Light Rail for Second Ave.: An idea almost gone

By · Published in 2011

When it comes to ongoing the Second Ave. Subway work, the MTA is facing a mini crisis. Because Albany funded the current capital plan only through the end of the year and has yet to address 2012-2014, there is a slight chance that the MTA will have to freeze some big-ticket items if the politicians do not come through. Recently, the MTA has taken to urging Upper East Siders to contact their representatives, and it has some civic activists a little skittish.

In the Daily News today, one-time mayoral candidate George Spitz uses the MTA’s politicking to issue a familiar call: light rail for Second Ave., he says. It’s an idea that just won’t die, but it’s time is rapidly expiring. While Spitz wants an avenue-long LRT line along the East Side, that’s not feasible right now. I’ll get to that shortly, but first, Spitz’s argument:

With the decades-in-the-making Second Avenue subway line still a distant dream, it is time to think of new ideas for East Side public transport. Specifically, it is time to examine less costly and otherwise more feasible alternatives, particularly light rail, for relief of serious congestion on Lexington Avenue, especially since the first 1.7 miles of the Second Avenue (from 96th St. to 63rd) line won’t be open until 2016, at a cost of several billions dollars.

The need for a new plan for East Side public transit relief became obvious on June 22, when MTA Senior Vice President for Capital Construction William Goodrich came to a meeting of Community Board 8 on the upper East Side and pleaded with board members to press local state senators and Assembly members for more money from Albany.”Without additional funding, we won’t really have the ability to procure the remaining three contracts,” Goodrich told those present….

That’s why light rail is a perfect solution. With estimated construction time of only two years and stops every two blocks – as opposed to every ten or even twenty – light rail provides faster and more convenient relief for congested Lexington Avenue subway ridership. New York’s first grooved-rail tracks were laid in 1852; however, trolleys were soon supplanted by subways. But maybe it’s time for that trend to finally reverse…

Of the $1.3 billion the George W. Bush administration granted for Phase 1 of the Second Avenue line, I estimate that less than half could be used for light rail instead. There would be no need for higher state taxes or increases in subway, bus and toll bridge fares. Moreover, the left-over money could be used to create much-needed transit improvements in the outer boroughs, which need the help no less than Manhattan.

Spitz’s take is filled with some strange claims. In a section I omitted, he bemoans the fact that there are “only” three stops — at 72nd, 86th and 96th Sts. — planned for Phase 1 and blames Lexington Ave. IRT congestion on the SAS stop spacing. That simply doesn’t make any sense because, due to the popularity and population of those neighborhoods, even just those three stops will alleviate much of the IRT congestion.

The second problem is one of politics. Spitz notes that in the early 1980s, President Reagan allowed New York to reallocate Westway funds to subway improvements, and he proposes doing the same thing here. This idea ignores the fact that Washington has not taken kindly to localities’ decisions to reappropriate earmarked federal funds. We need look no further than the Hudson River to see what happened when Gov. Chris Christie tried to claim even $271 million worth of ARC Tunnel money. Here, we’re talking about billions.

Third, Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway is too far along to torpedo. The tunnels from 63rd St. and 3rd Ave. to 96th St. and Second Ave. are completed, and while it will still take another five years to finish the tunnels and build out the stations, it would be foolhardy to leave these completed tunnels — and awarded contracts — to rot.

That said, Spitz’s proposal could work with a few amendments. The MTA should finish Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway, and it should take advantage of the completed sections of tunnel north of 96th St. to build out Phase 2 as well. The Q — or some other BMT Broadway train — would then run north from 57th and Broadway to 63rd and Lexington and then underneath Second Ave. After that, the city could consider building light rail down Second Ave. to Hanover Square for a fraction of the cost of subway construction. An LRT route would have to operate as part of the MTA with a similar fare structure and transfers to crosstown buses and connecting subway routes, and the city would have to appease businesses and drivers who make a stink over lane appropriate. With the right approach, it should work.

Ultimately, the time for a full-length light rail line along Second Ave. has passed. The SAS is too far along with too much invested into it for the MTA to pull out. Spitz might be right to worry about Goodrich’s statements, but with construction lobbyists, the MTA and various other interests pushing for capital funding, Albany will have no choice but to come through. Light rail will have to wait.

100 Responses to “Light Rail for Second Ave.: An idea almost gone”

  1. Marc Shepherd says:

    Spitz is certainly correct that the stops along Second Avenue are too far apart. There is nothing we can do about it now, but let’s not pretend that the 14-block gap from 86th to 72nd Streets is ideal. It will be the longest gap between local stops in all of Manhattan. Like almost everything where the SAS is concerned, that gap was the product of a compromise between what was needed, and what planners thought they could realistically get funded.

