(RE)New York City



Riel, 2014


(Re)New Your City, New York City: Transporting Transformation Hubs

America’s public transportation agencies cannot be profitable in the 21st century due to a political economy that isolates these agencies from municipal zoning and land use policies, and from forming value capture mechanisms – from tax increment financing to joint development and the transfer of development rights. This siloization of zoning, land use, taxation, and transportation operations is largely due to American fears of density alongside protections of private property, but it limits the potential for transit-oriented and transit-owned joint development, and it hinders the formation of public-private partnerships. Local, state, and federal structural reforms are necessary in order to streamline value capture processes, such as up-zoning transportation assets and relaxing land use requirements, in order to facilitate T.O.D. While value capture will provide marginal financial benefits due to the limited assets that U.S. agencies possess, it literally stands on its own merits as a vehicle through which the urban fabric can be renewed and enhanced. Transportation agencies cannot be profitable, but they can be organized more efficiently, if given the resources necessary to effectively practice value capture.

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 Mass Transit Railway (MTR), the MTA has few valuable real estate assets which could be adequately transformed into transit-oriented and transit-owned joint development hubs. Similar 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, because most profitable assets from private predecessors were sold decades ago. While the MTA’s ability to remain revenue-positive or self-sufficient through real estate development is stymied, the MTA has been capitalizing upon its few existing assets for additional revenue. This process, however, in coordination with the City of New York in order to develop value capture mechanisms, is lengthy and cumbersome. The MTA has not developed the resources needed to develop property. This Senior Honors Thesis elucidates how the MTA can overcome organizational barriers in order to contextuallytransport’ the MTA’s limited portfolio of assets into ‘transformation hubs’, and in order to do so, advocate for a privatized, profitable, and independent real estate development division of the MTA, chartered for real estate development. While there is ‘room’ for improvement, institutional barriers ranging from NIMBYism and a fear of density to antiquated zoning laws, financing requirements, and a lack of communication among the City, State, MTA, and developers would need to be transcended through coordinated reformation efforts. The MTA’s collective mindset must be renewed for a 21st century narrative, in which the MTA also considers itself a real estate developer.

Born and bred in Brooklyn, I was the first person in my classroom to notice that Tower 1 had been hit. I watched as Tower 2 was hit, and once they fell, I helped to close the windows in order to keep out the dust. Later, I collected fallen papers, not knowing if they could be returned or not. But even later, I realized that this moment catalyzed my interest in cities, in skyscrapers, in transportation, in urban planning, and in real estate development.

Al Qaeda destroyed one of America’s most prominent transit-owned, transit-oriented, development hubs. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey developed the World Trade Center and the PATH transportation hub below, as well as the underground mall that was one of the highest revenue generating properties anywhere in the world. The Port Authority, legally self-sufficient, cannot receive taxpayer dollars. It relies on real estate revenue from the World Trade Center as well as retail revenue (and transportation fees) from New York’s three major airports and two major bus terminals. The PA also charges hefty tolls on its bridges and tunnels, as well as fees at its many ports. Controlled by both NJ and NY, politicians routinely send their expensive legacy projects to the PA, because they know that taxpayers will not foot the bill directly. Instead, users of the PA’s bridges and tunnels foot the bill, with ever-increasing tolls.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), North America’s largest transit network, has also been increasing its fares. The MTA moves 2.4 billion New Yorkers every year, 8.7 million customers every day, and accounts for one third of all transit riders in the U.S. Ridership has been increasing steadily, and has not been this high since the 1940s, with MTA ridership exceeding the next 16 largest U.S. transit networks combined. The New York metropolitan region has more people than the total population of Australia.

So why is it, then, that only one block from the World Trade Center, in the heart of Lower Manhattan, the MTA has built its own transportation hub — the Fulton Center — at only a few stories tall? It’s not just the Fulton Center, either; the MTA’s structures — from stations to ventilation towers — are routinely only a few stories tall in healthy neighborhoods with booming real estate markets. Why wouldn’t they want more density, thereby fueling more ridership and increasing real estate revenue?

MTA Fulton Center & Other Properties

In order to answer this question, we must first understand the current status of revenue generation on MTA-owned station properties, as well as the history of the MTA itself. Then, we can explore organizational barriers prevent the MTA from capturing revenue from real estate assets, and how can these barriers be overcome in order to promote joint development at MTA stations. And it’s not just the MTA, either. Most public authorities don’t seem to capitalize upon their assets, from the DOT to the DOE. Why aren’t there skyscrapers atop schools and libraries, for instance, in hot real estate markets? Or funding parks and funding public housing via infill development? Or above urban highways? Similar problems are impeding most government agencies, from the local level to the state level and federal level. Public transit cannot be profitable in today’s political economy, but neither can highways, which have never paid for themselves.
South Ferry Plaza

Portions of the subways of New York City are over 100 years old, and most of the subway was not built by the MTA, or even by the City of New York. Indeed, private, profitable railroads, such as the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) and the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT), built the subway, in coordination with the City. At the time, few owned automobiles, and there were few highways, either. Cities were denser, and residents had only recently begun to rely on trolleys and trains, instead of horses, to move around the city. There was ample demand for subways in order to relieve congestion on the streets; in fact, the City helped pay for sections of the subways that went into the outer boroughs, in order to alleviate slum-like-conditions in Lower Manhattan.

But at the time, the outer boroughs were far from developed. In fact, many elevated railroads were zooming over farmland, and goats could not pay fares to ride the subway. Even still, the City kept the IRT and the BMT from raising fares. Coupled with the Great Depression, inflation, and white flight, these private railroads could no longer stay afloat by the mid-20th century. The City unified these railroads, and Mayor LaGuardia hoped that this would increase efficiency. But it only destroyed the profit motive and gave more power to labor unions, creating more “financial waste and irresponsibility”, which the Mayor had not foreseen. When the City, too, went bankrupt, the State took over the subways and the MTA was formed. Urban renewal projects largely ignored public transportation (i.e., Robert Moses’ highways), and ever since, costs have skyrocketed and funding has been unstable and unsustainable.

The consolidation of the Manhattan Elevated Railway Company, the Metropolitan Street Company, and the IRT created a monopoly of fixed-rail rapid transit. This provided the rationale for the dual contract to fix the fare at five cents. The consequent constraints caused by a politically expedient fixed fare and wage inflation led maintenance to be deferred. The fixed fare destroyed the incentive for the companies to invest in quality, or even to maintain quality. The fixed fare also prevented expansion in that only those lines with very high ridership can be profitable if the fare is set too low. Lines which would have been economical at higher prices were not built. The transfer of ownership into the public sector compounded the problems. The incentive to control costs was removed and was replaced by the political need to placate an organized labor force (Hakim 289, 1996)

Hakim, Simon, Paul Seidenstat, and Gary W. Bowman. Privatizing Transportation Systems. Westport, Conn: Praeger, 1996.


Farmland Expansion


Today, the MTA receives funding from fares, and from the City of New York and State of New York, but the relationship between the City and State is tenuous and strained. The MTA spends approximately 11 billion dollars on operational costs yearly, and an additional 5 billion dollars are spent on maintenance and improvement annually. The MTA owes $34 billion, which is more than the debt of most developing countries. Congestion pricing has been proposed to alleviate some of these dire financing concerns, but it is politically difficult due to resistance from outer boroughs and Long Island. Staten Island, for instance, has successfully advocated to remove outbound tolls from their bridges, in order to reduce congestion pollution in their borough, but this has created a loop for truckers through Staten Island, to Brooklyn, to Manhattan’s Chinatown, and then back to New Jersey without tolls. Congestion pricing would equalize tolls, but many do not like change.

MTA funding remains unstable. The MTA receives a lot of revenue from the MTA’s bridges and tunnels, which are the ones that were once controlled by Robert Moses, but DOT roads are not controlled by the MTA. The MTA also receives an “urban tax” from mortgage and property sale taxes, and this swings dramatically depending on the economy. It surged in 2007, resulting in $900 million; in 2009, it was only $149.7 million. Even though the MTA fuels the nation’s largest economy, it is consistently cash-strapped because balkanized municipalities often do not share their prosperity with their transportation agencies.

The Battery Parking Garage. One of the MTA’s most lucrative assets.


