Oct
20

From Queens, light rail support; from Pratt’s Byron, doubts

By

One Queens politician wants to convert this LIRR ROW into a light rail running from Glendale (shown here) to Long Island City.

Now that the head of the City Council’s Transportation Committee has opened the door to a light rail study, the floodwaters of potential political requests have been let loose. Barely had the pixels burned on Ydanis Rodriguez’s request when another council member — this one from Queens — called for a light rail investment in her borough. This one comes from Elizabeth Crowley, and it may highlight the pitfalls of Shiny New Thing syndrome.

The story comes to us from Gloria Pazmino and Dana Rubinstein writing in Politico New York. The two report:

In order to provide additional public transportation options, Crowley is proposing to use already-existing railroad tracks in her district to build a light rail line between Glendale and Long Island City along the Long Island Rail Road’s Montauk branch. “It’s a railroad that is in excellent condition that has no rail cars on it, so it’s a waste of track. It has no real use and there is potential for park-and-rides and development around the rail,” Crowley told POLITICO New York.

The rail line carried passengers between Long Island City and Jamaica stations in Glendale and Maspeth until the late 1990s, but service was discontinued due to low ridership. Currently, the track is used to transport freight overnight for only a few hours, Crowley said.

Citing the borough’s rapid growth and the increased need for public transportation, Crowley said installing a light rail would be much easier in her district due to the already-existing infrastructure and right of way. “We are very, very close to the city but it’s very difficult to get into Manhattan because it’s a transportation desert,” Crowley said. “More and more people are using their cars because it takes too long to take public transportation.”

This is a bit more of a problematic request than Rodriguez’s desire for a study. Crowley seems to have identified a route by examining a right of way that exists without really delving into why this right of way has no passenger service, and she doesn’t really explore a need here. Her idea seems to be to create a feeder light rail line from Glendale to the 7 in Long Island City via Maspeth. For what it’s worth, the Glendale LIRR station had just two daily riders at the time of its closure in 1998.

Would this help people get to Manhattan faster? What affect would this have on the already-crowded 7 train? Is it worth navigating the issue of shared freight and passenger service? And why would anyone spend the money to convert a heavy rail ROW that shuttered due to low passenger service into a light rail service that may not fair much better? These are questions that demand a rigorous analysis before this idea is anything more than idle musings, and while Crowley said the MTA “seemed receptive” of the idea, it’s not clear if there’s demand for this service or if Crowley is trying to think outside of the box (which in the realm of NYC transportation politics is much appreciated).

Meanwhile, there is some opposition brewing to the idea of light rail. It comes from Joan Byron, the Director of Policy at the Pratt Center for Community Development and a major proponent of bus rapid transit. Without holding her punches, Byron charged that light rail is simply a class-based approach to transit adoption. “Poor people and people of color ride the bus,” she said. “But we want something shiny and new that young white millennials will ride…You have to do something really shiny to get them not to drive.”

What’s particularly strange about Byron’s statement is its invocation of millennials. This generation — and in particular those who live in New York City — aren’t drivers or car owners. They already use transit at rates much higher than older residents of NYC (and cities in general across the country). Byron, who has a stake in beefing up the bus network, also undersells the psychological advantages of system that runs as a fixed-rail one via a dedicated right-of-way. Numerous studies have shown that these two elements alone draw ridership across racial and class lines. Buses simply aren’t the be-all and end-all of urban mobility issues.

Ultimately, light rail could be an answer to the city’s transportation cost and mobility issues, but it’s clear that many issues remain to explore before we understand where light rail would work and how. Both the Bronx and Staten Island are better candidates than one corridor in Queens, especially when you consider network effects, but perhaps light rail could work all over in various permutations as potential solutions. That’s what DOT will need to identify if they take up Ydanis Rodriguez on his request. It’s certainly worth considering.



108 Responses to “From Queens, light rail support; from Pratt’s Byron, doubts”

  1. Christian says:

    The problem with the bus isn’t that black people ride it. It’s that it’s never on time, it stops every two blocks *for longer than a subway train stops*, and even when it’s on time, the service frequency is a joke.

    This doesn’t apply to crosstown and limited buses in Manhattan, which are okay.

    • Tim says:

      They really need to cut bus stop spacing down to like once every 4-5 blocks. It would take better advantage of avenue traffic signaling, and you could actually stop buses at the blocks where the subways can connect to them.

      • Eric says:

        But then old/disabled people would have to walk another couple blocks.

        • Bolwerk says:

          If you’re old/disabled enough for that to be a problem, you should probably be in a taxi or paratransit vehicle.

          • LLQBTT says:

            Wow, that is a really callous comment towards older folks.

            • Bolwerk says:

              No it’s not. You’re not even reading the comment correctly. Plenty of older people are fit enough to walk a few blocks. A few aren’t. The comment is about the subset that is not.

              Transit isn’t for everyone. It’s fine to admit it. There are other solutions for people who are physically decrepit. It doesn’t make sense to retard the service for the vast majority of users who are physically able to use it.

              • JEG says:

                As someone with older parents, I also have to disagree with you on this point. There is a gulf between “older” and “decrepit,” and even for older people walking a few extra blocks can be difficult, time consuming, or dangerous. Simply saying, “take a taxi or Access-a-ride” really isn’t answer, as older people shouldn’t be effectively barred from using mass transit.

                • Bolwerk says:

                  Aren’t you almost repeating my point? Most older people can walk four blocks.

                  Those who can’t should be provisioned some other way. It doesn’t make sense to keep older people off public transit, but it also doesn’t make sense to slow it down to satisfy a small segment of the population that can and should be provisioned some other way.

                  • johndmuller says:

                    Maybe it’s the financially-fit and able-bodied-people-in-a-hurry who should find some other way to go. The convenience of a nearby bus stop is little enough luxury for people of limited means who already have to put up with the other fun aspects of the bus. Access-a-ride is a ridiculously expensive way to move people if they are otherwise able to deal with the existing system; do we really need to push more people into it?

                    Many elders value the limited independence and self reliance symbolized by the bus over what could be a more humiliating and demeaning experience dealt out by providers who could be as likely to be callous and disparaging as compassionate and helpful.

