Archive for Queens
After months of saying very little of anything while campaigning for a second term and hardly anything about transit for four years while governing, Andrew Cuomo stunned New Yorkers by announcing plans to build an AirTrain from the 7 train and LIRR station at Willets Point to Laguardia Airport. Cuomo, who has made modernizing New York’s struggling airports, said that the rail connection will cost $450 million and could be up and running within five years of the start of construction.
For transit advocates and, in fact, for travelers who frequent New York City airports, the announcement came as something of a bombshell. The is the first time in over four years that Cuomo has discussed a direct rail connection to Laguardia, and he seemingly announced it as a fait accompli without any detail as to how his administrative picked this alignment or, more importantly, how this project will be funded. In fact, while introducing the infrastructure elements of the 2015 Opportunity Agenda, Cuomo also discussed high-speed ferry service throughout the city, the Penn Station Access plan
The Laguardia AirTrain, Cuomo said, will be constructed by the MTA and Port Authority, similar to the JFK Airtrain, and the proposed routing is designed to avoid any NIMBY complaints. The proposal calls for a terminal at Willets Point above the Corona Yards in between the 7 line stop and LIRR station with a routing above the Grand Central Parkway to Laguardia Airport, under two miles away. “You can’t get to Laguardia by train, and that really is inexcusable,” the governor said.
The announcement seemed to catch MTA and Port Authority officials off-guard, and as with Mayor Bloomberg’s back-of-the-napkin plan to send the 7 train to Secaucus, the agencies had to scramble for a statement. This time, though, their boss had issued the challenge instead of just the mayor of New York City. Later in the day, Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye and MTA CEO Tom Prendergast issued a joint statement:
“Governor Cuomo has offered a clear vision and strong call for the transportation infrastructure that is absolutely essential for the New York region to compete successfully in the global economy. The Port Authority and the MTA are working closely to establish the scope, schedule and management of the LaGuardia AirTrain, just as they worked closely to create the successful JFK AirTrain. We will build this project in a cost-effective way that minimizes disruptions to nearby communities as well as airport operations, and we can get it done within five years of obtaining all necessary approvals. Both our organizations recognize the importance of these infrastructure projects and congratulate the Governor on his foresight.”
So does it work? Let’s drill down.
The Good: A Rail Connection to Laguardia
In a vacuum, a rail connection to Laguardia with political support, political capital and a political champion behind it is a good idea. The governor, who is, despite his flaws, a strong executive in New York, is talking about improving the way we travel to the airport, and he has a vision that is, compared with other New York City transit projects, affordable and practical. It doesn’t involve construction through any neighborhoods replete with NIMBY opposition and solves an immediate problem by improving access to Laguardia in a way that isn’t as stigmatized as bus service is. In broad strokes, a Laguardia AirTrain is a badly-needed service that should have been built years ago.
The Bad: The Routing
That said, Cuomo’s proposal is something of a mess from a transit planning perspective. By avoiding any battle with NIMBYs — except perhaps with those who live above the Grand Central Parkway with views of the Long Island Sound — Cuomo has essentially picked the worst of the possible Laguardia rail connection routings, and we don’t know why. As I mentioned, Cuomo didn’t discuss how other alternatives were eliminated or how he settled upon his proposed alignment.
The real issue is travel time. The 7 train from Times Square to Willets Point is a 25-minute express ride and a 30-minute local ride. AirTrain passengers would then have to switch to an AirTrain and backtrack to reach the airport. To make this work, the MTA would have to consider permanent super-express service to Willets Point during off-peak hours, and I’m afraid consider the peak-hour effect on already-crowded 7 trains. At least the nearby LIRR station can alleviate some of the pressure, but a trip that takes a good 45 minutes from Midtown can’t compete with the Q70 from Jackson Heights, a shuttle bus or even a taxi.
Now, in the past, as we know, NIMBYs torpedoed a Giuliani plan to send the N to Laguardia. You can read the original engineering report and my recent analysis of the old plan. That’s probably the ideal alignment in terms of speed as it is the most direct connection to Manhattan and major destination points from Laguardia. The second best choice would have involved staging an AirTrain station near Jackson Heights and providing service from the 7/E/F/M/R station via the BQE and Grand Central to the airport. Instead, we have a Willets Point-based plan, and we don’t eve know why. This isn’t something we should accept simply because a politician has proposed spending money on an AirTrain.
