2002-12-18 / Front Page

Mayor Would Bring Air Train To Manhattan

By John Toscano

Gazette photo The Air Train system, which uses mass transit and the LIRR for a direct connection between JFK and Pennsylvania Station is expected to be operating shortly.Gazette photo The Air Train system, which uses mass transit and the LIRR for a direct connection between JFK and Pennsylvania Station is expected to be operating shortly.

In outlining his vision last week to make Lower Manhattan a hub of world business and commerce, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for extending the Air Train from John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport to downtown via a new tunnel and for increased ferry service with a link to La Guardia Airport.

The new connection, the mayor noted, would also connect downtown Manhattan with the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) at the Jamaica/Sutphin Boulevard LIRR station.

The Air Train system, which uses mass transit and the LIRR for a direct connection between JFK and Pennsylvania Station is expected to be operating shortly.

In his speech before the Association for a Better New York last Thursday in Manhattan, the mayor said his vision for making Lower Manhattan a global center would require it to beat the competition from London, Berlin and Hong Kong. Easy access, among the key factors in that competition, he emphasized, is becoming increasingly important. "We must invest in making downtown more accessible—both to the rest of the world, and to residents of the metropolitan region," the mayor declared.

At this point, however, he noted, "New York is one of the premier international cities without a direct mass transit link between its airports and the city center. In London, the time from the city center to the airport is as little as 30 minutes. In Hong Kong, it is 23 minutes, In Berlin, it will soon be 17 minutes. In New York City it is often one hour or more."

"To make Lower Manhattan a global center, we must have direct, one-seat airport access," he declared. "Imagine stepping onto an Air Train and 30 minutes later walking to your gate at JFK."

The mayor said the need for mass transit access to Lower Manhattan under his plan would be the first such connection since 1932. He also called for additional investment in ferry service, beyond what his administration has already done.

"We need to continue to do so," he said, "with investments in links to the other five boroughs and potentially to La Guardia Airport."

Presently, the Port Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) are trying to establish a one-seat ride to La Guardia via existing transit facilities as well as a new link to the western Queens airport. However, they have run into stubborn local community opposition to what appears to be their preferred route, from the N train terminal on 31st Street near Ditmars Boulevard, north on 31st Street and then east along 19th Avenue to the airport.

The mayor proposed targeted investments to create two new neighborhoods south of Chambers Street—one near Fulton Street, east of Broadway, and the other south of Liberty Street, west of Broadway. This would lay the groundwork for a private sector construction of 10,000 new units of housing in the new development area over the next 10 years.

This and other parts of the plan are designed to make Lower Manhattan a 24-hour community with many more residents living and working there.

The mayor’s plan, he said, would be pursued no matter what proposals are adopted for the World Trade Center site. In asserting this, he stated: "No matter how magnificent the best design for the 16 acres of the World Trade Center proves to be, it must be complemented by an equally bold vision for all of Lower Manhattan—a new beginning that meets the needs of all of New York City and of the entire region. The time has come to restore Lower Manhattan to its rightful place as a center of innovation and make it a ‘Downtown for the 21st Century.’"

The mayor pointed out, "When the World Trade Center was first built, it was hailed as a cure-all for everything that plagued downtown. True, it came over time to embody the spirit of Lower Manhattan. It was commercially bustling—and an international icon. That’s why the terrorists destroyed it.

"But if we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize that the impact [of the World Trade Center] was not all positive. The Twin Towers’ voracious appetite for tenants weakened the entire downtown market."

As the mayor envisions the new downtown, "On its streets, conversation in every conceivable language should hum—parents talking with their kids on the way to school along Greenwich Street in the morning, businessmen negotiating on Exchange Place in the afternoon and novelists and artists arguing in cafes, looking out across the East River at night."

But to make Lower Manhattan into that place, he said, "People who reflect all the diversity and drive of New York have to live, work and visit downtown. The public sector’s role is to catalyze this transformation by making bold investments with the same sense of purpose and urgency that allowed us to clean up the World Trade Center site months ahead of schedule, and hundreds of millions of dollars under budget. And to be effective, those investments must in turn trigger a response by the private market."

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