    Ben consistently under-estimates the cost and political difficulty of completing Phase 2. Despite the existence of previously completed tunnels along part of the route, it will still cost many billions of dollars, when not even Phase 1 is sure of completion. Phase 2, in fact, isn’t much less expensive than Phase 1.

    Light rail along the rest of Second Avenue, I agree, would be an excellent idea if done right. But it could be accomplished even more cheaply with bus rapid transit (with dedicated lanes and off-board fare collection).

    • Kai B says:

      The station distance “ideal” for local-only service. NYC has some of the closest station in the world, which is OK for local/express service but not for the quasi-hybrid. For local-only service visit Moscow or St. Petersburg. It takes you 30 minutes to walk between stops and that’s just fine.

      When the SAS is completed you don’t want to stop at every tree like the 1 south of 34th St.

    • Based on the schematics, it’s more like a 10-block gap. The north end of 72nd St. will lead passengers to 73rd St., and the south end of 86th St. will let them out between 84th and 83rd. That’s certainly acceptable for station spacing along a subway line. Where else would you put a BMT-length stop anyway?

    • Bolwerk says:

      What’s wrong? Manhattanites can’t get out and take a bus? 7 blocks, the worst-case scenario for someone between those two stations, isn’t that far to walk for me, but I know people who struggle with three blocks I contend with to get to the L Train, so they take a bus.

      • William M says:

        I can see the reason why. If you look at the subway map, and at regular maps you can tell that the Lexington Avenue Line has stations between 86th and 72nd Street. It won’t really be helpful to put a station near another station. Just walk to the Lexington Avenue Line and board a train there.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Since the entirety of SAS just parallels the Lex, I guess you’re right – at least if you live at or west of Second Ave..

    • Henry Man says:

      Think again, much of the subway system was built when the trains were slower. Ideally, it would be more efficient to run trains on the SAS at higher speeds with future stops.

      • Bolwerk says:

        Questionable. I don’t think some run as fast as they did prewar. And didn’t they used to let IND Trains on Queens Blvd. key past stop signals?

        • pete says:

          The IND was built to 55 mph from day 1. Now you wont find a single train going over 35. Williamsburg bridge subway crash changed NYCT policy so that trains cant go faster than grandma with a walker. If you want to see some really insane timers. Take a Manhattan bound E train into Queens Plaza. 15 mph for blocks for no reason. There used to be no timers before the 63rd street connector was built there.

          • Bolwerk says:

            Yes, it’s quite clear that nobody values subway riders’ time. They practically force us to go more slowly than traffic. :-\

          • Andrew says:

            Plenty of trains go faster than 35.

            The reason the signals slow down the E is to prevent overruns into the side of an M train – hardly “no reason.” Since 1995, NYCT’s signal engineers have considered safety far more important than speed.

  2. Kai B says:

    *station distance

  3. BoerumHillScott says:

    I don’t think that light rail in Manhattan can do much that enhanced bus service can’t do at a fraction of the cost and complexity.

    The block length of 200 feet between crosswalks means that you can’t have more than 2 90 foot cars in a train, and that might be pushing things when space for ramps up to the platform is taken into account.

    In terms of speed, trains will be limited by the same traffic issues that buses have. Any modification that help trains move better with traffic can be done for buses as well, and for much less money.

    Finally, where would the yard and shops be? A generation or two again, there was still industrial and vacant land along the east river, but that is all gone now.

    • Lawrence Velázquez says:

      Ninety-foot cars? Isn’t that a bit over-the-top? The R-160s are only 60 feet 🙂

      • BoerumHillScott says:

        Most modern light rail cars across the country are 90 to 95 foot articulated cars.
        Longer cars mean less space wasted between cars.

        Any length up to around 100 feet could work, but the total length of the station issue is still there.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Yay, the magic buses argument again. Can someone please explain what is supposed to make LRT more expensive than buses? Is there some magic potion in buses that makes them blow dollar bills out their exhaust pipes that make up for buses’ higher maintenance, capital, energy consumption, and labor costs?

      Anyway, yards and shops are probably the easiest problem to solve, especially if the service serviced Brooklyn, Queens, or The Bronx. The hardest sell is political: the MTA is and state politicians are anti-rail to begin with, and respond especially harshly to the idea that street space might be taken back by the majority of people who depend on it.

