Today’s Headlines

  • Here’s the Deal With MTA Service Additions (NYT, WSJDNA, Crain’s, 2nd Avenue Sagas)
  • MTA Maps Out Its BRT Priorities (Observer)
  • Speed Camera Bill Heads to Cuomo’s Desk for Signature (MTR)
  • A Large Share of Transit Riders Were Born After 1980, and the MTA Is On It (NYT)
  • Off-Peak, Non-Manhattan Trips an Increasing Share of Subway Journeys (WSJ)
  • MTA Sells Soho Parking Lot to Developer (DNA)
  • RPA on MTA Station Naming Rights Guidelines: “Better Than Nothing” (CapNY)
  • Lhota on MTA Bridge Tolls Subsidizing Transit: “That’s Not Right” (Advance)
  • Street Parking Is Free, But Garage Parking Spot in Park Slope Sells for $80,000 (DNA)
  • Weiner’s Pedestrian Agenda: All-Way “Barnes Dance” Crossings (CapNY)
  • REBNY: Gas Station Included in Historic District (News)

More headlines at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

  • I know this isn’t a place for love of gas stations, but there is a reality in Manhattan that there is a need for motor vehicles (though not as many as we have already), and that having zero gas stations south of 125th Street isn’t a good thing. And after Sandy inundated a few of the ones on the waterfront, we also must ensure that any auto facilities need to be protected against extreme weather events just like everything else in the city.

    I don’t think landmarking a gas station is the right way to go about protecting the existence of gas stations (and the one in question, on Houston and Lafayette, is one of the last few remaining south of 34th Street), but I don’t think replacing a scarce resource with a resource in overabundance (another luxury condo tower!) is good urban planning, good economics, or good social policy.

    Note that I’m not saying we need more gas stations than we already have. But they’re an endangered species, and a couple that were recently shut down for high-end development should be restored on surface parking lots elsewhere (something we DEFINITELY need less of).


    Also: there’s a case to be made for protecting a historic district by making sure new developments get reviewed by a supervisory board. It’s not so much about protecting gas stations or auto body shops from demolition as it is about making sure that developers don’t use their already too-loose development rights to create monstrosities like Sam Chang’s various hotel horrors. So, gas station or not, the development plan for that site deserved some scrutiny, and I’m sorry that REBNY feels that this is a fight they needed to get involved with considering how many development opportunities still exist in the city. Maybe REBNY should spend some time petitioning to fix transit in North Brooklyn considering how many of their members have a big bet on high-priced developments in that underserved area. It’d be a far better use of their time than going to war over one lot in Soho.

  • Ari

    I disagree.

    As gas stations in Manhattan become more scarce, prices (per gallon) at the existing ones will go up, reflecting a true cost. That will make driving more expensive and less convenient.

    Eventually, we will reach an equilibrium with fewer gas stations charging higher prices. And the marginal driver will drive less. Econ 101.

  • Guest

    I’ve always hated NYCDOT’s poor markings at Barnes Dances. You can cross diagonally, but they won’t mark it (even though it’s a standard included in the MUTCD).

    But what should you expect of an agency that can’t be bothered to time signals correctly for pedestrians at t-intersections (consider along the east side of Union Square, where pedestrians only have a walk signal when there are turning vehicles, and have a don’t walk light during a phase with no vehicle movements…)

  • Then how do you explain all the “marginal drivers” who still show up in Manhattan in single-occupant cars every single day of the year, often entering Manhattan at its most traffic-clogged points?

    Drivers will put up with more-expensive and less-convenient for a surprising margin past the economic worthiness of driving. (Then they are shocked when they start taking mass transit and – it’s not bad! And I’m spending so much less! And my blood pressure went down 5 points!)

    That point aside, what I’m suggesting is that you can’t make gas stations go extinct in most of Manhattan because of a land rush & lax urban planning policy. Because, as I learned in Econ 101, a completely eliminated resource is one that doesn’t enter into equilibrium at all. Maybe you slept through that part of the class, brother?

  • tyler

    Yeah, Ari… “Econ 1010” — I’m glad you weren’t my professor. Imagine how “inconvenient” and “reflecting the true cost” driving would be if the closest gas station was in The Bronx or New Jersey.

