Nov
22

Building a subway to Staten Island with ARC dollars

By

Schematics of a 1912 plan to connect Staten Island with the BMT via a subway tunnel under the Narrows. Click to enlarge.

While New York City’s rail plans for Staten Island include just a modest proposal to reactivate the North Shore rail line and Mayor Bloomberg wants to spend the federal government’s $3 billion left over from the ARC Tunnel on a 7 line extension to Secaucus, one Staten Island politician would prefer to see the city deliver on a long-promised subway line to the island. State Senator Diane Savino (D-North Shore/Brooklyn) said this weekend that instead of pursuing a subway extension to New Jersey that “flies in the face of practicality and fairness,” the city should connect Staten Island to the rest of New York’s extensive subway system.

“If the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) wants to truly move people out of their cars and onto rail, extending a subway to the Island is the way to do it,” Savino said in an interview with SILive.com’s Judy Randall. “The MTA should complete a 1912 plan that would have rail and freight access from the terminus of Victory Boulevard to Brooklyn, along 67th Street, and then utilize the R train route along Fourth Avenue. The projected cost of the plan is $3 billion, the same as the extension of the 7 line under the Hudson River.”

The long-planned extension of the R train under Narrows wasn’t the only idea Savino put forward. “If a bi-state alternative is necessary in order to access federal funds, the city could extend the Hudson Bergen Light Rail from its present terminus at 8th Street in Bayonne over the Bayonne Bridge, making a ‘northwest passage’ to Manhattan via the PATH trains in Jersey City and Hoboken,” she said. “Keep in mind that 12,000 Islanders work in Hudson or Bergen County and 100,000 Islanders work in Manhattan every weekday.”

By my count, this is now the fourth public claim New York officials have staked to the ARC tunnel money. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has called for the money to go toward MTA capital projects, and a group of House representatives echoed that call on Friday. Mayor Bloomberg of course is working on his 7 line program, and Savino wants to bring it home for Staten Island. Is her plan feasible?

In August, I explored the long and tortured history of a subway to Staten Island, and even then, I omitted the early years. Since the dawn of the 20th century, city planners had promised a subway to Staten Island from via the Narrows. Articles from 1901 and 1903 mention those plans, albeit in skeptical tones.

In 1919, the most ambitious expansion plans involved a tunnel under the Narrows as well as another to Lower Manhattan through the New York harbor. Had that Staten Island subway been realized, it would have traveled under Kill Van Kull and through New Jersey or via a direct line past Ellis and Bedlow Islands under the shallow part of the bay. Both routes would have connected to the IRT just north of South Ferry.

Today, the only feasible — and I use that word loosely — approach would seem to be via the Narrows to the BMT Fourth Ave. line. It’s five miles from South Ferry to the northern tip of Staten Island but just one mile under the Narrows. The line would branch off at around 59th St. where a short tunnel stub exists, but the trains would make the long, slow slog to Lower Manhattan via the 4th Ave. local and Montague St. tunnel. Such a trip would arguably be slower than taking the ferry, and without significant subway development in Staten Island, it wouldn’t provide comprehensive service at that end either.

Ultimately, it seems as though Savino’s subway plan is a wise one on paper that flies in the face of practicality. It would, however, make far more sense to Hudson Bergen Light Rail because it would draw riders from an underserved part of Staten Island. Only then with ARC money could dreams of better transit from Staten Island be realized a century in the making.

“In 1898, when the boroughs voted to consolidate,” Savino said this weekend, “Staten Island voted overwhelmingly to become part of New York City on the basis of two promises, a municipal ferry and subway service. After seven years we got ferry service, but 112 years later we are still waiting on the subway. Staten Island is part of New York City, with over half a million people. It is past time we have similar transportation alternatives that other boroughs have.”



Categories : Staten Island

70 Responses to “Building a subway to Staten Island with ARC dollars”

  1. John says:

    I would put this about last in my list of NYC transit priorities.

    But then again, I would also trade Staten Island to New Jersey for Jersey City/Hoboken.

  2. Lawrence Velázquez says:

    It’s rather refreshing to hear a Staten Island politician pushing *for* transit improvements.

  3. If the tracks branch off around 59th Street, why can’t this line take the express tracks instead of the local ones?

    • I have to look into this further, but I think it’s an issue of capacity along the express tracks. I’m not sure the 4th Ave. line can support three different express services, and I know that, without the M, the local tracks are nowhere near capacity right now.

