Friday, January 18, 2013

Update: CB11 Approves Zoning Recommendations for East Harlem

On Tuesday, Community Board 11 (CB11) approved the rezoning recommendations for East Harlem developed by CIVITAS and CB11’s Zoning Task Force.  The study area for the rezoning includes Madison, Park and Lexington Avenues between 115th and 132nd Streets.   To see the proposed zoning map and recommendations, visit which will include ongoing updates on the rezoning.

The next step for the rezoning recommendations is the formal review, additional public outreach and adoption by the NYC Department of City Planning.

This is a joint project with CIVITAS and Community Board 11 (CB11), whose zoning task force is led by Lashawn Henry (committee chair) and Diane Collier (vice chair).  The recommendations were developed to encourage the following goals in the community: affordable housing opportunities, economic development and job creation, new buildings that are contextual in scale with their surroundings and the revitalization of Park Avenue.  The area has not been rezoned in its entirety in over 50 years.

The Park Avenue Metro North Viaduct
To gauge the community’s needs, the CIVITAS and CB11 team convened hundreds of East Harlem residents at community meetings and roundtable discussions in 2012 to discuss their visions for the future of this area.  The zoning recommendations have been designed to be fine-grained and site specific (unlike much of the current zoning) and to address needs across a diverse section of East Harlem.   This area includes the neighborhood shopping corridor on 116th Street; lots alongside Park Avenue’s elevated Metro North viaduct: and quiet, low-rise side streets.

Breakout Session at the July 2012 Community Meeting

Throughout the process, the team has met with 
elected officials and government agencies including the Department of City Planning, Department of Transportation, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the NYC Economic Development Corporation.  Through fundraising among CIVITAS members and the support of the Greve Foundation and New York Community Trust, CIVITAS and Community Board 11 were able to hire Insight Associates (Ethel Sheffer, principal) and George Janes Associates, professional planners, to develop the zoning recommendations. 

The complete recommendations and zoning maps and ongoing project updates are linked to  They include some of the following: R7-D (medium density, contextual) around 116th Street to allow for affordable housing incentives; C4-4L (commercial) to encourage commercial activity and guide urban design along part of Park Avenue; R6-A (medium density, contextual) was selected to protect the historic scale of upper Madison Avenue; an MX district to encourage a mix of light industry and housing along Park Avenue and C6-2 (commercial zoning) near the 125th Street corridor and Metro North rail station.   The study area does not include the 125th Street corridor itself which was rezoned in 2008.

In The News

News reports from December 2012: DNAInfo "East Harlem Community Board Favors Hybrid Zoning Plan."

Upcoming Meetings

The CB11 Landmarks, Land Use & Planning Committee meets monthly.  Check this calendar for updates:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Apartment Building Recycling Initiative: A City Program Tailor Made for the Green Apartment Dweller

Are you an apartment dweller in New York City? Do you want to learn how to do a better job of recycling your trash? Would you like to see your neighbors improve their recycling effort? If the answer to these questions is yes, then you will want to know more about a program of the Department of Sanitation of the City of New York (DSNY) called the Apartment Building Recycling Initiative (ABRI).
Here’s how it works. The ABRI Outreach Coordinator will set up an intensive 1 to 2 hour training session for interested residents in your building, the super and those members of the building staff charged with trash collection. This is followed by a site visit to the building to evaluate existing recycling practices and to recommend changes. Those changes usually include placing illustrated decals on recycling containers – blue for beverage cartons, metal, glass bottles and jars and plastic bottles and jugs and green for mixed paper and cardboard. Education of all residents as well as building staff is a key element of the program. Besides making available easily understood educational materials for all tenants, DSNY will conduct follow-up training at the apartment building whenever 10 or more residents express a commitment to attend.
Signing up for ABRI couldn’t be easier. Ask your building manager to go to the DSNY website, and provide the information requested on the relatively simple form. If you want to arrange an on-site training for 12 or more residents/building staff, fill out the last section on the registration form and within days the ABRI Outreach Coordinator will respond with a proposed training date.
The Apartment Building Recycling Initiative is a win-win for everyone involved. Residents will see an improved recycling rate at their building; the building staff should be spending far less time correcting the recycling errors of individual apartment residents, thus freeing staff to do other important work that will benefit all residents; and, the Environment will see a greater amount of recycling and far less waste going to noxious landfills.
If you have questions, please feel free to contact CIVITAS at or call 212-996-0745.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Faces at CIVITAS

