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Aug. 3, 2004.

Market-based Solutions for
Urban Transportation Concerns

Comments at June 5, 2003 Scoping Hearing on
Generic Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed #7 Subway Extension B
Hudson Yards Rezoning and Development Program

By George Haikalis
Institute for Rational Urban Mobility
The critical first step for improving access to the West Midtown area is to construct vision42 -- a river-to-river surface light rail transit line in an auto-free 42nd Street. A modern low-floor light rail line would offer easy access across the northern half of the Far West Midtown development area, directly serving the Hudson River ferries, the Circle Line and World Yacht Piers, the Intrepid Museum, an expanded Javits Center and the many existing and planned residential developments in the corridor. It would link these traffic generators with the cultural and tourist attractions further east along 42nd Street, two key commuter terminals, and all the major subway lines. An auto-free 42nd Street would provide much needed public open space across Midtown Manhattan. This plan would cost $200 million and could be completed in three to four years.

An important second step would be to implement an early-action plan for high capacity rail service using existing LIRR trackage between Penn Station and the West Side Yard. This would guarantee that adequate access is available, should NYC be selected for the 2012 Olympics. A wide platform would replace two of the thirty tracks in the yard. LIRR trains have more than twice the capacity of #7 subway trains. At Penn Station, connections are available to four of Manhattan's five north-south subway lines, and to most of the region's commuter rail lines. This plan would cost less than $100 million and could be operational on an interim basis in less than two years.

In planning for future development in the Far West Midtown area, it makes sense to re-examine the concept of using [the LIRR's West Side Yard] - valuable real estate -- for mid-day storage of commuter rail cars. Subway trains have always passed through Manhattan, and then been stored in rail yards located in the outer parts of the city, where real estate is less expensive. In a similar manner, LIRR and NJ Transit trains can be routed through Penn Station, avoiding the need to store rail cars at the West Side Yard. The completion of LIRR access to Grand Central will divert more than half of LIRR travelers from Penn Station, and the city's plan to extend LIRR service to Lower Manhattan will further diminish demand at Penn Station. Eliminating the LIRR yards makes it feasible to build a temporary stadium at grade, providing a monumental site for the Olympics. After the games, the stands could be replaced with other buildings, while the field could remain a historically significant public open space.

While a new multi-purpose stadium facility and the #7 subway extension are important elements of a 40-year development plan for the West Midtown area, they may not be affordable in the near term, given the city's current fiscal difficulties. Less costly, interim options should be carefully explored in the GEIS.

Finally, considerable new development can be expected in the Far West Midtown area, in any scenario. With traffic already at a standstill at the Lincoln Tunnel, it makes sense to take aggressive steps to curtail, not increase, traffic flow in this area. Reductions in parking supply, and comprehensive congestion pricing measures, like those successfully implemented in central London, must accompany any development plan.

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