Home Staten Island North Shore options include light rail, bus improvements

North Shore options include light rail, bus improvements

by Benjamin Kabak

The MTA is consider light rail as a possible way to bring transit to Staten Island's North Shore. (Click to enlarge)

Could Staten Island be the home of New York City’s first true light rail line? Based on an analysis conducted by the MTA concerning ways to improve transportation along the borough’s North Shore, it very well might be.

The North Shore Alternatives Analysis, presented last week at Snug Harbor (and available here as a PDF), has been a long time coming. Nearly two years ago, the MTA announced a engineering study that would examine ways to reactivate transit along the old North Shore Rail Line right of way, and the agency started the Alternatives Analysis phase of the project in April 2010. New York’s Empire Development Corporation has called upon the MTA to reactivate the rail line, and now the MTA has whittled its options down to three.

The sexiest choice concerns a light rail network that would run from the Ferry Terminal to the West Shore Plaza. The 15-stop line is estimated to cost $581 million (in 2010 dollars) to construct and would improve travel times from St. George to West Shore Plaza by as much as 35 minutes. The MTA says that light rail would be ” more
compatible than heavy rail with potential plans for connecting services.” I optimistically take that to mean a connection across the Bayonne Bridge.

As far as the light rail details go, the Alternatives Analysis made a few assumptions. First, the Clifton Staten Island Railway shop could be modified to include light rail maintenance. Second, any work would have to include a new car wash, body shop and fueling station in Arlington.

The next option would involve tearing up any rail tracks, paving the right-of-way and turning it into an exclusive busway. By adding eight stops, this alternative could speed travel by as much as 33 minutes end-to-end, but it would carry a substantial price tag as well. The MTA estimates $352 million in capital costs, and for a only a busway, that seems excessive.

The third alternative is called the Transportation System Management. Similar to the required no-build option added to environmental impact statements, this alternative examines ways in which the MTA could improve service by essentially restructuring existing service but doing nothing else. For $37 million, TSM would improve travel times by a whopping 60 seconds.

So what happens next? The MTA is essentially trying to determine which of three alternatives will improve mobility while preserving and enhancing the North Shore’s environment, natural resources and open source and maximizing limited financial resources for the so-called greater public benefit. Over the next few months, the MTA will assess potential ridership figures, conduct traffic analysis for station sites and beging some conceptual engineering and cost refinements. It is, in essence, a pre-environmental impact review designed to identify the locally preferred alternative. They have already begun to solicit community feedback on this plan.

As a believer that no transit options are going to be faster than a dedicated rail line, I’d love to see the MTA pick light rail. It would provide a fast ride across Staten Island and the opportunity to connect into New Jersey. But of course, light rail would present its own set of challenges. New York City has no light rail infrastructure, and bringing it to Staten Island would require the MTA to build up from scratch a light rail support system. It’s not impossible, but for the current MTA, it’s ambitious.

Then there is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. I can see Staten Island becoming one of the MTA’s next great mega-projects, but it’s going to take some time. The $580 million (in today’s money) won’t materialize over night, and the MTA has to finish part of the Second Ave. Subway and the East Side Access project before funding another megaproject. Still, that a potential light rail line would cost something with millions at the end of it instead of billions could be its saving grace. Furthermore, New York City wants to redevelop Staten Island’s North Shore, and providing better transit is a key part of that plan. The dollars might somehow materialize.

So for now, there are rumblings of a plan. Nothing is concrete, but over the next few months and years, transit developments could come to Staten Island. It’s about time.

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Alex C September 30, 2011 - 1:59 am

I’d prefer just restoring the North Shore Line to be able to run current SIRT rolling stock. On the other hand it doesn’t matter because the NIMBYs will make sure nothing happens anyways.

Tom March 23, 2012 - 11:07 am

I hope you are wrong. I’ve been on the light rail in Bayonne, and it is extremely slow, painfully slow. Running a SIRT type train is the best option.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 3:18 am

The MTA says that light rail would be ”more compatible than heavy rail with potential plans for connecting services.” I optimistically take that to mean a connection across the Bayonne Bridge.

If so, that’d be uncharacteristically forward-thinking, and very cool. But something is odious about this. The city thinks:

• LRT in Red Hook is a bad idea, and bent over backwards to find an excuse as to why it was a bad idea

• surface rail on First Avenue, a place that by any standard could use the double capacity over SBS, is a bad idea

• seemingly that vision42 isn’t worth even a look

• LRT isn’t a good idea on 34th Street, with the potential for a great crosstown tie-in to GCT

• that LRT isn’t a good idea in any of the three denser outer boroughs

So why would they support putting LRT in Staten Island? That is, unless the city’s say is more limited here. Given that the MTA positioned the bus as the option that is 94% as much of a time saver with a $200M smaller price tag, a questionable but not entirely impossible proposition depending on circumstance, they seem to be pushing the bus option.

FWIW, if they already positioned the financials not to work, I don’t see some other factor pushing it over. A political giveaway? Staten Island just isn’t that powerful electorally. Real estate interests? Do they even want the kind of development rail would draw? So-called “rail pizazz”? Didn’t work in Red Hook, or any of those other places that are denser than Red Hook, where financial performance couldn’t possibly be worse. A connection to HBLR? Good idea, but probably not happening as long as Christie is around, even if NYC/NYS/MTA/NJ/NJT cooperation is theoretically possible. History? Well, good luck with that one.

Scott E September 30, 2011 - 9:27 am

“The MTA says that light rail would be ” more
compatible than heavy rail with potential plans for connecting services.” I optimistically take that to mean a connection across the Bayonne Bridge”.

The MTA says that? Doubtful. More likely than not, the engineering consultants commissioned by the MTA recommend the option with “potential plans for future services”. They are simply pushing for an option that paves the way for those same engineering consultants to get more work in the future designing that connection. And I don’t blame them for that … this is their livelihood and business model. But when designs are outsourced, one must always consider he underlying motives behind them.

Al D September 30, 2011 - 9:44 am

Splitting hairs on my part maybe, but the MTA would have bought that study and own it (or at least co-own it). Thus, the statement becomes theirs.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 1:24 pm

There’s self-interest, and then there’s self-interest that dovetails with public interest.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 2:25 pm

Oh, and the quote is from the “North Shore Alternatives Analysis” (warning: PDF) Ben linked to. So, yes, it appears the MTA does say that, or at least the writer of a presentation made on behalf of the MTA says that.

Al D September 30, 2011 - 9:47 am

I’m not following your argument. SI’s North Shore has its differentiating qualities from all other locations you listed.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 1:11 pm

But which of those differentiating qualities lend themselves to rail? Certainly not the key ones, like land use and density.

I’m not arguing that I think rail is a bad idea on the North Shore. I’m just saying I don’t see the city liking it.

Kai B October 4, 2011 - 12:23 am

From my observations it seems like light rail is being built very timidly in the U.S. Looking around at systems built recently they use tons of dedicated trackage and don’t intermingle with traffic the ways streetcars back in the day.

Many of the cities in which light rail has been built recently include miles upon miles of dedicated trackage. Staten Island is one of the few places where this is feasible without going above or below ground.

The Red Hook proposal took light light vehicles down Atlantic Avenue and Downtown Brooklyn. 34th Street is as dense as it can be. Obviously the MTA, or this firm is trying to find a suburban Houston in NYC, and that just happens to be Staten Island.

I just want to point out that I’m not advocating this mentality. Light rail vehicles should be able to go where they need to go. Dedicated trackways are nice where available, but the business districts need access too. And if you look all over Europe you’ll see this works fine.

BrooklynBus October 4, 2011 - 9:53 am

I really think that using the Fulton Mall where it coukd replace buses makes much more sense than Atlantic Avenue which has too much traffic as is. But that was never studied.

Bolwerk October 5, 2011 - 11:39 am

Why replace? Nothing stops buses and LRT from running on the same POV-free ROW and complementing each other. The Fulton Mall would be a perfect place for that.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 9:57 am

The difference here is that the North Shore once had a rail line and not having to acquire a new right of way brings down costs tremendously. Light rail here is a no-brained and has been discussed for over 40 years. Two years of study by the MTA should have been enough time to already conclude it is the best choice. Leaving it to the MTA constriction won’t begin until 2025 when East Side Access and the Second Avenue Subway Phases 1 and 2 are complete and the rest of it is officially scrapped. By then $500 million will become $2.5 Billion and the MTA will conclude that it is too expensive and buses are the only way to go. For them to even consider a no build TSM option of $37 million to save 60 seconds shows what idiots they are. I wouldn’t even put it past them to choose that option. After all they are going ahead with the B44 SBS when the average Limited passenger will only save1.7 minutes at a cost of approximately $20 million. And some current Limited passengers will not be able to even use SBS and will switch to the local making their current trip even longer.

The only ones who will profit are the engineering firms as long as the MTA continues to drag out its studies.

Benjamin Kabak September 30, 2011 - 10:05 am

Two points here:

1. The Alternatives Analysis was funded by a grant from local Staten Island politicians who want transit upgrades.

2. The MTA isn’t “dragging out” studies because these studies are legally mandated. If you dislike the process so much, blame the people who put it in place and not the people who have to follow it. Countless Alternatives Analyses, Environmental Impact studies and slow engineering reports are the result of a painfully slow, legislatively-mandated planning process.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 3:45 pm

The MTA isn’t dragging out the studies but will drag out implementation insisting they will not start construction until the first phases of the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access are completed instead of working in parallel. They have publicly stated they will not start any new subway expansion projects until the former are completed and I would take that to include light rail. So far they have made one exception, the #7 extension, at the insistence of the mayor. Unless similar pressure is put on the MTA by Staten Island politicians, yes the MTA will drag out construction because they have no desire to help the outer boroughs.

Benjamin Kabak September 30, 2011 - 3:49 pm

Unless similar pressure is put on the MTA by Staten Island politicians, yes the MTA will drag out construction because they have no desire to help the outer boroughs.

That’s a bit too paranoid for my tastes, and I live in one of those so-called outer boroughs.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 4:00 pm

I don’t consider Park Slope the “Outer Boroughs” although it is part of Brooklyn. Areas such as Williamsburg and Park Slope are treated with almost as high regard as Manhattan. You can’t compare it to areas such as Sheepshead Bay or Fresh Meadows when considering how the City decides how it is spending its money.