      • John (2) says:

        The MTA could shift all West End Service over to Fourth Ave. local service from 36th to DeKalb to open up the express track for both the Sea Beach and a new Staten Island line, but that would A.) Really tick off D train passengers along the West End line and B.) leave unresolved the fact that the Manny B’s at capacity, so either the N or the new S.I. service (a reborn W train?) would have to move over to the Montague St. tunnel-and from there Broadway or Nassau St. local service, since the D has to use the bridge to get to Sixth Avenue.

        • Farro says:

          Hmm.. maybe by the time they actually get around to this, they’ll have CBTC on the subways.

          If you really want to get expensive, you can build a separate “super express” track that doesn’t stop anywhere besides 59th st and use that for Rush Hours service.

          • Frank B. says:

            It’s interesting that this should come up, because I’ve studied the alternatives, and if you simply reactivate the BMT West End Line’s Peak Express Track, you can send it up the BMT 4th Avenue Line running local, but still end up with roughly the same time, give or take a few minutes, for both the AM and PM rush hours.

            SIR currently operates express service on its two-track line by sending one train running up the line from Tottenville locally, then skipping all the remaining stations until St. George. By sending the train through the tunnel, up the 4th Avenue express tracks, and through the Montague St. Tunnel, you can greatly speed up subway service, and the extended SIR (Service Designation: W) can run up the BMT Broadway line as a local.

            The only, and I mean only flaw with the plan is that the SIR, I believe, has a limit on the size of its platforms. I think there may be a station or two excluding Nassau and Atlantic, (due to be replaced) where only one car lines up with the platform. Because of this, I think the most cars the SIR runs is a 4 or 5-car set.

            However, since this is replicating the former W local service, this still is a big plus for local riders.

            • Andrew says:

              The West End middle track was never deactivated; it just isn’t very useful for normal service, because it bypasses a lot of busy stops. If you moved the D to the middle track, those local stops would be unserved!

              Furthermore, expresses have to go over the bridge, and locals have to go through the tunnel. Trying to do anything else would create a logjam at DeKalb.

              There is clearly capacity for 6 tph on the 4th Ave. local and on Broadway, because that’s where the M and W used to run. Beyond that, there’s very little room to spare.

              • Someone says:

                Then you could run a rush hour service on both the 4 Avenue local tracks and the Broadway local tracks when the SAS opens.

  4. Bolwerk says:

    The R Train doesn’t sound like the best idea. It means more people traveling in the peak direction.

    Again, there is opportunity for bi-state cooperation here: SAS to Red Hook across northern SI to Newark Airport.

    • Boris says:

      On the 59th-95th St segment there is space to add a second pair of tracks. That would allow for an R Express so that Brooklyn riders wouldn’t have to mix as much with the country bumpkins.

      • Bolwerk says:

        Great for speed, but it scarcely does a thing for capacity to Manhattan.

      • Sharon says:

        many bay ridge folks already take the express bus or ferry due to slow r service

        All the mta would need to do to pay for the service is to start charging si residents the mta surcharge everyone else pays for the VZ bridge and it will all be paid for over time.

        Also as part of the plan all express bus service and ferry service ended once the subways opens. We all know this won’t happen

        • Boris says:

          Considering the massive population splash that would occur if a subway opened, we would still need express bus and ferry service.

  5. Boris says:

    It can still be considered a bi-state project if the tunnel is shared with NJ Transit and/or freight trains. There’s really a conflicting set of priorities here: this tunnel can be seen as a vital alternate route in the commuter rail system – the only one that wouldn’t go through Manhattan – or as an extension of a subway line. Ideally, we would have both.

    Anyway, the subway ride from 59th to downtown Manhattan is time-competitive with the ferry, even on the R. And avoiding the transfers is a huge deal. I wonder what the NYC DOT subsidy is for the ferry – would it cover operating costs on the new subway segment?

  6. Russell Warshay says:

    Although more expensive, I’d push to have the 1 Train extended to Staten Island, through Red Hook. A map is here: http://goo.gl/maps/nfuE

    • Berk32 says:

      “more expensive” – lol – that’s an understatement.

    • Joe says:

      If the map is your invention too, eliminate the connection at Borough Hall, the only benefit is a connection to the 4/5 stop, but by adding another platform to an already complicated and deep station complex, connecting the 1 at Borough Hall is a slightly redundant and overly expensive leg of this trip. A stop on Governor’s Island before heading to Red Hook might be a more useful alternative. But this is still a big pipe dream.

    • Farro says:

      I’d do a from the Montague St tunnel rather than the 1. It would save some money because platforms don’t have to be rebuilt and one station is already built…

    • Bolwerk says:

      Jeeze, that would make the 1 the localiest local in the city. A new tunnel to Manhattan more or less dedicated to SI and Red Hook traffic makes sense to me, but I would think the SAS would make more sense.