New Board Member: Joanna Delson

The CIVITAS board of directors welcomes Joanna Delson, who joined the board in June 2012. Joanna grew up in Yorkville and attended Brearley and the University of Southern California. Joanna and her husband, David Venderbush, live with their three children in a rowhouse they renovated on East 106th Street.

Joanna has a background as a high school English teacher and administrator. For the last decade she has run her business, Space Management, which specializes in design and planning for small spaces.

Regarding her goals as a CIVITAS board member, Joanna said she “would like to see East Harlem come into its own and maintain mixed incomes and cultural diversity while improving the neighborhood’s general character” including less litter, more recycling and better air quality. Key issues also include convincing the City of New York to convert to cleaner fuels and better air quality standards. Joanna would also like to help get the word out about CIVITAS’s work in East Harlem and the Upper East Side. “I hope to be a board member who can support CIVITAS and its members in many ways,” she said.

Joanna comes by her activism and passion for her community naturally. Morton Delson, her father, was a member of Community Board 8 between 1974-1982 and served as its chair. Her mother, Anna, was part of the original committee that created and saw the realization of the “pick-up-after-your-dog” laws.

New Administrator: Lauren O’Toole

CIVITAS welcomes Lauren O’Toole as the new Administrator. Lauren has worked with CIVITAS before as a member of the 2010-2011 NYU Capstone team, which completed a Community Engagement Study of the Upper East Side and East Harlem.

Lauren has most recently worked for Friends of the High Line, and previously for the Community Preservation Corporation. She has had internships at the NYC Department of City Planning, New Yorkers for Parks and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s Office. Lauren holds a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning from NYU’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Manhattan College. She and her fiancĂ© live on the Upper East Side. Lauren is excited to be working with CIVITAS again and looks forward to working to promote the organization’s important mission.

Good Luck: Tali Cantor

We wish Tali Cantor the best of luck as she begins her graduate degree in urban planning at the University of Pennsylvania. Tali worked for three years as CIVITAS’s Associate Director and spearheaded efforts to improve neighborhood Select Bus Service, increase enforcement of newsrack box regulations, and led many other community improvement projects. She also guided the design of the semiannual CIVITAS newsletter. 

To read the complete fall 2012 issue of CIVITAS News, visit

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

MCNY Develops Curriculum for Waterfront Exhibition

Hunter F. Armstrong
School children displaying ideas they created for the Reimagining The Waterfront exhibition. Courtesy of Elizabeth Hamby and EY Zipris. 

The Museum of the City of New York’s Frederick A.O. Schwarz Children’s Center staff developed an educational curriculum to accompany the Reimagining the Waterfront exhibition. Since June, over 1,000 children visited the exhibition, and many participated in the museum’s curriculum. In the two-session program, the students, many of whom were East Harlem residents, visited the waterfront and viewed the exhibition. They then developed their ideas for the Esplanade’s future by creating their own design competition submissions. 

“The students really enjoyed seeing the different visions displayed in the exhibition and debating the pros and cons. They also greatly enjoyed coming up with their own responses,” stated EY Zipris, a MCNY educator. “Students tended to suggest community and recreational areas such as picnic tables, barbecue areas and basketball courts. One concern was making sure shaded areas were included for the comfort of all who visit this spot.” 

