TOD: Transit-Owned Development



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.

However, 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, and designing contracts and public-private partnerships (P3s) is particularly difficult in the New York metropolitan region.

But, the MTA can overcome organizational barriers in order to contextually ‘transport’ the MTA’s limited portfolio of assets into ‘transformation hubs’. While there is ‘room’ for improvement, institutional barriers and disincentives 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 top tier real estate developer.

Can the New York MTA take steps towards greater efficiency? Towards market principles? Can we move from transit-oriented development to “transit-owned development”, as coined by Dan Peterson, Former Arup Senior Transportation Engineer? Then, how can we implement policies, and get them to actually be carried out?


The MTA has limited real estate assets, but they’ve managed to build multiple ventilation structures along Second Avenue and at the Hudson Yards (officially the John D. Caemmerer West Side Yard). As such, I was disappointed that they did not work with a developer to build offices and/or housing atop the ventilation infrastructure, in order to gain revenue. It’s unfortunate that even after using eminent domain and spending so much money and so much time to buy land, the MTA still couldn’t build taller along Second Avenue, in Manhattan. If taller buildings were not built here (or atop the Fulton Center), in one of the most robust real estate markets in the world, imagine how hard it would be to up-zone outer borough corridors (i.e., Utica Avenue to Floyd Bennett Field). The MTA is controlled by politicians who respond to NIMBYism, and many New Yorkers wouldn’t approve of the MTA building tall structures, even though they’d be along a future subway corridor. The MTA also does not have the resources or expertise to develop property.


Second Avenue Subway (Riel, 2015)


Yet the MTA has been working to develop property – such as the Hudson Yards and Atlantic Yards – and it has been receiving arguably good deals, with developers (i.e., Related) paying approximately 1 million per month simply to reimburse the MTA for moving infrastructure out of the way of their decking process, so they can turn the yard into raw land. And since it is difficult to develop a value capture mechanism, the MTA is working with the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) to up-zone subway corridors, so that T.O.D. can fuel more ridership and revenue. Albany is not involved.

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Hudson Yards. Source:


Hudson Yards. Source:


Atlantic Yards Decking in Brooklyn (Riel, 2014)


How do we build more momentum? Many people will oppose increasing density. Meanwhile, the MTA does not have the money to buy land, which is a timely process, coming lot, by lot, by lot. Plus, if land is up-zoned, then it is more expensive, making it even more costly for the MTA. How would the media, the public, and the politicians be convinced that this will not be wasteful? It will take years to pay off, which is difficult for politicians to accept, since they want to be re-elected in the short-term. Politics gets in the way of opportunities. These professionals work extremely hard every day but change is a slow, slow process. Government agencies are not good at speculative development for a variety of legal and labor reasons.

Many observers will note that the MTA has quite a lot of property. But most of this is needed for operations, and if it’s not, it’s expensive to overbuild and transform into raw land. Considering most of the MTA’s yards and bus depots are in far-flung locations, the costs still outweigh the benefits for most developers. These are depots, and not stations, so there would not be people fueling T.O.D. retail and fare revenue; Hudson Yards and Atlantic Yards are exceptions because they will be interconnected with transit. This is why the MTA focuses on selling air rights. They do not have the resources that a developer has, and even if they did, they would not want to be in the real estate business, let alone the decking (i.e., overbuild) business. Developers need to be experts in quite a few fields, from law (environmental, land use, zoning) and negotiation, to politics, design, engineering, geology, climate, and so on and so forth…

Mott Haven Rail Yard (Melrose Yard), built by the New York Central Railroad in 1873, was situated in the South Bronx. In the 1960s, while still being used by the railroad, development began atop the yard. After decades of phases of construction, “4,000 people, six public school buildings serving nearly 4,000 children, about 235,000 square feet of office space and 77,700 more coming soon, a supermarket, neighborhood stores, a food court, and at least 1,806 parking spaces” were developed. Stalled at various times due to divestment (white flight, redlining, and neglect), the first phase of “tower-in-the-park(ing lot)” housing was completed just as Jane Jacobs was about to publish Death and Life of Great American Cities and criticize this typology. As pointed out by Aaron Donovan, most are aware of the Hudson Yards, Atlantic Yards, and Terminal City atop Grand Central Terminal, but few know about this decking process in the South Bronx…

It is located south of East 161st Street between Morris Avenue to the east and Sheridan Avenue to the west, and as far south as the wye where Metro-North’s Harlem Line and the Hudson Line converge. The railroad graded the land to fit the nearby rail lines, making it 15 to 40 feet below the adjacent streets, a fact that greatly influenced the future development.

The yard helped support the New York Central’s mighty regional transportation network, with rail lines throughout the Northeast and deep into the Midwest. However, the yard was effectively a barrier between the Melrose neighborhood to the east and what today is the Grand Concourse area to the west, save for one bridge spanning the yard at 153rd Street. Starting in 1961 and continuing to today, five waves of development have thoroughly transformed this site, helping to weave together the previously sundered urban fabric. Today no trace of the rail yard remains, except for the outline it left behind in the form of the buildings that have replaced it, and the railroad’s Melrose Central Building at the southwest corner of Morris Avenue and East 161st Street, now occupied by city-run social service offices.

The first development to take place above the rail yard was a middle-income housing development known as Concourse Village. An early report indicated that the railroad leased its air rights for $750,000 per year for 60 years, although later reports indicated that it was paid $7 million, presumably up front, by the project’s sponsor, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America. Either way, most of the construction financing came from the New York State Housing Finance Agency, which issued a $30 million loan (later rising to $36.2 million), at that time the state’s largest loan ever for housing restricted to middle-income households. The brick-and-mortar results of the ambitious transaction outlived either the railroad underneath, which merged out of existence a few years after the towers were complete, or the union, which merged in 1979 with another union to form the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and has long since gotten out of the housing business. The first phase of the housing, the only one to be built, was approved by the City Planning Commission in October 1960 and was projected to cost $31 million.

The buildings started out as “integrated” housing – mixing white, black and Hispanic families. When it was first built, the Grand Concourse to the west was largely a white neighborhood, while Melrose to the east was African-American and Puerto Rican. As of 1967, the buildings were 68 percent white. But the buildings were built just at the moment that large scale white flight from the Bronx was beginning, including along the nearby Grand Concourse. By 2000, the buildings were 82% black, according to census data. Even from the beginning, whites’ allegiance to the buildings was tenuous, with some early depositors backing out when learning they’d be living in “integrated housing.” After the initial nervousness and slow co-op sales, the State declined to finance the second residential phase of the project.

There was also some early grumbling about lack of schools, which was soon to be remedied. One factor that helped fill out the buildings was the promise of new adjacent schools, completed in 1972

…In December 2004, Mayor Bloomberg announced a plan to build the four new schools to serving 2,000 students at the southern end of the former rail yard. The goal was to reduce overcrowding in Bronx schools. Whereas the first three waves of development were elevated above the former rail yards through steel and concrete stilts, this is the first wave of development to be built directly on the former rail yards. The city pledged $30 million to remediate the soil to eliminate toxins left by the former use as a rail yard. Together, these schools are providing space for 1,938 students. They are the largest project ever undertaken by the New York City School Construction Authority.

To get a glimpse at the complicated decking process

Any gardener will understand the challenges faced by the designers of the Public Square at Hudson Yards: Ensuring there is abundant water. Providing nutrient-rich soil. Finding a balance between sunlight and shade. Insulating the bottom of the planting beds from blasts of 150-degree heat rising out of an active train yard directly below. Wait a minute. What was that last?

Much of the Hudson Yards project, between West 30th and West 34th Streets in Manhattan, is being constructed over the 26-acre John D. Caemmerer West Side Storage Yard, where hundreds of Long Island Rail Road cars may be marshaled at any time, waiting to go into service. Though the 4.5-acre Public Square will look like a garden when it is finished in late 2018 (according to the current timetable), it will actually be the roof of a working rail yard — not the greatest place for plants.

The soil and roots, the cooling system for the roots, the water supply and storage, storm drainage, ventilation for the rail yard and the utilities and sewage lines needed by the buildings around the square must be compacted into a layer of the roof ranging from 18 inches to seven feet. Over 20 years of false starts, it was to have been a site for Madison Square Garden, for Yankee Stadium and for an Olympic stadium that would later be used by the Jets. In 2005, legislative leaders in Albany killed the stadium plan. After that, Far West Side redevelopment came unglued before the Related Companies signed a deal in 2008 with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to build a $20 billion commercial and residential complex.

Construction began in 2012. Today, 10 Hudson Yards, a 52-story office tower at 10th Avenue and 30th Street, is nearing completion. An abutting shopping mall, anchored by Neiman Marcus, is well underway. And a 92-story skyscraper, 30 Hudson Yards, is starting to emerge at 33rd Street. Four other towers, a retail pavilion, an information kiosk and a performance space called the Culture Shed are to complete the 11-million-square-foot project on and around the east half of the Caemmerer yard. The yard is being spanned by a $750 million, 10-acre, steel-and-concrete platform, which was designed and engineered by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates and Thornton Tomasetti, as were 10 and 30 Hudson Yards.

The first layer of the platform will be a six-foot-high empty space known as a plenum, through which fresh air will be propelled by 15 powerful fans at 45 miles an hour to ventilate and cool the rail yard. Hot-air exhaust stacks will be built into the retail pavilion and information kiosk. Above the plenum, in some areas, will be a two-and-a-half-foot-deep, 60,000-gallon collection tank to store rainwater. This, in turn, will be used to irrigate 225 trees and 28,000 plants. The trees and plants will sit in beds that are 18 inches to four feet deep, isolated from the heat below by concrete slabs threaded with conduits carrying glycol coolant, not unlike the base of an ice-skating rink. The chief material under the paving will be what is called sand-based structural soil. Around the plantings, it will be supplemented with nutrients, compost, mulch and a biological crust, including lichen, fungi and algae.

The Public Square might be likened, in small scale, to Riverside Park and Park Avenue, both of which span active railroad lines. Noting the similarities, Michael M. Samuelian, a vice president of Related who is overseeing the creation of the square, said, “We’re providing intensive engineering for what will be invisible to the public.”

Unlike the MTR, which operates profitable subways in Hong Kong while developing property, the MTA is not privatized, and it operates in an entirely different legal environment. China does not have to deal with community opposition; they’ll just plow forward. In Hong Kong, the central government willingly gives the MTR land to develop, and the government technically owns all land under a lease-hold system. Thankfully, the government does not own all land here. But voters are largely ignorant of transportation issues and politicians are merely doing what they can get away with, so skyrocketing costs and dysfunctionality continue. Eminent domain is a difficult process and NIMBYists are powerful. The relationship between the City and State is tenuous.

The MTA faces many stringent rules and regulations governing public authorities. All construction needs to be 100% union, raising costs, and the MTA cannot necessarily use capital money for development. There are strings attached to all money received, inhibiting real estate finance for a public authority. The government cannot do a good job with speculative development. They can’t even do feasibility, engineering, and budgeting studies; they need to contract these services to the experts. After all, the Fulton Center has been complete for a year now, and retail has still not arrived; once it does, it’ll be competing with the WTC and WFC (Brookfield Place) retail.