Benjamin Kabak September 30, 2011 - 4:04 pm

Prior to the start of the Second Ave. Subway, the biggest transportation projects in the city all happened in your “outer boroughs.” Look at the connection of the 63rd St. tunnel to the Queens Boulevard line or the Archer Ave. extension. Unless you’re willing to implement some serious revenue-generating measures, these other Transit Wishlist projects are just going to languish.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 4:33 pm

I wouldn’t call a 1200 foot subway connection or a replacement of five elevated stations major. Now if the original plan for a Queens Blvd Super Express wouldn’t have been canceled, you would have had a point in the statement you just made. The fact that it was cancelled and replaced with a cheaper alternative with not nearly as much benefit, clearly shows how the MTA regards the outer boroughs.

John R September 30, 2011 - 6:14 pm

It’s unfair to say that because the MTA is not pursuing major upgrades of this magnitude they are regarding teh outer boroughs with neglect. Although this isn’t necessarily true for all cases, the true measure of a plan is its potential ridership and use. Many of the outerborough stations are a drain on the MTA because of low ridership. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like any plan will bring MTA a true revenue; however, some plans will yeild less money lost than others, and this is a major consideration.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 6:32 pm

That’s a measure, not the true measure Stations aren’t by themselves too expensive to maintain and operate, though the need for 24/7 staffing at every station diminishes how cost-effective they can really be.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 7:36 pm

I came to my conclusion of neglect based on a statement made by the Director of MTA Planning near the conclusion of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Council’s three year $6 million study of long range transportation improvements in Southern Brooklyn in 2006. in which the MTA was a participant.

After numerous long range subway and light rail proposals were made to them, he responded that the MTA would not make any subway extensions and were only interested in completing East Side Access and the Second Avenue Subway in Manhattan. We were talking about 30 years into the future, not tomorrow, when the financial situation could be quite different.

Yet the MTA was not interested in setting any future priorities, also stating that they were in charge of planning and weren’t required to listen to anyone else’s plans. That was a public statement made at a public meeting.

The study resulted in a an absolute zero. Six million dollars down the drain that could have been spent on something useful. That’s why I am skeptical when I hear the word “study”.

It seems that when government wants to do something, they just do it, they don’t study it to death. Where were the years of studies before the City decided to extend the #7 line? I just seem to remember an announcement by Mayor Bloomberg that it will be done.

Andrew October 2, 2011 - 8:58 pm
Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 4:07 pm

Then where are Williamsburg’s and Park Slope’s light rail? They aren’t even on the SBS radar.

Actual city investment money gets squandered on Seth Pinsky’s brand of suburban-in-the-city projects, but that doesn’t usually get directed at Manhattan. And when it does, it’s not a favor.

Then there’s maintenance. Is that especially bad in Sheepshead Bay?

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 4:59 pm

Most areas are not suitable for light rail because it works best on its own right of way of which we have very few. Park Slope and Williamsburg do not have any.

In Brooklyn, besides Red Hook, the only other case I could make for light rail is along the abandoned Bay Ridge LIRR Right-of-way. If money were available it could be extended above Linden Blvd in East New York similar to Air-train and could even connect with it at Howard Beach.

The bias isn’t only by the MTA but the City as well. As far as maintenance is concerned, all you have to do is look at the dozens of stories of overflowing litter baskets in Sheepshead Bay in local papers and on the web. This would never be allowed to occur in Midtown or Downtown Manhattan.

More recently, it took 17 years to design and construct the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn using brick-like pavers. When they wore out after about 15 years of neglect, the City just reconstructed the street with concrete. Similarly, the pavers on the sidewalk were also replaced with plain old concrete last year to look like any other street.

For a few bucks more, they could have at least tinted the concrete so the gum spots wouldn’t be as obvious. No money to do a proper job on Fulton Street, but they have $25 million to do a first class designer renovation of Times Square.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 5:59 pm

There isn’t any particular problem with light rail sharing space with POV traffic in places low on POV traffic. It becomes a problem when POV traffic is high. And what’s the problem with LRT being dropped in for buses in situations like in First Avenue?

And, I see overflowing litter baskets in Manhattan all the time. When I lived downtown (until 2006), it was a desert at night. Except instead of tumbleweeds, it had garbage blowing down the street.

More recently, it took 17 years to design and construct the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn using brick-like pavers. When they wore out after about 15 years of neglect, the City just reconstructed the street with concrete. Similarly, the pavers on the sidewalk were also replaced with plain old concrete last year to look like any other street.

In some German cities, streets are made with pre-fab sections. When access is needed, a crane can lift the section up to get under the street to maintain utilities. Presumably when it comes time to replace a section that’s worn out, the replacement can be dropped in. Such a thing would presumably make hypothetical LRT maintenance easy in a place like NYC, even if you have to separate welded tracks.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 7:48 pm

The problem is that traffic is high on most streets.

Have you seen garbage this bad in Manhattan. http://www.sheepsheadbites.com.....-is-drunk/ All these picture were taken within a quarter mile on the same day.

Bolwerk October 1, 2011 - 4:47 pm

Once traffic starts to actually get in the way, dedicate a lane or find some other way to restrict automobile through traffic. I don’t see the problem.

Yeah, I have seen it that bad, but I suppose not recently. I’m in Manhattan during work hours more these days.

BrooklynBus October 3, 2011 - 5:28 pm

Sometimes the automobiles are not the problem. This afternoon I pulled out of a parking space and was stuck for 10 minutes on two short blocks in bumper-to-bumper traffic in Sheepshead Bay at 2:30 PM. The problem was a double-parked school bus sitting for 10 minutes blocking the only lane dedicated for through traffic. To get around it cars had to break the law by going straight in one of the dedicated left turn lanes. This happens every single day. The buses should queue up around the corner on the side street but insist on blocking traffic on the Avenue and there is zero police enforcement.

There is nowhere to turn off to avoid the traffic, so you are just stuck. Last week DOT made the problem worse by narrowing the lanes and the community is fuming. So don’t be so quick to blame the cars.

Here is a picture of the school bus taken last week, except today the street was backed up as far as the eye could see. http://www.sheepsheadbites.com.....ed-for-it/

Andrew October 5, 2011 - 8:18 am

That’s by a school! Of course there are school buses, and if school buses aren’t given enough curb space, then what choice do they have but to double park? Why aren’t school buses given more designated space at the curb?

(Oh wait, I know the answer: because people like you whine incessantly whenever the city takes away a space for you to store your private property on public land. And, besides, if there weren’t so many cars on the road, the two lanes that aren’t blocked would be plenty. So maybe the automobiles are the problem after all.)

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 4:00 pm

Cross out “desire” and replace with “political impetus” and it might not be so far off.

Seems to me a root problem with the MTA is it doesn’t really have “desires” in the sense of organization-wide goals. It has management, labor, and the union leadership in 3-5 major operational divisions all with different agendas.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 4:17 pm

It has one organization-wide goal that of reducing the deficit. The goal of improving transportation connectivity between neighborhoods and making travel easier for passengers falls near the bottom.

This is what happened to me last night at 9:30 PM. I waited about ten minutes for a bus. It arrived with two passengers aboard and a “Next Bus Please” sign on. The driver refused to open the door for me as he waited for the traffic light to change. He finally opened it to explain to me that I shouldn’t get on. I got on anyway and pointed to the two other passengers on board. He then explained that his dispatcher directed him not to pick up anymore passengers.

I could understand it if there was another bus behind or if dozens of passengers were boarding at that hour, but neither was the case. A bus in the other direction only carried ten passengers. The bus lost ten seconds by picking me up. What was the rationale for me having to wait another ten minutes in addition to the ten I already waited?

Whatever the rationale was, it certainly wasn’t to help the passengers. There are countless examples how MTA does not value customer service to the degree it should and any way you look at it, you can’t blame Albany, NIMBYs, the unions, or legally required studies for all the wrong doing of the MTA which I continually see on this blog and frankly I’m a little tired of it.

Benjamin Kabak September 30, 2011 - 4:21 pm

I can blame the unions for the work rules that don’t permit bus drivers to stop to pick you up while the bus is heading back to the depot just as much as I can blame the MTA for accepting these stupid work rules (or a binding arbitration process with no real avenue of appeal).

As far as getting tired of it, you can either start your own blog which you have or stop reading. I’m not saying that facetiously but if you don’t like my coverage, then don’t read it. You’re the one, after all, who blamed the MTA for “continu[ing] to drag out its studies” that it’s legally required to do if it wants any federal funding for a potential reactivation of the North Shore rail line, weren’t you?

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 4:36 pm

You seem to be reading what you want to not what I wrote, because of your inherent bias to make excuses for the MTA. Now show me where I mentioned in my comment anything about a bus going back to the depot?

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 5:06 pm

And I didn’t blame the MTA for dragging out the studies. What I said was that the MTA would be in no rush to start construction before the first phases of Second Avenue and East Side Access were completed, according to previous statements made by them. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 4:48 pm

The frustration I have with the situation is so many people think the MTA is in a bubble because that’s what politicians want us to think. Bad decision-makers in management are probably about as entrenched as bad decision-makers in the union.

There are times when buses should be heading back to the depot without picking up passengers. Besides technical problems, the bus depot may not even be on the bus’ route. With more consistent reliability, these issues wouldn’t be sources for such frustration.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 5:25 pm

As I stated to Ben, the instance I was referring to had nothing to do with a bus going back to the depot but a bus in regular service that was instructed not to pick up additional passengers. (It had two others on board.)

As far as depot trips, your last sentence hits the nail on the head, but reliability can’t be guaranteed and the MTA has to be sure that when a bus goes directly to the depot, it is not needed in service. Imagine how the passenger feels when a bus bypasses him because he is going to the depot and the in service bus directly behind also bypasses him because it is too full and he has to wait another 10 or 15 minutes.

Buses coming from a depot traveling halfway across a borough at 4AM are also suspicious since virtually no time is saved by bypassing passengers at that hour. And that decision is made by management, and not the result of union work rules.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 5:50 pm

BrooklynBus: I understand what you were saying, I was just commenting on Ben’s scenario.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 5:15 pm

Ben, I have often given you credit for your tireless work on this blog and your wide coverage of topics.

