In the past year, dockless electric scooters have found a home in cities across the country. Adoption rates have been incredibly fast, with riders heralding them as a cheap and convenient way to navigate their city and curb car usage at the same time. But the scooters are controversial and, while beloved in some cities have been banned in others. In a city like New York, which has a booming public transit system with unfortunate gaps throughout its outer boroughs, scooters could become the solution to accessibility issues while simultaneously addressing congestion. But there are plenty of potential snags.
While dockless e-scooters clearly address a national pain point, they’re hotly contested by some city residents and officials. In many cases, e-scooter companies neglected to apply for permits, prompting San Francisco and other cities to order all scooter operations ceased until the appropriate permissions were granted. Meanwhile, residents are complaining about scooters discarded in the middle of sidewalks, and safety concerns like riders weaving in and out of traffic without helmets, and ignoring stop signs, red lights, and one-way street signs
The e-scooters haven’t yet made an appearance in America’s most populous city, but New York City officials are in discussions with company representatives. While they’ll need to navigate considerable regulatory and infrastructure challenges, a dockless e-scooter invasion is likely imminent. New York City is the third most traffic-congested city in the world and the second worst traffic-jammed city in the country. That congestion costs the city billions of dollars annually, not to mention environmental and quality-of-life concerns. Residents have a lot to gain by welcoming scooters, and in cities that have successfully adopted their use, they’ve proven a great way to connect the gaps in public transportation, zooming commuters from subway stops to their final destinations.
The trick will be in the deployment, something which the city is taking very seriously. As it stands now, most of NYC’s curbsides are dedicated to car parking, placing constraints on scooter parking and increasing the likelihood that they’ll wind up blocking pedestrian foot traffic on the sidewalk. But, if ample space can be allocated for scooter parking and the appropriate safety regulations are addressed, the new technology could be a boon to the city.
As it stands, New York state’s DMV classifies electric scooters as motor vehicles, meaning they must be registered, but since there’s no process in place to register e-scooters, they can’t legally be driven in the state. Electric-assisted bicycles have faced the same problem, but a state bill is changing that and could pave the way for e-scooters to follow suit. For the time being, however, it remains to be seen how e-scooters will be classified, or even whether they would be driven on sidewalks, in bike lanes, or on roads. Whatever the DMV decides will dictate the city’s next move, as it ponders the viability of the scooters and necessary safety requirements.
Cities face these challenges with every new mode of transportation. Biking was less feasible prior to the widespread designation of bike lanes. Uber and Lyft also upset the status quo. It’s taken years, but NYC is still struggling to properly regulate ride-sharing companies, most recently temporarily suspending them from adding new ride-hail cars until it can research ride-sharing effects on congestion and driver wages.
But if anyone is up to the task of successfully regulating dockless e-scooters, it’s New York City’s Department of Transportation, which is one of the largest and most sophisticated transportation governance bodies in the world. And the Senate has already introduced a bill that would make e-scooters legal throughout the state. Plus, the scooter company Bird recently held a demonstration in Brooklyn, generating community interest and enthusiasm for the new technology.
Much of New York are working together to make e-scooters a reality, making it less a question of if they will surface, but rather when it will happen — and how.
April 27, 2019 was to be the day that threw Brooklyn into turmoil. The long-dreaded closing of the 14th Street Tunnel between Williamsburg and Manhattan would disrupt and delay thousands of commuters, changing work and life plans for countless New Yorkers. Until that is, a press conference hastily called on January 3 where Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that, after much deliberation, the shutdown was itself being, well, shut down.
New York’s 5.5 million daily commuters are certainly no strangers to working around delays and changes, but a major East River crossing being shut down for 15+ months is a new beast entirely. The shutdown had been discussed in near-apocalyptic terms, and now it may not be happening at all.
The controversial plan kicked off as a result of flooding from 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. The 14th Street tunnel, connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan along the L train line, suffered major water damage that, left unfixed, threatened the integrity of the entire tunnel. To make the crucial fixes, at least a partial closing of the tunnel, shutting off train traffic, was said to be necessary.
The controversy isn’t in making long-overdue infrastructural fixes to a system in need of many–few New Yorkers will claim that fixing signals, tunnels and tracks is a net negative–it’s the massive disruption that many have been preparing for since the shutdown was first proposed in 2016. The L train is one of many lines in the subway system, but for many neighborhoods, it’s the only link to Manhattan. Williamsburg, a hugely booming Brooklyn nabe for the past decade-plus looked to be cut off completely from their best route into the city.
