February 8, 2021
The Alliance had the honor of hosting Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Nicole Gelinas, as a guest speaker at our recent Alliance U. Nicole discussed how crucial it is for New York to get its people back and the possible solutions to do so.
For half a century, New York’s growth policy, stripped of some subtleties, has been as follows:
Step one: Build up a dense corporate office hub centered around 150 blocks of Midtown Manhattan. Step two: Improve transit, so that you can move these millions of commuters onto the island of Manhattan every day in crowded metal tubes, and then, at the end of the day, move them back out.
But because of the current state of the world, both steps are broken.
No one has any idea how New York’s and New Jersey’s transit systems can resume moving nearly 3 million people on and off a dense island by this fall. The answer won’t be more driving. A 30 percent drop in pre-COVID transit would mean a doubling of vehicles on Midtown’s streets — a total standstill.
Midtown is the nexus of a half-century old economic paradigm for three states making it crucial for the survival of NYC and its businesses.
This is not the first time New York has undergone challenges that people feared it would not recover from. Because of possibilities of working remote and the ability to still get work done, more risks exist.
These risks include:
But the biggest risk to the Midtown model is desertion of transit:
Source: Presenter’s calculations based on New York Metropolitan Transportation Council data.
Subway ridership has plateaued at about 30 percent of normal. Commuter-rail ridership is worse:
This graph is from the New York City Comptroller’s office.
With people working remote and businesses opting to move their headquarters, what happens to all those offices sitting eerily empty? This is not a short-term problem. Even if we get a vaccine tomorrow, many commuters have found that they like staying home.
This does not mean forever but the level of flexibility to allow employees to work where they please.
With this challenge, possible solutions include:
But the most realistic solutions include:
… to make Midtown a place where people want to be, not where they have to be.
For the full recording of Nicole’s presentation, check out the following video:
For the Q&A portion of her presentation, watch the following video: