Home View from Underground The growing NYC population and the stagnant transit network

The growing NYC population and the stagnant transit network

by Benjamin Kabak

While I was up in Montreal two weeks ago, this short article from The Times slipped past my radar. The details in it seem a bit unprecise, as New York City’s population has been on an upward trajectory for longer than the piece notes, but the overall point remains: New York City’s population is at 8.4 million, an all-time high, and is showing no signs of slowing or declining.

Here’s the story. I’ll get to why it’s important after.

Despite the challenges of city living, the city’s population is growing in ways not seen in decades. For the third consecutive year, New York City last year gained more people than it lost through migration, reversing a trend that stretched to the mid-20th century.

For the year ending July 1, 2013, an influx of foreigners combined with a continuing decline in the loss of migrants to other states increased the population by more than 61,000, nudging it past 8.4 million for the first time, according to estimates to be released on Thursday by the United States Census Bureau.

Every borough registered a gain in population. Even the Bronx, a traditional laggard, recorded a rate nearly as high as top-ranked Brooklyn and Manhattan. While Manhattan and the Bronx lost more people to migration than they gained, the difference was made up by more births than deaths…Joseph J. Salvo, director of the population division for the Department of City Planning, estimated that the number of New Yorkers had grown by 2.8 percent since 2010.

So here’s my loaded question with a very obvious answer: If the number of New Yorkers has grown by 2.8 percent over the past four years, has our transit network kept pace? Of course not. In 2010, as you may recall, the MTA slashed subway and bus service across the board, and while some of it has come back, much hasn’t. Service levels remain barely adequate to meet current demand, and rush hour trains are generally unpleasantly crowded with no leeway for error.

Going forward, there aren’t clear indications the MTA will be able to meet population demands through the current system. Yes, Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway will open in 32 months or so, and yes, the 7 line extension will, eventually this year, debut. But after that, the abyss of no transit expansion projects awaits. Phase 2 of SAS is but an idea on paper with no money behind it, and forget about much-needed Outer Borough expansions beyond Flushing, to Little Neck or even down Nostrand or Utica Ave. where much of the population growth is occurring.

What happens, then, as the city’s population grows but the subway system can’t keep pace? Already, the transit community is concerned about what the Domino Sugar Factory development in Brooklyn will mean for an L train that can’t handle current demand. The 7 train stations in Long Island City can’t handle more inbound traffic, but buildings continue to climb. Meanwhile, the South Bronx seems primed for a renaissance that will further tax the Lexington Ave. IRT just as the Second Ave. Subway opens. Ridership meanwhile reached a 65-year high as these new New Yorkers are generally using the subway system on a daily basis.

There’s no real easy answer here. The bus network will have to become more frequent and more reliable. The city will be forced to explore congestion pricing both as a means of controlling traffic and funding transit. And the pace of expansion may need to pick up. Eventually, without some forward thinking and plans for the future, New York’s growth will be constrained by the capacity of its transit system and its road network. We may be reaching that point sooner than anyone would like.

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Stephen Smith April 6, 2014 - 10:49 pm

Already, the transit community is concerned about what the Domino Factory development in Brooklyn will mean for an L train that can’t handle current demand.

The L isn’t that close to capacity. It’s currently running 19 tph at peak, and can run 22 without any infrastructure upgrades. With minor upgrades, it can handle up to 26 tph. Buying articulated train sets would also give you a little more standing room on each train (as would getting rid of the conductor booth!).

Larry Littlefield April 7, 2014 - 7:38 am

With upgrades — tail tracks after 8th Avenue and terminal tracks at Broadway Junction so some trains could end there — CBTC should be able to allow 40 tph.

The real capacity constraints are on the Lex and the QB express. But even those could be lifted to an extent by CBTC.

Money would be required to buy, maintain, and operate the cars. If, however, the subway system was operated to break even on an auto-oriented basis, the riders themselves would provide that money and service increases using existing tracks and stations would self-fund.


Thanks to the debts left behind by Generation Greed, if people are not willing to pay for things they won’t have them. In fact, because of those debts and because public employees have become richer relative to non-Wall Street private sector workers, we may not have things even if we are willing to pay for them.

And the NYC population is going up because things are far bleaker elsewhere. Not just in the developing world, as before, but in most of the USA. And not just for high school dropouts, but for college graduates.

SEAN April 7, 2014 - 10:53 am

And the NYC population is going up because things are far bleaker elsewhere. Not just in the developing world, as before, but in most of the USA. And not just for high school dropouts, but for college graduates.

Until recently, there was a belief that sprawling suburbia would continuosly grow. As recent facts bear out, that asumption is faulty. This is especially true the further you travel from a cities core where public transit is poor or even non-existent.

This subject was tackled in a 2009 piece in the SF Cronical entitled “The Death of Suburbia?” At the time the artical may have semed a bit hyperbolic, but 5-years later it may have been presiant.

LLQBTT April 7, 2014 - 5:10 pm

Funny, but having the transit community worry about L capacity now is straight out of the MTA play book of waiting too long to do anything. Yes, build this and that and that will add trains, but nothing is being built and there are no apparent plans either which means that we are at least 15 years away from these capacity improvements. Many people are being left behind now, at 1 Ave, Bedford, Lorimer, Graham, Grand and even Montrose sometimes at peak periods. And at Union Square in the other peak direction, they may as we’ll send every other L empty to Union Square because the train would fill up there on its own. Now people at 3 Ave and 1 Ave can’t board trains to Brooklyn.

So it’s nice to worry about the impact of a new development or that capacity can be added at a later date whenever, but the reality is that relief is needed now.

D in Bushwick April 7, 2014 - 2:03 pm

Tell that to the hundreds of riders at the Bedford Ave station who frequently get past by at morning rush hour because the L train cars are already completely FULL.
Coming home at night isn’t much better so adding a few more trains per hour won’t address the planned boom in neighborhood traffic.

ComradeFrana April 15, 2014 - 11:37 am

“a few more trains per hour” means capacity for approx. 13 000 additional riders per hour.

al April 10, 2014 - 2:45 pm

Don’t forget 9 car trains. The platforms on the Canarsie Line can handle another car beyond the current 8 car (480′) train sets. That is another 12.5%.

Brandon April 6, 2014 - 10:57 pm

Theres a ton of capacity on the surface that we havent even scratched the surface on in this car-dominated city.

The potential for bikes, SBS expansion, and maybe some other solutions such as trams is huge. The latter is not gonna happen if they cost as much as elevated subways do elsewhere though.

If we could get to a 15% mode share for bikes in an area of this city the size of Copenhagen we could really start to see a change in the way our surface capacity is used.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 12:09 am

The problem is that bikes, SBS, and trams are nowhere as hard-hitting as subway expansion. The Second Avenue Subway is perhaps the last new Manhattan trunk line we’ll see in a generation, but that and a Queens Blvd Bypass (and maybe an SAS-Fulton St connection) should provide enough backbone for a new set of subway expansions in the outer boroughs. There’s only so much you can do with buses, trams, and bikes; Flushing and Jamaica are great examples of the absolute maximum you can do without at least some grade separation of transit.

Eric April 7, 2014 - 5:53 am

A tram vehicle can be as long as a city block. This is about 1/3 the length of a subway. Its frequency can easily be half that of a subway. If tram construction costs are less than 1/6 of subway construction costs, then it’s worth it to build trams instead of (or in addition to) subways. Given that NYC subway costs nowadays are about $2 billion per mile, that’s a pretty easy target to meet.

Jonathan R April 7, 2014 - 9:13 am

Well, if the tram goes 1/3 as fast as the subway, and only goes halfway to the destination, that kind of makes up for the diminished costs of construction.

Eric April 7, 2014 - 11:47 am

Trams are certainly slower than subways (though more than 1/3 as fast). But they can take a large fraction of the local riders, leaving room on the subway for long distance riders.

The first stage of the Second Avenue Subway will only have three stops. But it is considered worthwhile because everyone boarding at those stops is someone who likely would have taken the super-crowded Lexington Avenue Line instead.

Trams can actually be more convenient for short trips because you don’t need to go many stories underground to get to the stop (like in many recently-built subway systems) – the stop is right next to you on the sidewalk.

Bolwerk April 7, 2014 - 12:24 pm

It’s only surface trams that are inherently slower.

Nathanael April 7, 2014 - 7:13 pm

The extensive streetcar system in Manhattan and Brooklyn carried a lot of people.

If you have exclusive lanes for the streetcars, they’ll still be slower than the subway, but they’ll be a heck of a lot faster than walking… or bicycling… or waiting while multiple full subway trains pass you by.

Most importantly, restoring the streetcar lanes to the major bridge crossings would ease a number of the larger bottlenecks in the system. There is no reason for so many bridge crossing lanes to be devoted to automobiles.

lop April 7, 2014 - 7:44 pm

What’s the structural state of the Brooklyn Bridge?You might not be able to run lots of heavy buses over it safely without some reinforcement. I know it carried heavy rail when it opened, but that was a long time ago. Queensboro, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges you could throw in a bus lane right now though. Use it as a trunk line for multiple bus routes to distribute around Manhattan and you could make a more efficient use of existing infrastructure.

Nathanael April 8, 2014 - 1:20 am

The Brooklyn Bridge was massively overbuilt. And all its cables were replaced relatively recently.

lop April 8, 2014 - 1:37 pm

Then why does it have a posted weight limit of 3 tons?

Larry Littlefield April 8, 2014 - 7:21 am

“Streetcars, they’ll still be slower than the subway, but they’ll be a heck of a lot faster than walking… or bicycling”

It is very unlikely that light rail would beat a bicycle, factoring in the walk on both ends, the wait, etc.

Bolwerk April 8, 2014 - 10:41 am

Behl. There are plenty of scenarios under which it could beat a bicycle. And plenty where it couldn’t.

Bolwerk April 7, 2014 - 10:10 am

Less than 1/6? Try less than 1/20!

I can’t remember the exact number (€28 million sticks out in my mind), but in France urban surface rail construction is certainly in the lower half of the eight figures range (< €50 million) per km.

If you accept €40M/km as the cost and take that at face exchange rate for New York costs, that’s about US$55/km million today. Ballparking the per-km costs of SAS at $1 billion/km, that means a tram system costs about 3% the cost of NYC subways.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 10:25 am

If I remember correctly, that very low figure was due in part to the fact that the project did not come with any sort of streetscaping or reorienting, which would certainly be necessary in New York (at the very least, you’d need to add stops that doubled as pedestrian refuge islands; Toronto-style mid-street crossing would not work too well).

The difference between European and American-style light rail projects is that American projects generally tend not to take existing streets or car lanes away at the expense of motorists, and also tend to involve a great deal more of brand-new grade separation. The more appropriate European comparison would be the pre-metros and Stadtbahns scattered throughout the continent. For what it’s worth, the right winning the French elections also largely means the end of the French tramway revival outside of Paris.

Bolwerk April 7, 2014 - 11:14 am

I don’t see why you would need anymore “streetscaping” than you would need for SBS.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 12:36 pm

Well, keep in mind that American light rail projects need a fair amount of streetscaping primarily due to the fact that the places they are put in are not initially walkable or pedestrian-friendly by any definition of the word. Here (and certainly in Europe) they tend to get paired up with beautification projects because, among other things, people associate light rail and trams with “pretty” towns, and it doesn’t exactly hurt the whole redevelopment goal that tends to go hand in hand with light rail.

American and some European light rail projects also tend to usually end up involving utility relocation and road repaving anyways, since people like repaving the tram surface with “nice”, different materials to differentiate from the black, asphalt, “cars allowed” surfaces. Plus, a glance at many American and European systems will show that the stations are not just your run of the mill bus stop; often, they have architectural flourishes and whatnot to enhance the subjective beauty of the project and surrounding area.

American BRT projects often have this kind of streetscaping as well; the Cleveland HealthLine and the Eugene BRT in Oregon have street improvements bundled in. These are more exceptions to the rule, however, and that is probably a reason why more people associate light rail than BRT with beautification.

In New York, any decent light rail would be median running as opposed to being in the rightmost lane, so that turning vehicles would be less of a problem. This would, at the very least, necessitate pedestrian center islands for people to board trams or buses. Then, scope creep would probably happen (because this is America, and what good is a public works project that isn’t shiny?) and we’d wind up with nice-looking stations, but at a cost. We’d also probably have to relocate utilities, since there probably isn’t any power supply currently running in the median of the street.

Bolwerk April 7, 2014 - 1:02 pm

That streetscaping stuff shouldn’t be attributable to the cost of the transit improvement, even if it is desirable. Either way, it’s largely irrelevant to any place in NYC that reactively needs LRT.

I’m on the fence about the necessity of center running, but the stations need not be much more than slabs of concrete. Shelter is no more necessary with LRT than it is with a bus.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 10:23 pm

Center running is generally preferred to curbside or offset, because it’s a lot easier to ban left turns than it is to restrict right turns and get 100% rid of double parking.

Phillip Roncoroni April 7, 2014 - 10:45 am

It’s costing the MTA roughly $2 million per stop just to extend the sidewalk bulbs out further for SBS service, which is absurd.

Alon Levy April 8, 2014 - 7:06 am

Why are you comparing French light rail with American subway costs? In France, tramways average about €30-35 million per km and subways average about €200 million per km. In New York, the Vision42 proposal was $200 million per km and the average of the 7 extension and SAS is $1.5 billion per km.

Bolwerk April 8, 2014 - 11:22 am

I don’t have a particularly good reference for street construction in the USA, but the French costs probably give a good sense of what the infrastructure costs regardless.

Vision42 seems to do a lot of things beyond transit, and AFAIK only vaguely cites “utility relocation” as the predominant cost factor. It also seems to demand land takings in the eight figures range (which maybe actually is unavoidable?).

Or: to have good transit we need to pay protection money to ConEd and Verizon!

Henry April 8, 2014 - 4:42 pm

Con Ed has the excuse of not knowing where exactly in the street everything is; utilities in the city are generally less well mapped due to their age (which is also why the city’s mixed stormwater/sewage system gets overburdened as opposed to newer systems in the West which separate the two). It’s part of the reason why the Chambers St reconstruction dragged as long as it did (and may still be doing; I haven’t been to the area in a while).

I have no idea about the French and their infrastructure systems though, so I can’t really make a comparison.

Bolwerk April 9, 2014 - 8:56 am

I guess so, but streetcars ran over that infrastructure in the past. So I actually find utility relocation to be a rather inexplicably high cost.

al April 10, 2014 - 2:49 pm

Why is that acceptable today with GPR and man portable subsurface sonic imaging?

Alon Levy April 8, 2014 - 10:00 pm

The US doesn’t do much street construction except in mixed traffic, I don’t think.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 10:20 am

The capacity and speed of light rail is the main reason why it’s less effective. Due to complete grade separation, subways are by far the fastest transit mode available to riders within the five boroughs. Light rail is good as a last-mile solution, but it isn’t good as an expansion of core capacity or as a last-several-miles solution, given that commute times east of the Van Wyck are more than an hour or an hour and a half in each direction.