In Fall 2012, the museum educator Elizabeth Hamby will teach the curriculum as part of the Neighborhood Explorers program for middle-school students at the East Harlem School, an independent school affiliated with Exodus House. Their recommendations for the Esplanade and waterfront will be presented at a community meeting in December. 

To read the complete fall 2012 issue of CIVITAS News, visit

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The East River Waterfront: A Historical Perspective

Andrea Renner 

New Yorkers sometimes forget that their city is surrounded by water, that their grand metropolis has more coastline than either Los Angeles or Miami. Only in the past century has the water become less intertwined in our daily lives. For most of the city’s history, as exemplified by the East River waterfront, the rivers and waterways have been instrumental in the city’s growth. 

Through the early 19th century, the East River waterfront was the site of farms, villas, and meadows. New York’s elite settled along the northern stretches of the shoreline, erecting their country homes away from the bustle of the city developing on the island’s southern tip. Archibald Gracie built his mansion, which is currently the official mayoral residence, in 1799 at what is today 88th Street. As New York’s economy grew through the 19th century, wooden docks and piers were built along the shoreline, followed by factories, slaughterhouses, coal yards, and breweries, as filling continuously widened the island. 
A view of the Brevoort Estate and Vicinity Between 54th & 55th Streets near First Avenue. Lithograph by Major & Knapp for D.T. Valentine’s Manual, 1866 
Museum of the City of New York, Gift of Chester Dale, X2011.40.1. 

In the late 19th century, the riverfront went into decline, in part due to the rise of superior port services in Brooklyn and New Jersey. A new vision for the shoreline began to emerge in the late 1920s, when civic leaders proposed building an arterial highway along Manhattan’s eastern edge, flanked by a riverside promenade, in order to ease traffic and modernize the city. It was to be a clean, streamlined highway, making it possible for cars to drive from Battery Park to 125th Street without traffic lights or other interruptions. Such modern highways arose throughout the United States in the 1930s, including Lake Shore Drive in Chicago and the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles. In 1939, when New York officials secured money from the federal Public Works Administration to cover 45% of construction costs, construction on the first section of New York City’s East River Drive (today FDR Drive) and Esplanade commenced. 

Manhattan Borough President Stanley Isaacs, who oversaw the project with assistance from Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, viewed the Drive as a backbone for broad development, a project that would encourage new economic growth along the East Side and bring parks, playgrounds, and modern housing to the people. The East River Esplanade provided a paved, narrow walk, making use of the area between the highway and the waterfront. Between 81st and 89th Street, engineers tucked the roadway below Carl Schurz Park, creating a magnificent, cantilevered walkway for pedestrians, designed by Harvey Stevenson. 

With renewed interest in the East River waterfront, as displayed by CIVITAS, it seems New Yorkers are beginning to reevaluate their relationship to the water. The city has recently initiated a number of large-scale improvements across the five boroughs, from the Hudson River Park in Manhattan to a planned Greenway in the South Bronx. In March 2011, the Bloomberg administration unveiled Vision 2020, its long-term plan for the city’s waterfront, which seeks to better integrate the waterways into the daily life of the city and improve access. New York is returning to its watery roots. 

Andrea Renner curated the Reimagining the Waterfront exhibition and is the Museum of the City of New York Andrew W. Mellon Post- Doctoral Curatorial Fellow. 

To read the complete fall 2012 issue of CIVITAS News, visit

Monday, January 7, 2013

UPDATE: Rezoning for Madison, Park and Lexington Avenues in East Harlem

Hunter F. Armstrong 

The initiative to plan for East Harlem’s future and bring modernized, appropriate zoning to the neighborhood is underway. Over the course of summer and fall 2012, CIVITAS and Community Board 11 partners reached out to many neighbors to define their future needs for their community. Providing professional support to the team are Insight Associates, Ethel Sheffer, and George M. Janes Associates consultants. In the words of planner George Janes, the outreach is focused on “what East Harlem could be in the future and how zoning can be a tool to realize that vision of the future.” The average person does not speak the language of zoning, so the focus has been to identify what East Harlemites would like to see in the future of their neighborhood. Specific zoning recommendations can be drafted to implement that vision. 