Many are rejoicing at the news, but the sudden change naturally calls into question all of the consideration city and state officials had on display throughout the entire planning process. Months of town hall meetings and community board gatherings informed the MTA’s 18-month plan. Does this unilateral move by the Governor threaten to undermine these voices? The new plan still must be approved by the MTA Board, who are largely expected to okay the plan lest their public perception drop even further.
The announced fix-up plan, based upon a method used in Europe and Asia but new to the U.S., will eliminate the need for miles of old cable to be removed from damaged tunnel walls. Instead, workers will be mounting new cables on the walls themselves and installing a system to monitor the old walls and spot-fix rather than wholly replace them. This work will be taking place nights and weekends for a planned 15 months, about the same length of time the entire tunnel was expected to be closed. Any big changes to the complex world underneath NYC’s streets demands careful thought and consideration, and many are concerned these construction changes weren’t fully thought through by those in charge.
In any case, the 250,000 daily riders of the 14 Street tunnel, plus countless businesses on both sides of the river are now dealing with an entirely new set of circumstances. This change came as a shock to many, especially Brooklyn residents, businesses, and realtors who made plans for 2019 and beyond on the assumption that the L train would be a non-factor. Daily L train ridership may be slightly reduced in number thanks to the change, but don’t expect empty trains at rush hour. It’s likely that assuming the new plan is approved by the MTA board, the majority of riders will be thankful the potential crisis has been averted.
New York City’s subway has seen a lot in its century-plus history, and a major shutdown being canceled certainly ranks among it’s most surprising happenings. No matter what happens next, planned overhauls of MTA processes and equipment aim to bring the nation’s oldest underground rail system into the 21st century. The subway system may never truly be problem-free, but it’s a future 5+ million New Yorkers will definitely hope for.
New York is a place where change has been a constant since the very beginning. Our vaunted skyline, iconic in countless ways, is no exception. In the coming years, supertall construction all across the city where the skyscraper was born promises to revamp NYC’s public face as we build the 21st Century. Here are 5 buildings changing the look of New York City’s skyline in a major way in 2019 and beyond.
When you’re talking about changes to the skyline of the city, a 1,400-foot tower on 42nd street certainly qualifies. Due to top out in 2020, the office building will be the fourth tallest in New York, standing over Grand Central Station in Midtown East. While it’s unlikely any new construction can rival the historic train station aesthetically, this modern counterpart to the 105-year old terminal will serve as a visual reminder of how this city blends the old and the new on nearly every corner.
Central Park Tower
No list of towering new constructions would be complete without Central Park Tower, slated for completion in 2020 after a 6-year building process. The finished structure will stand 1,550 feet, making it the second tallest in the nation (behind 1 World Trade Center, 4.4 miles away). Even more intriguing news than that, however, may be indicated in the building’s nickname: the Nordstrom Tower. The venerable luxury brand’s first full-line flagship in New York City will take up seven floors within Central Park Tower, ensuring that for at least some fashion-minded New Yorkers this supertall building will be a can’t-miss destination.
15 Hudson Yards
The Hudson Yards complex has been rising above the trainyards for a few years now, with multiple distinctive buildings clustered on Manhattan’s West Side. 15 Hudson Yards, completing in 2019, may well be the most distinctive for multiple reasons. While the upper reaches of the structure will definitely command attention, a planned cultural venue at its feet known as the Shed may well be the most attractive part for most New Yorkers. Opening this year, the Shed’s retractable roof will cover (or reveal) an array of events related to art, film, design, food, and many more.
9 Dekalb Avenue
Not to be ignored, the city’s most populated borough has seen a high-rise boom in the 21st century, so it’s only logical that downtown Brooklyn is getting a supertall skyscraper of its own. The site of an historic Dime Savings Bank building (whose Greek Revival facade will be preserved) is where 9 DeKalb Avenue will soar 1,066 feet into the air, dwarfing the area’s current tallest structure by 450 feet. The building will contain retail at ground level while the upper levels will consist of apartments with unrivaled views of nearly the entire city. Among all the talk of Manhattan’s revamped skyline, don’t forget that the growing one across the river is only getting started.
1 Manhattan West
Rivaling the Hudson Yards complex, neighboring Manhattan West’s towers will stand as part of the city’s most attention-getting group of buildings this side of the new World Trade Center. 1 Manhattan West, the biggest of the bunch, will top out in 2019 at 995 feet, with its sister building (the creatively named 2 Manhattan West) planned to start as soon as the roof is in place. The two new clusters of buildings represent an almost pre-fabricated neighborhood over a previously unpopulated area, meaning more New Yorkers and more things to do in this always-exciting city. While the skyline of this city will forever be iconic, there’s always plenty of room for improvement.
This city’s history can be told in myriad ways, whether through its splendid structures, incredible infrastructure, or titanic transportation. But in the end, what makes New York truly memorable throughout history has been its people.