                    Do you really think that cutting down on stops is going to be so much faster as to get people out of their limos and onto the bus? There will be more people getting on at these fewer stops and largely negating what advantage there might be – people will still be calling for fewer stops until, ironically they’ve gotten their own private Access-a-ride going door to door. The traffic and sometimes the need to go slow (to keep from getting ahead of the schedule) are big factors in getting people antsy about buses should be sped up and the stop spacing is an easy target.

                    Having some (more express-like) buses skipping some stops during rush hours could enable your more able-bodied impatient people to schlep a few extra blocks each end of their trips to reap the dubious benefits of said limited stop services. What do you think they would do given a choice – complain that too many buses were skipping their stop?

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      Really, do you or don’t you care about costs? Access-A-Ride gets less expensive per-rider the more it’s used. Likewise buses get less expensive per-rider the more they’re used. I realize Access-A-Ride is badly executed and in need of reform, but it’s probably a bit more dignified for a quadriplegic than stopping 50 people to be strapped in.

                      Meanwhile, you don’t seem to blink at suggesting that a huge portion of the able-bodied population should spend their money elsewhere. They aren’t going to wait impatiently, they’ll just vote with their feet.

                      Taxi vouchers for elderly is another perfectly reasonable option and has gotta be cheaper than driving away a big fraction of your able-bodied customer base.

                      Do you really think that cutting down on stops is going to be so much faster as to get people out of their limos and onto the bus?

                      Yes. Stopping takes time.

                      (Limos? Really?)

                      There will be more people getting on at these fewer stops and largely negating what advantage there might be

                      Good. 10 people getting on at one stop is much faster than 10 people getting on at four stops.

                      And there is no need for hyperbole. 4-6 blocks is plenty close together, and there can always be exceptions when the ridership profile really calls for it. This is basically just best practice the world over.

                    • johndmuller says:

                      B, I thought you were replying to me, but some of your ripostes seemed addressed to stuff I don’t think I said, like the alleged hyperbole and wanting people to wait impatiently.

                      I thought I proposed a compromise where rush hour service would operate in an express/local mode where the local would hit all the stops and the express according to your scheme of larger spacing as in something like skipping half the stops. Thus, your impatient ones could get their exercise and catch the bus with the larger spacing and those who could-not/would-rather-not do all the walking could get by with the local. Presumably, the impatient ones are more commonly those who are going to work and the less mobile people would represent a higher percentage of the off peak riders.

                      Of course stopping takes time, but the bus doesn’t have to stop when no one is at the bus stop, so extra stops are not always a cause of delay. If you have to walk two blocks further at each end of your trip, how much quicker does the bus trip have to be to make up for the extra time you spend walking?

                    • wise infrastructure says:

                      The frequent stopping take less time than the one door boarding and payment.

                      Off bus payment is a partial solution but this requires infrastructure (installation and maintenance) and inspectors and still involves time to make the payment.

                      I wonder on how many lines doing away with the fare would result in little or any financial losa if not actual savings.

                      With metro card transfer data we know from which buses a very high percentage of riders continue on to trains. Where these percentages are high, the buses should not collect a fare as most of these riders will still be paying but at the subway instead of on the bus.

                      The small loss in revenue will be partially made up by labor savings as each run will be faster as all boarding will be be from all doors without the time lost due to fare payment. A move to 3 door buses on non articulated would be a wise move as would wider doors on the buses..

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      @johndmuller: the point about patience or impatience is simply that people aren’t looking at it through the prism of patience. They are simply going to use or not use the service as it meets their needs, whether those needs are selfish or not.

                      I think comments about limos and comments like “people will still be calling for fewer stops until, ironically they’ve gotten their own private Access-a-ride going door to door” are rather hyperbolic. Actually, nothing I’ve said is about people complaining. It’s about maximizing demand for buses. I’m not aware of anyone complaining – except maybe misguided eldercare advocates. :-p

                      I think something like 1/4 mile stopping distances is a fair compromise for local buses. Typically it doesn’t add more than ~300 feet to walks to the bus. At least according to Alon’s range, it’s the low end of the world average (0.5 km stuck out in my mind, so that’s consistent) for bus stopping distances.

                      If there is a demonstrable community need for more frequent service in certain cases, I don’t even see any reason not to break the rule. It probably makes sense to stop at every east-west block on a Manhattan crosstown regardless of spacing, for instance.

                      @wise infrastructure: the sane way to do collections is probably just TVMs on board buses. Let random fare inspections sort it out rather than bus drivers. It does not make sense to put TVMs at remote stops, and of course people still need to use remote stops.

                    • Nathanael says:

                      Sorry, let’s try that again.

                      Spacing of 600 feet (as in New York City) is way too tight. Many disabled people could walk from one bus stop to the next under this spacing.

                      Spacing of 1000 feet or 1500 feet is much more reasonable.

                  • JEG says:

                    No, I don’t think I’m reiterating your point, because I think we disagree about the size of the population we are discussing. While there are truly infirmed people who cannot ride mass transit, and for whom Access-a-ride or some similar public service is necessary. I believe that there exists a much larger population of older New Yorkers who can still use mass transit, but for whom walking additional distances would be difficult. Given economic realities, I’m unsure whether a more expensive form of public transit for this population is feasible, making the reduction of bus stops an untenable solution, as these rider would be forced to pay for taxis, which would be an expensive outlay. Complementing local buses with SBS service as with the M-15 appears to me to be a better option.

                    • Victor says:

                      The real issue is not the number of stops, which slows things down a bit, but the payment system. Metrocards take forever to dip, and coins are even slower.

                      Couple that to the frequency of traffic lights in Manhattan, and buses are bound to be slow.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      There is no reason to guess about the age. Most bus riders are adults in the working age population. It may have creeped up since, and it may be somewhat higher in NYC, but in national statistics released in 2007 the age 65+ category was a whopping 7.5% of bus and other “roadway [transit] mode”* riders.

                      http://www.apta.com/resources/.....9_2007.pdf

                      * Basically, that counts buses and paratransit.

                      Given economic realities, I’m unsure whether a more expensive form of public transit for this population is feasible….