However, retail should arrive soon

When the Fulton Transit Center opened last November, glowing reviews celebrated its 53-foot-wide oculus while lamenting its $1.4 billion price tag, which had doubled since the project’s inception several years before. Some fears about the cost were assuaged by the fact that the MTA had turned the central hub at Fulton into a 180,000-square-foot mall, with retail encircling a four-story atrium.

Nine months have passed, and the Fulton Center’s glassy storefronts remain empty. Retail giant Westfield manages the leasing for 3 World Center, 4 World Trade Center and the Fulton Transit hub. There’s 365,000 square feet of retail across all three projects, and 65,000 square feet occupies the upper floors of the Fulton Center and office space in the 19th century Corbin Building next door at 13 John Street. (Of those 65,000 square feet, two-thirds will be retail, and one third office space.)

Now, spokespeople from Westfield and the MTA tell YIMBY that the Fulton Center retail will begin opening in the fall and continue through 2016. There will be about 20 stores ranging from retail and service providers to eateries and full service restaurants.

While they couldn’t offer any details, we hope that the retailers “benefit the neighborhood,” as a Westfield VP promised the local community board last year. About 150 businesses were evicted before the MTA began construction on the Fulton Center in 2005, according to Community Board 1 chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes and the Downtown Express.

Westfield has been claiming for months that 90% of its WTC retail is leased, but they’ve refused to release a full list of tenants. However, they announced several upscale retailers for 3 and 4 WTC last year, including Eataly, Michael Kors, L’Occitane, La Colombe coffee, Breitling, Kiehl’s, and a gourmet grocery store.

Westfield signed their lease with the MTA at the end of 2013, and at the same time, they paid the Port Authority $800 million for full control of the WTC retail. The lease with the MTA lasts 20 years after the second anniversary of Fulton Center’s opening or 20 years after the date when 80% of the commercial space is occupied—whichever is sooner, according to MTA financial documents. After that, Westfield will be able to extend the lease for two successive 10 year periods.

“Westfield is not yet paying rent to the MTA, but is covering the substantial operating expenses that would otherwise fall to us,” MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg wrote in an email to YIMBY. “Thus, Westfield has quite a motivation to start generating positive cash flow as soon as possible for our mutual benefit.”

And Lisberg assured us that “Westfield is in advanced stages of leasing activity, subtenant design and fitout work.”

In the meantime, commercial real estate around the Fulton Center is booming. Last week, Crown Acquisitions shelled out more than $25 million for a little souvenir shop next door at 144 Fulton Street. And across the street at 143 Fulton, Tribeca Associates is planning a 26-story, 228-key hotel.

For better or worse, the Port Authority is definitely in the real estate business, and they must fund their expensive projects (PA Bus Terminal, ‘Calastrossus’) entirely. 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. While the PA must be self-sufficient, and while it is supposed to be independent of the whims of politicians, only the former holds true. Controlled by both New Jersey and New York, politicians routinely send their expensive legacy projects to the Port Authority, 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.

Nevertheless, the MTA could learn about real estate development from the Port Authority, even though the PA has ample more assets than the MTA, from retail and commercial properties at the WTC to ports, airports, and other capital initiatives. Indeed, “the Port Authority manages an extensive real estate portfolio containing more than 12,000 acres of land and 45 million square feet of office, industrial, retail and technical space to support its trade, transportation and economic development mission”. For instance…

PATH Hub, WTC 3, WTC 4 (Riel, 2015)


The ‘Calastrossus’ (Riel, 2015)

WTC Hub Retail (Riel, 2015)

WTC PATH Terminal (Riel, 2015)

WTC PATH Terminal (Riel, 2015)

WTC PATH Terminal (Riel, 2015)

One World Trade Center (Riel, 2015)

Port Authority Bus Terminal Opportunities… (Riel, 2015)

JFK Retail (Riel, 2015)

While the original World Trade Center is the predecessor to today’s reconstruction, the original World Trade Center was itself based on the design of the Hudson Terminal, which it replaced. The Hudson & Manhattan (H&M) Railroad, which built subways into Lower Manhattan and Midtown Manhattan that are now operated by the Port Authority’s PATH, also developed real estate atop its terminal in Downtown Manhattan. Hudson Terminal was an engineering marvel at the time, and H&M touted it proudly in its annual reports to shareholders:
Today, the MTA’s Fulton Center, built one block away from the transit-owned development (World Trade Center) and the former Hudson Terminal site, is only a few stories tall. There are no offices to lease. The shops have not even been opened yet, and it has been an entire year. If the H&M leadership were alive today, I am confident that they would be saddened by how far we’ve fallen.
According to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the MTA spends approximately 11 billion dollars on operational costs yearly, with an additional 5 billion dollars spent on maintenance and improvement. While fares and tolls provide a significant amount of revenue for the public authority, it is far from enough for self-sufficiency, let alone profitability. Akin to all public transportation agencies in the U.S., the MTA needs subsidies and support from local, state, and federal sources. Moreover, because the state agency operates New York City’s subways, funding is constantly being negotiated between the City and State, especially for capital plans. The M.T.A. already owes $34 billion. This is more debt than that of many countries!

However, the MTA is wary of these fluctuations, and is not planning on using the increased funds to restore eliminated subway and bus routes, because a new downturn could leave the agency without the resources needed to sustain operations. In 2005 and 2006, the urban tax surged, resulting in $900 million in 2007, which was nearly twice the amount anticipated by the MTA. Then, after the economy collapsed, annual revenue plunged by more than $1 billion and the urban tax received $149.7 million in 2009. Clearly, this system is unstable and even in good times, the MTA needs additional funds to continue operations and expansion. Still, today, the City has been enjoying unprecedented job growth and tax revenue, yet the MTA remains sidestepped.

Transportation should not be separated from real estate and economic development, but for some reason, leaders don’t seem to share this idea. How can we change this mindset? Perhaps, if people were more aware of transportation issues in New York, Sam Schwartz’s MoveNY plan would have already been passed. Or the MTA would have money to clean its stations, in the wealthiest city in America. Now, it seems, the City is actually considering Gridlock Sam’s plan!

New York’s real estate market is strong, and the MTA is receiving additional funding as a result:

The city’s exploding real estate market has been a boon for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The authority has received $732.4 million this year from mortgage and property-sale taxes, which is 40% more than the MTA budgeted for, according to a report presented to the agency’s board Monday.

The extra $211.8 million, however, is minuscule compared with the agency’s major problem: a $14 billion capital-plan deficit.

The MTA collects two types of taxes from property sales in the city: the mortgage-recording tax (consisting of two separate taxes on mortgages recorded in the MTA’s 12-county service area) and the urban tax (imposed on commercial-property and apartment-building transactions in the five boroughs). Those taxes, in addition to an array of other state, regional and local taxes, subsidies and fees, as well as fare and toll collection, comprise the MTA’s revenues.

However, the MTA is wary of these fluctuations, and is not planning on using the increased funds to restore eliminated subway and bus routes, because a new downturn could leave the agency without the resources needed to sustain operations. In 2005 and 2006, the urban tax surged, resulting in $900 million in 2007, which was nearly twice the amount anticipated by the MTA. Then, after the economy collapsed, annual revenue plunged by more than $1 billion and the urban tax received $149.7 million in 2009. Clearly, this system is unstable and even in good times, the MTA needs additional funds to continue operations and expansion..

I recently learned that the MTA also has limited real estate expertise. They need to work with developers, engineers, architects, and the EDC, DCP, and DOT. The EDC acts as an agent for disposition of City property interest in NYCT master lease parcels; the DCP needs to rezone the property to allow residential and issue special permits required for transit overbuilds; and the DOT determines the need for street bridges or de-mappings. Clearly, the MTA needs to know the zoning and land use, as well as property and air rights information (i.e., the City may lease NYCT property to the MTA). The MTA, therefore, works with EDC, DCP, and DOT to analyze existing conditions, from land use, zoning, and community needs, to market prospects and demographic trends, and eventually, they underwrite and release RFPs. ULURP becomes the MTA’s best friend.

The MTA is working on exciting projects. In their new ESA Queens Yard, they’re building the tracks far enough from each other to eventually support decking at Sunnyside. Clearly, this area has immense potential for T.O.D. and growth, with ample transit access opportunities. However, there is a complex land title situation, with the MTA owning land and air space up to 22 feet measured from the top of rail, with the City owning air above 22 feet. There are also private individuals that have a stake in some of the air rights. Along with varying elevations and zoning (see LIC Core Rezoning). The Mayor and the Governor need to work together, which hasn’t been happening, so that the City and MTA can cooperate. (The Governor and the Mayor continue to debate funding the MTA). The Mayor noted that

Amtrak, the largest landowner at the 200-acre site, is supportive of decking over the rail yards and building affordable housing on top, and that the city owns air rights on 44 of the acres owned by the state-controlled MTA. Yet nothing will happen soon. Amtrak has said it doesn’t expect to conduct a feasibility study until 2016. And the cost of decking over the site could be enormous. Constructing a platform over a portion of the much smaller 26-acre Hudson Yards in western Manhattan is expected to cost upward of $700 million. Community opposition, much like that which stalled the Atlantic Yards project for years, is anticipated.


(Top: Riel, 2015; Bottom: MTA Real Estate Department, 2011)


Another exciting project is in Brooklyn, on the Bay Ridge/Sea Beach 61st Street Corridor (the N Line), where NYCT runs adjacent to the LIRR’s freight line, contracted to the New York & Atlantic Railway. Mainly zoned M1-1, the MTA has been working with DCP and EDC to explore zoning changes and decking costs. Since the freight trains run less frequently, it may be quicker (and cheaper) to deck the LIRR portions. With increasing ridership along the N Line, developers may be interested in fronting the decking costs, even though it’s still quite expensiveIt all depends on the value of the land. I can’t share specifics, but all of this joint development not only would provide some cash for the MTA, but would also provide economic development opportunities in the surrounding communities. The profitable railroads of the 19th and early 20th century fueled urbanization and economic growth, centralized by their lavish terminals, complete with offices and retail opportunities: Grand Central’s Terminal City, Penn Station’s Hotel Pennsylvania


Back in 1970, Penn Central went bankrupt, the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history at the time, when even the merger between Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central (and New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad) could not salvage the private railroad. Yet from this disarray came Donald Trump, buying the railroad’s property. He bought Penn Yards to build Trump Place on the West Side (Riverside South). He also bought the Commodore Hotel, built as part of Terminal City, turning it into the Grand Hyatt New York. The structure itself was developed as part of Terminal City, a complex of palatial hotels and offices connected to Grand Central Terminal and all owned by The New York State Realty and Terminal Company, a division of the NY Central Railroad.

Trump built his empire as railroads went bankrupt, and as Terminal City was swept into the background, crushed by the weight of the Pan Am Building (MetLife Building) atop Grand Central, and overshadowed by the Chrysler Building. Literally, the age of automobiles and jets had arrived.  New York Airways, after all, could fly you on a helicopter from the top of the Pan Am Building to JFK. If you want to explore the era, simply read the airline ads next to the NYT article about Trump. The glamor of the railroads was gone.