      • BoerumHillScott says:

        LRVs are much more specialized than buses, which drives up the cost per unit, even when the longer lifespan of a LRV is taken into account.

        Operationally, LRVs have lower energy and staffing costs but higher maintenance costs, once again due to specialized parts, equipment, and skills needed.

        In terms of maintenance facility locations, I thought this post was about light rail on Second Avenue.

        In general, I am a fan of modern light rail in places where it can have platforms in the 300 foot range and make extensive use of private right of ways.
        I think there might be some applications for it in the outer boroughs, but even there street spacing and lack of ROWs will be a constraint.

        I don’t think it makes sense at all in Manhattan, given all of the limitations it would have there.

        • Bolwerk says:

          The upfront costs of buses are somewhat lower, but a (30 or 40?) year depreciation period certainly is advantages to a 10 or 12 year period. I don’t think any of the “specialized parts, equipment, and skills” are that big a deal once you actually have a critical mass of service. It might be a (small) startup problem to have additional staff members without a full workload at first, but LRT vehicles are just trains and we already have a shitload of those around. If we were smart, we’d get a system similar to HBLR so we could share orders for what few proprietary parts there might be.

          Yes, it is about Second Ave., but is it that hard to bring such a service into a part of The Bronx that might have space for the facility? Or an existing rail yard? It still doesn’t seem like much of a challenge to me.

          As for limitations, LRT would make more sense at around 180′ long trains, which should be well within the range of a Manhattan short block. Again, no problem for Manhattan except maybe in odd areas the service wouldn’t go anyway, like Gold Street or Nassau Street.

          • Andrew says:

            BoerumHillScott is 100% correct. There are no existing subway car maintenance facilities within many miles of 1st/2nd Avenues. And even if there were, they’re already pretty well subscribed with their existing cars, which are totally different from any sort of LRV.

            You’re handwaving over some pretty major issues.

            • Bolwerk says:

              Bleh, no I am not. There is absolutely nothing preventing any number of options from being used for LRV maintenance facilities. It’s about the silliest criticism of surface rail that comes up repeatedly here among many very silly ones. If you must get hung up on technical problems, at least get hung up on real problems like traffic planning.

              The biggest problems with LRT are all almost entirely political. And our politicians have convinced you it’s technically infeasible for NYC to do something that Mannheim can do. I guess they like to imagine people don’t drive cars in Mannheim or something.

              • Andrew says:

                There is nothing preventing them except cost. Just a minor detail; nothing worth worrying about.

                Either a very large plot of land in Manhattan has to be taken over for use as a maintenance and storage facility, or many extra miles of track have to be laid to connect the LRV’s to an existing maintenance and storage facility, which will themselves need major modifications.

                Nobody said it’s technically infeasible. It’s just very pricey.

                • Bolwerk says:

                  The cost is probably rather minor relative to the costs of ~15mi of ROW improvement. And, again, nothing says such facilities must be in Manhattan, much less the more expensive parts of Manhattan south of 125th. Just a financing detail, but it’s generally advantageous to pay more up front if you can reduce your costs by a greater amount over time.

                  Hell, with some zoning modifications, there are probably parking lots that would do the trick courtesy of “urban renewal.” We are talking about 90′-180′ LRT vehicles, not 600′ IND rolling stock.

                • Alex D. says:

                  Being that the entirety of the subway uses standard-gauge tracks, just like light rail, there is no reason that an entrance point could be created to let LRT vehicles move through the subway system to get to a storage/maintenance facility, anywhere that the subway goes. The only extra infrastructure would be the stringing of wires inside the tunnels of the route (which would be high enough to not interfere with the subway) from 2nd ave to the storage yard.

                  • Bolwerk says:

                    Pantographs can be lowered, too. It probably isn’t a big deal to tow them for maintenance, or have equipment with third rail shoes. It would let them get to the heavy maintenance shops (Coney Island and 207th Street).

                    However, they probably still would need yard space. It’s just not as big a deal as some are claiming here because the equipment is not as big as subway equipment.

                  • Alon Levy says:

                    Reelectrifying tracks with overhead wires requires additional clearance the subway doesn’t always have. Don’t do it.

                  • Andrew says:

                    Great idea.

                    But now you also have to install subway-compatible signal equipment (tripcocks, etc.) on the LRV’s. And you have to make sure the LRV’s aren’t too long or too wide to negotiate the physical constraints of the subway system. And you probably want LRV’s that can move as fast as the subway (even if they will never do so while in service) so that they don’t hold up subway trains.