Zoning development scenarios. Courtesy of Insight Associates and George M. Janes Associates. 

The focus area for the rezoning is over 60 blocks, including both sides of Madison, Park and Lexington Avenues between 115th and 132nd Streets. 125th Street was rezoned in 2008 and is not included in the current project. One of the major landmarks in this area is the Park Avenue Metro North viaduct, which casts shadows on the street below and provides a constant din of commuter trains rushing overhead. 
Much of East Harlem west of Lexington and including the study area is zoned R7-2, which encourages “tower in the park” development and a very dated vision of urban development. George Janes called this zoning “antiquated, undesirable and even anti-urban for what it does to the form of the city and it’s being changed all over the place. But this doesn’t mean that the planners in the 1950s were wrong: they simply had a different vision for the city and what was important.” 

CIVITAS and CB11 see the rezoning as a continuation of their major grassroots effort that resulted in a rezoning of many blocks east of Lexington Avenue. Approved in 2003, it was the first major rezoning of that area since the 1960s. 

To gauge community needs in the rezoning, CIVITAS and CB11 have organized roundtable discussions, committee meetings and two large community meetings in July and October at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. Incidentally, this new school building is located at Third and 119th, and was constructed in the 2003 rezoned area. 
Members of the community discussed their preferances for new zoning at an October meeting. 
Participants in community meetings have consisted of a wide range of stakeholders including block and tenants’ associations, affordable housing developers, government agencies, elected officials, churches and other non-profits, as well as many other committed, interested neighbors.

At the October 22 meeting, the land use planners presented different visions to gauge the community’s priorities. Accompanying this were zoning scenarios to implement the visions. Each plan reflected a particular bias, which included zoning modernization, economic development, housing, downzoning (limiting development to its current scale) and a hybrid scenario reflecting pieces of the other priorities. With these, meeting participants reflected on their goals and aspirations for the future of East Harlem. 
Additional public meetings and outreach are scheduled for fall and winter 2012 and an update will be in the next CIVITAS newsletter in 2013. 

This project is made possible through the support of the New York Community Trust, the William and Mary Greve Foundation and Manhattan Community Board 11. 
To learn more about East Harlem rezoning, visit: 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Recycling in NYC: We Need to Do More

T. Gorman Reilly

Illustration by NYC Department of Sanitation, Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling. 
The amount of solid waste that New York City generates is overwhelming: 7 million tons per year. On a daily basis, Manhattan alone accounts for 1,975 tons of residential waste—or just plain garbage. Commercial waste from office buildings, restaurants and retail sites accounts for another 2,200 tons. The comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP), enacted by the city and approved by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, has been crafted to take on this enormous challenge in the most efficient and environmentally sound manner. Thus, New York City’s SWMP is relying in a big way on a stepped up recycling effort. In fact, Mayor Bloomberg announced earlier this year a goal of doubling the existing recycling diversion rate by 2017. 

Let’s define our terms. “Diversion rate” refers to the amount of separated recyclables collected as a percentage of the total amount of waste put out on the sidewalk. “Capture rate” refers to the amount of recyclables actually collected as a percentage of the total amount of recyclables that could be separated out and collected. The city’s current capture rate of 41% means that 59% of recyclable materials is being thrown into black trash bags and will never be recycled to another use. 

The current diversion rate of the city’s residential waste is barely 15%. At one point in the 1990s it peaked at 19%. The Department of Sanitation’s goal is to approach an optimum diversion rate of 36%, which assumes a 100% capture rate. 

The only way to improve this anemic capture rate—and thereby directly increase the diversion rate—is to go to the source, i.e., each and every household in the city of New York. Thus, in each home or apartment residents need to have a clear understanding of what can be recycled and what cannot. In New York City, the answer is relatively simple, but “attention must be paid.” 

