Thursday, October 15, 2009

New York 42nd Street LRT plan reappears on media radar

Written by 

The long-proposed and long-struggling proposal for a light rail transit line on Manhattan’s famed 42nd Street resurfaced into public view this week, courtesy of The New York Times. The proposal envisions LRT linking the United Nations Building, on Manhattan’s East Side, with Grand Central Terminal, Times Square, and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, before reaching the Jacob Javitts Convention Center on the West Side.

The Times duly notes the proposal has failed to gain support from current Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose administration suggests the line would “compete” with MTA New York City Transit’s existing subway lines (both the No. 7 and the "Shuttle") and bus services, as well. Bloomberg has invested substantial political capital, as well as considerable city fiscal resources, to extend the No. 7 west from its current terminus at Times Square.

Left unaddressed under this logic is why MTA’s existing modal services aren’t considered in “competition” with each other already. But the Bloomberg administration at leasts offers a reason for its reluctance; predecessor Mayor Rudolph Giuliani studiously ignored the 42ndStreet proposal despite support from some business groups.

vision42_logo.jpg

George Haikalis, co-chairman of citizens group Vision42, notes the group has tried to advance the idea for more than 10 years, but acknowledges that Mayor Bloomberg’s support could be a decisive factor. “The real gain here is you could handle three times as many people with roughly the same cost,” Mr. Haikalis said. “A lot of people have expressed interest in this, but have not signed on, because they’re awaiting interest from Mayor Bloomberg.”

Haikalis, assisted over the years by rail advocates in New York and New Jersey and by various lower-level city transportation staffers supportive of LRT (even if the city is not), has conducted field trips across the Hudson River on Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Transit, which runs on a north-south route paralleling Manhattan and the river, for interested city and state officials.

“City officials can literally see HBLRT from their windows in their Manhattan offices,” Haikalis observed recently to Railway Age, “but somehow can’t make the connection that a successful light rail line literally in full view could be duplicated in Manhattan itself.”

Others have grasped the concept, however. Among those supporting Vision42’s concept, in whole or in part, are Douglas Durst, the chairman of the Durst Organization, which owns five office buildings on 42nd Street, and Jeffrey Katz, chief executive of Sherwood Equities, which owns One Times Square as well as the building housing the Renaissance Hotel in Times Square.

Katz, among others, has reservations over closing 42nd Street completely to auto traffic, but supports the LRT concept. Others have questioned how truck deliveries would be made to businesses along the route, though Vision 42 notes almost every building on the street already have freight access on adjacent streets.