Many pundits have proposed that the MTA can fill its financial gap through real estate development. They see the Fulton Center, and they think that, if only the MTA developed a taller building there and elsewhere, they would have no problems. They see empty yards, ventilation structures, concourses, and passageways, and they blame the MTA’s bureaucracy for not seeking to capitalize upon existing assets. They say that private passenger railroads had been profitable, and they used their real estate in order to stay in the green. Only the latter part of their argument is correct, because today, the U.S. political economy has changed. Privatization would raise fares, as it has in the U.K., and I don’t think that’s something that politicians would easily get behind. After all, do we also charge fares to enter public parks?

Indeed, railroads developed land, especially at hubs, forming cities from San Francisco and Dallas to Atlanta and Miami. Pennsylvania Railroad built New York Penn Station and developed nearby Hotel Pennsylvania. New York Central Railroad built Grand Central and developed Terminal City atop its rail yards. The Hudson and Manhattan Railroad built the Hudson Terminal in Lower Manhattan, which is the predecessor to the World Trade Center. Elevated railroads connected Manhattan with Coney Island, building resorts at their terminals. Similarly glamorous hubs with offices, residences, and retail were built throughout the country.

But then came suburbanization, the Interstate, and the Jet Age. Plus, freight and mail were carried on railroads, but when USPS switched to trucks, it was the end of profitable passenger railroads. People switched to cars and moved out of cities, with assistance from the federal government, thus contributing to the decentralization of America’s segregating, rioting, deindustrializing cities. Why shop at Grand Central when the modern, safe, enclosed, AC shopping mall is nearby?

In order to try and stay afloat, Pennsylvania Railroad allowed Madison Square Garden and Penn Plaza to be built, thereby demolishing Penn Station. The preservationist movement was founded after the 1960s Penn Station joint development in order to save Grand Central, and while Grand Central was saved, the MetLife Building (Pan Am Building) was still built atop GCT, literally signifying the Jet Age. When the private railroads went bankrupt, they sold their profitable assets to the private sector. Today, one man owns Grand Central and its air rights, Andrew Penson, and the MTA leases Grand Central for hundreds of millions every year.


New York Pennsylvania Station Demolition


Most passenger railroads can no longer be profitable. The MTA operates a 100-year-old system with plenty of maintenance costs. Transportation finance cannot rely on real estate development, which now has a marginal impact on the MTA’s finances, because the authority has limited assets. Even though T.O.D. public-private partnerships are becoming more and more common, this is because T.O.D. makes sense for other reasons. It increases density, fueling ridership and raising property values, thereby increasing revenue from property taxes. But it also supports sustainable livelihoods, creating more dynamic places to live, work, and play.

The MTA’s property tends to be zoned for industrial use, which prohibits development. Selling air rights is only viable in hot markets, such as Manhattan. Most assets are needed for operations and cannot be sold. When it comes to decking over yards, most do not realize that it is extremely expensive and in most cases, not worth it. Overbuilds require support structures, and most yards do not have room for these columns. To deck requires shutting down operations, which is extremely expensive and inconvenient. Yards tend to be located in far-flung locations, where the market is not hot enough to justify development. Onerous financial regulations are time-consuming and expensive. And, the MTA Real Estate Department lacks resources, with only 3 people in the TOD Group.

Unlike the legally self-sufficient Port Authority, the MTA does not view itself as a real estate developer. Developers must take on a lot of risk, and the MTA, as a public authority, does not want to take on this risk. Imagine if they built a taller Fulton Center, and then it remained vacant? The public would be enraged. This is also why the MTA will usually adhere to local zoning laws even though, as a state authority, it could possibly get away with ignoring them, while developers cannot ignore these laws. But, the MTA is chartered for transportation projects, and development often requires approval of the FTA and the MTA Board before property is developed or disposed. Plus, the MTA Board has many members appointed by the City, and NIMBYists are powerful. They can defend their land, but all of the people that would be living there in the future cannot defend themselves, because they aren’t there yet.


MTA Real Estate Department

Today, zoning can incentivize developers to build transit amenities so they can build taller. Yet often, they will improve station entrances, but not maintain them upon completion. Still, Vornado Realty is exploring developing 15 Penn Plaza and potentially improving subway connectivity. SL Green is exploring developing 1 Vanderbilt nearby GCT and improving subway connectivity. The transfer of development rights (TDR) can allow developers to buy the MTA’s air rights. But the MTA has limited assets and cannot be self-sufficient by disposing of available assets.

Transit Bonus

The Fulton Center in Lower Manhattan contains four stories of retail outlets. Air rights may be sold, but as it ‘stands’, the Fulton Center is a stump in Lower Manhattan. Why? It was planned after 9/11, and no one knew if Lower Manhattan would bounce back. Plus, the MTA did not want to compete with any office towers being planned by the Port Authority, and no one realized people would actually be moving to Lower Manhattan in order to live. The World Trade Center itself, of course, had also been plagued by vacancy problems, and it had only seen relatively full occupancy a few years prior to 9/11. Today, Lower Manhattan and the WTC compete with Midtown (and even Brooklyn), where many creative industries have been moving.

The MTA is a public authority, and it is risk-averse. It is easier to sell air rights than to develop property; speculative development is difficult for the public sector. Because the MTA is a public authority, it would rather dispose of property than develop it. It received a lump sum payment for the Hudson Yards, and developers have paid for the extension of the 7 Line to Midtown West. Soon, the Hudson Yards will be competing with the World Trade Center for tenants.

This mindset is common for American transportation agencies. But in Hong Kong, the MTR Corporation is a profitable, privatized railroad and real estate developer. This model cannot be easily transported to New York’s NIMBYist, political climate. Hong Kong is denser, and the central government willingly gives the MTR land to develop atop stations. The MTR is privatized and incentivized by shareholders to develop property. In China, the government owns all land, and leases it out for decades. This lease-hold system varies significantly from our system.


MTR Corporation


Unlike Hong Kong, we have a democracy, with technocrats held at bay by politicians that are supposedly doing what the voters want, such as funding trillion dollar wars in the Middle East while starving transportation infrastructure at home. In the U.S., eminent domain is only rarely used, and euclidean zoning codes keep our transportation agencies from developing property. In China, if you dislike density, it does not matter. In America, if you dislike density — and most Americans do — then you’re likely to (literally) derail a project. Progressives are supposed to support change, but they often hypocritically fight against change if it effects them personally.

The City and State must be pressured to reform the MTA for the 21st century. The Real Estate Department must be expanded. NIMBYism must be tackled by advocates in order to allow for greater density along subway corridors, thereby increasing the housing supply in our city. Zoning laws must be reformed and streamlined in coordination with the DCP, EDC, and MTA. But if affordable housing and parking requirements make decking projects unaffordable, the MTA should be exempt. If overbuilds are not feasible due to low floor-area-ratio (FAR) requirements, MTA property should be up-zoned. If a transfer of development rights (air rights) is not feasible due to zoning lot districts, the MTA should receive an exception. The benefits “FAR” outweigh the costs.

T.O.D. will not make the MTA profitable. We cannot transport transportation practices from the MTR, but we can translate them. We can do our best with the assets that we have available.

Many will tell you that America remains the land of the automobile. They may say that Americans continue to fear density (and displacement), following in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote that “the mobs of great cities add just so much to support of pure government as sores do to the strength of the human body”. After all, they say, America definitely had the room for this Manifest Destiny, so long as Native Americans were sent to reservations, inspiring South Africa’s apartheid policies in the 1950s. They say our public transportation gets worse and worse because Americans consider it a service to the poor, like public housing, instead of as an investment for our collective prosperity. Americans have sprawled because our country’s culture of individualism has latched itself onto the automobile, and because suburbs were America’s response to dense Soviet planning.


Manifest Destiny


But railroads allowed for U.S. expansion, and railroad hubs produced clusters of activity that would become cities from San Francisco and Dallas to Atlanta and Miami. The U.S. government gave land to these corporations, so that they could develop land, just as the central government in Hong Kong gives land to the MTR today. But our political economy has changed. Culture plays a role, but more important factors are at play, such as the relationship between the City and State, land ownership, and zoning. The MTA cannot be profitable, but T.O.D. should still be supported due to its proven role as a catalyst for strengthening the urban fabric, by providing job accessibility through public transportation, and by bridging the gap socially, economically, politically, and physically. So what can we do?


These are common sense proposals which do not require Albany’s support, but most New Yorkers are oblivious to the core problems facing our transportation network. Many do not even know that the MTA is a State authority, and not controlled by the City, even though the City controls zoning and land use. So we must advocate for change, and mobilize New Yorkers to pressure their elected leaders, and raise awareness about the dangers of NIMBYism. We must show New Yorkers that even though we cannot transport best practices from abroad, we can translate them to our local context. We can transform our transportation infrastructure.

