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LOIS WEISS: Hudson Yards Will Be A Transportation Torture Chamber

The future looks bright at Hudson Yards. The towers in the mega-developments now under construction on Manhattan’s West Side are thrusting into the skyline and starting to fill with people.

Lois Weiss, Bisnow contributor

But it is the number of people that will be commuting, and moving them around in the future, that casts a dimmer light. A review of planning documents, now well over a decade old, shows there will simply be too many people coming and going to the area and not enough ways to get them to and from other parts of the city.

The Hudson Yards subway station is not a transit hub, but merely a terminus for the No. 7 line. This thin blue line starts in Queens, stops at Grand Central Terminal, and ends at 34th Street and 11th Avenue. It sucks thousands of people into it as it crosses other lines and finally spits them out at Hudson Yards.

Even now, commuters coming into Manhattan from Long Island City in Queens say they may have to wait for a train or two to pass before being able to get on a No. 7 heading toward Manhattan, the cars are so densely packed with people.

Yet only a few travel all the way to Hudson Yards; the only building open so far is the 10 Hudson Yards office tower. The development is so far away from its full potential as a gravity-shifting neighborhood that the subway station closes on weekends.

LOIS WEISS: Hudson Yards Will Be A Transportation Torture Chamber

But that will change as each of the dozen or more planned office towers opens to 4,000 to 5,000 workers over the next few years, with 55,752 people expected to work just in Related and Oxford Property Group's project of the same name.

"Right now, it’s tremendously underutilized,” Jeffrey Katz of Sherwood Equities told me about the No. 7. Katz has been buying and selling area sites since the 1980s and will soon be developing a residential tower along 10th Avenue at West 35th Street. “It never occurred to me," that the city hasn’t planned for the future commuters, he said.

Katz said the area and coffee shops are already “flooded” with the young people who have jobs at Coach, L'Oréal or Boston Consulting Group at 10 Hudson Yards, or live in one of the new residential towers.

“The offices obviously have been a success,” Katz said. “They will all get built out and occupied. And the retail will be a game-changer as will [Related’s] culture Shed.”

The leasing agent for the office tower at 3 Hudson Blvd., Avison Young Tri-State president Arthur Mirante, is also a Hudson Yards booster.

“That 7 train was designed to accommodate 30,000 passengers an hour,” he said. “We are just six minutes from Grand Central.”

In a perfect world, that six minutes would be easy-breezy. But in 2025, unless many more commuters decide to Uber or just walk, it might take a half-hour or more just to flow into that No. 7 station.

LOIS WEISS: Hudson Yards Will Be A Transportation Torture Chamber

That is because, on a sunny weekday evening in 2025, planners expect a crush of 37,335 people will be pouring out of the giant towers and retail stores, all heading to one subway station serviced by just one line.

Over the course of the day, 65,625 people are expected to walk to Hudson Yards, but not all of them will have the energy to walk out.

The No. 7 stops at Grand Central Terminal and Fifth Avenue; each has four other connecting lines. A whopping 11 other lines flow through Times Square. A steady stream of the additional commuters funneling in and out of these other lines will also muck up staircases and escalators at every one of these stations.

City planners found buses will be so deficient by 2025, that 170 new buses will be needed just to serve Hudson Yards. That is in addition to the current fleet, which, by then, may also need replacing. The MTA may also have to use articulated buses that double the capacity with mini-train-like vehicles.

Imagine waiting on the crammed sidewalk, in long rows of people on a cold winter day, to board buses, while sometimes a dozen buses just for the same line wait in similar long rows along the street.

Unfortunately, the seven-volume, 4,400-page draft environmental impact statement and eight-volume, 6,600-page final environmental impact statement created by the WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff team that “looked at every square foot of the area along with outlying neighborhoods that could be affected by 18 different alternative rezonings,” could not foresee certain growth both inside and outside Hudson Yards that will now affect commutes.

The daily commuting numbers were predicted long before Related proposed its Shed arts and entertainment venue, and a decade before it unveiled its tourist-generating Vessel, a 150-foot-high, central, interactive climbing sculpture designed to be a people magnet.

LOIS WEISS: Hudson Yards Will Be A Transportation Torture Chamber

Like the Rocky stairs in Philadelphia, no one will be able to leave New York without a selfie on the top of its 2,500 steps.