On the other hand, your clear bias to make excuses for the MTA is also obvious because whenever you do criticize the MTA, you always try to put a positive spin on it stating that the problem has since been corrected or they are working on it. You also do not cover topics where the MTA is clearly wrong and you can’t put a positive spin on it or shift the blame elsewhere to show how the MTA is an innocent victim.

I know it’s a lot easier and more satisfying when everyone agrees with you all the time and there is no opposition to contend with. However, I will continue to read and post because as I have said to you before, sometimes you do indeed write excellent articles.

VLM September 30, 2011 - 5:54 pm

God, you are a rude insufferable know-it-all who really doesn’t know anything. Why were you fired from your job at Transit again?

Where the hell else do you think the driver was going if not to the depot for a re-route? There’s a reason why he was told not to pick up passengers, and now that you’ve told the world what time and where this breach of protocol happened, he can be properly disciplined. Hope you’re happy. Keep on finding those conspiracies.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 6:16 pm

This is for VLM.

I don’t know who you are but I would sure like to know what I have ever done that you hate me so much. This isn’t your first comment of this sort. You seem to believe Ben is some sort of a God who is never wrong, and no one dare ever disagree with him and it is your job to defend him. Well, I’ve got news for you. While he does an excellent job with this blog, he is not always right and you never seem to be right. You are the “rude insufferable”

Quit making up your own facts. They call those lies.

One, I was never fired from Transit.

Two, the driver was definitely not going to a depot, and I could state that for an absolute fact because the depot was in the opposite direction.

Three, I also never told anyone where this occurred so no one can be disciplined. Another “fact” you just decided to fabricate. The dispatcher merely needs to be re-instructed as to what he should and should not be doing and the driver was just doing what he was told.

VLM September 30, 2011 - 6:22 pm

I don’t think Ben’s a God who’s never wrong. He’s been wrong, and he works pretty hard to make sure he corrects what’s wrong. I do think that you’re a disrespectful ass who thinks he knows everything about planning in NYC but really just lives in some psuedo-urban suburb out in the far reaches of Brooklyn. If you were not so condescending, perhaps I and many others around here wouldn’t find you so easy to hate.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 9:47 pm


Yes, he tries to be factual and will correct errors when he finds them. That, however, is not the same as being objective, which he clearly is not and doesn’t pretend to be. However, there are those here who believe he is.

I never claimed to know everything about planning and I am not condescending. You are the one calling people “disrespectful asses”, not me. I just don’t like it when people make up lies like yourself, and try to pass them off as facts.

And what do you have against people who live in “pseudo urban suburbs”? We pay the same taxes as you who may live in Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Chelsea, Williamsburg, etc. You clearly have a bias against us and you have the nerve to call me condescending? What names do you have left in your repertoire that you haven’t used yet? Have something against having an intelligent discussion?

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 4:30 pm

Not sure the deficit reduction thing is an organization-wide goal. I don’t exactly see the union or labor clamoring to take a wage freeze to control the deficit.

As for seemingly unnecessary displays of power, I solemnly say this likely explains a lot of behavior on the part of management, the union, and customer facing individuals. The driver probably didn’t want to follow what he knew to be a dumb order, likely issued by someone who knew he was going to achieve nothing but get shit for the driver.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 5:35 pm

It is an organization-wide goal. That’s why Operations Planning will not extend service unless they reduce service elsewhere, something they have been directed to do by the folks who control the budget. That greatly limits your flexibility to make improvements or improve service in underserved areas. It also means you never look at latent demand (people who would use your service if it was there). That’s why the MTA is elated when people shift to dollar vans because it permits them to provide even less service, since their passenger traffic counts no longer counts them as part of the demand permitting further service reductions.

Don’t understand your last comment. The driver had no problem following the order by the dispatcher. He just didn’t want to waste time arguing with me so he let me on.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 5:49 pm

Look, let me split the hairs. There are the goals set by the organization’s management or by statute as a matter of policy, and then there are the goals that everyone in the organization* can agree on, get behind, and actively work to achieve because they feel it’s good for everyone. I’m sure the MTA has plenty of the former, but do you really see them as especially strong with the latter?

And, following from there, is there any serious pride in working for the MTA, as you might find in someone working for Apple or Google or Ford? Or, to pick public agencies, the NYPD or FDNY?

* let’s just say everyone for the sake of argument. In a huge organization like the MTA, it would naturally have to be “almost everyone.” And, better yet, other stakeholders who are not in the organization, like politicians and riders, would get behind them too.

Don’t understand your last comment. The driver had no problem following the order by the dispatcher. He just didn’t want to waste time arguing with me so he let me on.

Well, that doesn’t contradict my point about them being power-hungry little Napoleons. Hell, it makes it worse. 😐

Andrew October 2, 2011 - 11:54 pm

The dispatcher told the driver not to pick anybody up. He didn’t tell the driver not to pick anybody up unless it would only take 10 seconds, nor would that be a reasonable instruction.

You know as well as I do that the dispatcher doesn’t know where the following bus is – all he knows is that the bus is very late, and if he expects its follower to be fairly close behind it, he made a reasonable move. Unfortunately, his expectation was off. As the BusTime project expands, I hope real time bus location information will be made available to dispatchers so they won’t have to guess anymore.

BrooklynBus October 3, 2011 - 5:35 pm

But he should have known that passenger traffic on the route was exceedingly light at that time and that virtually zero time would be saved by not picking up additional passengers. It was just a dumb instruction unless he knew for a fact that another bus was directly behind. If the bus was late, saving one minute of overtime at the most is not worth inconveniencing one or two passengers by ten minutes each.

Andrew October 5, 2011 - 8:11 am

Overtime? The main reason to direct a bus to skip stops is so that it can make its return trip on time (or not overly late). The dispatcher may have been told of an extensive gap in service in the other direction that he was trying to plug.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 1:21 pm

The Red Hook alignment would have been cheaper than this proposal, at least according to Ben’s post from a few months ago. $581M in 2010 dollars vs. $176M in 2011 dollars? If SI is a no-brainer, then Red Hook is a double no-brainer.

(Granted, Red Hook perhaps was going to be a “streetcar,” so maybe it would have been a lower-scale construction with regard to stations.)

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 3:55 pm

I wouldn’t consider the Red Hook light rail a no brainer because the benefits to be gained there are far less than in Staten Island and because there are route alternatives that need to be considered which is not the case in SI because the ROW is there and you would just follow it.

The route in Downtown Brooklyn I favored for Red Hook wasn’t even considered in the study performed by DOT which would be along Old Fulton Street to Tillary Street, Cadman Plaza East through Borough Hall Park and along the Fulton Street Mall down Ashland Place to a new terminal in the vacant south ofl Atlantic Terminal where a bus terminal could built for all the routes currently operating along Livingston Street and Fulton Street cutting back on bus mileage. The light rail could operate every three minutes throughout the day providing virtually continuous service.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 4:17 pm

Where does Red Hook fall short? Near as I can tell, Red Hook is denser, roughly equally isolated, and trendier than Staten Island. Having alternatives is hardly a bad thing, and there don’t seem to be huge variations in costs between what could be numerous alternatives that are all good when compared to each other. I totally agree your ROW idea makes a lot of sense, but it’s not the only one that makes sense.

Again, not saying SI light rail is a bad idea. Hell, what is fishy about this SI proposal is how expensive it is with a ROW largely in place.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 4:24 pm

It isn’t that Red Hook falls short. I like the idea. It’s just that Staten Island has much more potential for the benefit to be gained because it wouldn’t only be for the adjscent North Shore but for the entire part of the Island north of the expressway. Local bus routes could be restructured to serve each of the stations and parking areas could be built by the stations as well. That would greatly reduce the mileage currently needed to serve the ferry, cutting bus costs. Also some passengers could be diverted from express bus by providing a quicker trip to the ferry.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 4:51 pm

Ah, okay. You’re talking about future benefits for the community, not operational efficiency.

But I’m not sure drawing customers away from express buses is necessarily financially desirable.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 6:36 pm

Why wouldn’t it be financially desirable if it means they can provide less service? I thought next to Access-A-Ride, Express Bus was the most expensive type of service the MTA provides.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 6:54 pm

Maybe it would be, I’m just not sure. I know they’re expensive to run, but they also have higher fares. So how well do fares cover express bus runs? It’s already a pretty bare-bones service, isn’t it?

OTOH, generally higher utility of a more frequent service has benefits that express buses obviously can’t approach.

ajedrez October 1, 2011 - 12:38 am

Overall, express buses have a pretty low farebox recovery ratio (I’ll just call it FRR). Before the service reductions, the direct FRR was around 49% for the NYCT routes and 40% for the MTAB routes.

However, because SI has fewer alternatives (for the most part, in other boroughs, the express bus is roughly the same speed as taking a local bus to the subway, whereas the bus->ferry or bus->(R) train is slower than the express bus), the express buses generally perform fairly well.

I doubt the North Shore Rail Line will make that much of an impact on express bus ridership. While the trip to the ferry will be more reliable, it’ll only save about 10 minutes over the S40/S90 bus. Since the schedule will be timed with the ferry, it’s not going to be more frequent (and the fact that the ferry is infrequent is what really matters: What good is it to be at St. George if the ferry doesn’t come for 20 more minutes?)

The cost reductions would come from reducing service on the parallel local lines (the S40/S90 would be completely eliminated, and the S46/S96 would be cut back to Elm Park). And of course, there’s modal gravity, which should attract additional ridership and revenue.

I’ll write another comment at the bottom of the page.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 4:26 pm

Maybe the cost is fishy because they are going overboard on the stations to give contractors more work.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 4:54 pm

Maybe, but theoretically couldn’t the stations be similar for the buses and LRVs? There isn’t a reason LRVs need more than a long, level curbside pickup point.

If what you say is true, they’re probably positioning the bus as the cheaper option knowing it’s more expensive to give contractors more work.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2011 - 6:34 pm

Regarding your first paragraph, I’m not going to pretend to be an expert where I am not. I don’t know.

Point 2 – On the other hand, they may want to give contractors more work depending on the relationship between the upper echelons of the MTA and their favorite contractors.