Of the millions upon millions of citizens that have called NYC home, few have guided the course of the city’s progress like the elected leaders who take on the mantle of mayor. Being a local leader in a global metropolis means our mayors carry a great deal of influence, and throughout the years that influence has made for some memorable tenures. Here are just four of the most notable mayors in New York City’s history.
Thomas Willett (1665-1666, 1667-1668)
The first mayor of NYC was born in England, but made his name as a trader in the colonies while simultaneously taking part in administering the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. His fluency in Dutch led to his taking the odd job from Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch leader of the colony of New York (then called New Netherland). Stuyvesant would eventually sign his power over to the English in 1664 with Willett present, and New York City was born. Appointed by new Governor Richard Nicoll, Willett served as mayor of the newly christened city, and his bilingual status was an asset to the transition. When the Dutch briefly retook the city in 1673, Willet was persona non grata and fled back to Massachusetts, where he died the following year.
DeWitt Clinton (1803-1807, 1808-1810, 1811-1815)
The son of a Revolutionary War General, DeWitt Clinton’s contributions to New York and the nation were far less combative than those of his father. As mayor of NYC, Clinton was a crucial supporter of the humanities; establishing the New York Historical Society, the American Academy of the Fine Arts, and serving as a Regent of the State University of New York (SUNY).
Moving on after his mayoralty to become Governor of the state, he played a crucial role in the construction of the Erie Canal. This megaproject connected New York and the rest of the Eastern Seaboard to the Great Lakes, massively expanding the young country’s trade possibilities. His name lives on throughout the city–whether a high school in the Bronx, a park in Chelsea, or public housing in Harlem, DeWitt Clinton’s legacy will be emblazoned upon this city for generations to come.
William Havemeyer (1845-1846, 1848-1849, 1873-1874)
Son of a German immigrant, Havemeyer grew up in his father’s sugar business. By the time he turned 40, he sold his interest in the successful family store and set out to build a political career. He ingratiated himself with the famously corrupt Tammany Hall, but managed to maintain a measure of independence and fought against Tammany politicians later in his career. Havemeyer was strongly anti-slavery, a position that put him at odds with many in the political establishment of his day. For his third term, he defeated the Tammany-endorsed Abraham Lawrence and reorganized the city’s government much to the derision of entrenched powers. A crusader until the end, Havemeyer passed away while in office and was buried in the Bronx.
Fiorello LaGuardia (1934-1945)
Havemeyer famously clashed with the powerful Tammany group, but it wasn’t until the extremely popular and charismatic LaGuardia was elected many decades later that the old party machine was snuffed out for good. As mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia revitalized a suffering city in the midst of the Great Depression.
The son of Italian immigrants, he rallied voters in favor of pro-labor and immigration initiatives during his time as a U.S. Representative for his district in East Harlem. Deciding to run for mayor later on, he claimed the support of the immigrant populations Tammany had long leaned on for control. This popular backing came mostly thanks to his ambitious agenda: financially empowering individual citizens over the banks, expanded work relief for the unemployed, ending corruption and organized crime, and modernizing the city’s transportation and parks systems.
His unmatched charisma helped make these lofty goals realistic, and few mayors in history were as popular as he. Today, the airport that bears his name is a testament to his forward-thinking approach, along with the famed performing arts high school and several more parks and schools. In 1993, LaGuardia was “overwhelmingly” voted the greatest mayor in American history by a panel of historians and experts. In a city that won’t accept any less than the best, Fiorello LaGuardia may well stand for years as the finest municipal leader the nation has ever seen.
It’s hard to think of New York as anything but the bustling metropolis we know it as today. Skyscrapers, yellow cabs, and massive bridges are all part and parcel of the NYC experience. But before NYC was the capital of the world, it was little more than a fur trading outpost for a massive global empire. By the time the English conquered the region in 1664 and christened the city New York, the island we now call Manhattan was well on its way to becoming a center of culture not only in the Americas but for the entire world.
Before Europeans landed in New York harbor, the area was populated by the Lenape people. Lenape agriculture and fish harvesting supported a relatively large population, with an estimated 15,000 people in the New York City area alone. The name Manhattan originates from Manhatta, the Lenape name for the island. Early Dutch visitors to the Americas were drawn by one major commodity: furs. The most common were beaver furs which could be converted to felt for waterproof garments favored by city dwellers. Their rarity in Europe paired with huge demand brought countless explorers, adventurers, and opportunists from Europe to North America to get their piece of the pie.