But now, times have changed again. With an urban rebound in many cities, transportation agencies are again seeking to capitalize upon their assets. Be it at 30th Street Rail Yards in Philadelphia, Inwood, Manhattan, Jamaica, Queens, Burnham Place in D.C., or South Station in Boston, transportation agencies and developers are on the move. They must deal with outdated zoning laws and a lack of streamlining across balkanized jurisdictions. In Atlanta, MARTA has been practicing TOD since the 80s, finding various ways to finance PPP development so that they can continue with their exciting projects.


Atlanta’s MARTA (Riel, 2015)


Georgia State Station MARTA Joint Development (Riel, 2015)


Atlanta is a sprawled city with many open parking lots, and MARTA has been developing them. MARTA has been creative with its funding sources because it receives little funding from red state Georgia, just as D.C.’s WMATA has been practicing joint development partly because Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. all try to fund the Metro as little as possible, and put the burden on the other stakeholders. Plus, D.C., the capital of the free world, is taxed without even being represented, so advocating for WMATA funding is extremely difficult. Washingtonians live in the capital of America and cannot control their own taxes.

But MARTA, like the MTA, also faces a battle with NIMBYists, who are strangely progressive, yet stand in the way of change. While the preservationist movement was arguably founded due to the demolition of the old New York Penn Station, today’s cities are different. Public transit ridership is surging again. People are moving back to many urban areas.

Now, NIMBYists block development, diminishing the supply of housing (and other amenities), raising the costs, and pushing out the people that they’re trying to protect. They are preserving buildings but not necessarily the cultural dynamism that surrounds them, because neighborhoods always change.  Parisians used to hate the Eiffel Tower and they wanted it destroyed, but now they won’t let any other tall buildings nearby, hampering progress. In Brooklyn, preservationists are trying to block the construction of new housing in expensive Park Slope and Windsor Terrace, fearing it won’t fit into the surrounding neighborhood. I understand that sometimes, buildings are ugly, and that grassroots movements can create productive change, such as bringing back a grocery store, but sometimes, this politically correct mindset can be ironically destructive. (They are proceeding with the construction after going through BSA).

North America used to build grand structures, but now, it is difficult to get anything done…

Baltimore Penn Station (Riel, 2015)

Reading Terminal in Philadelphia (Riel, 2015)

Reading Terminal in Philadelphia (Riel, 2015)

Suburban Station in Philadelphia (Riel, 2015)

30th Street Station in Philadelphia (Riel, 2015)

SEPTA Real Estate Opportunities? (Riel, 2015)

SEPTA Real Estate Opportunities? (Riel, 2015)

SEPTA Real Estate Opportunities? (Riel, 2015)

SEPTA Real Estate Opportunities? (Riel, 2015)

Decking Opportunities in Seattle? (Riel, 2013)

Decking Opportunities in Vancouver? (Riel, 2013)


If New York does not solve its institutional barriers that starve the MTA and choke prosperity, it will be left in the dust by global competitors. China is building high-speed rail throughout the country, and European public transportation puts New York to shame. We must wake up and act, and elect leaders that care about public transit! If the MTA has limited assets now, then it must be allowed to dream big, with a revamped Real Estate Department that has more than three people doing T.O.D. for the entire agency. The MTA must buy property around stations, work with DCP to up-zone and propose design standards, and with EDC to develop, and use the funds to continue to operate and expand the system. It cannot be strangled by Albany.

Miami-Dade County, Florida, has created a Rapid Transit Zone in order to standardize zoning atop the Miami Metrorail’s assets. Moreover, All Aboard Florida (AAF), America’s first privately financed railroad in decades, is moving full steam ahead after tackling legislative hurdles in the state and federal government. AAF is planning on operating a profitable railroad by 2017 between Miami and Orlando. However, many are concerned that AAF will not be profitable, and will need to be maintained by taxpayers or subsumed under Amtrak. Brown University’s Professor John Friedman, for instance, concludes that AAF will perform worse than Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, which operates in the black. Amtrak’s Northeast Regional and Acela routes have an operational surplus, but maintenance of way eats up that revenue. However, AAF will have only four stops compared to 30, and will link only two cities with a total of 9.4 million people, compared to four major cities with 48 million residents. Plus, neither Orlando nor Miami have strong public transit systems. This sprawl translates to a lack of job accessibility, and since rail transportation is fueled by high ridership, a lack of density means a lack of profit.


Miami Station (Source:


Unlike Amtrak, AAF plans to develop 4.2 million square feet of real estate. The coastline from Orlando to Florida contains half of Florida’s population, most of a former railroad’s right-of-way, and tens of millions of travelers on business and vacation. Indeed, Orlando is the most visited city in the United States, and AAF states that there are 500 million trips made every year between its destination cities. The relatively dense Atlantic coast of Florida is no accident; Henry Flagler, founder of AAF’s predecessor, Florida East Coast Railway, arguably built Miami. Akin to countless other American cities from Dallas to Atlanta, Miami began as a railroad transportation hub. Flagler built real estate in Miami, attracting crowds just as AAF will be doing in their “colossal station complex designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill that includes a half-dozen towers, over a million square feet of office space, 1,111 residential units, a hotel, car rental outlets, parking, and blocks of ground-floor retail facing the street”. If this value capture works in Florida, could it work in New York? The MTA has a lot more expenses, a 100 year old system, and limited assets, so it’s doubtful. Here, they’re building a brand new system, with brand new infrastructure, on a former series of parking lots now known as Miami Central.


Miami Station (Source:


Miami Metrorail (Riel, 2009)


Yet as elucidated by the Urban Land Institute, this is not a new policy, but it has not been practiced for decades due to various factors, from antiquated zoning laws, onerous financial regulations, and a lack of communication between municipalities and developers, to NIMBYism, a fear of density, and a lack of a profit motive. From ULI New York:

It turns out that there is fairly little regional or national coordination around TOD advocacy. And despite the efforts of exceptional organizations like the Regional Planning Association and ULI to move the TOD agenda further, broad policy tools are very difficult to put in place at a macro scale. This may have a critical role to play in the relative lack of implemented new TOD projects despite the widespread acknowledgement of their benefits. Mr. Paley, Director of Transit Oriented Development for the MTA, noted that Federal policies and incentives can have a powerful trickle down effect on TOD, having the ability to influence a broad spectrum of municipalities to move towards broad TOD goals. The need for greater regional or federal coordination however, means that each locality usually follows its own agenda to promote or (as is often the case) paralyze TOD projects within its district.

Some of the many local factors that can affect a TOD project include antiquated zoning laws, non-contextual parking requirements, financing, lack of communication between municipalities and developers, NIMBYism and fear of density. 

Although the discussion began with an overview of the need for better national policy and regional initiatives, it was the overview of the Wynandach Rising redevelopment in the Town of Babylon that brought the challenges and opportunities at a local level into clearer focus.  The Town of Bablyon had decided that TOD was going to be cornerstone of its urban revitalization program for this particularly run-down district. Recognizing the tremendous potential of a particular connectivity node within Babylon around a local train station the town decided to take a proactive approach.

Using a combination of clear sighted, local planning efforts and a red tape machete, the Town of Babylon created a vision and a process to transform this blighted region of Babylon into one of the most widely talked about TOD projects in the country.  Going beyond the traditional advocacy approach, changing the zoning and waiting for the market to fill in the gaps, the Town of Babylon purchased all the buildings it could and partnered with the rest of the owners, explaining the long-term benefits of the redevelopment strategy. They created a streamlined approvals process and cultivated relationships with new developers they were eager to see come into the area.

It would seem in many cases with so many potential hurdles to TOD, this is the kind of proactive stance that’s needed. As panelist Daniel Hernandez noted, good leadership and a healthy dialogue between government and development entities lies at the heart of successful TOD implementation. Rather than simply allowing the typical tense showdown between developers, civic agencies and the community to unfold, an enlightened municipality can take the initiative to clean up inconsistencies in its zoning code, formulate a plan, consolidate key parcels and identify a dedicated agent internally to help with blocking and tackling on critical issues.

And some more good news

Metro-North is forging ahead with plans to return rail travel to the pre-World War II era in some Hudson Valley communities by partnering with local governments to build housing so close to stations that commuters could just step out their doors and board a train. A proposal to develop housing and retail space at the Metro-North station in downtown Harrison is inching closer to a groundbreaking, possibly later this year, that has eluded town leaders for nearly three decades.

The Harrison project is the furthest along, following last month’s selection of Virginia-based Avalon Bay Communities as the developer, officials said. The plan calls for converting 3.3 acres of Metro-North commuter parking lots along Halstead Avenue into residential and retail space, while doubling the number of parking spaces available to commuters. Retail space for restaurants, flower shops and the like will serve as a facade to block a street view of a parking garage.

Metro-North has agreed to sell or lease its acreage to get the deal done. A price tag has not been decided. Metro-North executives said the project will not only allow its parent agency, the MTA, to collect money from the sale or lease of the property, it will produce hundreds of potential riders steps away from the station.

The Harrison project will include about 140 residential units and 35,000 square feet of retail space, according to Matthew Whalen, Avalon Bay’s senior vice president for development. Avalon Bay has developed similar proposals for rail agencies across the country, including one in San Francisco for Bay Area Rapid Transit, Whalen noted. Whalen, who said he worked with Paley many years ago, said Paley has correctly identified TOD’s as a means to generate revenue for cash-pinched transit agencies with real estate to sell. “It’s a successful model that we’ve used across the country,” Whalen said. “I’d like to think that this concept will add vibrancy to the area around the train station in downtown Harrison.”

In addition to rezoning the area, Harrison town officials must clear several hurdles before the development is approved, including a state environmental review and a traffic study. Whalen doesn’t foresee community opposition to a project, which has been in the town’s master plan for several years. “This isn’t or shouldn’t come as a surprise,” he said. Belmont is confident the Harrison proposal will come together before the year is out. “Hopefully, we’ll get it done,” he said. “It will be a first-class project. Everything takes time.”

It takes time. But it needs to get done. Three people in the TOD Group of the MTA Real Estate Department is not enough, at all. The MTA can be an assertive force in New York, developing green property around stations in order to spur economic development, create jobs, and create civic spaces, as well as dense, mixed-use retail, commercial, and housing.

NY must continue to increase density in order to fuel MTA ridership and foster dynamism; people are social creatures and, according to Edward Glaeser, cities allow for creativity and productivity. With a greater supply of housing, the price may, at least, not drastically increase. While it would be nice if Robert Moses had built subways instead of highways, the powers, identities, and ideologies of the day built cities for the automobile. Instead of building up, they built out. The city should stop proposing harmful regulations and it should make it easier to build. If someone wants to finance a system of gondolas, for instance, they should go for it! Zoning has a great purpose, but sometimes, it can be too much. Life, liberty, property.

Courtesy of Amanda Erickson at CityLab:

The story of American zoning is really the story of how Americans learned to legislate their NIMBY impulses.

Before zoning, cities mostly regulated what could be built through nuisance laws. If someone didn’t like how their neighbor was using their property, they could haul them to trial and let a judge decide what to do about it.