                      People keep making this argument while ignoring two things: higher usage drives average per-rider costs down and worse bus service will drive per-rider bus costs up.

                    • lop says:

                      @Bolwerk

                      http://www.nymtc.org/mainpage/.....ording.pdf

                      65+ are 8% of transit riders from the 2008 survey, but 17% of ‘bus only’ riders. The subway is inaccessible for many, making the bus network less accessible could hurt a lot of people, especially on corridors that parallel a subway. Put in a bus lane, offboard payment/faster payment onboard, TSP etc…to increase reliability and speed service and cutting peak hour local service won’t have to hurt so much, freeing up buses for peak hour express/limited/SBS service on the same road.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      Well, 18% is higher, but still a relatively small proportion of the total ridership. With 1/4 mile stop spacing, anyone who lives along the route wouldn’t have to walk further than 660 feet. That’s not a very big burden to most people healthy enough to use a bus even in the 65+ range.

                      If there is a really good reason for a particular bus line to have closer stop spacing, it can be studied and identified. For the wider bus network, it’s just thoroughly illogical.

                    • JEG says:

                      Seventeen percent means that one-in-six bus riders is 65+ years of age, and I consider that a significant percentage of bus riders. Again, some percentage of that population would find it difficult to regularly walk an additional 660 feet on either end of a bus ride. While it may be true that the cost of Access-a-ride might decrease if the population using that service increases, another reader indicated that the current cost is $50.00. So without evidence that the per-ride cost could be substantially reduced, I don’t see this as a realistic alternative. Separately, Access-a-ride is unlikely to provide comparable service that a regularly scheduled bus service provides. Other readers suggest investment in superior boarding and fare payment systems as a means of reducing bus delays, which I also believe is a good start. Lastly, my opinions aren’t inflexible, but I couldn’t support changes to bus stop spacing without getting better information.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      I think every rider demographic is “significant,” but you’re still arguing that 83% of the mode’s users’ time doesn’t matter as much as some fraction of 17%. I think you need to strike a better balance than that, especially considering my point benefits a large fraction of that 17% as much as it benefits anyone else. They don’t ride buses for pleasure either.

                      For people who can still walk but can’t make it 600 feet, there is also the option of taxi vouchers. The average bus ride is a few miles or less, so you can easily enough compare costs. It’s definitely cheaper than Access-A-Ride. It’s certainly worth investigating, since we do want to attract people to surface transit, right?

                      $71.85/unlinked trip for paratransit, from the looks of it. I don’t know what the marginal cost of an Access-A-Ride trip is, but it’s probably nowhere near that high.* The reason is I think it just has high fixed costs: a driver, an expensive vehicle dedicated to a small population, a lot of downtime, and probably some extra support staff here or there. Variable costs like fuel and wear and tear probably aren’t that much. Also note the average trip distance of a paratransit vehicle is over 8 miles, while the average bus ride is around 2 miles.

                      As for fare payment, that’s something that should be modernized anyway for the safety of the drivers. But I don’t really get what lop wants out of it, since he’s arguing for largely negating the benefits to passengers by encouraging low boarding numbers per (more frequent) stop. The main benefit of POP is getting rid of boarding queues and letting the vehicle spend more time in motion.

                      * Of course, the marginal cost of an additional bus or subway ride is typically hovering near 0. Para-transit is likely much higher than that.

                    • Nathanael says:

                      I will make the further point that the entire taxi system in NYC is aggressively unfriendly to the disabled. The city could mandate that all taxis be fully accessible (London required this *20 years ago*), which would make taxis for the disabled a much more viable option.

                    • Nathanael says:

                      For reference, you can get a disabled parking tag if you can’t walk *1000* feet without stopping.

                      Spacing of 200 feet (as in New York) is unreasonably tight. Many disabled people could walk four bus stops away under this standard.

                      Spacing of 600 feet makes a lot more sense.

                    • BrooklynBus says:

                      Could walk or could walk fairly comfortably? Have you ever been disabled like on crutches? I have had sciatica three times and even walking 200 feet was uncomfortable and required numerous stops. Walking further wouldn’t even be thinkable.

              • Alex says:

                Dead on. The every other block stopping on many NYC buses is absolutely ridiculous. 4 short blocks is a perfectly reasonable stop distance for a local bus. If 2 short blocks more is too much for you, then you can use Access-a-Ride. This isn’t an insult or discriminatory, it’s practical as the current configuration makes buses less useful to the majority of transit users.

                • BrooklynBus says:

                  Do you have any idea hw much Access a ride costs the MTA? It’s like $50 a person. Do you knw how many people you would be hurting? Of course not. A great number of people would ave great difficulty with four short blocks and that s not only the elderly. It’s anyone with packages or with a temporary injury such as those on crutches who wouldn’t qualify for access a ride. You are wing discriminatory and selfish. We have limited stop or precisely that reason to quicken trips, but local service must still be an option.

                  • VLM says:

                    1. New York City’s local stops are spaced stupidly close together by any standard.

                    2. Hilarious that you are now promoting limited stops since you got fired from a gig writing for a crappy blog for your fiercely wrong-headed opposition to limited bus service.

                    • BrooklynBus says:

                      Liar, I never opposed limited stop service and who said I was fired? Without me now the bog is crappy.

                  • Bolwerk says:

                    He’s being selfish because he wants to maximize the utility of bus services?

                    Anyway, $50/person average cost does not mean marginal cost of an additional paratransit user is $50.

                    • BrooklynBus says:

                      Each ride costs an average of $50 unless you have an idea of having operate more efficiently. And he is not maximizing utility of anything.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      Each ride averages to $50/user. In fact, I may have been the one who pointed that out to you.

                      That doesn’t mean the marginal cost of a ride is $50. Paratransit vehicles are demand-response, but also experience idle time and I think typically allow multiple users. $50/ride is not a hard, fast marginal cost.

                    • Ed Unneland says:

                      OK, this degenerated quickly …

                      1) Does ADA require bus stops every two blocks? Based on what I see in Westchester for Beeline, no.

