards, Atlantic Yards, Sunnyside Yards, Penn Yards, Terminal City), which is quite expensive. After all, trains must be kept operational while construction occurs above them.

Sunnyside Yards, Queens

Develop Jamaica Station in Queens!

However, the MTA does have spaces within some of its station concourses and abandoned passageways for retail vis-a-vis joint development. Still, even when the MTA has space for retail, as in the Fulton Center, they fail to seek revenue-positive opportunities. The Fulton Center is located in Lower Manhattan, and it is only a few stories tall with relatively few shops, so as to allow light to enter through the roof. Even if there was no demand for office space, the MTA could have sold air rights, or allowed for a developer to build transit-oriented housing, while still designing creatively, so light can flow into the concourse. Why didn’t they do this? They don’t have the incentives to do so.

Clearly, the need for state-sponsored reform is great, but it is a challenge for reform to occur, as evident through the recent attempt to reform the Port Authority by NY/NJ legislatures, as well as the lackluster MTA Reinvention Commission. Even though the MTA owns few assets, perhaps they could work with the City of New York in order to establish a zoning bonus allowing for increased FAR if developers chip into a stable MTA value capture fund. For example, the Second Avenue Subway is bound to increase the value of nearby properties, but there is no mechanism allowing for some of this increased value to be “captured” for continued investment. The city has been re-zoning locations near subway entrances for transit-oriented development, including ground-floor retail, mixed-income housing, and offices. Developers are able to build higher and increase their floor-area-ratio (FAR) due to transportation accessibility, but oftentimes, they do not need to contribute to the MTA’s revenue. If new incentives were to be formalized, including FAR bonuses for contributing to the renovation of a nearby station, then the MTA could be provided with a relatively stable source of income. American examples of value capture will help to catalyze the growth of this fiscally responsible practice in the U.S.

Indeed, MTA CEO Tom Prendergast states:

“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, there’s different elements of it, different cuts of it, but 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, you can read Crain’s, as recently as 6 months ago, where someone bought a piece of property directly adjacent to the current phase one of the Second Avenue Subway, and they’re selling that property at increased value because of the investment that the MTA and the region is putting into the construction of the second avenue subway. 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.” – MTA CEO Tom Prendergast 

MTA’s former CEO, Jay Walder, would definitely be able to help, too. He left the MTA in order to work for the MTR Corporation in Hong Kong, one of the world’s only profitable public transportation companies. While no longer working in Hong Kong, he’s chimed in on this issue multiple times, as reported in this informative article. The MTR’s Rail+Property Program may not be able to be ‘transported’ to New York City due to astronomically higher operation and construction costs, as well as a lack of government-owned land. Yet, even when presented with an opportunity (such as the Fulton Center), the MTA chose to develop a four-story hub in the heart of Lower Manhattan. While it’s designed beautifully, it lacks value capture.

Fulton Center, NYC

While the indebted Port Authority (and PATH) in NY/NJ is legally self-sufficient, relying on tolls, fares, and real estate revenue (WTC, Bus Terminal, JFK, LGA, EWR), it is far from self-sufficient. Nevertheless, it is not like the MTA, which relies on taxes, fares, and “TBTA” tolls. And the MTA is not the MTR, which is a profitable and privatized corporation, largely owned by government shareholdings in Hong Kong. This system works in Hong Kong because the government is relatively centralized and land ownership laws are not as individually-oriented as in the United States. It 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. 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: International Finance Centre on Hong Kong Island and International Commerce Centre in Kowloon.

MTR Property on Hong Kong Island (RIGHT)


MTR Construction in Kowloon

MTR Station & Mall Entrance in ICC Kowloon Master-Plan Community

Apartments Atop MTR Train Yard

Apartments Atop Tsing Yi MTR Station 

MTR Malls: Maritime Square (Tsing Yi)

MTR Shops: Hong Kong Station

Typical MTR Underground Shopping 

MTR IFC Mall (Allowing light into the station whilst practicing joint development)

Density in Hong Kong (Above and Beyond…)

New York State’s public transportation network is the most heavily used and developed in the United States. Yet the state and its numerous authorities and municipalities have never been able to establish a stable funding strategy for the MTA. The Hudson Yards was financed by commercial development, with 28 million square feet of new offices planned by 2035. The MTA’s extension was financed by New York City, and with additional property taxes providing nearly half of the revenue raised through value capture. This may not be possible elsewhere unless zoning is changed to allow for increased T.O.D. density, so new buildings can have a tremendous impact on funding. Currently, many of the MTA’s stations are also in dense areas of the city, and these stations could potentially be retrofitted with retail, but self-sufficiency would not be possible. Even still, additional revenue never hurts, as seen with the MTA’s shopping options at Grand Central Terminal, or the independent South Ferry Plaza Proposal.

