New York’s mass transit rail systems are essentially at capacity, and the city will have a difficult time achieving the projected economic growth in its Manhattan central business district over the next two decades without significant new rail projects. These are the findings of a new report, titled “At Capacity: The Need for More Rail Access to the Manhattan Central Business District (CBD),” was released today by the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

Each day, 89 percent of workers commute to their jobs in Manhattan’s central business district from the rest of the city and the metropolitan region. At current projected growth rates, this means that by 2025 there may be a need to accommodate over 100,000 more additional rush hour commuters. The report finds a pressing need to move forward with the four projects already under consideration that will increase the capacity to deliver riders to the Manhattan CBD: extending the Long Island Rail Road to the east side; constructing the Second Avenue subway line; building a new tunnel across the Hudson; and constructing a new tunnel across the East River between Brooklyn and lower Manhattan. The total cost of all these plans is estimated at $30 billion.

The report was authored by Rosemary Scanlon, an associate professor of economics at the Real Estate Institute of NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and Ed Seeley, a consulting economist specializing in transportation issues who previously spent 26 years in New York City’s government.

Ms. Scanlon said, “The 1980’s and the 1990’s will be remembered as a period of significant investment to restore the health of our mass transit infrastructure; it was a wise investment, and we see the benefits every day. But during the 1990s, we began to encounter a new stress on the system: a tremendous increase in ridership ­ over 40 percent for the subways, and nearly 30 percent for the commuter rails. It’s not merely crowding that we are facing, though that’s unpleasant enough; over the next decade or two, we will begin to see our economic growth stymied by a transit system that cannot handle new commuters.

“The short answer is this ­ despite the budgetary problems the MTA is now facing, we are going to have to act bravely and make the investment to create new rail infrastructure.”

Among the report’s findings:

  • The highest paying jobs in the region are in the Manhattan CBD ­ earnings from Manhattan-based jobs were some seven times larger than those in the next highest county in the region. Thus, failing to accommodate economic growth there is especially costly in the long run
  • The average commuting time has increased, based on data from the 1990 and 2000 censuses, despite the introduction of technologies ­ such as the Metrocard and EZ Pass ­ meant to speed commuting
  • Congestion has caused commuters to come to work earlier ­ the number of New Yorkers commuting between 6:00 am and 7:00 am increased by 40 percent between 1987 and 2000
  • Neither additional buses nor ferries could accommodate more than a small fraction of the capacity that will be needed in 20 years, and the additional buses will present a substantial problem in terms of street space and traffic

Elliot Sander, executive director of the Rudin Center and a former New York City Commissioner of Transportation, said, “Rosemary Scanlon and Ed Seeley have produced a powerfully thoughtful and persuasive report. This is precisely the way the Rudin Center can contribute to the public discourse: by examining policies and trends in a far-reaching manner, and offering policy and management recommendations to improve our transportation systems and infrastructure.”

To view the full report in .pdf format, please follow this link.

Established in 1996 at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management encourages innovative thinking and action in transportation management and policy. The Center achieves these objectives through a combination of value-added research, education, and public service.

Established in 1938, the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service offers advanced programs leading to the professional degrees of Master of Public Administration, Master of Urban Planning, Master of Science in Management, and Doctor of Philosophy. Through these rigorous programs, NYU Wagner educates the future leaders of public, nonprofit, and health institutions as well as private organizations serving the public sector.

New York University, located in the heart of Greenwich Village, was established in 1831 and is one of America’s leading research universities. It is one of the largest private universities, and collectively has more students studying abroad and more international students than any other college or university in the U.S. Through its 14 schools and colleges, NYU conducts research and provides education in the arts and sciences, law, medicine, business, dentistry, education, nursing, the cinematic and dramatic arts, music, public administration, social work, and continuing and professional studies, among other areas.

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