Angry New Yorker

Monday, December 20, 2004
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Barring any major news, or items we can't resist skewering between now and Jan. 1, 2005, this will be the last post of 2004. It's been a long year, and since one of the most important hard drives here apparently accepted the offer of early retirement (i.e. it failed) this morning, we're going to be busy.

Still, this news story from the New York Times captured our interest for several reasons:

Report Sees Rail Expansion as Crucial for Manhattan


Published: December 20, 2004

Job growth in the New York metropolitan region will stagnate without a major expansion of commuter rail and subway access to Midtown and Lower Manhattan over the next 20 years, according to a report to be released by New York University today.

The full story is available here, and the report by the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management referenced in the story is entitled, well, we don't know what the title is because The N.Y. Times' poor reporting fails to name it. And as far as we can tell, it isn't yet available on the Rudin Center website. But the Times' headline is both indicative and damning. Rail expansion crucial for Manhattan? Ahem, I think that should read "crucial for New York City." Granted the latte and croissant crowd at the Times readily forgets New York City isn't just Manhattan and four warehouse areas, but folks, please, try to make it a little less obvious next time, eh?

Second, the story continues with the observation that:
"'[w]e've gone through 40 years where we've really forgotten about the significance of building new capacity,' said Rosemary Scanlon, an author of the report. (The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island, was completed in 1964.) 'All of the major cities in the world seem able to grab hold of what they need to expand and grow. We seem to be myopic about it.'"
Really? Paris, Tokyo and London have been doing exactly what to significantly expand and grow in the same period? Not to excuse NYC's shortcomings -- which are both many and deep -- but NYC has had a regional transit plan sitting in a drawer [see description of 1968 Program for Action, details available here] for something like 40 years, with no movement post-Robert Moses. Ms. Scanlon report is just another periodic push to get it, or something, going.

Third, the reports' authors hoist a blatant falsehood on the reporter, who doesn't know any better. Namely,
"[w]e've had suburbanization in the region, as in all regions, but during the same time, the relative strength of Manhattan as an employment center and as a generator of personal income has grown," said Mr. Seeley, who retired in 1997 after a career at the Port Authority and the city government. "It's become more dominant. This is not a centrifugal region like Los Angeles."
This could not be flatly more untrue. If anything, Manhattan's role as the employment center of the area has diminished, as edge cities have taken hold, and as company after company has moved major back offices to Brooklyn and New Jersey. Granted, Manhattan's position and prestige as a job center remains, but it's far from becoming "more dominant." Would Mr. Seeley take off his Port Authority rose-colored glasses for a moment he would instantly see this.

Finally, the report ends on both a cautious and ironic note:

Because the report calls for increased rail access, and not vehicular traffic, its recommendations are unlikely to be controversial among neighborhood advocates and environmentalists concerned about preservation of public space. [ed. note - Massive construction projects underground haven't cause any controversy, cost overruns or neighborhood opposition? Hmmm. See, e.g. Boston's Big Dig] But its call for major public investment - at a time when the state faces rising education, health care and pension costs - may be unrealistic. [ed. note - The understatement of the year.]

"We have to ask ourselves what's the price if we don't do these projects," said Elliot G. Sander, the director of the Rudin Center and a former city transportation commissioner. "New York risks the possibility of having a real ceiling on the economic growth of the financial capital of the country."

"Earth to Mr. Sander. Come in, Mr. Sander!" New York not only "risks the possibility" of a ceiling on economic growth, that ceiling is already firmly in place and is made of steel-reinforced, foot-thick concrete. This is not to say that NYC couldn't somehow pull of the nose-dive it's just entering -- only that someone needs to pull up on the stick soon.

We've since found the report discussed, Rosemary Scanlon and Edward S. Seeley Jr., At Capacity: The Need for More Rail Access to the Manhattan CBD, Nov. 2004, and it's available as a PDF here.

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