Hudson Yards, NYC

What can be done about bureaucratic regulations and contracts, public unions, disincentives, a lack of opportunity sites and market potential for mixed-use revenue-generation, and a lack of collaboration with the City of New York and New York State? How can the MTA traverse barriers towards joint development and value capture mechanisms? They can begin by selling air rights at the Fulton Center and exploring retail opportunities in their stations (and at the Low Line). Long-term changes could involve institutional changes at the MTA and in Albany, as well as the development of a value capture zoning district mechanism.

Here is my GIS proposal for an MTA value capture district:

Rayn Riel GIS Poster-page-001

Rayn Riel GIS Poster

The Taipei Metro (MRT) has a Metro Mall, Singapore’s MRT is renowned for T.O.D., and in Dubai, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) is working on a joint development project atop the Union Square Metro Station, complete with air conditioned towers for businesses, restaurants, offices, and residences. They are even creating a public-private partnership for the property, which spans 19,000 square meters. To me, this seems a lot more practical than the Masdar Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system in Abu Dhabi, which has been cancelled. Maybe the UAE is realizing the importance of public transit…

Yet a renewed MTA would be a model for other American networks, from the Boston MBTA (Beacon Park Yard and South Station) to the Transbay Center in San Francisco. Perhaps it would also inspire Juneau, the capital of Alaska, to design itself as a car-free city; after all, it’s already not connected via roads to anywhere else in Alaska. It would also be a renewed New York, able to compete in the 21st century. It may never be profitable like the MTR or Tokyo’s private subways, but it should nevertheless maximize revenue at existing assets…

Assembly Row (MBTA Orange Line), Somerville, MA (Supposedly T.O.D…) 

South Station, Boston, MA

Transbay Center, San Francisco

Dense Retail at Tokyo Station, Japan



This post is a “preliminary introduction” to my IRB approved Senior Honors Thesis research at Tufts University and part of a series of posts related to the subject. Many thanks to my New York and Hong Kong interviewees thus far for sharing their time and expertise, including an anonymous city official, as well as Robert Paaswell, Subutay Musluoglu, Jason Fane, Dan Peterson, Dorothy Chan, and Sai Ping Chin. Interviews with MTA officials are TBD! Also, additional gratitude to the Undergraduate Research Fund for assisting with research expenses.

All photos are taken by Rayn Riel.

Summary: 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. 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. The MTA increases real estate values, which means higher taxes and fees, but this revenue is not shared back with the MTA. This Senior Honors Thesis will elucidate how 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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

35 Comments on “Value Capture and Joint Development”

  1. Rayn Riel January 21, 2015 at 10:19 pm #

    Checking to see if a transfer of development rights (TDR) is feasible for the Fulton Center. If anyone knows, please feel free to share!


  2. RR January 19, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

    In Hong Kong, the MTR is a profitable, privatized transportation company. They develop some of the city’s tallest skyscrapers. They build housing atop almost all of their stations. They own, operate, and maintain malls. This works because Hong Kong is a dense and self-contained Special Administrative Region. It is very difficult to own a car. Thus, ridership fuels the MTR’s profitability, and the MTR builds transit-owned developments, thereby fueling ridership even more, in a positive feedback loop of density and dynamism. And as a privatized company, the MTR has a profit motive, and they have ample incentives to develop property. Furthermore, China’s land ownership laws allow for the central government to, essentially, lease the MTR land to develop. We cannot easily ‘transport’ this transportation model to American cities.

    Our cities are less dense, our subways have fewer riders. Thus, an ‘MTR Mall’ would not be able to be successful in most of our country’s subterranean stations. (Except for, largely, stations in Manhattan).

    Here in Baltimore, I’ve taken a few photos…


    • RR January 19, 2016 at 7:56 pm #

      Baltimore Light Rail


  3. Mark June 24, 2016 at 10:29 am #

    The MetLife Building (Pan Am) was also the the largest commercial office space in the world by square footage when it opened. Helicopters flew passengers to airports from its roof, and coupled with the Chrysler next door, clearly the age of the automobile and the jet had arrived at Terminal City…

    Penn Central could sell the air rights at GCT, but demolishing Penn Station for MSG a few years later was the last straw… the preservation movement had started indeed…


  4. Fred June 27, 2016 at 3:36 pm #

    HK is full of mountains and the MTR does not have stops underneath them. (If it did, it would take a long time to get to the station…).

    MTR receives land from the central government. There are no private property rights. There is no democracy in Hong Kong. The MTR pays the gov’t for the market value of the land before they build their railroad. People are accustomed to density and tall buildings in HK, built on a series of islands. And they could not protest either way. NIMBYism does not exist. So of course they will have all the money from this real estate for a great OTP. And every station is like the WTC, people can go to work without ever leaving the indoors, through a bunch of malls… MTR does not need tax subsidies, they can have low fares… because HK has high property values due to its density and limited space. And because the central government enables value capture on stations, depots, etc.

