Once upon a time, New York City didn’t know what to do with its transit infrastructure. Investment was nil, and stations that were commuter rail in name were shut down throughout Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Now, nearly 30 years later, with the city’s population booming thanks, in part, to an increased investment in transit, these shuttered stations are under the microscope. Can we reopen them? Should we?
Lately, attention has focused around Elmhurst. For a few years now, local politicians have been angling to reopen an LIRR station lost to declining ridership in what was a declining neighborhood in 1985. Last year, we learned that the MTA isn’t opposed to the idea if the money can materialize. Recently, a similar group of politicians announced the next step in the process: a ridership survey.
A few weeks ago, shortly before I went on vacation, Reps. Joe Crowley, Grace Meng and NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm along with LIRR President Helena Williams announced a survey aimed at collecting data from Elmhurst residents about their travel patterns. It’s another step toward reactivating the station. “As we continue to work with the LIRR to explore the possibility of restoring service to Elmhurst, I want to encourage as many members of our community to participate in the study and make sure their voices are heard,” Crowley said in a statement. “Reopening the Elmhurst Station will increase residents’ access to Midtown Manhattan and help the area reach its economic potential. It will also open the door for all New Yorkers to experience the rich diversity and culture Elmhurst has to offer.”
Meng echoed Crowley. “Reopening this LIRR station would be a huge boon for Elmhurst,” she said. “It would greatly benefit local residents with increased access to public transportation and service to Manhattan, and it would provide a major economic boost for local businesses.”
The survey itself begin at the end of June with two parts. The first involves a written component mailed to households within a half-mile radius of the station site at Broadway and Whitney Ave. An in-person survey will be conducted at nearby subway stations and near the Elmhurst Hospital Center. According to Crowley’s office, reactivating the station could help Elmhurst see improved transit connections. Right now, it hosts local stops along the Queens Boulevard line and a few 7 stations near the neighborhood’s northern border. The politicians don’t consider these stations to be part of an “efficient” network providing direct access to Manhattan’s job centers.
According to a few unpublished studies I’ve seen, the Elmhurst reactivation could be a rather reasonable project at a time when spending on transit improvements and expansions has reached absurd levels. Some estimates peg restoring service at as little as $30-$35 million, and Crowley noted that East Side Access could ease congestion concerns that could occur were service to resume at Elmhurst. If the ridership survey bears out the proponents’ hopes, it seems like a no-brainer.
Even as this effort moves forward, I’m still left with the same thoughts I had last year: Until the fare to go from Elmhurst to Manhattan is more in line with the cost of a Metrocard swipe, very few people will use the service. Elmhurst is a solidly middle class neighborhood in mid-Queens with relatively good subway service, and individual peak rides within the city can cost upwards of $7 on LIRR. Harmonize fares; bring the price. Then, if you build it, they will come.