In short, there are two streams of recyclables—the Green and the Blue. The color Green has been assigned to paper & cardboard. It includes newspapers, magazines, flyers, phone books, paperbacks, corrugated and smooth cardboard, cardboard tubes, cardboard packaging, file folders, paper, envelopes, shredded paper, paper bags, pizza boxes (free of food residues), etc. In short, all things paper and cardboard go into the Green Bin. Of course, for every rule there are exceptions. These are some of the things that should not be placed in the Green Paper & Cardboard Bin: Chinese take-out cartons, soiled paper cups and plates, tissue, paper towels, napkins and packaging for most frozen or refrigerated products. 

The Blue Bin is reserved for beverage cartons, bottles, cans, metal and foil. There is real value in recycled metal, whether it be metal cans, aluminum food containers, metal caps, cleaned foil or discarded cooking pans. Glass, principally bottles and jars, is always welcome; but, glassware, panes of glass, mirrors and light bulbs are not. The rule for plastics is simple—only bottles and jugs. If it’s not a bottle or jug, toss it into the trash. Thus, do not put out for recycling: plastic caps, yogurt cups, any plastic food container or cup, plastic wrapping, plastic shopping bags, styrofoam and plastic rings for six-packs. 

The best way to determine what is recyclable and what is not is through visualization. Fortunately, the Department of Sanitation has prepared a graphic outline of Green and Blue recyclable items. It can be downloaded at

To read the complete fall 2012 issue of CIVITAS News, visit

Friday, January 4, 2013


UPDATE:Bike Legislation and Bike Share 
The NYC City Council recently passed legislation aimed at strengthening enforcement and creating tougher safety standards for commercial delivery bicyclists. The law requires businesses employing commercial bicyclists to mandate that these employees enroll in a bicycle safety course and requires the NYC DOT to post the contents of the course on their website, which will include safe bicycle practices and the “rules of the road.” Starting in early 2013, the unit will issue citations to employers who are violating the laws in an effort to help keep pedestrians safe and ensure that commercial cyclists are riding safely on NYC streets. 

The Department of Transportation’s NYC Bike Share program has been postponed until March 2013. The program, operated by Alta Bicycle Share, attributed the delayed launch date to software problems. The program will begin with 7,000 bikes at 420 stations in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. It is to be privately sponsored by Citi and MasterCard, and privately operated, with no public funding, by NYC Bike Share LLC. The Bike Share program, being called Citi Bike, is a self-service system that provides members with easy access to a network of thousands of bicycles, a convenient and inexpensive alternative for travel. Bike Share also leverages the city’s great mass transit system, extending the reach of transit into areas that are not easily accessible. 

Solid Waste Management Plan and East 91st Street Marine Transfer Station 
In July, the CIVITAS board of directors sent a letter to Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn voicing concerns about the proposal to rebuild and reopen the Marine Transfer Station (MTS) at East 91st Street. In the past, CIVITAS has stated support in favor of the principles of the Mayor’s Solid Waste Management Plan, but that support for the MTS proposal has been contingent on the legitimate concerns of the surrounding neighborhood being taken into account. While the proposed design addresses some of those issues, there remain significant community concerns about the MTS plan. The letter’s full text is on
The Marine Transfer Station at East 91st Street
Since 2005, CIVITAS has been active in the NYC Department of Sanitation’s citizen advisory group which is focused on lessening the proposed facility’s impact on the surrounding community. CIVITAS will continue to play a watchdog role in ensuring the restrictions in the MTS’s environmental permits are enforced. 

