Gotham & Hudson

Hoboken City Council Votes 8-1 to Approve Hoboken Yards Redevelopment Plan

In a lengthy and at times lively meeting Tuesday night, the Hoboken City Council heard public comment and debated the Hoboken Terminal and Yards Redevelopment, before voting 8-1 to approve the plan. Councilmembers Bhalla, Castellano, Cunningham, Doyle, Giattino, Mello, Occhipinti, and Russo voted in favor, while councilmember Mason offered the lone dissenting vote.

Ann Brady, executive director of Plan Smart NJ, spoke in support of the plan. She said that to be competitive, New Jersey needs to invest in infrastructure, provide a variety of housing types, and protect the environment, and she noted that the plan achieved these goals by taking a very underutilized site and making it into a multiuse, multimodal neighborhood that is good for city and state. Brady noted that it was unusual for Plan Smart NJ to speak about a local project, since the organization focuses on regional issues, but the organization makes exceptions for local projects that have important regional significance, like the Hoboken Terminal and Yards Redevelopment.

Council President Jen Giattino said, “The square footage in this plan is very similar to the square footage on the southern waterfront, which I think a lot of people don’t realize. The commercial/residential split is similar as well.”

Council member Michael Russo noted that some public comments calling the plan rushed were a misrepresentation, because development around Hoboken Terminal has been under consideration for over a decade. Councilmember Jim Doyle echoed Russo, saying, “I think it’s disingenuous to say this plan has been rammed down our throats.”

Russo also disagreed with some public comments suggesting that NJ Transit or LCOR have had involvement in the current plan, saying, “This plan has nothing to do with NJ Transit or LCOR. They have had zero input. This is the city’s plan. I am absolutely in support of this plan because it is in the best interest of the city, and the city will be a better place when it gets built.”

Councilmember Timothy Occhipinti said, “Everyone wants to get into the nitty-gritty details of the developer agreement, but we aren’t there yet. We have to pass the plan first.” On affordable housing, Occhipinti commented that many people working in service and hospitality jobs in Hoboken can’t afford to live in the city, and suggested “maybe with the affordable housing in this plan, they can afford to live and work in Hoboken.” On Warrington Plaza, Occhipinti said, “As somebody who commutes to New York, and takes PATH, I can’t wait to see Warrington Plaza revitalized.”

Councilmember Peter Cunningham, who chaired the committee that hired WRT to help the city develop the current plan, spoke strongly in support of the plan’s economic benefits: “For far too long the city has relied too much on residential tax revenue. This plan emphasizes commercial development on top of perhaps the best transit hub in the world, which is an ideal location for commercial space.” Cunningham further noted, “I believe in tall and slender. It provides for more light and air than some of the monolithic buildings we have on the waterfront.”

After the vote, Gotham & Hudson spoke with Brandy Forbes, Hoboken’s Director of Community Development. Forbes noted that the ordinance for the redevelopment plan will take effect after a 20 day period, at which point the city can entertain proposals from developers interested in entering into an interim cost agreement. The city also plans to issue a request for proposals for firms that would conduct the traffic analysis and modeling to be paid for by the developer under the terms of the interim cost agreement. The city could then begin to negotiate on project-wide issues to reach an overarching redevelopment agreement with a developer. Subsequent agreements would then be negotiated before phases of the project could begin construction on specific parcels.

In a separate vote, the Council approved by an 8-0 vote a bond measure to fund construction of a second flood pump in the north end of Hoboken. The bond sale proceeds will be used to pay back a low-interest loan provided by the state at a historically low 0.5-0.75% interest rate. In addition, 19% of the loan’s principal will be forgiven at closing using federal Hurricane Sandy recovery funds.

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer asks City Council to Support Hoboken Terminal Plan

At its meeting tonight, the Hoboken City Council will vote on the proposed Hoboken Terminal and Yards Redevelopment. Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer released a letter asking for the City Council’s support of the redevelopment plan, along with a bond issue to purchase an additional flood pump for the north end of the city:

The new proposed redevelopment plan will revitalize our transit hub, bring jobs to Hoboken, add affordable housing, and provide funding for open space. It is also an important part of the flood mitigation plan that has received $230 million of federal funding. All of this will be accomplished while limiting residential development to approximately 950 new residents. a scale consistent with that area of Hoboken.

The letter also calls attention to the pragmatic need for an economically feasible plan:

The City has to have an economically feasible plan that will stand the test of a legal challenge. While I respect the voices of our citizen activists, we as elected officials have an obligation to look at all the factors and understand that a plan that is not economically feasible will put the City at risk in any possible legal or legislative challenge. I want to thank you for funding our careful economic analysis performed by an experienced NYC firm to ensure a fair agreement for the City of Hoboken.