Regarding some points your raised earlier, I’m not sure there are any goals other than the ones set by policy. By and large, everyone merely does what their boss instructs them to do.

As far as taking pride in working for the MTA, I seriously disagree with you. I believe the pride at the MTA especially for union employees is just as great as with the NYPD and the NYFD. As proof just look at the high numbers of people who spend their entire career at the MTA. There are entire MTA families, just as with the NYPD. It is not rare to have three or four members of a single family all being career MTA employees.

Bolwerk October 1, 2011 - 4:57 pm

Well, I could be wrong, but I get the impression the identity for union-level labor at the MTA is more oriented towards solidarity with peers in similar careers than actual pride in who they work for. I don’t think they actually like their organization, and they don’t share solidarity with management like uniform police officers might with their precinct captain or firemen might with their company’s leader.

And, with all due respect, there are other obvious motivators for being “career MTA” besides pride. The pay is high given the work involved, the job is secure, benefits are good, and the retirement plan is solid. Jobs like that aren’t available to people without at least a college degree anymore, for the most part.

BrooklynBus October 1, 2011 - 6:17 pm

I tend to agree with you. There is far too much hostility between union members and management and I blame management for most of that. When you harass employees, don’t treat them with respect and bypass qualified people or promotions while promoting your friends when you can, what do you expect from your employees? When an employee goes beyond the call of duty to assist passengers or do his job exceedingly well and is treated the same as someone who does the minimum possible to get by, that doesn’t actually instill motivation among your employees.

The other day a bus driver got out of his seat to assist an elderly passenger with a heavy shopping cart exit the bus. I didn’t know if it was a good idea to get his name and send in a letter commending him, because knowing how screwed up the MTA is, he probably violated some dumb work rule and would have been reprimanded or suspended for helping her.

Anon256 September 30, 2011 - 1:50 pm

The FTA requires all alternatives analyses to evaluate “transportation systems management” and “no build” options. The MTA had no choice about whether to consider that option, at least if they want to keep open the potential for federal funding of improvements to the line.

Adirondacker12800 October 1, 2011 - 3:42 am

And even if the FTA didn’t require it, if they didn’t include it people would have been whining about how it could have been done for a tenth of the price if they had just adjusted the bus schedules a bit.,,,,

AlexB September 30, 2011 - 1:52 pm

I think you are looking for a conspiracy where there isn’t one. This happens to be in the path of an existing railroad ROW, whereas none of the other examples you mentioned are anywhere close to the same conditions. I agree with you that the things on your list deserve more serious consideration, but comparing them to the North Shore LR is not apples to apples.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 2:22 pm

Yes, that’s just it. It happens to be the path of an existing rail ROW. So why is a newly paved busway 61% the cost of the natural option? I realize the conditions aren’t the same in the other examples, but it’s hard to argue they’re less favorable to rail, even if you believe Jacob’s contention about the political element. In those cases, density and land use factors alone should make them more favorable to surface rail, regardless of the lack of rotting tracks and ties.

Conspiracy? No. But obstinacy or stupidity from our Luddite bureaucracy – is that so far-fetched?

Alon Levy October 1, 2011 - 2:10 am

Vision42 as proposed isn’t worth a look, not unless the cost projection can be scaled down by a factor of about 20. Ditto LRT on 34th. I get why Haikalis wants to focus on that area (he serves on CB 5), but those aren’t the main crosstown transportation corridors in Manhattan. Try 125th, 14th, and 86th.

Ordinarily I’d even add a snide comment about the city’s not caring about 125th, but after finally agreeing to extend protected bike lanes into East Harlem, the city deserves a few days’ reprieve.

Chet September 30, 2011 - 7:51 am

A light rail system is perfect for this area. (Just a note- I’ve lived in the mid-island area of Staten Island since 1967.)

1) The light rail route shown here can have two very important additions to it. The first is well known to many here- a connection over the Bayonne Bridge to the HBLR system. That maybe closer than many think. The Bayonne Bridge is about to be completely rebuilt as it needs to be raised for larger ships to get to Port Newark. There are already cries for that project to include a rail connection- even from our semi-Tea Party congressman, Michael Grimm.

A second connection would be to extend the line from where it turns south (just before the Arlington station) to go across a new Goethals Bridge- also on the Port Authority’s project list. That new bridge also has room for a mass transit line in the plans. A light rail over the Goethals could wind its way through Elizabeth to the Northeast Corridor line for transfers to NJ Transit.

2) The economic development of the route would be tremendous. Port Richmond Avenue used to be one of the great shopping streets of the island. It started a very slow move downhill (mostly because parking became impossible) when the old North Shore rail closed in the 1950s. When the Staten Island Mall opened in 1973, that decline became like an old pickup truck with bald tires and no brakes on a icy hill.

The light rail would make it an eight minute ride to the ferry, which would mean a 35 minute or so commute to lower Manhattan. That would boost the convenience of the neighborhood- most of which is actually quite nice looking (especially Veterans’ Park). More business would return, etc.

The Lois Lane stop is home to two hotels that could become a less expensive alternative to tourists. They’d be able to make it to lower Manhattan in about an hour. Not a bad trade off for saving at least a couple of hundred dollars a night on your hotel bill.

The West Shore Plaza is a rather mundane shopping center- Modell’s, Motor Vehicles, and a Burlington Coat Factory are the major occupants. As the terminal of the route, it could help improve this center, by making the trip there for those without cars, much faster and easier.

Finally, if one really wants to dream big: Extend the line from the West Shore Plaza to go across the future Freshkills Park to Richmond Avenue with stops at the Staten Island Mall, and continue it all the way down Richmond Avenue to Hylan Boulevard. Now we would have not just a line that helps the commute to and from the Ferry; but one that actually takes local traffic off the street and puts them onto a public transit way that would be much faster, more comfortable, and more reliable than the current crop of buses.

al September 30, 2011 - 2:01 pm

That connection over the Bayonne Bridge after the reconstruction would require a transfer station with elevators/escalators. A physical connection with negotiable grades (6%) would require a run from the Teleport over SI Expy to MLK Jr Expy.

John-2 September 30, 2011 - 9:15 am

As much as I would like to see heavy rail return to the North Shore line, the reason why the Arlington line failed in the first place is the routing between Port Richmond and St. George. With the exception of a stop like St. George (or Whitehall/South Ferry on the Manhattan side), where people are entering and leaving the area by boat, you don’t want to put urban mass transit heavy rail stations too close to the water, because you can’t get any passengers from there, you can only draw from one side of the station’s target area.

Light rail makes more sense on the route because you can adjust to fit demand better. And it’s a good test project site for the MTA as far as getting into light rail because there is a dedicated right of way either in place or an easement available between St. George and Arlington. If the MTA even wants to expand light rail to other parts of the city, this is a good place to get all the bugs worked out first, especially the area between Arlington and WSP, where a lot of the questions about how a street running like would play in 21st Century New York can be answered.

Larry Littlefield September 30, 2011 - 9:39 am


A light rail route would cover the stops shown, and serve the population that could walk to those stops.

A busway would allow the North Shore bus network to be reconfigured to run north-south, with the buses getting on the busway and running express to the ferry terminal and other destinations, including New Jersey. The ROW could then serve as the spine of a much larger transit network.

Given the density of Staten Island, and the fact that Staten Islanders don’t want any more, that’s what they should have done instead of building the SIR too.

Just stand on a bridge and look at the long gap between trains, and imagine buses that had run on local streets and then express on that ROW speeding to the ferry terminal, over the Verranzano, and elsewhere, running in between the trains that stop at the local statoins.

Alon Levy October 1, 2011 - 2:12 am

Busway? Sure, let’s build something that’ll underperform (i.e. an American transit line) so that it can then get converted into an expressway.

Al D September 30, 2011 - 9:47 am

I wonder why a compatible (i.e. electric) light rail would need a fueling station ?!

al September 30, 2011 - 1:35 pm

Diesel electric locomotives and diesel powered maintenance vehicles.

jacob September 30, 2011 - 10:21 am

If this is able to connect with the HBLR, than there is absolutely no reason to choose heavy rail or bus. We should be looking for solutions that work at both the local and regional scales.

In response to Bolwerk:
As for the decisions on 1st & 2nd Aves, 34th Street, and Red Hook, the comparison is wildly different. For one, the expense and disruption involved with creating a light rail along the other NYC corridors versus the benefits is wildly higher than in Staten Island. Let’s not forget that to build a light rail or streetcar you need a place to store and service vehicles, you need to dig up all the streets to install tracks, and you need to install overhead wires everywhere. Storage and servicing space in Manhattan is incredibly expensive, but with buses, you can use existing facilities. Digging up streets is politically unpopular and would likely add an extra year to the timeframe of the project. The extra speed benefits are negligible, and unless you keep the ROW clear for trains, the system breaks down. Getting that ROW, as we’ve seen, is politically quite difficult in congested areas, like Manhattan. Staten Island has an existing ROW, much more space available for storage/service facilities, potential and popular connections to other light rail lines, and markedly less political opposition to construction of such a system. The higher capacity and connection benefits of light rail in this location make light rail a better choice. Arguing for light rail always is not a wise strategy, as urban locations and circumstances are not always the same.

Christopher September 30, 2011 - 10:58 am

Other cities like SF seem to have streetcars that run along the middle of the roads with cars. NY did at once too. DC has built rail lines for its coming streetcar system as it worked on streetscaping and road rebuilding. You make it seem like building light rail into a road system is some horribly disruptive. Of course the fact that we rarely seem to do the kind of ground up rebuilding of streets in NYC which other equally congested cities like DC, Chicago, LA, and SF do regularly is perhaps part of the issue. Of course it also means our streets are in horrible shape.

That being said. The real issue is that lightrail or streetcars in a congested environment is a separate mode of transportation: an improvement on buses and works best for shorter trips and as a redundancy for subways which generally function better for longer distances.

Anon256 September 30, 2011 - 7:48 pm

The trains in SF are as slow as buses (or even slower) on their street-running sections. Their redeeming feature is that they mostly run through into the subway under Market Street, avoiding traffic and stoplights downtown. Light rail on 1st Ave or 34th St would mostly be street running, while this Staten Island project mostly uses a grade-separated right-of-way, so the relative benefits of using rail in the Staten Island project are much larger.