The Ugly: The Money
The money, of course, is another major issue. The MTA is in dire need of someone to address a $15 billion capital funding gap in its current five-year plan. They need to spend $32 billion but can only generate around $17 billion. Meanwhile, this $32 billion doesn’t include the capital costs for a new airport rail connection. Now, the agency is scrambling to update its documents, but the money for the badly needed parts of the plan — signal upgrades, Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway — still isn’t there.
The other issue is the cost. It’s optimistic to think that the MTA and Port Authority can build a rail extension on time for around $300 million a mile, and although the JFK AirTrain was on time and on budget, nothing else of this magnitude has been. I can run through the litany of problems that have plagued the 7 line, the Fulton St. Transit Center, the PATH Hub, East Side Access, and the Second Ave. Subway, but we know this story well: Nothing comes in on time or on budget, and cost projections often do not align with reality. Without a better understanding of the sources of Cuomo’s $450 million price tag, we can’t adequate assess this project’s chances either. Still, as I mentioned, the MTA’s current capital proposal should take priority.
The Unknown: What Happens Next
Right now, I have no idea where this goes. When Bloomberg announced the Secaucus plan for the 7 train late in his third term without the support of the MTA, Albany or New Jersey, it was obvious this plan would go nowhere. But Cuomo is at the start of this second term and has banked a lot of political capital on dealing with New York’s airports. He has the weight, the pull and the financial resources at his disposal to get this project off the table. It might just happen, and it just arrived out of left field.
Still, I have serious reservations about the way this came about. It’s not a great alignment, and it leaves commuters on a slow and crowded train. It’s a connection, but it’s not a direct one. It doesn’t help improve access to Laguardia for airport workers, and it shifts economic resources from other projects and proposals that should be a priority. Still, it’s heartening to see Cuomo paying attention to rail. Is there time to improve this idea or are we doomed to another airport connection that’s only just good enough?
When I first wrote about the plans to turn the LIRR’s old Rockaway Beach Branch back in 2011, I never imagined it would become a major rift issues for otherwise-civil transit advocates. Of course, considering how I framed that first post — as a referendum on the finality of a rail trail vs. rail reactivation — I should have seen this coming. Now groups that usually fight for better transit, pedestrian and biking infrastructure are going at each other over a $120 million plan to build a High Line equivalent deep in the heart of Queens. All I want is some intellectual honesty.
As I mentioned in early November, I don’t know if the rail line is the right answer, and I don’t know if a park is the right answer. I find it hard to believe, based on geography, demographics and overall transit needs, that a park would trump rail all things being equal, but while we’ve gotten a park study funded by the pro-parks side, the pro-rail study was more of a school project sponsored, nobly so, by Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder. The numbers out of that study proclaimed 500,000 daily riders — almost too exorbitant to be believed — and no independent engineering group has been commissioned to give equal assessment to either option. That’s what I want.
Meanwhile, The Times is not only content with how the story has played out; they’ve decided to throw their editorial weight behind the QueensWay. In a piece published Saturday, rivaling Cuomo and Christie in their attempts at burying the lede, the Gray Lady wrote one of the worst argued editorials I’ve read in some time. The whole thing is a maddening read, but let’s take a look at the worst offenders:
The question is not whether a new park in Queens is a good idea. It’s a spectacular one. The question is whether it is a better idea than a less-flashy alternative — reviving the rail line so people in Queens, particularly in the Rockaways, can get to work without creeping along congested boulevards in cars and buses, or taking the hour-plus ride to Midtown on the A train…
Of the two tantalizing possibilities — rail or trail — trail now has the upper hand. A half-million-dollar study, released in October, resoundingly affirms the foregone conclusion of the national conservation group that commissioned it, the Trust for Public Land. It found that the QueensWay would be a boon to the borough, transforming a humdrum stretch of residential-commercial-industrial-whatever with the sylvan graciousness that the High Line brought to the West Side of Manhattan, but on a far bigger scale. It would open a walk-and-bike gateway to another big park, Forest Park, that is now dangerously hemmed in by roadways.