      I suppose, at this point, SIRT is a rapid transit operation, and can be converted to Subway operation without much more than longer platforms and the same fare control?

      • Farro says:

        Converting it to IRT would be more expensive though…

        • Bolwerk says:

          Why? It sounds like a drop in the bucket compared to extending every platform and adding fare control. Or that little detail about tunnels that need to be bored to SI. :-p

          As far as capacity is concerned, BMT/IND to IRT standards is mostly a matter of widening platforms. IIRC, there is a difference in how the signal trip arms work too.

    • Farro says:

      How do you make such maps by the way?–I’ve found the google maps editor to be extremely limited…

    • Sharon says:

      I always thought this would be a good option with the train going through govenors island. Allow a full scale Casino and conference center to be built on the industrial side of the island. the casino would pay a dedicated mta tax and all ride’s originating from the casino would be $5-$7 per ride (unlimited ride’s no extra charge) this would allow out of towner’s to flip the bill for the subway.

      As much as the old part of govenors island is quaint, the industrial side is nothing special with little to preserve

      • Boris says:

        The SIR doesn’t go to the industrial side. Reactivating the West Shore/North Shore railways would be necessary for that. But considering that the designers of Fresh Kills Park expect everyone to drive to the park in 30 years when it’s completed, transit access to that part of the island has never been a high priority.

  7. Larry Littlefield says:

    Does Savino also want to upzone Staten Island so it could attract enough people so the subdidy level for the subway would not be enormous?

    SIR covers, what, 10 percent of its operating costs. It should have been converted to a busway.

    • John Paul N. says:

      Or it should implement POP (proof of payment). Since SBS, why I haven’t seen any push for this, I don’t know.

      • tacony palmyra says:

        Why would POP be necessary for SIR? There’s nobody taking tickets on-board anymore. There are Metrocard turnstiles at the ferry, and they closed the loophole in the system by building turnstiles at the next stop, Tompkinsville, as well last year to prevent people from getting off and walking to the ferry from there. I don’t think the few people riding the system for free within Staten are really hurting things.

        Wholeheartedly agree with Larry’s point though that Staten Island’s population density is too low to support anything more than what they have, and as long as they want to keep it that way (which it seems that they do), they should be so lucky as to even have what they do.

        • John Paul N. says:

          I was thinking as a way to covering operating costs. I haven’t been to SI since the Tompkinsville HEETs were installed, but from my past observations, I agree with the low intra-SI ridership, so my proposal isn’t cost effective as I thought.

        • Bolwerk says:

          There’s no reason their current densities can’t support rail transit. It might be true that nothing comes close to necessitating a Bronx level of grade separated rapid transit, but then nobody ever suggested that. A rapid transit trunk line or two to Manhattan with light rail feeders and connections to NJT seems reasonable.

        • Alon Levy says:

          Turnstiles are maintenance-intensive and require paying station agents. SIR cuts collection costs by only placing turnstiles at St. George, but that forgoes a huge percentage of revenue coming from other stops, as opposed to the 2% fare evasion rate on good POP systems.

          • Bolwerk says:

            I always wondered about this. What percentage of trips on SIRT get captured elsewhere? I suppose it’s less than 98%.

            • Alon Levy says:

              I don’t know – the MTA doesn’t publish those statistics. You can’t really count the number of boardings on SIR at non-St. George stations the same way as on the subway, because of the lack of turnstiles.

              But I’d bet with really poor odds that if a count were done, it would show a fare avoidance rate higher than 2%.

          • Sharon says:

            Have you ever road SIRR. There is virtually no ridership inter station except so kids joy riding. It is a rush hour service. The service should be OPTO as well. No need for a dedicated door operator

            • Alon Levy says:

              No. But “virtually” doesn’t automatically mean “under 2%.” To say nothing of the fact that on the margin, POP would reduce operating costs, by allowing the MTA to cut the station agents and turnstile maintenance staff.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Jeeze, guys, what is it with you people and wanting to downgrade rail to buses. Put simply: it will almost never save money. I say almost never, even though I’m not aware of a case of it demonstrably saving money. In this case, you’re talking about spending a massive capital outlay, that could be allocated to do good elsewhere, and gaining the privilege of higher labor and maintenance costs. What do you think is cheaper: a two-man, four-car EMU train* or the eight or so buses that would be necessarily to replace it, each with its own driver? Never mind the cheaper costs of maintaining rail tracks or the superior energy consumption of rail.

