LEARN ABOUT THE COALITION TO
SAVE HISTORIC MURRAY HILL
The Coalition was created by local residents and business owners concerned about the Metropolitan Transit Authority's proposal of an “emergency ventilation plant” for a segment of the Lexington Avenue IRT subway. The construction, along Park Avenue below Grand Central Station, is currently estimated to last up to seven years and cost $100 million minimum.
Like all New Yorkers, the residents and businesses of Murray Hill depend on a safe subway system. But MTA’s position that such construction would have an “acceptable” and “reasonable” impact on our neighborhood is entirely wrong, as is its determination of the need for such a plant and its rationale for spending taxpayer money.
MTA’s proposal is based on a 1994 study that was resurrected when Governor Andrew Cuomo approved a $26 billion capital improvement budget, and the big question for MTA became: How are we going to spend all of that money? Representatives of MTA admitted that the proposed plant was discretionary and demonstrated bias by stating: “We have to build something…in Manhattan.”
In May 2016, MTA released a “scoping document,” a 90+ page analysis of factors that must be considered. The document was the product of MTA engineers and technicians, who have no way of measuring or accurately predicting the cumulative environmental effect of construction over what may be a decade or more. Right after the 9/11 attacks, politicians and public health officials claimed that the air quality was “acceptable.” We now know about the serious health problems of first responders and residents of the World Trade Center district.
In September 2016, MTA President Veronique Hakim admitted in a letter to Borough President Gale Brewer: “MTA/NYC Transit determined that the proposed [ventilation plant] may cause one or more significant impacts on the environment.” There is ample precedent in the neighborhood for long-term MTA damage and disruption: The Union League won a settlement due to damages to its building and health problems of its members from the East Side Access of the Long Island Railroad.
Under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), the Coalition obtained a report of all smoke and track fires incidents on the Lexington Avenue IRT between 33rd Street and Grand Central Station. (Details are in a PDF on this page.) Information prior to 1997 was unavailable, but in the past 20 years, there has not been a single fire/smoke incident where subway riders were in any danger or even inconvenienced. There are already working ventilation fans at both stations that could be ungraded at considerably less cost to taxpayers and less impact on the community.
In a letter to MTA President Hakim, State Senator Liz Krueger expressed her belief that MTA has not shown a need for the ventilation project. An engineer who studied the ventilation plant at Second Avenue and 63rd Street stated that “MTA should avoid the need for this very costly, disruptive project by addressing the cause of smoky track fires in the tunnel. Improved maintenance will benefit the riding public in multiple ways, whereas an emergency smoke system does not improve day-to-day service but will increase the MTA’s maintenance work.”
MTA is already nearly $35 billion in arrears. It is unconscionable to use "emergency" scare tactics in the face of its substantial debt load and an impending fare increase that would affect all subway riders.
Murray Hill is a historic neighborhood at the nexus of “a city between two tunnels,” overwhelmed by midtown congestion and by multiple construction projects that disrupt vehicular and pedestrian traffic. While some are designated "day" or "night," the streets and sidewalks are blocked 24/7.
The proposed ventilation plant would excavate the street and sidewalk on the eastern side of Park Avenue, permitting only one lane of northbound traffic. Such a project would wreak havoc with already congested traffic (particularly for emergency vehicles). There has been an overwhelming increase in gridlock since MTA's proposal was designed 23 years ago due to the designation of an "express route" for crosstown traffic and the closure of another well-used route. Blasting could damage historic and landmarked buildings; noise and air pollution would create an environmental hazard.
MTA must abandon its current plan, wait for an independent and impartial traffic study, and explore alternatives.
The handbook of the State Environmental Quality Review Act states that a no-build option must be considered: “The discussion of the ‘no action’ alternative can be particularly relevant for agency direct actions where the expenditure of public funds must be justified. In addition to impacts that are purely environmental in nature, government actions can affect setting, community character, and even local demographic or economic trends.”
As daily users of the city’s subway system, we want to keep it safe, and it continues to be properly ventilated under normal circumstances. (The proposed project is for emergency use only and would be otherwise inert.) But MTA’s proposal is untenable and unacceptable. We represent a community of thousands when we state that MTA must use taxpayer dollars more wisely.
Current Construction Sites
ABOUT THE ISSUES
On September 27, 2017, members of the Coalition to Save Murray Hill testified at the MTA board meeting, stating our continuing objections to the proposal for a ventilation plant in our neighborhood. At the end of the public testimony, Chairman Joseph Lhota made an off-script, highly unusual statement directed specifically to the Coalition:
"I want the Transit Authority to go back and evaluate what is the most new and modern system so that we can make this system as safe as possible. For the time being, the proposals right now for the Murray Hill station are going to be reviewed, and we will come back to the public at a later date to talk about what options are available to make the Lexington Avenue line as safe as possible."
Mr. Lhota’s promising statement, videotaped and made directly to us, is a very good thing. Our Coalition's work is not done. We must maintain a dialogue with the MTA, to determine what the “review" process entails and what “options” are considered. But we can be hopeful about the outcome for our neighborhood.
The Coalition was formed more than a year ago, specifically to defend our neighborhood from what would be unspeakable damage, because no other community organizations recognized MTA's flawed logic and stepped up to help. Murray Hill was in the cross-hairs this time, but no neighborhood in New York should fall victim to an ill-advised plan, based on a study more than a quarter of a century old, simply because “that’s the way things have always been done.” Chairman Lhota recognizes the need for innovative, efficient solutions to enhance the safety and experience of subway riders—to make a truly 21st century transportation system.
If you've helped our cause—distributing flyers, keeping neighbors informed, attending meetings, enlisting support from governmental officials, contributing to the expenses, etc etc etc—thank you, and take a bow. If you haven’t, you get to reap the benefit of your neighbors’ efforts.