Technical Studies

Beginning in 2004, substantial grants from the New York Community Trust enabled the vision42 team to commission a series of technical studies of the proposal for an auto-free light rail boulevard on 42nd Street — to address its economic implications, to analyze and resolve its traffic implications, to estimate its costs, and to examine the most expeditious construction phasing techniques.

The most recent technical study, Phase 6 – Update of vision42 Benefits, Costs and Fiscal Impacts, was completed in January 2017 by the well-regarded firm – Urbanomics. View Phase 6.

The Phase 6 study found that with the city’s dramatic recovery from the financial crisis, the projected economic benefits of vision42 have increased substantially. The monetized value, in 2015 dollars, of the travel time savings of this 2.5-mile river-to-river light rail line is estimated at over $693 million per year, based on Urbanomics’ detailed analysis of the parcels in the corridor. This far exceeds the $113 million annual cost of diverting motor vehicular traffic to nearby streets, based on traffic studies done by Sam Schwartz LLC, and factored by Urbanomics to 2015 dollars.  The construction cost (in 2015 dollars) is estimated at between $570 and $807 million, using current indices in the New York City area. Urbanomics estimates the implementation of vision42 will result in a $4.5 billion increase in commercial and residential property values in the corridor.

All six economic studies, prepared by Urbanomics, and posted on the vision42 website, reflect the enhanced data sets and refined modeling techniques that have become available over the past 15 years. The Phase 5 study, completed in 2012, also found that a 16-stop, river-to-river light rail line would produce three times the benefits of a single new 10th Avenue station on the #7 subway extension, while the projected construction cost for the station would be greater.

The Phase 6 study also updated the projected financing plan, which would allow the full cost of construction of vision42 to be paid by capturing a small portion of the substantial increase in property values in the corridor.

Links to the five earlier economic studies, the two traffic studies and the three cost and construction phasing studies are shown below:

Economic Studies


Phase 1: Potential economic consequences: including time savings to individuals, monetary benefits to owners of existing commercial and residential buildings and development sites, benefits to tenants of existing commercial and office buildings, and the resulting increased tax benefits to the City and State, which could in turn help fund the project.

Phase 2: Anticipated benefits to retail and restaurant businesses, to hotels, and to theaters, as well as new jobs to be created, and increased worker earnings, and the resulting fiscal benefits to the City and State.

Urbanomics. Regina Armstrong, Principal, Senior Fellow and former Vice President for Economics at the Regional Plan Association, distinguished for many economic studies in NYC, has led this team. Georges Jacquemart, PE, AICP, transportation consultant and Principal at Buckhurst Fish & Jacquemart, worked with the Urbanomics team on transport-related economic issues.  Key findings by the team show a highly favorable cost-benefit ratio, indicating a clear means of funding the light rail line.  They include a projected $1.0 billion increase in commercial property values along the 42nd Street corridor as a result of improved crosstown accessibility, yielding annual transportation and fiscal benefits whose combined value far exceeds the total capital costs of the light rail and pedestrian street. The benefits identified in the Phase 2 study, when added to those in the Phase 1 study, show an annual economic and fiscal benefit of $886.1 million for the vision42 project.

Traffic Studies


Phase 1: Traffic analysis, traffic diversion and its consequences, including delivery and access, traffic shrinkage and elasticity, cost impacts of traffic shifts, taxi access to Grand Central Terminal, special impacts at Lincoln Tunnel, Route 9A and FDR Drive, transit ridership impacts, and parking issues.

Phase 2: Refinement of the earlier traffic analysis, and a focus on the delivery truck parking provisions.

Sam Schwartz, PLLC, a well-regarded firm founded by a former NYC DOT Traffic Commissioner, has performed this work, which has encompassed data from three voluminous environmental impact studies for major projects along the corridor — The Hudson Yards on the West, One Bryant Park at the Avenue of the Americas, and the redevelopment of the Con Ed sites on the East Side. The SSC study area is from 37th to 47th Street, river to river. With mitigation measures, SSC has found that the issues of traffic diversion with vision42 are quite managable. SSC has also taken advantage of the absence of turning movements at 42nd Street to provide taxi stands and parking bays for truck loading on the avenues close to the intersections (in addition to existing bus stops). The Phase 2 traffic study analyzes delivery truck parking in detail, with field observation of existing parking demands in terms of “curb feet-minutes”, and demonstrates how this demand can be accommodated nearby on the avenues.

Cost and Construction Phasing Studies


Cost Study: Estimate of capital, operating and maintenance costs, including the cost of vehicles and a maintenance facility; costs and feasibility of optional current collection systems (including batteries and fuel cells); a range of costs for utilities relocation (depending upon political decisions); the costs of an enhanced pedestrian environment (high quality paving, light rail shelters, plantings) and any increased operating costs to the three affected Business Improvement Districts and the NYPD for maintaining and policing open space.  Construction cost estimates, in 2007 dollars, range from $411.25 million to $582.31 million, depending upon the extent of utility relocations and the choice of propulsion system.  Operating costs were also addressed: there would be modest cost savings in comparison with the bus system the light rail would replace; however, because the light rail can carry three times the number of passengers, the operating cost of the light rail per place-mile would be only one-third of the cost per bus passenger.

Construction Phasing Study: Devising plans for the most expeditious staging of construction, such that construction would cause the least disruption to businesses and pedestrians on 42nd Street. The sidewalks would remain untouched by construction, curb space for deliveries would be maintained, and there would be continuous temporary bus service throughout construction.

Halcrow, LLC, a large London and New York-based, multi-disciplinary consultancy with over 4,000 professional staff and extensive experience in all facets of light rail has performed this work. Estimates for utilities replacements and enhancement of the pedestrian environment have been analyzed under subcontract to Halcrow by engineers and landscape architects at Langan Engineering & Environmental Services, Inc. Vehicle operating and maintenance costs of the light rail, as well as increased operating costs to the Business Improvement Districts and to the NYPD for managing the pedestrian street, have been analyzed by experts in these areas at Sam Schwartz, PLLC, also under subcontract to Halcrow. Key findings are that the light rail system itself should cost only around one-tenth as much per mile as subway construction, and that utility relocations that have been requested by the utility companies and agencies are the major component of these costs. However, the extent of these relocations can be reduced through political decision, since streetcars used to run over the utilities up until 1946 without major problems. If the utility relocations are minimized, construction of the project is expected to take two years, and construction on each block is expected to be complete in six months. With full utility replacement, the entire project would take three years. Halcrow also finds this relatively short route a good candidate for self-propelled light rail vehicles, either battery-powered, or, more likely, fuel cell-powered, which would preclude the need for overhead wires.

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