Light rail also offers less scope for capacity improvement, and on top of that is a more “final” solution than SBS; subways are less likely to be extended in corridors that already have a light rail service. Plus, in the most congested transit hubs, transit vehicles are such a significant portion of congestion that you would have to do grade separation anyways.

Bolwerk April 7, 2014 - 10:51 am

So your reasoning is, build less capacity than we need at a higher long-term cost (SBS) because we might get even more capacity (subways) later? This overlooks that LRT has some very interesting potential for hybrid surface-subsurface service.

Under the right conditions, LRT vehicles probably have roughly the same capacity limits as IRT equipment. The key difference is they’re usually low-floor for accessibility on the street – which introduces the caveat that they can’t really share with the high-platform subway.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 11:03 am

LRT is certainly very promising for Muni Metro and Boston Green Line situations (surface lines feeding into a underground trunk line), and this is certainly better for crosstown lines (Main St in Flushing, Kissena in Flushing, Parsons south of Jamaica, and maybe even Merrick, even though that corridor was slated for subway service in 1968).

The problem is that as it stands, SBS is being used as a stand-in where subway solutions are either blatantly obvious or wouldn’t be terribly difficult to build. First/Second will eventually be getting a subway; Third/Webster in the Bronx and Nostrand and Utica in Brooklyn certainly have the demand to justify it; Fordham/Pelham Pkwy wouldn’t be a terrible place to build, given that a turnout already exists at 207th St for a yard and that Pelham Pkwy east of Southern Blvd is a dual-carriageway with a fairly wide median (or is surrounded by green space). Maybe you could have a light rail trunk line where the M60 is, extend it east through the airport to Flushing, and then have branch lines go to the surface where appropriate. But the question is certainly relevant; had Second Avenue been given the alternative full-length or half-length light rail line proposed in its study during the ’90s, would we be seeing the full-length SAS at all?

Bolwerk April 7, 2014 - 11:36 am

had Second Avenue been given the alternative full-length or half-length light rail line proposed in its study during the ’90s, would we be seeing the full-length SAS at all?

The NYC transportation planning apparatus is inherently irrational, so who is to say? Of course, the irrationality falls squarely on the side of being anti-rail, so that could be a ready excuse.

But we got SBS on First/Second Avenue. Even allowing that the BRT is less desirable than a parallel LRT service would be, the M15 bus attracts somewhere in the four figures of riders per km every day. SAS is predicted to generate over 36,500/km. (I did a few of these calculations here.)

Do we really think LRT would generate anything approaching the SAS number? Allowing that people probably prefer LRT to buses, the attractiveness of surface LRT is probably only going to be greater by a fraction of the total present ridership, not most of an order of magnitude.

Eric April 7, 2014 - 12:02 pm

The M15 has 17 million riders/year which is about 2000/km/day/direction.

A tram would be 3 times as long, thus have capacity for 6000/km/day/direction. That is almost exactly 1/6 of the subway, like I suggested above.

What is limiting M15 ridership? Is it lack of desire to ride this route? Perhaps it is rather that the route is overcrowded. 17 million riders/year translates to about 150 riders per SBS trip, which suggests that the buses are way overcrowded and (since they run every 3 minutes in the peak) very prone to bunching.

Perhaps someone who actually rides the M15 can corroborate this, but based on the calculation, it seems to me that the buses are overcrowded and that’s what’s keeping more people from using them.

Phillip Roncoroni April 7, 2014 - 12:06 pm

M15-SBS during rush hour is extremely overcrowded and even with POP, the dwell times are bad because the door design is terrible. Anyone not immediately near the three doors has to push through a narrow bus, and a lot of people at the door not getting off at that stop have to step off anyway. I understand street lane width is a factor in the design, but maybe SBS’ should be designed with less seats, specifically near the doors, and have more poles to let people navigate on and off more easily.

Matthias April 7, 2014 - 4:02 pm

There need to be more doors period. Short buses should have three, and long articulated buses should have four or five.

Epson45 April 7, 2014 - 9:26 pm

You need more buses, not more doors. You could blame MTA for not specing wider doors. Toronto has order the same artics and their doors are WIDE.

Henry April 8, 2014 - 4:46 pm

The doors have a direct impact on dwell time; the articulated buses these days certainly have much bigger doors than their predecessors, but it’s nothing compared to a subway set of doors, which these days move people in and out rather efficiently. However, actually fixing this would require bus manufacturers to actually sell a different set of doors.

The hard limit on how many buses you can run is the shortage of articulated vehicles available, and a lack of space in the depots to take additional ones.

Bolwerk April 7, 2014 - 12:20 pm

I just looked at riders generated bidirectional route-per-km, so your 2000 jives with what I said on the Streetsblog post.

I definitely find it crowded a lot. There are probably budget constraints for new drivers and buses, which could limit riders.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 12:21 pm

The problem is that while the trams provide a sixth of the ridership, they almost certainly cannot provide the needed capacity in the “core” networks. The Queens trunk lines has been at capacity for decades, even though the borough has continued to grow. There isn’t enough tunnel capacity in the IND system to make full use of the Fulton Line (which hopefully will be resolved by an SAS tunnel to Brooklyn.) Nostrand Junction limits throughput on the IRT. Once those bottlenecks are resolved, extensions of the subway in the outer boroughs will be possible. Subway capacity is certainly needed in certain areas, particularly in the outer boroughs (Nostrand, Utica, Fordham/Pelham, Webster/Third, Woodhaven, and segments of Hillside are busier on a per-km basis than the Boston Green Line, America’s busiest light rail line, and rail would just induce further ridership due to somewhat reduced commute times)

Henry April 7, 2014 - 11:03 pm

I mean, cities such as Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Denver, and Los Angeles have all posted heavy ridership increases upon the opening of light rail lines, but these are also places without strong historic subway networks, so it’s hard to say. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility though.

AG April 8, 2014 - 10:06 am

Yeah – you can’t really compare. That said – light rail in NYC can do well in the right places. Hudson Bergen Light Rail gets good ridership… and it’s density are fairly even with the parts of NYC where light rail could go.

aestrivex April 7, 2014 - 6:58 pm

But of course, the Green line in Boston is wildly over capacity at peak because it is a light rail solution and not a heavy rail solution in a dense transit corridor. That there are several light rail solution in less dense portions of the corridor in Brookline, Allston, and Newton is good. That the trunk line is light rail is not a good defense of light rail, it is a misuse of light rail that causes all sorts of problems.

Alon Levy April 8, 2014 - 7:08 am

But the trunk of the Green Line is a subway!

Eric April 8, 2014 - 10:08 am

Because parts of the line are light rail, train length is under 1/3 of what it could be in a full subway. Capacity is diminished by an equivalent amount.

Bolwerk April 8, 2014 - 11:24 am

Can’t they just run more trains to compensate? They could maybe even berth two at once in a single station for longer trains.

Henry April 8, 2014 - 5:20 pm

Green line trams are shorter than other counterparts in the United States, though. DART and LA Metro definitely run longer consists. The Green Line just needs longer cars.

Alon Levy April 8, 2014 - 10:02 pm

They do run more trains. Capacity is like 40 tph if I remember correctly, whereas on the Red Line it’s 15 tph now because of stupid signals.

Nathanael April 7, 2014 - 7:18 pm

Trams with exclusive lanes would be an excellent replacement for the most overcrowded bus routes. The crosstown buses in Manhattan come to mind.

You do not need full grade separation — it’s OK to have grade crossings where the street crosses the tram line. You do need exclusive lanes — the tram line must not have cars driving in front of and behind it.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 7:26 pm

However, we do need grade separation at our busiest transit hubs. Take Flushing and Jamaica, for example. There is a single north-south four lane road through Downtown Flushing, and often this road is congested with buses pulling in and pulling out of curbside stops. It’s also the only through route of any considerable length, so banning cars along this very narrow road wouldn’t work (and a single curbside or median dedicated lane wouldn’t work, since all of that would be taken up by stops). Jamaica is also congested, to the point where the MTA is not going to extend any more bus routes into Jamaica proper simply because there isn’t physical space for all of those buses to lay over and terminate, even with a double-block off-street bus terminal. In these two cases, you’d need to grade separate to get meaningful speed and reliability improvements, but they’d also be the most expensive places to grade separate, since that would involve weaving around existing subway lines.

Numerous examples of overburdened bus hubs like these are scattered throughout the outer boroughs, and in places like these grade separation is a must for rapid transit, regardless of whether it’s bus, light rail, or heavy rail.

lop April 7, 2014 - 7:55 pm

You could make a much better use of curb space if you reduced dwell time for buses – more/wider doors, off board payment etc…Sometimes I see buses waiting around for a while (10+ minutes) in flushing. There’s a muni lot a block away – send them there if they need to wait. A bus lane on main st. would improve travel times for a lot of people, you don’t need grade separation over there to make a huge impact. And you don’t need two lanes on main st for buses in each direction. It’s only an issue near the 7 train, you could move some terminal/origin stops to side streets. People using the subway can walk half a block to/from the bus.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 9:36 pm

Buses generally tend not to wait on Main St itself- layovers tend to happen either by the muni lot or the streets around the church.

The muni lot is being torn down to build a retail and apartment complex, so that’s not an option anymore.

The problem with moving the street stops off Main is that the only way to get to those street stops from the south would have to be through Main. The alternatives to Main are worse; Union St, which hosts some buses from north and northeast of Flushing, becomes a quiet street south of Sanford, so buses would have to turn off Kissena, onto Sanford, and then onto Union, which would end up taking a lot more time. Main St is also (rightfully) the commercial hub of the area, so by moving buses off Main you disrupt the businesses on it while at the same time reducing the utility of transit.

A bus might not need to make stops on Main St. Any decent light rail option worth its salt would have to, if only because it would be coming from the south and probably continuing north.

Douglas John Bowen April 7, 2014 - 8:52 am

Suggesting that trams are not the answer to everything doesn’t negate the possibility that trams would be very, very useful, answering many of the issues facing the outer boroughs.

This writer begins to wonder, respectfully, why Mr. Kabak appears to overlook streetcars as part of any transit solution. Granted, per Henry, not the solution — but certainly part of it. Or do more people have a Fiorello LaGuardia hangover than I might realize?

Benjamin Kabak April 7, 2014 - 9:04 am

Oh, don’t get me wrong; streetcars should absolutely be a part of the plans. There’s a high upfront cost and the need to create a real network, but those are surmountable obstacles.

Bolwerk April 7, 2014 - 11:42 am

Two articles about a DC area study boosting a streetcar over BRT because the anticipated economic benefits were more impressive:



I haven’t had a chance to read the study though. (Found the articles here.)

pete April 7, 2014 - 8:30 pm

The study is garbage.

Streetcar service is expected to generate a significantly larger net incremental benefit to Arlington and
Fairfax Counties than enhanced bus service because the real estate benefits generated significantly
outweigh the streetcar’s higher initial capital costs.

“real estate benefits” are whatever the government decides it will be, until properties are seized for non-payment of taxes. Its like trying correlate childhood asthma with public transit fare prices, that if you lower public transit fares, childhood asthma will go down.

Bolwerk April 7, 2014 - 11:10 pm

Huh? It occurred to me the report was perhaps overly optimistic, but higher property valuations, property tax revenues, retail traffic, and sales taxes revenues are all pretty measurable and concrete.

pete April 8, 2014 - 5:19 am

That study is as scientific as the ones that say sports stadiums and olympic games “pay for themselves”. Once you manipulate the sampling pool to remove samples that don’t fit the conclusion (“its not light rail, its a FRA commuter railroad”, “its not light rail, its a tram”, “its not light rail, its a trolley”, “its not light rail, its a heritage line”), you can extrapolate whatever you want. There is no functional different between light rail and buses unless the “light rail” has dedicated ROW. At that point its just a metro with tiny rolling stock. Since cities that install light rail have much more disposable cash on hand during urban redevelopment projects, their outcomes are usually superior to cities that spend less money on urban renewal.

Of course any city that installs light rail will have superior economic growth compared with Detroit.

pete April 8, 2014 - 5:21 am

A light rail that runs every 30 minutes or ends at 7 PM, for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_MetroRail is useless. I’d rather see buses than Light Rail that runs once an hour since the money to build it was free (special tax pools, use it or loose it, fed $, etc), but no money to operate it since it fight with teacher pensions and homeless shelters for funds.

Alon Levy April 8, 2014 - 10:04 pm

Pete, not only is Austin’s commuter line not light rail, but also the local advocates specifically opposed it on the grounds that it’s not light rail and wouldn’t get commuters to the CBD but only to a bus transfer station. Mock the light rail-commuter rail distinction at your own risk; there’s an enormous difference in terms of legacy rules, construction costs, fixed operating costs, marginal operating costs, and regulatory regimes.

Bolwerk April 8, 2014 - 11:37 am

Well, duh, it’s a projection, not an experiment. The assumptions in a projection can be weak or strong, but anyone who designs a transit service without one is seriously doing it wrong. In this case, the study weighs two final alternatives against each other and compares the differences. It’s not interested in the wider scope of transit options you list because they aren’t being considered (anymore?). (LRVs and trolleys are both usually considered trams, BTW.)

But you’re saying there are no functional differences between the modes on a thread where lots of people are mentioning the functional differences (no difference in capacity?!) in hair-splitting detail. Not all the differences are advantages for LRT either.

Eric April 8, 2014 - 10:11 am

DC’s streetcar plans are mostly worthless because the streetcars don’t have separate lanes.

And a streetcar won’t help development in NYC. NYC development is limited by zoning restrictions, not by market demand.

Bolwerk April 8, 2014 - 11:41 am

What is with all these absurdly doctrinaire assumptions? NYC development is hardly entirely limited by zoning rules, surface rail isn’t only about development (moving people faster/more efficiently doesn’t count?), and dedicated lanes, while very nice, aren’t necessary for having a useful service.

Alon Levy April 8, 2014 - 10:05 pm

But dedicated lanes pretty much are necessary for useful service on congested streets. This is especially true of streetcars, which suck majorly in mixed traffic because they can’t go around stopped cars the way buses can.

Bolwerk April 9, 2014 - 9:02 am

I don’t disagree. But I don’t think the streets in question in and around DC are very congested. Hey, I’m for dedicated lanes too. I’m also for stuff that works, but isn’t perfect, when we can get it.

Almost everything Eric said made a mountain out of a molehill.

Bolwerk April 7, 2014 - 10:00 am

Subways are unique in that no other mode really does the same thing in terms of speed and capacity. IMHO other modes are quite important, both in their own right and as complementary to the subway, but the fact of the matter other modes are mostly focused on another problem. In terms of the need they fill, trams are similar to buses than to subways.

Another thing is this is a pretty subway-oriented blog, with some followers maybe not even particularly caring for or about other transit. (Not blaming Ben. He does cover other modes, but there is only so much one person can do even if he wants to to.) You’ll find a lot more ambivalence, and even some hostility, toward rail on Streetsblog (at least Streetsblog NYC), which is mostly concerned with pedestrians, bikes, and buses.