The other way to look at this is, the other light rail proposals you mention involve taking space away from and otherwise inconveniencing cars (to a greater extent than limited-hours, often-flaunted bus lanes), while the Staten Island project does not.

Pick your interpretation.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 1:39 pm

First of all, there is limited need “dig up streets.” LRT is not the same thing as cut and cover subway construction. Hell, dig them up properly and the track could probably be laid in pre-fab sections. Street disruptions per block of track laid could be hours, not days. The ROW with the traffic restrictions already in place for the SBS are roughly sufficient, and that shows they’re politically achievable. Even with only negligible speeds, the biggest upsides are lower operating costs and higher capacity, which can easily be doubled over the SBS. Even the storage problem is just a question of land acquisition – assuming a bus depot or existing rail yard can’t be used.

Christopher September 30, 2011 - 10:53 am

I’ve been thinking about funding and tying land-use to transit investment. With the MTA has a separate unit the coordination is not there enough between how intensifying zoning can help pay for transit upgrades. Successful plans for new light rail lines in places like Arlington County, Virginia, or even San Francisco’s 3rd Street rail line or even the entirety of DC’s Metro system were tied in with station area land use plans. BART in the Bay Area has done similar work and sought proposals for the land near their stations.

Now not all of those used those plans to fund improvements directly — although that has happened. This is why MTA needs better smart growth planning and the coordination for that needs to happen with the City. For instance the upzoning on 125th street in Manhattan should have come with a TIF or some other mechanism to pay for station work on the 125th street stations. Or come with funding for extending the T to 125th. The 7 line extension should have including a direct funding stream to pay for things like the extra station that went missing.

The fact of the matter is however it might look, the MTA is too often disconnected from land-use decisions and potential funding streams from land use than it should be.

Larry Littlefield September 30, 2011 - 12:16 pm

“I’ve been thinking about funding and tying land-use to transit investment. With the MTA has a separate unit the coordination is not there enough between how intensifying zoning can help pay for transit upgrades.”

It may be possible, but I doubt that would go down well on Staten Island. One apartment project was built there, and it has turned into a high crime location. So Staten Islanders believe that non-poor people willing to live there want a house.

ajedrez October 1, 2011 - 11:49 pm

That’s not entirely true. The only groups of buildings that have any problems are:
* The 4 NYCHA complexes north of the SIE
* The Park Hill and Arlington Terrace apartment complexes
* Tenements mostly in the West Brighton, Port Richmond, New Brighton/St. George and Stapleton areas.

But there are plenty of apartment buildings with no problems. There are some in Arrochar, some in New Dorp, some along Victory Blvd, and some along Clove Road, as well as the 3 NYCHA complexes south of the SIE and the senior NYCHA in New Brighton.

So basically, there are plenty of non-poor people who are willing to live in an apartment in SI.

Eric F. September 30, 2011 - 11:29 am

The busway provides a 40% discount over light rail! I would think that a busway could be built pretty quickly too, reducing project cost inflation and overrun incurrence. I can imagine a light rail project dragging on for a generation. A couple other points about a busway:

1) The route could be opened on a tolled basis to private vehicles during non-rush hours, which could defray operating costs and get vehicles off of congested routes. You can literally have peoples’ Sunday rides financing a commuting route.

2) A busway would not require the MTA to maintain a new, special class of transit vehicle that it currently has no familarity with.

3) If you really want connections to NJ, it would be much simpler to arrive at extensive connections, quickly, by using a bus system. The simple fact is that the MTA or NJTransit canm experiment on a low operating cost basis with bus transit over each of the SI bridges using buses. I can imagine connections to Elizabeth NEC Station, to Jersey City and to Perth Amboy. These may be very lightly traveled routes that don’t justify a fixed rail line build.

Douglas John Bowen September 30, 2011 - 11:44 am

Ah, yes, 20 years later bus proponents for Staten Island come us with “interim busway” and “but it’s so much cheaper” to unconsciously echo their counterparts in Hudson County. Fortunately for New Jersey and many of its residents, we rejected that approach and bought (into) LRT, with no regrets. Back then, NJ Transit also voiced “no experience” with LRT as a reason, among other reasons, to turn aside the mode (which, in all candor, NJDOT itself first advanced).

Here’s one more thing about a busway: It helps to police it. Ooops; there goes those cost savings.

Sure a busway (or BRT) is cheaper to build. Operating costs are something else; one can check FTA data on Pittsburgh and LA to assess that.

Eric F. September 30, 2011 - 2:08 pm

It’s an odd victory to be celebrating. LRT took forever to build. It’s routing was constantly changing in response to NIMBY pressure, which resulted in a route that is less than optimal. And it was indeed very expensive to build. That expense starves the system of capital to build other projects or handle operating expenses. I’d also note that Hudson County, NY is WAY denser than Staten Island. There are parts of Hudson County that are more dense than Manhattan. Finally, you could always convert a busway to LRT if the ridership warranted.

Eric F. September 30, 2011 - 2:13 pm

The LRT in NJ is also not a 24 hour system. A busway could have utility 24/7. On the LRT they aren’t going through the expense of operating the whole enchillada for low late night ridership.

I’d like to see a busway there, and frankly they ciould let the private sector run buses and pay the MTA a toll to use it.

William M September 30, 2011 - 3:17 pm

Buses aren’t going to work long term. First of all I am even stunned that buses were even considered. Buses aren’t cheap by any means. Although they might seem fine and easy to implement they don’t pay in the long run, because their operating costs skyrocket. Buses carry less passengers then light rail cars. Also buses can also be stopped by snow, and freight trains will have nowhere to go once the tracks are pulled out. Light rail is the best option for Staten Island.

Alon Levy October 1, 2011 - 2:15 am

Neither are buses. If you want 24/7 service, or at least high evening frequency, you want to substitute capital cost for marginal operating costs. Driverless metro is best, regular rapid transit is second best, light rail is next, bus is worst.

ajedrez October 1, 2011 - 11:52 pm

See my comment below about why heavy rail is best, or should at least remain on the table.

Adirondacker12800 October 2, 2011 - 2:13 pm

Back then, NJ Transit also voiced “no experience” with LRT as a reason,
They were running 40-50 year old PCC cars in the Newark Subway.Which they continued to run until they had 50-60 year old PCC cars in the Newark Subway.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 2:04 pm

That the busway is supposedly that much cheaper should set off bullshit alarms though. From the looks of it, the plan is to take an existing rail-ready ROW, regrade it, pave it, and presumably have to acquire some land to facilitate its larger footprint. Where is the savings coming from? That the presentation doesn’t say is troubling.*

A busway would not require the MTA to maintain a new, special class of transit vehicle that it currently has no familarity with.

There is plenty of worldwide expertise in that area, including some right across the Arthur Kill.

* It does give a hint on page 12 of the presentation. “Capital costs for the light rail alternatives originally reflected construction of a new full maintenance facility in Arlington. … Upon review, modifications are possible to the existing Staten Island Railway shop (Clifton) so light rail vehicles can be maintained there.” So, a facility could probably run in the tens of millions $. Another source might be the need for completely new rolling stock, but I can’t see those things together costing anywhere near $229M.

Eric F. September 30, 2011 - 2:11 pm

You have to be kidding! You are talking about installing an electrified light rail line with a whole suite of specialized equipment. The ridiculous number is the 500 million and change number. There is NO WAY this will come in under a billion dollars. A busway has a fighting chance of staying below 10 figures. The maintenance on a busway is also fairly minimal. The LRT systems in NJ have had mainetnance problems that results in periodic outanges, you wouldn’t see that with a busway to anywhere near the same extent.

William M September 30, 2011 - 3:18 pm

Light rail can also run on diesel power, but if it does I don’t think it might be compatible with the West Shore Light Rail line when it’s built.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 3:23 pm

Uh, why would a busway be cheaper? Materials? Footprint? Labor? Maintenance costs? All things being equal, those are already advantages for rail. The conversion costs? Just how much do you think it costs to string catenary vs. condemning more land, repaving, and probably some re-grading? I have trouble buying the equipment angle too; LRVs cost more per vehicle, but aren’t especially more expensive for the same capacity (with amortization over their life cycle, they’re probably cheaper too). So $229M more for rolling stock with the same capacity? Not even if they already have some of the necessary bus rolling stock.

Either they aren’t comparing equivalent projects, or something is plain fishy about the presentation.

A bad implementation does not prove the non-viability of a good implementation. If the situation is so bad with LRT in NJ, maybe NJT should get the Germans or Japanese in, instead of the mafia. And I don’t mean the Italians. 😐

Alon Levy October 1, 2011 - 2:44 am

Off-topic: the Italians actually do a really good job, in Italy. Naples has pretty low construction costs – much lower than in any German or Japanese city.

Bolwerk October 1, 2011 - 12:26 pm

Yes, I’m not familiar with costs there, but it seems they’re generally good with local transit projects. I’m not sure why, but they don’t seem so great in the areas of regional or long-distance passenger rail though.

This isn’t really their fault, but one thing that often stymies transit projects in Italy is that, in many places, it’s easy to run into archaeological dig sites.

Alon Levy October 1, 2011 - 1:54 pm

Digs should be more a problem for subways than for HSR…

Italy’s high HSR costs come from two things. First, complex mountain crossings in seismic terrain. The Bologna-Florence line is more than 90% in tunnel. Of course it’s going to cost more than a fully at-grade LGV. And second, the Italian mode of running HSR is to build a spine with spurs into every major city, which raises costs.

Italy has shitty punctuality, but that by itself is not a correlate of high costs. Japan after all has world-class punctuality and very high costs.

Bolwerk October 1, 2011 - 5:04 pm

Aye, but they seem to have a problem with just messing with the streets period in some cases. It’s why Rome is low on rail and high on buses. And it’s a city about the size of Toronto or Chicago.

Of course, the country seems to have a bit of a car culture compared to some other places in Europe.

Alon Levy October 1, 2011 - 9:59 pm

Rome includes a huge amount of suburban territory within city limits. Check its population density, and compare it with those of Milan and Naples.

