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Transportation Nation

What if NYC Had Won its Bid To Host the 2012 Olympic Games?

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The proposed Olympic Village in Queens (image courtesy of NYC2012/Neoscape)

Fred Mogul will be on the Brian Lehrer Show Wednesday morning to discuss his reporting on this story.


(Fred Mogul - New York, NY, WNYC) Two fencers duel on a New York City sidewalk. One scores a hit. The other concedes. The winner claims the elusive, available taxi.

A woman weightlifter hoists a grocery-filled granny cart over her shoulders, crosses the neighborhood and climbs the stairs of a walk-up.

The images come from a pair of ads, back in 2005, with the tagline: “The Olympic Games in New York. We’ve been training for this forever. NYC-2012.”

But the training wasn’t enough. Seven years ago, London defeated New York City’s bid to host the XXX Summer Olympiad, and the results are on stage for all the world to see.

But what if the Big Apple had won? What would the games have looked like, and what would their legacy be? And would New Yorkers be any less ambivalent about the Olympics in 2012 than they were in 2005?

For one, there certainly would be a wealth of new structures.

Runners would be sprinting in an Olympic Stadium overlooking either the Hudson River or Flushing Bay.

Swimmers would be freestyling in a new aquatic center on the Williamsburg waterfront.

Cyclists would be zipping around a velodrome in the Bronx.

And thousands of athletes would be staying in the new Olympic Village, an apartment building in Long Island City, Queens, across the East River from the United Nations.

Most of the proposed facilities now exist only in the bid books the city and the non-profit NYC-2012 presented to the International Olympic Committee. But a handful of projects have been developed, even without the games. New York’s proposal emphasized that most of what the city would build was necessary, anyway. The Olympic legacy would pay dividends for generations to come, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others argued.

Mitchell Moss, an urban policy professor at NYU and a self-described “informal advisor” to Bloomberg, says so many things have, in fact, been built or are under construction from the Olympic bid that the city really did win the Olympics, figuratively speaking.

“The net effect of having this is that we basically took underused parts of our city and put them to use,” said Moss. “The Olympics are 17 days of sports, but what New York got is a century’s worth of new housing and infrastructure.”

Moss cites the following as Olympics-inspired triumphs:

  • The No. 7 subway is being extended from Grand Central Terminal to 11th Avenue. After several delays, the MTA says it’s schedule to open in mid 2014 and be fully completed at the end of 2015.
  • The revised Olympic stadium evolved into Citi Field, the home of the Mets, since 2009.
  • The would-be gymnastics center became the soon-to-open home of the Brooklyn Nets, Atlantic Yards.
  • A sports and cultural center at the 169th Street Armory in Harlem and a new aquatic center and ice rink in Flushing Meadows, Queens, were stalled 1990s projects, until the Olympic bid renewed pressure to fund them, bringing them to completion a few years later.

Less concrete — both literally and figuratively — victories are the Hudson rail yard on the far West Side of Manhattan and Hunters Point in Queens. Moss said the two massive industrial sites had been targeted for redevelopment for decades, but were always captive to controversy and inertia.

Moss puts them in the “win” column, arguing that pressure from the Olympics bid led to their rezoning for residential and commercial use.

“These were all tied to the Olympic [bid] deadline,” Moss said.

But Greg David isn’t so sanguine. The Crain’s Business columnist and CUNY professor calls the far West Side and Hunters Point — by far the biggest challenges before, during and since the Olympic proposal — Exhibits A and B of premature self-congratulation. Both sites have a handful of new buildings, but full development could take decades.

“It isn’t true ‘We won by losing,’ because [hosting] the Olympics would’ve pushed this agenda much further ahead,” David said. “Look at the Hudson rail yards. It’s supposed to be the next great Rockefeller Center. Well, the Olympics are about to start in London, and we’re not about to put the platform up that’s needed for that development, because there aren’t any tenants for it yet.”

New Yorkers were divided in 2005 about the merits of hosting the Olympics, and they continue to split over whether the crowds that would’ve converged and the development that would have ensued would have been good or bad for the metropolitan area.

“I think it would have been lots of fun and definitely help the area a lot,” said Kevin Li, 26, outside the Aquatic Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, where water polo games were slated to be held under the city’s proposal.

Nearby, Wayne Conti, 60, disagreed.

“Sometimes it turns out afterwards that in their rush to build they didn’t really build the right things and you’re kind of stuck with it afterwards,” he said.

Andrew Wong, 40, a Queens resident who works on the Far West Side sees both sides.

“For most of us regular working folks it would have wreaked havoc on our everyday lives,” he said.

But he noted development in the area, which is inevitable, would have moved forward more quickly and coherently, if the city had to build a stadium and whip the largely industrial area into shape by 2012.

“When you have a deadline everything falls into place. All the politics, all the deadlock with the government — everybody finds a way to make things happen. When you don't have a deadline, everything stretches out forever.”

Perhaps not forever. But for Hudson Yards, Hunters Point and other areas in the city’s Olympic bid book, it could take a while.

Whether New Yorkers think that’s a good or bad thing depends on whether they believe urban development, like the Olympics, should be Faster, Higher, Stronger — or they prefer a different approach, like Slow and steady wins the race.

Guia Maria Del Prado and Jorteh Senah contributed reporting

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It's A Free Country ®

Gall Around the World: What Mitt Romney Said on His Overseas Adventure

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

As foreign policy tours go, Mitt Romney’s should have been the equivalent of jumping into a ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese. It hasn't been nearly as easy or fun for the Republican candidate.