Nathanael April 7, 2014 - 7:26 pm

Trams really do the same thing as subways if they’re used *right*.

Please remember the way in which subways initially developed in NY. First there were streetcars and “steam” rail lines. Then these were elevated — with the streetcars running from the street up into the elevated lines. Then the elevateds were extended into tunnels….

This is also, more or less, the history of Boston’s Green Line — and actually, of its Orange Line and Blue Line as well — and of Philadelphia’s “streetcar-subway” lines, and of the Pittsburgh and Cleveland systems.

There is nothing wrong with a rail system which has a tunnel in one section and doesn’t in another section. You can call it whatever you like. And there’s nothing wrong with grade crossings in many places — Chicago’s L has several.

I say, if you’re over bus capacity, step one is to decide that you’re going to lay tracks and run trains. Step two is to figure out how long the trains need to be. Step three is to figure out *for each specific section of track* whether you need to tunnel or elevate it.

Bolwerk April 7, 2014 - 8:15 pm

There is still something to be said for the capacity offered by grade-level LRT/tram service. It’s cheap and much higher capacity than buses – but much lower than subways.

Incidental grade crossing isn’t a huge deal, but surface rail tends to have it frequently. Surface rail in Manhattan would have it at every block.

You’re right though that LRT can sort of act as “between” subways and buses. It can even be in a tunnel in a busy neighborhood and on the surface in a quieter one.

Alon Levy April 8, 2014 - 7:10 am

Railroad grade crossings aren’t the same as light rail grade crossings. Railroads have absolute priority. Trams do not. The Parisian trams, which have their own lane, have so many crossings their average speed is less than 20 km/h.

ComradeFrana April 15, 2014 - 2:43 pm

“Railroads have absolute priority. Trams do not.”

Except they actually do (sometimes). And when they don’t, they still usually have conditional priority, which in practice means 50-80% trams pass without stopping. In fact, it can be said that in vast majority of cases they obey standard signal phases only due to a) lack of necessary hardware or b) idiots in charge.

See for example Prague:

(Green – absolute priority, Yellow – conditional priority, Red – without priority)

Which is also why I doubt that the reason Parisian trams average “only” 20 km/h is because of the number of crossings and not mainly due to trams having to pick up and drop of passengers. (And maybe partly because of low-floor, fixed-bogie trams’ general crapiness in curves, but I honestly cannot vouch for that.)

Eric April 8, 2014 - 10:15 am

Step zero is to figure out if you’re actually over bus capacity, or only over mixed-traffic-bus capacity.

In most places in the US outside NYC, it’s the latter. You can solve the problem by making one of the ample car lanes into a reserved bus lane. There is no need to waste hundreds of millions of extra dollars on rail.

Of course, in NYC, in many places even SBS does not suffice.

Alon Levy April 8, 2014 - 10:08 pm

I don’t know about “most,” but multiple US cities have buses with weekday ridership in the 40,000-60,000 range: the Wilshire corridor in LA, the Geary corridor in SF, and I think also the 14th/16th corridor in DC. The Broadway corridor in Vancouver is 80,000, which has a lot to do with why both the city and the transit agency want to build a subway under it.

Eric April 9, 2014 - 6:31 am

LA, SF, and DC are three of the biggest cities in the US, and you’re mentioning the busiest non-rail corridor in those cities. Those three corridors certainly need rail. But, for example, the busiest bus route in St Louis runs once every 10 minutes, and there are calls to replace it with rail, rather than increasing the frequency to say 5 minutes or instituting off-board fare payment or anything like that.

SEAN April 7, 2014 - 10:11 am

all transit modes need to be considered as greater NYC’s population continues to grow despite the rumblings of braindrain in the suburbs. Off peak & reverse commute ridership has been growing at a pace that has been eclipsing triditional rush-hour growth for several years now especially on the regional railroads.

Within the city boundries, it’s esential that the subway system continues to grow & serve the areas that are in most in need of it since rapid transit is the lifeblood that makes the city function. on a more localized level, you need busses, trams or bikes to serve short trips. PATH, NJT, Metro-North & the LIRR are built for regional coverage & need to work together to serve the ever changing commuting demographic.

One of the importent back stories in all of this is the decline of New York States over all population & the reluctance or outright refusal of upstate polls to support downstate transit needs despite the benefits it may bring like manufacturing jobs. It’s issues like this that have raised debates on splitting NY State in to two seperate states.

Nathanael April 7, 2014 - 7:29 pm

I tell you, upstate politicians will be more likely to support downstate transit if someone will pay for *upstate* transit connections to downstate. We’ve gotten a hell of a lot of nothing for a very long time.

The state was tied together by the Erie Canal, the NY Central Railroad, and the NYS Thruway. Now, none of those are particularly good, with Amtrak service to upstate not having improved significantly in my lifetime. (OK, there were two new stations: Albany and Syracuse.)

Nathanael April 7, 2014 - 7:29 pm

Your bigger problem is Long Island politicians, who really should support transit in NYC — since they *use* it — but who don’t.

AG April 8, 2014 - 9:53 am

NYC was the busiest port… The Erie Canal was certainly what made NY – “The Empire State”. Unfortunately now that has become obsolete and with it – upstate trade and manufacturing (except hi-tech). NYC and it’s environs have been able to re-tool. That’s where the resentment comes from upstate.

Eric April 8, 2014 - 10:17 am

Upstate already has the only connections it wants – freeways. Transit does not work well in rural areas.

Bolwerk April 8, 2014 - 11:44 am

Who said anything about rural areas? Upstate has several medium-sized cities, where transit could work splendidly.

Eric April 9, 2014 - 6:33 am

Nathanael said “*upstate* transit connections to downstate”, not urban transit. Those cities already have buses for urban transit.

Bolwerk April 9, 2014 - 9:08 am

I would take that to mean connecting upstate cities to the rail network, not extending downstate transit lines to rural areas.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 10:30 am

Don’t get me wrong, I’d like a BMT style three-tier mantra adopted (the four-tier mantra was nice, but let’s face it, trolleybuses are not a real option these days). Subway > light rail/SBS > local bus, in that order. I just think that the cost benefit of light rail in this city tends to be overestimated due to a greater need for grade separation (The Junction, Rdigewood, Flushing, and Jamaica, to give a few examples, are all overwhelmed by bus service as it is, and you’d probably need two dedicated lanes in these areas due to all the buses merging in and out of different stops).

It’s also a matter for appropriateness; for various reasons, bike share might not work as well in the farthest sections of the boroughs as it will in the inner ring neighborhoods. Who wants to take a 45 minute subway ride and then bike for another half hour?

pete April 7, 2014 - 3:29 am

The potential for bikes, SBS expansion, and maybe some other solutions such as trams is huge.

If we could get to a 15% mode share for bikes in an area of this city the size of Copenhagen we could really start to see a change in the way our surface capacity is used.

Do you even live in NYC or are your a transit wonk from DC or CA? There is no capacity for surface transport in NYC.

Eric April 7, 2014 - 4:36 am

Absolutely true.

Eric April 8, 2014 - 10:22 am

“True” meaning that there’s no room for bikes. There is plenty of room for buses and trams.

lop April 7, 2014 - 12:36 pm

There’s plenty of room for new forms of surface transit. You just have to take space from private motor vehicles for it to fit in.

Nathanael April 7, 2014 - 7:31 pm

Bingo. Even the fairly narrow crosstown streets in Manhattan have room for one driving lane, one parking lane… and a lot of extra space for transit. The avenues have *gobs* of room.

pete April 7, 2014 - 8:36 pm

You still havent solved the problem of intersections. Do you propose building cloverleaf flyovers or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jughandle s in midtown?

Nathanael April 8, 2014 - 1:21 am

Problem? What problem? There are traffic lights. Stop the cars and let the streetcars go by.

Cars go slower. What’s the problem?

Bolwerk April 8, 2014 - 11:47 am

Pretty sure that problem was solved in ancient times with the concept of yielding. Maybe Wikipedia has an article if you need to read up!

Ralfff April 8, 2014 - 1:37 pm

In all seriousness, this can definitely be a problem. See: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/vide.....v-23175398 (VIDEO) expect lots of this sort of buffoonery from rage-filled, entitled New York City drivers who love nothing more than blocking the box as is. And by the way, most of the train collisions in Houston have not been at the relatively few crossing gate areas, but in downtown (no crossing gates, just normal red lights surrounded by a red rectangle for extra attention), where people simply run red lights or make illegal left turns into a (center-running) train. I’m not saying it’s good enough reason to not do it, but it could actually be a fairly serious incident if a 30 MPH train knocks a car into a crowd of pedestrians (which hardly exist in Houston anyway).

Henry April 8, 2014 - 5:23 pm

That might just be Houston. For whatever reason, it happens more often in Houston than in other cities with at-grade light rails.

HBLR is in a fairly densified part of the Metro area across the Hudson, yet car collision stories out of there don’t seem as frequent as they are in Houston.

Eric April 8, 2014 - 10:21 am

Bikes are not transit! They take up almost as much space as cars. A typical bike carries just one person, like a typical car. If a few people use them, great. If masses of people use them, they will overwhelm the system.

Benjamin Kabak April 8, 2014 - 10:21 am

“They take up almost as much space as cars.”

That is not anywhere close to a true statement.

Eric April 8, 2014 - 10:38 am

A bike lane is at least half the width of a car lane. The distance between bikes in motion is at least half that between cars. So, maximum, you’ll fit 4 bikes in the space of one car.

Compare that to a transit vehicle which can fit dozens of people in the space of one car. Manhattan barely has space for everyone to travel via subway (4 track subways under most Midtown avenues). If everyone biked, there would be total gridlock.

Henry April 8, 2014 - 5:25 pm

The safe following distance for a bike is much smaller than the safe following distance for a car, since it really only depends on how much you brake. Granted, it’s no crowded bus or subway car, but it’s certainly better than a personal vehicle, most of which are single occupancy.

Eric April 9, 2014 - 6:37 am

For vehicles at equal speeds, the braking distances are actually pretty comparable. Cars might even be able to brake faster.


Alon Levy April 8, 2014 - 7:11 am

Sure there is, it’s just wasted on the most space-intensive mode of travel, i.e. cars.

Bolwerk April 7, 2014 - 9:27 am

It’s certainly huge, but none of that stuff replaces subways.

Tower18 April 7, 2014 - 10:57 am

NY has a long way to go before you can count on biking to be 15% share of trips. There’s an attitude problem in the streets. Just this weekend, I was riding a Citibike in Downtown Brooklyn and was nearly pinned against a parked car by a bus that purposely drove into the bike lane to block my path (there was no bus stop, and the bus was not turning). When I confronted the driver for almost killing me, he told me “this bus is 35,000 pounds, YOU have a brake, YOU stop” despite the fact that he WAS stopped, and accelerated into me when he saw me coming.

There are too many drivers like this for biking to be a serious option for anyone but die-hard bikers.

lop April 7, 2014 - 12:37 pm

Did you report the driver? The guy belongs in prison, not in a cushy union job.

Tower18 April 7, 2014 - 3:25 pm

It’s on today’s to-do list, I got the bus and run numbers.

sonicboy678 April 10, 2014 - 11:04 pm

People biking through red lights, biking the wrong way down streets, etc. are also major problems that seem to be tackled even less often than for those with motor vehicles or for jaywalkers.

Sure, you can try to equate biking through a red light to jaywalking, but there’s one major difference. It would be more dangerous for everyone if someone runs a red light on a bike than it would be to jaywalk. This is likely one of the factors for bikes being classified as vehicles.

AG April 7, 2014 - 4:36 pm

Good points. I think tolls on the East River Bridges and congestion pricing below 60th street are good options to help deter driving.

LLQBTT April 7, 2014 - 9:07 pm

East River Bridge tolls AND congestion pricing? Wow you must really hate us in the outer boroughs.

AG April 8, 2014 - 9:45 am

I don’t live in Manhattan. Actually it helps most ppl in the outer boroughs because the ppl driving over other bridges not located in midtown and lower Manhattan would get reduced tolls under the current plan. No one should be driving for free into the busiest areas of the country…

Epson45 April 7, 2014 - 9:29 pm

Fat chance…Albany will not pass it.

AG April 8, 2014 - 9:46 am

Sheldon Silver killed it last time… not “Albany”. Actually it would be better for Albany since they wouldn’t have to worry about transit funding as much. Though of course “lock boxes” don’t always work.

johndmuller April 8, 2014 - 8:29 pm

It would seem possible to implement some form of partial tolling on at least some of the currently free East River crossings, perhaps only some lanes and/or only some bridges, whatever makes sense given the existing spaghetti maze of entry/exit ramps.

Various combinations are possible what with vanity tolls, HOV, Buses, other mass transit, free-as-is, rush hour direction only, etc.

As to people who feel that they need to drive anyway, what can I say, __it happens; maybe you’ll thank us some day. After all how much fun can it be to drive over the (your bridge here) in rush hour anyway.

Walt Gekko April 6, 2014 - 11:13 pm

The real problem is Albany won’t give the MTA the money it needs in large part because like many other states, it’s continuing to deal with the affects of the 2008-’09 recession that many feel is still going on as we have had the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Phase 1 of the SAS and the (7) extension will help somewhat, but there is like it of not in the years ahead going to be further demand for subways that will somehow have to be met. This could have been made unecessary if planners 75-80 years ago had realized how much the city was going to grow and how important rail travel would be and instead of tearing down the els, kept all of them and rebuilt them to handle BMT/IND sized cars (670′ platforms for 10 67-foot cars OR 11 60-foot cars) OR if that was not possible, build them to handle 13-car (663′) IRT-sized car trains. With longer train lengths, some stations could have been eliminated via consolidation (combining two nearby stations into one).

With what is planned for midtown, it may be time to get the laws changed so els can be once again built in Manhattan and in particular, a full rebuild of the 3rd Avenue El (in addition to a full SAS) using modern technology and having such be for BMT/IND service so it and a branch of the SAS can serve the Bronx via a rebuilt Bronx portion of the line.

More immediately, for the Domino’s plant rebuild, what should happen is the (M) should become a 24/7 line once that opens up in its new form, either to 71st-Continental as it currently does at all times. Late nights, the (J) could be combined with the (C) and go to 168th Street while there is a late-night shuttle between Essex and Chambers for those who do need the current (J). The (L) being as crowded as it is (rush-hour levels in late night) suggest that this is what should be done.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 12:11 am

There’s no law against els. People just hate els. Third Av in particular is not a wide enough right-of-way for el tracks, particularly anything wider than two tracks.

Modern els are only built where there is a large right-of-way, usually in the median of a divided dual carriageway road. We don’t have many of these in New York, and of those that exist, most already have existing or parallel subway/el service.