Anon256 September 30, 2011 - 8:42 pm

“The route could be opened on a tolled basis to private vehicles during non-rush hours, which could defray operating costs and get vehicles off of congested routes. You can literally have peoples’ Sunday rides financing a commuting route.”

This is exactly the problem with a busway. Staten Island already had a busway, in the form of bus lanes on the Staten Island expressway, but they were progressively opened up to private vehicles (as long as they had two or more people) and now the buses have to deal with far more congestion. The same has happened to busways built in LA and elsewhere. A rail line, by contrast, would not be subject to encroachment by motorists once built.

Too often “busways” are used as a way to spend transit money on what becomes auto infrastructure. I’m glad you made the suggestion, though, as it might lead to a few more transit activists seeing through the bait and switch.

Manuel September 30, 2011 - 12:05 pm

A light rail could really improve transportation options for SI’ers.
What I don’t understand is why the LR would make a left near Arlington station and follow South Ave. That whole part till the final station is low density and some of it isn’t even built up. Why not follow the Martin Luther King Expy south (that would also make connections across the Bayonne Bridge very easy) to Staten Island College to continue to the Staten Island Mall? That way the LR would go through a somewhat denser populated area (both sides of the MLK Expy), would reach two major institutions on the island. Eventually the LR could then be extended along Richmond Ave towards the Eltingville stop on the SI Rail.

Emilio September 30, 2011 - 1:02 pm

I reacted the same way, south of Forest Avenue that part of SI is really undeveloped. There’s no reason why it can’t go along the side of Fresh Kills, which is not really developed as a park and pick up on the Graham-Victory-Travis-Richmond Ave. axes to the SI Mall.

Having said that, this plan would benefit about 45K people (i.e., population living in census tracts within 2 miles of path). SI’s priority when it comes to public transportation is getting quickly to NJ, Manhattan and Brooklyn and this project seems like a big expense for a very small benefit.

William M September 30, 2011 - 3:21 pm

I am very suspicious about the price tag for the bus way, and I am very annoyed that buses were even in the proposal for the first place. Buses only pollute the environment in the end. They don’t solve anything at all.

Bolwerk September 30, 2011 - 3:49 pm

The inherent superiority of buses over rail is intuitive truth under conventional wisdom; it’s just not inherently true anymore once you start evaluating situations and crunching numbers.* However, to admit that is to admit that 70 years of institutional bias towards rubber tires and fossil fuel-generated power isn’t in our best interest. This causes a lot of cognitive dissonance in conservatives (or, as the press cynically calls them, “liberals”), which of course is difficult to defeat even with facts.

* It doesn’t mean buses aren’t sometimes a better option, of course.

Alex C September 30, 2011 - 10:02 pm

Just build a light-rail line there and call it a day. Maybe convert the current SIRT to same light-rail and connect the two lines. Then bring in HBLR to connect to this network.

ferryboi October 1, 2011 - 12:16 am

Wow, a lot of comments here. Of course, you all know this is a massive pipe-dream that the MTA likes to dangle in front of Staten Island every few years. Two reasons why this will never happen:

– The old North Shore line is in such a state of disrepair that it will have to be completely rebuilt. Many sections along the Kill Van Kull are literally falling into the water. There are also tons of shipyards, oil companies, and other businesses that have taken over the ROW and now use the space where the tracks used to be. In many cases, you’d literally have to rip a business apart to get the tracks and rolling stock back in.

– Nobody, and I mean nobody, on Staten Island who makes more than $40K per year and works in Manhattan rides the local bus to the ferry (with the exception of the Victory Blvd buses, which all go thru some pretty nice n’hoods). Islanders either drive to the ferry terminal or take the Manhattan express bus, which has a much more “respectable” clientele if you get my drift. Most of the local buses on SI are for the poorest of the poor, and a new North Shore rail would go right thru the poorest parts of town. There’s not a Staten Islander around who will take a chance on riding a light rail thru Mariner’s Harbor, Arlington or Port Richmond, especially at night. Say what you want, but it’s a fact. Just because light rail will get you to St. George quicker doesn’t mean Islanders will flock to it if they have to go past the projects, rundown shopping districts other areas where crime is high. Policing on the current SI Railway is almost nil, and there’s been a lot of problems on the railway, and that goes thru the NICE parts of SI. Outside of rush hour, it’s the dregs of SI who ride it, and would be a foreshadow of what a new North Shore rail would be like.

BrooklynBus October 1, 2011 - 1:56 pm

Don’t doubt any of what you just said, but let’s look at the other side of the coin. Sounds like a great opportunity for urban renewal.

If you remember Myrtle Avenue in and near Downtown Brooklyn before they tore down the el in 1969. It was the pits. Now if you go there today, there’s Metrotech and you wouldn’t believe you are standing on the same ground. Also, now it’s relatively safe. The transformation wouldn’t happen overnight. But I wouldn’t give up on this part of Staten Island just yet. All it takes are some politicians behind it and citizens to support them. That and of course some money.

How about charging a nominal fee for the ferry with the proceeds going to help the North Shore or does everyone here believe that congestion pricing where half the proceeds will be going to administer it the only viable way to raise funds to improve mass transit?

Alon Levy October 1, 2011 - 9:58 pm

Remember how Staten Island reacted to the ferry charges before the ferry was made free.

ferryboi October 2, 2011 - 12:09 am

How exactly did SI react to the ferry charges before it was made free? Can you clarify? I’ve been riding the boat since 1978 and regularly paid my fare, as did most Islanders. I also remember paying four (that’s right, four) fares a day to ride the subway/bus in Manhattan and SI prior to the advent of MetroCard. Islanders payed $5.50 a day r/t in the early ’90s, which is more expensive than a r/t to Midtown today.

Alon Levy October 2, 2011 - 3:28 am

SI threatened to secede from New York unless Dinkins made the ferry free.

ferryboi October 2, 2011 - 10:44 am

Alon, you need to study your SI history a bit better. SI did make some rumblings about seceding (most of it for show, which many Islanders, myself included, never took seriously). There were many issues related to secession (the Fresh Kills dump and some horrendous bus service come to mind), but the last thing Islanders were bitching about was the 50-cent ferry fare. Truth was, it cost more to maintain the turnstiles and have a 24-hour change booth open than the city go back from its 50 cents. They very well couldn’t raise the fare to a dollar or two since Islanders were already paying two MTA fares a day on SI and two in Manhattan (if they worked in Midtown). It was easier just to abolish the fare altogether, and with the advent of the MetroCard bus/subway transfers, the time came in 1997 to do just that.

Alon Levy October 2, 2011 - 7:50 pm

What I read was that during the Dinkins administration, SI’s primary demands were that Fresh Kills be closed and that the ferry be made free. Is that not the case?

Andrew October 2, 2011 - 8:37 pm

No, at least not explicitly.

When the MetroCard system was being developed, the political decision was made to charge no more for a long bus-to-SIR-to-ferry-to-subway trip from Staten Island’s South Shore to Midtown Manhattan than is charged for a short subway or bus trip. Once that decision was made, it didn’t make sense to install MetroCard turnstiles at the ferry terminals, since nearly everyone would have a free transfer.

BrooklynBus October 3, 2011 - 5:41 pm

In 1973, City EPA planned to close Fresh Kills in 2000 and it closed on schedule. The City may have tried to keep it open a few more years at the last minute, but it probably would have closed anyway without politicians saying anything because there was just no more room there anyway.

ferryboi October 2, 2011 - 12:05 am

Staten Island ain’t Brooklyn. People don’t move here because they want urban renewal. They want a house, a yard, and low density (compared to the other 4 boros at least). What worked in B’klyn or Manhattan won’t fly out here, because even if you fix up parts of the North Shore, you’re still 45-60 mins from Wall St or Union Square. You just don’t have (nor do Islanders want) high-density urban planning, not to mention the prospect of another 500,000 residents on top of the ones already here.

As for a “nominal fee” on the ferry to fix up the North Shore, that’s just a Utopian dream. Since many Manhattanites who ride the subway makes good six-figure salaries, maybe the MTA should raise the subway fare to $5 and have the extra $$ go toward fixing up the Bronx? Run that up the flagpole and see if it flies…

Bolwerk October 2, 2011 - 8:38 am

Would you oppose are $2.25 fee for the ferry, which can be offset against a ride on other transit? And/or access to unlimited metrocard holders?

ferryboi October 2, 2011 - 10:39 am

Not at all, but what would be the point if it’s offset or included in unlimited MetroCard ride? The city/MTA will get nothing out of it.

BrooklynBus October 2, 2011 - 11:03 am

They would get a small amount of revenue from the people who walk to the ferry and don’t take a train or bus when they reach Manhattan.

ferryboi October 2, 2011 - 9:15 pm

A very small amount of revenue. About enough to buy a pretzel and a beer on board the ferry…

Bolwerk October 2, 2011 - 12:07 pm

What BrooklynBus said.

Or, the accountants can find some sane/fair way to divvy the revenue between the MTA and city. It’s been done continent-wide in Europe. Or, both ferry terminals could simply be placed inside the fare control of the respective transit agency; the MTA could then pay a subsidy towards the SIF, or the city could offer it as revenue to NYCTA. An out-of-system transfer on the Manhattan side would solve the problem for people who feel like walking to the A Train or something.

Nathanael October 15, 2011 - 11:12 pm

Unauthorized encroachments on a railway line are not legal and those “businesses” can simply be evicted without notice. Or even shot for trespassing.

ajedrez October 1, 2011 - 12:45 am

I went for part of the meeting (from about 18:30 to 19:45), and this is a rundown of what happened:

* They discussed the updates from the last meeting. They eliminated the ferry option (that didn’t even make sense), and they eliminated the heavy rail option.

* The people were given the opportunity to ask questions and make comments. This one woman (the same woman from last time) ranted on and on about something historical at Richmond Terrace/Alaska Street that would be destroyed if they paved over it.

Then a few more people made some comments, and I asked why they eliminated the heavy rail option (for those of you who are wondering, I was the kid in the yellow jacket and blue/black striped shirt. Then again, I was the only kid in the room)

* Then we went to the back to talk with the people from the consulting firm. I discussed the heavy rail more in depth, and asked why it was needed if the West Shore Light Rail would supposedly cover the Teleport. I then made a couple of suggestions for the short-term (reverse-peak S98 service, my S93 extension, cutting back more S46s to Forest Avenue) and I gave them the name of a person at the MTA who they could contact.