    The MTR can work with developers on a competitive process, and share a percent of the total profit, or lump sum, or a portion of commercial property… to fund capital maintenance, operations, with millions of sq meters of value capture. And the government makes money from selling land to the MTR, and from having majority shares in the MTR, which is listed on the stock market there. Projects are quicker because they don’t need to compete for public funds… all because HK is dense, land is scarce and valuable, and HK has no democracy, so it does not matter if people are accustomed to density or don’t want something here or there.

    Here, most people are afraid of TOD, so we don’t have a positive feedback loop of expansion like our old RRs. Back when the US gov’t gave land to railroads to build across the country. And then those RRs developed it. But, there were few white people who could vote there to protest, and native americans, chinese, blacks, could be as NIMBY as they want, but they had/have little power unfortunately. (Suburbs are also a lot easier to get built, cus fewer NIMBYists if there is no one there already. But now our political economy has changed, people fear change, fear massive projects, fear density, fear fear fear)


    • Fred June 27, 2016 at 4:16 pm #

      And poor Amtrak doesn’t even own Penn’s MSG or Penn Plaza like the old PRR days. ;(

      I guess Knicks and Rangers aren’t worth much anyway, hahahaa


    • Fred June 27, 2016 at 4:37 pm #

      ofc eminent domain is possible here, it’s how our trains/highways get built, but it’s a looong and grueling process compared to china, where labor is cheap etc


    • Fred June 27, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

      Unlike American passenger railroads, airlines are profitable today. And airports, by and large, are also profitable, due to all of the retail, parking fees, airline fees, and so on and so forth. Massport has so much money that they’ve funded the MBTA’s SL1; it’s free for passengers to take it from Logan to South Station. And if you think coordinating train schedules is complicated, consider the aviation industry. There are many airlines, some unionized and some non-unionized, with planes flying in the sky. It is a feat that any plane is not delayed, considering everything that can go wrong: weather, malfunctioning equipment, a delayed crew. If the plane is late due to weather, for instance, then it will arrive late, and the crew will arrive late, and they may not have adequate rest before their next scheduled flight. Then, that will snowball into their next flight. This can also happen for our subways. And let’s say there’s a sick passenger, which will end up delaying the entire line, and connecting lines; perhaps more services will be disrupted from one event underground, compared to the aviation industry. And within the aviation industry, certain airlines perform better, such as Hawaiian Airlines, which services areas that tend to get great weather; Spirit Airlines, meanwhile, as a low-budget carrier that charges for carry-ons, WiFi, blankets, foods, and drinks, and has advertisements on the plane and non-reclining seats to fit more people, unsurprisingly has many negative reviews.

      (For some unionized crew members on AA, after 25 years, they get free flights for life. Private railroads in the past had similar offers for their employees, but even with free tickets, many were choosing to jet or drive, showing just how much trouble these companies were having prior to bankruptcy…)


  5. Al July 17, 2016 at 12:28 pm #

    The MTR has very wide stations. Imagine if an active shooter came to NYC subway on those long passageways? Boom. Everyone trampled and dead. Very very scary.

    Meanwhile… nice article. If only there was value capture along subway corridors as much as there’s been along the High Line. They should be letting developers build tall so they can help fund the station improvements. I agree.

    The High Line is a NYC public park, built by advocates and managed by a P3… they even get real estate donations. Look at the value sprung up there, crazy. Connected to a whole new neighborhood, all that investment, billions billions billions… a real HIGH line.


  6. Gabe July 28, 2016 at 8:47 am #

    Article courtesy of

    The Clark Street station in Brooklyn Heights opened to the public in 1919, around the same time of the establishment that it calls home: the former Hotel St. George. Finished in 1929, the St. Georges Hotel was the largest hotel in New York City at the time. Big personalities such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Truman Capote could be seen at the hotel’s recently rediscovered Olympic-sized swimming pool, and President Roosevelt even spent his nights there during trips to NYC.

    The hotel began to lose its foot traffic in the 1960s, and eventually shut down in 1995 after a fire destroyed much of the building. The building where the Clark Street subway is located now is used for student housing. Hotel sign and awning remains at the entrance. Furthermore, the former lobby of the hotel is now the subway station entrance hosting a mini mall of sorts where you can buy flowers and get a magazine.


  7. Yoyo July 29, 2016 at 4:21 pm #

    Honestly, rail yards should be decked, it will protect them from the weather, and then trains don’t have to be stored on the tracks underground during severe winter weather/hurricanes, etc… limiting flexibility, express service, etc. Our system is great, our city is great, because we have a grid, we have express tracks, and so many merges… so much flexibility.

    But, as you said, the market is not interested in these far-flung areas, and it would be so hard and costly to deck, move the tracks around, ventilate, on nights/weekend, so much overtime, community opposition, NIMBYists, MTA board,… pressure from the public to just keep it public space, affordable housing, or a park… which defeats the purpose of capturing revenue, and then the public complains the fares are raised.