The study tallied other benefits: fewer traffic fatalities, better flood control, cleaner air, fitter New Yorkers and new commercial and cultural amenities. As new parks go, it would be relatively cheap — about $120 million.
The rail idea has no counterpart study, but it has its advocates, like Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder, whose district includes the Rockaways. They say it’s foolish to give up an existing right of way in a part of the borough so starved for mass transit. They have a point, but they may be understating the difficulty of reviving those rails for trains. Of the QueensWay’s 47 acres, seven are parkland. If the city, which owns the land, was to return it to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for transit, it would have to find replacement parkland somewhere else. Then there is the question of when the M.T.A. would get to this capital project, which would be one of many on its overflowing, underfunded to-do list.
The likeliest answer is never. The M.T.A.’s capital plan is only half-funded; the agency is strapped by debt and is hard-pressed to protect the infrastructure it has.
First, there is the use of the adjective “less-flashy” as a way to describe rail. Immediately, The Times has relegated something they admit will improve commutes for thousands as less flashy than a park that won’t even be open 24 hours a day. If avoiding “creeping along congested boulevards” is considered less flashy that some fancy renderings, count me in.
Next comes my favorite line in any Times editorial: “A half-million-dollar study, released in October, resoundingly affirms the foregone conclusion of the national conservation group that commissioned it.” Read that again and soak in its absurdity. The basis for The Times’ pro-park argument is a biased study that shockingly affirmed the views of the biased group that paid half a million New York taxpayer dollars for it. If anything, that should be a reason to doubt the pro-QueensWay rhetoric, not line up in support of it.
Next the price tag: Somehow, a $120 million new park is cheap. The most expensive linear park in New York City cost $150 million and was funded in large part through private donations. No one has even bothered to discuss how the QueensWay project would get off the ground with the support of the same group of wealthy patrons who, for better or worse, rammed the High Line through Chelsea. No matter what, $120 million for an area rife with parks it can’t adequately maintain today is not cheap, and the idea of using value capture that helped fund the Hudson River or Brooklyn Bridge Parks is as controversial to the neighborhood NIMBYs as rail reactivation is.
Finally, we arrive at the criticism of the MTA. When will the MTA get to it, The Times asks. Why aren’t they interested, say QueensWay proponents. Of course, in recent history, the city doesn’t wait for the MTA to do something; rather, interested parties deliver the dollars, and the MTA gets to work. Chuck Schumer got money for 2nd Ave., and Mayor Bloomberg funded the 7 line. The 9/11 recovery fund built the Fulton St. Transit Center, and George Pataki delivered dollars for East Side Access. Imagine if the QueensWay proponents had lined up political and economic support for rail reactivation instead of the park. It would be a much more likely outcome.
Ultimately, The Times betrays itself in its conclusion when it notes “the rare chance to plug a spectacular park into a densely built streetscape that really needs it.” A densely built streetscape needs transit not a park “plugged” through it. All I want is a fair study by an independent group that gives equal air time to the park and the rail. That seems too much to ask once The Times gets seduced by that flashy park.
Ed. Note: I’ve updated this post with a rendering from The Queensway’s presentation. The use of an ENYA design was misleading and distracting from the content of this post.
Over the last few years, a rift has emerged between the well-funded QueensWay proponents and the well-intentioned advocates calling for a reactivation of the Rockaway Beach Branch. It’s either one or the other with the political muscle in the form of money from the Governor and the voice of formers Parks Commission Adrian Benepe backing the rails-to-trails side while Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder has been the lone politician trying to keep the hopes for rail alive.
As anyone who’s read my thoughts on this topic knows, I’ve been a supporter of the Rockaway Beach Branch reactivation effort but with a twist. I’m not entirely sold on the idea, but I’m much more against turning over a dormant rail right-of-way to parks advocates without a full study assessing the rail option. We need to know the costs, the potential ridership and impact on Queens and the work that would go into restoring rail before we decide that some über-expensive park in a relatively isolated area of Queens is the way to go.