So, how do we mobilize, for mobility’s sake? How do we compromise between community and individual, public and private, and expert and local concerns? 

Planners point to the Equitable Building as the catalyst for the 1916 New York City Zoning Resolution, but it was one of many skyscrapers soaring towards the sky in the Big Apple. As construction technology improved, the value of Manhattan’s land began to drastically increase, making it feasible for skyscrapers to be developed. Some suggest that it was Manhattan’s bedrock that was conducive to the early development of skyscrapers, but it was really, quite simply, the fact that Manhattan was the economic center of the Northeast and, arguably, one of the lead anchors of the global economy. The Erie Canal connected the Hudson River with the Great Lakes, Chicago, and the Mississippi River. Ports connected New York with Europe and the Americas. Gotham’s skyscrapers were built on landfill, atop subway tunnels, and above countless utility lines. Surrounded by one of the world’s largest natural harbors, New Yorkers have always been squeezed for space, but the city became a global city because of its geography. Skyscrapers are eponymous with New York, but these buildings have become more and more threatened by exclusionary, micro-managed zoning.


The United States was founded in 1776, as Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations. America was one of the world’s first democracies in order to protect “life, liberty, and estate”, as prescribed by John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government in 1689. As an agricultural society, the U.S. granted rights only to white men with property, and even though voting rights have been significantly expanded over the past few centuries, America’s property-oriented values remain far more powerfully entrenched in our policies than in other developed countries.

In Hong Kong, the central government owns all land, and leases it out to private lease-holders, including the local transportation company, the Mass Transit Railway. The MTR is a privatized, profitable company, partly because it is given land by the government in order to develop dense, mixed-use, transit-owned developments. In the United States, eminent domain is difficult to practice, and even without it, transportation agencies rarely seek revenue-generation on transit-owned properties. Part of this has to do with the fact that they do not have a profit motive and the fact that they lack development expertise and resources, but it mainly has to do with dangerous zoning and land use laws, and Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY) activists. Indeed, America’s affair with private property has ironically transformed into an affair with zoning, which is intended to protect the value of property and the public interest. Zoning was originally enacted by erroneously arguing that sunlight and air were important for public health, but it was also enacted because American cities were far more chaotic, dirty, and industrial. Today’s cities no longer have factories next to homes, not only because of zoning but because industry has relocated away from downtown cores (and from the country entirely) due to advances in transportation technology. Today, zoning is used in order to exclude classes of people from neighborhoods, and keep the supply of housing artificially low in order to raise costs. Strangely, progressives have latched onto zoning, even though progress implies change.

In 1916, New York City enacted the country’s first local land use zoning laws with its Zoning Resolution. Unlike nuisance laws, zoning codes forced developers to design building setbacks, and kept factories and warehouses from fashionable districts. Lower Manhattan’s business district, for instance, instead of expanding immediately north into tenement districts, leaped into Midtown Manhattan alongside Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station.


While earlier laws limited the design of tenement buildings, such as the Tenement Housing Act of 1901, the NYC Department of City Planning credits the Equitable Building with catalyzing the 1916 resolution. The department states that, “rising without setbacks to its full height of 538 feet, the Equitable Building cast a seven-acre shadow over neighboring buildings, affecting their value and setting the stage for the nation’s first comprehensive zoning resolution”. Rather than regulate building height, the law regulated shape by setting the bulk of the building back, in order to permit light and air to reach the narrow streets of Wall Street. This law greatly enhanced the powers of municipalities. By restricting towers to a percentage of the lot size, the setback skyscraper became a style that caught on outside of New York City, where neither function nor zoning dictated that form. Art Deco buildings, such as the Empire State Building, were designed in accordance with zoning laws.


The City of New York no longer adheres to the 1916 Zoning Resolution because, according to the Department of City Planning, “if the city had been built out at the density envisioned in 1916, it could have contained over 55 million people, far beyond its realistic capacity”. This excuse allowed for the 1961 Zoning Resolution to incorporate parking requirements and further exacerbate the flight to the suburbs. During these decades, the city would lose millions of people and would deal with bankruptcy, as Robert Moses built highways and ignored public transportation infrastructure. Rather than increasing density along subway corridors in order to fuel subway ridership and revenue, the 1961 Zoning Resolution promoted Le Corbusier’s ‘tower-in-the-park’ model, which was, in effect, a tower-in-a-park(ing) lot. While the City did begin to implement incentive zoning by introducing floor-area-ratio (FAR) into the resolution, thereby allowing for the trade of density for public amenities, many of these amenities were automobile-oriented and at the city’s edges. In 1916, zoning began to limit New York’s density, but by 1961, it had begun to suck the dynamism out of the country’s largest and most prosperous urban area.

Today, zoning continues to micro-manage New York’s dynamism, block-by-block, hindering free enterprise and transforming structure into shackles. While recent changes have rightly up-zoned swaths of the Big Apple along subway corridors, and have provided FAR incentives for developers that build atop subway entrances and renovate station entrances, zoning continues to hinder growth, accessibility, and affordability. Of course, it must remain to some extent in order to prevent the further crowding of schools, sewers, and subways, but the fact that there is crowding means that there should be growth, not limits to growth. Planners should not just build senior housing projects (because they do not typically incur additional school expenses, and because they have lesser impacts on traffic). Zoning should incentivize developers to build schools below condominiums, or enhance station capacity below office towers. It should not limit growth; it should plan it. Planners should not succumb to the toxic NIMBYist atmosphere so prevalent in American society. Instead, they should advocate for what they know is best for the City. A balance must be struck between development and preservation, compromising between community and individual, public and private, and expert and local concerns.

At the time of the 1916 Zoning Resolution, the City of New York had never experienced such growth. Technologies, ranging from electricity and elevators, to steel skyscrapers and railroads, had moved the United States into a new industrial epoch. Far from the agricultural society that wrote the US Constitution, cities had to find means through which zoning could be legally enforced. The 10th Amendment of the US Constitution did grant general police powers to the States and to local governments, and government had the right to enforce order, protecting general welfare, morals, health, and safety. But the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution declared that no American shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, and that no private property shall be taken for public use without compensation. Moreover, the 14th Amendment, approved after the Civil War, expanded equal protection of the laws, applicable to former slaves and rebels, upholding their ability to rein supreme over their private property.

Fire safety laws and colonial nuisance laws were precursors to zoning. Governments limited materials that could be used in construction, and they also mandated various fire safety inspections. In Massachusetts, towns were forced to locate slaughterhouses upwind, in non-residential areas, in order to prevent nuisance for residents. At the time, American cities were not as dense as they had become in the 20th century, with waves of immigrants prompting seas of tenements in New York. Indeed, by the 1870s, German and Swedish cities had already developed growth boundaries and height limits; by 1884, Westphalia, Germany, adopted the world’s first official zoning ordinance. The German Empire, founded in 1871, could enact these laws, while American zoning laws continued to be thrown out by federal courts.

Zoning can now be used to inhibit market-led growth entirely. In New York, many areas along subway corridors are zoned for industrial uses, usually allowing for the proliferation of car-oriented repair shops. These owners typically pressure the Department of City Planning to up-zone in order for them to sell their land for a higher value, but nearby residents fear density and displacement. These are valid concerns, but the City lacks an adequate supply of housing, and fewer housing options will merely raise prices even more. It makes complete sense to allow for housing along a subway corridor, but zoning does not abide by common sense; it adheres to politics, and politicians are only concerned with getting elected again.

Congestion was the root cause being addressed by zoning. Congestion of the air, of the sun, of the streets, of the minds. People were overwhelmed by change, just as they continue to be, and always will be. But zoning has become a tool to prevent progress. It has expanded far beyond its original intention in order to prevent basic, common sense development. New York has begun to grow again, after decades of divestment, and it needs a new zoning code that was not created in 1961, at the start of suburbanization and white flight. The new zoning code must also empower public authorities to practice transit-oriented development independently. Without zoning, T.O.D. will naturally occur, because density fuels development. But since we need to manage growth, manage traffic, and manage school populations, we should promote growth near transit and limit it elsewhere… We can plan and plan but if zoning is not changed, these plans won’t become reality.


Courtesy of NYC Department of City Planning


In the future, I will create a “Riel Estate” firm in order to develop spaces that will bridge the gap physically, socially, economically, and politically, advocating against NIMBYism in order to improve urban dynamism. Our buildings could be LEED certified, with green roofs and vertical farms, community spaces and place-making efforts. We could ‘translate’, and not ‘transport’, development policies for different contexts, in order to ‘transform’ communities, advocate for T.O.D., and showcase potential through our sites.