If the City Council votes to adopt the plan, the letter explains the next step: an interim cost agreement with a developer who would pay for further traffic analysis and finalize the plan:

The next step in the process, if the City Council passes the plan and if NJ Transit is interested in moving this forward, would be to enter into an interim cost agreement. Under this agreement, NJ Transit and/or their designated developer would be responsible for the costs of conducting future analysis needed to finalize the plan. Most importantly, NJ Transit and/or their designated developer would be required to fund a traffic study and traffic modeling analysis, to be conducted by a firm of the City’s choosing. This modeling would include an analysis of the traffic impact and the proposed changes such as the two-way service road connected to Marin Boulevard.

Her letter also offers this important argument for the city’s future:

Providing residents with more opportunities to work near where they live is one way to make our city less reliant on cars in the long-term.

A great city is not defined by how easy it is to park. Hoboken is already a model for other cities, with the highest Walk Score of all US cities, and the highest rate of public transit use in the nation. The city-led redevelopment of Hoboken Terminal is crucial because it helps ensure that the end result is in keeping with the community’s best interests.

Hoboken Terminal & Yard Plan Would Create Transit-Oriented Urban Neighborhood for City’s Southern Edge

Train stations in the New York area have long been catalysts for the growth and evolution of their surrounding neighborhoods. In 1902, William J. Wilgus, chief engineer of the New York Central Railroad, proposed a visionary project to replace the existing Grand Central Station and its increasingly chaotic, open-air rail yards with electrified, subterranean tracks capped by a state-of-the-art new terminal. Sam Roberts, urban affairs correspondent for The New York Times, describes the scope of the project in his book, Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America:

Absent the smothering smoke, soot and cinders, the depot could be expanded on the same footprint by delivering trains to platforms on two levels, the lower for suburban commuters and the upper for long-distance trains. For the first time, the entire rail yard all the way to 56th Street, to where the maze of rails that delivered passengers to the platforms coalesced into four main-line tracks, could be decked over. The “veritable ‘Chinese Wall’ ” that bisected the city for 14 blocks could be eliminated. The air above the yards could be magically transformed into valuable real estate in the heart of Manhattan.


Tap&Ride MetroCard: the future for fare payment in New York?

Gotham & Hudson was contacted recently by RSG, a research firm conducting a survey on future fare payment technology for the MTA. The survey presented a hypothetical contactless fare payment system that appears to work much like London’s Oyster card, and other systems that rely on near-field communications (NFC) technology. In addition to accepting contactless cards, the survey suggested the hypothetical New York system would also accept fare payment from NFC-equipped phones:

Within the next five years, MTA NYC Transit will introduce a “contactless” fare payment method. Contactless means you tap or touch a card or phone at a reader by the bus farebox or on the subway turnstile to pay your fare.

You will be able to pay your fare with your own smartphone, or contactless credit, debit, or prepaid card issued by a bank or credit union, just like a store or restaurant. You will also be able to use an MTA-issued contactless card good only for transit use.

The survey included several graphics that referenced a “Tap&Ride MetroCard” and showed existing subway turnstiles fitted with new NFC readers. According to the survey, the Tap&Ride MetroCard would allow account holders to access travel history and purchase transit passes on the web or via a companion mobile app, and even receive a mobile alert when it’s time to purchase a new transit pass. The issuance of contactless cards is important as well, since it provides a graceful fallback for an exhausted phone battery, and an option for transit users who don’t own NFC-equipped phones.

The MTA has been understandably cautious about picking a nascent technology to replace the current MetroCard, but the recent launch of Apple Pay is likely to move NFC technology into the mainstream. Technology news website The Information notes that Apple is already working with several companies that make NFC-based access control and ticketing systems to integrate Apple Pay into their products.

For the MTA and transit riders alike, replacing the aging MetroCard technology with a contactless fare-payment system will be a major step forward in convenience, security, and cost savings. The benefits would be even greater if it extends beyond the confines of the MTA system to include PATH, NY Waterway Ferries, Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, and NJ Transit buses, especially those that connect riders to the subway at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal.

A Viable Plan for Penn Station

At the 2014 Summit for New York, the Municipal Art Society and Regional Plan Association presented the latest development in their Penn 2023 campaign to remake Penn Station. The 42-page report, Madison Square Garden: Shaping the Future of West Midtown, highlights two options for the future of the station and arena, along with a feasibility study for turning the surrounding neighborhood into a cultural district. The first option, presented as the ideal scenario, would relocate Madison Square Garden one block southwest, replacing the Morgan postal facility on a site bounded by Ninth and Tenth avenues between 28th to 31st streets. Without the arena above it, Penn could rise above street level, restoring a semblance of what was lost when the original was demolished in 1963.