But what if we can have both? And shouldn’t we be as willing to study all uses of the right-of-way as certain factions are to embrace a park? That’s the argument transit historian and former LIRR manager Andrew Sparberg makes in the Daily News this week. He writes:
A rail line could serve thousands of people per hour. A walking and cycling trail won’t serve those kinds of numbers, but it would still give the community the benefits of a new greenway. What might be the best approach is to research the feasibility of both land uses in the same corridor, before it’s too late — why not incorporate rail transit and a recreational trail together?
…The debated piece of land for this right of way, which has been owned by the city since 1952, now resembles a small forest. Some of it lies atop an embankment. Much environmental study and engineering work, including bridge repairs, would be needed if any re-use occurs. Only an extensive engineering survey can reveal what can or cannot be built, but any proposal should study the feasibility of both a new two track subway route and a greenway. In many areas, the right of way appears wide enough for both uses. Innovative construction techniques and designs could permit trains and people safely side by side.
If this line is completed, Queens would gain its first true north-south subway route, giving Rockaway and southwest Queens easy subway access to Forest Hills, Rego Park, Jamaica, Citi Field, and the Arthur Ashe tennis stadium without long roundabout trips through Brooklyn and Manhattan, or long bus rides. Transfers to the J line could be provided at jamaica Ave., where the LIRR once had a station called Brooklyn Manor. Rockaway, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Woodhaven would have a second, more direct option for travel to and from Midtown Manhattan. Whatever the final outcome, the time to do a real study of reactivating rail transit and providing a recreational trail on the abandoned line, is now.
The QueensWay fight has pitted folks who are usually on the same side of the transit/livable streets/park advocacy debate against each other, but Sparberg wants to bridge that gap. Perhaps we should give him a listen.
A few months ago, Vice President Joe Biden drew some heat when he unfavorably compared Laguardia to third world airports. Considering that Laguardia has terminal buildings that are, to some degree or other, air conditioned, it was an unfair comparison with a bit of hyperbole, but Biden’s criticism rang familiar. Traveling to and from Laguardia is not exactly a pleasant experience, and for millions who see it as their entry point to New York City, it is not a point of pride for New Yorkers.
Yesterday, Biden joined NY Governor Andrew Cuomo in announcing a plan to modernize and revitalize Laguardia, JFK, Stewart and Republic airports. It’s not clear where the money will come from, and the early stages will involve simply a design contest. But after years of lobbying for developers and NYC boosters, someone in DC and someone in Albany appear to be listening. (For more on the announcement overall, check out Dan Rivoli’s coverage and The Times’ rundown of the event.)
From a transit perspective, improvements are on the table. Both Biden and Cuomo mentioned concerns with travel times to JFK, and of course, there is no train to Laguardia. It’s possible that issue could be addressed in these plans, but I’m wary of the statements issued yesterday. Cuomo first talked about a ferry to Laguardia, but it’s not clear how a boat helps people getting to the airport. It will be convenient only for those who are near the waterfront and only if the ferry terminal is within walking distance to Laguardia’s terminals. With the Rikers Island Bridge a physical obstacle and the approach to Laguardia non-negotiable, ferries seem to be a non-starter before we even consider their high operating costs and low ridership potential.
For those of us hoping for rail, Cuomo mentioned the subway as a potential option. But that, as we know, will require some strong-arming as Astoria NIMBYs still leave every politician in fear. The other idea seemed to involve Long Island Rail Road access to Laguardia. It sounds great until you stop to think for five to ten seconds. While the Port Authority has issued a call for vague provisioning for heavy rail access to Laguardia, the LIRR doesn’t work. There’s no nearby routing that would provide direct access to the airport, and running a spur from, say, Flushing would be a engineering impossibility. The operations costs would be tremendous and the time savings minimal.
If New York politicians and DC leaders are serious about rail access to Laguardia, an extension of the BMT line from Astoria would be the easiest and best option. But for now, we’re just hearing lip service, and maybe that’s OK. After all, there are plenty of projects that could use the investment before we send a subway, commuter rail line or even the Airtrain to Laguardia.