                      2) When I was on a cane and an immobility boot for my broken foot, I did “tap, step, tap, step” for a number of blocks to get to the number 6 bus, and then to the BxM4C near County Center (as I did not think it wise to dare the relentless traffic in Grand Central Terminal during the period of my healing). I think a number slightly greater than two and much less than ten blocks for local bus service is within reason. (Three, four, perhaps five, but that may be stretching it in the city.)

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      Re ADA, no. And bus stops are often spaced pretty far apart in some cities.

                      Seems to me some older cities (NYC and Philly, for example) have this habit of honoring trolley era (pre-subway era, really) stopping patterns. Even heavy rail stations are 3 blocks apart in at least parts of some cities. And here reformists are (modestly, I’d say) suggesting 4 blocks, or more, between bus stops.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      It’s not about city age. North American cities traditionally have bus stops spaced every 200 meters. European and Australasian ones space bus stops every 400-500 meters instead.

    • LLQBTT says:

      That’s right! I ride the bus sometimes and wouldn’t you know, I’ve seen black people on the bus, not to mention people of all races and ethnicities. So freakin’ what. This is NYC.

      The problem is the reliability of buses, both due to things in and out of control of the MTA. A separated light rail fixes one problem quickly, traffic. Today I saw a Q59 bogged down somewhere in a 5 block long queue on Metro. The bus is late.

      Then there are those times where buses just seem to operate randomly, and not on any schedule. A wait can be 40 seconds or 40 minutes. Who wants to deal with that crap in our current fast paced, on demand society?

  2. ajedrez says:

    I don’t think the Glendale station saw too many passenger trains serving it per day. I would think that having a more consistent service would boost ridership, especially considering that the bus lines in the area perform fairly decently.

    • Peter says:

      Exactly. Glendale saw two passengers a day because the LIRR ran like two trains a day. To Long Island City, which pretty much had nothing there back then.

      • Jeff G says:

        Not to mention LIRR pricing means that to many people it’s simply not worth it.

        • Dan says:

          I think it was really also an issue of installing high-level platforms at all stations (to help make the LIRR almost fully accessible), which is why some low-ridership stations further out on Long Island were closed too, while others got the platforms (plus any overflow ridership).

    • Kai B says:

      Pretty sure it was only a few rush hour trains. Based on this article, the stations were so obscure, area residents and business owners didn’t even know they existed:

      http://www.nytimes.com/1998/03.....stops.html

    • Alex says:

      It’s definitely an underserved corridor. I think it’s worth looking at. And if it’s a light rail with 10 minute headways and a standard Metrocard fare rather than an expensive and infrequent LIRR route, I think you could see some decent ridership. There might be opportunities for development along the way too since there’s a lot of industrial space along the route. The only thing that made me cringe is the idea of having a park-and-ride. That should be avoided like the plague.

  3. rastnic says:

    I honestly think this is a great idea. Also if it was light rail it could easily be extended up to Court Square to disperse customers onto the G, E, M and 7 trains instead of just the 7 Train. Also if DeBlasio wants more affordable neighborhoods, zone around this area for it. Lots of room for new neighborhoods

  4. Justin Samuels says:

    It’s amazing how morons like to speak for entire races of people. I’m Black and I ride the subway or trains most of the time. I rarely ride the bus, and if I do it’s a crosstown Manhattan bus.

    If I go visit my relatives in Jersey they tend to drive everywhere. I would not take the bus on a regular basis so if I had to move out to NJ or work there regularly I would drive.

    The LIRR outside of main routes has very low frequency and that might be a factor in way the LIRR to Glendate had such low ridership.

    A study would need to be done on how light rail would effect 7 train ridership, but the effects might not be that bad when CBTC is instituted.

    • bigbellymon4 says:

      Even with CBTC properly installed and turned on in 2017 (which is a joke cost and time wise), the 7 line may still have problems with the crowds because the 7 runs 27 tph without CBTC. MTA said it can add 7% more service with CBTC, which brings the total to 29 tph. This is small but necessary addition to the 7, but like what happened to the L with it’s ridership spike, the effects of adding more passengers to the 7 line via the light rail might, if not make the crowd problem worse. Light rail can be added if and only if there are new train tunnels between Queens and Manhattan are built.

      • Bolwerk says:

        I seriously doubt this. The 7 is predominantly a feeder line to transfers at Queensborough Plaza. If there is a crowding danger, it’s for the Astoria services.* Going into Manhattan, the 7 has elbow room if not seating.

        Also, why do you need new tunnels? There is a rail-ready bridge across the East River. It even comes with an abandoned trolley terminal that maybe could be appropriated.

        * It’s possible that some of this crowding is a consequence of abandoning streetcars on the Queensboro Bridge, though I don’t know for sure. Either way, there used to be a streetcar along Queens Blvd. that at one time would have made a direct trip across the river.

  5. wise infrastructure says:

    The Montauk branch could be used in a way similar to the NJ River Line -light rail passenger use by day and freight at night.

    Near the east end connect a branch to the abandoned former LIRR Rockaway line providing real relief to the Woodhaven/Crossbay Blvd corridor

    On the west end build a combo light rail/pedestrian bridge over the east river to link it to a vision 42 (34?!) and then through the Lincoln tunnel to connect with NJ light rail with a branch going to the Secaucus station.

    Consider how commuting and traffic would change.
    Consider how this could favorably reduce the needed size and cost of PA Bus terminal II and a new Penn Station.

    • eo says:

      If the demand is there and an arrangement similar to the River Line can be made this does not seem like a bad idea to me. The line will never deserve heavy rail trains — even with all the development in Long Island City it is not long enough to demand long heavy rail trains. The two ends at Jamaica and Long Island City make decent end points in terms of commercial/residential clusters, but once again — this should be considered if demand is there and if they can get a waver similar to the River Line in NJ, so that we can keep whatever little freight there is on the line.

      The LIRR Rockaway is really better reserved for the R train. Yeah, you could connect this to it, but the subway seems a much better match for this.

      Bridge over the East River? Any such bridge will be extremely expensive to justify based on the benefits, so I say shelve it and reconsider in 40 years after this gets built (if it ever gets built). Such a bridge will have to be as high as the existing bridges to allow for marine traffic and requires a large landing (e.g. property takings and demolitions which is why these days we prefer tunnels which require less property takings and leave the neighbourhoods undivided).