    I can’t see any possible problem related to replacing a single large truck with fuel with 10s of thousands of vehicles (personal AND commercial… remember those?) driving, say, an extra 30+ miles whenever they need a fill-up. Oh, and I guess the casual ZipCar user will have to make sure they include an extra 2 hours in their rental so they can get gas.

  • Ian Turner

    The cost of fueling vehicles includes the cost of dedicating the value of the land under the fueling station to the fueling of vehicles. Who else should pay that cost, but the drivers who want to buy the gas?

  • Steve O’Neill

    The Lhota story made me think of the Subsidyscope report mentioned at But Subsidyscope seems to have removed all mention of this important quantification of car subsidy. (There was also a page where you could get subsidy breakdowns by state.)

    Anyone know if this still exists? Has Subsidyscope been infiltrated by the auto industry?

  • Joe R.

    Realistically, we’re probably not more than a decade from the time when the vast majority of vehicles in Manhattan are electric. Filling up becomes as simple as finding the nearest outlet. Gas stations are one thing which should just disappear from the city. The fewer gas stations, the more likely fleets will go electric rather than face the inconvenience of driving to LI or NJ to fill up.

  • If all of the various governmental entities that controlled such things would make a serious push toward electrifying NYC vehicles (with commercial vehicles and taxis leading the way), I would be VERY supportive of that, and would find that a semi-agreeable way to address the gas supply issue in Manhattan.

    So, when we elect our next governor, we should keep this in mind. This is the sort of thing that the mayor has little control over given how NY State set things up. But it would be for the vast benefit of NYC residents, and of small inconvenience to people who can afford to drive single-occupant vehicles into Manhattan from afar.

  • Joe R.

    NYC could really lead the way here for the simple reason the commercial fleets are HUGE. One reason automakers give for being reluctant to build EVs are the relatively low sales numbers. The smaller volumes also makes EVs more expensive than gasoline vehicles. Imagine if several large fleets like taxis, sanitation trucks, postal vehicles, and perhaps police cruisers all went EV. That’s a huge volume of vehicles right there. The city would benefit further by the much lower operating costs, plus the reduced emissions. I definitely think we should see where the next governer stands on this issue.

  • That’s a good point, but it becomes an urban planning issue when you practically need venture capital-level investment to establish and operate a single supply station for a resource that is widely needed and used.

    Think about what you said when related to parks. Should people pay a $10 entry fee to a playground because the land under the park has “a value” on the market?

    I do understand that existing parks don’t work that way, but this “market” is a reason why the city has such a difficult time reclaiming land for public use, including utilities and recreation. And the market is not fluid because there is no spare inventory of “land” in Manhattan anymore. Landowners lock up their properties for decades for sub-par use waiting for a huge cashout opportunity. It’s under these conditions that gas stations were allowed to exist below 59th Street at all! Each of these property owners were speculating on the land and letting the gas stations chug along until the moment was right for a development. So now all of them are about to be gone because of the current rush to develop luxury condos, a bubble that might deflate soon anyway.

    I think that, if you allow people to drive on the streets in Manhattan (even if you discourage the activity), you have to make refueling viable. Usually land is cheap enough so that this problem takes care of itself. But all of the land in Manhattan is spoken for and unavailable for any such repurposing, unless the city changes its urban planning policies or suddenly comes up with hundreds of million dollars to start buying prime lots.

  • Peter

    Will the electrical infrastructure for the city be ready to handle that load?

  • Peter

    Will the electrical infrastructure for the city be ready to handle that load?

  • Bolwerk

    People born after 1980 are selfish ingrates who don’t deserve anything better than buses. The little pieces of garbage should be thankful they get that much. Unless they’re from Long Island; then they deserve the most expensive station cavern in the history of mankind. Now let’s vote the pols, bureaucrats, management, and union a retroactive pension enhancement so they can run off to the sunbelt! And if those punks born after 1980 complain about getting the bill, why I oughta….

    OK, being serious: meanwhile, Lhota is on a panderfest for the votes of the people who never left for Florida, but maybe we shouldn’t be sorry to see go. He was an able MTA chair, but I hope he doesn’t become mayor. Hopefully the other four, more sensible boroughs, make a conscious effort to outvote SI.

