For some reason or another, the 2013 Mayoral campaign has taken a turn for the water. While the MTA is beginning to take a serious look at forecasting transit demand, the front-running Anthony Weiner and Christine Quinn are trying to out-do each other on ferry proposals. It’s a transit policy focused around gimmicks rather than solutions.
The latest wacky idea in a campaign filled with them comes from Christine Quinn. In order to
pander to voters supposedly improve commutes for people who I guess work at the Intrepid, Quinn has proposed an express ferry from Staten Island to Manhattan’s Pier 79 near 39th St. and the West Side Highway. Quinn claims such a ferry service would “help spur job growth and economic development on both Staten Island and on Manhattan’s Westside” and would offer a “20-minute direct access to midtown Manhattan.” To provide access to Manhattan’s actual job core, Quinn suggests subsidized bus shuttles or Citi Bike expansion. Never mind that a new subway station is opening in 11 months but half a mile away from the ferry terminal.
To garner support for this plan, Quinn points to the runaway success of the East River Ferries, but even that seems to be overstated. These ferries — with a fare structure separate and apart from the subway — have drawn 2.1 million riders in two years which averages out to just under 3000 a day. That’s essentially the equivalent of a whopping three peak-hour subway trains.
Ferries have limited utility in New York City because few people live near the water and even fewer work near the water. Without fare integration, ferries riders likely have a two-seat, two-fare ride to get to work, and even if Quinn can deliver a ride to Midtown that’s five minutes shorter than the current SI ferry to Whitehall, riders will still have to make the trek across Manhattan to get to work. Ferries may help out a handful of SI commuters in this instance, but they simply do not solve the city’s overarching mobility and transit expansion problems.
One project the mayoral candidates could focus on instead of ferries involves an abandoned right-of-way that stretches through numerous boroughs. Over the years, I’ve examined the Triboro RX in many contexts. Lee Sander discussed itdrew comparisons between the London’s new orbital line and the Triboro RX ROW. The line would carry around 75,000 passengers per day, and it’s one that could be implemented relatively easily.
Eric Jaffe at The Atlantic Cities examined the Triboro RX idea yesterday and determined that it is a far more valuable long-term growth project than ferries. “I think there’s an awful lot of transportation projects that are unimportant that people are talking about,” Jeff Zupan of the Regional Plan Association said. “On the other side of the coin, here’s one that has all the makings of being a real winner.” The RPA has been a major proponent of the Triboro RX route for nearly two decades.
Jaffe had more:
Best of all, almost the entire right-of-way necessary for the route is already available. That means the Triboro Rx would end up costing much, much less than a completely new line project like the Second Avenue line. (To bring the X line to Yankee Stadium, as described in the 1996 plan, would require some new terrain, but Zupan now says a more viable option could be to avoid that hassle and end the line near Hunt’s Point instead.)
The sheer extent of the line, Census commute patterns for the outer boroughs, the general high rate of transit use among immigrants — all these elements point to Triboro Rx becoming a big hit…”There’s a number of things that suggest that the Triboro Rx’s time is closer to coming than it was in 1996,” says Zupan.
Despite all its promise, the Triboro Rx still has a number of obstacles in its path. The project could conflict with the proposed cross-harbor rail tunnel beloved by U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York. The Federal Railroad Administration has requirements for tracks shared by freight and passenger rail that initial plans might not meet. The MTA recently told Dana Rubinstein of Capital NY that it “never formally backed” the X line concept.
The stumbling blocks are formidable, and it’s much easier for a mayoral candidate to avoid land-based transit projects during campaigns. After all, some people won’t endorse a new train line running through their backyards or while adding a ferry route isn’t nearly as disruptive as building out a train line. Still, the Triboro RX line could happen if any politician were willing to take a risk, and the current plan can even snake just across the Narrows to deliver a subway connection to Staten Island. It’s a far more useful transit expansion designed to meet the long-term growth patterns of the city, and it’s not a boat.