NYCTRC Testimony – Aug 7, 2013 – East Midtown Improvements


New York City Transit Riders Council

NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign

Riders Alliance

Transportation Alternatives

Tri-State Transportation Campaign

Testimony before the NYC City Planning Commission

August 7, 2013


Good Morning.  My name is William Henderson; I am the Executive Director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA.  I am speaking today on behalf of my group and its constituent council, the New York City Transit Riders Council, as well as the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, the Riders Alliance, Transportation Alternatives, and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

Clearly, action is needed to improve transportation infrastructure and the pedestrian environment in East Midtown, and it is encouraging to see the Bloomberg Administration exploring innovative means of funding these needed improvements.  Even without further development, riders and pedestrians in the area are suffering unacceptable levels of crowding on the sidewalks and subways of East Midtown.  Narrow sidewalks are difficult to navigate in rush hours as automotive traffic dominates the streetscape.  The Lexington Avenue line, with its 4, 5 and 6 trains, carries nearly one third of the daily riders of the subway system and operates at 116 percent of capacity during the rush hour.   This crowding takes a toll, as extended dwell time in stations that is caused by overcrowding slows trains and reduce capacity on the line by more than 10 percent during the morning peak.

Anyone who travels through East Midtown during peak periods doesn’t need statistics to know there is a problem in East Midtown; the painful experience of trying to move through the area is sufficient.  These issues demand immediate attention, and because of this our groups had misgivings about the initial rezoning proposal, which provided that funding for transportation improvements would become available only as developers paid into a dedicated fund.  We are encouraged by the Administration’s evolving position, as expressed in Mayor Bloomberg’s July 31 New York Daily News Op-Ed, that a significant portion of the expected $500 million in proceeds from the rezoning plan would be advanced to fund needed improvements in Grand Central, the Lexington Line, and area streets and public spaces.

Mayor Bloomberg has committed to develop a specific package of improvements to be funded through funds advanced by the City and repaid as developers pay into the dedicated fund.  This change is a positive step forward, but much greater detail is needed to evaluate this proposal.  The information to be provided should include the total amount that will be advanced to fund improvements and the source of these funds, as well as breaking down the total funding advanced to subway, surface transportation and streetscape, and public realm projects.  It is not only critical to know which projects that will be benefitted but also to know the portion of their costs that City funding will meet and the source of funding for any remaining costs.   The mechanism by which this funding is made available, the actors that will be involved, and how the process will be institutionalized to ensure that it moves forward in future administrations are important to know.  Finally, as someone once said, timing is everything, and this further information must address the phasing of improvements to be completed with funding advanced by the City.

Transportation advocates, including our groups, have long considered ensuring a stable and reliable funding stream for capital improvements a top priority.  This proposal can be a vital part of this funding stream, but at this point we need to hear more detail about what is being proposed and how it will function over time.