A second option, developed for MAS & RPA by architecture, design, and consulting firm Woods Bagot, was presented as the backup if the first option’s “grand bargain” to move MSG can’t be reached. It focuses on reconfiguring the complex at street-level to create an entrance hall for Penn Station. Woods Bagot’s website says the proposed hall would be as large as the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal, contain retail and dining, and extend around the arena to the station’s Seventh and Eighth avenue entrances:

Director Jeffrey Holmes discussed removing the theater that sits under MSG on the Eighth Avenue side and opening up that facade to be a big entrance hall with steps down to the concourses. The floor of the arena, which is currently elevated, would serve as the hall’s ceiling. A similar move could apply to Seventh Avenue, resulting in a more prominent entry hall there, too, which would “open up the center of the site” and bring light down to the concourse level.

The multi-level, glass-enclosed expansion flows around the arena and 2 Penn Plaza tower, framing a second, east-facing entry hall on Seventh Avenue and bringing street-activating retail and dining to the block’s north and south edges. The four-story-tall expansion mirrors the civic scale of the Farley Post Office, recalling the cornice line of the historic Pennsylvania Station, and supports a new rooftop public garden. The arena, which gains additional program space as part of the expansion, is clad in reclaimed timber to complete the “new” Garden.

The “grand bargain” proposal to move Madison Square Garden and rebuild Penn without the arena above it is visionary, but a brand-new, above-ground station building doesn’t fix the most urgent issues with Penn Station. Worse yet, it could divert attention and resources from them at a time when the region can’t afford to wait. The century-old North River Tunnels are already operating over capacity, and the brackish water that inundated them during Hurricane Sandy has caused deterioration that may force Amtrak to shut them down for repairs. Any disruption in service to the only intercity rail tunnels connecting New York and New Jersey would be felt along the entire Northeast Corridor, from Boston to Washington, and as far west as Chicago.

Furthermore, Penn station itself is trifurcated into three separate passenger environments, which inhibit smooth passenger flow, complicate transfers between Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, and New Jersey Transit, and make an already limited underground space even more congested and unappealing to travelers. As the new towers at Hudson Yards open over the next five years, their residents and workers will put additional strain on the existing station and tunnels, long before the vision of a new Penn Station is realized. These problems are too critical to wait for the “grand bargain” to become reality.

Woods Bagot’s proposal, by contrast, appears significantly more feasible and politically practical. It would address several of the station’s most critical needs–street presence, passenger flow, lighting, seating, and access to tracks–in a much shorter timeframe, and at lunch lower cost, than relocating the Morgan postal facility, building a new MSG, and demolishing the current arena, just to reach the point where a new Penn could be built. It would also be more palatable to the Madison Square Garden Company, because it preserves the $1B invested by the company between 2010-2013 to modernize The Garden.

MAS and RPA’s successful 2013 campaign to limit The Garden’s operating permit to ten years put its owner on notice that staying put wasn’t a given, and was a major victory for political awareness of the critical problems surrounding Penn Station. Now it’s time to use the leverage gained from that victory to engage MSG, city and state politicians, and the three transit agencies that occupy Penn to make the Woods Bagot proposal and Amtrak’s Gateway tunnels a reality well before 2023.

Update: Cap’n Transit suggests converting the Farley post office building into a new bus terminal:

We know that there’s a shortage of places to catch a bus in Manhattan, particularly near the Lincoln Tunnel…There is a lot of space (with skylights!) inside the old building where the postal trucks used to go, and more along the sides…You could even build a flyover across Eighth Avenue, or maybe even an underpass next to the train tracks, if you wanted to spend some money. Back inside, there are big open spaces for concourses.

The Port Authority is seeking funding to build a bus storage facility on land it owns between 40th and 41st streets between 10th and 11th avenues:

In March, the Port Authority applied for a grant from the Federal Transit Administration to construct a bus facility on the Galvin Plaza site. This grant would help fund a one level facility for bus parking and staging, with direct access to both the Lincoln Tunnel and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, reducing the need for buses to enter the local street network. The proposed bus annex would have 112 highly flexible storage spaces that could be used for either bus parking or bus staging and as possible swing space for the PABT during its reconstruction/rehabilitation.

Imagine if intercity and long-distance bus service was moved from PABT to a new bus terminal at Farley/Penn. This would free up capacity for local and commuter bus services, currently subject to quickly-compounding delays during morning and evening rush. Popular, low-cost services like Bolt Bus and MegaBus could be moved from their makeshift, on-street pickup points to the new terminal, improving the street-level environment around Hells Kitchen and the emerging Hudson Yards neighborhood. The Port Authority’s proposed bus storage facility would be in the vicinity of both PABT and the Farley building, so it could provide bus layover space for both terminals. Together, a renovated PABT, new layover storage facility, and intercity bus terminal at Farley/Penn could form a long-term, dynamic solution to Manhattan’s bus capacity needs.