The firm would work with developers, transportation agencies, and municipalities in order to bridge the gap between stakeholders and conduct joint development projects. We would have expertise dealing with transportation agencies, and we would understand their mindsets, allowing for developers to get their feet in the door for their transit-oriented projects, and ‘tackle’ the unwillingness of transit operators. We also would have connections with municipalities in order to advocate for zoning reform and FAR bonuses for developers. We could conduct feasibility analyses for joint development projects, which require a particular set of skills (dealing with decking, ventilation, circulation, and so on and so forth). Moreover, we would know how to organize public-private partnerships, leases, and asset management, be it on transit-owned property or transit-oriented property.

Similar to the Transit Realty Advisors and TRA Brokerage (formerly Transit Realty Associates) and the Massachusetts Realty Group, our expertise in “transit property management, property accounting, database development and geographic information systems, public private partnerships, brokerage, right-of-way/eminent domain, appraisal, planning, economics, law, and procurement and disposition” would allow for us to create transformative transportation infrastructure. There need to be more groups akin to the TRA, focusing on T.O.D. entirely. Surely, if it was easy, it would have been done a while ago. But I accept the challenge!

In conclusion, America’s public transportation agencies cannot be profitable in the 21st century due to a political economy that isolates these agencies from municipal zoning and land use policies, and from forming value capture mechanisms, from tax increment financing to joint development and the transfer of development rights. This siloization of zoning, land use, taxation, and transportation operations is largely due to American fears of density alongside protections of private property, but it limits the potential for transit-oriented and transit-owned joint development, and it hinders the formation of public-private partnerships. Local, state, and federal structural reforms are necessary in order to streamline value capture processes, such as up-zoning transportation assets and relaxing land use requirements, in order to facilitate T.O.D. While value capture will provide marginal financial benefits due to the limited assets that agencies possess, it literally stands on its own merits as a vehicle through which the urban fabric can be renewed and enhanced. Transportation agencies cannot be profitable, but they can be organized more efficiently, if given the resources necessary to practice value capture.

Born and bred in Brooklyn, my name is Rayn Riel, and I’m a Senior Editor at PlaNYourCity. I’ve circumnavigated the world twice in order to research transportation finance and joint (real estate) development practices in 30+ countries and 25+ U.S. states. I’m a graduate student at Tufts University and I’ve designed Tufts’ only undergraduate urban planning degree, I’ve founded Tufts only undergraduate urban planning student group, and I’ve also been working as a GIS Lab Assistant. Having interned at the NYC Department of City Planning for the past two summers, I interned at MTA NYC Transit and at the MTA HQ Real Estate Department this summer. I will graduate with a B.A. and M.A. in Urban Policy and Planning in May 2016. I intend to become a “Riel Estate” professional.
Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author only. The views expressed on this blog do not necessarily represent the views of other agencies, their management or employees, and absolutely no confidential information was disclosed. 
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By simply making the City’s tolling system fairer – reducing tolls that are too high and adding and restoring tolls where traffic is worst and transit options are plentiful – we can generate the revenue we need to maintain, modernize, and expand our aging transit system and improve our road and bridge network, creating 30,000+ new, local, annually recurring jobs in the process. What’s not to love?



My student organization hosted a congestion pricing panel at Tufts



New York City was once the model city for transportation infrastructure in the entire world, and its public authorities were the epitome of progress, building feats of engineering that remain impressive decades later, from America’s longest bridge span and longest contiguous underwater vehicular tunnel, to the world’s busiest vehicular bridge. As one of the largest natural harbors in the world, the region built a complex and innovative port network, connected by railroads and highways. Our skyscrapers, from the Empire State to Rockefeller Center, were the envy of the world. And of course, our subway remains the most intricate, by far, in the United States, moving more people than the next 16 largest public transportation networks, combined. The city continues to lead the world in commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and entertainment, and it also continues to host the United Nations.

But today, our roads are congested, our subways are crowded, and our infrastructure is decaying, while tolls and fares continue to increase. We need a visionary plan to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get back to work, in order to renew, enhance, and expand our subways and roadways.

How will this be financed? Well, Robert Moses’ TBTA was able to build bridges and tunnels and, as a public authority, use toll revenue in order to remain self-sufficient. The Port Authority, meanwhile, remains legally self-sufficient today. TBTA roads are now part of the MTA as MTA Bridges and Tunnels, and in terms of traffic volume, it is the largest bridge and tunnel toll agency in the United States serving more than a million people each day and generating more than $1.5 billion dollars in toll revenue annually as of 2011. But NYCDOT East River bridges have remained without tolls for more than a century. As a result, these bridges are heavily trafficked, and truckers use city streets, causing countless deaths and other public health concerns, such as higher rates of asthma. Moreover, these bridges have, historically, not had enough funding for maintenance; the Manhattan Bridge was about to collapse in the 1980s due to inherent flaws in its design (subways on the sides, causing excessive swaying) and a lack of maintenance. (At least the Manhattan Bridge and Williamsburg Bridge were designed for subway lines, unlike Robert Moses‘ bridges and tunnels, which did not provide any right-of-ways for rapid transit. And where rapid transit existed, he allowed for divestment and deferred maintenance to become commonplace. To him, and many other New Yorkers, subways were as archaic as horse-drawn carriages, and they did not belong in the modern era).

But if the DOT’s East River bridges had remained tolled, the revenue would have totaled $31 billion today. This would have been more than enough for maintenance, and, according to Sam Schwartz, “we could have built a subway from Staten Island, we’d have the Second Avenue subway from the Bronx to the Battery and trains from the airports to Midtown and downtown.”

However, Mayor Gaynor, in 1911, rescinded the fees on these bridges. Since the City of New York had only recently been consolidated, he felt as though this gesture would further unify the city, and of course, help him get reelected. “For my part,” he said, “I see no more reason for toll gates on the bridges than for toll gates on Fifth Avenue or Broadway.”

While tolls for pedestrians may not have gone over well (they had to pay a penny to cross the Brooklyn Bridge), the City also removed tolls for horse-drawn carriages and automobiles. And Mayor Gaynor was not even renominated, because Tammany Democrats chose someone else. Sadly, he died before the election, of wounds sustained during an assassination attempt three years prior.

But this decision, made over one hundred years ago, severely impacts our city today. Back then, we built quickly, constructing subways throughout the five boroughs in order to alleviate chaotic congestion in Manhattan. We built parks and parkways, formalizing transportation and separating heavy rail from our industrial streets. Elevated railroads for passengers and for freight (today’s High Line) became commonplace, but these lines used to all be at-grade, or in open cuts below the street, with adequate ventilation prior to the advent of electrification.


Akin to highways decades later, railroads only took efforts to minimize effects in wealthy neighborhoods, because these residents had power. Thus, railroads to Grand Central along Park Avenue were eventually dug underground, while railroads in port districts largely remained at-grade, with cowboys trying to keep people from getting mangled. (The High Line was eventually built as an elevated line, going directly into factories and adjacent to streets, unlike elevated subways, which were built directly above streets, and, as a result, were being taken down throughout Manhattan due to real estate interests and technological obsolescence; subways were planned to replace these routes, some of which were built, and some of which remain to be built, such as the Second Avenue Subway).


Park Avenue (New York Public Library)


We began to stop leading when our highways began ramming into our neighborhoods, leading to mass protest. Of course, elevated railroads also divided neighborhoods, but these structures required less space, and they also produced less pollution and served communities more efficiently. For instance, passengers could walk up to a platform, while drivers needed plenty of space for ramps for their cars. And a six-lane highway in the South Bronx could be a two-track railroad. Plus, most importantly, local residents could use public transportation. Most New Yorkers do not own vehicles, and these highways were built for suburban commuters, not for local residents.

At the same time, the city became indebted from white flight and deindustrialization, and only relatively recently has reemerged from ruin. Today, our Hudson Tubes need to be replaced, and so do our roadways. Plus, climate change will only get worse, and we saw how Hurricane Sandy impacted our infrastructure. Our renewed infrastructure will also need to be equipped with 21st century security technology in order to defend against Islamic terror.

We need the Move NY campaign to get passed by the City Council, State Assembly, and State Senate. This will allow for fair tolling into Manhattan’s CBD, alleviating congestion and providing funding for mass transit and bridge maintenance. But how does Move NY push through the white noise in the City and State? How can momentum be built in the outer boroughs and suburbs? The Move NY plan is, strategically, not termed congestion pricing. But how can the campaign continue to provide a cognitive shift, and change how New Yorkers see the problem and see the solution? How can the campaign continue to reframe key values?