  • Ex-driver

    Anyway, that article is just REBNY propaganda and its premise is ridiculous. Nobody sets out to landmark gas stations (unless, as might be true in rare cases, they are architecturally significant). In general, the only reason a gas station would be included in a historic district is to provide a way to review inappropriate redevelopment of the site that might further harm the historic integrity of the surrounding area.

  • Ari

    You clearly didn’t have a professor.

    As I said, an equilibrium will eventually be reached. There will be gas stations in Manhattan. But they will charge more.

    There are still storage facilities in Manhattan. But they charge more than ones in Jersey.

  • Ari

    Now it’s getting personal.

    Do you understand what “marginal” means in this case? Of course there will be drivers. But driving will decrease as costs go up. Costs include time. Sure, some people will drive to get cheaper gas. But others will pay the higher price to save time. And others will just drive less.

  • Bolwerk

    Well, hate to say it, but tyler has a point. If you’re going to have cars around, it’s better the refuel at least sorta nearby rather than waste fuel to refuel.

    Of course, it would be even better if they didn’t idle in traffic nearby to do it too. Another theoretical casualty of congestion pricing might have been New York’s significantly higher fuel taxes.

  • Bolwerk

    The (unfortunate) economic reality behind gas stations is they’re actually quite “valuable.” Relatively inexpensive to build and maintain above the land they sit on, and they have pretty large, reliable cash flows.

    And the externalities are someone else’s problem.

  • If you want people to drive less, you could find a more elegant solution than inducing people (with unlimited-use roads and highways) into unwisely driving into a central business district (where the roads are already congested) without enough fuel to make it to the next refilling station.

    I know that sounds like something a stupid person would do, but people are creatures of routine and habit; understanding that people already have a lot of things on their minds and might fare poorly with an additional planning/organizational task lopped onto their agenda is an essential part of good urban and transportation design. And like others have noted many times, cars are kind of a lock-in proposition that people do not easily decide to abandon based on the prevailing conditions of the day or week. We’ve had gas crises and shortages and we’ve not seen a flight-to-reliability over the long term, not as long as regional highways and gas stations still “subsidize” urban car usage.

    I was responding in-kind to your Econ 101 statement, which I perceived to be condescending and belittling. I do not let such things pass easily.

  • tyler

    Well, there’s also a serious technological limitation too. “Fast” charging still takes several hours… and the faster you charge the batteries, the shorter the overall lifespan of the battery becomes — and the lifespan of these EXTREMELY expensive batteries is already quite short (say, half that of the average lifespan of a car with an internal combustion engine)

    Not saying this shouldn’t be pursued, just don’t think the massive fleets of vehicles for public agencies could happen in a decade or so. It’s just not affordable/justifiable.

    Also, much of the “fleet” aren’t passenger cars — like you said trucks! There are no electric heavy vehicles. The tech doesn’t exist. The 3,800 lb Chevy Volt is still pretty much “cutting edge” technology.

  • Daphna

    I disagree. Housing in NYC, especially Manhattan, is not in overabundance. If there were too many luxury condo towers then prices would be coming down. The fact that prices remain high, and that these are profitable enterprises for developers, shows that demand still outstrips supply. If there was an overabundance then prices would be falling and developers would not be building them because it would not be profitable.

    Also, many “luxury” housing are not really luxury. Many of them are standard medium-quality buildings with market rate rentals or market rate sales (of condos or co-ops) and the term “luxury” is tacked on but not really appropriate.

  • tyler

    Wait?! You mean a dishwasher and a laundry room in the basement doesn’t mean “luxury” everywhere?!

  • Daphna

    Ari is right. People might make the mistake once and have to drive extra to re-fuel, but they would not keep making this mistake. They would learn and adjust quickly. The “marginal” drivers are those that have other options and once driving become a little more inconvenient, a little more time consuming or a little more expensive for them, then they chose their other options for travel available to them such as mass transit.

  • Frank Dell

    I don’t get why Lhota receives any props for his stint at the MTA. He didn’t last a year at the job.

  • Ian Turner

    I think the price of housing is a clear indication that luxury condo towers are very much NOT in abundance, relative to demand. Gas, meanwhile, is still less than $10/gallon. Why should we subsidize driving at the cost of housing?

