Adam Lisberg reports that lobbyist Richard Lipsky, disgraced by police allegations that he conspired with clients to bribe Senator Carl Kruger with at least $252,000, has quietly resumed at least some of his work. In particular, Lisberg reports that articles are being posted "in a style strongly reminiscent of Lipsky’s" to one of his biggest clients, Willets Point United.
Lisberg was able to recognize Lipsky's online style instantly, because Lipsky basically carries around a giant firehose of shit that he targets at any corporation or organization involved in city politics who hasn't hired him in the past six months or so, and at any government official who hasn't done him any favors recently. He has particular scorn for Our Billionaire Mayor, who can take it, and has recently targeted new State DOT Commissioner McDonald, who probably can too.
Lipsky seems to be incapable of recognizing a political ally who isn't currently paying him money, so he shoots off gratuitous broadsides at old enemies, like this one about bike lanes. Now it seems to me that if one of you're trying to stop a large highway project, you would naturally find common cause in advocates of non-motorized transportation, but Lipsky is so locked into his us-and-them mindset that it doesn't seem to occur to him that cyclists might support Bloomberg when he's doing something they like and oppose him when he's doing something they dislike. Lipsky's mercenary perspective also seems to prevent him from contemplating the possibility that someone might choose their alliances on principle.
Well, your Cap'n is a man of principle, and a strange bedfellow too. I think Bloomberg is a jerk, but I support him when he builds bike lanes and transit projects. I think Lipsky is a jerk, but I support him when he fights a highway project, which is what he did today.
So with that introduction, let me tell you about this Willets Point project. Here we have a functioning district of car repair and scrap metal shops that's located right between the stadium where the Mets play and downtown Flushing. It's right near LaGuardia airport, and lots of people pass it on the #7 train or on the highway. Somebody got the idea that the land is too well-situated to be left to a bunch of car mechanics, so they decided to declare it blighted, evict the owners through eminent domain, and build a mixed-use complex. Politicians left and right have signed on to the thing. The aerial rendering on the main page looks like your typical Corbusian yuck, but the street-level ones look more promising. There's a lot more detail in the DGEIS Executive Summary.
The problem is that all the people involved are convinced, as a former aide to the Mayor said to me, that "people in Queens, they love their cars," and everyone will drive to this new complex. Yes, it's right next to a large express subway station, but as Lipsky points out, even at its eastern terminus the #7 train is at capacity during rush hours, being fed by a network of buses. If people want to use transit, there's not really anywhere for them to go. So Lipsky and friends assume, just like the Economic Development Corporation, that they'll all drive. As a result, the city plans to construct between 6,000 and 8,250 new parking spaces, as well as new on-ramps to the Van Wyck Expressway. It's the on-ramps that Lipsky is challenging on behalf of his clients, hoping that the city will abandon the entire plan if they can't build them.
Honestly, it took me a while to see that there's a great big flaw in the logic that both Lipsky and the City are using to justify their conclusion that there will be 80,000 new car trips a day to and from this development. The highways, of course, are also at capacity. If anything, they're more clogged than the subways at rush hour. So it really seems to me that if you build transit at Willets Point you'll get people using transit, and if you build roads and parking garages you'll get people driving.
There are a number of things you could do to tie this development into the transit system better. You could build a spur off the #7 line, perhaps the beginning of the long-planned College Point Extension. You could build an AirTrain (elevated driverless metro system) from Jamaica to LaGuardia Airport. You could build at-grade physically separated light rail from the Mets train station east through Willets Point along Northern Boulevard. You could build a bus terminal connecting to the Mets train station, and redirect many of the lines that currently terminate in Flushing to the new terminal. You could increase the frequency and coverage on the Port Washington Branch of the Long Island Railroad so that it becomes more like a subway.
Yes, all those things are expensive, but think about it this way:
8,250 parking spaces at $28,000 a space = $231 million. Add the $55 million that the City wants to spend on the highway ramps, for a total of $286 million. That could build you 1.8 miles of AirTrain at $155 million a mile, or 4 miles of light rail at $75 million a mile.
My per-mile figures are probably off, so Alon Levy, o guru of per-mile construction costs, please enlighten if you have a chance.
Oh, and for those who are wondering why they should care: we're talking about 8,000 new households in the city, a tenth of one percent of the total. Do we want them identifying themselves and voting as drivers, or as transit riders?