To elaborate on my statement about heavy rail, they said that they took it completely off the table. It just amazed me that they originally had a ferry line as one of the options, but they didn’t even have heavy rail as an option south of Arlington.

Let me think, you have an abandoned rail line (and a heavy rail line at that), and you want to put a ferry line there. What sense does that make? I could understand maybe having the ferry supplement the rail line, but doing that would have the whole thing go to waste.

I said that the current SIR is heavy rail and the South Shore is more auto-oriented than the North Shore. And I said that it provides better integration with the current SIR (they said they could put light rail in the Clifton Yard, but it’s probably automatically cheaper if you don’t have to retrofit the yard). And I also said that there’s higher capacity than light rail, so in case there’s growth, it is better equipped to handle it

So they said “Well, it was too expensive (because one of the goals was to serve the Teleport) so we didn’t even consider it.” And then they said that SI doesn’t have Brooklyn-type density to support heavy rail (but somehow the South Shore does?). And if you limit it to light rail, you’re actually limiting SI’s growth potential. Think about it: before 1900, Brooklyn had some streetcar lines, but not a whole lot of ridership. When the subway was extended, the population exploded. But if they just extended some streetcar lines from Brooklyn to Manhattan, the population would be nowhere near the 2.5 million it has today.

And then they said “Oh, well during the last meetings (which I attended, so I know they’re not being completely truthful) people expressed a sentiment for light rail”. They didn’t. They expressed a sentiment against a busway, There’s a difference. They didn’t say “Oh, it shouldn’t be heavy rail”. They just said they want rail rather than buses.

I mean, the argument I should’ve made (besides the ones I already did) was the fact that there was heavy rail there before, and the population was smaller back then. I think it’s pretty obvious.

And when I made that statement, everybody was surprised at how young I
was (16). One woman said “You should be the one studying this
project”, and they actually tried to avoid responding to me (they were
like “Thank you. Next question”, and then everybody said “But you
didn’t answer his question”, and that’s when they made up the response
about expenses)

BrooklynBus October 1, 2011 - 10:57 am

You sure know a lot for 16. One question. What happened to the heavy rail stations? Are they still there and would just have to be upgraded? If so, wouldn’t it cost less for light rail than heavy rail to do the initial construction. Not talking about operating costs. Maybe the whole thing is a set up just to get a busway. Overprice light rail and automatically eliminate heavy rail from the discussion without even studying it. Maybe I was wrong in my earlier comment that light rail was a no-brainer. Maybe heavy rail is the way to go after all.

Something already sounds very suspicious about this study. You eliminate the most obvious choice, deactivating heavy rail, without study, but you include an option to spend $35 million to save 60 seconds. After your comments, I am beginning to think that this is no objective study at all, but just a plan to force a bus way down the people’s throats just like the MTA is forcing BRT in Brooklyn although Community Boards are against it.

BrooklynBus October 1, 2011 - 11:00 am

Meant reactivating, not deactivating. (damn IPad autocorrection).

Alex C October 1, 2011 - 3:33 pm

At least one of the old stations still exists, as it was part of a concrete viaduct portion of the North Shore line. And when I say “exists” I mean you’d still probably have to rebuild it.

ajedrez October 1, 2011 - 11:28 pm

Thanks for the compliment.

Some of the heavy rail stations are still there (Port Richmond, Elm Park, Mariners’ Harbor, and Arlington), but they’re overgrown with weeds (since they’ve been abandoned for 58 years). But I don’t think it would be that hard to rebuild them: The ROW west of Port Richmond is pretty much intact, and might need some minor upgrades. East of Port Richmond, the ROW was washed away, so either way, they’re going to have to spend money on building up the shoreline to support any type of vehicle.

Frank B. October 1, 2011 - 1:55 am

Well, I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m very excited.

Alon Levy October 1, 2011 - 2:32 am

First, they should study an option that uses existing track/ROW only, which should be massively cheaper. Let’s see how much cheaper it can be if it goes to Port Ivory or Arlington. Light rail is much more expensive to build on-street than in a preexisting ROW.

Second, I’m suspicious of the pricetag for any of these options. It’s 14 kilometers of which nearly two thirds is on a mostly intact abandoned rail ROW. It shouldn’t cost $580 million. To see how low you can go in such an environment, read about the O-Train: C$21 million for 8 kilometers, including 9 cars’ worth of rolling stock (which, based on the cost of similar order, was probably nearly the entire cost of the project).

And third, since rolling stock will dominate the cost of a well-run line, it should be compatible with the SIR. Independently of all else, NYCT gets cheap rolling stock using its bulk orders and pricing power. Just as importantly, having interchangeable trains means the SIR and North Shore Branch could share spares, which reduces the number of spare trains this new service would require.

For an order-of-magnitude estimate of what’s needed, figure $20 million for electrification, $5 million for high-platform stations, and $25 million for six two-car trains plus a single spare. Go much higher and it’s not a transportation project, but welfare for contractors.

Alon Levy October 1, 2011 - 2:40 am

Addendum to my previous comment: between Arlington and West Shore Plaza, the proposed alignment on South Avenue passes through empty land, punctured by the occasional low-intensity development. I can find you multiple places in Providence that have more intense development and don’t have anything more than a local bus and never will.

I seriously question why anyone would even think to terminate the line at West Shore Plaza rather than at the natural terminus that is Arlington/Port Ivory. Since I’m in an uncharitable mood this weekend, my guess is collusion with a speculator who wants to buy the empty land now and then flip it to developers when the line is built.

ajedrez October 1, 2011 - 11:41 pm

Port Ivory really wouldn’t serve anybody, and they wanted to keep the passenger rail seperate from the freight rail to cut costs.

You make a very good point about the rolling stock. Not only do they save on not having to upgrade the Clifton Yard (though they’d probably have to expand it), but they also save money through the bulk purchases (and not only that, but for heavy maintainance, they’d could bring a heavy rail car to Coney Island).

And just a point, but the current SIR has 4-car trains and has similar ridership to the North Shore Line (around 14,000 per day). For what it’s worth, the North Shore Line is about 1/3 of the length, but the crowds at the peak load points would be similar to the current SIR, so they should really consider 4-car trains.

And you’re right about South Avenue: There are some hotels, and a suburban business park (the Teleport), but they really won’t generate a whole lot of ridership. As of now, the S46 bus serves the area every 12 minutes and has around 10 people once it gets south of the SIE. Sure, there’s modal gravity, but I don’t think it’s worth all of that extra money to serve the West Shore Plaza.

And there is the West Shore Light Rail, which would extend the HBLR down the MLK, SIE, and WSE expressways, and it would have a stop by the Teleport. Sure, it would serve people coming from NJ (as well as the South Shore of SI), rather than people from the North Shore, but it’s still serving the Teleport. No way is there going to be enough demand for 2 rail lines to the Teleport.

ferryboi October 2, 2011 - 12:32 am

The hotels also run a shuttle van to/from the ferry terminal to serve hotel guests. The hotel would have zero riders on any light rail, especially one that runs thru many less-than-desirable n’hoods. Those poor tourists would get picked clean by the time the train got to Jersey St.

Alon Levy October 2, 2011 - 3:36 am

Your ability to turn every discussion into a proclamation of superiority toward people who are poorer than you is quite astounding.

ferryboi October 2, 2011 - 10:53 am

Not superiority Alon, it’s basic truth. Have you ever rode the Richmond Terrace bus to get to the ferry? Have you lived in the projects on Staten Island (I have; I grew up in them)? Have you ever been to Staten Island at all?

May car was in the shop a few months ago, and I needed to do some food shopping. I took the S44 bus to ShopRite on Richmond Ave, and it was absolutely horrendous. The bus was packed, and when three different women got on at different stops with baby carriages and their kids, a shitstorm of fights broke out between them. For a good 20 mins, there was a back-and-forth stream of “fuck you”, “bitch” and “motherfuckers” like I had not heard in years.

I wish that was a one-off experience, but almost every time I ride a bus on SI, something similar happens. I got out of the projects to get away from that kind of garbage, and I sure wouldn’t want to deal with it on a trolley, monorail or any other kind of transport through the north shore.

Until you can post that you took the S40 to Arlington or the S46 along Castleton Ave, you’ve got nothing to say.

Bolwerk October 2, 2011 - 12:17 pm

But as usual, it’s not just about you. Some people would use it, and if the “trash” peasants are going to be using public transit, it may as well be on a vehicle with enough room to accommodate them and the fruit of their loins without the need to fight over scarce space. And that it would almost certainly contribute to lifting the North Shore’s socioeconomic status can’t be a bad thing for the rest of the island.

ferryboi October 2, 2011 - 9:05 pm

So what’s keeping everybody poor and in the projects is the lack of a light rail line? Really, is it that easy? How, exactly, will a light rail line lift the north shore out of poverty? South Central and East Los Angeles have light rail lines, and people there are as poor as ever. And FYI, I’ve rode both lines and the people in LA are 100 times nicer than Staten Island bus riders, crowded trains or no. There’s a huge lack of civility on SI buses (and transit in general) that keeps me and a lot of other folks from riding the bus to the ferry.

Bolwerk October 3, 2011 - 12:09 am

Of course it doesn’t fix everything. But better transportation on the North Shore has clear potential for stimulating economic development, not to mention other pro-social outcomes. If it contributes to saving an hour of commuting a day,* it’s another hour of precious time the “trash” can spend with kids. Lifting people out of poverty also takes other things, like access to education and job opportunities – or, more controversially to the “rugged individualists,” access to a safety net of family and peers, nutrition, safe neighborhoods, positive role models etc.. Transit can facilitate all those things, but it can’t make any of them by itself.

I can’t speak to LA specifically, since I never used its transit, but I anecdotally find people tend to be more friendly in general when their trips don’t feel like futile hells. I certainly know I feel less infuriated driving on an interstate than I do in NYC traffic. I feel similarly on bus routes like the Q58 or on routes I’ve been on in SI.

* It’s not only trip times that might do this; improved punctuality can do wonders.

ajedrez October 2, 2011 - 10:06 pm

I ride all the North Shore routes fairly often (except maybe the S40), and for the most part, I haven’t had any real negative experiences. A lot of the trouble is started by teenagers getting out of school.