    Look here, metro-north corridor in the Bronx, some is decked, some isn’t… reminds me of SW corridor in boston

    Bronx metro-north:


    • Al August 21, 2016 at 6:25 pm #

      many yards are “decked”… church avenue on the IND, for instance


  8. Alex August 2, 2016 at 7:34 pm #

    the governor went on the tracks today with MTA boss to put some mosquito poison in a bunch of water on the track… to prevent zika… you know how much this cost? probably $1m. required so many people to coordinate. rerouting the trains to another track, flagging, turning off third rail power, platform controllers, police, press… who knows if there were even mosquitos in that little bit of water? the platform was cleaned so much more than normal for his presence… for his photo opp… for everyone of those politicians to play kiss the ass…


  9. Sammy August 22, 2016 at 8:04 pm #

    Look, they are going to replace the Amtrak departure board!

    And, maybe, a rollercoaster to help fund transit improvements atop MSG?


  10. Iona September 21, 2016 at 12:07 pm #

    For years, Red Hook, a quiet corner of Brooklyn isolated from the hustle and bustle of the rest of New York City with multi-million-dollar townhouses near the harbor and the borough’s largest concentration of public housing a few blocks away, has always been the next destination neighborhood ready to be gentrified until it isn’t. In the early 2000s, it nearly tipped, and then, according to New York Magazine, the area degentrified. It subsequently drowned in the floodwaters of Sandy and has come back a bit tonier around the edges with destination dining, craft distilleries and popular bars lining Van Brunt St. Red Hook’s future remains a murky one, and one way or another, without flood protection, the area will be underwater in a few decades.

    And yet, the forces that try to shape the city can’t help themselves. While Red Hook’s biggest drawback and obstacle is a lack of subway access, a new proposal put forward by AECOM involves up to 45 million square feet of development and a three-stop subway spur from the 1 train in Lower Manhattan that would connect this part of Brooklyn to Manhattan on one side and the F, G and R trains at 4th Ave. and 9th Street on the other. With the BQX, much closer to reality than this subway extension (though both are still just lines on pieces of paper and likely to remain that way), Red Hook is once again in the crosshairs of developers and urban planners looking to make something out of an area that often just wants to be left alone.

    The AECOM report landed with an exclamation point earlier this week. The 1 train to Red Hook! A tunnel under the harbor! Three new subway stations! All of this could be yours for the low, low price of $3.5 billion! Act now before prices increase!

    If it seems too good to be true, that’s because it likely is. The subway proposal is just one part of a larger discussion that AECOM SVP and former Port Authority head Chris Ward discussed at length in a forum at NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management. AECOM’s proposal includes a call for up to 45 million square feet of development and a massive re-imagining of Red Hook with floodwalls surrounding the area and high rises development near both the water and the new subway stops. The streetscape would change for the better, and the area under the BQE would be stitched into the community rather than serving as a dangerous six lane highway itself. It is, AECOM officials have stated, the company’s attempt to start a conversation on solving the city’s housing crisis by focusing on areas with untapped potential and room for growth.

    According to AECOM’s report [pdf], the Red Hook extension of the West Side IRT would involve a spur from south of Rector St. under the harbor with stops at the Atlantic Basin and in the public housing complex before joining with the the F, G and R at 4th Ave. It could eventually include a stop on Governor’s Island as well that could open the park year round or provide access to a new area on the island for a campus-like development. The subway would usher in Red Hook’s development, and the development would pay for the subway. “New subway infrastructure could be partially supported and paid back by revenue generated under this scenario, but will require additional tax measures or other sources of funding avenues to fully pay for support the new subway line,” the report says. “The 35M development scenario would potentially provide less investment capital for new subway infrastructure as compared to the 45M scenario.”

    AECOM believes this subway extension would cost only $3.5 billion, and development financing could cover around 40% of that price tag. As Chris Ward repeated stated the AECOM plan was to be the start of a conversation and not a heavy-handed top-down approach to building up Red Hook, I’m not sure where to begin or how seriously to take any of this. An Outer Borough subway extension through a sparsely populated area should be cheaper than building in Manhattan, but this IRT extension — called the 1 train — in renderings would require reconstruction and a new terminal station on the Manhattan side, a tunnel under the harbor, flood-proof stations underneath low-lying Red Hook, a tunnel that snakes below the BQE and underneath the Gowanus Canal and a new terminal at 4th Ave. parallel to and underneath the BMT 4th Ave. tracks. How this happens for just $3.5 billion, let alone when, is anyone’s guess. Based on the MTA’s current priorities and the city’s transit needs for current development, it could be decades before Red Hook gets the subway it so badly needs, 9 train or otherwise.