      Rail in Lincoln Tunnel? Good luck letting the car driving NJ agree to that.

  6. wise infrastructure says:

    Could 42nd street be used for street running freight trains between midnight and 5am? If a combined light rail by day/freight by night rail was constructed between Secaucus and Jamaica:

    how many trucks wold this take off the road?
    how much pollution would be saved?

    The goal is maximize the benefit of anything built and try to solve as many problems as possible.

    • Are you suggesting an at-grade freight line bisecting Manhattan via 42nd Street?

      • LLQBTT says:

        I do believe that is the suggestion. Imagine that, a 100 car freight train taking 1-2 hours to cross Manhattan in the middle of the night?

        • Justin Samuels says:

          The disruption to trucks, NYPD cars, Fire Department vehicles, ambulances, and cabs make this so DOA that it’s hilarious.

    • eo says:

      Your thinking is creative, but… Have you ever looked into any project reactivating a dormant right of way? In much less dense neighbourhoods in the suburbs people in Tenafly killed a proposed light rail extension because they were afraid of two car light rail vehicles blocking their intersections for their gynormous SUVs. How can you expect that in much denser neighbourhood you can have a noisy heavy 100 car freight train run on street level blocking the intersecting avenues for 5 or so minutes? How are you going to guarantee that people do not climb over the train? If you tried this you will be collecting corpses at a rate of at least one a night.

      There will be no freight on any passenger line in Manhattan. Period. The only hope for freight is if traffic to LI gets so bad that the Port Authority decides to build the Freight Tunnel.

      • lawhawk says:

        Yup, towns north of Tenafly were screwed because Tenafly basically blocked development of the Bergen segment of the HBLR from passing into their town, even though this corner of Bergen County is under served by transit. So, instead of going all the way to Tenafly (and points north), the HBLR will terminate at Englewood.

        And that’s with existing ROWs for rail.

        The PANY has admitted that they are out of their league to build a replacement PABT, so thinking that they’re up to the challenge of building a cross harbor tunnel is problematic too. Oh, and their timetable for getting the Bayonne navigation clearance project done has fallen about a year behind schedule. IOW – relying on the PA to get stuff done is a fool’s errand with the current “leadership”.

        • FLTD says:

          It’s also apples/oranges. The Northern Branch/HBLR extension is a freight abandonment-in-wait. The customers at the northernmost end only get served a few times a month (if that), with most of the activity sticking to the first mile or so (and even most of them not being every single night). It’s such low-margin that CSX is pouring $0 into upkeep and merely waiting until the business dwindles enough to lower the boom on it with an abandonment filing that’ll prevail over any adverse filings from the customers. Then it’s HBLR’s forever. HBLR is actually doing them a very big favor accelerating the inevitable and allowing CSX an expedited path to scraping that unprofitable track off their system.

          The RiverLINE is in a similar, if much more drawn-out situation of being a timeshare on a freight line that’s slowly being sunset. That one may take a couple more decades to complete its transition because it starts with a bigger freight base than the Northern, but chances are NJT is eventually going to end up all the same with total control of it, and retirement of the DMU’s in favor of trolley wires and HBLR-clone rolling stock. It’s only a matter of how many years longer than the Northern it’ll take to reach that turning point.

          The Lower Montauk isn’t like that. It’s a stable freight secondary main with *some* growth spots and enough of a freight schedule scattered around the clock that time separation slots are going to be hard to come by. It’s not busy by any objective sense, but it is still going to be there in 50 years doing what it’s doing whether or not PANY builds the stupid/unnecessary/wasteful tunnel the Class I freights aren’t asking anyone to build for them. And doing what its doing at traffic levels just a bit out of reach for any “GO AWAY” checks doled out to the customers to be money rationally worth spending. It’s just not replaceable without great hardship for the types of business it serves and vexing issues for the vacuum losing those neighborhood industrial tenants would bring. To swing a light rail schedule under time separation here you’d have to have some uselessly short service day like 8:00am-7:00pm, because some of the customers have to be served during or adjacent to normal day-shift hours and can’t switch to the graveyard shift. Not every light-traffic line ends up such a candidate for punting to the overnight shift; the RiverLINE and Northern Branch just serendipitously happen to tilt heavily to prototypical NJ “Chemical Coast” tanker customers that are ‘shift-agnostic’ while the Lower Montauk’s customer base doesn’t.

          Run DMU’s, discount the crap out of the fares…whatever…but it is what it is as an LIRR-only appendage unlike the shared-use lines in Jersey where the freight is on a one-way ticket to being fully sunset. Or the Bay Ridge Branch for that matter where there’s full grade separation and physically (though maybe not economically) generous enough room for more side-by-side tracks worth of coexistence. One would think there’s a solution to explore here at the institutional instead of physical/technical level that could net some useful service without hostage-taking via unreasonable LIRR fares.

          • Kevin says:

            CSX runs tankers up to and down from Englewood every weekday. About once a week it goes further, but I’m not sure how much further. The track is so abysmally maintained (10mph) that they don’t have enough hours in the day to support more customers.

            I do agree that whenever they get around to extending the HBLR, the freight customers will be gone (the documents I’ve seen call for suspending freight service during construction, and realistically will probably get accustomed to whatever contingency they execute for the duration).

    • Eric says:

      Don’t they already run freight trains through Penn Station at night? I’m not sure how adding freight trains on 42nd St would help things in any way.

    • al says:

      There are 3 problems with rail across 42nd St.
      1) It would need another set of East River Tunnel. That is $2-$6 billion depending on whether you use Non-US 1st world urban or NYC construction costs.
      2) It would need to completely rebuild the Lincoln Tunnels for rail or build another set of tunnels under the Hudson River. That is another $1-$6 Billion.
      3) Preexisting subway tunnels (Steinway Tunnels and 42nd St Crosstown). To get freight train from 100 ft under the Hudson River to street level and then 100 ft under the East River would require one to demolish subway infrastructure.