Walt Gekko April 7, 2014 - 9:56 am


My plan for a modern 3rd Avenue El would be to have it be a double decked, four-track line, most likely built similar to the CPW line except likely with downtown trains on the upper level and uptown trains on the lower level so the platforms only occupy one side of the street and express stations being island platforms.

Locals would be the World Trade Center/Battery Park City branch (which I suspect is what the 3rd Avenue El’s Park Row branch would have been extended to had it not been torn down and continued into the ’70s) that would run between there and after 125th Street in Manhattan going across 125th to 12th Avenue/Broadway (as Phase 2 of the SAS should also do with Columbia expanding, but that’s an entirely separate issue) and the South Ferry branch going to the Bronx would have been the express trains. Most notable stop and biggest transfer point would in this case be 60th-63rd Street with transfers to the Broadway and Lexington Avenue lines on the south end and SAS and (F) on the north end. Other express stops would be Grand Street-Bowery, 14th, 42nd, 53rd, 86th and 125th Street while locals in Manhattan would also stop at Canal, St. Mark’s Place-8th, 23rd, 34th, 72nd, 79th, 96th, 106th and 116th Streets. Express trains would then continue on the old 3rd Avenue El route in the Bronx, albeit with fewer stops from the old route.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 10:39 am

Aside from the fact that no modern country has built a four-track el outside of maybe Japan (which, as an outlier in every rail-based conversation, doesn’t count), such an el would be dangerously close to buildings. An el would have to be, minimum, 40 feet wide (two tracks and two side platforms). Third Av is only 70 feet wide, give or take, which means els are fifteen feet away from buildings that weren’t designed to handle the constant vibration of an el; modern glass curtain wall construction transmits a lot of vibration and noise upwards as it is. We don’t even build houses next to ground-level railways that close these days. Not only that, but a double-story elevated structure would be a huge blight on the neighborhood; in general, double deck elevated anything is too imposing and blocks out the sun, depresses property values, and all that jazz. And we haven’t even broached the topic of narrower streets downtown.

You can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 12:22 pm

I’d note that two side platforms would essentially have to be the same width as one island platform, since a Third Av line would get crowded; narrow platforms have never really worked out well.

Alon Levy April 8, 2014 - 7:14 am

Forget four-track els, which do occasionally get built, just not very frequently. Who the hell builds double-deck els? (No, Tohoku-Jukan doesn’t count, for obvious reasons.)

Eric April 8, 2014 - 10:49 am

Why not? It seems like a good idea for third world megacities where the the transportation needs vastly outweigh the beauty of the public space that might be lost. Mumbai, Kolkata, Manila, Jakarta, Cairo, Lagos, Sao Paolo, and Dhaka, for example.

(Apologies to anyone whose home city got lumped in with poorer cities they look down on 🙂 )

Henry April 8, 2014 - 5:28 pm

Brand new four track out of the box, particularly for metro systems, is not common at all. A new automated metro line can push out 40 TPH (and AnsaldoBreda is quoting 75 second headways (48 TPH) for Milan’s new automated line, but I don’t buy that for a second), which is more than enough capacity for a lot of places. The time advantage of express running also isn’t that great; runtime on the Flushing express is only faster than the local by about five or six minutes accordig to the schedule.

It’s more common for an express system to be overlaid on top of a local system, as happened with the RER and now Crossrail.

Alon Levy April 8, 2014 - 10:10 pm

I don’t actually think any of these builds double-deck els. Delhi builds a lot of single-deck, double-track els, which have enough capacity for now. A few of the others build subways; these cities often have old CBDs with narrow streets, where els would require either horrendously slow curves as in Chicago, or expensive demolitions.

Eric April 9, 2014 - 7:00 am

None of these cities do build double-deck els (some have yet to build rail at all). But most of them should.

Their gigantic populations are not going to decrease, while their economies will increase and travel demand along with it. Their future demand will resemble that of New York or Beijing, which have vast subway systems that are nevertheless overcrowded.

However, in contrast to a place like Beijing, these cities’ funding does not allow for extensive subways, the water table and rivers will impede subway construction, and in many cases there are few ROWs which are suitable for linear construction. These factors all point towards cheap, elevated, high-capacity rail. Midtown Manhattan has 20 north-south subway tracks; it is hard to see third world cities approaching that number except by double decking.

Alon Levy April 11, 2014 - 7:09 am

The problem is that in a lot of those cities, even single-deck els are too expensive. The cost of the mostly-elevated Delhi subway, relative to India’s GDP per capita, is higher than the cost of Second Avenue Subway. This is unique to India, which is poorer than other subway builders and has high construction costs, but in other third-world countries, the cost of els is almost universally more relative to GDP than the cost of subways in non-US developed countries.

But more in general, double-deck els present the same challenge as four-track subways: if you have the budget to build one, you have the budget to build two single-deck els and serve more neighborhoods. With the congestion levels and car ownership rates of most of those cities, the speed of a modern local train is sufficient, so service to more neighborhoods is better than faster express service on one corridor.

lop April 11, 2014 - 9:30 am

Is that still true if you only look at the per capita GDP of Delhi? I had thought extreme poverty in the rural regions of the country was skewing their overall numbers.

sonicboy678 April 10, 2014 - 11:09 pm

Queensboro Plaza. It may be just the station, but it’s still a double-decked, elevated portion of two lines (Astoria and Flushing).

Billy G April 7, 2014 - 10:48 am

Your 125th St crosstown suggestion is very geologically challenging, also note that 125th st is not very grid-conforming.

lawhawk April 7, 2014 - 9:08 am

New York weathered the recession far better than most other states did. Its real estate market didn’t collapse as in places like CA, NV, AZ, and Florida, plus the stock market growth since the recession has fueled the coffers in Albany.

In fact, the budget situation is good enough that Gov. Cuomo decided that tax cuts were in order (primarily for reelection, but as a business growth opportunity). Rather than devoting the money directly to transit infrastructure, he’s forwarded a new series of tax breaks. At the same time, the state has toyed with the money that the MTA should be getting.

It’s a further outgrowth of the fact that the governor and the state legislature aren’t as keen on spending money on NYC when there’s upstate communities clamoring for aid even though NYC is the state’s economic heart. Upstate communities don’t want to see money go to downstate transit infrastructure when they want a piece of the pie. That’s why you get Cuomo pushing for a highway to nowhere in the Adirondacks that for the same cost would get you most of the way to phase 2 on SAS.

Or, use that money to pay for the TZB replacement, to reduce loan costs and subsequent tolling.

Or, use it to build the first phase of a true high speed rail from NYC to Buffalo via Albany.

Cuomo has no interest in transit projects, and his priorities are clear about reelection above all else.

Ralfff April 7, 2014 - 1:10 pm

Downstate legislators are human garbage or something close to it, and the voters are to blame. Instead of calling Albany a cesspool and treating it like an alien overlord, they should actually give a damn about who they vote in to state office. And it’s clear that they don’t.

For all the whining about how upstate is so tyrannical, New York City has actually gotten things it deems a priority when it speaks with one voice. Congestion pricing was killed by downstate reactionaries, not upstate. Conversely, universal pre-K got done even though de Blasio had no legal power to implement the tax increase he wanted. Staten Island, speaking with one voice, got a slight V-N toll reduction after already having a severely reduced toll. Similarly, whether you support charter schools or not, the charter school co-location mandate was mainly the result of downstate charter school interests and wealthy downstate charter school benefactors.

Obviously NYS government is broken in many ways, but it’s New Yorkers’ government, and it can’t be blamed for not acting on downstate priorities if downstate can’t even get its priorities straight.

Nathanael April 7, 2014 - 7:33 pm

There have been a lot of exceptionally awful downstate legislators. Many of them claim to be Democrats but don’t act like it. We’ve got some of those upstate, too, of course.

Cuomo sucks. I don’t want an income tax cut, I want high-speed rail to NYC.

Nathanael April 7, 2014 - 7:34 pm

Andrew Cuomo is also a demented road warrior who thinks that it’s worth spending billions on asphalt but nothing on rails. I think he inhaled too much leaded gasoline fumes as a kid — he’s apparently been an automobile nut his whole life.

We HAVE to get rid of him.

johndmuller April 8, 2014 - 9:53 pm

Cuomo is apparently a decent politician, not great as he does seem to alienate people unnecessarily (or else knows what’s necessary better than I do). Whether we like it or not, tires on asphalt seems to give better political traction than sand on rails, especially in a national election.

Despite looking relatively poor compared to Christie’s great performance during Sandy, the GW bridgegate thing has at least evened them out IMhO.

Cuomo’s national interest is obviously important in that if he goes to Washington, he won’t be here anymore feeling the need to go slow on our transit investments. I hope it doesn’t mean that he would still feel obliged to continue that position on a national level, but to some extent, he would be out of the way.

It might be interesting to see what happens to a Cuomo who makes a national move and loses – will he change his State level positions? – but perhaps we don’t really want to conduct that experiment.

If we do somehow find ourselves another Governor, will we like whomever that is better – Governor di Blasio anyone? Do we even know his positions?

Bolwerk April 9, 2014 - 9:18 am

Not being here would be nice, but he has already done a lot of damage that will be sitting there like a turd on a floor for a generation. And WTF good did Christie do that someone else wouldn’t have done during Sandy? Emergencies are the easiest jobs in the world for politicians, because they look good smooching crying people while being impotent to do anything about the inevitable.

I don’t know that de Blasio is that different from Cuomo politically. The biggest differences are probably in the details, with Cuomo being more BLoomberg-esque on things like charter schools. Probably other small things like that.

Larry Littlefield April 7, 2014 - 6:54 pm

Albany doesn’t have any money. It takes money from us, and keeps a share as a commission.

We have the highest tax burden in the country, and lots of unmet needs.

AG April 8, 2014 - 9:42 am

What you say is true… That is why the upcoming municipal union negotiations are important. We can’t afford retro-pay. We also need municipal workers to take a greater share of the burden for their retirement and healthcare. That will help with there being money for infrastructure.

Vinny O'Hare April 6, 2014 - 11:14 pm

While the second ave subway opening and the 7 train extensions are nice we have no plans on getting a new subway that can get people into the city to use them.

When was the last time a new station was built in the outer boroughs. 21st/Queensbridge?

Looks like buses, bikes and ferries are the option.

The ferry from Rockaway is so much nicer than sitting on a cold platform in Broad Channel and waiting for an S train. Hopefully the reactivation of the Whitepot junction happens soon.

Larry Littlefield April 7, 2014 - 12:41 pm

The last major outer borough expansion was the Archer Avenue line in the late 1980s.

There were plans to turn one of the two LIRR branches through SE Queens into a subway hooking into Archer Ave. Queens politicians fought against it — wrong kind of people.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 9:37 pm

Fortunately, the Queens of 50 years ago has been replaced by a more pragmatic Queens of today. In fact, didn’t one of the Queens politicians make a big thing about expanding a new trunk line into Queens? I believe it was one of the BP candidates (shame the BPs don’t really do anything anymore)

adirondacker12800 April 7, 2014 - 2:35 am

Little Neck already has train service on the LIRR.

Phillip Roncoroni April 7, 2014 - 10:49 am

As long as the LIRR charges its insane fares within the City Zone, rather than matching, or at most, being double the cost (peak or off-peak) of the current subway fare, the LIRR shouldn’t be seen as an affordable option to people living within NYC.

John-2 April 7, 2014 - 4:20 am

The problem with extending the subway system is simply that unless you can go back to the construction timetable of the original Interborough Rapid Transit Co., which did its Contract 1 route in four years, the politicians see the infrastructure work required as something where they get the blame for the inconveniences during the construction period, and some other guy or gal down the line gets the credit for when the thing finally opens.

That’s why I really don’t begrudge Bloomberg his 7 train test drive to Hudson Yards — it’s only a one-stop extension that should have been a two-stop one, but at least it’s an extension and the mayor was bull-headed enough to still push it through even after the Olypmics/Jets stadium project fell through. But he needed to wheedle a third term in office out of the City Council even to get that test ride while still in office — Bill de Blasio will be the one taking the bows when the line opens, and by the time SAS finally opens (based on the now-expected delay periods), someone else could be mayor.

Pols at the local, state and national level can see dozens of other ways to spend taxpayer dollars that offer immediate pay-backs better than a decade of subway construction, especially when, at the moment, there’s just grumbling among the public about subway overcrowding, and no open revolt. Until you get to the point where the public is irked enough so that not building new lines or boosting capacity is an election deal-breaker, doing those things isn’t going to be high on the list of their spending priorities.

manny April 7, 2014 - 7:14 am

US Census Bureau released Estimates for July 1, 2013, tabulation of

Year NYS NYC Fraction

1910 09113614 4766883 0.52305
1920 10385227 5620048 0.54116
1930 12588066 6930446 0.55056
1940 13479142 7454995 0.55308
1950 14830192 7891957 0.53215
1960 16782304 7781984 0.46370
1970 17558072 7894862 0.44964
1980 17990455 7071639 0.39308
1990 18236967 7322564 0.40152
2000 18976457 8008278 0.42201
2010 19378102 8175133 0.42187
2012 19576125 8336697 0.42586
2013 19651127 8405837 0.42775
Bearing on distribution of resources, political offices and rail investment.

Elizabeth Linden Rahway April 7, 2014 - 7:51 am

You call it the “Domino Factory,” perhaps implying that the site on the Williamsburg waterfront is a factory that made dominoes. A 30-second Wikipedia search would tell you that the site was a sugar refinery, actually the world’s largest at the time of its construction, and owned by the American Sugar Refining Company; Domino is just a brand and the name on the sign.

Benjamin Kabak April 7, 2014 - 8:05 am

I’m fully aware of the history of the site, but thanks for the entirely pedantic Monday morning comment. A useful reminder of why I’m still debating whether or not to keep the site going.

Douglas John Bowen April 7, 2014 - 8:54 am

Yikes. Respectful criticism from this quarter notwithstanding, I would hope Mr. Kabak soldiers on. Acknowledge that it’s easy to criticize from the armchair; harder to advance or advocate without inviting naysayers of varying degrees. A belated salute to you, sir.

Larry Littlefield April 7, 2014 - 9:33 am

And if you don’t think he’s kidding, ask Dave Pirmann of NYC Subway.org, who eventually shut down Subtalk after people started getting into flame wars and threatened to sue him!

You always attract a lot of crap on the internet. I don’t have comments on my site, aside from anyone who wants to contact me and get permission, but that’s mostly because I’m afraid of Spam shutting it down like Room Eight.

Frank April 7, 2014 - 9:59 pm

Larry Fendrick started Subchat in 2004 and has many of the same problems that Subtalk suffered from only much worse. But I think the posters aren’t the only problem. Larry is part of the problem because he doesn’t feel the need to moderate the board. Its just a mess!

I think it would be a shame if Ben discontinued his blog as he has some great insight on transit issues. While I may disagree with a few of his opinions, at least he is not like many posters on Subchat who just have a blind hatred of the MTA. This blog is at least more civil.