    On another level though, this AECOM thing — report, plan, conversation piece — lays bare an issue with planning-by-development. Already Red Hook residents, activists, NIMBYs and YIMBYs are upset with this plan because it came out of the blue. They want to be a part of a conversation about Red Hook, and even if Ward insisted this was to be the start of a conversation, a 61-page pamphlet with fancy renderings and calls for 45 million square feet of growth hardly feel like the start of an open process. So does Red Hook get its subway or is this just a blip — the next chapter in Joe Raskin’s book on planned subway lines that never went anywhere? It seems like the latter to me, but at least we’re all talking about it.


  11. Taurine October 2, 2016 at 9:20 pm #

    We are all very lucky to live in the US, with freedom, peace, science, technology, a rule of law, diversity, property rights, and good institutions. Otherwise, how would you know who owns your land? Or if you want to live in a condo, how would the agreement be enforced? Or if you landfill and build property, etc.

    NYC actually has private streets that still pay property tax, but they need to repave their own property (the street)… sometimes the city helps with garbage and shoveling but they are not supposed to… These little coves feel like more of a community, but they are not as inclusive to the public, and they do get their own parking. I guess it’s like a suburban private street. Then there are public streets with no parking in suburban areas of the city, like queens, where residents have drive ways and keep non-residents from parking (i.e., near beaches, so they don’t get people to just park looking for beach parking.)


  12. Ramma October 3, 2016 at 10:59 pm #

    Taxpayers spend a lot to build stadiums. Why can’t we spend a lot for transit?


  13. Yuni October 10, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

    MTR is amazing. Such good performance, 99% on-time.

    But, it’s also newer, with fewer merges than NYC subway. They shut down at night for repairs. We have very old signals, hefty safety rules that slow trains down for planned work, and inept management since it is not privatized like the MTR.

    Honestly, we need to care more about OTP. It will help keep merges good. Limit delays.

    There are around 160,000 L riders getting off at Union Sq every day.

    G train total weekday ridership – 150,000 (2014)
    SF Muni total light rail weekday unlinked trips – 156,000
    LA County total heavy rail weekday unlinked trips – 145,000 (red and purple lines)

    There are also more people that use Penn daily than there are people living in the City of Boston.

    It matters that these people are on-time, for our economy, our quality of life, and so on so forth. We gotta keep funding that capital plan.

    And we need to care about OTP. When trains are held because trains behind them are delayed, it harms OTP and headways. It lowers them both. BUT, minimizing gaps will reduce the number of delays, since it doesn’t cause the trains to bunch up. Once the incident train got moving, it would be insanely jammed with people, and there would be a ton of residual delays for a long time.

    We also should be better with biking.

    NYC was once great for bicyclists, building parkways in Brooklyn like Eastern Parkway and Ocean Parkway. But then came cars. Newer bridges don’t have bike lanes. There are now more greenways, bike sharing, bike lanes, etc.


  14. Doug October 11, 2016 at 6:22 pm #

    The MTR benefits from being privatized, owning their property, having a central gov’t with little democracy or private property rights, high density, lack of space for cars, no NIMBY institutions, being relatively new, etc.

    Here in the US, agencies may not even own their own tracks. Amtrak shares tracks with freight RRs, other agencies, etc. MetroNorth leases GCT from a developer. Lol! It is just a different political economy since we have space for sprawl and thus railroads went bankrupt and sold their assets and gov’t took over and is wasteful and inefficient.

    There are many private public transportation companies around the world, including in Germany and Japan. Many subways were originally built by private companies, including most of New York’s infrastructure. The only reason why so many people escape poverty and its associated problems every year is because people seek profit. Improved productivity through innovation and efficiency is how wealth has always been created.

    I think corporations can be more accountable to the people than governments! Imagine if the MTA was privatized, for instance. I’m sure they’d care more about passengers, making sure they get places on time, cleaning up stations, etc… because they need the revenue. If they privatized and raised the fare to around $5, they could be profitable and we’d spend less taxes and have better service. Currently, they could care less about passengers. The more money they spend, the more money they receive from taxpayers. No big incentive to cut waste, improve performance, be innovative about finance (more advertisements, real estate development, etc)… If people cannot afford it, the city can provide a transit card for the poor, just as people who can’t afford food get food stamps; the supermarkets aren’t forced to have low prices… Subsidize the consumer, not the producer.

    Also, New Yorkers deserve better. Congestion pricing, value capture, new payment technologies, new subways… these should not be built to reduce crowding, but to make things faster! They are a rapid transit system, they need to stop saying “reliable” service and start saying “fast” service, because fast service is reliable – it means they’re not waiting long on the platform or on the train. If service is fast, everything else works out!

    There’s plenty of crowding in Japan, but their subways are great! People are shoved onto the trains! But that’s just normal dwell times for them, and it’s included in their schedules. They get crowded trains too, but mainly due to an incident or slow service. Normal crowding can be included in schedules.


  15. Querk October 19, 2016 at 10:07 pm #

    The calatrava hub looks nice now, but it is designed so horribly that it will be so expensive to maintain.

    Should do what Fulton Center did. More simple to maintain. No white marble. Sell the air rights.