But in 20th century New York, the process had already become cumbersome. In Manhattan, new building techniques were pushing building heights higher, costing neighborhoods sunlight and air. And factories and warehouses were encroaching on fashionable shopping districts, much to the chagrin of said fashionable shoppers.

There were early efforts to temper New York’s building streak. A landmark 1885 law restricted tenement buildings to one-and-a-half times the street width (the Supreme Court ruled that height restrictions were legal in 1909, when builders challenged Boston’s decision to restrict buildings around Copley Square to 90 feet).

The building that broke the camel’s back was the 42-story Equitable Building. Built in 1915, the building’s height and heft were unprecedented. As NYC Zoning tells it:

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.

Neighbors demanded that the city regulate the building somehow. In 1916, the city responded by passing the country’s first comprehensive zoning code. That effort was largely spearheaded by lawyer Edward Bassett, who went on to invent the freeway and parkway.

According to Columbia University’s Andrew Dolkart, the law worked byregulating building shape rather than height. He writes:

The idea was that that light and air would reach the sidewalk; light and air were a major issue. So the law stated that you could build right up to the lot line on your building and you could rise up to a certain height and then once you reached that height, you had to step back, you had to set the bulk of the building back.

This, he explains, is why New York’s skyscrapers from the period have such a particular profile. The Heckscher Building on Fifth Avenue, for example, stacked smaller and smaller boxes on top of one another, with a crown on top. Other architects experimented with cascading setbacks and buttresses.

New York wasn’t the first place to divide the city up based on who was doing what, where. “The really big constraint of land use regulation was the inability of people to get very far within cities,” says William Fischel, a Dartmouth College professor who studies zoning. That changed with public transportation. “Once you got the street car you could separate residents from jobs,” he says.

The first city to experiment with this was San Francisco. In 1885, the city banned public laundries from most areas, a not-so-subtle attempt to zone the Chinese out. That law was invalidated by a 1886 Supreme Court case.

In 1909, Los Angeles experimented with a city-wide regulation that kept heavy industry and commerce out of certain neighborhoods.

Initially, officials were reluctant to do so, fearing that they’d lose businesses to neighboring cities. But land-owners were insistent, arguing that their property values had gone down thanks to brick-makers and smoky glue factories. “Zoning was seen as a way of assuring buyers that their neighborhood won’t change adversely,” Fischel says. “It was a dangerous tool in one sense, but also offered security.”

So it was that homeowners across the country changed the face of cities in America. As Fischel writes in a paper on this subject:

It seems unlikely, then, that zoning thus was the product of circumstances in one particular place. Nor, I submit, was it the product of planners who had embraced the ‘City Beautiful’ movement, progressives who supported scientific management of government or lawyers who argued for an expansive view of the police power. The roles of planners, progressives and lawyers were, I believe, supply responses to a popular demand for zoning. This popular demand did not manifest itself as direct democracy. It was filtered through housing developers, who, I shall demonstrate presently, found that they sell homes for more profit if the community had zoning.

NIMBYism has stalled a rail connection to LaGuardia Airport for decades. But now, Cuomo appears to be interested in rebuilding LGA, which is good, but funding the MTA should be a priority, instead of building legacy projects. Maintenance is not sexy, but it is important, even though this sounds more exciting:

Governor Cuomo was joined today by Vice President Joe Biden to unveil the vision for the comprehensive redesign of LaGuardia Airport. The airport will be transformed into a single, structurally unified main terminal with expanded transportation access, significantly increased taxiway space and best-in-class passenger amenities. Construction on the first half of the new unified terminal, expected to be a $4 billion project that creates 8,000 direct jobs and 10,000 indirect jobs, will be managed by LaGuardia Gateway Partners, a new public private partnership chosen by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to build the project.


Transportation is the glue holding New York together. Subways allowed developers to expand the city. The IRT, BMT, and IND built one of the engineering marvels of the 20th century: subways, with 4 tracks for vast stretches, allowing for additional capacity and for tracks to be maintained while service remained. The subways were built near the surface in order to be efficiently ventilated. Pipes were all organized and replaced as the tracks were built. The IRT and BMT made money. Today, the MTA needs to return to this can-do mindset, working hand-in-hand with developers to renew, enhance, and expand. This is what the TOD Group is trying to do, with limited time and resources, at the MTA Real Estate Department, according to the NYT:

There are more than 600 miles of subway track and hundreds of stations in New York City, and zoning requires that developers in high-density areas like Midtown Manhattan, Union Square and Downtown Brooklyn move nearby subway entrances into their property lines and renovate them. As a result, private entities may be responsible for public services, a situation that some experts say is not always ideal.

“The M.T.A. has learned the hard way that it is one thing to ask a developer to make an upfront capital investment, and quite another one to maintain something on a day-to-day basis over the years,” said Juliette Michaelson , the director of strategic initiatives at the Regional Plan Association, a policy, research and advocacy group. “In 10 years, when that escalator fails, who fixes it? These details must be worked out.”

To improve its dealings with private developers, two years ago the transit authority quietly opened a three-person Office of Transit-Oriented Development. It hired Robert Paley, a real estate expert who spent time in the private sector — as an executive at AvalonBay Communities he helped develop Avalon Chrystie Place on East Houston Street — and also worked previously at the M.T.A. on projects like the Atlantic Terminal Mall in Brooklyn.

Mr. Paley’s first big deal in New York City has been an agreement with Vornado Realty Trust to develop 15 Penn Plaza, a proposed office tower that would replace the Hotel Pennsylvania on Seventh Avenue between 32nd and 33rd streets. Vornado is hoping to construct a 2.05 million-square-foot office building, exceeding what is allowed under the current zoning.

In exchange, Vornado agreed to build and maintain transit improvements, including reopening the Gimbels Passageway that connects Herald Square and Penn Station. Under the proposed plans, it would transform the passageway, which was closed in the 1980s, into an 800-foot pedestrian concourse to rival Rockefeller Center.

Vornado has said it would not begin construction on the project until it secured an anchor tenant. Still, it wants to have all of its approvals in place in expectation of finding that tenant, and so last summer it negotiated a deal with the transit authority and the city. Known as a restrictive declaration, the agreement, which is recorded against the property and enforceable by the city, includes several clauses meant to prevent a repeat of the problems with the escalators at Zeckendorf Towers.

Among the requirements is that the transit improvements must be designed and agreed upon before the city will grant Vornado building permits. “Otherwise, if the construction starts, and the building moves quickly, there is a risk that the public improvements that were promised will get left behind,” Mr. Paley said.

To ensure that Vornado maintains the improvements, and in the event that 15 Penn Plaza changes ownership, Vornado must provide financing security, possibly in the form of a letter of credit. The developer also will be unable to get a temporary certificate of occupancy until the transit improvements are substantially completed.

While 15 Penn Plaza may be the latest development to involve the M.T.A., the relationship between the agency and builders goes back nearly a century. One of the first buildings to have direct subway access was the Municipal Building at One Centre Street, designed by McKim, Mead & White. Completed in 1913, the building features subway lines that are directly connected to its base, with riders exiting through a covered entranceway featuring white Guastavino tiles. “The building was one of the first to be totally intermodal, with a big archway that allowed for vehicular traffic as well,” said Fredric Bell, the executive director of the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter.

Given the high rates of street crime in the 1970s and 1980s, developers began shunning direct access to the subway, and many passages, including the Gimbels Passageway, were closed. More recently, fears of terrorism have compounded these concerns. Other difficulties for landlords of buildings with direct subway access include insurance concerns related to slip-and-fall accidents among riders.

Subways are also highly trafficked areas, so the construction materials used are often more functional than attractive, like industrial light fixtures and simple ceramic tile. “Very rarely, if ever, does a subway station make your building look better — even if you upgrade it, it will never be equal to the finishes you are putting in elsewhere in the lobby,” said John Krush, an executive managing director at Newmark Knight Frank Project & Development Management, who advises tenants and developers.

“Most developers feel that the ideal option is for the subway entrance to be directly outside the building,” Mr. Krush said. “This makes brokers happy because they can market the building as ‘adjacent’ to subway transit.”

Still, many experts in the real estate industry say that dealing with the M.T.A. can be a headache. There are strict engineering requirements for building around the subway system, and the approval process can be slow. Now, with the advent of Mr. Paley’s office and the effort to increase transparency, the hope is that this process will improve. “Any time a public agency decides to have an advocate, a person that can help developers make their way through the complexities of the process, the better it will be,” Mr. Krush said.

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 the MTA, its management, or employees, and absolutely no confidential information was disclosed. 
PS: Low Line?


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32 Comments on “TOD: Transit-Owned Development”

  1. Rayn Riel December 27, 2015 at 10:52 pm #

    Importance of climate change resiliency
    RE: PATH @ Hoboken, Hurricane Sandy


  2. Brokelyn December 28, 2015 at 5:13 pm #

    Atlantic Yards. Barclays Center built atop. Perfect TOD example, as you mentioned! But unlike Hudson Yards, development atop this LIRR yard is not funding an extension. (Maybe LIRR could’ve been brought to MTA Fulton Center in Lower Manhattan).

    Yet there is a nice new entrance, with a green roof! And the LIRR Atlantic Terminal has been restored…

    And, unlike MSG, nothing was destroyed (i.e., Penn) for this development. Was largely vacant lots due to decades of divestment.

    This is a very complex area, former home of the Dodger’s, but then Moses want them to go to Shea Stadium instead of stay in Brooklyn… so they left for LA… Now, the area is back, with a new sports team, malls, historic IRT headhouse.

    The LIRR yards have been reconfigured so Barclays could be built, streets removed, eminent domain, office space and retail and affordable housing…


  3. Rayn Riel January 6, 2016 at 8:07 pm #

    Cuomo Reveals Renderings For Dramatic Penn Station Overhaul

    Using retail revenue to fund redevelopment in P3!


    “Governor Cuomo announced on Wednesday that he is spearheading a comprehensive overhaul of Penn Station. In conjunction with Amtrak and the MTA, the renovation will seek a private developer to convert the Farley post office building on Eighth Avenue into a grand, sun-soaked waiting area. The project—dubbed the Empire Station Complex—is estimated to cost more than $3 billion, with $2 billion going towards the Farley-Penn overhaul, and an additional $1 billion towards retail development along 7th and 9th Avenues.

    About $325 million is expected to come from the government, split between the Department of Transportation, Port Authority, and Amtrak. The rest will be privately funded, in exchange for interest in the revenue generated long term by retail and commercial rent.

    The Farley conversion, to be dubbed “Moynihan Train Hall” according to Politico, would be the realization of the significantly stalled Moynihan Station project. Acknowledging that such an overhaul has been a long time coming, Cuomo said that the project would be expedited, and completed within three years. The Farley renovation is slotted for completion first. According to the Governor’s office, the new hall at Farley will increase the size of Penn station by 50 percent, and will be comparable in size to the main room at Grand Central. An underground “link” will ultimately connect Farley to the existing Penn Station building under Eighth Avenue.