John April 7, 2014 - 10:12 am

I don’t comment a lot, but read the site daily. I’ve learned a ton about the subway, mass transit, and even the NY/MTA bureaucracy from reading this site. IMO, it would be a shame to see it go away.

Bolwerk April 7, 2014 - 10:32 am

Aww, don’t do that. You have a good thing going.

What about trying to attract some more writers? 3-4 doing a post once a week would loosen the load for you, and there really are a lot of smart people in the transit blog commentariat whose views are underrepresented in mainstream media.

JMB April 7, 2014 - 11:09 am

Great idea! I for one love this site, and have made it part of my morning routine for what seems like ages. Not having SAS to come to in the AM would be depressing.

As our lives grow, its only natural that this site becomes a burden. Why not have some try-outs for contributors? Maybe get a contributor from each borough where posts could be specific to that area’s particular transit needs? You could even break it down to neighborhoods for deeper analysis.

Don’t give up Ben, pendantic tards aside, this site and its commentary are jewels 🙂

SEAN April 7, 2014 - 12:12 pm

I agree, but you shouldn’t bypass commentary from the suburbs as there transit needs also continues to grow.

aestrivex April 7, 2014 - 7:00 pm

I think your site is very useful! I hope that it stays around in some form.

Phantom April 7, 2014 - 8:16 pm


You run the best site in NYC, and it’s well appreciated.

Don’t let the occasional creeps and know it alls get you down

Alon Levy April 8, 2014 - 7:22 am

What everyone else already said.

Also, about the group blog idea… please don’t do it. SAS has a certain voice, and it’s not common to find someone who has a similar enough voice. Your voice – that combination of original reporting, wonkiness, and editorializing for the subway – is something that’s valuable to the New York-area transit conversation.

Bolwerk April 8, 2014 - 11:54 am

Seriously, I like it how it is too, but between adding more people and taking the load off Ben and dying, I’d prefer it not die. Be realistic here: nothing about adding writers debases what Ben says.

Ben: just don’t make the kind of op-ed selection mistakes Nate Silver made!

AG April 8, 2014 - 9:47 am

The best way to deal with useless comments are simply to ignore them.

J B Taipei April 9, 2014 - 3:55 am

Yours is truly the best New York mass transit blog out there, and a great way to keep up with NYC for those of use who are away. Please don’t shut it down! If the comments are getting too annoying perhaps just turn off commenting?

LLQBTT April 7, 2014 - 9:10 pm

Maybe they make pizza there? 😉

BoerumHillScott April 7, 2014 - 8:53 am

Outside of rush hour, more capacity can be added for only the cost of running more trains.
This is especially useful for the “shoulder” periods around rush hour.

Most of the lines in the city can handle additional capacity even during rush hour with the only capital needed being new trains and yard storage – not cheap, but nowhere near the cost of a new line.

For more money, key choke points (like Rogers junction) and terminals can be updated to allow more traffic.

None of these will radically transform the system, but it can keep up with population growth for a couple of decades.

Michael K April 7, 2014 - 9:19 am

Perhaps a network of XBL’s (PABT style) around the city can move many more people. It seems that we have an emotional attachment to LOS and cannot bear to see general vehicle capacity reduced to even plan for dedicated lanes.

Michael K April 7, 2014 - 9:21 am

To address Trams – the authorities do not want to add an additional vehicle type to operate and maintain at the moment – let us build a dedicated lane network first and then upgrade those dedicated lanes to have in ground rails when the capacity is needed. ( that can be on day one for some corridors)

Henry April 7, 2014 - 10:41 am

The XBL largely works because it has no stops on the lane itself, and because it dumps into a giant, multilevel bus station. Once you start adding stops, traffic lights, and account for the fact that we are not giving every bus route the equivalent of a Port Authority, busway capacity drops significantly.

Michael K April 7, 2014 - 12:00 pm

It would at least function then in mixed traffic, which it does now.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 7:30 pm

A bus lane would move about as many people as you could schedule buses for. If an articulated bus holding 150 people moved every 2 minutes, that would be 4500 people per hour. Subways move in the neighborhood of 30,000 to 60,000 people per hour, so it’s not an adequate replacement at all.

lop April 7, 2014 - 9:31 pm

Boardings and alightings can be spread along the line, so a bus that has capacity to carry 150 passengers might carry more than that each run, so 4500 may not be accurate. Also, why can’t frequency top 30 bph? To speed trips to and from Manhattan multiple routes can combine into a single bus lane over the bridges, then spread out and distribute themselves in Manhattan, no need for a big terminal, so you could increase by more than 4500 the number of people a bus lane on a bridge could move per hour.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 9:43 pm

I was under the impression that the OP was talking about a bus lane network using the existing street grid.

We don’t currently have bus lines scheduled for anything better than every 2 minutes, and the MTA is not exactly overstocked with buses as it is. The closest any bus line has ever been scheduled is 40 BPH, but that was the M15 and M15 LTD combined using 40-foot buses. Even if the bus had a dwell time of ten or twenty seconds, the bus still takes time to accelerate back to full speed.

The problem with a single bus lane is that if a bus happens to make a stop in the bus lane, every bus behind it is either stuck or has to merge into general traffic and then back again (not generally a good thing). New York is not likely to accommodate double-bendy buses (for various reasons, the foremost being a lack of appropriate depots for them), so an articulated bus running every 2 minutes is probably best.

Michael K April 7, 2014 - 12:04 pm

Also, my vision of xbl’s (dedicated lanes) running across the five boros would include the possibility of shared LRT/bus lanes.

pete April 7, 2014 - 8:46 pm

Price is king. Southeast Queens has express buses ($6 a ride) and LIRR, but nobody uses them. Instead 99% of people will take the (free, if you include the price for the subway ride) local bus to the subway. Even if it takes 1.5 hours to get to Manhattan. If ALL MTA forms of transportation (NYCT subway/local, Express, and LIRR/MNCR) were priced exactly the same, zone or flat rate. The closed (possibly to reopen in the future) Elmhurst LIRR, and the underused Forest Hills LIRR would be used as much as the subway.

Alon Levy April 8, 2014 - 7:23 am

Yes. Thank you.

But also, the LIRR needs better city frequency. Forest Hills gets hourly off-peak service, and this is unacceptable for a station even in a suburb, let alone such a central neighborhood.

johndmuller April 9, 2014 - 6:01 pm

It’s not like the commuter railroads have so much extra capacity.

Sure you could fill up all the trains in the city, but even that wouldn’t really work. The people in the suburbs mostly fill up all the trains before they get to the city limits, so there would be little room in the AM for city boarders. In the PM, city and suburban riders would pack the trains, but they would still finish their runs to the burbs mostly empty. Neither group would be particularly happy and the RRs would lose more money; and more suburban commuters would drive. If there were space to be had in the terminals and money for more trains, perhaps we could add additional short runs for city riders.

One thing that the commuter lines might have to offer is ROW. Even if they maxed out or are hemmed in horizontally, many of them could handle an elevated line above them; we’d “just” need to find money and trainsets and alternate destination terminals for them.

lop April 9, 2014 - 6:48 pm

That doesn’t explain the poor off peak service. If there’s no room for standing passengers in the AM, then off peak fares could still be lowered, and more trains running on the local tracks could stop at forest hills/kew gardens and elsewhere. And if there is standing room, AM peak fares in the city could be lowered – they won’t be taking anyone’s seats, so they won’t appreciably impact service for Suffolk/Nassau residents, PM peak fares might be a harder case to make.

Erik April 7, 2014 - 10:07 am

It took me many years to realize this, but politics is a laggard and will only address problems once they are practically in crisis mode. With hindsight, our greatest leaders presented solutions to the big problems at the time, but in reality, they lagged every bit as badly as our current leaders. That includes Lincoln and FDR.

I, like you, am a solutions-oriented, forward-looking person. Life in the trenches for us is painful. Once I learned to let go a bit and feel the ebb & flow of the political Chi, however, things got much better.

Mass transit in NYC wasn’t put into place until the streets were literally CHOKED with traffic (horses, carriages, pedestrians, bicycles, cars) and also full of manure up past your ankles!

These developments will finally push the window to a point where leaders have no choice but to put in place the solutions that have been evident to our group for 10-20 (+) years. Once it pinches development, once their are constant deaths on the tracks from overcrowded stations, etc. THEN developers will have to put into a fund for transit rather than getting tax waivers. THEN we’ll get congestion pricing once the LIE and Midtown Tunnel are at permanent standstill.

It’s part of a larger national cycle. “The public” is just now opening its eyes to being more comfortable with public infrastructure projects, the benefits of government, etc., after 40 years on the wane. We’re still 10-20 years away from the critical mass required at the national level (and a few unexpected meltdowns from GOP policies), but we will get there. When the NY Times starts publishing articles (even in Opinion) about the US becoming an Oligarchy, you know we’re making progress by inches.

The real worry is climate change. We don’t have the on that for this process to take place. We’ll see what happens.

SEAN April 7, 2014 - 10:30 am

The real worry is climate change. We don’t have the on that for this process to take place. We’ll see what happens.

NBC ran a special on this last night & regardless of ones personal views on this subject, things are changing.

Larry Littlefield April 7, 2014 - 12:43 pm

Wise words. But I still find the situation depressing.

My solution to the financial issues at the MTA has been to start commuting by bicycle.

pete April 7, 2014 - 8:47 pm

Wait for a toll to cross the bridges or a bike license plate and proof of insurance.

lop April 7, 2014 - 9:32 pm

The toll reform from Sam Schwartz had new bike/ped bridges that would have tolled bikes in an earlier incarnation.

Nathanael April 7, 2014 - 7:36 pm

Jefferson was ahead of his time, but Jefferson was brilliant.

You’re right that almost all politicians don’t act until it’s almost too late, or actually too late.

Nathanael April 7, 2014 - 7:38 pm

However: ask why Chicago is actually able to implement exclusive bus lanes in the Loop, while most other cities aren’t able to implement bus lanes downtown (“think of the poor automobiles!”). There seems to be some ability to get ahead of the curve occasionally in some cities.

Eric April 8, 2014 - 10:57 am

It’s easier to do anything when you can get dead people to vote for you.

Juan Carlos Contreras April 7, 2014 - 1:00 pm

I love SAS! I appreciate the work put into it, and would be saddened to see it disappear. Thank you for your work!

Michael April 7, 2014 - 1:44 pm

At the risk of sounding like a nay-sayer, I would like more information, please. Taking the statement that the city’s population has grown over the last four years, and that the population of each borough has grown over the last four years – I’d still like more information. Yes, the next Census is not until 2020 – to get something close to census tract level comparisons, but I’d like to know exactly just where this growth is occurring. This is simple demographics based planning.

Saying that the population of Brooklyn has increased overall (as just an example) does not make a slam-dunk case for extensions of the Nostrand Avenue train line or building a Utica Avenue extension. I’d simply would like to see the lower level census tract data that (in this example) said that the population and needs in those particular areas has grown, as well as their transit needs. Just for example, while proposing those extensions that population could have increased in Bushwick or Brownsville. County level numbers are not good enough, more specific numbers are needed.

Spreading an increase of 61,000 people around NYC, is simply not the same as depositing that same 61,000 in specific communities. Spreading that 61,000 all over NYC could easily mean that those folks are absorbed by the regular transit systems in place. Specific recommendations are not that easy to make until more information is provided, even if the current trend remains the case.

None of this is meant to say – do not improve our bus and subway systems, or do not think about additions that can be made. Nothing of the sort should be deduced from my statements. The population increase in some neighborhoods might mean the adding of additional buses, or a few more crowded trains, or it could mean the adding of limited or SBS bus services, or an increase of train service. If the growth trend were strong and verified, it might mean the construction of light rail or maybe possibly a subway extension. It is easy to say that any light rail or subway extension planning work would be years in the future, but one has to start somewhere.

I’d would simply like more information about the population trends on the lower level, and local needs before making recommendations about transit improvements based upon that population growth. Of course, regardless of the population growth – our bus and subway systems do need improvements even if just for the existing riders.


VLM April 7, 2014 - 1:59 pm

Please, tell us again in another 800-word comment how you want more information. I don’t think you said it enough here.

Maybe try talking a walk through some of these areas and you’ll see the growth as it happens. Plus, the increase isn’t just 61,000. It’s 61,000 in one year compounded by the fact that New York City’s population is it an all-time high, and the transit system is the same as it was when NYC’s population was around 7 million.

Michael April 7, 2014 - 3:27 pm

Even using your numbers 240,000 more folks over a 4-year period still represents 1 or 2 Community Districts in NYC, and we have 59 of those. Wanting and using detailed information in the first step of attempting to figure out the future transportation needs, and services that might be needed.

Distributing 61,000 or even 240,000 folks over all NYC evenly (if that could be done) would simply mean that those folks are dropped in places both near and far from existing transit. Usually there are “un-equal” distributions, meaning that some neighborhoods are gaining more new folks than other neighborhoods. In NYC, the county level-borough wide data won’t tell us anything about that. That is why I’d look at the lower level, even census tract data – to get REAL counts and a real look at where the growth is occurring.

As Dr. Joseph Salvo at the City Planning Department’s Demographics Unit as always said, New York City is a very big place! We could fit about 62 other cities in NYC just by population alone.

Planning by anecdote is not a good way to do things. Isn’t it better to know just where the growth is occurring, and where the needs are to provide the solutions that fit the problem? Exactly how does it help your case for more transit (of any sort) if you do not have the numbers to back up your case?


Eric April 8, 2014 - 11:21 am

More people implies more need for transit, assuming a constant rate of transit usage.

As for where to put that transit – a good place to start is wherever there is currently overcrowding. Like Second Avenue, Utica, and the other places frequently talked about on this blog.

Henry April 7, 2014 - 4:23 pm

We already have indicators for where transport is under strain the most; every subway station has annual turnstile counts, as well as every bus route. In addition, the DOT does an annual cordon count entering the CBD below 60th St, and the MTA occasionally sends out people to manually record ridership on buses and subways. Using this data, we can easily surmise where the busiest, most congested sections of our transport network are. Given that the bus lines on Nostrand, Utica, Webster/Third, Fordham/Pelham Pkwy, and Woodhaven are all busier on a per-mile basis than nearly all of the light rail systems in the United States, there’s an obvious need for capacity.
Then it comes down to more capacity in the core; the Queens Blvd Line is the second most congested trunk line after the Lexington Av Line, and the only trunk line in Brooklyn with spare capacity (Fulton) lacks adequate river crossings to take full advantage of its four tracks. Next priority is then where lots of buses converge onto a single road; Merrick Blvd in SE Queens, Hillside Av in Eastern Queens, Kissena south of Flushing, and Northern/48th in Northern Queens are all roads with lots of bus routes funneling into the core. Throw in the Triboro RX and a link from Ridgewood to Flushing to make cross-borough travel easier, and you’ve got yourself a robust transit system for the next century.

