The Omnibus Roundup – NYU Approved, Freight Rail Revived, Bronx Rail Proposed, Tunnels Bored, Manhattan Waste Managed, Hive Installed, and the Olympic Games through Urbanist-colored Glasses

This Wednesday, the New York City Council approved the NYU 2031 proposals by a vote of 44-1, one week after the City Planning Commission also gave the University a go-ahead. The vote in favor comes after nearly five years of intense, and at times vitriolic, meetings and discussions between NYU, the City and community groups. In an email sent to the NYU community by University Senior VP Lynne Brown, she calls the result a “successful conclusion,” and goes on to say that “the plan approved today strikes a good balance, enabling NYU… to create academic space… [while] providing more accessible open space for the larger Greenwich Village community.” Following the decision, the Community Action Alliance on NYU 2031 posted a defiant response: “Now on to the next steps. The faculty lawsuit, announced yesterday after we were kicked out of City Hall, is proceeding. Other possibilities – legal and otherwise – are being investigated. WE FIGHT ON!” The final plan and updated summary can be viewed here.

65th Street Rail Yard | Photo by Flickr user Matt Green

An article in The New York Times this week chronicles the reopening of the 65th Street Rail Yard as part of a larger citywide attempt to revive New York City’s network of freight rail. Clearly, the Bloomberg administration is serious about getting railcars moving again: since 2007, the City has spent nearly $200 million improving and expanding freight rail infrastructure on Staten Island and along the South Brooklyn waterfront; and recently a planned $10 million upgrade of freight rail operations at Hunts Point in the Bronx was announced. Supporters of the reboot say that freight rail benefits the economy, relieves traffic congestion and is more ecologically sustainable than trucking. For example, just four freight trains (around 75 cars) worth of cargo could fill 900 commercial trucks. Some, such as community groups like Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions, have voiced concerns that an expansion of the rail network could have negative effects on those living nearby, noting that freight trains aren’t exactly environmentally benign, and are calling for more funds and efforts to be put towards utilizing cleaner technologies to ensure that freight rail can be a healthy and efficient choice for all parties involved.

This week, in their Omnibus feature examining examples of large-scale, high-density housing in the Bronx, Susanne Schindler and Juliette Spertus noted that a lack of public transportation access to Co-op City played a significant role in the site’s disconnect from the its surroundings, both in terms of its contextual relationship with its low-rise neighbors as well as its residents’ strong sense of community. This week, Crain’s reports that Metro-North is close to approving construction of a new Co-op City Station, as well as stops in Morris Park, Parkchester and Hunts Point. The total expected costs for the stations is about $350 million – relatively cheap when compared to the $5.3 billion price tag for the Second Avenue subway line. The one large obstacle remaining is that the plan rests on a connection between the Metro-North New Haven line and Amtrak routes that run into Penn Station, and thus will have to wait for the completion of the East Side Access project, expected by 2019. Nevertheless, for most public officials and citizens, the plan seems like a winner: MTA data shows that the Bronx “has the highest reverse-commute rate in the country,” and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. last month proclaimed the plan to be “the most important transportation investment in the Bronx since construction of the subways during the early 20th century.”

An MTA tunnel boring machine completes tunneling for the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway, September 22, 2011. The 485-ton, 450-foot-long TBM used a 22-foot diameter cutterhead to mine 7,789 linear feet in two tunnels, averaging approximately 60 linear feet a day. Photo by Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin.

Speaking of East Side Access — though the anticipated completion date is still years away, on Monday morning, the project’s tunnel-boring machine — nicknamed Molina by a class of sixth-graders — finished its run at the LIRR Main Line terminus in Long Island City. Molina’s powering down marked the end of sixteen tunnel-digging projects that have been rumbling under New York City’s streets for the past four years. The 13 miles of new tunnel will be used to extend the 7 line to the far west side, build the first-quarter of the Second Avenue line, and connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal; and Benjamin Kabak of Second Avenue Sagas tells us that the removed rock has been used in foundations for Brooklyn Bridge Park, buildings and a golf course. However, Kabak also points out that the MTA could have done more, especially with the SAS line: its premature termination between 63rd and 99th comes as a bit of a head scratcher when you consider the MTA plans to retire and dismantle the TBMs that will be needed again in the future. These megaprojects are far from complete, but the completion of the tunnels is a significant step towards seeing them made into a reality. As Kabak says, “No politician is too keen on seeing billions of dollars flushed down the drain as preexisting tunnels sit idle and unfinished.”