                    That storage yard probably doesn’t have much room to spare, and that maintenance facility is probably set up to maintain subway cars.

                    There’s a reason that most recent light rail installations have been in, or running to, suburban areas.

  4. Michael says:

    Second avenue is way too crowded for a light rail anyway. They should be looking at light rail for places like Woodhaven Blvd, Utopia Pkwy, Francis Lewis Blvd… IE Queens.

    • Bolwerk says:

      No, it’s way too crowded, so LRT makes perfect sense. :-p

    • BrooklynBus says:

      You can’t take away a lane of traffic from Woodhaven Blvd for light rail. It would totally jam up the street and given the origins and destinations of the autos, switching to light rail or Select Bus Service (proposed for Phase 2) from your car would not be an option. See http://www.sheepsheadbites.com.....p-transit/ Light rail could be built on the former abandoned Rockaway Line where you do not need to take a traffic lane away.

      • Bolwerk says:

        Why not just close a few lanes of traffic on Woodhaven and find out?

        • BrooklynBus says:

          That wouldn’t be necessary. It would be a lot easier and probably more accurate just to try it on one of he simulation models that exist. NYMTC has one and supposedly the MTA has one. If you actually closed off the lanes what would happen is the following: Traffic would become heavier on Woodhaven. After a certain point, traffic would start diverting to neighboring numbered streets in the corridor. Over time, drivers would start altering their routes switching to the BQE, the Van Wyck, streets like Bedford Avenue and to some extent even the Cross Island. All those other routes would become slightly more congested also.

          It would be very difficult to measure the effects of closing two lanes on Woodhaven. You can’ just look at Woodhaven for the results. That’s why a simulation model would be a better choice and you wouldn’t be inconveniencing anyone. I really doubt that the results would show a negligible effect on traffic which is why no one is talking about using these models that have costed taxpayers millions of dollars. The only people benefitting from them are the consultants who developed them.

  5. Eric F. says:

    I think that in this day and age even God would have difficulty siting an elevated rail line in loer Manhattan. Will never happen. There is no series of improbable circumstances that could occur that would render it possible.

    Besides that: a single track in each direction light rail line would be really slow, assuming you want stations pretty close together. If the stations are far apart, then you need to keep your bus lines anyway.

    And in today’s ADA world, with requirements for elevators and the like at elevated stations, the platforms and related aparatus would be pretty big. Look at this


    Add a bank of elevators and try plunking that down in Chinatown.

    Finally the “light” in light rail refers to carrying capacity. These cars don’t hold a lot of people and won’t provide much congestion relief.

    • Most light rail aren’t elevated. It’s at-grade but physically separated. Take a look at the trains that run down the Embarcadero in San Francisco.

      • Or, instead of showing HBLRT at 8th Street in Bayonne, a shot of the same train at Exchange Place, Jersey City, might have proven to be more instructive and germane to the conversation going on here. Mr. Kabak is right; most LRT isn’t elevated.

    • Bolwerk says:

      No, no, no, no.

      No one is talking about an elevated in Manhattan. LRT would be street level. It’s about the most simple thing in the world to make ADA compliant – even easier than buses. What might be a little trickier would be making transfers with subways simple.

      And no, the “light” has nothing to do with carrying capacity, which probably exceeds Amtrak coaches, when you consider standing room, and certainly hold far more people than buses. It actually doesn’t mean anything in particular at all, but I think the term came up mainly because of the localized nature of the services and lack of need to follow FRA buff strength rules – which keeps them from running along the “heavy” rail that goes on FRA-regulated tracks. I think the vehicles actually exceed the weight of many mainline passenger locos in use in Europe.

      • Adirondacker12800 says:

        It’s light rail because the rail is lighter. Steam locomotives weigh a lot. The pistons pound the road bed including the rail. Self propelled electric cars don’t need as much structure, the cross section of the rail can be smaller. That makes the rail weigh less. . . light rail…

      • Alon Levy says:

        FTA-regulated rapid transit, including the subway, is considered heavy rail and not light rail. The difference is mainly in history – rapid transit historically descends from steam railroads, light rail historically descends from streetcars. It’s true in more

        • Alon Levy says:

          …in more countries than just the US, but not all – e.g. in Germany there’s no distinction between subways and light rail, because subways often descend from light rail lines that were buried to make more room on the street for cars and are regulated as if they were trams.

      • Nathanael says:

        Gah. If you build surface rail north-south in Manhattan, next people will be calling to elevate it, and then they’ll be calling to bury it…

        …we went THROUGH this over 100 years ago.