    From DCP

    Development rights generally refer to the maximum amount of floor area permissible on a zoning lot. When the actual built floor area is less than the maximum per­mitted floor area, the difference is referred to as “unused development rights.” Unused development rights are often described as air rights.

    Zoning Lot MergerA zoning lot merger is the joining of two or more adjacent zoning lots into one new zoning lot. Unused development rights may be shifted from one lot to an­other, as-of-right, only through a zoning lot merger.
    Transfer Development Rights

    A transfer of development rights (TDR) allows for the transfer of unused development rights from one zoning lot to another in limited circumstances, usually to promote the preservation of historic build­ings, open space or unique cultural resources. For such purposes, a TDR may be permitted where the transfer could not be accomplished through a zon­ing lot merger. In the case of a landmark building, for example, a transfer may be made by CPC special permit from the zoning lot containing the designated landmark to an adjacent zoning lot or one that is directly across a street or, for a corner lot, another corner lot on the same intersection.


  16. Solaris November 4, 2016 at 12:56 pm #

    In the breakup of the Penn Central Railroad in 1976, the land under Grand Central and its associated tracks continued to be owned by Penn Central Corporation but leased to what became the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Penn Central as a holding company changed its name to American Premier Underwriters in March 1994. It in turn was absorbed by the American Financial Group. On December 6, 2006, the United States Department of Transportation announced Midtown TDR Ventures LLC had purchased the rights from American Financial.[3] As part of the transaction the lease with the MTA was renegotiated through February 28, 2274. The New York Post reported in 2007 that Midtown TDR is controlled by Penson and Venture. The Post notes that the MTA which will pay $2.24 Million in rent in 2007 has an option to buy the station and tracks in 2017 although Argent could extend the date another 15 years to 2032.[4] The big attraction to Venture are the development air rights it controls above the tracks.

    So, now MNR leases GCT and is directly responsible for all of their passengers. MNR took over Penn Central’s Conrail routes since Conrail was for freight.

    Amtrak took over Penn Station since it is part of long-distance travel.

    GCT is so much better than Penn… You don’t have to rush to your train, you know where you’ll be, it looks so much better.


  17. ConfederateCity November 9, 2016 at 1:33 pm #

    Gramercy Park is sorta a “value capture” district but for the private park, owned by the surrounding lots, raising values and then using that money for maintenance.

    What if we use MAINTENANCE to actually clean our stations, at least paint the ceilings:

    or provide subway information… in a railroad station – gasp – coordination!


  18. Chief November 14, 2016 at 4:55 am #

    Building a new subway line is obviously about more than value capture. So much goes into it — the ventilation, signals, pumps, lighting, etc.

    Now, SAS has ventilation buildings, built without retail… will they sell the air rights? hopefully. But I would not be surprised if they didn’t, just as you mention sir, about why the Fulton Center is only a few stories tall.

    Developers of course will lose interest working with the MTA because they are so SLOW, not just their trains but their organization… they do not think of their real estate as an opportunity.


  19. Ambassador November 20, 2016 at 11:13 am #

    Check out these air rights

    If only we could have a more regional zoning policy, like we have regional MPOs.

    Unfortunately, zoning today usually just makes things WORSE!

    40 Percent of the Buildings in Manhattan Could Not Be Built Today
    These are buildings that do not conform to New York City’s zoning code for at least one reason.

    Because They Are Too Tall …
    These tend to be apartment buildings concentrated on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side.

    Or They Have Too Many Apartments …
    The West Village and Chelsea are the biggest offenders in terms of density.

    Or Too Many Businesses …
    Technically, too many square feet dedicated to commercial uses. Mostly concentrated in Midtown and the East Village.

    But They Made New York Great. (Sometimes.)

    New York City’s zoning code turns 100 this year. That may not sound like cause for celebration — except maybe for land-use lawyers and Robert Moses aficionados. Yet for almost every New Yorker, the zoning code plays an outsize role in daily life, shaping virtually every inch of the city.

    The bays and cliffs of the Empire State Building come from zoning, as do the arcades and plazas of Park Avenue. The code gave us Zuccotti Park and Billionaire’s Row, the quietude of Greenwich Village and the bustle of the High Line, the glass towers now lining the formerly industrial waterfront and the portion of subsidized apartments that fill them.

    Which Buildings in Manhattan Couldn’t Be Built Again Today?
    Find out which of Manhattan’s 43,000 buildings defy their zoning restrictions.
    New York’s zoning code was the first in the country, meant to promote a healthier city, which was then filling with filthy tenements and office towers. Since it was approved in 1916, the ever-evolving, byzantine code has changed many times to suit the needs of a swollen metropolis. Just in March, the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio won approval for a vast citywide plan that would encourage sleeker, more affordable developments.

    Yet many of New York’s buildings remain stuck in the past.