    In one scenario, the Madison Square Garden Theater on Eight Avenue would be removed entirely, in what Cuomo described as a “friendly negotiated condemnation and removal.” The demolition would allow for a possible block-long entrance to Penn Station across from the post office building. This proposal is similar to one put forth by the Municipal Art Society in 2014, and would theoretically yield a new space with abundant space and natural light.

    Another option would involve temporarily shutting down the 33rd Street block of the station, and constructing a massive, glassy new entrance with accompanying skylights.
    Developers could also leave the exterior of the station largely unaltered, “improving the configuration of the interior” with wider concourses, new signage, and integrated wifi, according to the Governor’s office.

    The Farley overhaul and Penn renovation may be carried out by one private developer, two, or a small coalition. In the case of Farley, the developer will earn full retail rights inside the space. Cuomo announced that his office will be issuing solicitations to private developers this week, which will be due back in three months.

    Citing anonymous sources close to the Governor, the Wall Street Journal reports that such a renovation could lead to the severing of a decade-old agreement between Penn Station and private developers Vornado and the Related Cos., who had initial plans to renovate the post office building into a station. However, the sources told WSJ that the cost of severing that agreement would be small “relative to the overall project.”

    Municipal Art Society executive director Mary Rowe said, “We echo the Governor’s conviction that Penn Station is in need of urgent and ambitious change… finishing the Moynihan project and relocating the MSG theater is critical to improving Penn Station.”
    However, “In the long term, these improvements won’t be enough to fully address Penn Station’s severe overcrowding or meet the growing needs of its rapidly developing neighborhood and our regional economy.”

    Mayor de Blasio did not attend the announcement, which is no surprise given the strained relationship between the governor and mayor. De Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell stated this evening, “These are improvements the City has been pushing for over the past two years, and we’re glad to see the State stepping up with renewed commitments. It’s going to take the City, State and Federal governments working in close cooperation to make an expanded and revitalized Penn Station a reality. Together, we can deliver the 21st century transportation system New Yorkers deserve.”


  4. RR January 20, 2016 at 12:37 am #


  5. Rayn Riel February 3, 2016 at 6:47 pm #

    So much potential for T.O.D., especially in suburban gateway cities! (Stamford, etc)


    • Rayn Riel February 7, 2016 at 6:41 pm #

      Then there’re the ‘edge cities’ not readily accessible by public transit. Suburban office parks along the NJ Turnpike, for instance.


  6. Rayn Riel February 10, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

    MTA and PA real estate opportunities…

    Riel 2016


  7. Rayn Riel March 2, 2016 at 11:53 am #

    At Last, Tour Santiago Calatrava’s World Trade Center Transportation Hub
    Get a first look inside the Spanish architect’s much-anticipated $4 billion transit station
    BY AMY PLITT @PLITTER FEB 25, 2016, 1:33P



  8. John July 14, 2016 at 7:05 pm #
    mta not getting much from this deal for the old trolley terminal in the LES. as you’ve mentioned, it’s a public agency, no teeth.

    The underground area borders the 1,650,000 square feet (153,000 m2) Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, for which the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has issued an RFP. The Lowline site was not included in the RFP as it was owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The EDC later conducted a public bidding process, won by the Lowline on July 13, 2016, to develop the terminal.[11] The property will be purchased by the city from the MTA and the design coordinated with the neighboring Essex Crossing development (part of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area). Construction will depend on private fundraising by the project, public subsidies, and Uniform Land Use Review Procedure approvals for specific components.[12]


  9. Al July 29, 2016 at 1:25 pm #

    The second avenue subway will not have express tracks, because the MTA doesn’t have the money for them… but sometimes their excuse is that the street is too narrow for them! Lex is even narrower, and has express tracks on the lower level.

    BTW, lex was not originally part of the grid plan, but a developer got it built and paid for it, since he was developing land around it and wanted a street for better access:

    Both Lexington Avenue and Irving Place began in 1832 when Samuel Ruggles, a lawyer and real-estate developer, petitioned the New York State Legislature to approve the creation of a new north/south avenue between the existing Third and Fourth Avenues, between 14th and 30th Streets. Ruggles had purchased land in the area, and was developing it as a planned community of townhouses around a private park, which he called Gramercy Park. He was also developing property around the planned Union Square, and wanted the new road to improve the value of these tracts. The legislation approved, and, as the owner of most of the land along the route of the new street, Ruggles was assessed for the majority of its cost. Ruggles named the southern section, below 20th Street, which opened in 1833, after his friend Washington Irving. The northern section, which opened three years later, in 1836, was named after the Battle of Lexington in the Revolutionary War.[3][4]


    • Iona September 25, 2016 at 1:39 pm #

      Express tracks are what allow for maintenance work. We can run 24/7 because we can divert trains elsewhere due to all of the flexibility.

      But due to constant operations, hard to clean up, keep the water out… Luckily if people fall on the tracks, they don’t fall on the third rail, since it’s on the other side opposite the platform usually.


  10. Mark July 30, 2016 at 10:00 am #

    Clinton’s scandals, Bush’s embarassing speeches… nothing compared to if Trump wins. He has said he wants to hit politicians, send Hillary to the firing squad… such an evil person. Will pay legal fees for his protesters..

    Versus Obama… such an honorable man


    • Mark July 31, 2016 at 10:41 am #

      Anglo-Saxon democracies, which were never invaded in the 20th century, have produced a rich series of alternative histories of resistance. When the Nazis win the Second World War, audiences can flatter themselves that they would never have collaborated with Robert Harris’s Fatherland or Amazon’s Man in the High Castle.

      No one is more prone to imagining how well they would have behaved in conflicts that they never experienced than American conservatives. The cult of Churchill in the US would embarrass even his most devoted British admirers. From George W Bush, who placed a Jacob Epstein bust of Churchill in the Oval Office in 2001, via the CEOs who put Churchill their most admired leader, ahead of Steve Jobs, to today’s Republican leaders in Congress, the mainstream right is unanimous and unctuous in its admiration.

      In truth, they are only admiring themselves. When the House of Representatives’ leader, Paul Ryan, said that for Churchill it was an “unforgivable sin” for a politician to fail to warn the electorate about an impending threat, or when John McCain compared Barack Obama to Neville Chamberlain as he cut a deal with the Castros, they were signalling their courage. Churchill and the minority of anti-Hitler Tory and Labour MPs were abused in their own parties, and beyond, until appeasement fell apart in late 1938. No matter. Like them, today’s Republicans would rather be right than be popular.

      Donald Trump has proved that they are destined to be neither.

      I don’t throw the word “fascism” around, but can we at least accept that Trump follows the Führerprinzip? He has no colleagues, only followers. He is a racist. Not a closet racist, or a dog-whistle racist, but a racist so unabashed that the Klan endorses him. Above all, he has the swaggering dictator’s determination to bawl opponents into silence with screams of “loser”, “dummy”, “fraud”, “puppet,” “biased”, “disgusting”, “liar” and “kook”. As with the web trolls Trump so resembles, it is never the point and always the person. Female news presenters have to explain that they are not asking him difficult questions because they have “blood coming out of whatever” or surrender to him, as Megan Kelly of Fox News did to her shame. Latinos have to explain why they are not rapists and murderers or shut up and give up. Muslims have to explain that they are not terrorists or they lose the right to a hearing. At every stage, the argument is shifted on to the troll’s terrain of ethnic and religious loyalty tests. Except here the troll could become the world’s most powerful man.

      Conservatives boasted too that they knew that the old-fashioned virtues of good character mattered as much as a man or woman’s ideology. By this reckoning, Trump’s bragging, vainglory, dark fury and towering vanity should disqualify him from the presidency regardless of his politics. Republican grandees must agree with Hillary Clinton when she said: “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons”, not least because Marco Rubio, one of their own, has said as much himself. Yet McCain and Ryan, those enemies of appeasement, have folded and endorsed Trump. Rubio, that piercing judge of his character, has decided that, after all, Trump’s finger should be on the button. Presidents Bush père et fils are bravely abstaining. Bobby Jindal, who described Trump as a “narcissist and egomaniacal madman”, wants him in the White House. Nearly all the Republican names you remember follow suit. The Dick Cheneys, Rand Pauls and Condoleezza Rices are backing Trump or refusing to commit. Confronted with a dictatorial menace in their own time and their own country they lack the courage to risk the unpopularity that Churchillian dissent would bring.

      Even when Trump followed his years of promoting the interests of a dictator of a hostile foreign power by urging Vladimir Putin to hack Clinton’s emails, they held steady in their cowardice. The Republicans, the party of red-baiters and Cold Warriors, is now in the pocket of a Kremlin “useful idiot” and the best its national security conservatives can manage are embarrassed mutters.

      Only Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz openly oppose him, among prominent Republicans. And when a once mighty political movement relies on Cruz to uphold its honour it is so deep in the dustbin of history it is already composting.

      My friend and comrade, the American journalist Jamie Kirchick, coined the phrase “Vichy Republicans” to describe its leaders. They don’t quite support Trump, you understand, but you surely can’t expect them to oppose him either. It is not as if America is under occupation. It is not as if the man in the high tower will order the secret police to herd them on to cattle trucks. The only suffering they will face is challenges in Republican primaries and many won’t even face that.

      A little fear goes a long way. Just the possibility of being told off for challenging a candidate that they fear to be mentally unstable has been enough to persuade them to conform.

      Optimists say that America’s founding fathers designed its constitution to cage men such as Trump. “An elective despotism was not the government we fought for,” said James Madison in 1788, “but one in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among the several bodies of magistracy as that no one could transcend their legal limits.”

      But where are Madison’s checks today? Trump has already made his contempt for judicial independence clear by race-baiting and bullying a judge who was investigating one of the many accusations of fraud against him.

      As for the legislature, a Trump victory would ensure a Republican-dominated Congress – those same Republicans who are too frightened to raise a word of protest against him today.

      Compare them to the British Labour MPs fighting Jeremy Corbyn. They are everything that conservatives despise: hand-wringingly PC, eco-conscious, emotionally literate, bleeding-heart do-gooders every last one of them. Christ, some of them may even read the Observer. But after the killing of Jo Cox by an alleged rightwing extremist, Angela Eagle, Jess Phillips and all the other anti-Corbyn MPs who are speaking out know that the death and rape threats from left-wing extremists may not just be bluster.

      They are showing true courage. Not just moral courage but physical courage. A courage that those American conservatives, who are so loud in the determination to fight the threats of the past, and so silent before the dangers of the present, entirely lack.


      • Mark July 31, 2016 at 11:13 am #


    • Gettz September 25, 2016 at 10:40 pm #

      When Donald Trump began his improbable run for president 15 months ago, he offered his wealth and television celebrity as credentials, then slyly added a twist of fearmongering about Mexican “rapists” flooding across the Southern border.
      From that moment of combustion, it became clear that Mr. Trump’s views were matters of dangerous impulse and cynical pandering rather than thoughtful politics. Yet he has attracted throngs of Americans who ascribe higher purpose to him than he has demonstrated in a freewheeling campaign marked by bursts of false and outrageous allegations, personal insults, xenophobic nationalism, unapologetic sexism and positions that shift according to his audience and his whims.

