A Response to ReThinkNYC

Last week RPA Senior Vice President Chris Jones participated in a panel discussion with ReThink Studio, a group that released a transportation vision for 2050. The event raised questions about where the policy recommendations of the two organizations are in alignment and where they differ.

RPA is currently developing its vision for the New York region’s transportation system as part of its fourth regional plan, A Region Transformedto be released this fall. While this plan will share many of the goals and recommendations of the ReThinkNYC plan, there are several specific instances where RPA and the ReThink’s proposals diverge. These include:

  1. RPA disagrees with ReThink’s proposal to only reconfigure the existing tracks and platforms at Penn Station without expanding the facility. Like ReThink, RPA strongly supports running trains through Penn and providing direct service between New Jersey and Queens. (Gateway and Penn Station’s expansion should be designed for it.) We don’t believe, however, that the existing tracks alone are enough to meet demand. Growing service demand can only be accommodated by increasing the number of tracks and platforms to accommodate through running service, and increasing East River tunnel capacity to accommodate the increased amount of train traffic to Sunnyside Yards. It is also highly doubtful that the conversion of existing tracks to through service can be accomplished without unacceptable service disruptions.
  2. The ReThink plan needs to explicitly demonstrate how it will address climate change effects, including sea level rise. Places like LaGuardia Airport and Port Morris will need to be protected from permanent flooding, and expanded infrastructure and development opportunities near the Secaucus station will require a plan for the vulnerable ecosystems of the New Jersey Meadowlands as a whole.
  3. Airport capacity should be increased at JFK and Newarkour international airports, rather than LaGuardia.The ReThink proposal includes the expansion of LaGuardia airport onto Rikers Island. While more research is necessary, RPA believes that a better plan for Rikers Island – should the jail close – is to relocate and consolidate industrial and infrastructure uses currently on the Queens and Bronx waterfronts. This would open up valuable waterfront land across the city for parks and affordable housing development – land that is close to under-served existing communities.
  4. Transit investment should benefit existing urban communities before creating new ones. ReThink’s ideas to build new hubs could come at the expense of existing commuters and neighborhoods. For example, a proposed new station in Port Morris in the Bronx would be isolated from surrounding neighborhoods and use land that is better suited and needed for industrial activities. The additional access provided by the station will not be much greater than what could be provided from existing stations.

Even with these differences, RPA shares ReThink’s goals of expanding rail service and ridership, giving the transit network the capacity and flexibility to serve increasingly complex travel patterns and centers outside of Manhattan and providing through service at Penn Station.

Most importantly, RPA and ReThink are in complete alignment that the most urgent priority is to fund Amtrak’s Gateway project to build new rail tunnels under the Hudson River. Without that critical investment, none of our ambitions will be realized.

Regional Plan Association welcomes different perspectives in urban planning issues and believes debate and respectful public dialogue is a vital part of the planning process. We look forward to continuing the healthy dialogue with ReThink, and working together to improve transportation for all of our region.

Read the full remarks of Chris Jones, RPA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Planner, from the May 10th event here.


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