  6. Lawrence Velázquez says:

    Why are Lexington Avenue trains crush-loaded during rush hour? Because people are hopping around the Upper East Side? Or because they’re all trying to get to Midtown and Lower Manhattan?

    Would a Second Avenue LRT be able to efficiently get people to Midtown and Lower Manhattan? Not if it’s stopping every two blocks.

  7. William M says:

    Light rail would not work on a borough as dense as Manhattan. It might work in an area like Staten Island, but Manhattan is way too dense not to mention how dense Second Avenue already is. Also Second Avenue has the M15 bus rapid transit service. The only difference between bus rapid transit and light rail is that bus rapid transit doesn’t run on wires or tracks. It might be good for the environment as well, but because light rail matches the same capacity as a M15 bus it will not provide relief along Second Avenue. Politicians should just act like politicians and stay the hell out of people that know these things. This is what is screwing our nation in the first place. Just do your own thing.

    • Bolwerk says:

      That’s stupid. If buses work, why wouldn’t light rail? One LRV vehicle can easily exceed the carrying capacity of one of the so-called bus rapid transit articulated buses. Couple two articulated LRVs and you’re coming close to and maybe even exceeding the capacity of half an IRT train. Bonus: the fixed guideway of an LRT allows it to squeeze down streets an articulated bus cannot navigate.

      The people who know these things generally aren’t in the USA, and take a much more holistic view of transportation than either/or scenarios involving buses and light rail. They simply aren’t substitutes for each other.

      • William M says:

        Second Avenue is extremely dense, and the Lexington Avenue Line along with the (6) can’t handle the crowds. Already Second Avenue has SBS the M15, and the Lexington Avenue Line is still overcrowded. The only thing that can do the job is a subway line.

        • Bolwerk says:

          I wasn’t advocate not building a subway line. Ideally, both a four-track subway line and a surface LRT would be built, though I realize realistically we’re only getting an under-performing two-track subway line.

        • Bolwerk says:

          I wasn’t suggesting not building a subway line. Ideally, both a four-track subway line and a surface LRT would be built, though I realize realistically we’re only getting an under-performing two-track subway line. As I said before, LRT and subways perform entirely different purposes.

          • William M says:

            You haven’t realized that the M15 SBS will do the job the light rail would do at less the cost, and it will provide the same stops a light rail line would do except it runs on rubber wheels and roads.

            • Bolwerk says:

              “Haven’t realized”? Of course, because it’s a silly idea. Done right, LRT can carry operate at a fraction of the per-passenger cost. Not to say the SBS is all bad, but this is certainly a corridor where LRT would shine.

              • William M says:

                Doesn’t matter. Second Avenue is too dense. If the M15 SBS can’t do the job then light rail can’t, because light rail only has a slightly higher capacity then SBS.

                • Bolwerk says:

                  If 2x-3x the capacity is “slightly,” then I guess it’s slight, yes.

                  • Andrew says:

                    You’re proposing this as a supplement to SAS, correct?

                    After SAS opens, demand on the M15 will go down, not up. So why would you want 2-3x the capacity of the M15?

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      Gee, why does the Lex have four tracks? Why use the local when there’s an express right there?

  8. Scott says:

    No one wants light rail or buses or anything but subways in Manhattan. Subways are part of what makes NYC so great. Yes I realize there are money issues, but we need MORE subways here, not fewer.

    • Serge says:

      “No one wants light rail”? I do. As do many other New Yorkers, as the posts on this very page should suggest.

      – Serge

  9. Bolwerk says:

    Okay, the major problem everyone seems to have: what the heck do y’all think LRT is for? Hint: there may be some overlap in what the two can do, but it’s not the same thing as a subway. In Manhattan’s case, it’s for higher-capacity-than-buses, lower-capacity-than-subway, faster-than-buses, shorter-than-heavy-rail trips. Nobody would use LRT to get from 96th Street to the Financial District unless they had no other choice. They would maybe use it to get from 96th Street to 72nd Street, perhaps to avoid the long descent and ascent into the SAS.

    • Food Emporium says:

      good point, one that Spitz seems to be overlooking as well.

    • Andrew says:

      2nd Avenue isn’t getting light rail in addition to a subway.

      • Bolwerk says:

        Probably not, but that’s mainly because our politicians are twits. We should really have it on every avenue.

        • William M says:

          Light rail will not work in Manhattan, because of the traffic in Manhattan. It might work in other boroughs but exclude the borough of Manhattan from ever seeing light rail.