Thanks for bearing with me over the last few days. I’ve started a new job, and time was at a premium earlier this week. I’ve missed some big news though as someone smoke-bombed Bar Pitti by popping out of an emergency access grate just south of the West 4th St. subway station and Transit Wireless is set to unveil subway cell service at nearly 30 stations in Queens. I’ll cover that in due time, but tonight, we talk about the QueensWay.
Earlier this week, the folks behind the QueensWay — some CB heads in Queens, the Trust for Public Land, formers Parks Department head Adrian Benepe — unveiled a snazzy new website and the results of their state-funded study regarding the proposal to turn the defunct Rockaway Beach Branch right-of-way into a 3.5-mile park. They’ve designed something that they keep referring to as the High Line of Queens. It will supposedly have space for ample pedestrian pathways and a two-way bike lane; it will cost at least $125 million; and around 1 million people per year — 250,000 from outside of the area — will visit.
In a vacuum, it’s not a terrible idea. The costs are high; for only $25 million less than what it cost to build two phases of the High Line, the QueensWay would draw in around 3 million fewer visitors per year. But the renderings sure are nice, and Queens needs the to improve alternate transportation modes on a route that parallels Woodhaven Boulevard. But planning doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I’d rather see the city reimagine Woodhaven itself, and the RBBL ROW offers the city a unique opportunity to take advantage of a rail ROW through a neighborhood that badly needs high-speed transit connections. (Just look at the completely unironic Subway Links section of the website.) Unfortunately, no one as powerful as the Trust for Public Land or Benepe, let alone Gov. Cuomo who funded the latest round of renderings, is backing rail reactivation.
Over the past few days, a lot of voices have come out against the QueensWay plan. Assembly member Phil Goldfeder, one of the few politicians skeptical of the park, released his own statement:
The Queensway and Trust for Public Land have wasted taxpayer dollars on expensive, out of state consultants and one-sided studies that don’t actually represent the interests or needs of Queens families. Elected officials and community leaders from every part of the borough and as far as Manhattan have expressed full support for the complete restoration of the Rockaway Beach Rail Line and increased transit options.
In a few weeks, the Queens College Department of Urban Studies will release its own comprehensive and objective study, done by local scholars, faculty and students. I am confident that this new independent study will reflect the true needs of Queens residents and small businesses. Our growing coalition, including the MTA, will continue the fight to expand transit in Queens while easing commutes, creating jobs, cleaning the environment and expanding our economic development.
Gothamist too issued a takedown of the Queensway, echoing arguments I’ve made in the past. To me, though, there are two distinct problems with QueensWay. The first is that the people in the area and those arguing for it don’t really want it. Everyone keeps calling it the High Line of Queens as though that’s a net positive, but a non-insignificant portion of Manhattanites feel that the High Line isn’t what they wanted New York to become. It’s become a tourist trap and a high-end condo trap. Long-time residents and business have become priced out of what has become a very exclusive neighborhood. Even as I stray into NIMBY territory, divorce yourself from that Manhattan experience, and imagine it in Queens. It just wouldn’t fly.
But worse is the way this area needs rail. The MTA vaguely committed to RBBL reactivation in its 20-year needs assessment, but the project has no fiscal champion. As we’ve learned, if someone delivers money, the MTA will deliver a project. If the RBBL becomes a park, no matter how much we spend on that park, it will never be rail. When or if an impartial study says rail reactivation is a definite impossibility that no one would use, we can turn it over to the QueensWay. For now, though, this artery preserved for rail from the Rockaways to Queens Boulevard is too important to give up. It’s a shame that advocates who are usually on the same side have wound up fighting each other over this plan, but the choices we make now with regards to this 3.5-mile ROW will reverberate for decades.
As any regular SAS reader well knows by now, I have very little tolerance for the current love affair New York’s politicians have with ferries. To me, it reeks of a fetish that helps these elected officials avoid tough financial decisions and combative NIMBYs without actually solving the region’s mobility problems. The current ferry routes are the best ones available, and everything else suffers from low ridership, diminishing returns and either high fares or higher subsidies.