  • Daphna

    There are not “already too-loose development rights”. NYC would be better with fewer committees reviewing new development. Market forces should play a greater role with less regulation and less bureaucracy.

  • Ian Turner

    Parks are good. Cars are bad. That’s why we should provide land for one and not the other.

    Can you elaborate on WHY you think that “you have to make refueling viable”? What are the consequences of failing to do so?

  • Anonymous

    There’s also a gas station at E. Houston and Ave.D. So, I think that’s 3 below 96th street (including Soho).

  • tyler

    Yes, Daphna… Of course, driving and the automobile is always a “mistake.” What ever happened to reasonable arguments that are somewhere between a car-centric Robert Moses fantasy and a magical car-free utopia of 10 million people.

  • Anonymous

    Exactly. More space for people, not for cars.

  • Anonymous

    “Also, many “luxury” housing are not really luxury. Many of them are
    standard medium-quality buildings with market rate rentals or market
    rate sales (of condos or co-ops) and the term “luxury” is tacked on but
    not really appropriate.”

    Yup. You’ll see middle-class developments overlooking the Major Deegan in the Bronx or the Belt Parkway in Southern Brooklyn advertising ‘luxury’ apartments.

  • Joe R.

    Why do you need fast charging? Most fleet vehicles in the city do less than 200 miles a day. That’s easily attainable in one charge with today’s batteries and slow charging the vehicle overnight.

    There aren’t heavy electric vehicles because nobody asked for them. Trucks actually have far lower energy storage requirements per pound of weight than cars for any given range. Or put another way, a 500 pound battery might be enough to move a 3000 pound car 100 miles, but to move a 30,000 pound truck the same distance, you’ll only need a 1,500 pound battery. In other words, large vehicles require proportionately smaller batteries for any given range. That goes down even more if the vehicle rarely goes above 10 or 15 mph (as is the case with sanitation trucks).

    The Chevy Volt isn’t a pure EV. It’s an electric car with an onboard gasoline-powered generator.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know the details but I have seen EV Fedex trucks around Manhattan.

    I found this:

  • Daphna

    Drivers will make the mistake once of not realizing there is no convenient gas station where there used to be and having to drive extra as a result. They will not keep making this mistake. There will not continually be extra driving as the result of eliminating a gas station. Instead those who need to drive will plan accordingly and fuel other places. Those who are driving by choice but who have other options may choose to use their other transit choices once if they find it inconvenient to have to fuel further away.

  • Anonymous

    If you’re driving at $4 a gallon but not at $10 or $12 a gallon (the true social cost of your driving) then you driving is certainly a mistake.

    And if there were tens of thousands of cars that needed to drive 30+ miles because the last gas station in NYC closed down, someone would just open a gas station on one of Manhattan’s many empty lots, charge an arm and a leg, and make enough money to stay afloat.

  • Anonymous

    A lack of gas stations is the opposite of “inducing them” to drive. Just because Albany encourages people to drive into the city and the city can’t do anything about that, doesn’t mean that the city should bend over backwards to keep driving in the city convenient by protecting gas stations.

    We HAVE seen a flight-to-reliability. Part of it is generational–MTA subway riders are disproportionately younger, as reported at the last MTA board meeting. But you’re also seeing older drivers adjust, not just in NYC but across the country. American vehicle-miles-traveled per capita are down for the eighth year in a row:

  • tyler

    One of Manhattans many empty lots? Hmm…

  • tyler

    Sorry, I meant the Nissan Leaf — which is 1,500 lbs.

  • Bolwerk

    Gotta love the name “Leaf.” Tobacco companies should be allowed to brand cigarettes the way car companies brand vehicles. It seems only fair.

  • Bolwerk

    You’re right, of course. He did a good job, but dropped it so fast you can hardly give him credit even for the good job he did.

    He might be some sort of Schitt Romney-style dark horse, wanting to keep the Giuliani/Bloomberg policing-industrial complex alive. But, since that crowd is satisfied with Quinn, I think he just wants to be mayor.

  • Anonymous

    I missppoke. Lots are relatively scarce compared to the thousands of buildings in Manhattan, but in absolute numbers there are still dozens and dozens of empty lots and parking lots that would be available.

  • Larry Littlefield

    He didn’t screw up Walder’s work.