          • Bolwerk says:

            Jesus Christ, where do people get this stuff? If the traffic is a problem, you either separate it, ban it, or price it away.

            • William M says:

              Once again you refuse to accept the fact that Manhattan is the densest most busiest borough in the United States, and maybe one of the most largest and busiest in the World. You can’t change something in Manhattan for your own benefit.

              • Bolwerk says:

                Am I talking to a Fox News pundit? It is precisely because of “the fact that Manhattan is the densest most busiest borough in the United States” that it makes sense for it to have an effective transportation system rather than a 1950s notion of a free parking spot for everyone imposed on it. For my benefit, and everyone else’s.

                • William M says:

                  The density means light rail won’t work there. It will just get in the way of pedestrians and vehicles that use Second Avenue. Staten Island is a better place for light rail if you are that crazed for it.

                  • Bolwerk says:

                    LRT vehicles get in the way the same way buses do. Try again.

                    • William M says:

                      As I have mentioned before Select Bus Service or Bus Rapid Transit has the same station spacing as light rail itself. The only difference is that Bus Rapid Transit is it’s on a road, and it has tires. If Bus Rapid Transit which already exist on Second Avenue doesn’t work what would make light rail which only has a slightly higher capacity work? Light rail will work in New York City, but not Manhattan. Hopefully pro light rail people will see the West Shore Light Rail on the West Shore of Staten Island, but not for another 10-20 years.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      I don’t get where you’re getting this obsession with saying the capacity difference is “slight.” A single articulated LRV vehicle easily has 50% more capacity – hardly slight. Couple that to another vehicle, and the capacity is closer to 200% more.

                      And, I never said BRT “doesn’t work.” I think it’s an inferior solution because of its lower capacity, slower speeds, reduced comfort, and higher costs. But, if you’re one of those people who feels bus riders deserve lower comfort and it’s worthwhile to pay more to make sure they suffer, I guess you’re absolutely right that SBS is the better choice.

                    • William M says:

                      SBS is already implemented on Second Avenue. This is why I am telling you it isn’t working. Light rail might sound like some sort of subway train, but it’s nothing more then a term for a upgraded fancy streetcar. That will not work on Second Avenue. There was and still is a reason why Manhattan removed their light rail/streetcar systems in the 1950’s.

                    • Alex D. says:

                      William: I think we should all define the distinction here between a streetcar vs light rail as it would exist on 2nd Ave. It seems to me that you are picturing rail tracks in the place where the SBS (not real Bus Rapid Transit, btw) currently runs. But the reason that LRT would be a HUGE upgrade, in speed and capacity, over SBS is that it would be grade-separated, meaning that both the north- and south-bound tracks would be paired, and made inaccessible to car traffic.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      @William: Holy siht. Except for the twit who wrote the op-ed cited in this blog post, nobody thinks LRT is a substitute for a subway. It’s not like a subway, and no one who knows what they’re talking about even at an amateurish level thinks it’s like a subway. And, FYI, there is indeed no reason why so-called SBS shouldn’t continue to work on Second Avenue, either. Even with LRT, the SBS vehicles* can provide useful off-peak, connecting, substitute, and rerouted service. What SBS cannot do is come close to the capacity or cost effectiveness of a good LRT system.

                      Yes, there is a reason why streetcars were removed – just not a good one. The reason streetcars were removed was largely that Moses and liberal reformers of the time period thought rail was old-fashioned and got in the way of automobile traffic. They also did their best to undermine the subway system.

                      The distinction between LRT and streetcars is minute perhaps, but LRT can have quite high capacity.

                      * That’s the upside to vehicles. They make for great local bus service if used to their full potential. What they aren’t good for is high-capacity, medium-distance transit.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      In smaller cities, they do actually discuss LRT as a subway substitute. Or (modern) commuter rail for that matter.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      Also, on a more important note, the more common terms for grade-separated rail in dense urban areas are “subway” and “el.” The grade-separated LRT you may be familiar with from the Sunbelt runs in streetcar mode or underground in the city center, and in grade-separated mode along freeways or abandoned rail corridors.

          • Versus says:

            Of course it work. Change is always possible. Just as sidewalks were narrowed, trolley tracks foolishly removed, sidewalks can again be widened, pedestrian spaces increased, auto traffic reduced (through tax incentives, fuel pricing, or simply the disincentive of congestion), and public transit improved and increased. It’s worked in may cities, such as London, which have drastically changed their transit culture, and it’s working in many American cities as well. It can work here.