These general expansions will allow for wide swathes of land to be densified (providing that zoning is changed to allow this), and on top of that will boost transit capacity and reduce travel times for most residents. (The economics of a subway to SI are very iffy, mostly because the option via a Narrows tunnel is too slow, and the direct option to the Battery is ridiculously expensive.)

Tower18 April 7, 2014 - 6:14 pm

To be pedantic, almost every BMT/IND line in Brooklyn has spare capacity on the line itself, but either river crossings or interlining are roadblocks. The F is overcrowded as well, but you can’t add more F trains to Brooklyn without fixing QBL and 6th Av Local.

Even the IRT (mostly 7th Av) has some amount of capacity (not for cars, but for people) entering Manhattan.

But various things constrain the ability to add cars–namely river crossings, as you mentioned, and constraints elsewhere.

Paul April 9, 2014 - 5:29 pm

Out of curiosity, where do you get the information about the amount of congestion on each rail line (and I mean the physical rail line, not the routes)? I’ve heard what you say about the Queens Blvd. line many times, and I’ve experienced just as much, but I haven’t found that information in writing yet.

Bolwerk April 9, 2014 - 10:27 pm

Google around for the Hub Bound report. It may not be an exact answer to your question, but it does tell you how many trains are crossing the river and where and how many people use them by the hour.

The other thing you do can do is look at schedules.

AG April 7, 2014 - 4:44 pm

To put it this way – the population is 600k more than it’s former peak in 1970. It’s grown 1.4 million since 1980. While Queens has dominated the growth… it’s pretty spread out.

Bolwerk April 7, 2014 - 8:05 pm

In fairness, though, the 2000 census at least may have improved the count. So we might be overstating actual growth.

BUT THEN, the 2010 count may have been less reliable than the 2000 count. So we might be understating *recent* growth.

BoerumBum April 7, 2014 - 2:39 pm

RE: Upstate opposition to downstate transit development

Would there be a way to link economic benefits associated with transit expansion to the upstate economy? (e.g. Locate plants doing pre-fab subway expansion manufacture work in the southern tier) If so, it might be a viable strategy to win over upstate politicians.

Benjamin Kabak April 7, 2014 - 2:41 pm

They’ve already done that. Most of the new NYC rolling stock is built or assembled in upstate New York.

At a certain point, the fact that upstate is a drag on the state’s economy and the vast majority of revenue is generated downstate should count for something. How many bones must we throw to upstate politicians to ensure that our region continues to thrive?

lop April 7, 2014 - 3:01 pm

Just wait until the republicans retake the senate. Then they’ll be happy to add a couple republican senators from West New York State which they will oh so willingly free from the tyrannical oppressive yolk of the liberals downstate with their bikes and choo choos.

BoerumBum April 7, 2014 - 4:39 pm

Thanks, Ben. I knew about the Yonkers Kawasaki plant, but didn’t know that there was upstate rolling stock manufacture, as well… so much for that idea.

Larry Littlefield April 7, 2014 - 6:57 pm

Bombardier at Plattsburg, near their home operation in Montreal. Where the Upstaters produced crap for us, compared with Kawasaki (let the good times roll!).

Lots of stuff has gone on in Hornell, where the former shops of the Erie were located and the locals have retained some expertise.

Epson45 April 7, 2014 - 9:35 pm

Hornell = Alstom

Nathanael April 7, 2014 - 7:48 pm

Again, the problem is NOT the upstate vote. The problem is the suburban NYC vote — Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester, etc. Pay attention to the voting patterns.

Nathanael April 7, 2014 - 7:45 pm

Your problem is not upstate, Ben. It’s the NYC suburbs: Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, etc.

I’m quite serious. You should look more carefully at the voting patterns.

The upstate cities tend to back NYC transit, although they also want something for themselves. Most of the rest of upstate just doesn’t have very many *people*, and even of that, the North Country votes much more progressively than you’d expect (adjacency to Canada and Vermont, perhaps)

By contrast, the places where you get the real anti-transit vote are Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Putnam, Rockland, Orange, ….and even Staten Island.

pete April 7, 2014 - 8:56 pm

None of the rolling stock are built in upstate. They are assembled. R160s were stamped and welded in Brazil by Alstom. The jobs created by the buy NY laws are no better than workfare highway trash pickup jobs. None of the companies that own the patents or stamping or molding equipment are located in NY state. None of their corporate HQs are NY state. It would be cheaper to just give welfare checks to people than restrict rolling stock bids to just the 2 companies that have NY state facilities.

Rob April 7, 2014 - 3:47 pm


Hope your eye prob is resolved easily.

How would “much-needed Outer Borough expansions beyond Flushing, to Little Neck or even down Nostrand or Utica” help at all if those lines are already at capacity closer in?

Henry April 7, 2014 - 5:58 pm

Primarily by reducing travel times. A good deal of riders utilizing these lines are transferring from buses.

LLQBTT April 7, 2014 - 5:10 pm

By the way, does the MTA have enough train cars and storage facilities or are they running out of trains and space to store/maintain them?

David Brown April 7, 2014 - 5:43 pm

No matter what anyone thinks of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer ( I am no fan), what Ms. Brewer talked about “A time-out from large scale construction” is what is happening. It is not just in New York. Here in Phoenix they will be finishing two parts of the Metro Light Rail by 2016, and that is essentially it. Why? Because people are tired of it., both when it comes to cost, and when it comes to completion dates.
One of two things must occur to change the attitude towards New Projects ( Transportation is just one example)1: Government must show that that no more “White Elephants” like East Side Access occur. 2: Current projects must come to an end, and even the East Side Access and Water Tunnel 3 come closer to their end to realize, that it is time to start new projects ( like SAS Phases Ii and III). Until that happens the Gale Brewer argument will prevail. If you do not believe me, ask Bill DeBlasio about 200,000 units of affordable housing sometime!

Benjamin Kabak April 7, 2014 - 5:47 pm

“People are tired of it” is one of the worst reasons to stop new construction, if not the worst.

BrooklynBus April 7, 2014 - 8:16 pm

You make some interesting points.

1. City population going up.
2. Transit system remaining stagnant.
3. Crowding getting worse.
4. You say without subway expansion, buses will have to become more frequent and more reliable.
5. You say we will have to explore congestion pricing to control traffic and fund transit.

No arguments about points 1, 2, and 3. But we aren’t moving towards #4 and 5.

Anyway, this is how I see the problem. No one is looking at the long term or the problems and trying to find the best solutions. Instead, they have decided the solutions first without considering all the ramifications.

Here are the already decided upon solutions:

1. Build as much SBS as possible.
2. Forget about extending subways or using existing ROWs.
3. Congestion pricing is too much of a political hot potato so forget about it for now.
4. Slow down all traffic everywhere to make the streets safer.
5. Don’t do any mass analysis of bus routes to solve age old problems.
6. Institute new bus routes at 30 minute headways to solve future bus needs.

And this is what will happen under the above scenario:

1. Bus speed will be increased in a few selected corridors which is not synonymous with increasing passenger travel speeds.

2. Bus speeds will slow even further negating any benefits from SBS if the city speed limit is lowered to 20 mph by those who support all features of Vision Zero. Car and truck travel will also slow. Increased revenue will result from violations issued due to speed cameras with the revenue going to te City’s general fund, not for transit purposes. Traffic congestion will also greatly increase.

3. Bus routes will just get more inefficient as land use changes and population shifts between neighborhoods as routes reain stagnant. Riders will resist using routes scheduled at 30 minute headways.

4. Buses will only become more frequent and reliable if the MTA wants to invest more in operating the system, which thus far they have been unwilling to do.

If congestion pricing were to come to pass, much of the funding generated will not go to mass transit, but to items currently funded through the general fund, such as street resurfacing and pothole repair, so transit will continue to be underfunded. The City will justify these expenses as transportation related and therefore a legitimate use of the funds. (Remember how the lottery money was supposed to support education? The same thing will happen again.

The only way our transportation system will improve is when our elected officials realize how important an efficient and effective transportation system is to our City’s economic health and future development.

Specific example:

You don’t first decide you are going to install SBS on Woodhaven Blvd ignoring capacity issues for non-bus modes, and ignoring an abandoned ROW one half mile to the east.

The correct procedure is to first analyze the problem by doing a cost benefit analysis of SBS on Woodhaven/Cross Bay and comparing it with the benefits and costs of reactivating the Rockaway Beach Line with either rail or BRT. That would include the long term land use development and increased property values that a rail reactivation development would have. It would consider the negative effects on other modes that Woodhaven SBS would have that RBL BRT would not have.

No one is considering comparing these two rights of way. Instead the Woodhaven SBS is being studied separately from the feasibility of reactivating the RBL. And on top of that, you have the Queensway people doing a separate study to push a bike trailway, refusing to consider the possibility of including transit in their plans.

This is no way to plan and it is what we are doing. So to assume that something will happen such as buses becoming more reliable and more frequent just because that is what should happen, is nothing more than wishful thinking.

We need objective comprehensive studies, not piecemeal political solutions that do not address the real problems.

lop April 7, 2014 - 9:57 pm

Most backers of home rule for speed limits don’t intend to push 20 mph limits on all roads. Primary roads like woodhaven/crossbay wouldn’t be affected, tertiary roads that tend not to have buses would be.

ROW isn’t wide enough for transit and bikes. In some sections maybe, but not along the whole route, or at least not without encroaching on neighboring property, which seems to be a nonstarter here. It can function as a corridor for one or the other. A big advantage of buses over rail in many cases is that there is a wide network of roads to connect to. You have rail connections on either end here, so that advantage is gone, and your stuck with engineering a ramp on either end to get the buses on and off and higher operating costs. Not evident why capital costs would be lower, unless possibly if the structure has degraded to the point that it would need a serious rehab to carry heavy subway cars, but not to carry buses, or at least not as much. Running buses on RBB doesn’t pass the smell test, waste of resources to push a big study on it. You also seem to be playing down the idea of doing both – rail a half mile away from a bus lane isn’t a bad thing, the corridor is heavily trafficked, and could support both. Especially when you remember that capacity constraints on QB mean you’re running no more than 10 tph, maybe less, for the foreseeable future.

BrooklynBus April 8, 2014 - 12:45 am

At the second Vision Zero Town Hall Meeting the overwhelming sentiment was that they will not stop until they achieve a 20 per hour speed limit on every single road except for highways. These extremists won’t settle for less.

No one has all the answers. That’s why we need fair studies. Woodhaven just cannot afford the loss of capacity for general traffic. Left turns are already banned at most intersections. Drivers will also not switch to SBS because try will still need five oryx transfers to make their trip which is why try are in theiri car now. BRT may not make sense for the RBL, but we won’t know without a study. Rail seems preferable, but there may not be nough riders to support it. That’s why alternatives have to be compared and studies, not separate studies only looking at singular solutions stressing the benefits of each and ignoring the disadvantages of each. That is not good planning.

Henry April 8, 2014 - 1:05 am

The problem with using RBL is that there are currently two camps of legislators and councilmembers, each pushing their own agenda. One is funding a study for a park that will probably end up failing due to its remote location, and the other one is funding a study for a rail line. Guess which one is getting more press attention?

Eventually, New York will once again be able to plan. However, the last great transit plan came out of the MTA in 1968, and the planning structure that produced it was destroyed when the various planning and construction agencies were consolidated into MTACC, which have given us the boondoggle projects of today.

NYCDOT may or may not step up to the plate, but barring any sort of action from City Council (which is threatening legislation for a comprehensive network plan for SBS expansion), all we’ve got are some relatively weak-tea framework studies. NYCDOT both needs to continue engaging with communities that want to work with it (there are CBs that actively avoid NYCDOT presentations), but at the same time needs to see the forest instead of the trees.

BrooklynBus April 8, 2014 - 10:05 am

I agree with your assessments but I think the park will win. It’s got too much support. And if it wins we all lose.

Benjamin Kabak April 8, 2014 - 10:11 am

I don’t think the park will win as much as nothing will win. The finances of the park do not make any sense at all, and there’s not enough attention or support for the RBL reactivation. In the end, we’ll get the status quo because it’s easier and cheaper.

AG April 8, 2014 - 10:14 am

Ben don’t give up yet on the RBL. It’s true there is not enough support yet – but Queens population is still growing. I’m surprised actually that project wasn’t thrust to the forefront since the state went to the feds for storm resiliency money. That was very disappointing!

Bolwerk April 8, 2014 - 11:59 am

I was actually a little surprised by the level of support reactivation got from local legislators.

In a generation, we will probably want that line. The park people losing is a good cause, I’m afraid, even if transit doesn’t win.

Bolwerk April 8, 2014 - 12:09 pm

If a corridor can support a bus, it can support rail.

When there already happens to be pavement, a bus often makes more sense. But there is already rail in this case, so rail makes more sense. Even if it’s low-capacity rail.

Benjamin Kabak April 8, 2014 - 2:16 pm

If we don’t have fair studies yet, how do you know Woodhaven “just cannot afford the loss of capacity for general traffic”? (Spoiler alert: You don’t.)

Meanwhile, you say “extremist” and I call opponents of safe streets “child killers.” Seems fair and reasonable on both fronts, right?

BrooklynBus April 8, 2014 - 6:08 pm

Woodhaven has no left turns for like six intersections in a row . The only reason DOT would do that is because all three lanes on the main road are needed for through traffic and if left turns we’re allowed the traffic back-ups would greatly slow traffic.

I have also driven on Woodhaven daily from 1996 until 2005 mostly during rush hours so I think I have a good feel for how the traffic moves on Woodhaven Boulevard. Actually a better feel than DOT has from occasional traffic studies like three times a year. Every day is not the same. Traffic moves better on some days than on others. You have to see the traffic every day to understand it. You don’t get that from picking a few days at random.

So I can say with some confidence that Woodhaven cannot afford the loss of capacity, unless you are of the belief that cars traveling at 15 mph is perfectly acceptable for major arterial and it is no big deal if 30 minutes are added to car and truck trips so bus riders can save 10 minutes at the most, although there may in fact be more auto drivers than bus riders on the Woodhaven.

And if cars can only travel at 15 mph, why should buses be allowed to travel at 30 mph? Wouldn’t that make bus drivers “child killers” too? Seems fair and reasonable, right?

Alon Levy April 8, 2014 - 10:14 pm

The reason there may be more drivers than bus riders is precisely that bus riders get lower priority. A bus with 40 people deserves 40 times the priority of a car with 1 person, and yes, this means dedicated lanes. The improved bus service would make it possible for people to ride the bus without the trip taking three times as long as drivers.

Also, 2005 was 9 years ago. Maybe your feel for the street isn’t as up to date as that of people who still survey it?

BrooklynBus April 8, 2014 - 11:31 pm

I really doubt that Woodhaven is less congested today than it was nine years ago.

It currently takes between 15 to 30 minutes for an auto trip between the Belt Parkway and Queens Blvd. The running time for the Q53 in the AM rush is about 30 minutes, but it probably would take about 40 minutes when the road is congested. That is hardly three times as long, so don’t make up numbers when you don’t know them. If the bus would save ten minutes with an exclusive lane and prepayment, it would be a lot because it already makes limited stops and it would not make sense to eliminate more than one or two stops.