The Bloomberg administration’s plan for Manhattan’s first waste transfer station has received final regulatory approval this week. The City received a permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers to begin construction of a marine transfer station on the East River at 91st Street as early as this year; the facility would become operational by 2015. The 91st Street station is part of the larger PlaNYC waste management document released in 2006, one goal of which is to improve “borough equity,” where each borough is responsible for managing and processing the waste generated within its borders. Plans for two other Manhattan marine transfer stations, a new recycling center on Gansevoort Street in Greenwich Village and a modified recycling plant on West 59th Street, have stalled, prompting a lawsuit that claims that those delays will translate into a significant increase in the volume of waste going through the 91st Street facility, thus requiring new approval from the City Council and the State Department of Environmental Conservation. Previous lawsuits attempting to stop the construction of the facility have been unsuccessful.

Hive by Leo Villareal | Photo by DNAinfo/Nikhita Venugopal

A new digital-art sculpture installation has opened underground on the newly-renovated uptown Bleecker Street 6 platform. Leo Villareal’s Hive is the first permanent digital sculpture installed as part of the MTA Arts for Transit program, and as such, according to AfT Director Sandra Bloodworth in our interview with her last year, will serve as an experiment in long-term durability and maintenance requirements of this type of artwork when installed in a high-traffic public space. This week, in an interview with NY1, Bloodworth explained that Villareal’s programming for the patterned light display is based on a mathematical formula (not a board game) by John Conway called “The Game of Life.” Put poetically: “You can see it begins, that it reproduces, that it moves, it lives. Sometimes it stops, dies. … not only evoking the movement and transportation but that process of life.”

Ladies and gentlemen, the Olympics are upon us. The opening ceremony will take place this afternoon (NBC will be replaying the event tonight at 7:30pm EST) in London’s Olympic Park (described by some as being reminiscent of war zones as a result of significant security precautions). Coverage of the games will be, and already is, ubiquitous, so we thought we’d offer a selection of articles that look at the Olympics through urbanist-colored glasses. See the architecture of the London games in Architizer‘s “Guide to the Venues of London 2012,” and review a history of the other side of large-scale Olympic construction, the Athletes’ Village, on Places. Think of what it takes to feed an Olympic athlete, and then imagine what it takes for a city to supply 14 million meals (to both athletes and visitors) over 27 days, in Civil Eats‘ analysis of “the largest peacetime catering operation in the world.” Revisit the Olympic games of the first half of the 20th century, when medals were awarded for painting, sculpture, architecture, literature and music, in Smithsonian Magazine. And then New Yorkers, as you take your relatively uncrowded trip home tonight, remember, it could have been us. Enjoy and may the best country win!


This post has been updated to correct an error: the 13 miles of new tunnels in NYC include an extension of the 7 train, not the 7th Avenue line, as was previously stated. Thanks to Jay for alerting us to the error. 

The Roundup keeps you up to date with topics we’ve featured and other things we think are worth knowing about.


The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.


Georgia July 28, 2012

The vote that occurred a week before the full Council vote on June 25th was made by the full Land Use Committee of the Council as well as the Zoning and Franchises subcommittee. The City Planning Commission vote occurred in June. Also, the “accessible open space” that Brown refers to includes an indoor atrium — this seems so 1980s midtown and not 21st century greater and greener NYC.

Jay August 1, 2012

Is part of the 13 miles of new tunnel intended to lengthen the 7th Avenue subway (as stated in the article) or extend the number 7 line to the west side (presumably the latter)?

Varick Shute August 2, 2012

Jay — Yes, you’re right, thanks for catching that! We’ve updated the post with the correction.

-Varick, UO