New York needs a narrative for the 21st century. In centuries past, we devised Manhattan’s grid system and we built the world’s tallest buildings. The Move NY plan will be seen, in the future, as the stepping stone that allowed the city to continue to grow tall and strong.

In lieu of Hudson County seceding from New Jersey to join New York, and the PA and MTA joining forces (with an integrated PATH and NYCT network), we need to focus on New York’s bridges and tunnels. We need to focus on our transit gaps. We need to introduce more variable, electric tolling. More ferries. Tolls on our East River bridges in order to fund the MTA Capital Plan, and get more drivers onto trains, thereby further decreasing congestion even more. For suburban commuters, the LIRR and Metro-North will also need to be renewed, enhanced, and expanded. East Side Access will be done relatively soon, but Penn Station commuters are also going to be getting modest public-private Moynihan improvements soon.

Besides congestion pricing, streamlining value capture and joint development practices can also provide financial benefits. Hudson Yards are a great example for this century, but so was Grand Central’s Terminal City. We need up-zoning along subway corridors in poor neighborhoods and in rich neighborhoods alike. We need to streamline development processes in order to allow for more housing, in order to keep up with demand. The city needs neighborhood improvements throughout, while balancing concerns about displacement.

Unfortunately, joint development had a dark period in our city, when Penn Station was destroyed for Madison Square Garden. This was allowed by the 1961 Zoning Resolution, which divided the city into residential, commercial and manufacturing areas, and introduced incentive zoning and floor-area-ratio (FAR). The resolution also introduced Transfer of Development Rights (TDR), also known as air rights, in order to preserve green space and historical landmarks, without interfering with the financial rights of property owners. But Pennsylvania Railroad sold their Penn Station air rights, and was given a modern, subterranean station, which lost the light and the circulation. Today, the country’s busiest train station remains congested, and through-running no only occurs due to the balkanization of Penn Central into NJT and LIRR, both of which terminate in Midtown Manhattan. Going from Newark to JFK, or from the US Open to Secaucus? Good luck.

Air rights were also used atop highways. The Port Authority’s George Washington Bridge and Bus Terminal funneled vehicles along the Trans-Manhattan Expressway, below the Bridge Apartments. The 4,000 residents of these four aluminum-sheathed high-rises deal with noise and exhaust every day, but like most urban dwellers, they deal with it, and it’s better than leaving a gaping hole in Manhattan.



In principle, air rights go back to early English common law. To whomever the soil belongs, he also owns to the sky and to the depths. Though the air is now a public aviation highway, the practice remains utilized. But it should be easier to build atop assets. Since most railroad assets are in far-flung locations, land values are not as high as in a CBD. Yet zoning also limits potential. Transportation agencies should be exempt from municipal regulations. Technically, the MTA, as a state authority, is already exempt from municipal rules, but it follows them because it does not want to deal with so-called progressive, NIMBY protests.

According to the American Planning Association:

The Zoning Resolution of the City of New York, as amended September 1962, de­fines railroad or transit air space as “space directly over a railroad or transit right-of-way or yard, which right-of-way [is] open, except for structures accommodating activities incidental to its use as a right-of-way or yard, and not otherwise covered over by any building or other structure at the effective date of this amendment.”9

The Resolution states that the City Planning Commission may permit developments or enlargements in railroad or transit air space for any use permitted by the applicable district regulations, provided that the following findings are made:

(a) That the lot area for such development or enlargement includes only that portion of the right-of-way or yard which is to be completely covered over by a permanent fireproof platform, unperforated except for such suitably protected openings as may be required for ventilation, drainage, or other necessary purposes.

(b) That adequate access to one or more streets is provided.

(c) That, considering the size of the proposed development or enlargement, the streets providing access to such use will be adequate to handle increased traffic resulting therefrom.

(d) That, from the standpoint of effects upon the character of surrounding areas, the floor area or number of rooms is not unduly concentrated in any portion of such development or enlargement, including any portion located beyond the boundaries of such railroad or transit air space.

In addition, the City Planning Commission “may prescribe appropriate conditions and safeguards to minimize adverse effects on the character of the surrounding area, and may require that the structural design of such development or enlargement make due allowance for changes in the layout of tracks or other structures within such right-of-way or yard, which may be deemed necessary in connection with future improvements of the transportation system.”

Thus, air rights developments over railroad yards are permitted by essentially administrative decisions of the Planning Commission, leaving the Commission a certain range of discretion. Approval by the Board of Estimate, the City’s governing body, is not required.

(Besides the PA and MTA, other authorities in the region also toll their roadways, such as the New York State Thruway. Akin to other state turnpikes in the mid-20th century, revenue from the bonds provided the funds, up front, to pay for construction. Toll revenue allowed the toll authority to repay bond holders with interest and finance administration, maintenance, and operation of the highway. Today, while part of the Interstate, these roads remained tolled separately).


So, in the end, it comes down to advocating for these ideas to New Yorkers. The MTA needs a narrative and a champion in City Hall and in Albany, in order to bridge the gap socially, economically, politically, environmentally, and of course, physically. Transportation infrastructure can be transformation infrastructure. But who will be the humane power broker of the 21st century? Is that oxymoron even possible today?Mayor Bill de Blasio has not been a champion of transportation, and he does not seem to understand urban dynamics. Governor Cuomo, too, has used the MTA as his punching bag. Hopefully, our next leader will be better, so we can Move NY.

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32 Comments on “(RE)New York City”

  1. Rayn Riel December 28, 2015 at 1:22 pm #


  2. Rayn Riel January 8, 2016 at 9:42 am #


  3. Rayn Riel February 9, 2016 at 5:02 pm #

    More land use and zoning resources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land-use_planning

    America’s balancing act between federal powers and state powers, as well as between executive, legislative, and judicial branches, creates a unique environment for urban planning, varying state by state. In fact, there are ‘plan states’ and ‘non-plan states’. In plan states, the state has decided to lawfully enforce vertical and horizontal consistency, making sure that elements of a plan are consistent and that the plan is consistent with zoning. These states also have state plans, establishing rules for land use elements ranging from transportation to open space. Meanwhile, in non-plan states, the only legal requirement for a zoning ordinance is for it to have rational basis, and judicial deference (separation of powers) allows for the legislature to enact these laws. As long as they are rational (i.e., no spot zoning), and based upon a ‘study’ rather than a poll, these non-plan states allow municipalities to enact zoning without regard to comprehensive, regional planning and toothless regional guidelines.

    Of course, zoning is important, and for the past century, it has been legal. Under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, powers not specifically delegated to the Federal Government are reserved to the states and the people, and states, therefore, could regulate land use. Essentially, zoning is the answer to ‘what a city wants to be when it grows up’, and it takes a step beyond nuisance laws and the court’s common laws by involving the elected legislature. Without zoning, it would be harder to protect our people and our natural resources by enacting rules to promote health, safety, and welfare. This, of course, is legal because local governments have police power, delegated by state governments, so that they can enact land use regulations without private property owners being entitled to compensation, as would be required via eminent domain (and the ‘taking clause’ of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). Moreover, while the term ‘sprawl’ is often used too liberally, zoning can promote smart growth. It all comes down to finding a balance and allowing for development strategically.


  4. John June 16, 2016 at 11:53 am #

    We spent trillions on wars since 9/11 with what results? Are we safer? When someone on the FBI watchlist cannot board a plane, but can buy a weapon of war without a background check or any license/training as necessary for a driver’s license? We spent so much making our airports safer, yet thousands die every year from gun violence, way more than our troops abroad.

    We spent so much building infrastructure abroad too in order to develop their economies, hoping that more economic opportunities, education, would keep youth from turning to Islamists.


    They build infrastructure knowing that no one has the capacity to maintain it once they leave… just like other foreign aid/service delivery models

    and our own infrastructure here decays because “there is no money for it” it’s all lies, spoon fed to a dumb population

    Wake up!


  5. Mark June 23, 2016 at 8:15 pm #

    Post 9/11 Reality


  6. Fred June 27, 2016 at 2:20 pm #

    The subways brought people out of the City just like the highways, but, via TOD:

    As reformists predicted the Dual Contracts resulted in city expansion. People moved to the newly built homes along the newly built subway lines. These homes were affordable, about the same cost as the houses in Brooklyn and Manhattan.[9] The Dual Contracts were the key to dispersion of the city’s congested areas. The Dual Contracts helped lower high population areas and probably helped saves lives as people were no longer living in heavily diseased areas. According to the Federal Census of New York City for 1920 the population in Manhattan below 59th Street decreased from 1910 to 1920. The census resulted in the following:
    • 1905 State census: 1,271,848
    • 1910 United States census: 1,269,591
    • 1915 State census: 1,085,308
    • 1920 United States census: 1,059,589[13]
    People were allowed to move to better parts the same cost and could have a better and more comfortable life in the suburbs. They could still commute to work every day as most of the better off city workers who moved to the outer boroughs did.