      As for farebox recovery, yes, it sucks (though IIRC it’s closer to 15%). But it’s also highly misleading. SIRT operates as kind of its own unit, but accepts free transfers from buses and Manhattan subways. The “problem” (it’s not really a problem at all) is one of accounting: the fare is usually captured somewhere other than St. George.

      * which could be one man with current technology, or unmanned with some investment.

  8. John (2) says:

    Like I said in Friday’s thread, only a bi-level Narrows tunnel with a freight connection from Howland Hook and the Arthur Kill bridge to the SBK line in Brooklyn could probably get the political and business support needed to piggy-back the subway connection with it.

    A freight connection through Staten Island cuts 200 miles off the current freight route between New England and the Middle Atlantic States, Gulf Coast and Southwest; makes the Brooklyn waterfront viable as a cargo port for the next generation of super-sized freighters (N.Y. Harbor is deeper on the Brooklyn side than it is on the Bayonne side) and opens up sections of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx for additional commercial usage that requires freight connections.

    That could get business leaders, multiple unions and even politicians from other states on board for the project, to where the bulk of the expense would be justified due to the commercial use, where the subway connection between the BMT at 59th St. and the SIRT at either Clifton or St. George could be included at a more reasonable cost (the last plan simply had the freight line running from Brooklyn to Bayonne, which would still connect the SBK with the rest of the nation’s rail system to the south and west, but would leave a Richmond County subway connection as a stand-alone project).

  9. The ExPat says:

    Ah, come on, you know how much of a hassle it would be to convert a perfectly good rail system into a busway?

    And the reason the farebox ratio is so low is due to all those free Metrocard transfers. And I doubt you’ll get much money from the non-St. George SIR riders.

  10. Jonathan says:

    I was informed in the comments section of SAS that the slope of the Bayonne Bridge was too steep for Hudson-Bergen-Richmond Light Rail to be feasible.

  11. Farro says:

    I hear Moses intentionally made the Verazzano too steep for Subway access. Is that true?

    Otherwise, why not give up two lanes on the bridge?

    • Bolwerk says:

      Don’t think so, but he did refuse to make any accommodations for rail – usual for Moses.

      Supposedly the VB took away a fairly prime landing, though it seems that can be worked around fairly easily – perhaps it rendered the R extension started in early 20th century useless?

    • Sharon says:

      remove two lanes of traffic and have backup nightmares. I agree subway access should have been included.

      • Boris says:

        The bridge has more lanes than the highways connecting to it. Backups only happen because of accidents or toll booth slowdowns. Plus, the two lanes would not simply be removed; they would be carrying traffic as well, just much more efficiently.

  12. Alon Levy says:

    If they can do it for $3 billion, I salute them. It would be only, like, 50% or so more expensive than abroad, at most.

    But they should build it to AAR Plate C specs. The reason is that Staten Island is so far away from Manhattan that for good service to more than just Lower Manhattan, you’d really need it to be upgradeable to modern commuter rail. The SIR and North Shore Branch seem like a prime line to be connected to the CBD and then to another line.

    For clarification, modern means something like the Paris RER, any S-Bahn, or the JR East Tokyo commuter network; if it’s FRA-compliant, has multiple conductors on each train, and only runs hourly off-peak, then it’s not modern.

  13. pete says:

    Why hasn’t anyone proposed running NJ Transit trains from St George to Penn? Old timetable says St George to Arlington is 16 minutes. http://gretschviking.net/SIRTTimeTable121342.jpg Its just 4 miles along the tracks from Arlington station to the NEC. The station south of the north shore line crossing NEC is Linden station. Current NJT timetable says 38 to 42 minutes from Linden Station to New York Penn. 42+16+5= 63 minutes from St George to NY Penn. Its going to be faster than 16 minutes since the 1940s North Shore line had a stop every 4 blocks. Some of those stops should be cut.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Interesting idea, but now there is probably little capacity for it given the end of ARC.

      Although, there is precedent for NJT/MNRR cooperation.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Because St. George to Penn Station is 25 minutes on the ferry plus about 17 minutes on the 1. The frequency on the ferry is awful, but because ARC got canceled it’d be impossible to affordably provide higher commuter rail frequencies.

      Long-term, there’s no alternative to a fast subway tunnel from SI to Brooklyn or Manhattan. I’d say these are the options. The articles I wrote on The Transport Politic advocate a direct route, but I have doubts.

