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February 23, 2011

Real public works (transportation), the mis-described "wave of development" (as of 2007), and Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

At the panel Roads to Nowhere: Public Works in a Time of Crisis, last night at the Museum of the City of New York, the discussion focused on the Access to the Region's Core (ARC) train tunnel between New Jersey and New York vetoed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the Second Avenue Subway, and relatively smaller fixes like Bus Rapid Transit.

All of those are infrastructure projects that drive development. None are mega-projects like Atlantic Yards, run by a single private developer. (Atlantic Yards would add a transit entrance to an existing station, thus mainly serving the arena, and an upgraded but smaller railyard, not previously requested by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.)

Why did Christie act? Jeff Zupan of the Regional Plan Association suggested it was a matter of politics, as he had inherited a project approved by his predecessor: "politicians are always thinking about cutting a ribbon in their terms in office."

Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development added that Christie was elected by South Jersey drivers, not North Jersey transit riders. She argued that transit advocates had done too little to build a base of public support. (Also see Benjamin Kabak's good summary on Second Avenue Sagas.)

That "wave of development"

I couldn't help but think back on a misguided 1/1/07 New York Times overview, headlined Wave of Development, Cleared for Takeoff:

City, state and federal agencies granted final approvals last month to a half-dozen wide-ranging projects in a political aligning of the stars that will promote New York City's most ambitious economic development agenda in decades.

Approval or financing was given to a Second Avenue subway; an extension of the Flushing Line to the Far West Side; a spur to connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal; financing for tens of thousands of apartments for low- and moderate-income residents; the Atlantic Yards complex near Downtown Brooklyn, which includes a new home for the basketball Nets; and even the bus-stop shelters and public toilets that New Yorkers and visitors have demanded for years.

Yes, the subway and LIRR projects would build important infrastructure to boost economic development, but bus shelters (where) and public toilets (where?) do not economic development make.

Nor does the long-delayed arena. The surrounding office space, once promoted as home to 10,000 jobs, had already been severely reduced, and the one planned office tower is on indefinite hold.

And the Times's curious formulation--"financing for tens of thousands of" subsidized apartments--mis-described a revision in the 421-a tax incentive program, which instead led to a rush to get all market-rate buildings started, and produced hundreds of stalled development sites.
...

An AY footnote

At the end of the program, the panelists were asked about their commutes. Byron said her bicycle commute to Pratt had been "severely compromised" by the closing of the Carlton Avenue Bridge for the Atlantic Yards project--an example of the potential tension between real estate development and transportation.

A bike lane footnote

Asked about issues of walking and biking, Zupan commented, "we have the specter of a former DOT [Department of Transportation] commissioner [Iris Weinshall] suing the city because they're putting a bike lane in Brooklyn--that's horrible."

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Posted by eric at February 23, 2011 10:11 AM