      A better solution would be high performance light rail that runs over the former LIRR Lower Montaulk, Queens Midtown Tunnel, 34th St, Lincoln Tunnel and out to NJ (Meadowlands Sports Complex, Hoboken and northern Hudson County). 2 lanes on the Lincoln Tunnel-34th St- Queens Midtown Tunnel would be permanent HOV-Bus-LRT lanes.

      As for freight one could envision a short version of RoadRailer type service. The current vehicle height restrictions for the Lincoln Tunnel and Queens Midtown Tunnel are 13′ and 12’1″ respectively. A standard mounted Triple Crown trailer is 13’6″. If we could find 1-2ft in the tunnel invert, it could work. If not, then some sort of swap body or intermodal container system, using LRT based locomotives, might work.

    • AMH says:

      That’s terrible and brilliant at the same time.

  7. Larry Littlefield says:

    I guess Elizabeth Crowley doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, that this very right of way was proposed for a subway between Jamaica and the 63rd Street tunnel as part of the original MTA plan.

    The plan was killed, and the 63rd Street tunnel became the “tunnel to nowhere,” when Geraldine Ferraro led a march down the line on behalf of “middle class Queens” to oppose the new subway.

    It was simply a class-based approach to transit adoption. “Poor people and people of color ride the subway,” it was believed, and will take it to commit crimes in middle class neighborhoods. “But we want something shiny and new cars for the middle class to drive.”

    This proposal should not be discussed without that being referenced. Archie Bunkerland did not want transit when it was on offer.

    Meanwhile, if we are ever going to move truck trailers and containers onto Long Island by train, this freight line is one place they will have to go. That’s the other issue.

    • Peter says:

      “Archie Bunkerland did not want transit when it was on offer.”

      That was like 50 years ago, right? It might not be so relevant to today’s discussion anymore.

    • =+= says:

      “Meanwhile, if we are ever going to move truck trailers and containers onto Long Island by train, this freight line is one place they will have to go. That’s the other issue.”

      Huh? Why would inter-modal traffic use the subdivision that Crowley is talking about rather than any other of the existing subdivisions? It’s not like this service would prohibit freight trains coming from the Hell Gate Bridge to get into the outer boroughs.

  8. AMM says:

    I have yet to see any explanation as to what advantage “light rail” offers over existing transit methods (subway, commuter rail, bus.)

    If you’re talking about street-running (i.e., light rail = streetcar), it has the huge disadvantage that it can’t go around something that blocks the railway, e.g., double- or triple-parked cars, or make detours. Even busses have that problem sometimes (the Q48 has that problem because it goes down residential streets where double-parking is the norm.) There isn’t anywhere in NYC where that isn’t a problem.

    If you’re talking about separated right-of-way, how is it an improvement on heavy rail — especially if the right-of-way already has freight-quality tracks?

    It might make sense in cities less densely built up (like Portland OR) and which have large areas where street-running is practical or there’s room for separated rights-of-way. Philadelphia and Boston make it work by putting the streetcars underground in the built-up areas, but in NYC, that would amount to the entire city, and so wouldn’t save any money over heavy-rail subways.

    • Eric says:

      There is a third possibility – separate lanes/tracks, but at-grade intersections.

      However, even this has questionable benefits when compared to BRT.

    • Woody says:

      It used to be that the stopper of Light Rail or streetcar proposals was the unlovely overhead wires.

      Now technology has mostly solved that problem in Europe, which now builds routes thru historic architecturally magnificent city centers without any wires. With this in mind, we need to rethink every possible route for street running rail.

      New and shiny Light Rail seems to always attract more riders than the bus route it replaces. Maybe they are snobs. I just count their fares.

      For Light Rail, capacity per driver is usually higher. And while rail costs more to build the first time, rails don’t wear away like asphalt; rail cars on smooth rails don’t wear out half as fast as buses driven over potholes, or just driven. So once you look at operating costs over 10 or 12 years and more, Light Rail is cheaper.

      Light Rail routes partly underground could work well in Manhattan, and probably in the boros, too.

      Consider a line across 135th. The street is almost level thru Harlem, then stops at St Nicholas because of the heights. Go into a tunnel there under City College, a huge draw for passengers, and a good place for a station connecting with the #1 train under Broadway. Come out close to the Hudson, turn south to 125th St to serve the new Columbia Univ campus under construction, then go across 125th until turning north to 135th again.

      One short expensive underground segment would serve two crowded crosstown streets. And it could be built in our lifetime, whereas extending the Second Avenue Subway under 125th … by the time that could happen, the rising sea level will have flooded much of Harlem.

      In Harlem I could see a Light Rail down Fifth Avenue tunneling thru Marcus Garvey Park/Mt Morris, and maybe make this stretch of Fifth two way, or pedestrianize it. (Again, watch out for rising sea levels. Mt Morris could become Morris Island in a century or so.)

      One or more crosstown routes could dive under Central Park. Maybe they could be paired like 125/135th.

      Try 96th St, go west under the Park, turn down West End, or even Riverside, to 86th, go under the Park then over to York or 1st Av, back onto 96th. Or 72nd, down West End, east on 60th, then under the Park, (not sure where it would go nearing the 59th St Bridge, don’t know the area, that’s a No-Go zone for me, maybe underground), then go up York to 72nd).

      • Justin Samuels says:

        I don’t see them doing light rail in Manhattan ever. The MTA will build the full length Second Avenue Subway eventually. After that there are proposals to build the Utica Avenue line, convert the Atlantic Avenue LIRR into a subway, connect the abandoned parts of the Rockaway Beach LIRR into an extension of the Queens Blvd line to the Rockaways, etc.

        So a place like Manhattan with lots of trains and convenient crosstown buses will not get light rail. Parts of the outer boroughs underserved by transit might. It’s why using a mostly abandoned freight train ROW and converting it to light rail makes excellent sense.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Crosstown light rail makes a lot of sense in Manhattan if it also crosses East River bridges.

          Off the top of my head, the only avenue bus line that might make sense for light rail is the M15, on account of its heavy usage, and that might be negated by the SAS.

          Though goals of projects like Bloomberg’s 7 Train extension could almost be as easily satsified by light rail as by heavy rail at a fraction of the cost.

          • Eric says:

            There is only one East River bridge in the area – the Queensboro which feeds 59th St.