Also, those who drive would need multiple (like about 5 transfers) to make their trip which is why they are driving now and will continue to drive even with SBS. To get people out of their cars, you would need about 6 SBS routes that woud fan out all over at both ends and you would have to change the fare structure to allow a second or third transfer for one fare.

All the MTA woud do is convert the two Limited bus routes to SBS. They will not spend the money to provide more service. The number of buses running now does not even justify an exclusive lane. Does it make sense for hundreds of cars to be crawling at 15 mph, when a bus goes by once every five or ten minutes in the exclusive lane? This is not Second Avenue with a bus every minute.

lop April 8, 2014 - 11:54 pm

Five transfers? Six SBS routes? Care to explain that in detail? Don’t make up numbers when you don’t know them.

VLM April 9, 2014 - 12:31 am

Making up numbers when he doesn’t know them is a BrooklynBus trademark. This whole thread about Woodhaven is a laughable attempt at analysis by anecdote that is so full of crap, it’s coming out his ears.

BrooklynBus April 9, 2014 - 9:38 am

No I am not just making up numbers. See my response below.

BrooklynBus April 9, 2014 - 9:37 am

Woodhaven Blvd is the preferred route for many auto trips between northern and southern queens Additionally, many from southern Brooklyn also use it to go to northern and western Queens because the BQE is often a parking lot most of the day. The airport traffic along the Van Wyck also frequently stalls that route, so Woodhaven often becomes the fastest alternative. That would all change with a 25% reduction in road capacity. All alternatives would be equally bad, auto as well as mass transit. 

Take Howard Beach and the neighborhoods near it, for example. Most destinations require more than one bus. The only places you can get to with two buses are areas that intersect with connecting routes. And most of those routes end in Flushing or Jamaica. So unless your destination is Flushing or Jamaica or a neighborhood on the route there, you need a third  or fourth bus. Perhaps even a fifth bus if your destination is really obscure. No one wants to do that.

 So unless you can get where you are going with two buses or a bus and train, most likely you will choose to drive. The same holds true for most trips to Brooklyn from Howard Beach. And that assumes you can walk to either the Q52 or Q53. You may first need a bus to get to that route from parts of Woodhaven or Richmond Hill.

Why did I drive from Sheepshead Bay to Woodside for nine years using Woodhaven? The train through Manhattan was 90 minutes as was the BQE during rush hours. The Van Wyck was 60 to 75 minutes. Woodhaven was 45 to 60 minutes the best alternative.  That would increase to 75 to 90 minutes with reduced road capacity and make all the alternatives, car or mass transit equally bad. 

Let’s say I wanted to use SBS. I would need the B49 to the A train to the Q53 to the Q18 to avoid Manhattan and not use my car. If I wanted to make the trip entirely by bus, it would be the B49, B82, B83, Q7, Q53 and Q18.  That’s six buses and probably a two or three hour trip including waiting. SBS would make that trip ten minutes shorter. 

How about using the B44 SBS. Well that’s the B49, B36, B44SBS, B62 and Q66. That’s five buses as of this week, six buses before that using B44 SBS. 

That is why people choose to drive and why SBS will not help you for many trips. I am not just making up numbers. 

lop April 9, 2014 - 1:52 pm

‘That is why people choose to drive and why SBS will not help you for many trips. I am not just making up numbers. ‘

That’s why this Woodhaven SBS won’t help you maybe, or rather wouldn’t have helped you ten years ago when you said you were driving down Woodhaven, but says nothing about the majority of road users. That some users of the road might not feel they would benefit directly and immediately from a bus lane is hardly reason to dismiss it out of hand. Has a study been done showing that the majority of users would see the substantial increases in travel times you’re claiming? Or are you just guessing about who uses the road and where they’re going? How many users of the corridor take transit? Would take transit with a bus lane?

BrooklynBus April 9, 2014 - 3:37 pm

I still use Woodhaven once a week or once every two weeks to go to Astoria. SBS still wouldn’t help me with that trip. Might even be one bus more than is required for Woodside. I am not dismissing the bus lane. I am dismissing reduced road capacity for other users. That’s why before you install an exclusive lane on Woodhaven, you should consider BRT on the Rockaway Beach Line where you get the added capacity without the disadvantages for other traffic.

No a study has not been done to show increases in travel times for other users. It’s as if they do not matter. You do not have to be a traffic engineer to realize that average speeds would be cut to 15 mph with exclusive lanes especially if you have them over the bridges and underpasses. Huge back-ups would occur.

As I said, a bus lane will not get people out of their cars, because it will do nothing to reduce the number of vehicles and transfers required which is why the people drive. If you are fortunate enough to be able to get where you are going with one or two buses, an exclusive lane may make you switch, but that doesn’t apply to most drivers who are using Woodhaven as the middle leg of their trip where the buses go. They would still need to get to Woodhaven and get from Woodhaven with another vehicle, so you are talking at least three vehicles and two fares. SBS and exclusive lanes are not addressing these issues.

VLM April 9, 2014 - 3:40 pm

Let me summarize your opposition to even a study on Woodhaven, Al: “Me, me, me, me. My driving. Me me me. I’m right even though there’s no study and I’m not even a traffic engineer. Me me me.”

Sounds about right.

BrooklynBus April 9, 2014 - 4:17 pm

I am asking for a fair study of comparative options which considers all users, not for putting the cart before the horse as you want to do.

Your position– Let me summarize.

“We all know that SBS along Woodhaven is the solution so who needs any studies? Let’s just build it already to help a few bus riders and let everyone else who uses the street which may even be more than the total numbers of bus riders be damned. Let them all take the bus even if they have to change five times. They have no right to drive.

Sounds right.

VLM April 9, 2014 - 5:10 pm

I’d just like to point out two things: I haven’t come out one way or another for a solution to Woodhaven so you’re wrong about my position. And two is that you were the one who said, “Woodhaven just cannot afford the loss of capacity for general traffic.”

How do you know that without a fair study? We don’t! That’s why I think it’s safe for all of us to assume that you don’t actually want a fair study or would support its conclusions if it weren’t in line with your thinking.

BrooklynBus April 9, 2014 - 9:01 pm

When you are driving on Woodhaven and see that with three lanes of traffic and with synchronized lights you can travel at an average speed of 30 mph all the way down on a good day, it’s fairly obvious to conclude that with one lane less, speeds woud be cut to 15 or 20 mph and that would increase travel time by 30 to 50%.

On a bad day when traffic is already moving at an average speed of 20 mph, it is not difficult to conclude that the loss of a lane woud result in average speeds of only 10 to 15 mph. If a lane were to be removed over or under the LIRR tracks, the backups woud extend or a mile.

When traffic is light and the loss of a lane would make little difference for general traffic, a bus lane would not be needed anyway since it would not permit buses to go an faster Han they are going already.

I definitely do want a fair study, and that would include the BRT on the RBL and also rail which no one said they intend to do. And yes if a study showed no problems at all, I would ask to see the raw data. I would not put it past the city to collect data for five days, then pick the day with the best results to make public. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.

VLM April 9, 2014 - 10:26 pm

I love arguing with you because you make me right every time. Basically, what you’ve just said is that if the study doesn’t show what your preconceived notions are, it’s biased or wrong. Amazing. You don’t want a fair study; you just want a validating study that doesn’t change your road space, structure or usage patterns.

BrooklynBus April 9, 2014 - 10:53 pm

No, I’m not proving you right because that is not what I said, so don’t reinterpret.

What I said is that if a study doesn’t fit my preconceived notions, it is suspect and deserves further scrutiny. Something may have unintentionally been overlooked. It does not necessarily mean that the data is incorrect.

You are of the impression that DOT engineers are infallible, when the truth is that the users who use the road everyday know best. At the last Woodhaven meeting I attended, the DOT engineer spoke of some of the changes already made such as banning through traffic from the service road going south at Union Turnpike forcing everyone to turn right. I explained to him how that move actually increased congestion because it eliminated 88 Street as a bypass route when the bridge over the LIRR was gridlocked which saved five minutes. He told me that they would reassess the forced right and the decision was made because they had no idea that 88 Street was being used as a bypass route. So just looking at numbers without knowing driver habits does not tell the entire story and mistakes can be made.

So don’t tell me I don’t want a fair study when I know what I want. You just don’t want to hear opinions that do not agree with yours because you are so sure you are right.

PQR April 9, 2014 - 11:28 pm

@bus You seem to want buses off Woodhaven and on the RBB yes? Where would they get on and off?

BrooklynBus April 10, 2014 - 1:10 am

I didn’t say I want anything. Only that all options be considered comparing all costs and benefits. For RBL, that would include rail, BRT, people movers, etc. Why would the buses have to get on and off? You wouldn’t ask where the trains woud get on and off if rail were reactivated?

North south mass transit is lacking and needs to be speeded up due to lengthy trips that are made and lengthy trip times. Using the RBL for some form of mass transit just makes more sense than an existing street that is already well utilized. Trip times to Manhattan can be cut in half while SBS on Woodhaven can only save 10 to 15 minutes for mass transit users (which is really insignificant when you are talking about trips that near or exceed 2 hours) as well as inconvenience autos and trucks, not to mention loss of parking spaces due to longer bus stops. Using the RBL has none of those negatives and would increase property values and spur development.

Lengthy Rights of way are rare to come by and it is foolish to let them waste away when they can provide the same benefits as an underground subway line at a fraction of the cost if the rail option were chosen.

PQR April 10, 2014 - 1:39 am

So you think the riders of the BM5, QM15, QM16, QM17, Q11, Q21, Q52, and Q53 don’t deserve faster travel times? (and possibly Q41 depending how far south you were to run a bus lane) Are you expecting them to all get off at liberty, walk a half mile to the east, climb a flight of stairs, hop on another bus that will drive them a few miles where they’d get off and switch buses again?

You would absolutely ask where the trains would get off. If done on the cheap, at the southern end it would connect with the current tracks of the A train. If not done on the cheap, it would also connect at the northern end to the QB local tracks. How would the buses get on there in the first place? How would you get them off for maintenance, refueling, service? This is a heavily traveled corridor with poor transit options. The thousands of bus users deserve better travel times, and a bus lane gets them that. Rail would serve some of them, but not all. It would also serve some new transit users. Better bus service would serve new transit users as well. This corridor justifies both a bus lane and a RBB conversion to IND. And by the way, you said it wasn’t second avenue with a bus every minute. But at peak you do have nearly 40 buses per hour.

BrooklynBus April 10, 2014 - 10:26 am

Compare traffic on Ocean Parkway and Woodhaven Blvd during rush hours. The roadways are similar but do have their differences. Th similarities are each road has three lanes in each direction and a service road. Woodhaven has that configuration for part of the roadway.

Traffic on Ocean Parkway moves at a snails pace north of Kings Highway like about 10 to 15 mph and that is every day. Below Kings Highway it moves at 25 to 30 mph.

On Woodhaven the situation is totally different. Traffic generally moves much faster like around 30 mph for its entire length on a good day and and at about 20 mph on a poor day. Of course if there is some blockage like an accident, the road is a mess, but that is not typical. Buses generally move fairly well and an exclusive lane would not allow them to move much faster.

The major problems are the two bottlenecks where it crosses the LIRR and traffic backs up. If those two were addressed, buses would travel faster than they would with an exclusive lane and no one would be inconvenienced.

Also some of the traffic changes DOT instituted in the past ten years made traffic move slower not faster. The LIRR overpass could be rebuilt where it crosses Woodhaven just south of the LIE. Yes it is a capital expense, but so is redesigning Woodhaven Blvd.

At the overpass near Home Depot, traffic on the service roads could cross the railroad tracks at grade where there are only a few trains a day. That would add two lanes and remove the bottleneck. That could be for general traffic or just for buses. I discussed the second idea with DOT, and they told me that they also thought of it and were considering it.

So if speeding up buses is the goal, there are other ways to accomplish that without an exclusive lane. And as far as doing both, SBS on Wiodhaven, and utilizing the RBL, once SBS is installed on Woodhaven, the data will be manipulated to only show the improvements and the Queens north south travel problem will be either declared solved with a ten minute savings in bus travel times. Non-bus trips that will take much longer or is diverted to other roadways or local streets will be ignored. And reactivating the RBL will be considered a luxury we cannot afford and will never be done.

With exclusive bus lanes on Woodhaven, general traffic during rush hours would look much like it looks today on Ocean Parkway. Currently it moves much better than Ocean Parkway.

Is the goal to have traffic move a little quicker on major arterials during rush hours by reducing bottlenecks or make slight improvements for bus riders and traffic much worse for everyone else? I guess it is the second so then we can all complain how we need congestion pricing because there are just too many cars when it is our policies that is causing the congestion in the first place.

PQR April 10, 2014 - 11:40 am

Buses in mixed traffic would travel faster than with a bus lane? How?

You think DOT is going to rebuild the LIRR overpass to give Woodhaven a fourth traffic lane?

BrooklynBus April 10, 2014 - 12:31 pm

I did not say that buses in mixed traffic would move faster than with an exclusive lane. I said if bottlenecks were removed and alternate bypass routes were not discouraged the results would be more faster moving buses than if you just have an exclusive lane.

As far as rebuilding the LIRR overpass, it’s all a matter of priorities. They added three lanes over Woodhaven for the LIRR only about 10 or 15 years ago, so capital roadway improvements are not out of the question. I am not saying it could be done tomorrow. Of course it depends on what funding is available. But someone needs to start asking today that the work be done.

As I keep saying, it’s a mistake to first draw your conclusions like SBS is the answer without adequately studying the problems and potential solutions. The only reason the City and MTA are so gung ho for select bus is that federal money is available for it and it makes the politicians look good because it shows thy are doing something. So they will distort all statistics to prove it a whopping success even if it isn’t.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the only research that went into choosing Woodhaven for SBS, was someone looking at a Google map and seeing a wide street with buses on it and concluding it is therefore a perfect choice.

PQR April 10, 2014 - 1:00 pm

Is there another corridor in Queens where buses carry as many people as they do on Woodhaven? Is there another way to improve transit service as efficiently (financially speaking) as SBS? Adding in SBS shows that the MTA and DOT are doing something. Not enough, but better than nothing.

BrooklynBus April 10, 2014 - 2:22 pm

I believe Hillside has a lot of bus traffic and it was being considered for SBS until someone decided that Woodhaven would be better. Maybe they feared opposition if parking spaces were removed there.

Yes, better than nothing for bus riders, but you can’t ignore everyone else who will be inconvenienced.

PQR April 10, 2014 - 3:36 pm

The convenience of those in private motor vehicles cannot take precedence over the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, as well as those in buses or cars. Slowing traffic down on the deadliest road in Queens somewhat could be a good thing. A bus lane will not just reduce travel times for the 30,000 daily bus users on Woodhaven/Crossbay it will increase the reliability of travel times, necessary to make the mode viable.

