Plans for a Fifth Avenue busway reportedly hit a snag after one of real estate’s most prominent figures aired his concerns to the city.
Vornado Realty Trust CEO Steven Roth met with Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier in October at City Hall in regards to the Fifth Avenue busway plans, The New York Times reports. Shortly after the meeting, the city’s transportation commissioner broached reconsideration of the two-year-old plan with staffers.
The original plan for the Fifth Avenue busway would have essentially prevented any vehicles except buses, bikes and emergency vehicles from driving between 34th Street and 57th Street. Pressure from retailers reached a fever pitch this summer and shortened the proposed busway by 11 blocks.
Vornado’s name reportedly appears on a slide show dated Oct. 7 that made the rounds through City Hall. The presentation obtained by the Times displayed Vornado’s name alongside claims the busway would create anxiety and danger for pedestrians and bikers, putting tourists at risk.
As it stands, the street has three lanes for cars, two lanes for buses and no lanes for bikes. The Vornado slideshow suggests one lane for cars, but keeping only two lanes for buses.
Roth’s reported desire to knock the project seems to have worked, at least for now. The city has put off plans for the busway until after the holidays, seemingly taking the ball out of de Blasio’s hands and placing the burden with the next mayor, likely Democratic candidate Eric Adams.
The busway along Fifth Avenue would help transit riders move faster across Manhattan. The city has seen success in terms of bus speed and ridership for a similar busway along 14th Street, which opened in 2019.
“We hope that yielding to business groups in this situation does not signal a weakening of the city’s commitment to bus priority and moving bus riders faster,” MTA communications director Tim Minton told the Times in an apparent shot at de Blasio.
The report detailing Roth’s aversion to a busway’s potential effect on the area’s retail comes amid his own company’s recent struggles in step with the rest of the sector. Vornado announced the sale of five retail properties in August, but it was revealed this month one of them sold to the Reuben Brothers for $50 million, less than half of what the REIT paid for it.
Earlier in the pandemic, Fifth Avenue was dealing with a rash of empty stores. A survey found 32 vacant storefronts on the avenue between 42nd Street and 59th Street at the beginning of February.
[NYT] — Holden Walter-Warner