Thursday, January 17, 2013

Next champion for No. 7 subway to New Jersey

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The Real Estate Board of New York (Rebny) marks its 117th annual banquet Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, with its usual figurative issues on its Manhattan-shaped plate. But this year, add a surprise side dish: Extending the No. 7 subway to New Jersey.

No. 7 34th Street workLots of folks in the past decade have dismissed this idea as a loser, recently including former Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota, now on the verge of running for mayor to succeed Michael Bloomberg, the incumbent and a believer in the No. 7 extension.

Bloomberg is in fact largely responsible (over initial MTA objections, at that) for the current ongoing work extending the No. 7 west from Times Square to Manhattan's Far West Side, terminating at 34th Street. Bloomberg's term ends next Jan. 1, and the assumption was that any additional No. 7 extension would fade with that deadline.

Not so fast, Rebny is saying, and when it comes to real estate interests in Manhattan, money really talks pretty loudly.

The organization isn't deluding itself into thinking such a rail addition is a done deal or a quick flip. In its Jan. 17 published advertorial, it says, "Although extending the Number 7 subway line would be an infrastructure project that would benefit the whole region, it remains a long-term goal for Rebny."

That's notable, because lots of New York City and state interests, along with plenty of existing and grumbling MTA customers living in New York, aren't keen on a Jersey addition. Some of that irritation is understandable and rational; why should New York taxpayers seek a Jersey extension when so many portions of the boroughs, or even a nearby suburban New York county or two, lack subway and/or regional rail access?

But the irritation hardly recedes when New Jersey supporters of the plan (such as the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, of which I am a member) posit that the Garden State's taxpayers can and should chip in. The "us vs. them" impulse kicks in, reinforcing the concept of the "Hudson Ocean" as the great divide, and further reinforced by transit players such as Mr. Lhota.

Given that, Rebny's determination is notable. It's a New York, yea verily a Manhattan force and voice, that is signaling it plans to pursue the option regardless of current opinion, pro or con.

Rebny makes passing mention of a deleted stop on 10th Avenue and 41st Street it would like added someday; no mention of its apparent lack of effort to secure same before the literal concrete was cast. But the group makes it clear New Jersey is within its fiscal sights, saying it seeks "continuation of service into New Jersey under the Hudson River," suggesting New Jersey Transit's Secaucus Junction Station, on the Northeast Corridor, as an appropriate terminus.

I noted in a previous blog that "air rights" remain magic words in and around much of Gotham; the now developing West Side of Manhattan, with the Hudson Yards literally atop Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road yard operations, already has helped drive the No. 7 westward. Rebny can see the potential, almost exponential, increase in value of those yards if New Jersey is plugged in by train, almost to the doorstep, of the yards, and then Times Square, Grand Central Terminal, and even on east into Queens.

An old aphorism: "God made Manhattan and saw that it was good. The Dutch saw Manhattan, and said, 'Not enough of it.'" The word "realtors" has readily supplanted "Dutch" over the years, and those realtors won't be expected to quit, events such as Hurricane Sandy notwithstanding.

No, Rebny in fact is going even beyond that—endorsing Manhattanization beyond the island itself, not just to Brooklyn (many New Yorkers, not just real estate brokers, buy into that, or at least acknowledge it) but across that Hudson River (or Ocean) into New Jersey itself.

Place your short-term bets against Rebny right now, because in the long run, perhaps quite the long run, the laughable concept of a No. 7 subway to New Jersey likely will become the conventional wisdom, the "why didn't we do this sooner?" concept. Unless Manhattan suddenly rolls over and dies, there's not enough of it, or access to it. So say the real estate brokers.

Douglas John Bowen

Douglas John Bowen is Managing Editor of RAILWAY AGE. He also served as Editor of Intermodal Age from 1989 to 1991, and has held various positions at Inbound Logistics magazine, High Speed Transport News, The Journal of Commerce, and CNN/Money. Bowen began his journalism career at the Asbury Park Press, a New Jersey daily newspaper. A graduate of Rutgers University, Bowen resides in Hoboken, N.J. He served as president of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) from 1987 to 2000 and again from 2004 to 2010, serving on the NJ-ARP board from 1984 until 2012; he remains a member of the statewide organization.