Hillside would be a good corridor for bus improvements as well, but not as important as Woodhaven.

BroojklynBus April 10, 2014 - 3:54 pm

No one is saying anything about not improving specific intersections to improve the safety of pedestrians. But since when does an exclusive bus lane do that which is the subject of this discussion? So let’s not branch out all over.

Yes let’s make a slight improvement for bus riders and inconvenience everyone else including autos, taxis, and trucks because no one else matters. Let’s not stop at removing one car lane. Let’s remove another lane for a bike lane also. That looks great on an artist’s rendering, one bus lane, one bike lane and one lane for everyone else. And don’t forget the trees, that makes the picture look even nicer.

Yes anyone in a car is privileged and has no right to have a speedy ride. They deserve to move no faster than a bicycle so you can cycle past and laugh at them.

And as I already pointed out an exclusive lane does nothing to reduce the number of buses needed to make most trips. It will only save riders a few insignificant minutes from a very lengthy trip and will do very little to encourage new ridership.

Cars will still be needed to get many places efficiently. But in your mind they have no rights and shouldn’t be driving anyway. So let’s just make their trip take just as long as a long bus or subway trip now takes. That would be fair for all. I see exactly where you are coming from.

PQR April 10, 2014 - 10:44 pm

You said a bus lane would slow down traffic. Slower traffic tends to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

During peak hours bus riders are a majority of Woodhaven users. Giving them a bus lane is giving them a minority of road space. Hardly seems unfair to the rest of the road users. You’re overestimating the effect it will have on private vehicle travel times. And no, people in cars don’t have a right to a ‘speedy’ ride. There isn’t enough road space for everyone to drive and get a ‘speedy’ ride. What road space there is has to then be allocated efficiently to benefit as many people as possible. On woodhaven, that means a bus lane.

You have yet to show how most users would need five or six buses to commute. You’ve claimed you would have years ago, but that says nothing of the majority of current users.

BrooklynBus April 11, 2014 - 12:09 am

You asked me to show how most auto users would need five or six buses to commute. I have already given a few examples. Are you asking for me to do a full fledged study?

You stated that during peak hours bus riders are a majority of Woodhaven users. Prove that. Even when I drove during peak hours I could count 40 or so cars for every bus. Also, half the buses were empty and out of service. At would mean that every in service bus would have to be jam packed for there to be more bus riders than other vehicles.

During non peak hours, you hardly even see a bus. On the weekends, I can drive from the entire length of Woodhaven Blvd and only pass two or three buses and only see about four in the opposite direction, but also see hundreds of cars. I really doubt I am overestimating the effect it will have on private cars especially if the bus lane were continuous to include the overpass and underpass for the LIRR.

Now if there were a combined HOV/bus lane, and it didn’t include the overpass and underpass, then maybe we could talk.

Alon Levy April 11, 2014 - 7:03 am

The increase in transit usage has been citywide, no?

But anyway, my objection to your personal experience isn’t just about car speed, but also about where people travel to. Many destinations for Woodhaven bus riders are easy to get to from Woodhaven – why else would they be riding the bus in the first place? More concretely, the Woodhaven M/R stop is right there, Queens Place is right there, Forest Hills is easy to get to, really anything on the QB lines is easy to get to, Jamaica is a J/Z transfer away.

I have no idea what trips you think require five transfers. If your southern origin point is a car-oriented neighborhood like a part of Howard Beach far from Cross Bay, you’re probably not a potential transit user in the first place. The population density is way higher in Woodhaven, within walking distance of the corridor. So to get to Manhattan, it’s just Woodhaven -> QB subway, or J/Z or A if you hate transfers. In fact, probably a lot of potential users are riding the A or J/Z to Manhattan instead and taking forever to get to their destination, since the buses on Woodhaven are so slow. Astoria is singularly hard because of shitty IND-to-rest-of-system transfers, but that’s still three transfers and not five, and if Triboro opens then it’s two transfers.

Re multiple SBS routes, don’t try to turn this into a bus planner competence issue. In Vancouver there are infinitely many free transfers; drivers still scuttle plans for bus lanes. I believe Toronto has infinitely many free transfers as well; drivers elected Rob Ford on a platform of getting rid of the streetcars and only building new rail lines underground rather than at-grade. New York, too, has infinitely many free transfers for the majority of transit trips that involve an unlimited ticket.

Finally, it makes perfect sense for hundreds of cars to crawl at 15 mph, if hundreds of bus users (which, if “hundreds” means “500 per hour,” equates to a full bus every 7 minutes) get faster trips. Even if it’s not hundreds yet, making the bus faster will make it easier for people to ride it, so it will be hundreds if the bus gets its own lane. What doesn’t make sense is giving a bus the same priority as a car carrying an order of magnitude and a half fewer people.

BrooklynBus April 11, 2014 - 9:51 am

Yes, the increase in transit usage is citywide, but not so much with bus usage. Anyway I have not read anything to indicate that auto usage is on the decline and is also probably increasing. No one is saying the buses are inconvenient for those who use it. Many need only one or two buses or a bus and a train(s). It is the people who use Woodhaven and are not on the buses for whom the buses are inconvenient. Let’s not trivialize them.Tthe people who are driving are the ones who would need three, four, five or more transfers to get where they are going and are driving precisely for that reason. That means even if the bus traveled at 30 mph, they would still be spending up to an hour just having to wait for all those buses. why don’t we do an OD study so we can see where the drivers are going before we start eliminating lanes?

For every bus on Woodhaven there are at least 50 cars and some are carrying more than one passenger. That means just as many and probably more are driving than riding the bus.

The goal is always to help more than you are hurting, and that includes everyone, not only bus riders. It does not make sense to cut auto speeds in half adding 20 to 30 minutes for car and truck trips. When you are only speeding up bus trips by ten minutes, and there are fewer bus riders than there are people in cars and trucks.

Let’s have a study to tell us exactly how many bus riders there are than auto riders even if tat is the case which i highly doubt, before we start inconveniencing more than we are helping. And if there are more cars than buses, let’s not pay the game that it does not matter because if the buses were a few minutes faster, riders would switch modes because saving ten minutes won’t cause anyone to switch when car would still be faster.

Yes. Let’s slow down car trips to the point that they will be just as slow as the buses. Is that what you are trying to do to get people to switch modes? And let’s not turn this into an international discussion when the subject is Woodhaven.

Bolwerk April 11, 2014 - 12:55 pm

I think bus use has been dropping throughout the recession, except for SBS.

lop April 11, 2014 - 1:13 pm

Bus ridership on Woodhaven has expanded significantly.

Average weekday in 2008
Q11 10337
Q21 1646
Q52 NA
Q53 10611
BM5 506
QM15 1228
QM16 320
QM17 354
Total 25002

Average Weekday in 2013
Q11 4900
Q21 2785
Q52 5768
Q53 15377
BM5 604
QM15 1335
QM16 376
QM17 443
Total 31588

BrooklynBus April 11, 2014 - 6:09 pm

But what about auto usage?

Since both bus and auto usage depend on the economy, auto and truck usage also probably rose and possibly moreso than bus ridership.

lop April 11, 2014 - 7:17 pm

Average weekday in 2007
Q11 11065
Q21 906
Q52 NA
Q53 7722
BM5 503
QM15 1075
QM16 199
QM17 294
Total 21764

I don’t see older than that though.

Bus ridership has declined citywide though.

Average weekday MTA bus+ NYCT:
2007 2699392
2008 2751628
2009 2679584
2010 2623766
2011 2534245
2012 2570097
2013 2573593

Woodhaven has seen service improvements the last few years, and ridership has grown substantially as a result. Perhaps further service improvements, say with the bus lane that’s being added later this year, ridership will grow further. VMT has declined nationwide, I don’t have NYC (or even NYS) specific numbers though, or specific for this corridor. Does DOT (city or state) publish traffic counts, ideally broken down by time blocks, somewhere?

Another point to consider is that perhaps it would be more equitable to give preference to local users of the road – the needs of those that live near Woodhaven would then get greater consideration than those who live far away and are only driving on Woodhaven to avoid heavier traffic on more direct routes. The Q21 and Q11 cover side streets in Howard Beach and old Howard beach respectively. QM16, QM17 offer coverage across Rockaway. Q52 and Q53 don’t go as far on the peninsula, but can be reached with one transfer from the Q22. As you go north on Woodhaven/crossbay many east west bus routes together with the subways leave Woodhaven within a single transfer of just about everyone who lives near it, and many more who do not. And north of conduit you have 4 bus routes running the rest of the way down Woodhaven, giving rather frequent service, I don’t believe it ever drops below 10 buses per hours north of conduit during the day, and during rush hour crossing Jamaica between 7 and 9 AM you have 17 Q11/Q21 buses, 27 Q52/Q53 buses, I believe 6 for the BM5, 17 QM15, 8 for the QM16, 6 for the QM17. That’s 81 buses in two hours. No the planned service enhancements on this corridor will not be enough for all drivers to switch, but it seems likely that there will be further growth.

How do you justify your assertion that car and truck speeds would be cut in half if a bus lane is added?

BrooklynBus April 11, 2014 - 10:43 pm

If bus service on Woodhaven is so frequent, how come I can drive for over a mile without seeing a single bus in each direction? During the rush hours, I see about half the buses traveling not in service.

Right now it is possible on certain days and times to drive the entire distance from the Belt Parkway to Queens Boulevard in 15 minutes or under without hitting a single red light. Usually it is about three red lights. When the signals are not synched, it is about six red lights or about 20 minutes to make the trip. When the road is congested it could take 30 minutes. That is with three moving lanes. The service road is pretty much just for buses and trucks unless the road is very congested. Then you have the merges at both LIRR crossings, the worst one being the southern merge just south of Metropolitan, where traffic always backs up and is worse since DOT destroyed the 88 Street bypass route by not allowing you to continue from the service road across Myrtle Avenue.

So if three lanes became two lanes (not counting the service road where it exists) capacity would be reduced by a third. Where there are no service roads, capacity woud be reduced by 25 percent. Due to the volume of traffic, a fifteen minute trip with all green lights would no longer be possible. The trip would require anywhere between five and twelve red lights which would add about ten minutes to a fifteen minute trip with the additional lights.

Traveling at a slower speed due to heavier traffic due to reduced capacity would add at least another five minutes. So a previous trip of only 15 minutes would now take anywhere from 30 to 35 minutes. A previous trip of 20 minutes would also take about 30 to 35 minutes. A previous trip taking 30 minutes when the road was already congested could now take an hour because many cars would divert to parallel residential streets where the signals are all out of sync.

There would be less delays if there were no exclusive lanes where the road crosses the Long Island Rail Road or if lanes were added there or if the bus lane were combined with an HOV lane.

If the service roads were destroyed, capacity would still be lost because trucks previously using the service roads would now be forced to use the main road where they are currently prohibited from. Travel time would still increase significantly for cars but not as much. Anyway you look at it, the increase in time it would take for cars, would still be greater than the amount of time the buses would save and I really doubt it if there are more passengers in buses than are in cars.

lop April 11, 2014 - 11:50 pm


The busiest section of Woodhaven is between Elliot Avenue and the LIE.
1999 59722
2001 52993
2004 61344
2007 66277
2011 55126

So vehicle count is down significantly from its peak, and is less than twice existing bus usage. So buses are about 1/3 of road users already, though this would likely grow once bus service is enhanced, and they’ll be getting 1/4-1/3 of road space, depending on where you are on Woodhaven. Hardly seems inequitable.


Peak direction travel times average 16.2 minutes AM north, 14.0 minutes PM south from Liberty to Queens blvd in 2009. You expect this to double later this year to 30 minutes?

BrooklynBus April 12, 2014 - 10:39 am

I’ve got several problems with your data. First, are those numbers for most of Woodhaven or just from Elliot to the LIE? If the latter, they are irrelevant because that is only a one block segment of the entire street and not indicative of anything. If it is for a larger section, it ends at 2011 where your bus data continues through 2013. The economy has gotten better since 2011, so I would expect vehicular usage to have risen also.

There is also significant variation between the years. No specific trends. Therefore with normal fluctuations and an improved economy, vehicular usage could now be at an all time high. That makes your conclusions erroneous.

The travel times seem reasonable but I would like to know when they were taken, a specific day or an average over a two week period which would be more accurate. Also during what season. There are seasonal fluctuations. The road is about 3 to 5 minutes faster during summer months due to less traffic and is at its heaviest dring November and December when there are many more days with heavy congestion. You only know that by using the road every day as I did, not by setting up counters on a few random days a year. You can hit a good day and assue it was typical or hit a bad day and assume it was typical. Neither would be accurate.

sonicboy678 April 10, 2014 - 11:46 pm

In recent weeks, I’ve used the Q53 a few times. Cross Bay/Woodhaven certainly does become a crawl very easily.

Manny April 8, 2014 - 4:38 pm

Added suburban population

US Census Bureau released Estimates for July 1, 2013, tabulation of
Year NYS NYC Fraction putnam,rockland)

1910 9113614 4766883 0.52305 524661 0.05757
1920 10385227 5620048 0.54116 637152 0.06135
1930 12588066 6930446 0.55056 1058398 0.08408
1940 13479142 7454995 0.55308 1268477 0.09417
1950 14830192 7891957 0.53215 1684293 0.11357
1960 16782304 7781984 0.4637 2944371 0.17544
1970 17558072 7894862 0.44964 3734033 0.21267
1980 17990455 7071639 0.39308 3809135 0.21173
1990 18236967 7322564 0.40152 3833494 0.21020
2000 18976457 8008278 0.42201 4059870 0.21394
2010 19378102 8175133 0.42187 4193392 0.21640
2012 19576125 8336697 0.42586 4224685 0.21581
2013 19651127 8405837 0.42775 4241234 0.21583

Thought about distribution of resources and political offices.

afk April 8, 2014 - 4:55 pm

Suburbs (nassau, suffolk, westchester, putnam, rockland counties) are 21% of the state. NYC is 42%. If they all spoke with one voice then sure stuff gets done. But you don’t need many naysayers to make a deal with upstate representatives to kill something that the majority of the city+suburb legislators support.

bklyn April 8, 2014 - 7:21 pm

Speaking of Houston and light rail:


Ralfff April 12, 2014 - 2:50 am


There’s this bizarre thing in Houston where there’s a massive inferiority complex with better cities and everyone’s patting themselves on the back for having the genius foresight to build a huge number of freeways. But when it comes to walkability (which is near zero in most of Houston, and mostly illegal in new construction) the standards change and you have airy academics citing the WalkScore (which may as well be a magic 8-ball given the idiotic numbers it produces) and declaring grandly that Houston is progressive versus Austin in walkability, which only underscores that Austin is actually terrible as well, contrary to the opinions of people who visit it for a weekend.

And there’s one more thing about the crashes: many of the east side freight rails near the port have slow moving and maneuvering trains at grade crossings which leads to a culture of going around crossing gates. And yes, cars get nailed by freight trains too, but it’s not national news.


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