        • Nathanael says:

          You’re absolutely right. Those wide avenues don’t need or want that many lanes, especially since they’re one-way. One lane should be entirely for buses and streetcars, and once you’ve done that, streetcars are the right way to make high-capacity trunk routes.

  10. Ian says:

    Nice idea about LRT on Second Ave, but how will it conflict with buses/BRT, bike lanes, streetscaping, parking, and dare I say it, the automobile? So many modes, only so much available space.

  11. Al D says:

    With light rail, say from the 72 St stop and down, it can operate independently of traffic on 2nd Ave instead of the current SBS which operates AT the whims of traffic. Plus light rail can stop, say, every 5 blocks, and still travel faster than SBS, thus providing greater access and faster travel times. I’m not sure what the big deal about street space is. That darned ave (and 1st) are like 5 lanes of traffic wide!

  12. ajedrez says:

    One (minor) disadvantage of LRT vs. BRT is that the LRT lanes can’t be used for other forms of transit, so buses wouldn’t be able to use them. For example, on Tuesday, I took a trip up First Avenue on the M15 local and it moved fairly fast (for a Manhattan bus anyway), thanks to the bus lanes that were really intended for the M15 +SBS+. Had those been light rail tracks, the M15 local would’ve moved slower than it did.

    • Kai B says:

      Not true – Urban LRT tracks are in the pavement so buses, even cars (if allowed) can use these lanes.

      Example: http://nahverkehr-deutschland......nbahn.html

      • Serge says:

        The European versions of public transit simply put NYC’s to shame. It’s sad how far behind the curve of cultural development we have fallen in the realm of transit and shared public space. NYC, for all its improvements – and I say this as one who prefers NYC to any city in the US – is still filthy, noisy, and uglier than it needs to be.

    • Name says:

      Cars and trains can share the same lane. San Francisco does that all the time. A bit bumpy though.

    • Andrew says:

      Those bus lanes are intended for both M15’s.

      Did any SBS’s pass your local while it was stopped? An LRV can’t pass a bus stopped on the track in front of it.

      • ajedrez says:

        Yes it did (though I rode from South Ferry to 8th Street and an +SBS+ bus didn’t pass until I got off).

      • Alex D. says:

        In my mind, the best (and easy) solution to this is to make both 2nd and 1st Aves two-way, then put the light rail in the middle of 2nd and move the M15 local over to 1st going both directions.

    • Nathanael says:

      Sure they can. There’s really no reason you can’t have a bus/streetcar lane; they do it all the time all over the world. The streetcars can be very long multi-articulated things while the buses can’t, but there’s no reason not to run them in the same lane.

      Probably the FTA has invented some insane reason not to.

  13. Isaac B says:

    A few questions for Mr. Spitz:
    – How would a Second/First Avenue light rail line provide fast, reliable, frequent service in the face of blocked lanes, mechanical issues or extended boarding?
    – What dense, built-up American city’s experience do you base your premise that a light rail line can be instituted (from “idea” to “revenue service”) in two years?
    – Streetcars, which is what this proposal is, are great at defining a sense of “place”. They’re less effective as fast transportation.    San Francisco’s “Market Street Railway” is amazing, but the real action is underground, on Muni Metro and BART. What advantages does a fixed guideway system offer — in this particular application — that the existing BRT system does not?

    Success begets success. Failure begets failure. The worst way to insure further transit innovation in New York is to scuttle an in-flight project and start anew on something lesser.

    A final thought. Mr. Spitz’s proposal should appear ludicrous to anyone with a rudimentary understanding of transit practices, technology, politics and history. My question is: What was the Daily News’ motivation in giving him a forum?

  14. Andrew says:

    Capacity! Light rail cannot possibly approach the capacity that a full-length SAS would provide. Light rail is arguably a replacement for buses (although I don’t think it would be a good idea in this case), but it isn’t a replacement for a subway line. And buses can be implemented quickly as a stopgap measure until the subway line is built; light rail can’t.

  15. Frank B. says:

    I think it’s hilarious that New York hasn’t run ANY streetcars since the 50’s, despite the fact that so many areas are underserved.

    Light Rail is a big solution, and I agree that the Second Avenue line up to 125th Street and just ending it there (i.e. solely connections to the IND 6th Avenue Line and the BMT Broadway Line) is very, very tempting considering it could largely end the overcrowding issues on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line, while providing connections to highly useful, centralized trunk lines.