From Post to Permanence
For the first nine years of its existence, New Amsterdam was little more than a trading post, a place where trappers who did the dirty work turned in their spoils to the more genteel importers. As the fur trade expanded, the outpost became a strategic location for the Dutch West India Company to oversee operations in the Hudson River region. The company built a fortification on the modern day site of Bowling Green park called Fort Amsterdam to solidify their presence. Eventually, a settlement of soldiers and farmers was built out, first as simple tents and smaller, temporary domiciles. As the settlement grew and more Europeans moved to the area, the city of New Amsterdam was established.
Conflict Shapes the Land
This growth eventually came at the expense of the Lenape, who felt the spirit of their land-sharing tradition was being violated. Additionally, diseases brought from Europe infected large swaths of their population, and Manhatta soon became the site of physical confrontations and skirmishes between natives and settlers. The Dutch built a wall to keep others from the settlement, giving the name to modern day Wall Street. Eventually, the fur trade died out and New Amsterdam was conquered by the British in a series of wars between England and the Dutch. The city changed hands multiple times, with the decisive victory won in 1674’s Third Anglo-Dutch War whereupon the city permanently became New York.
Centuries later, New York still bears many remnants of its Dutch origins, with place names like Bowery (from bouwerij, or farm), Brooklyn (breukelen), and Spuyten Duyvil, Dutch for “devil’s spout.” A city born from commerce, New York remains a center of finance and trade in an increasingly global economy. Long separated from its Dutch origins, the city is now home to over 8.5 million New Yorkers from countless ethnicities. What was once a tiny trading post has developed, over a few short centuries, into a truly international metropolis.
New Yorkers of all types have one thing in common: they’re usually on the move. The city abounds with avenues for transportation, from the numerous historic bridges to the ubiquitous subway system. While intra-city transportation dominates headlines, one important, sometimes neglected cohort are those who travel in and out of the city to conduct their business.
If you’re not a daily commuter braving the 9-mile stretch between New Jersey and Manhattan, you might not be familiar with The Hudson Tunnel Project. While it may not attract as much attention as other infrastructure issues, the project is largely deemed the most desperately needed such effort in the country. It aims to modernize and rehabilitate New York City’s existing North River Tunnel, damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and construct a new Hudson River rail tunnel serving Penn Station. The existing tunnel connects Newark to New York City, transporting 200,000 suburban commuters daily. Running approximately 450 trains every weekday, it is the only passenger rail connection between Manhattan and New Jersey. The tunnel also enables Boston-to-Washington service on the nation’s busiest passenger rail route.
The North River Tunnel, built in 1910, consists of two, single-track, electrified rail tubes. Without the project, the tunnel will become more unreliable, with power lines and signal cables failing so regularly that at least one of the tunnels would need to be closed to undergo long-term repairs. This would force the remaining tube, assuming it could maintain operations, to accommodate two-way traffic, thus severely reducing rail service. That setback would instantly cripple the entire Northeast Corridor, forcing more commuters onto impossibly jammed roadways.
It’s easy to see the benefits of the project to New York and the country as a whole. There is an economic necessity to connect commuters to America’s finance and media capital. While the overall impact is debated between supporters and non-supporters, the tunnel is a necessary entryway into a city that accounts for 10 percent of the country’s GDP, and supporters estimate that losing the railway due to eroding concrete and short-circuiting electric cables would cost the country $100 million per day, possibly triggering a national recession. Of course, we should want to maintain and improve service on the Northeast Corridor, which has a ridership equivalent to one-third of all passengers on US domestic flights. Plus, there are the climate benefits to helping clear roads of emissions from highway traffic.
The first phase of the project includes the new railway tunnel under the Hudson, as well as a new Portal Bridge that’s high enough to accommodate passing boats. The existing swing bridge, also constructed in 1910, fails to close properly one out of every seven times it opens to allow boats to pass, forcing maintenance crews to manually bash it back into place with a sledgehammer. Larger efforts, known as the Gateway project, would repair the existing tunnels and add a second new Portal Bridge, providing the Northeast Corridor with the same four-track capacity as the rest of the line. It also includes an expansion of Penn Station, which handles more travelers than the city’s three major airports combined. The Portal Bridge already has the necessary permits, and the environmental review for the new tunnel has been fast-tracked and is awaiting approval by the Transportation Department. The current delay is the result of the project being caught up in a policy war, with the Trump Administration delaying its grants, loans, and permits, which is problematic because every year of delay for the tunnel alone is expected to add another $500 million to its price tag.
But the existing North River Tunnel is already at capacity. At rush hour there are 24-25 trains entering Manhattan, the maximum number possible. And, according to the Gateway website, a closure could reduce capacity by 75 percent. The implications of the Hudson Tunnel Project go beyond improving a painful commute. It’s about preserving a cornerstone of a thriving economy, within the city and beyond.