Alon Levy October 2, 2011 - 3:45 am

Fair enough about Port Ivory. I just thought it was an okay industrial anchor at the west end. If extending SIR Line 2 to it would require any additional headaches or major spending, it should be left for later.

The issue with the South Avenue end is that it costs vastly more than going to Arlington. Between St. George and Arlington, there is a mostly intact ROW that used to host much heavier trains than will ever run in the future; thus, infrastructure formation is close to cost-free, reducing the cost to trackwork, electrification, signals, rolling stock, and stations, which are at most second-order factors in most projects. The only real issue is the few hundreds of meters of ROW currently in private control in the middle of the line; land acquisition is too a second-order cost, but the ROW may need regrading.

In contrast, on South Avenue, the plan is for a greenfield on-street line. Those cost anywhere between $15 and $80 million per kilometer, vs. $1-5 million per kilometer for reactivating an abandoned branch line. The cost estimate for the North Shore Branch is reasonable for an entirely on-street line; the reason I’m lashing at the project is that two thirds of it should be essentially free, and the remaining third is mostly undeveloped.

Bolwerk October 2, 2011 - 8:52 am

It is strange. I see nothing wrong with passing through to encourage land use. But since land must be cheap on that route, why not continue south to where there are actual people? Or at least go to the Staten Island Mall.

BrooklynBus October 2, 2011 - 6:52 pm

That would be a consideration if the MTA actually cared about improving transportation instead of merely trying to always find the least cost alternative. A longer route means higher operating expenses. Even if it makes sense to go to the Mall because of an increased revenue potential, I highly doubt it if the MTA will give this fair consideration.

Alon Levy October 2, 2011 - 7:53 pm

Encourage land use? Where’s all the upzoning near St. George and the existing SIR?

Land may be cheap on the route, but grading it to provide LRT service costs an order of magnitude more than going on existing abandoned track.

ferryboi October 2, 2011 - 9:11 pm

There are actually two medium and high-rise buildings in St. George sitting empty as heck for a few years now (one at Victory and Bay, the other at Richmond Terrace and Nicholas St). The one on Richmond Terrace is a four block walk to the ferry, a brand new bldg with glass terraces overlooking NY Harbor, and it’s as empty as CitiField in October. If this kind of high-density bldg can sell, how the heck are they gonna encourage people to move to Mariners Harbor or Arlington and take rail to the ferry?

My point thru all this discussion: SI ain’t like the rest of the city. It’s my hometown, but boy is it weird.

ferryboi October 2, 2011 - 9:11 pm

+ “If this kind of high-density bldg CAN’T sell…”

Alon Levy October 3, 2011 - 12:46 pm

There are empty condo towers all over the city. In Manhattan, some are being slowly converted to rentals as the developers realize they won’t be able to sell them for what they thought they would in 2006.

In the housing bust, new development suffered the most: exurban sprawlburbs and inner-city condos.

Bolwerk October 2, 2011 - 9:37 pm

You can’t possibly think I like the idea of St. George and the existing SIR not being zoned sensibly – not to mention other land use policy absurdities concerning things like parking. But you must know the politics as well as anyone else here does. Why even ask?

Alon Levy October 3, 2011 - 12:53 pm

Oh, I know damn well you’re not the problem. But, the city isn’t upzoning St. George or the SIR area – on the contrary, Molinari got the island downzoned – so it’s unreasonable to expect even moderately dense zoning along the proposed line.

Bolwerk October 3, 2011 - 2:26 pm

Putting land use regulations in place before people move in is easier than putting them in place after. And, in the case of the already-developed North Shore, the local “trash” is probably more concerned about bread and butter issues like more job opportunities rezoning could bring than about where to park cars they can’t afford anyway.

Alon Levy October 3, 2011 - 2:50 pm

Great, so the purpose of this is to build a Hudson Yards-grade bonanza for developers.

I would suggest that if they want to extend transit to undeveloped areas, Flushing Airport is a vastly superior site. For one, it’d be 35 minutes and zero transfers from Midtown on a line with 2.5-minute peak frequency, rather than 1:10 and two transfers, on lines with 15-minute frequency. And it also takes care of an operational problem for the 7, namely turning at Main Street.

Bolwerk October 3, 2011 - 3:36 pm

Maybe. I don’t know what the specific agenda is with North Shore LRT – more likely to be another SelectBus anyway, based on this. What I do know is there probably isn’t a population of 100,000 people within a 10m walk of this ROW, so clearly it needs to be built with future development in mind. I’m not trying to defend it either way, and wouldn’t until I knew what was being done, but my impression is the proposal is maneuvering to avoid stepping on NIMBYs. And regardless of that, the MTA has no official say in zoning anyway.

Wherever you prescribe urban development on relatively virgin land, I think the prescription should about the same: provide sensible transportation infrastructure* and zone for small-to-medium-scale, attached, mixed use structures – the kind of development that can accommodate multiple socioeconomic and demographic groups. It beats housing projects for the poor, and glass towers for the rich, and is still transit-friendly. Even if it involves private sector giveaways, construction opportunity meeting minimal safety and aesthetic criteria can be provided by bid then lottery to smaller firms with capital measured in the hundreds of thousands$ rather than billions$.

* I doubt we’d disagree much on what this is.

Alon Levy October 3, 2011 - 6:05 pm

The census tracts that are partially or wholly north of Forest had a total population of 61,616 in 2000.

Think of it as the German vs. the Japanese approach to transit. In Japan, they build expensive rapid transit, and then develop the area above the stations. In Germany, they keep construction costs low, and thus keep costs per rider low. The trick with the North Shore is to leverage the existing ROW and spend tens instead of hundreds of millions. $581 million for 10,000 riders is a boondoggle, but $50 million is a bargain.

The problem with a Japanese approach is that the processes for bidding, upzoning, and awarding variances are corrupt and favor big firms and result in unlivable hell. Of course, one could say the same of transit construction costs. But at least to take care of the construction costs you only need to reform one relatively insulated agency; to reform development, you need to explain to scores of community boards and politicians that the best way to encourage small business is for them to shut up.

ajedrez October 2, 2011 - 10:19 pm

The West Shore Light Rail is supposed to serve the Teleport and continue to the South Shore, so there is no need for both rail lines to go down there. I wonder why they really want the Teleport to be served when they’d be better off serving more residential areas.

If you have the West Shore Rail Line connecting to the North Shore Rail Line at Elm Park, you basically have the best of all worlds: You can end the North Shore line at Arlington and save a ton on costs (have it heavy rail for the reasons I detailed earlier), and you can have the West Shore Line serving the Teleport and South Shore.

So the tourists going to Manhattan don’t have to pass through those “rough neighborhoods” described by ferryboi (which aren’t too bad IMO, but I’d be leary going through them as a tourist). They simply take the light rail to the PATH. It’s more expensive, but they’re tourists and probably wouldn’t mind spending the extra money.

Riders going from St. George don’t even have to pay another fare if the fare structure is done correctly. Using the current fares, here’s how you could have it on the West Shore line:
* Intra-SI travel is $2.25 (The MTA subsidizes the intra-SI section)
* Intra-NJ travel is $2.10
* SI-NJ travel is $3.50

So somebody could swipe their MetroCard at St. George, and then swipe again at a kiosk at Elm Park to get one intra-SI ticket. You could have the extra transfer programmed in like the current bus->SIR->subway works now (so it would be treated like a bus within SI)

Alon Levy October 3, 2011 - 2:56 pm

Yes, exactly. Since in terms of construction costs and land use the proposed project is essentially two lines, there’s no harm in actually splitting it in two, one connecting to the HBLR and one to the SIR.

Ideally, HBLR-SIR transfers should not cost any money. People should, on one ticket, be able to travel within the urban core, i.e. NYCT, HBLR, and PATH. This would also make the transfers nicer – for example, the walls between PATH and the F on 6th Avenue would be torn down, allowing cross-platform transfers. Because PATH and NYCT have legacy faregates, and probably high enough commuter volumes that they’re better than POP, the fare barriers between PATH/subway and HBLR/SIR would remain in place, but they’d work like bus-subway transfers on NYCT.

ajedrez October 4, 2011 - 12:22 am

Well, that would definitely be nice, but at the very least, they can have the North Shore SIR->HBLR be free within SI. Remember: One City, One fare. I can’t see the MTA and NJT cooperating to have inter-agency transfers beyond that (unless the fare went up to something like $3.50 for both systems)

Weekly Skyline Stories | URBN Fabric October 1, 2011 - 4:21 am

[…] First MTA CEO Jay Walder announced he’s leaving, now Port Authority’s Executive Director Christopher Ward, too. (NYT) The new MTA head may be able to coordinate light rail on Staten Island’s North Shore. (Second Ave Sagas) […]

Skewed North Shore BRT/LRT Proposal (Hoisted from Comments) | Pedestrian Observations October 3, 2011 - 1:05 pm

[…] is Decide, Announce, Defend. Commenter Ajedrez reports from a public meeting on the subject on Second Avenue Sagas: I went for part of the meeting (from about 18:30 to 19:45), and this is a rundown of what […]

Nathanael October 15, 2011 - 11:16 pm

This seems a very ill-thought-out route. Why is it merging the North Shore Line with a West Shore Line?

Either run SIRT along the North Shore or run HBLRT along the North Shore. The West line is an entirely separate project.

North Shore Alternatives Analysis calls for SI BRT :: Second Ave. Sagas May 14, 2012 - 12:51 am

[…] last we checked in on this story, the MTA had narrowed the choices considerable and seemed to be deciding between a light rail option and a truly dedicated bus route. Predictably and to my chagrin, the MTA has decided to endorse a bus route over the old rail […]

David Moog September 14, 2012 - 2:17 pm

As much as I would love to see the North Shore alignment be utilized as a rail line I understand the reasoning for the City’s preference for the dedicated bus line. But with this line running on elevated sections through residential areas one option that should be considered is the operations of trolley buses (or trackless trolleys) to lessen the noise and fumes.

Staten Island was one of the first places that operated trolley buses. Maybe a return to trolley buses on the North Shore is needed to solve the traffic woes of Staten Island.


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