Yet, ferries continue to be the Next Big Thing, and on Wednesday, officials were so excited to call for more ferry service that they ran aground on one. Dana Rubinstein broke the story:
A Seastreak ferry ran aground in Jamaica Bay this afternoon, forcing the fire department to remove all 29 passengers, none of whom were injured, according to an FDNY spokesman and news reports. The ferry was not part of the regular Rockaways service, but was a private ride organized by a local ferry advocate to explore ways of expanding service, possibly to JFK Airport.
The ferry ride included, among others, representatives from the offices of Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder and Queens borough president Melinda Katz.”There was no big thump,” said Goldfeder, who wasn’t on the boat, but spoke to people who were. He said passengers didn’t even realize they were stuck until they tried moving. Goldfeder said the incident shouldn’t be used to paint ferry service as unreliable or prone to delays. “For every minor ferry incident, you can probably locate 50 subway delays,” Goldfeder said. “It’s just so inconsequential.”
The incident will not impact ferry service to the Rockaways, which carries about 400 people daily, according to Kate Blumm, a spokeswoman for the city’s Economic Development Corporation.
Now, there’s a lot going on here. First, Goldfeder’s right in one sense, but on the other hand, we’re talking about 400 people. For every one person who rides the ferry to and from the Rockaways, 15,000 ride the subway, and the cops don’t send out rescue squads every time a train is delayed due to a signal problem. We’ll come back to that 400 figure in a minute. In the meantime, don’t think too hard about how a ferry to JFK would work, where it would dock that would be at all convenient to suitcase-laden passengers, or why we need boats to the airport in the first place. You’ll only give yourself a headache.
In response to Wednesday’s incident, Queens’ politicians quickly tried to protect their ferry advocacy. “Today’s incident does not take away from the fact that is imperative that ferry service between Manhattan and Rockaways be made permanent,” Borough President Melinda Katz said. “Permanent ferry service would do more to promote economic development in the Rockaways than just about anything else that has been proposed in recent history. It is essential that the Rockaway ferry be made into a permanent mode of transportation.”
The emphasis is mine, and I’d like you to mull on her statement for a bit. The Borough President of Queens believes that a ferry with 400 daily passengers is the biggest thing to hit Queens since sliced bread (or, perhaps, the 63rd Street Connector). As a point of comparison, on a typical weekday, an average of 400 passengers per hour use the BMT Brighton line station at 7th Ave. near Prospect Heights and Park Slope. It’s certainly not promoting economic development in the way Katz’s talks.
Meanwhile, there is something that reaches toward the Rockaways that could create more economic development not just for the Rockaways but for much of Queens, and that is of course the Rockaway Beach Branch, a dedicated rail right of way with a connection through Queens to the IND Queensboro line. That would be worthy of a concerted political effort. But here we are, trumpeting a ferry that carries 400 of the Rockaways 130,000 people as a success. How our standards have fallen.
Let us pretend you are a member of an industry group that could be a fairly powerful advocate for airport accessibility. Let’s say you are hoping to improve the way New Yorkers relate to their airports. This isn’t a particularly long stretch as New York’s airports have a reputation for being inaccessible and generally awful. And now let’s say you’re focusing on getting to and from the airport. Do you advocate for something challenging but more beneficial such as, say, a rail extension or do you settle for the bus?
If you’re the Global Gateway Alliance, an organization that includes Joseph Sitt and Kathryn Wylde, apparently a bus is good enough if you’re trying to “address the major challenges facing the metropolitan region’s airports and related infrastructure that, if left unaddressed, will serve as a major impediment to the long-term growth of New York City.” Who knew a simple bus would do the trick?
Maybe I’m selling this idea short. In a letter to NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast, the Global Gateway Alliance urged the city’s transportation leaders to install a true BRT line between Ditmars Boulevard and LaGuardia Airport. It’s not a call for a subway extension, and it doesn’t involve the plans to bring BRT to Woodhaven. Rather, it’s a modest three-mile proposal, but the letter seems to create and give in to the opposition before wheels are even on the ground. Here’s an excerpt:
we believe the project should allow for the first true Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line in New
York City, linking the N line terminus at 31st Street and Ditmars Boulevard directly to LaGuardia, less than 3 miles away. The short distance between the N and the Central Terminal Building presents the opportunity for the elements of a BRT line that aren’t allowed by longer bus routes throughout the City – a dedicated lane, tickets purchased off the bus, and one or no stops along the route.