      Now here stands Mr. Trump, feisty from his runaway Republican primary victories and ready for the first presidential debate, scheduled for Monday night, with Hillary Clinton. It is time for others who are still undecided, and perhaps hoping for some dramatic change in our politics and governance, to take a hard look and see Mr. Trump for who he is. They have an obligation to scrutinize his supposed virtues as a refreshing counterpolitician. Otherwise, they could face the consequences of handing the White House to a man far more consumed with himself than with the nation’s well-being.

      Here’s how Mr. Trump is selling himself and why he can’t be believed
      A financial wizard who can bring executive magic to government?

      Despite his towering properties, Mr. Trump has a record rife with bankruptcies and sketchy ventures like Trump University, which authorities are investigating after numerous complaints of fraud. His name has been chiseled off his failed casinos in Atlantic City.
      Mr. Trump’s brazen refusal to disclose his tax returns — as Mrs. Clinton and other nominees for decades have done — should sharpen voter wariness of his business and charitable operations. Disclosure would undoubtedly raise numerous red flags; the public record already indicates that in at least some years he made full use of available loopholes and paid no taxes.

      Mr. Trump has been opaque about his questionable global investments in Russia and elsewhere, which could present conflicts of interest as president, particularly if his business interests are left in the hands of his children, as he intends. Investigations have found self-dealing. He notably tapped $258,000 in donors’ money from his charitable foundation to settle lawsuits involving his for-profit businesses, according to The Washington Post.

      A straight talker who tells it like it is?

      Mr. Trump, who has no experience in national security, declares that he has a plan to soundly defeat the Islamic State militants in Syria, but won’t reveal it, bobbing and weaving about whether he would commit ground troops. Voters cannot judge whether he has any idea what he’s talking about without an outline of his plan, yet Mr. Trump ludicrously insists he must not tip off the enemy.

      Another of his cornerstone proposals — his campaign pledge of a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim newcomers plus the deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants across a border wall paid for by Mexico — has been subjected to endless qualifications as he zigs and zags in pursuit of middle-ground voters.

      Whatever his gyrations, Mr. Trump always does make clear where his heart lies — with the anti-immigrant, nativist and racist signals that he scurrilously employed to build his base.

      He used the shameful “birther” campaign against President Obama’s legitimacy as a wedge for his candidacy. But then he opportunistically denied his own record, trolling for undecided voters by conceding that Mr. Obama was a born American. In the process he tried to smear Mrs. Clinton as the instigator of the birther canard and then fled reporters’ questions.

      Since his campaign began, NBC News has tabulated that Mr. Trump has made 117 distinct policy shifts on 20 major issues, including three contradictory views on abortion in one eight-hour stretch. As reporters try to pin down his contradictions, Mr. Trump has mocked them at his rallies. He said he would “loosen” libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations that displease him.

      An expert negotiator who can fix government and overpower other world leaders?

      His plan for cutting the national debt was far from a confidence builder: He said he might try to persuade creditors to accept less than the government owed. This fanciful notion, imported from Mr. Trump’s debt-steeped real estate world, would undermine faith in the government and the stability of global financial markets. His tax-cut plan has been no less alarming. It was initially estimated to cost $10 trillion in tax revenue, then, after revisions, maybe $3 trillion, by one adviser’s estimate. There is no credible indication of how this would be paid for — only assurances that those in the upper brackets will be favored.

      If Mr. Trump were to become president, his open doubts about the value of NATO would present a major diplomatic and security challenge, as would his repeated denunciations of trade deals and relations with China. Mr. Trump promises to renegotiate the Iran nuclear control agreement, as if it were an air-rights deal on Broadway. Numerous experts on national defense and international affairs have recoiled at the thought of his commanding the nuclear arsenal. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell privately calledMr. Trump “an international pariah.” Mr. Trump has repeatedly denounced global warming as a “hoax,” although a golf course he owns in Ireland is citing global warming in seeking to build a protective wall against a rising sea.

      In expressing admiration for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, Mr. Trump implies acceptance of Mr. Putin’s dictatorial abuse of critics and dissenters, some of whom have turned up murdered, and Mr. Putin’s vicious crackdown on the press. Even worse was Mr. Trump’s urging Russiato meddle in the presidential campaign by hacking the email of former Secretary of State Clinton. Voters should consider what sort of deals Mr. Putin might obtain if Mr. Trump, his admirer, wins the White House.

      A change agent for the nation and the world?

      There can be little doubt of that. But voters should be asking themselves if Mr. Trump will deliver the kind of change they want. Starting a series of trade wars is a recipe for recession, not for new American jobs. Blowing a hole in the deficit by cutting taxes for the wealthy will not secure Americans’ financial future, and alienating our allies won’t protect our security. Mr. Trump has also said he will get rid of the new national health insurance system that millions now depend on, without saying how he would replace it.

      The list goes on: He would scuttle the financial reforms and consumer protections born of the Great Recession. He would upend the Obama administration’s progress on the environment, vowing to “cancel the Paris climate agreement” on global warming. He would return to the use of waterboarding, a torture method, in violation of international treaty law. He has blithely called for reconsideration of Japan’s commitment not to develop nuclear weapons. He favors a national campaign of “stop and frisk” policing, which has been ruled unconstitutional. He has blessed the National Rifle Association’s ambition to arm citizens to engage in what he imagines would be defensive “shootouts” with gunmen. He has so coarsened our politics that he remains a contender for the presidency despite musing about his opponent as a gunshot target.

      Voters should also consider Mr. Trump’s silence about areas of national life that are crying out for constructive change: How would he change our schools for the better? How would he lift more Americans out of poverty? How would his condescending appeal to black voters — a cynical signal to white moderates concerned about his racist supporters — translate into credible White House initiatives to promote racial progress? How would his call to monitor and even close some mosques affect the nation’s life and global reputation? Would his Supreme Court nominees be zealous, self-certain extensions of himself? In all these areas, Mrs. Clinton has offered constructive proposals. He has offered bluster, or nothing. The most specific domestic policy he has put forward, on tax breaks for child care, would tilt toward the wealthy.

      Voters attracted by the force of the Trump personality should pause and take note of the precise qualities he exudes as an audaciously different politician: bluster, savage mockery of those who challenge him, degrading comments about women, mendacity, crude generalizations about nations and religions. Our presidents are role models for generations of our children. Is this the example we want for them?


  11. Jinxor September 8, 2016 at 8:22 pm #

    Run for office, Mr. Riel!!! Be for riel!!!,_2013


  12. Felix September 25, 2016 at 5:51 pm #

    MTA does not need to follow local zoning OR pay local property taxes. It is a public authority. It is supposed to be independent. They should be acting as a top tier real estate developer. Or selling, selling, selling, if they don’t have the expertise to develop property. Or working with the city to create value capture districts, transit improvement zoning incentives, etc.

    But, Cuomo and De Blasio dislike each other, and now the MTA and NYCDOT are fighting for limited resources. No wonder they don’t like sharing data, if it can be used for one of them to apply for limited grant money. NY is a rat race city for politicians too. City says MTA does not pay property taxes and if MTA leases out to tenants, it’s unfair because City doesn’t collect money for “transit improvements”, while MTA is making money from tenants for their transit improvements!

    And then there’s the NIMBYists who don’t want any development near tracks parking lots, along corridors… they just want their one-story “Amshack” and a huge parking lot, even though autonomous vehicles will soon make those parking lots irrelevant because people will just car pool to the station and then the car will autonomously return to pick up more people.

    God forbid the MTA try to be a real estate developer and make some cash so that you don’t have higher fares!

    Here’s some articles:

    State Law on MTA Zoning Exemption Irks Local Governments

    Updated June 7, 2016 5:58 p.m. ET

    New York City and other local governments across the region are upset over a provision tucked into the state budget that appears to exempt the Metropolitan Transportation Authority from local laws and zoning rules for any property it redevelops.

    Local officials say they are concerned the MTA, with its vast needs to raise revenue to cover its rising costs, could lease land it controls to developers for multistory commercial developments—and without local review.

    “It is really a radical change,” said Carl Weisbrod, chairman of the New York City Planning Commission. “It would let the MTA do whatever it wanted irrespective of zoning and community input.”

    Under the law, development projects such as an apartment house on land owned and leased by the MTA could be exempt from local property taxes and not contribute to the cost of services for the new residents, officials said.

    MTA officials said they believed the agency already had the legal authority to override local zoning and was merely clarifying its powers.

    ‘It is really a radical change.’
    —Carl Weisbrod, chairman of the New York City Planning Commission

    In practice, MTA officials say that the authority has worked collaboratively over the years with local officials on projects, from the Hudson Yards district on the far West Side of Manhattan to residential and commercial projects near suburban train stations.

    “The city’s interpretation is extreme and its concern is unwarranted,” said Stephen Morello, an MTA spokesman.

    But the legislation comes at a time when real-estate values have risen sharply in many parts of the region, and the MTA is looking for new ways to raise revenue to support its operations.

    In Nassau County, local elected officials called for a meeting Tuesday night in Freeport to rally behind efforts to repeal the measure.

    “They could take the parking lot right next to the station and put up a five-story building,” said Robert T. Kennedy, mayor of the village of Freeport. “They could build stores next to and under the railroad tracks.”

    ‘The city’s interpretation is extreme and its concern is unwarranted.’
    —MTA spokesman

    Much of the resistance to the measure came after New York City officials spotted the new language in a review of state budget legislation passed April 1. State law long has exempted the MTA from local zoning requirements on facilities for “transportation or transit purposes.”

    But the new law redefined such purposes to include not only direct support for trains and buses but all efforts that indirectly benefit transportation by providing revenue to cover their costs.

    Peter A. Baynes, executive director of the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials, said that in a conference call with 30 local officials, some expressed concern about the installation of tall cellphone towers on suburban railroad rights of way. Others wondered about control of redevelopment near train stations. “There are tracks everywhere and people were really concerned,” he said.

    In late May, Assemblyman James F. Brennan, a Brooklyn Democrat, introduced legislation to repeal the new measure.

    Mr. Brennan said it was designed to encourage cooperation between the MTA and local government, but could be interpreted to allow projects to “have an indirect bypass of local zoning.”

    In a legislative memo supporting repeal, New York City suggested that the transportation authority could even go into the real-estate-development business to raise money. It could rent a commercial office building from a private owner, get a property-tax exemption, then sublease it to another private entity, the city memo said.

    In its memo, the city cited concern the city would lose the power to review the planned redevelopment of the former MTA headquarters at 347 Madison Ave. near Grand Central Terminal.

    Under current plans, the developer would be required to submit plans to the city planning commission and City Council to qualify for a zoning bonus that would allow it build higher than otherwise allowed.

    Rather than sell the property, the MTA has decided to give a developer, Boston Properties, a 99-year lease.

    The MTA says no changes to these procedures are planned. But city officials worry the law could weaken its position in future negotiations with the authority.

    City Official Questions MTA Property Deal

    Feb. 24, 2016 7:30 p.m. ET

    A deal to redevelop the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s former headquarters was put on hold after a top New York City official questioned whether a private developer should be able to avoid paying potentially hundreds of millions in city taxes.