    Think of it. The M train would run up the IND Second Avenue Line at 63rd Street, and the Q could run up there as well. The G rejoins the IND Queens Boulevard line, as before. Billions of dollars saved for subway lines in Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. The most desperately underserved parts of Manhattan are now served by Broadway and 6th Avenue service (I know it is, in fact, the Lower East Side and Alphabet City that is the most underserved, but you get my point), and all of those below 63rd Street simply hop on the IRT (Now much less jam-packed) as they did before.

    Everyone’s a winner.

    Now on the other hand, we haven’t had an actual trunk line built in Manhattan in a long, long time. Albeit a pathetic two-track line, but nevertheless, a trunk line, which would hugely increase capacity, much more than light-rail, and at higher speeds than light rail.

    This trunk line could potentially and eventually connect to the IND Grand Concourse Line, IND Culver Line, the IND Fulton Street Line, The Chrystie Street Connection, etc.

    You know how much political will it takes to plan, and build a subway line? This line should’ve been built before WWII was over!

    Let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth. Let’s just take the IND Second Avenue Line, and be happy with it. 🙂 (And pray to God that this political will to build more subways is not just a fluke.)

    • Justin says:

      The G doesn’t go up the Queens Boulevard line because there is insufficient demand!!!! People from Queens typically work in Manhattan, not in Brooklyn. To tell you the truth, the G as the Queens Boulevard local was always a bad idea. The original planners of the IND thought express tracks should go to Manhattan and local tracks should stay in the outer boroughs. Unfortunately, that left undercapacity on the Queens Boulevard line. This problem was finally partially solved when the 60th Street tunnel was connected to the Queens Boulevard local tracks, and further solved when the 63 Street tunnel was connected to the Queens Boulevard line.

      As for light rail, how frequently would the service run? Because frequent light rail service on the east side would disrupt both pedeestrian and automobile traffic. Light rail in Manhattan will never happen. No serious studies are ever done and no money is ever allocated for it by Washington, Albany, or the City.

      So the Second Avenue Subway construction will continue with Phase 1, as they are too far along to stop. Eventually the other phases will get done. People forget the 63 Street tunnel was always apart of the Second Avenue Subway construction, and the city opened it in the late 80s. They connected it to the Queens Boulevard line in 2001. And now the East Side LIRR and Second Avenue Subway are under construction again. So as the state can afford it, construction will continue and we will one day get a full length Second Avenue Subway, though it could take another 70 years………….

  16. Tsuyoshi says:

    Hopefully at least the first one or two phases of the Second Avenue subway will be built, and this will be moot.

    But it might still be nice to run light rail east-west, perhaps along 86th Street or 34th Street. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime. The people who run this city get around by car, and they can’t fathom devoting street space to transit.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Sigh. Not that I have anything bad to say about the idea of crosstown service, but 34th is not a major transportation corridor. The buses on it have middling ridership. The top east-west corridors in Manhattan are 14th and 86th, in that order; 125th has multiple buses, none going just on 125th, but overall the ridership and congestion exceed those of the M14.

      What 34th would be more useful for is a subway that goes into Queens or Jersey; such a subway would relieve existing congested routes, so it would get more ridership than just that of the M34/M16. (However, such a corridor is still only about priority #20 regionwide.)

      • Alex D. says:

        Agreed. Also, though, to Tsuyoshi: I think the reason that this idea has resurfaced itself is that the possibility of a full 2nd Ave Subway (not just phase 1 and 2, which is essentially an extension of the Q train) is looking more and more bleak, to the point where I really can’t imagine a T train running. Ever. So, light rail along 2nd Ave is better than no rail along 2nd ave.

        Plus, light rail could be extended crosstown at its northern end, which could be either 86th or 125th st (or another street, for that matter).

      • Nathanael says:

        42nd is a major crosstown corridor too, though apparently mostly for *pedestrians*.

  17. Serge says:

    Let us not forget some other brilliant advantages of light rail over buses:
    – clean energy
    – quiet
    – smooth ride

    ….as well as advantages over subways:
    – daylight!
    – no need to go down into filthy tunnels
    – air!
    – safety (as subway stations and cars are notorious for crime scenes, especially now that there are less and less station attendants and may soon not even be any conductors on the trains)

    – Serge

  18. Serge says:

    Anyone know what happened to the movement for the Village Crosstown Trolley?

    – Serge

  19. Serge says:

    Now is the time to seriously begin moving away from the culture of the private automobile in urban areas. The over-dependence on the private auto does far more harm than good in cities. It is a recent development in the history of cities, and perhaps should be considered a historical aberration and error.

    – Serge

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