    The political problem of Tammany corruption related to a social problem. The increase in New York’s population, particularly in the period 1860-1900, was largely due to immigration from the poorest, most backward, rural areas of Southern, Central, and Eastern Europe.6 The new immigrants customarily settled and tried to remain in the densely populated and overcrowded areas of the lower East Side of Manhattan, where they found work; ghetto camaraderie with both new and older immigrants from their native land; and help of various kinds from Tammany politicians who asked no questions when exchanging favors for votes.7 In the view of the patrician elite who led the fight for the subway, the squalid conditions of life in these ghetto slums spawned poverty, crime, and disease; reinforced the newcomers in values, modes of conduct, and traditions that prevented their integration into American life; and, most significant, enabled an inadequate, inefficient, and corrupt system of boss rule to preserve its hold on city politics, thereby precluding the creation of necessary public improvements and services.

    In lieu of higher wages, which depressed times8 and the elite’s adamant belief in a high profit incentive for capital rendered inconceivable, and in the absence of a considered policy of zoning, slum clearance, and tenement-house reform,9 the patricians envisioned but one solution for both the political problem of bossism and the social problem of immigrant slums. Rapid transit — mechanized high speed trains running on tracks separate from the street, providing cheap, quick transportation from the Battery to lower Westchester — would alone foster the dispersion of the immigrant population to the relatively undeveloped northern part of the city. In these more wholesome surroundings the immigrant would undergo a remarkable transformation. Liberated, as it were, from the prison of the ghetto with its bad influences and unhealthy atmosphere, he and his family would slowly become more like other — that is, native — New Yorkers; and, more important, would soon realize that the bosses who controlled city politics were not his friends but rather enemies of his own and the public’s good.


  7. Fred July 14, 2016 at 10:17 pm #

    The Second Ave Subway will not have any new revenue-generating real estate owned by the MTA despite many ventilation towers. No new value capture mechanism to fund it. Hopefully Phase 2 to 125th will be different.

    Federal lands, agricultural foodsheds, riverfronts, these are all places where value capture can be used. If history, ecology, infrastructure, architecture, transit, commerce, use, and resiliency are considered.


  8. Al July 15, 2016 at 9:25 pm #

    yes, and folks don’t even realize the mta is a STATE agency, not CITY, not DOT. mayor has little power! this is why he spends his time doing dumb projects like light rail which probably won’t take metrocard/free transfers, rather than work with MTA on existing buses, making better BRT/SBS fast bus services. it needs to be about SPEED! then accountability, safety, service, customer satisfaction, tech, capacity, flexibility, all of that follows. I believe even though our signals are old, we used to run more trains then now, because we have tighter safety laws. tighter flagging laws. inspection laws. can we find ways to have safety and good service, reliable, fast, frequent, affordable, comfortable, convenient, safe, consistent? get articulated trains, reliable service, better signals…

    hard to find the best solutions when office politics prevents change. unions vs management. operating agencies vs. HQ. people put on a show and the “ivory tower” hq does not really know what’s going on on the ground, so it’s hard to make the best policies – like other organizations.



    • Al July 15, 2016 at 9:25 pm #

      also people love complaining about how crowded it is now, but truth is, it has been more crowded before in the 40s, without air conditioning, and even in the 70s/80s, rush hour was probably more crowded because there were fewer services, and because folks were afraid to ride during off-peak. nothing new here. get some perspective. this is one of the best subways in the world, engineered over all, very well. remember the crash in the 90s at union square? 25 columns were taken out and nothing collapsed.


      • Bobby July 19, 2016 at 8:32 pm #

        versus engineering today — the TZ bridge, built in the 50s, already needs replacement. and built at the longest span possible so the PA would not get any toll money. a symbol of a lack of coordination, cooperation, communication…


        I feel like this bridge, our country is falling apart…


        The percentage of Americans who disapprove of the job that President Trump is doing rose to 57 percent over the weekend, his worst showing yet. Just 37 percent now tell Gallup they approve. “At this point in his first term, President Obama’s approval rating was hovering in the low 60s,” ABC News notes, “while President George W. Bush’s was in the mid-50s.” Why is Trump getting such lousy ratings from the public?

        Losing the popular vote by a margin of 3 million people doesn’t explain these latest findings, which are looking much worse for Trump than when he was first inaugurated. For two days beginning on January 24, the president managed to be in the black: 46 percent of Americans approved of him while 45 percent disapproved, suggesting a willingness at the start to give him the benefit of the doubt.

        Then his ratings started to slide…

        …and now, the turn toward greater disapproval is reaching new heights.

        There’s never any telling what next week will bring.

        But if some Trump voters are turning against him, as these numbers suggest, the hit is well-deserved. Even Americans who loved Trump’s campaign promises have been given new reasons in the last couple of months to reassess their prior support, even if they’ve lost no enthusiasm for his “Make America Great Again” platform.

        The problem for them is what they’re getting instead.

        For example:

        Part of Trump’s appeal was his assertion that he was a born winner who’d keep winning for Americans. So far, however, he has done a lot of losing. He lost Mike Flynn to scandal; he lost judicial rulings over his poorly constructed travel ban; the first special-operations raid that he approved was a disaster; Angela Merkel rebuked his suggestion that Germany owes more to NATO; he even messed up his first call with the leader of Australia, a close ally; and it’s hard to think of a foreign leader who respects America more now.

        Some Trump supporters are figuring out that recently proposed changes to health-care policy and the federal budget would be excellent for folks a lot richer than they are, but very hard on working class people who voted Trump. On health care, after promising “insurance for everybody,” Trump is complicit in a GOP plan that the CBO expects to insure millions and millions fewer people. And Trump told Tucker Carlson of Fox News that he knows the bill would be extra hard on Americans in the counties that he won.

        Representative Hal Rodgers, a Kentucky Republican, said of Trump’s budget, “many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the president’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive.”

        Trump could change course on either policy. But he cannot escape the fact that the GOP coalition is rife with deep divisions—and that he can’t now finesse policy with evasive rhetoric or impossible promises as he did during the campaign. Tradeoffs are inescapable.
        Trump promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C., often citing the appearance of corruption that Hillary Clinton created by cashing in on her government service—and the expectation that she’d be president—with lucrative speaking gigs and donations from foreigners to her family’s foundation.

        But rather than behave better, Trump has exploited the presidency to benefit himself and his family to an unprecedented degree. Kellyanne Conway stood in front of the White House in an on-the-clock TV interview and told the public to buy Ivanka Trump clothing! The Trump Organization keeps making money off foreign entities, even as Trump himself refuses to divest from his business (or to release his tax returns). And his sons aren’t just continuing to do deals around the globe—their habits, along with Trump’s insistence on spending most weekends at his Florida vacation palace, mean taxpayers are footing an unprecedented bill to facilitate luxury travel for billionaires.

        Americans don’t want their country to be a laughingstock. Trump’s insistence on continuing to tweet, even now that he’s won the presidency, makes him a laughingstock, whether during frivolous moments, like his childish feud with Snoop Doggy Dogg, or very serious ones, like his erratic tweet alleging that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower just before the election. During the campaign, I interviewed many Republicans who believed that Trump’s behavior as a candidate was mostly for show. They assumed that he would exhibit more discipline and judgment if elected. He hasn’t.

        I highlight those flaws, rather than the many policy grievances held by staunch Trump opponents, because they illustrate how Trump is failing even many of the people who cheered him on during the campaign. Many still support him, and will keep doing so if he avoids looking too much like a man who cannot master himself. But Trump keeps exhibiting that unpopular trait. And approval ratings are a popularity contest.


  9. Bobby July 19, 2016 at 8:20 pm #


    New subway cars with wider doors, Wi-Fi and phone charging stations are coming to New York City.

    Gov. Cuomo unveiled designs for the cars on Monday at an event meant to highlight the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s $27 billion plan to upgrade subway cars, buses, subway stations and control technology.

    “It is the largest amount of money ever invested in the MTA capital plan, period,” the Democratic governor said at the event, held at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn. “The money is there. The funding is there.”