The numbers were also predicted well before the High Line was proposed as an elevated park that would terminate at the foot of 10 Hudson Yards and the retail podium. The High Line now has millions of people a year walking up and down the West Side.

The prospective numbers were generated before Midtown South’s Flatiron and NoMad became office meccas for tech companies whose employees may want to live in and around Hudson Yards. This was also long before Long Island City and Astoria became hot places to live and work. Some of those people may soon commute to and from Hudson Yards.

The general neighborhood known as Hudson Yards runs from West 29th to West 42nd Street and from the Hudson River to Ninth Avenue. The entire, 60-block area has capacity for approximately 26M SF of new office development, 20,000 units of housing, 2M SF of retail and 3M SF of hotel space.

Projects include giant office towers from Tishman Speyer, the Moinian Group, Brookfield’s multi-tower Manhattan West, Related and Vornado’s redevelopment of the Farley Post Office, and the Madison Square Garden superblock between Seventh and Eighth avenues where Vornado can build 4.2M SF. Its Hotel Pennsylvania can also become the site for 15 Penn, a 3M SF office tower the size of the Empire State Building.

By 2025, the 28 acres of railyards — confusingly also known as Hudson Yards — being developed by Related and Oxford, is expected to host 125,000 people living, working or visiting every day, which equates to 45.5 million people per year.

The entire Big Apple welcomed 58.5 million visitors in 2015, a full 10 million more than in 2010. A good portion of them will also be attracted to Hudson Yards.

Some sections of the No. 7 train run outdoors, and during the blizzard on March 14, the line shuttled back and forth from Manhattan to Hunters Point, canceled for the rest of Queens, which has also become home to dozens of new high-rises holding possible Hudson Yards employees.

The entrance to the new Hudson Yards Subway station

The MTA’s capital plan for 2016-17 begins to purchase buses, but it is unclear which lines these are for. Just 190 articulated buses will cost over $50M — which is shorthand for the MTA knowing they will cost more than that, but it is not sure how much they will actually cost. Another 110 articulated buses running on compressed natural gas will also cost over $50M. These buses will be designed to serve for 12 years or 500,000 miles.

Plans are in the works to replace two escalators in Grand Central for $5M to $10M. The shuttle train area of the Times Square station is scheduled to be reconstructed over four years for over $50M and may act as a relief valve for some commuters who can avoid the No. 7 crush. But some say that short line is already “worse.”

In the future, once a Communication Based Train Control upgrade is made to No. 7’s signal system, a senior MTA executive told me two additional trains per hour could be added. No timeline was provided for that upgrade, and that system was not planned as part of the mitigation for the No. 7.

According to the official, the No. 7 can run 27 trains per hour in each direction, with 11 cars holding 110 people each, for a total of 1,210 commuters per train or 32,670 per hour. Yet the station and its platforms are designed to handle just 25,000 people at peak, the official said, 7,670 less than if all the trains were filled to capacity. Even if two more trains were added per hour, there would literally be no room in the station or platforms.

The MTA said the current capital plan’s bus purchases and 42nd Street escalators are for ongoing replacements, while work on the shuttle platform will correct long-standing problems.

“The MTA is confident that the line extension, stations and bus service will be capable of accommodating ridership at full build-out of the Hudson Yards,” the executive wrote in an email. He also said the agency “disagrees with the premise that the line will not be able to accommodate peak hour passenger traffic to and from the West Side.”

Larry Silverstein, whose World Trade Center towers have been competing with Hudson Yards, is not shy about his No. 7 train thoughts. In 2016, Silverstein told me it is an “unmitigated disaster.”

“When [Rupert] Murdoch looked at it, when JP Morgan Chase looked at it, that’s why they wanted to come here,” said Silverstein of the World Trade Center, which has connections to 11 subway lines, the PATH train to New Jersey and Herald Square.

“And they will be building there for the next 25 years,” he added. With just 2 World Trade Center left to lease, then build, Silverstein said, “We are almost finished down here.” 

So far, Hudson Yards has been winning the Midtown tenant race with companies including Time Warner, BlackRock and others making the lifestyle choice to relocate to Hudson Yards. But when the area fills and the commute turns into a nightmare, will those working there wish they were somewhere else?

Lois Weiss is a Bisnow featured columnist as well as a real estate reporter for the New York Post. She has covered New York City real estate for more than two decades and is a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

WASHINGTON DC 07.20.2017

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