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Transportation Nation

PHOTOS: London's Tower Bridge Framed by Fireworks as Olympics Kick Off

Thursday, July 26, 2012

 Kaboom! (photo by Steven Z. Ehrlich)

Let other countries brag of the High Modern sleekness of their spans: Amsterdam's sinuous Python Bridge; Korea's space-age Media Bridge; even the skeletal steel lines of New York City's George Washington Bridge, which, aesthetically, have worn well.

The Brits want none of that. They'd rather invest their identity in that dowager of All Built Things, that dowdy Queen of Crossings: London's Tower Bridge.

First, it's a drawbridge. Second, it has castles. Third, look at it.

 Zoom! (photo by Steven Z. Ehrlich)

Now come the London Olympics. Which means it's time to bathe the old girl in bordello lights, drape a five-ring necklace on her collarbones and shoot fireworks from her head. We know that sounds like they've gone and made her up like a tart, and they have, but we like it.

 Gasp! (photo by Steven Z. Ehrlich)

Do you? Leave us a comment.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Transpo Bill Differences Heat Up, Gridlock Reigns Over NYC Skies, LeBron James Bikes To Work

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top stories on TN: a California lawmaker wants to put high-speed rail back on that state's ballot. For the first time ever, NYC gets a subway map that actually shows what trains are running late at night when three lines shut down. And: Why do some cities get car share while others don't?

(photo by Theo La Photo via flickr)

Amtrak funding, ANWR drilling, and the Keystone XL pipeline are shaping up to be the major differences between the House and Senate versions of the transportation bills. (Politico)

And: the House Republican version would spend about $260 billion over the next four and a half years -- and substantially increase the size of trucks permitted on highways. (AP)

NJ Governor Chris Christie defended recommending 50 people — including dozens with ties to his administration — for Port Authority jobs. (The Record)

Gridlock reigns in the skies over New York City. (USA Today)

Sam LaHood -- son of U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood -- is being sheltered in the U.S. embassy in Cairo after Egypt barred him from leaving the country. (Los Angeles Times)

The auto industry is taking a second look at diesel engines. (NPR)

A recent New York law designed to speed infrastructure projects will be put to the test on the Tappan Zee Bridge. (Bloomberg/BusinessWeek)

A 2010 federal audit of Atlanta's transit system raised safety concerns that included the death of a passenger, faulty third rail indicator lights, and a near miss between a train and a work vehicle in a rail yard. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The NYC intersection where a 12-year-old was recently struck and killed by a minivan has a shorter crossing time than 20 major intersections across the city. (DNA Info)

Why are Chinatown buses so popular? Riders liken it more to an "attractive cultural experience than to an objective travel choice." (Atlantic Cities)

A NY State Senator -- who has made the city's rodent problem one of his biggest issues -- wants to ban eating on subways. (WABC)

Olympic organizers want Londoners to change their travel patterns during the games to ease the strain on public transit. One recommendation: stop and have a beer on your way home from work. (Washington Post)

A program that uses police pace cars to reduce traffic congestion on Colorado's Interstate 70 in the mountains this winter was suspended after too many skiers and other mountain visitors jammed the highway, creating a bottleneck. (The Republic)

LeBron James: basketball player, bike commuter. '"You guys drove here?" James said to reporters after the game. "You guys are crazy."' (Wall Street Journal)

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Pennsylvania Pols Battle Over How To Fund Transportation, Taxi Group Joins AFL-CIO, Planned Bridge Between Detroit and Canada Tabled -- For N

Friday, October 21, 2011

Top stories on TN:

Power, politics, and a Brooklyn bike lane. (Link)

Joseph Lhota was named to run New York's MTA. (Link)

NYC okays wheelchair-accessible taxi. (Link)

New Yorkers support the incipient bike share program, 72 to 23. (Link)

Ambassador Bridge. Image: (CC) by Flickr user mcclouds

More on Joe Lhota's appointment to the NY MTA in the New York Times, the New York Daily News, the Staten Island Advance, and Crain's New York.

A coalition of environmental groups is suing three rail operators in California to force them to lower diesel soot. (Los Angeles Times)

A Pennsylvania state senator will introduce legislation to pump another $2.5 billion a year into that state's transportation system and is challenging the governor come up with his own plan. (AP via Penn Live)

Plans to build a second bridge between Detroit and Canada have failed in the Michigan Senate. (Detroit Free Press)

California adopts nation's strictest cap and trade standards, and is working on lowering the state's tailpipe emissions standards. (KQED)

The Metrorail link to Dulles Airport will probably be $150 million over budget. The overall price tag: $2.8 billion. (Washington Post)

A NYC taxi drivers association became the first non-traditional labor organization to join the AFL-CIO since the early 1960s. (Crain's New York)

Londoners fear the impact the Olympics might have on that city's transit system. And no pressure, London: "The success or failure of the games will hang in part on whether the system can keep up with the increase in demand." (AP via Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

NYC may shutter a bus franchise that makes women ride in back. (Reuters)

DC's Capital Bikeshare is raising prices to help pay for its expansion. (AP via WaPo)

One thousand shiny new sidewalk benches represent the latest effort by the NYC DOT to "elevate our streetscape." (Streetsblog, DNA Info)

Teen drivers: OY. Wait, make that OMG. (NPR)

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