    Whole swaths of the city defy current zoning rules. In Manhattan alone, roughly two out of every five buildings are taller, bulkier, bigger or more crowded than current zoning allows, according to data compiled by Stephen Smith and Sandip Trivedi. They run Quantierra, a real estate firm that uses data to look for investment opportunities.

    Mr. Smith and Mr. Trivedi evaluated public records on more than 43,000 buildings and discovered that about 17,000 of them, or 40 percent, do not conform to at least one part of the current zoning code. The reasons are varied. Some of the buildings have too much residential area, too much commercial space, too many dwelling units or too few parking spaces; some are simply too tall. These are buildings that could not be built today.

    It is important to note that these estimates rely on public records that can be imperfect. Still, while the data may at times be imprecise, it allows for an insightful view of zoning in New York.

    Many buildings in distinctive Manhattan neighborhoods like Chinatown, the Upper East Side and Washington Heights could not be erected now: Properties in those areas tend to cover too much of their lots (Washington Heights), have too much commercial space (Chinatown) or rise too high (the Upper East Side). Areas like Chelsea, Midtown and East Harlem, on the other hand, would look much as they do already.

    “Look at the beautiful New York City neighborhoods we could never build again,” Mr. Smith said. “It’s ridiculous that we have these hundred-year-old buildings that everyone loves, and none of them ‘should’ be the way they are.”

    As the zoning code enters its second century, it is worth considering the ways it has shaped the city; whether and where it is still working; and how it might be altered so the city can continue to grow without obliterating everything New Yorkers love about it.

    A New New York Would Be Less Dense
    19jones-photo.jpg 19 Jones Street in Greenwich Village. Pablo Enriquez for The New York Times
    On the cover of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” there on the right side, its cornice almost grazing the N in Dylan, stands 19 Jones Street. It is one of the thousands of buildings in Manhattan with too many dwelling units for its size.

    Built in 1910 as a tenement, 19 Jones Street predates the zoning code by six years. It belongs to a special family of tenements known as dumbbell apartments, so named because of the way the buildings are squeezed in the middle, creating air shafts. Such openings were a requirement of the Tenement Housing Act of 1879, meant to make tightly packed apartments a little bit more livable.

    19 Jones Street

    If built today

    Current building

    55-foot height limit

    Setback from street

    15-foot setback



    Were 19 Jones built today, it would have to be significantly smaller. The number of apartments would fall sharply, to just eight from 24. The building’s total dimensions would be nearly halved, and a story or two would have to be chopped off.

    New York’s zoning rules were intended to create less cramped quarters, but they also have consequences for the number of aggregate apartments in the city. Such limitations can quickly decrease the supply of housing, and most likely drive up rents. If every tenement in the city were reconfigured in these ways, they would be less crowded, but there would also be fewer apartments to go around.

    A New New York Would Be Shorter
    720park-photo.jpg 720 Park Avenue on the Upper East Side. Pablo Enriquez for The New York Times
    Problems persist at the other end of the real estate spectrum.

    Take 720 Park Avenue, a Rosario Candela classic from 1928 that rises 17 stories and has only 29 units — one of which, a 7,000-square-foot duplex, recently came on the market for $22.5 million. All that grandiosity is too much for modern zoning, which now constrains such boxy, bulky buildings in this part of town.

    The city’s first zoning code was enacted as New Yorkers began to worry that tall buildings would cast the city into eternal darkness. People feared the spread of bulky skyscrapers like the Equitable Building, at 120 Broadway in the Financial District. Rising 42 stories and 538 feet straight up from the street in a hulking limestone slab, it spread a seven-acre shadow over downtown when it opened in 1915.

    720 Park Avenue

    Current building

    If built today



    height limit

    15-foot setback



    In response, the city included a setback rule in the zoning code the next year, which required buildings to step back as they rose. It helped create that familiar saw-toothed shape beloved in so many prewar skyscrapers as well as the ersatz ziggurat in shorter structures like 720 Park.

    Yet changes brought about with the 1961 zoning overhaul and tweaks since would create a very different 720 Park today. First, it would have to be much shorter on the 70th Street side. And, since this building reflects a previous era’s rules on bulk and density, it would have to slim down along Park Avenue, as well.

    The rules were dreamed up by planners in part to ensure that historic buildings would not be replaced with something totally out of context, like the skinny towers now springing up on 57th Street. Yet they also ensured that many of the existing structures that made up that context would eventually be out of context themselves.

    But a New New York Will Still Look a Little Old
    Both 19 Jones Street and 720 Park Avenue belong to a vast group of buildings in New York City that are treasured for their architectural value and historical significance. They persevere out of genuine appreciation but also the zoning quirks that determine the fate of almost every building, new or old.

    Nearly three-quarters of the existing square footage in Manhattan was built between the 1900s and 1930s, according to an analysis done by KPF, an architecture firm based in New York. In a way, the zoning code helps to preserve such architectural diversity. The laws have gotten more restrictive over time, giving an edge to properties built in earlier eras.