    • Boris says:

      I think it would have to benefit NJ riders for it to make any sense. With the tunnel to Brooklyn, NJTransit or LIRR can run trains between Linden, let’s say, and Jamaica. Passengers would be able to transfer to the ferry in St. George or to the N/R in Brooklyn. Perhaps the train can even continue to JFK.

  14. ant6n says:

    Wasn’t the Verrazano-Narrows bridge originally designed to have a rail portion on it? Maybe that could be activated for much cheaper, in lieu of building an expensive tunnel.

    Other than that, going through Bayonne and along the HBLR ROW seems to make much more sense.

    • Bolwerk says:

      No, absolutely not. Robert Moses hated rail.

    • Alon Levy says:

      That was the GWB; the IND has bellmouths for it, too. Rail on it would require about 10 blocks of subway (~$200 million outside New York, about $1 billion in New York), and eliminating a few road lanes on the bridge (an unknown amount of political capital).

      • Bolwerk says:

        Political capital: ?

        Although, some kind of LRT service to Fort Lee might fly better than massive IND trains.

        • Alon Levy says:

          If it involves cutting road lanes, then it means somebody won’t like it. Therefore getting it approved would require fighting politicians.

          LRT wouldn’t actually provide too much benefit over buses; if anything it would make things worse, by forcing an additional transfer. The advantage of spending money on a subway is that it gives people direct service from Fort Lee to Midtown.

          Coming to think of it, this should be cheaper than sending the 7 to Secaucus, and provide larger benefit; service from Bergen and Passaic Counties, which would be the main area to benefit from ARC or the 7 to Secaucus, would instead converge in Fort Lee. Depending on the costs and the NIMBYism it might be feasible to extend this line deeper into Jersey on an elevated alignment, intersecting the Erie lines.

          • Bolwerk says:

            I said it might fly better. And it might not necessarily involve cutting road lines – though ideally it would. What additional transfer though? Either you take a bus across or you take LRT across. Or are you assuming that having LRT means having no buses? Because I was thinking LRT would make sense because it would allow buses to continue to run – perhaps on dedicated lanes for LRT and buses.

            I doubt it’s cheaper or more cost effective to bring a line from upper Manhattan to any of the regional rail lines by way of Fort Lee. The terrain sucks, the U-shape of that trip sounds roundabout, the Palisades might still be in the way, and Passaic isn’t very densely populated. Secaucus at least captures most of the commuter lines in New Jersey and provides not only a viable Midtown trip, but a viable Midtown East trip. It does it relatively cheaply too, given Secaucus is an irrelevant nowhere that has one saving grace in that it’s a transfer station.

          • ant6n says:

            Interesting. The wiki article (on 8th ave subway) mentions that there were 4 planned tracks on the lower GWB level – 2 commuter, and 2 IND tracks.

            Presumably the commuter rail line would’ve gone to Penn station. But it could also be connected to the Metro North line in the Bronx (along the 95 ROW – 1 mile), which could provide NJT access to Grand Central (if only Metro Morth could give up some plattforms there…), or circumferential service around Manhattan altogether (turning the proposed tribororx line into a 3/4 circle.

            The link between the 8th avenue sbway and GWB would start at 174th street. Looking at the map, those 500m should really not cost a billion.

            But yeah, it would be politically … hard.

    • As far as I know, the approaches to the Verrazano are too steep for subway service. That was an intentional choice. (Source)

  15. Think twice says:

    I love how Savino revealed an acute awareness of the history and circumstances surrounding subway expansion to Staten Island, citing dates, even putting it in context of the Consolidation 1898. So much more eloquently refreshing than the low-brow pandering, firebrand rhetoric and bombastic platitudes from this election season. Savino really should meet with Jerrold Nadler (Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel), Amtrak (HSR for NEC), NYSDOT (Gowanus Expressway Tunnel project), and/or others to see if a combination of projects—even as remote as they might seem—can get this tunnel built.

  16. wrongway jumper says:

    Extend the #7 to Hoboken then via a airtrain style modern elevated line down through bayonne over the raised Bayonne Bridge into staten island. In staten island have 3 line joining this system:
    *one heading east to ST Georges and then continuing along the SIRR
    *One continue south along the MLK Expresswau (440) to I-278 and east along the SI Expressway and finally one branch following MLK Expressway down to Richmond Ave, a stop at the SI mall/buss transfer down to richmond parkway until it mergers into the SIRR Nippon/Hugenot Ave.

    Most areas of SI get one seat or one transfer ride into downtown(via a down town path connectin) the West Side and the East Side. Hoboken tains/northern NJ and the over taxed NY Penn also get both a real tansfer to both the west and east sides.

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