Dan Doctoroff and John Zuccotti Don’t Think the East Side Needs Another Subway

The Upper East Side is only among the densest neighborhoods in the country—why does it need a subway? (Photo by Patrick J. Cashin of the MTA.)

The Upper East Side is only among the densest neighborhoods in the country—why does it need another subway? (Photo by Patrick J. Cashin of the MTA.)

Last night at the Forum for Urban Design’s Next New York dinner, there were many good ideas for improving the city’s transit infrastructure, collected in a booklet given out to attendees. Peter Derrick wants to integrate and beef up New York’s regional railroads, Bob Yaro’s advocated yet again for the TriboroRX radial outer borough rail line and Ben Fried’s suggested a more robust bus rapid transit network.

But not everybody’s ideas for transit struck us as so enlightened. Bloomberg (first the mayor, and now the corporation) executive Dan Doctoroff and Brookfield’s John Zuccotti sat on stage and chatted, and we could scarcely believe our ears when they started talking about the Second Avenue subway: they hate it.

“A silly little spur that doesn’t generate anything other than some convenience for people who are perfectly happy to live where they lived before,” Mr. Doctoroff said. Why, he wondered, was the city going through with it, “even though it’s a subway that doesn’t have any value added?” A “pet project” of the MTA and Sheldon Silver, he called it.

Are we talking about the same subway…? The one that will serve one of the densest neighborhoods in the city? The one that’s supposed to relieve a subway line that carries more passengers than the entire Washington Metro system? The one that’s been planned for the better part of a century? The one that Yorkville was upzoned in anticipation of decades ago? The one that, despite having only four stops, is projected to carry more riders than the entire length of the L train?

If there are two lines on the less-populated Upper West Side, which Mr. Doctoroff calls home, then surely the Upper East Side deserves a second north-south line too, right?

But alas, the comments were the perfect illustration of the mile-wide chasm between transit planners and real estate folks when it comes to picking projects. Transit planners think of projects in terms of the riders who will be served (200,000 each weekday for the Second Avenue line’s first segment, from 63rd Street to 96th)—to many transit advocates, a neighborhood with an existing population deserves infrastructure more than an empty one whose sole constituency is developers.

Subsidized class A office space über alles!

Subsidized class A office space über alles!

Real estate insiders, on the other hand, think of transit primarily as a way of spurring development, and are not swayed by arguments about easing overcrowding or serving tax-paying citizens. And it wouldn’t be the first time Mr. Doctoroff has argued that transit should serve the needs of developers over existing New Yorkers—when the 7 train stop at 10th Avenue and 41st Street was cut, he downplayed the significance, since buildings were already going up in Hell’s Kitchen without it. (By that logic, what was the point of the entire Independent Subway System, now the A/C/E, B/D/F/M and G trains?)

Mr. Zuccotti did, however, cheer on the 7 train extension to Hudson Yards, lauding the Bloomberg administration’s “outstanding performance.” (Nevermind that it lost a station along the way.) Mr. Doctoroff also made reference to the project paying for itself. (Nevermind that the city has had to chip in a quarter of a billion dollars so far to make up for lackluster tax revenues at Hudson Yards.)

Mr. Zuccotti was not, though, so keen on the extravagant Transportation Hub at the World Trade Center—essentially a glorified terminal for the PATH train to New Jersey.

We aren’t in love with the project either. Then again, we aren’t an executive at a company whose office buildings are benefiting from tens of millions of dollars of marble-lined, starchitect-designed tunnels included in the $4 billion project. (At least tens of millions—the Port Authority never broke down the total costs, but we wouldn’t be surprised if they surpassed $100 million.) If Mr. Zuccotti thought the project was such a waste, he might have mentioned that before the Port Authority began building the government-funded passageway to Brookfield’s World Financial Center.

All in all, the comments by the two former titans of New York City development were an excellent reminder that the interests of the transit-riding public should not be confused with the interests of politically-connected real estate developers.