In addition, there are a number of potential route options. Ditmars Boulevard is the most direct and could increase foot traffic to and awareness of the shopping district. It may be difficult to remove parking spaces along Ditmars, however, so other alignments including down 31st Street to the Grand Central or another surface road could also be explored…
We know that an extension of the N line to LaGuardia was considered in the early 2000s. Ultimately, it was shelved due to community opposition from the disruption of constructing new elevated tracks. While an N Line extension would be a great boost to LaGuardia and mean the first one-seat ride to one of our major airports, a BRT plan is more workable right now…
We know that there may be new community issues associated with any additional mass transit plan, but we believe they can be overcome. Meeting with and including the local community in the planning process now will go a long way toward making the neighborhood a partner in this effort.
The GGA recognizes the recent moves to bolster Q70 service and install an SBS along the M60, but the organization notes that these two routes do not address the need for “direct and dedicated access” to the public transportation system from LaGuardia. Whether a BRT line from the airport to a subway terminal that’s a slow 11 stops away from Times Square qualifies is up for debate, but that’s my issue.
Rather, the GGA has the ability to impact decisions for the foreseeable future. These are powerful interests who care about mobility and have the resources to work with communities (and, if necessary, battle NIMBYs) to get good transit for everyone. They should be focusing on a faster rail link rather than a slower surface option with much less capacity. We used to think big; now we just think buses. How disappointing.
For some reason — could be stubborn NIMYBism, could be “it wasn’t invented here” syndrome, could be something else entirely — real bus rapid transit hasn’t made its way to New York City. We’ve been given instead Select Bus Service, a glorified Limited service with some obvious upgrades but no truly dedicated lanes or street prioritization. It’s been a battle too with a small number of residents along 34th St., for instance, throwing up significant roadblocks to progress. Now, though, DOT is narrowing in on a BRT corridor, and Queens’ bus riders may be the ones to benefit.
As Pete Donohue details in the Daily News today, the NYC Department of Transportation is examining Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards in Queens for true Bus Rapid Transit that extends beyond the trappings of Select Bus Service. The route could have physically separated lanes and signal prioritization, and while the study is in its very early stages with a painfully slow four-year rollout plan, it is part of DOT’s “curb to curb” rethink of Woodhaven Boulevard.
“It’s a great candidate for BRT because of its width and also it’s a street where we have some big goals that all work together — making it safer for pedestrians, making the traffic flow better, as well as providing better bus service,” Tom Maguire, a DOT higher-up, said.
Donohue had more:
A Pratt Institute study said using the current transit system, it would take a rider 65 minutes to get from Howard Beach to LaGuardia Airport. But a BRT route would cut it to 45 minutes, a 30% decrease.
The department would like to have a conceptual plan for the corridor, which at points is eight lanes wide, by the end of the year, said Eric Beaton, director of transit development. It would like to see the buses hit the road within four years, said Beaton…
Select buses too often are slowed by cars and trucks that encroach into their unprotected lanes. The answer is BRT and the city can look to Albany for help. Gov. Cuomo’s 2100 Commission, which is looking for ways to improve New York’s infrastructure, recommended the state support an “aggressive expansion” of the transit system with a BRT network, describing it as the next logical step after SBS. “SBS is good,” Gene Russianoff, staff attorney with the Straphangers Campaign, said. “Full-fledged BRT is great, giving bus riders service New York could be proud of.”
This is certainly optimistic news for anyone who’s been hoping for better bus service. Woodhaven is a key artery with very high bus ridership figures, and reallocating street space would benefit the many in this instance. New Yorkers could finally see that real BRT can happen here, and such a move could set the stage for future bus lanes.
That said, I have reason to be skeptical as well. A BRT route from the Rockaways via Cross Bay and Woodhaven winds through numerous Community Boards and will face heavy questioning from some of the areas of Queens with the highest rates of car ownership in the city. Taking away a lane or two of traffic is a direct assault on a way of life that many have grown very accustomed to over the decades. We saw what happened with plans to convert 34th St. to a transitway, and DOT will have to work closely with community leaders to ensure a more successful implementation here.