    Advocates for the overcrowded, aging transit system hail the upgrades, but said the state must follow through on its funding promises. Cuomo has committed to spending $8.3 billion in state money on the plan.

    “We’ll be satisfied when the MTA has the money in hand and is doing the work,” John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, told The Associated Press. “The state has committed more money to this capital plan than ever before, which is real progress. But it has not actually delivered all the money yet.”

    A spokesman for the governor said the state’s commitment has the force of law, and that spreading out such large, capital expenses over several years is typical. Officials say that so far $3.9 billion has been appropriated.

    Money from the city and federal government, in addition to fares, is expected to cover the rest of the cost of the upgrades.

    The MTA plans to begin the contract bidding process later this week for more than 1,000 new subway cars. Entrances will be eight inches wider, and up to 750 will have ‘open car’ designs that link cars with accordion connectors instead of typical doors. They will also have USB charges, Wi-Fi service and digital route maps and advertisements.


  10. Bobby July 19, 2016 at 9:04 pm #

    Dublin Bus runs special tourism buses. NYC should have these too! Get that extra $!


    Tourists are so often confused in NYC. Do they say 4 train or Green Line? What is an express train? haha.


  11. 7linearmyny July 27, 2016 at 8:25 pm #


    By the time this rendering of the Equitable Building was released in 1913, a New York City committee was already at work on what would become the 1916 Zoning Resolution.

    Urban lore says that the massive Equitable Building at 120 Broadway in Lower Manhattan — a 40-story extrusion of a whole city block, unrelieved by setbacks and capable of housing 16,000 workers at once — was responsible for the enactment 100 years ago, on July 25, 1916, of New York City’s first Zoning Resolution.

    But while the completion of the building in 1915 added fuel, the fire was already burning. New York, it had been agreed for some time, was spinning out of control.

    For one thing, the city’s new privately built subway system was spurring a huge speculative development boom along its route. (It is no coincidence that some of the biggest apartment buildings on the Upper West Side — the Ansonia, the Apthorp and the Belnord — are a block or less from a subway stop.)

    For another thing, the merchants of Fifth Avenue were losing their retail customers and watching the value of their properties drain away, as big loft buildings for garment manufacturers muscled in around them.

    “The time has come when effort should be made to regulate the height, size and arrangement of buildings,” George McAneny, the borough president of Manhattan, declared in a 1913 measure establishing what amounted to a zoning committee.

    Regulations, he wrote, were needed “to arrest the seriously increasing evil of the shutting off of light and air from other buildings and from the public streets, to prevent unwholesome and dangerous congestion both in living conditions and in street and transit traffic, and to reduce the hazards of fire and peril to life.”

    It was New York’s good fortune that Mr. McAneny held political power when he did. Though he played many roles over a long civic career (including a few years as the executive manager of The New York Times), Mr. McAneny was at heart a city planner.

    The oversized maps in a portfolio titled, “Height / July 25, 1916.” In the “2½” zone, in Lower Manhattan, buildings could rise without setback two and a half times the width of the street that they fronted.

    He and Edward M. Bassett were the chief architects of the 1916 Zoning Resolution.
    Under its rules, buildings in strictly residential zones were permitted to rise only as high as the streets in front of them were wide; a ratio of once to one, put another way. (Side streets in Manhattan are typically 60 feet wide.)

    These “1” zones cover most of the oversized maps in a portfolio titled, “Height / July 25, 1916,” that the City Planning Department still keeps. They are relics now, since the 1916 Zoning Resolution was superseded in 1961.

    Also visible on the maps are “1¼” zones, “1½” zones, “2” zones and, in Lower Manhattan, a “2½” zone, where buildings could rise without setback for two and a half times the width of the street that they fronted. (That would have confined the Equitable Building to 18 stories, The New York Times calculated.)

    The sheer size of the Equitable Building, foreground — a space-hog of its time — was among several factors that drove the creation of the 1916 Zoning Resolution.

    Height restrictions were “only one of many important features of the law,” The Times said. “The law is designed to check the invasion of retail districts by factories and residence districts by factories and businesses. It is aimed to prevent an increase of the congestion of streets and of subway and streetcar traffic in sections where the business population is already too great for the sidewalks and transit facilities.”

    In other words, it was as much a planning document as a zoning document.
    That was its genius, said Carl Weisbrod, who is the director of the City Planning Department and the chairman of the City Planning Commission.

    He credited Mr. McAneny and Mr. Bassett with creating a revolutionary document couched in accepted common-law and constitutional doctrines: that landowners are not entirely free to create nuisances to those around them; and that local governments may police conduct in the name of public health, safety and welfare.

    These oversized maps are relics now, since the 1916 Zoning Resolution was superseded in 1961. One hundred years ago, buildings in strictly residential zones were permitted to rise only as high as the streets in front of them were wide, or at a ratio of one to one.

    “So much of this was to get the courts to feel comfortable that this was a natural and obvious use of the police power,” Mr. Weisbrod said, “when what it really was a dramatic change.” (A key decision came 10 years later when the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a zoning law in Euclid, Ohio.)

    “The reduction of density in Manhattan is directly a product of the 1916 Zoning Resolution,” Mr. Weisbrod said. The 1910 population of Manhattan was 2,331,542, or 164 people per acre. In 2010, the population was 1,585,873, or 109 people per acre.

    As for the reviled Equitable Building, it is now an official New York landmark.
    And the headquarters of the City Planning Department.


  12. Alex August 6, 2016 at 1:37 pm #

    I strongly believe that only through increased collaboration and transparency can planners and policy makers can prevent the development missteps and modal bias that plague transportation investment in the United States.


  13. Ralpe August 12, 2016 at 10:46 am #

    New G train display! date/time…

    The G may have lower dwell times because it is only 4 cars, conductor only needs to close one set and they’re ready. But it’s also OPTO at night so the operator has to open/close doors, so who knows. Staff shortages on weekends due to flagging? It’s short enough so it can be done like with the shuttles, but it does slow things down, since the operator has to move from side to side, to open doors etc. And with all the signal mods, it is all gone to hell.

    G was brought down to 4 cars so they could lower headway, due to rolling stock constraints. Now with the M service in Queens, there’s no capacity for G on the Queens Boulevard Line to Forest hills… too much throughput on M and R, schedule havoc… (Broadway line is slow because of merge havoc so N can go local at 49th, merging from express tracks to 49th since that station has high ridership…)


    So many changes over the years, nassau line reconfigurations, etc.


  14. Sammy August 21, 2016 at 11:11 pm #

    When the doors are held, even for 30 seconds, then perhaps another 50 to 100 people will be waiting at the next station, if it’s a peak loading station. That means a longer dwell at that station, more trains delayed behind the current one, snowballing and causing the train to be later and later. Even if hundreds, thousands, lose 1 minute of their trip, it’s still a huge deal. One minute and you are late to your connection, or to your meeting. Every second counts. This is the capital of the world. Time matters. Let people out first, move to the center of the car, and don’t hold the doors!

    Sure, the NYC subway probably runs more trains on time than other subway systems… because it runs more trains…


    • Sammy August 21, 2016 at 11:12 pm #

      it’s hard work being a conductor/motorman. you need to always be paying attention. making sure people aren’t being dragged when you open/close doors nothing on the tracks. even a piece of aluminum will mess up the signal circuit. must communicate with rcc, be aware of signals, speed, wheel detectors, schedule, time… on A division, even moreso, because rcc is watching you on ATS, no local towers, and there’s a lot less room for error, be it for relaying to the yard, or knowing how to hande the train, equipment, PSI, compressors, radio… all WHILE making sure train gets into station FAST, doors opened FAST, closed, and IMMEDIATELY goes… FAST! we are a RAPID transit system! yet so much can go wrong… relay room failure, lack of track lubrication…

      It’s a team effort. if the conductor is slow, but motorman is fast, still going to get a slow train, and vice versa. if platform controllers don’t do their job, and actually HOLD doors (lack of training?) then it’s even worse…

      It’s all in the numbers. These are business decisions.


      • Yokoinu September 8, 2016 at 1:29 pm #

        the platform controllers need to be branded, it needs to be clear what they’re doing, not just based on their personalities… they need managers, they need customers to know their purpose… they need to keep people from holding doors, get them all the way packed into train, wait for people to leave train first, go to all available doors (if entrance is only in one side of platform, people won’t walk all the way down the platform, leading to excess crowding and dwelling)… maybe they need whistles!

        we need more real-time data too. Waze, google maps, all direct drivers, the fastest most convenient route.. what about Sub-WAZE?!?!

        excess running time is on the rise, especially on certain lines, even though no one would know because OTP is pass/fail right now… but it is like wait assessment (headway OTP), and some are just more delayed due to an incident than others.