Newsrack Box Enforcement 
CIVITAS is continuing the campaign to improve enforcement of newsrack box violations, and to push for a NYC Council oversight hearing on maintenance and better legislation. During summer 2012, Alex Ritscher, a CIVITAS intern and Syracuse student, tracked and reported over 110 newsrack violations in neighborhoods across the five boroughs. Violations included the following: having no door, bags of trash located inside the box and placement inside crosswalks. In August, CIVITAS volunteers located more than 160 Learning Annex newsrack box violations between 59th and 96th Streets, York and Fifth Avenues. Of these violations, more than half of the boxes were completely empty, and 39% had only a one-page flyer. Learning Annex is estimated to have thousands of boxes on New York sidewalks, and many have been observed to be empty for long periods of time. 
Three Learning Annex newsrack boxes on Lexington Avenue at 67th Street. 
Heating Oil Workshop 
In June, CIVITAS sponsored the latest in the ongoing series of air quality and heating oil community workshops. Located at the Chapin School, the meeting was open to all but outreach was targeted to co-op boards, superintendents, institutions and other residents of buildings east of Third Avenue. 
The June 4 air quality and heating oil workshop at the Chapin School. 
Attendees were given an overview of the harmful effects on air quality of No. 6 “dirty” heating oil; an introduction to the role of engineering firms in evaluating a building’s fuel consumption and conversion requirements; and a brief overview of financing options. The issue is of particular relevance to the Upper East Side, which has some of the worst air quality in New York City. Outreach and meeting organization were led by Sam Myers, a Hunter College graduate intern, and the CIVITAS Environment, Infrastructure and Transportation committee, chaired by Gorman Reilly and Jim Tripp. It was organized in partnership with Isabelle Silverman of the Environmental Defense Fund, and Kenneth Camilleri, a consultant to Mayor Bloomberg’s Clean Heat initiative. Stay tuned for future meetings in 2012 and 2013. To learn more about the heating oil initiative, visit: 

To read the complete fall 2012 issue of CIVITAS News, visit

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Making the Case for the East Harlem Phase 2 Subway Extension

Benjamin Kabak 

Construction continues on Second Avenue subway tunnels, Summer 2012. Photo by The New York Times Magazine

Amidst the dirt and debris of Second Avenue, the explosions and disruptions to business and everyday life, the Upper East Side is undergoing a seismic change. With endless subway construction stretching back into the past and onward into a future that seems so far away, it’s hard to appreciate what a new subway line—or even just four stops of a new route—will mean for the city, but from Fifth Avenue to East End, change is going to come. 

The story so far is one of missed opportunities and endless waits. Few New Yorkers around today remember the IRT Second Avenue line, an elevated train route that met its demise in 1940. Amidst promises of a Second Avenue subway, the city tore down the structure only to be stymied in its planning. World wars, economic slowdowns, city-wide declines and Depressions, and a general lack of enthusiasm for transit projects pushed the Second Avenue subway further into the future. When enough federal funding finally materialized to get even a part of the project off the ground, the city received only a part of the full line it deserves. 

Currently, the MTA is working on Phase 1 of the Second Avenue Subway, and Phase 2 north to 125th St. should be next. The current phase is the world’s most expensive subway project, a four-stop extension of the Q train north out of 57th St. and Broadway to an unused portion of 63rd St. and Lexington and then up Second Avenue. for three stations to 96th St. At the cost of a cool $4.5 billion and a timeline, charitably, of about nine years from groundbreaking to revenue date, the Upper East Side will finally have its second subway line after an eight-decade wait. 

In an ideal world, as Phase 1 progresses, the MTA would be laying the groundwork for subsequent phases. It would be, in fact, another missed opportunity to stop here. Phase 2 of this four-phase project – the northern extension from 96th to 125th and Lexington – is next, and with much of the tunneling completed, the work should be easier to see through to a functioning subway line. Originally, the four sections were expected to cost around $4 billion each, but the entire line built at once wouldn’t have cost much less. Under today’s political and economic scene, four installments of $4 billion spread out over years or decades is likely easier to find than one lump sum of $16 billion. 

So as Phase 1 inches its way toward the finish line, now just four years away, what comes next? It’s a question most Second Avenue residents and business owners would rather not ponder. Those north of the current construction zone have seen their neighbors to the south suffer and likely aren’t looking forward to a similar fate. To ease congestion on the streets and overcrowding underground, though, the city needs to keep moving forward with the subway. So what comes next? 