Still, we’re a few years away from these battles. Right now, NYC DOT is examining this possibility, and that’s a move that should be applauded. It shouldn’t take four years, but progress comes slow in New York City, if it comes at all. Here’s to hoping.
The MTA never works better than when in crisis mode. When something bad happens, crews are diverted to solve the problem, and issues can be resolved quickly. For an agency known to drag its heels, intentionally or not, on long-term planning problems, it’s refreshing to see it spring into action when push comes to shove.
We saw this play out this past weekend when, on Friday at 10:30 a.m., an F train derailed in Queens. By the Friday evening rush hour, Transit had restored local service, and although trains were taken out of service along parts of the line on both Saturday and Sunday mornings this weekend, the MTA anticipates a normal rush hour with both express and local service by 5 a.m. Monday. Workers had to re-rail and then remove an eight-car train and repair around 500 feet of rail while inspecting nearby infrastructure to ensure trains can operate safely.
Meanwhile, the MTA shared some findings over the weekend that indicate the focus of their investigation as well as their safety record. First, it appears as though operator error was not to blame. While the 1991 Union Square derailment that led to four deaths was due to the result of a drunk motorman, officials have all but cleared the F train’s crew of wrong-doing. Rather, the derailment happened at a spot that has become the focal point of efforts to combat broken rails.
According to the MTA, the rail that snapped, leading to this derailment, was manufactured in November and installed this past March. It’s not clear if it was installed incorrectly or if it contained a defect. It will, Transit said, be sent for metallurgical testing. We’ll see what comes of that.
Overall though, it’s not surprising that this rail broke. As what the MTA describes as its effort to reduce derailments to zero, workers map broken and defective rails to identify where large-scale replacement and hardening efforts should occur. During the presentation on this topic to the MTA Board in February, Transit targeted the Queens Boulevard corridor as one of five problematic areas, and the MTA has plans to install 23 miles of continuous welded rail to reduce broken rails and noise and vibration issues. That project, unfortunately, isn’t due to start until 2015 when funding is in place. (The other areas include the 7th Ave. IRT from Dyckman south, the 8th Ave. line from 207th to Jay St., 6th Ave. between 59th and Jay St., and the Astoria line from 57th St. to the phantom stop/11th St. Cut area in Queens.)
It is also important to keep numbers in perspective. The MTA says it has experienced 17 mainline derailments in the last decade, and for a system that runs 8000 trains per day, the derailment rate is less than half the national average. As recently as 1980, the MTA reported 20 derailments in one calendar year. Still, as deferred maintenance re-enters the picture and as Queens subway riders climb aboard their express trains in the morning, tensions will be high. These derailments are bad news, and we don’t expect them. That’s why, of course, they garner so much news coverage. But they serve as a reminder why New York City needs a fully funded and fully supported capital plan for the MTA. Anything worse puts everyone in danger.
After the jump, a video of MTA workers rerailing the F train. Read More→
As crews work to inspect and then remove a derailed F train underneath Woodside, Queens, New York City Transit has announced that local E and F train service has been restored along the Queens Boulevard line in both directions, but with a catch. To facilitate removal of the derailed train, this local service will operate only until 10 p.m. tonight, and then no trains will run along the Queens Boulevard line in both directions until 7 a.m. Saturday. Riders should expect “limited shuttle bus service” and should use the 7, J or LIRR trains instead.
During the evening rush and until further notice, M and R trains will not run along Queens Boulevard. R trains will terminate at 57th St.-7th Ave. in Manhattan, and M trains will operate between Metropolitan Ave. and Chambers St. The LIRR will cross-honoring valid MetroCards in both directions between Penn Station and Jamaica Station, including Kew Gardens, Forest Hills and Woodside, as well as stops between Atlantic Terminal and Jamaica. Planned weekend services changes for the J, M and 7 trains have since been canceled.
The derailment occurred at approximately 10:24 this morning when six of the F train’s eight cars jumped the tracks. Only the first and last cars remained properly railed. First responders evacuated approximately 1000 customers, and the NYPD reported 19 injuries, four of which were serious. MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast has vowed to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident which will include full inspections of signals, track and all other infrastructure in the area.