        MTA rolling stock MDBF goes up and down all the time, but is generally declining now because there haven’t been new cars in a while. This is still a minimal impact on delays, which is impressive considering the maintenance cycle, 24/7 operation… there’s just so much to maintain. Track, signals, water pumps… while running a 24/7 subway, installing new track, signals, relay rooms, triparms… deadwood employees, slow crews, unruly passengers, bureaucratic union rules, trash and vacuum trains, mismanagement… lack of safety, reliability, quality, more and more delays and longer running times…



  15. Albequek September 15, 2016 at 10:25 pm #

    The Subway is so complex. And it is only one part of the system! Then there is the electric grid, a whole different beast, with power control center… now automated substations.



    All from that coal, nuclear, hydro, gas, oil, wind, solar… running our city!

    DOT is boring compared to NYCT. Sure, they have traffic signals, connected now by City’s 3G (all those bulbs on the traffic boxes at intersections…)


    IN commuter heaven, all traffic lights would magically switch to green for approaching drivers, forming strings of fiery green balls that went on for miles. Pedestrians in paradise would encounter ”Walk” signs permanently aglow, and drivers would wait patiently as the walkers dawdled the day away crossing the street.

    In real life though, drivers inevitably hit red. And in New York City, when they must stop is usually controlled by the intricate computer network governing many of the city’s lights, a system based in a single building in Queens, at the Traffic Management Center of the city’s Department of Transportation.

    How does an engineer at the traffic center tell traffic lights miles away what color lights to flash, and for how long? The center’s computers connect to Manhattan traffic lights by sending data through large coaxial cables to signal controller boxes at intersections (the other boroughs are connected via phone lines).

    Of the 45,000 intersections in the five boroughs, 10,800 are directed by traffic signals. The center’s computers control 6,000 of the intersections via signal controller boxes; each box is wired to all the traffic lights at that intersection. The other 4,800 traffic lights run on timers with preset patterns. If people report a problem with one of these non-networked signals, a traffic center engineer will go out and adjust it manually.

    The city is divided into 15 clusters, or neighborhoods; each has its own computer and has 640 to 720 intersections. Manhattan has separate clusters for the East Side, the West Side, uptown, midtown and downtown. Fifteen area computers at the traffic center send information to each cluster of intersections, and these computers are in turn networked to a supervisory computer, which monitors the entire system and coordinates traffic patterns between them.

    Every morning, traffic center engineers sit in front of computer terminals and train their eyes on a wall of monitors that display surveillance gathered by 55 closed-circuit cameras located at major traffic arteries. The buzz of a radio stream coming in from police officers on traffic patrols is interrupted several times an hour by the shrill ring of a telephone as one of the several hundred officers or a traffic center official calls in to report a problem in the field. Using that information, the traffic center can respond to different situations and adjust the light patterns.

    Traffic lights run on timed cycles that last 60, 90 or 120 seconds. In general, green lights stay on longer for traffic on the avenues in Manhattan and on major roadways in all of the boroughs.

    Under ordinary traffic conditions, the area computers controlling each cluster of intersections signal a chain of lights to turn green in 10-second progressions. That gives each light you’re driving toward time to turn green if you are driving about 30 miles an hour (which, wouldn’t you know, is the New York City speed limit). Under that pattern, you should hit a long series of green lights on major arteries before having to stop.

    The traffic center uses the same principle — but with red lights — on major arteries to divert traffic away from problem areas. ”When the scaffolding at Times Square fell this summer, our goal was to make it inconvenient for people to get there,” said Jack Larson, deputy commissioner for operations at the Department of Transportation. ”So we created a red-light pattern up Fifth Avenue and down Broadway, making it preferable to travel on alternate routes.”

    To smooth conditions in midtown during the day, the traffic center also creates patterns that favor avenues located away from the hub, like Second and Eighth Avenues.
    City traffic would be much worse if the traffic center did not intervene, Mr. Larson said. ”When a major north-south artery in the city is blocked, and the timing isn’t modified, the backup just gets longer and longer,” he said. By holding more traffic back with red lights at a significant distance from an incident, the traffic center gives drivers enough time to go down a side street before getting stuck at the site of the incident. The city’s traffic managers try to head off such snarls. ”That,” Mr. Larson said, ”would not be pretty.”
    The traffic center engineers also create patterns via computer to favor traffic on the roads leading into Manhattan during the morning rush period and out of the borough in the evening rush.

    From 7 A.M. to 10 A.M. on the Queensboro Bridge, for example, lights give longer green lights for through traffic and shorter greens for side streets, which helps the inbound Manhattan traffic move more quickly. At 10 A.M., the pattern shifts to a midday progression that gives equal amounts of green-light time to the main thoroughfare and the side streets. The programmed pattern shifts automatically again at 3 P.M. to favor the main roadway so traffic can move outbound from Manhattan more smoothly. At 7 P.M., the pattern evens out for the rest of the night.

    For pedestrians, the traffic center configures the signals based on an average stride of four feet per second (slow walkers take notice), and it programs each light to flash ”Don’t Walk” for a minimum of seven seconds. Although it is a rare person who is not tempted to break into a mad dash at the sight of this warning, flashing ”Don’t Walk” signals are designed to give you ample time to finish crossing the street — if you started when the sign said ”Walk.”

    Traffic center engineers can also program the light patterns to adapt to different neighborhoods. In areas with lots of elderly people or schoolchildren, for example, the traffic center lengthens the flashing ”Don’t Walk” signal to fit an average speed of three feet per second.

    Other patterns have been designed to accommodate things like Presidential visits, parades, water main breaks and road construction. ”Every year, we learn from experience and create new patterns to smooth out the problems,” Mr. Larson said.


  16. Felix September 25, 2016 at 5:39 pm #

    MTA does not need to follow local zoning or pay local property tax. Just like the church! Hah! But they still don’t have the right incentives to develop, or be more efficient. They should at least contract out station cleaners, as commonly done in Europe, where national railways are private companies (Deutsche Bahn) with government as majority shareholder.


  17. Ramma October 2, 2016 at 10:27 pm #

    WTC was built by Port Authority for urban renewal and economic development, to try and revitalize Lower Manhattan with plenty of subsidized offices… Now, they don’t know who owns what! from Wiki-

    The Port Authority owns the site’s land (except for 7 World Trade Center). Developer Larry Silverstein holds the lease to retail and office space in four of the site’s buildings.[4]
    While the PANYNJ is often identified as the owner of the WTC site, the ownership situation is complex.[5]

    The Port Authority indeed owns a “significant” internal portion of the site of 16 acres (6.5 ha) but has acknowledged “ambiguities over ownership of miscellaneous strips of property at the World Trade Center site” going back to the 1960s. It is unclear who owns 2.5 acres (1.0 ha) of the site, being land where streets had been before the World Trade Center was built.


  18. Hogan October 15, 2016 at 9:17 pm #

    CBTC is on the L and being built on 7. Soon countdown clocks. Then, we can see, for instance, hopefully, at GCT, not just the IRT Lex countdown information but the 7, so you know if you need to run to make connection or not…



  19. Eugenie October 18, 2016 at 4:31 pm #

    NYCTA was formed and then was joined with the MTA mainly in order to make it easier to spend on maintenance and capital improvements. In July 1953, NYCTA proposed expanding city’s subway system through new lines and connections between the IND and BMT Divisions; the IRT Division could not be physically connected with the other divisions because the IRT’s tunnels are narrower, so other trains can’t fit inside of them, and IRT trains can’t carry passengers in the B Division because of the dangerous gap at platforms. The most important new lines were a Second Avenue subway, including a Chrystie Street connection to the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridge and a rebuilt DeKalb Avenue junction in Brooklyn, IRT Utica Avenue and Nostrand Avenue extensions into southeast Brooklyn, and the extension of subway service to the Rockaway Peninsula using the Long Island Railroad’s Rockaway Beach Branch. Only the Chrystie Street connection, the rebuilt DeKalb Avenue Junction, and the Rockaway Line were built between 1954 and 1967.

    Second Avenue Subway will soon carry the Q, and N during rush hours (some N trains, not all.)


    The only thing built for the Utica Avenue Subway…



  20. George October 22, 2016 at 11:27 am #

    The MTA should raise fares. Get rid of senior and student discounts. Charge by distance. It is not a social service.



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