    Not all buildings are worth keeping. In Midtown East, many nonconforming structures have low ceilings and columns that make them unappealing to new businesses. Some developers have gone so far as to demolish all but the bottom quarter of their buildings, and then build up from there, allowing them to retain the old zoning for their plots so as not to sacrifice a single square foot. The city is currently reconsidering a proposal that would allow these buildings to be rebuilt to their original size and possibly even larger.

    It does not have to be this complicated. In honor of the code’s 100th anniversary, the Municipal Art Society of New York has called on City Hall to consider overhauling the code in a way that would make it intelligible to all.

    “To understand zoning, you have to have a law degree, it’s so convoluted and so dense,” Mike Ernst, director of planning at the civic group, said. “The whole process of how buildings get built these days is so confusing and opaque to people. There really should be more transparency, so people can have an understanding of what the future holds for their city.”


  20. NYC#1 November 23, 2016 at 3:20 pm #

    “Right now, the only new development that can happen along Jerome is commercial—retail, hotels, office space, or industrial buildings like auto shops and warehouses. The city wants to encourage the construction of large, mixed-use residential buildings, which will bring new retail, community services, and thousands of affordable apartments. DCP predicts that the rezoning will inject 3,250 new apartments into the area, 72,273 square feet of community facility space, and 35,575 square feet of commercial/retail space.

    The rezoning would impose the mayor’s new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy on all 73 blocks, which means that any developer who builds there will have to rent at least a quarter of their apartments at below-market rates. While City Planning doesn’t specify how many affordable units could be built, the proposal estimates that a “substantial portion” of the new apartments will be below-market. In the last decade, more than 80 percent of the new housing units in Bronx community districts 4 and 5 (which cover much of the soon-to-be-rezoned area) were subsidized affordable units, according to DCP.

    The new zoning would limit the heights of new buildings to 80 or 100 feet along much of Jerome Avenue, but new construction would be able to reach up to 120 feet around Burnside and Tremont avenues (at the north end of the corridor) and at the southern edge between West 167th and 170th streets. The densest development would be able to rise up to 145 feet at the south end of the rezoned strip, around McClellan Street.

    And as YIMBY noted last summer, officials have also promised to upgrade the public spaces, parks, and streets in these neighborhoods. Neighbors worry about walking home at night under the elevated 4 train tracks on Jerome, which darken the streets even on blocks with street lights. The new zoning would also require setbacks along Jerome, to ensure light and air gets through between the new buildings and the tracks.

    Auto shops line much of Jerome Avenue, and they employ hundreds of workers. Many of those auto shop employees are recent immigrants who speak limited English, and they’re not sure where they’d go if the shops were sold to developers and closed. The city estimates that the rezoning will displace roughly 100,000 square feet of auto shops and 100 employees, but the planning documents promise that another study will analyze the potential displacement in greater depth.

    Next, the rezoning will have to move through each layer of the public approval process, clearing public meetings with the local community boards, the City Planning Commission, the Borough President, and the City Council. City Planning will kick off the process by hosting a public scoping meeting at 4 p.m. on Thursday, September 29th, 2016 at the Gould Memorial Library Auditorium in Bronx Community College, which is at 2155 University Avenue. Typically during a scoping meeting, DCP officials will present the plan and then allow the public to ask questions.”



  1. Ameraissance of Transportation Finance | PlaNYourCity - May 18, 2015

    […] 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 […]


  2. Progressive Public-Private Partnership Profits | PlaNYourCity - August 22, 2015

    […] 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 […]


  3. (RE)New York City | PlaNYourCity - September 10, 2015

    […] Authority (MTA) is constantly running trains, but it is also constantly running a deficit. Unlike profitable transportation companies, such as the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR), the MTA has few valuable real estate assets […]


  4. Thinking Beyond Buildings | PlaNYourCity - September 21, 2015

    […] Authority (MTA) is constantly running trains, but it is also constantly running a deficit. Unlike profitable transportation companies, such as the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR), the MTA has few valuable real estate assets […]


  5. International Urban Development and Transportation | PlaNYourCity - October 9, 2015

    […] Railway (MTR) is a profitable, privatized transportation company, partly because of all of the real estate that it develops. While this system works in China because the central government leases land to the MTR and […]


  6. A Riel Plan for NYC | PlaNYourCity - December 21, 2015

    […] to be up-zoned, and developers should be allowed to build taller if they build affordable units and contribute towards the renovation of nearby subway stations. Moreover, the MTA’s far-flung assets, such […]


  7. Bridge the Gap | PlaNYourCity - January 9, 2016

    […] to be up-zoned, and developers should be allowed to build taller if they build affordable units and contribute towards the renovation of nearby subway stations. Moreover, the MTA’s far-flung assets, such as […]


  8. Connect | PlaNYourCity - August 31, 2016

    […] at their terminals for decades. Hudson Terminal. Terminal City. Hotel Pennsylvania. Pan Am. The list goes on and […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: