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NYC subway should cease 24/7 operation, rebuild from the ground up: report

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The Regional Plan Association has proposed radical changes for the tri-state area

New York Gov. Cuomo Declares MTA Subway System In State Of Emergency Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Regional Plan Association, which calls itself a “research, planning and advocacy organization,” is known for throwing its support behind urban planning projects that can seem positively radical—though the group does have a good track record of seeing its recommendations come to fruition. (You can thank them, in part, for the creation of the Gateway National Recreation Area, the development of Hudson Yards, and the placement of the George Washington Bridge, among other things.)

And now, with its Fourth Regional Plan, which was released today, the RPA is recommending even more radical changes to the way New Yorkers live—with some of the biggest concerning how we get around.

Chief among them: The organization argues that in order to get the New York City subway back into a state of good repair, the MTA should abandon its 24/7 model, and shut the system down between midnight and 5 a.m. (only during the week, mind you—they recommend later service on weekends).

As New York’s Justin Davidson notes, this idea is “pragmatic but hard-to-swallow.” The RPA makes a convincing argument as to why a 24/7 system is hampering progress—there are way fewer riders overnight, and running trains during that time is costly and makes it harder to make repairs in a timely manner. Instead, the RPA argues, the MTA should run express buses to accommodate those who need overnight service. But would New Yorkers actually go for it? (Or, for that matter, the MTA?) That remains to be seen.

In fact, the RPA says, the whole subway system needs an overhaul—they recommend adding new lines, modernizing stations (via additions like digital displays and platform safety doors), and reforming the MTA from the top down. That’s part of the group’s larger goal of making New York’s mass transit a “customer-oriented transportation system”—they also recommend adding new runways at JFK and Newark Airports; putting a new Port Authority Bus Terminal in the basement of the Javits Center; and building out the Triboro, the proposed outer-borough commuter rail.

Transit is just one component of the larger Fourth Regional Plan; the RPA has outlined more than 60 specific recommendations for improving the health and wealth of New Yorkers (and, it should be noted, others in the tri-state area), tackling such issues as sea level rise, affordable housing, rising property taxes, and job growth.

Of course, the whole thing is basically a wish list—the RPA is a non-profit, and can’t actually implement new laws or other measures to make these proposals a reality. There are also costs to consider; few, if any, of the RPA’s proposals will come cheap. But the group has laid out ways to shore up funds, such as the implementation of congestion pricing in New York City—an idea that is long overdue—and taxing greenhouse gas emissions in the region, among others.

But city and state governments have paid heed to its recommendations in the past; the George Washington Bridge, which was originally due to be built in Midtown, was relocated after the RPA pushed for it to be situated away from Manhattan’s highly congested areas. It’s also supported projects like East Side Access, the remaking of the far west side, the construction of other bridges and tunnels, and other big-picture ideas that eventually became a reality.

It’s an ambitious plan, and one with many moving parts—and the RPA itself admits that in order to see its recommendations through, many city and state agencies would need to be reformed and rethought from the ground up.

But with so many forces already shaping how New Yorkers live—climate change, which is already inundating the city’s coastline; growing inequality; the failure of the subway system—ambitious ideas may be just what’s needed to push the area forward, and bring about what the RPA calls “inclusive growth.”

You can dive into the full, expansive Fourth Regional Plan here.