February 25, 2008

Creating a Vision for NYC's 42nd Street

...and what a vision it is! I came across a group called Vision42 via NewPennStation.org (which is another site you should check out, by the way). According to their website:
"Vision42 is a citizens' initiative to re-imagine and upgrade surface transit in midtown Manhattan, with a low-floor light rail line running river-to-river along 42nd Street within a landscaped pedestrian boulevard."
This ambitious $510 million plan would close 42nd Street to car traffic and create two lanes of east/west-running light rail service to replace the current M42 bus service. Many New Yorkers would immediately object -- don't we already have a subway that runs east/west across 42nd Street? Indeed, that would be a valid protest, as the 7 Train has stops along 42nd Street at Grand Central, at Bryant Park (5th Ave & 6th Ave) and at Times Square (intersection of Broadway and 7th Ave). Additionally, there is shuttle subway service on 42nd Street between Grand Central and Times Square.

So why do New Yorkers need a light rail system on 42nd Street? Well, for starters none of the subway lines travel far enough east or west to provide adequate access to the riverfronts of the East River or Hudson River. The proposed light rail system could drop off passengers right at the footstep of ferry terminals and the waterfront. Additionally, the light rail system would provide a quicker, cleaner and more efficient east/west route than the M42 bus currently does (the M42 only travels about 2-3 mph during midday).

New Yorkers will primarily argue that the 7 Train Extension plan is currently underway (I mentioned it here back in May 2007), rendering some of the benefits of the light rail system obsolete. This plan calls for two new subway stations for the 7 Train along the west side of Manhattan -- one at 41st Street and 10th Ave, and another at 34th Street and 11th Ave. Currently, only the 34th St/11th Ave station is funded, and the 41st St/10th Ave station will not likely be built. Comparing the two maps above provides clear evidence of the benefits that the light rail system could provide. With so many more stops serving as access points, the light rail system would be far superior to the 7 Train in terms of ease of use and convenience.

Additionally, paraphrasing from the Vision42 website:
"New York City can finally have a 42nd Street that welcomes pedestrians with space, greenery, and amenities, combined with speedy and efficient river-to-river travel, via a modern, at-grade, low-floor light rail line.

Very little has been done over the past half century to improve our city's environment for either walking or surface transit. Forty-second Street—where half a million pedestrians come every day, and where pedestrians outnumber motorists by at least 5 to 1—is an excellent place to start!

Pairs of light rail stops would occur at each typical 800-foot avenue, resulting in twelve pairs of stops along the length of 42nd Street, plus two pairs at each of the far eastern and western ends along the rivers."
According to Vision42, the benefits of their proposal are many:
  • Pedestrian Space: Pedestrians at street level on 42nd Street outnumber motorists 5-to-1, however, about 60 percent of street space is currently allocated to motor traffic. Vision42 calls this "gross imbalance" "unproductive" due to slow-moving traffic. Their plan would contribute to continued sustainability and livability on the street.
  • Economic Benefits: Vision42 projects $3.5 billion of increased commercial property values along the 42nd Street corridor as a result of improved crosstown accessibility. the corridor will also see an additional economic/fiscal benefit of $1 billion annually.

  • Efficiency & Environmental Benefits: The light rail system will be operational three years after the start of construction, which is very quick for a public transportation project in NYC. The system could utilize fuel cell technology, making it the first of its type, which would result in an extremely clean transportation option.

  • Future Benefits: Adding light rail along 34th Street to create a 42nd/34th Street loop would interface well for ferry service (see map below), while providing service to areas along the waterfronts that are projected to have new high-density development in the future, and which are currently long walks from existing rail transit.

A revised cost estimate was released on February 8, 2008 and is available here... the maximum total project cost is about $510 million in 2007 dollars, although it could be as low as . Vision42 notes that their plan is not entirely new, however. In fact, it builds upon a proposed 1994 plan that called for 42nd Street to be split lengthwise into a vehicular passageway covering the northern half of the street, and a light rail system operating east/west and covering the southern half of the street. While this plan generated support at the time, no action was ever taken to achieve the proposed goals.

As Vision42 notes, the inclusion of vehicular traffic in the 1994 plan did not provide for any improvement for pedestrian walking space. Without cars operating on 42nd Street, the Vision42 planners feel their proposal is far superior to the 1994 plan and will allow for the light rail trains to operate more freely, while providing an improved pedestrian experience. Traffic concerns are actually limited, and were most recently summarized in October 2006 -- they can be found here (full report here).

If this sounds like a plan you approve of or would like to support, Vision42 requests that you sign this petition to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which asks the "City of New York to seriously consider the vision42 plan as a dynamic alternative to the continued dysfunctional condition of surface transit and the walking environment on this very central street of our city and region." Please visit the Vision42 website to learn more about this unique plan for a livable 42nd Street.


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