A few months ago, MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu spoke to a group of transit activists and reporters prior to a tour of the 7 Line Extension, another MTA megaproject currently changing the face of the Far West Side. During his remarks, Horodniceanu mentioned the future of the Second Avenue Subway. For many years, MTA officials refused to speak much about Phases 2-4 of the project. They were focused on securing full funding guarantees for the remainder of Phase 1 and ensuring that this segment would survive to see the light of day after too many false starts. After three failed attempts at building the line, after all, and with billions of dollars in federal money on the line, the MTA couldn’t afford to let this opportunity pass. 

In late 2012, we can comfortably say that Phase 1 will open. The MTA has received too many federal dollars that are contingent upon finishing this project to turn back now. The future though is hazy as the MTA seems focused on maintaining and upgrading signal and track infrastructure in the next five-year plan and the federal government’s spending outlook may depend heavily upon the looming election and subsequent midterms. Yet, as Horodniceanu explained, the irony is that with some extra money now, the MTA could have built SAS up to 115th St.

Since preexisting tunnels connect from 99th St. to 105th and from 110th to119th, the MTA, said Horodniceanu “could now build stations at 105th St. and 115th St.” The cost would be a cool $750 million - $1 billion per station, but the only obstacle is the money. The environmental impact statements are completed, and the tunnels themselves are in place. In fact, some of the preexisting tunnel north of the future 96th St. station built in the 1970s will be used as tail tracks for the Second Avenue Subway line that will open in 2016.

Courtesy of Second Avenue Sagas
Unfortunately, the MTA isn’t going to build those stations any time soon. In fact, future phases of the subway line may never materialize. Earlier this year, Horodniceanu estimated that the remaining three phases may push the project’s total cost to $23-$24 billion. Seven years ago, the four phases combined were expected to cost a total of $16 billion. By the time the authority puts their shovels or tunnel boring machines into the ground, I’m sure that estimated total will increase to even higher levels. The costs of infrastructure projects in American aren’t decreasing any time soon. 

Essentially, the original decision to split the Second Avenue Subway project into four phases seemingly doomed it from the start. The origins of that decision these days have always been a bit murky. Some have said it came about due to pressure from Sheldon Silver and the realities of funding. The MTA didn’t think it could secure the dollars needed at the start to complete the subway line and tried to break the project into more palatable pieces. 

A New York Times story from 1999 tells a slightly different story: “Transit officials said they had limited the plan for new construction to upper Manhattan because of the engineering difficulties and expense of extending a new line under the more congested parts of midtown.” In this telling, it almost seems as those Phases 3 and 4 were simply for show. Phases 1 and 2 were easier and cheaper, but the charade of Phases 3 and 4 could keep hope alive. The truth is probably somewhere in between. 

Today, New York City must live with the impact of this decision. The Upper East Side will soon have Phase 1, and Phase 2 should see the light of day. It requires some blasting around station caverns and some tunneling near the ends. It provides a bellmouth – extra trackage and tunnels that make future expansion easier – pointed toward the Bronx and another aiming at the West Side and the 125th St. Fairway. It would connect with Metro-North and Lexington Avenue Line. It’s likely to be expensive but certainly necessary. It could also be years as no one at the MTA now is talking about it as a reality despite the foundation already in place. 

The future then is anyone’s guess. Upper East Siders should clamor for Phase 2. Now is the time to act, and using preexisting tunnels, it is seemingly the easiest to build. Phases 3 and 4 through Midtown and Lower Manhattan present their own challenges, but the MTA made this multi-phase bed 13 years ago. Today, as construction slogs forward and costs climb, New York must live with it even as part of the Second Avenue subway line finally moves from city lore to reality. 

Guest columnist Benjamin Kabak is the creator and writer of the blog Second Avenue Sagas:

To read the complete fall 2012 issue of CIVITAS News, visit