    At issue is a deal under which Boston Properties would build a new midtown Manhattan skyscraper on the site of the authority’s Madison Avenue office buildings near Grand Central Terminal.

    The MTA on Wednesday put off approving on the deal’s initial terms after Polly Trottenberg, the city’s transportation commissioner and a member of the authority’s 21-member board, sought to delay a vote until next month.

    Ms. Trottenberg questioned “whether you’re unfairly letting them get out of paying their property taxes. A private entity should pay.”

    The city would otherwise expect to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in property tax revenue over the course of the proposed 99-year lease, depending on how large the skyscraper winds up being built, she said.

    A Boston Properties spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

    The developer would pay so-called PILOTs, or payments in lieu of taxes, to the MTA, which is exempt from city property taxes and would continue to own the property leased to Boston Properties.

    The MTA said those payments were currently valued at more than $1 billion over the course of its 99-year lease.

    The objections by Ms. Trottenberg called into question, at least for now, a chunk of funding for major construction and repair projects.

    The MTA said it expected the deal in part to contribute $110 million toward its 2015-2019 capital plan. Funding for the $26 billion plan remains uncertain.

    Ms. Trottenberg said the city’s questions weren’t related to a long-standing dispute between Mayor Bill de Blasio, her boss, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who in effect controls the state-run MTA.

    “This is just something we need a little time clarifying,” she said.


  13. Al October 15, 2016 at 5:41 pm #

    Rainwater collection from roofs!!!


  14. Jeorg October 21, 2016 at 1:54 pm #

    The Gimbels Passageway and passageway to Bryant Park, built when the IRT 6th Avenue was torn down, should be reopened and paid for by developers similar to Turn-Style at Columbus Circle. Let them lease it out and put in shops and restaurants. Huge potential.

    And, other retail outlets…

    But, look at the potential for ADS here!

    They are doing planned work… what about adding ads to columns?

    We need visionary thinking if we are going to keep building forward… the Triboro RX ROW:

    just one track, not electrified… many challenges. but, we have received railroad ROW before, such as rockaways, and the 63rd street F tunnel has LIRR tracks below… we can coordinate!


  15. Gringo October 28, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

    All of this TOD is not necessarily possible because MNR does not own Grand Central. We are lucky Amtrak owns Penn. There are so many complicated ownership agreements these days. For instance…

    The New Haven Line is operated through a partnership between Metro-North and the State of Connecticut. The Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) owns the tracks and stations within Connecticut, and finances and performs capital improvements. MTA owns the tracks and stations and handles capital improvements within New York State. MTA performs routine maintenance and provides police services for the entire line, its branches and stations. New cars and locomotives are typically purchased in a joint agreement between MTA and ConnDOT, with the agencies paying for 33.3% and 66.7% of costs respectively. ConnDOT pays more because most of the line is in Connecticut.

    (The Shore Line doesn’t go to NY, and therefore is not part of Metro-North, just like NJT NEC doesn’t go to Philly, and isn’t part of SEPTA. Amtrak actually operates SLE for CT. Unfortunately commuters go between political boundaries but often mass transit does not, for costs and other issues that make things more complicated.)

    Collaboration raises costs. Institutional structures discourage innovation and collaboration. So, no universal farecards, coordinated operations between modes, across boundaries.

    Here is a great map, unfortunately our agencies don’t combine their services into this:

    Now, the MTA is governed by the State. If NYC governed it, I am not sure if NYC would have enough funding to operate them without Albany’s assistance? Also, because NYCTA is within the MTA, B&T revenue subsidizes mass transit. And I’m not sure if De Blasio would do a better job, considering his BQX ideas. Would the City really invest more than the State? Plenty of parts of the City that the City does not invest in. I guess the State could give grants to the City for the subway, as they do for NYCDOT. But… Over all, I think we need more REGIONAL planning, not more municipal planning. We should have a state boundary that encompasses part of NJ and CT to get rid of these problems.

    PS: Not talking about this shore line:


  16. Jingles9 October 28, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

    During winter weather, cold temperatures damage the trains, and snow means coordinating shoveling efforts, salt, sand. Some diesel trains sprinkle sand in front of the tracks so they don’t start skidding. Leaves also cause problems. Ice can impact third rail. Make them broken. Damage signals. Embankments and cuts are the worst for snow; on elevateds, it just blows off. So these embankments should be decked! Or at least buy the air rights like Penn did.

    But the MTA has no incentive, resource, expertise to develop property, you are right. They also will deal with NIMBYists who will fight against density, and most buildings aren’t going to be built more than a few stories, so it may not be worth it in low-value areas…

    The AirTrain was built along the highway, which is OK, but many subway and light rail systems are expanding along highway corridors, such as in D.C., Los Angeles, and Portland, limiting accessibility due to NIMBYists

    D.C. has all those stupid height restrictions… San Francisco is even worse…


  17. yu December 18, 2017 at 11:21 pm #

    From Smart Growth USA… we need:

    1. Mix land uses
    Mixing land uses means building homes, offices, schools, parks, shops, restaurants, and other types of development near one another—on the same block or even within the same building.
    Mixed land uses bring more people to a neighborhood at a variety of times of day, which can support businesses, improve safety, and enhance the vitality of an area. Mixing land uses also makes it possible for people to live closer to where they work or run errands, and means they don’t need to drive a car to get there. Mixed-use neighborhoods are in-demand, meaning this approach can boost property values and keep them stable, protecting the investment of homeowners as well as tax revenues for municipalities.

    2. Take advantage of compact design
    Compact design means making more efficient use of land that has already been developed. Encouraging development to grow up, rather than out, is one way to do this. Infill development—building on empty or underutilized lots—is another. Building within an existing neighborhood can attract more people to the jobs, homes, and businesses already there while also making the most of public investments in things like water and sewer lines, roads, and emergency services.

    3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
    Building quality housing for families of all life stages and income levels is an integral part of a smart growth approach. Housing constitutes a significant share of new construction and development in any city, but its economic importance is sometimes overlooked. Adding housing in commercial districts can breathe new life into these neighborhoods in evenings and on weekends. And more importantly, the housing options available in a community will influence families’ economic opportunities, costs of living, and how much time they spend commuting each day. Diversifying housing options within existing neighborhoods can give everyone more choices about where to live.

    4. Create walkable neighborhoods
    Walkable neighborhoods are in high demand across the country and it’s hardly a mystery why. Walking is a convenient, affordable, and healthy way to get around that never goes out of style—so long as people can do it safely and conveniently. Walkable places are created in part by mixing land uses and taking advantage of compact design, but are activated by smart street design that makes walking not only practical but safe and convenient to enjoy.

    5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
    Unique, interesting places that reflect the diverse values, culture, and heritage of the people who live there have the greatest staying power. Projects and neighborhoods that incorporate natural features, historic structures, public art, and placemaking can help distinguish a place from its neighbors to attract new residents and visitors, and support a vibrant community for the people who already live there.

    6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
    Preserving open spaces like prairie, wetlands, parks, and farms is both an environmental issue and economic issue. People across the country want access to natural recreation areas, which translates into demand for housing and tourism. Meeting that demand improves a city’s ability to attract employers, while also supporting agricultural industries. Preserving open spaces can also make communities more resilient, protecting them from natural disasters, combating air pollution, controling wind, providing erosion control, moderating temperatures, protecting water quality, and protecting animal and plant habitats.

    7. Direct development towards existing communities
    Developing within existing communities—rather than building on previously undeveloped land—makes the most of the investments we’ve already made in roads, bridges, water pipes, and other infrastructure, while strengthening local tax bases and protecting open space. Regulations, zoning, and other public policies sometimes make this approach unnecessarily difficult for developers, however. Local leaders can and should change policy to encourage development within existing neighborhoods.

    8. Provide a variety of transportation choices
    Providing a variety of transportation choices—high-quality public transportation, safe and convenient biking and walking infrastructure, and well-maintained roads and bridges— helps communities to attract talent, to compete on a global scale, and to improve the day-to-day lives of their residents. To make this happen, elected leaders and transportation agencies must change how they prioritize, select, invest in, build, and measure transportation projects at the local, regional, and nationwide level.

    9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective
    Developers play a crucial role in how towns and cities are built. Many developers who want to build walkable, urban places but are thwarted by restrictive regulations or complicated approval processes. Municipalities interested in encouraging smart growth development can and should examine their regulations and streamline the project permitting and approval process so that development decisions are more timely, cost-effective, and predictable for developers. By creating a supportive environment for development of innovative, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use projects, government can provide smart growth leadership for the private sector.

    10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions
    Every community has different needs, and meeting those needs requires a different approach from place to place. Communities suffering from disinvestment may need to focus on encouraging development downtown; communities with robust economic growth may need to focus on addressing social equity. The common thread is that the needs of every community and the strategies to address them are best defined by the people who live and work there.
    Smart growth is not possible without the perspective of everyone with a vested interest in a town, city, or neighborhood. Smart growth is about building a future for a community that everyone can participate in, and gathering the ideas, feedback, and support of everyone in a community is the only way to do that. This process is not only inclusive and equitable, it also will give projects built-in support and staying power.

    Smart growth is a way to build cities, towns, and neighborhoods that are economically prosperous, socially equitable, and environmentally sustainable.

    Smart Growth America works with elected officials, real estate developers, chambers of commerce, transportation and urban planning professionals, governors, and leaders in Washington to improve everyday life for people across the country through better development.

    Neighborhoods shape our lives. They are where we wake up each morning and go to work each day, where our children learn and grow, and where we spend time with our friends and family. Where we live can influence our health, our economic potential, and our children’s futures.

    Everyone in America—no matter his or her age, ability, income, or race—deserves the option to live somewhere affordable, convenient, beautiful, and safe. And America’s towns and cities deserve investment, stewardship, and supportive, thriving communities. A smart growth approach to development is about creating the places that make this possible.

    Smart growth means reinvesting in America’s downtowns and Main Streets, the economic engines of big cities and small towns alike. Smart growth means creating homes for families of all income levels alongside one another. Smart growth means diversifying our transportation system so Americans have a choice in how they get around. Smart growth means building streets that are safe for people walking, bicycling or using a wheelchair, as well as driving. Smart growth means reimagining the places we have already built, and protecting our open green spaces for generations to come.

    Above all, smart growth is about helping every town and city become a more economically prosperous, socially equitable, and environmentally sustainable place to live. This approach looks different for every community, but can help neighborhoods of any kind flourish, make towns and cities competitive in a 21st century economy, and improve lives by improving neighborhoods.

    Smart Growth America works with everyone involved in the process of urban planning and development to think strategically about building better towns and cities.

    We work with local elected leaders to improve public policy and help their municipalities be more attractive, competitive, vibrant, and prosperous—no matter if it’s a big urban city or small rural town.

    We work with real estate developers and investors to capitalize on market demand for homes and offices in walkable neighborhoods.

    We work with economic development agencies to provide innovative strategies for place-based economic development.

    We work with transportation engineers and departments of transportation to provide the people they serve with cheaper, safer, and more convenient ways to travel.

