Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Hunter College Report

Earlier this week, a team of Hunter College graduate students released an important new report on the Second Avenue subway project. This 122-page report looks at the project, in a significant amount of detail, with a particular focus on the impact that the construction has had, and will have in the future, on the Second Avenue corridor in Manhattan.

(The full report can be found later on in this posting.)

The idea for this project, entitled Second Avenue Subway: Lessons Learned, originated with the Hunter College adjunct professor, Richard Bass. Mr. Bass is also the Chief Planning and Development Specialist at Herrick, Feinstein, a New York-based law firm.

He proposed the work to Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney earlier this year and she agreed to be the client for the students' Spring 2011 Studio work on the Second Avenue Subway.

The eleven members of the team that worked on the project -- all students in the Master of Urban Planning program at Hunter College -- started researching the Second Avenue subway in early February 2011.

The students interviewed 26 stakeholders, conducted a survey of business owners and residents, mapped out conditions on 124 blocks of First and Second Avenues, and performed as much research as time allowed on the various topics. The full research team met twice weekly, and even often more in smaller groups over a period of about 10 weeks.

First drafts of the various sections of the Hunter College report were compiled by individuals or pairs in the group. Larger tasks were managed equitably by one or two team members, each focusing on different aspects of the project, including copy editing, organizing references and the bibliography, producing maps and other graphics, condensing the project into presentation form, transferring the report into Adobe InDesign, and compiling demographic and other background information.

The Hunter College report identifies eight areas in need of improvement, and suggests corresponding recommendations that address each of them.


1) Lack of communication, coordination, and oversight leads to construction delays and inefficiencies
- Designate oversight agency modeled on the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center (LMCCC)
- Mandate compliance through funding legislation

2) Subway construction will halt without continued political support
- Identify a “political champion” for each phase to build support for construction and advocate for funding

3) MTA and other agencies fail to adequately engage the community
- Create a community-construction advocate
- Expand the existing community liaison position
- Mandate that both positions answer to the community rather than the MTA
- Create a Community Coalition and a Community Advisory Committee
- Adopt an incentive bonus system to reward contractors who address community concerns
- Request that the MTA hire an SAS-specific public relations person to communicate through multiple platforms

4) East Harlem is threatened with displacement
- Create a Second Avenue special zoning district
- Eliminate vacancy destabilization
- Increase affordable housing through a trust fund or through mandatory inclusionary housing
- Develop an incentive program for long-term leases and commercial stabilization
- Limit the size of commercial units in portions of the East Harlem Special District

5) Second Avenue stores face a difficult business environment
- Establish a Small Business Service outpost
- Provide on-site business consultant services

6) Residents are displeased with non-contextual ancillary structure designs
- Create space for ground floor retail in ancillary structures
- Add design elements that relate to adjacent buildings

7) Construction corridor is visually unappealing and unsafe
- Incorporate specific expectations for street maintenance into construction contracts
- Use temporary art to improve construction sites and encourage community involvement

8) MTA has no funding plans for future phases of the SAS
- Nominate a political champion to lobby for funding for future phases of the SAS
- Use legislative mandates tied to funding to implement recommendations in this report


I was particularly interested in the report's recommendation that the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center (LMCCC), whose web site is shown below, could be used as a model to improve SAS-related communication, coordination and oversight.

If one compares the level of information on the MTA's Second Avenue Subway web page with the LMCCC web page, one can clearly see that the MTA's page is, as the Hunter College report points out, "not very user-friendly."

Another very interesting observation in the report was the conclusion that East Harlem is threatened with displacement if/when Phase II of the project is built.

The report argues that the arrival of the Second Avenue subway (in Phase II) will threaten the existing housing stock in East Harlem by causing market rents to soar.

The report recommends that the city create a special zoning district from 96th Street to 125th Street between Third Avenue and the East River in an effort to mitigate the threat of displacement of low-income residents once Phase II is built.

I found it particularly insightful that the students were able to identify this issue, considering that no one from the MTA or in political circles is talking publicly about beginning Phase II of the project any time soon.

The report that has been produced by this small group of graduate students at Hunter College is, in my view, a very significant and important piece of work. Their independent research into this multi-billion dollar project has clearly identified a number of critical concerns that need to be addressed, as the students said, at the political level, the community level and within the MTA.

Whether this actually happens remains to be seen.

The full report can be viewed on Scribd here:
Second Avenue Subway:Lessons Learned
(click on the "view in fullscreen" button above)

Or the report can be downloaded here:
Second Avenue Subway: Lessons Learned (PDF, 43 Mb)
By Adam Benditsky, Erin Durkin, Chris Ell, Neil Garry,
Laura MacNeil, Nick Mosquera, Lucian Reynolds, Kristin Shiller,
Aga Trojniak, Angela Tovar and Sandy Wolff
Hunter College Department of Urban Affairs and Planning
May 2011

A copy of the students' PowerPoint presentation, which was presented on 5/11/2011 to members of Congresswoman Maloney's staff and other invited guests, can be found on this link:
Second Avenue Subway: Lessons Learned - presentation (PDF, 9 Mb)


And now we come to the video of the day:

"Second Avenue Subway Project May 2011" (7:10) By YouTube user NYCityResident posted 5/15/11 The video, which was apparently produced by a resident on Second Avenue, documents several of his (or her) concerns regarding the MTA's construction site just north of East 69th Street. In particular, the video provides visual documentation of workers smoking on the construction site - a place where explosives are being used in close proximity on a regular basis. The video also documents examples of MTA contractor construction activity taking place after their official 10 p.m. curfew. (Note in particular how the video first documents the time of day by showing his/her television tuned to the 10 p.m. news before panning to a shot of heavy machinery moving around on Second Avenue.) A spokesperson in the MTA's Media Relations office told me earlier today that the MTA has seen the video and that they are investigating. :: On a lighter note - The Final Edition, a satirical version of the The New York Times, "revealed" recently that a bike lane would be added to the Second Avenue subway tunnels, as shown in the image below. Courtesy The Final Edition The full story can be found on this link: "New Second Avenue Subway Will Include Bike Lanes" The Final Edition (In case you are wondering - this is not actually going to happen.) ::::: Here's a listing of the recent additions to the right-hand column of The Launch Box FTA Technical Memo No. 8 Accessing Design Changes: 86th Street Station Ancillary Facility #2
Federal Transit Administration, DOT

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm a long time tenant at 1772 2nd Ave, between 92 and 93 Sts and our building's foundation has been so badly damaged by the MTA's construction that we are now facing being vacated permanently (we were vacated previously on June 5 2009 went to Housing Court and got the building shored up, repairs made and 10 months later gas service restored). HPD's inspectors found the MTA liable but are unable to exert legal pressure on them to fix or replace the foundation. So, 13 tenants, elderly and children alike, will have to find new, affordable homes somewhere. Jane Foss