            59th St is a bit north, but I suppose it’s still close enough to northern Midtown. Light rail could cross Manhattan at 59th St, go over the Queensboro Bridge, and connect to the Lower Montauk.

            Good luck getting two lanes of the Queensboro Bridge switched from cars to light rail, though.

            • Bolwerk says:

              I didn’t mean just in Midtown, but in that particular case there is actually a rather compelling need for better transit between that part of the East Side and Queens.

              They did talk of railstituting lanes on the bridge for AirTrain as recently as a decade or two ago. And that was for AirTrain, which probably can’t justify the traffic. (Obviously capital costs killed the project before it ever got that far.)

          • Nathanael says:

            Crosstown light rail through the Lincoln Tunnel also makes sense, by the way.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Capacity and lower operating costs are probably the two major advantageous over buses, though you don’t really get the benefit of those things without high ridership. Things like faster boarding and better passenger comfort are minor (but IMHO compelling) advantages.

      People always point to the “buses can go around obstacles” argument, but I’ve never really seen a practical case for it. In cities with street-running rail in mixed traffic (there aren’t that many) the bus may not be slower but near as I can t ell it’s usually not faster. The way I see it is if your traffic is interfering with transit, you need to fix that regardless of the mode. Even if buses are better under such circumstances, they’re still debilitated.

      If you’re talking about separated right-of-way, how is it an improvement on heavy rail — especially if the right-of-way already has freight-quality tracks?

      Doesn’t that depend on the characteristics of the ROW? HBLR involved an existing ROW with a lot of grade crossings, ruling out third rails. Triborough RX and the Rockaway Beach Line are already very grade-separated.

      I’d say low-floor surface light rail is far and a way the most accessible mode. Easy boarding, no need for drivers to strap in wheelchairs (as on buses), typically no descents or ascents by stairs or elevator to platforms (as the case is on grade separated rail).

      • Eric says:

        “Things like faster boarding and better passenger comfort are minor (but IMHO compelling) advantages.”

        I basically assume those are cancelled out by the inconvenience during years of construction.

        • Bolwerk says:

          I don’t know about that. The benefits are basically permanent after construction. Plus I don’t think closing a lane segment needs to take “years.” The inconvenience is spread pretty thin.

    • rastnic says:

      People also just like trams more because they are new and sparkly and different. Everyone hates buses so why not try something new?

    • =+= says:

      Don’t bother trying to attach strict guidelines to the different terms used for transit projects. The English terminology is pretty vague and flexible when it comes to defining what is a commuter, subway or LRT system. Case in point, the fully grade separated Confederation Line in Ottawa and the at-grade MAX system in Portland are both considered LRT systems despite the fact the Confederation Line could be considered a subway by most definitions.

      In this case Crowley seems to be referring to a system similar to the River Line or O-Train systems. So going with those examples ‘LRT’ in this case would mean something along the lines of “frequent commuter train service that utilizes light rolling stock”.

      • Bolwerk says:

        APTA seems to use “light rapid transit” to refer to systems that are basically grade separated but low-footprint/low-capacity.

        • =+= says:

          Problem with that is that most modern LRT vehicles have similar capacity to subway cars and subway cars don’t weight a ton anymore.

          The distinction between light rail and heavy rail is arbitrary.

          • Bolwerk says:

            The vehicles could be exactly the same, and I think the goal of modern LRVs/trams was that sort of capacity. I think light rail involves certain features (e.g., low-floor boarding and typically short-ish vehicles/trainsets), but complete or at least near-complete grade separation is probably a distinguishing factor for heavy rail rapid transit.

            European railroaders like to snarkly point out that American “light rail” is heavier than mainline European equipment.

    • Jeff G. says:

      Most of NYC is actually more similar to Phillie and Boston than you think. Manhattan’s just a small part of the city after all.

      So with that in mind there are a ton of cities worldwide that have successfuly made LRT work as feeder line to heavy rail systems that serve lower density areas.

      As for advantages of LRT, people have mostly mentioned them already… Except one thing which is automation. You cannot automate a bus, but many modern LRT systems, especially those that are mostly grade separate are essentially people movers not unlike the JFK Airtrain. It means significant cost savings over buses long term.

  9. tacony says:

    Reactivating the Lower Montauk Branch for passenger service is a “Great Idea” because by proposing service over an existing rail right-of-way we’re minimizing NIMBYism. We can’t even paint a bus lane because it’d take away travel lanes and parking from drivers, but we can spend hundreds of millions on reactivating new rail with park-n-rides for those drivers to drive and park and beat traffic. This is NYC political logic. This is not “trying to think outside of the box,” this is a Cuomo-esque thing-that-sounds-like-a-great-idea and doesn’t anger anyone by taking something from them.

    The only thing that interests me about her poorly-researched proposal are the other parts of this sentence: “It has no real use and there is potential for park-and-rides and development around the rail.”

    Did she talk to the freight tenants that use the line and tell them she thinks they’re not a “real use”? She’s proposing new “development,” one would assume meaning residential and commercial, around the rail here? The area around the rail is almost entirely zoned for heavy industry– north/east of Flushing Ave is the huge Newtown Creek toxic industrial wasteland, and even extending down into residential Glendale, the rail line is buffered by a thin strip of industrial-zoned land. I wouldn’t be surprised if her thought is that this old unused rail line is bordered by marginal uses because there’s no service, not that the reason for the industrial use is literally just that it’s zoned for industry.

    Is she ready for a fight with the Industrial Retention folks who see this as prime land for industrial employment and would see a change of use to residential and commercial here as an evil plot from greedy real estate developers to gentrify away the working class auto body shops that provide dozens of jobs of the future? That may be the unstated genesis of Byron’s odd comments. They don’t sound so out of place in that context.

  10. Bolwerk says:

    Byron is poster child for the way so many BRT advocates are tone-deaf idiots. Yeah, okay, poor people were on buses before it was cool for low-IQ middle class whites to advocate buses for other people on dedicated lanes and private right-of-ways. Millennials already are eschewing driving in favor of transit. They’ve been doing that since they first emerged fully formed from their cocoons, PBR in hand.