    We work with federal agencies and members of Congress to make sure national programs and policies support local community development efforts.

    We conduct research and analysis to help advocates across the country understand the benefits of using a smart growth approach, and to encourage other people in their communities to do the same.

    Federal policy influences development across the country, and Smart Growth America works with members of Congress and the presidential administration to make sure these policies support economically strong, socially equitable, and environmentally sustainable communities. Below is an overview of our policy priorities.

    A more balanced transportation system
    Transportation drives development, and the transportation system we build dictates the shape of real estate. For the past several decades federal transportation investments have focused primarily on building roads, as the market wanted. However, this has resulted in an over-supply of “drivable suburban” development.

    Today’s real estate market is different, with consistently strong demand for homes and offices in walkable urban places — which are in short supply. Federal transportation investments should shift to reflect these changes in the market, and direct a greater portion of funding toward building transit, regional rail, and infrastructure for bicycling and walking. Smart Growth America supports changes to the federal surface transportation bill that reflect these goals.

    New ways to finance development near transit
    One of the best ways to meet demand for homes and offices in walkable neighborhoods—and to make the most of the infrastructure we already have—is to build new development near existing transit stations. Developers want to build these projects, but securing the financing for them can be complicated and sometimes unworkable.

    The federal government could help communities overcome these barriers by creating new ways to finance development near transit. Federally backed loans or loan guarantees, which are paid back by developers, would address a shortcoming in the credit market and allow developers to better meet demand for homes and offices near transit.

    In 2015, as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the federal government successfully created two new financing options for development near transit.Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loans, through the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Railroad Rehabilitation Innovative Financing (RRIF) loans, through the Federal Railroad Administration, can now be used for real estate development near transit.

    Cleaning up and redeveloping brownfields
    When industrial tenants, like a gas station or factory, shut down, they often leave behind contaminated land that must be cleaned up before it can be redeveloped. Hampered by costly and complicated cleanup requirements, these “brownfield” sites can sit idle for decades, missing opportunities for redevelopment while dragging down property values and scaring off other development in the area.

    Federal programs and tax incentives already facilitate re-investment in blighted or contaminated properties. Smart Growth America supports the continuation and expansion of these programs, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields program, Section 198 of the U.S. tax code (the Remediation Tax Expensing Program), and programs that would support innovative financing for brownfields cleanup. Read more ››

    A tax code that supports balanced housing choices
    Federal tax credits and deductions help millions of American homeowners. They are a crucial part of supporting America’s middle class, providing a financing safety for working families, and protecting the investments in the neighborhoods we all share.

    As they are currently structured, however, federal programs penalize families who rent, favor single-family homes over other types, and provide financial incentives to purchase second homes when many families still struggle to buy their first. In addition, most funding goes to a small proportion of households. Ultimately, there are many policies blocking the market forces that incentivize growth, while housing programs fail to adequately support existing neighborhoods.

    LOCUS, our coalition of responsible real estate developers and investors, supports several changes to federal housing programs and tax policy to address these problems, including preserving and increasing the Housing Tax Credit, improving the Rehabilitation Tax Credit, establishing individual Mortgage Savings Accounts, and modifying the Mortgage Interest Deduction. We outline these and other proposals in our 2013 report Federal Involvement in Real Estate: A Call for Action and the 2016 paper The Unintended Consequences of Housing Finance, in partnership with the Regional Plan Association.

    Arts & Culture ››
    Arts and culture can serve as an organizing force for residents, business owners, and other stakeholders to work towards strengthening neighborhoods, by revealing the authentic character of communities, and by connecting citizens with decision makers to collectively pursue smart, equitable policies and projects.

    Governors’ Institute on Community Design ››
    Advises governors and state leaders as they seek to guide growth and development in their states. The Institute brings together leading practitioners and academicians in the fields of government, design, development, and regional economics to help each state’s executive team make informed choices as they shape the future of their states.

    Innovative State Transportation Policy ››
    Smart Growth America works in partnership with governors, DOTs, and other transportation providers to improve safety, enhance economic opportunity, improve reliability, preserve system assets, accelerate project delivery, and help to create healthier, more livable neighborhoods. We do this by analyzing transportation agencies’ rules and culture, pinpointing hidden obstacles to developing projects that grow economies and maximize return on investment, and identifying ways to remove those barriers.

    Local Leaders Council ››
    A nonpartisan, diverse group of municipal officials who share a passion for building great towns, cities, and communities. The Council supports those who are implementing smart growth strategies and advises Smart Growth America about how state and federal decisions affect local communities.

    LOCUS ››
    A national coalition of real estate developers and investors who advocate for sustainable, equitable, walkable development in America’s metropolitan areas.

    National Complete Streets Coalition ››
    Promotes the development and implementation of policies and professional practices that ensure streets are safe for people of all ages and abilities, balance the needs of different modes, and support local land uses, economies, cultures, and natural environments.

    Rural Development ››
    Designed to help local leaders strengthen rural economies through a smart growth approach to development. This program provides rural residents and leaders with better information about the financial and economic impacts of development choices.

    State Smart Transportation Initiative ››
    The State Smart Transportation Initiative works with governors, state DOT CEOs, and other transportation stakeholders to promote transportation practices that advance environmental sustainability and equitable economic development, while maintaining high standards of governmental efficiency and transparency.

    Technical Assistance ››
    Smart Growth America helps communities plan for smarter, strategic growth as an investment for their future. We teach local leaders about the technical aspects of smart growth development, and provide customized advice on how communities can use smart growth strategies to their advantage. ››
    A project of the Federal Transit Administration administered by Smart Growth America, this program provides on-the-ground and online technical assistance to support transit-oriented development, improve access to public transportation, and build new economic opportunities and pathways to employment for local communities.

    Transportation for America ››
    An alliance of elected, business and civic leaders from communities across the country, united to ensure that states and the federal government step up to invest in smart, homegrown, locally-driven transportation solutions. These are the investments that hold the key to our future economic prosperity.

    Can they do this in Florida for the Brightline, it’s so noisy and the bridges with Coast Guard issues cause problems though

    Now… does smart growth keep people from being lonely? Who knows, dense cities can be lonely places too.
    Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent.


  18. Hux December 24, 2017 at 9:19 pm #


    One kind of regulation that was actually intended to harm the poor, and especially poor minorities, was zoning. The ostensible reason for zoning was to address unhealthy conditions in cities by functionally separating land uses, which is called “exclusionary zoning.” But prior to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, some municipalities had race-based exclusionary land-use regulations. Early in the 20th century, several California cities masked their racist intent by specifically excluding laundry businesses, predominantly Chinese owned, from certain areas of the cities.

    Today, of course, explicitly race-based, exclusionary zoning policies are illegal. But some zoning regulations nevertheless price certain demographics out of particular neighborhoods by forbidding multifamily dwellings, which are more affordable to low- or middle-income individuals. When the government artificially separates land uses and forbids building certain kinds of residences in entire districts, it restricts the supply of housing and increases the cost of the land, and the price of housing reflects those restrictions.

    Moreover, when cities implement zoning rules that make it difficult to secure permits to build new housing, land that is already developed becomes more valuable because you no longer need a permit. The demand for such developed land is therefore artificially higher, and that again raises its price.

    Minimum lot sizes

    Other things equal, the larger the lot, the more you’ll pay for it. Regulations that specify minimum lot sizes — that say you can’t build on land smaller than that minimum — increase prices. Regulations that forbid building more units on a given-size lot have the same effect: they restrict supply and make housing more expensive.

    People who already live there may only want to preserve their lifestyle. But whether they intend to or not (and many certainly do so intend) the effect of these regulations is to exclude lower-income families. Where do they go? Where they aren’t excluded — usually poorer neighborhoods. But that increases the demand for housing in poorer neighborhoods, where prices will tend to be higher than they would have been.

    And it’s not just middle-class families that do this. Very wealthy residents of exclusive neighborhoods and districts also have an incentive to support limits on construction in order to maintain their preferred lifestyle and to keep out the upper-middle-class hoi polloi. Again, the latter then go elsewhere, very often to lower-income neighborhoods — Williamsburg in Brooklyn is a recent example — where they buy more-affordable housing and drive up prices. Those who complain about well-off people moving into poor neighborhoods — a phenomenon known as “gentrification” — may very well have minimum-lot-size and maximum-density regulations to thank.

    When government has the authority to restrict building and development, established residents of all income levels will use that power to protect their wealth.

    Parking requirements

    Another land-use regulation that makes space more expensive is municipal requirements that establish a minimum number of parking spaces per housing unit.
    According Donald Shoup’s analysis, parking requirements add significantly to the cost of housing, particularly in areas with high land values. For example, in Los Angeles, parking requirements can add $104,000 to the cost of each apartment. Parking requirements limit consumers’ choices and increase the cost of housing even for those who prefer not to pay for parking.

    Developers typically build only the minimum amount of parking required by law, which indicates that those requirements are binding. That is, in a less-regulated environment, developers would devote less land to parking and more land to living space. A greater supply of living space will, other things equal, lower the cost of housing.

    Smart-growth regulations

    In the 1970s, municipalities enacted new rules that were designed to protect farmland and to preserve green space surrounding rapidly growing cities by forbidding private development in those areas. By the late 1990s, this practice evolved into a land-use strategy called “smart growth.” (Here’s a video I did about smart growth.) While some of these initiatives may have preserved green space that can be seen, what is harder to see is the resulting supply restriction and higher cost of housing.

    Again, the lower the supply of housing, other things equal, the higher real-estate prices will be. Those who now can’t afford to buy will often rent smaller apartments in less-desirable areas, which typically have less influence on the political process. Locally elected officials tend to be more responsive to the interests of current residents who own property, vote, and pay taxes, and less responsive to renters, who are more likely to be transients and nonvoters. That, in turn, makes it easier to implement policies that use regulation to discriminate against people living on low incomes.


    Zoning, minimum lot sizes, minimum parking requirements, and smart-growth regulations demonstrably and significantly increase the cost of housing for everyone by raising construction costs and restricting the supply of housing.

    The average household in the United States today, rich or poor, spends about a third of its income on housing. But higher home prices hit lower-income households disproportionately hard because a dollar increase in housing expenditure represents a larger percentage of a poorer household’s budget. Indeed, the bottom 20 percent of households spends around 40 percent of income on housing.

    In other words, these land-use regulations are unfairly regressive. Relaxing or even removing them would be a step toward achieving greater equity.

    In the past, private companies ran the trains, interurbans, trolleys and buses. They were usually able to make a profit providing freedom and personal mobility to people of all ages and income levels. Then the government interfered in the market, forcing operators to charge fares that were too low, and subsidizing roads, garages and oil so that private cars had an unfair advantage. The private operators went out of business, and since then a skeleton transit system has been operated by the government at great public expense.
    Government subsidy of driving has also destroyed our traditional small towns and cities, leaving hard-working families with a difficult choice between long drives and a gentrified urban lifestyle surrounded by intellectuals and criminals.

    A conservative solution would gradually phase out driving subsidies and allow entrepreneurs to start new bus and train services. As publicly-owned transit routes become more profitable, they could be sold off to the highest bidder.



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