    Light rail doesn’t threaten buses. It complements them.

  11. Lady Feliz says:

    The Gold Line in Los Angeles/Pasadena uses an abandoned ROW left over from the Southern Pacific Railroad. It opened in the early 2000s and has seen explosive ridership, so much so that the MTA in Los Angeles keeps extending the line further into the county, and opened up an East LA extension that brought rail to that part of town for the first time in 60 years. Working folks, college students and tourists alike ride the Gold Line, which has 5 minute headways during rush hours. If cities like Los Angeles/Pasadena, the epitome of the car culture, can reuse old ROWs to such good effect, there’s no reason Queens, the Bronx or Staten Island (with much larger populations) can’t do the same. It just take political will and leadership, something NYC has been sorely lacking on this issue.

  12. kclo3 says:

    The western half runs through the most depopulated areas of Haberman/Maspeth and is pretty much useless; the LIRR should just reduce city fares if we want better LIC-Jamaica. The eastern half actually runs through underserved Glendale, has only one grade crossing, and has better transfer opportunities. Therefore, to make use the Lower Montauk, we should extend the M from Metropolitan Av to Jamaica as a secondary J (provided enough platform or elevated space) or down the RBB.

  13. AlexB says:

    I don’t think the previous LIRR train went to Manhattan, was probably expensive and only ran once or twice a day. A frequent DMU feeder with a convenient transfer to Hunterspoint 7 train could get ridership of a few thousand (certainly better than NJ Transit’s River Line). Obviously that’s a total guess, but not unrealistic based on the number of bus routes it crosses. It would also be easy enough to provide a transfer to the M at Metropolitan. The 7 train loses about a third of its passengers to the N/Q at Queensboro so there’d be room in the Steinway Tunnel.

    • Dan says:

      LIC and Hunterspoint are a pair of stations to primarily handle/terminate some of the LIRR’s dual-mode (diesel/electric) trains during peak hours, because there is no room for all of them in Penn Station (a few do go to/from Penn each day).

  14. BrooklynBus says:

    I would like to know who appointed Joan Byron as a yransit expert that she gets so much press with her nonsense proposals for exclusive bus lanes along congested Junction Blvd and the narrow portion of Linden Blvd when there is already a bus route one block away on Church Avenue. She also wants SBS on 39th Street in Brooklyn which is so narrow that parking has to be baned on one side of the street just to permit two-way traffic. I woudn’t take seriously anything she says.

  15. =+= says:

    I don’t think it’s a completely insane proposition. A line offering frequent service between Jamaica and Queens Plaza with stations in the residential and industrial areas in between the terminals (possibly with an infill transfer station between the line and the M line?) would probably be more popular than infrequent LIRR service.

    Looking at the tracks it seems like the line is mostly used for car storage rather than freight movement so I doubt there would be many conflicts with freight operations. They could always trial the line by doing what Ottawa did with the O-Train and leasing or purchasing surplus DMUs from Europe.

    • John G says:

      Well, it passes within a couple blocks of the J/Z 121st St stations and the end of the M line too, so it’s not just a feeder for the 7 train. I don’t hate this idea.

  16. Rob says:

    Anyone have a good map of this proposal? Thanks.

  17. Chris says:

    On the topic of repurposing the Montauk line…

    Let’s make some statements and assumptions.

    1. Most people living in NYC limits are not willing to spend LIRR prices and get dropped off outside Manhattan, where they’d need to pay another fare to reach points West.

    2. The Montauk branch duplicated service (for the most part) going to Hunters Point Ave. Thus, the stops on the Montauk branch would be once a day local stops for people living in these business zones (save for Richmond Hill).

    3. NYC Subway connections to Manhattan at these points are already over crowded. Does it make sense to activate another way to overcrowd IRT size subway cars on the #7 line?

    Now that I’ve made these statements, what can be done with the line if money were no object? One of the big problems in Manhattan is that there are not enough cross town lines. Could we justify a new two track tunnel, and a route along 23rd street, connecting with the stub end of the #7 line? If we can’t justify a crosstown line, maybe a way to feed and build out the 2nd ave line, giving it connections to lower Manhattan? Yes, these are pipe dreams, but I’d love to see a thought experiment done to determine what transit developments we really need most? And is there a way to get them?

    • Ed Unneland says:

      A private entity, with serious money, could buy the LIC – Jamaica ROW, the Bushwick Branch, the Bay Ridge Branch (negotiating trackage rights with the New York Connecting Railroad), Staten Island Railroad (including the North Shore ROW and negotiating trackage rights on the Chemical Coast line) and PATH.

      You would then have an actual competitor for heavy rail commuter rail service.

      The problem? All the people with access to serious money drive … it is not a lack of intelligence … it is not realizing the need, and the revenue stream that could result from meeting the need.

      And why the Bushwick Branch? You can connect it (in a pinch) to the Canarsie line and the Canarsie line to PATH at 6th Avenue; thus creating an emergency connection to New Jersey when the tunnels fail.

      • Ed Unneland says:

        And, yes, building a 23rd Street tunnel would be the linchpin of such a system.

      • adirondacker12800 says:

        People with serious money want to make more money with it. They can’t with mass transit.

      • Justin Samuels says:

        No private entity is stupid enough to buy those lines, which would not be able to compete well with the MTA. Also mass transit isn’t profitable, unlike the corporate sector. Fares for mass transit are set by the government. The city would not let the IRT and the BMT raises fares higher than a nickle, so they both went under and were taken over by the city.

  18. j.b. says:

    It seems worth exploring the idea of combining a mixed-use residential upzoning around the areas of where plausible stations would/could be built. I had the impression there was some actual space to work with along certain parts of the route. Having a ROW with some land to play with that anchors in LIC has the potential to create entire new (if small) neighborhoods from scratch, as well as build up certain sections of Glendale and Maspeth. I get these places are some of the worst NIMBYers in existence, but so much of it is low-density, and the city is despairing over a lack of housing. I’d certainly like to see it happen.

    In a fantasy of mine, I could see RBL and this develop more or less at the same time and managing transfers between them by Union Turnpike and the Home Depot near Woodhaven Blvd.

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