Archive for Queens
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.
Updated (5:00 p.m.): For the latest on service in Queens, please refer to my new post on evening service. I won’t be updating this post any further.
Updated (1:25 p.m.): The MTA is reporting that a Manhattan-bound F express train derailed at around 10:30 a.m. near 65th St. in Queens. According to the agency, the middle six of the train’s eight cars jumped the tracks while the front and rears cars stayed in place. Over 1000 passengers were evacuated, and 19 were injured, four seriously.
As the evening rush approaches, the MTA does not anticipate regular service along the Queens Boulevard line. The 7 train will run all weekend to carry some of the burden, and the LIRR is currently cross-honoring MetroCards.
For specific service changes, keep an eye out the MTA’s site. As of 1:25 p.m., the following changes are in effect:
- There is no train service between 71st Av-Forest Hills and Queens Plaza in both directions.
- There is no train service between 71st Av-Forest Hills and 21 St-Queensbridge in both directions.
- There is no train service between Forest Hills-71 Av and Essex St.
- There is no train service between 71 Av-Forest Hills and Queens Plaza in both directions.
- Some northbound trains are running on the line from 57 St-7 Av to Queensboro Plaza.
Anyone trying to reach the JFK Airtrain should take the A train or LIRR, and other customers are advised to take the 7, J or L trains for service into Queens. LIRR is cross-honoring MetroCards at Sutphin Blvd-Archer Av, Kew Gardens, Forest Hills, Woodside, Nostrand Av, East New York, Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr and Penn Station-34 St. Shuttle buses are between Queens Plaza or 21 St.-Queensbridge and Forest Hills. Prepare for crowded and slow rides.
I’ll have more information as it becomes available. For more photos from scenes of the incident, check out the MTA’s photo album on Flickr.
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U/D Queens: There are Aprox1000 people on derailed train in Subway tunnel. 4 of them on oxygen Evacuation in progress at emergency exit.
— NY Scanner (@NYScanner) May 2, 2014
In my write-up of Michael Kimmelman’s Times column on the Brooklyn-Queens streetcar route, I posed a question that would be answered by any study examining this proposal: What problem does this light rail/streetcar line solve? Intuitively, it seemed as though the biggest problems were at either ends of the line — Red Hook and Astoria — and the idea of an interconnected waterfront was otherwise a developer’s dream masquerading as a solution to something that isn’t actually a problem.
One of the bigger issues with The Times’ proposal is how the routing doesn’t connect to subways. While Alex Garvin’s original plan brought the streetcar through Downtown Brooklyn, Kimmelman swung west, away from badly needed subway connections and instead tightly hugging the waterfront. The Times scribe claims this will help serve areas that are “inaccessible” or served “barely” by the G train, referred to in the article as “the city’s sorriest little railroad.” It’s not clear how a low-capacity streetcar running at slower speeds will be better than even the much-maligned G train, but that’s besides the point for these so-called “desire lines.”
One of the biggest issues though with Kimmelman’s argument is that most of the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront isn’t really that far away from the nearest subway (let alone feeder bus routes). I did some radius mapping tonight of the waterfront and various other areas in Brooklyn and Queens, and the resulting images are instructive. I cannot unfortunately embed the map so you’re stuck with some images. Take a look at what happens when you chart areas that are more than half a mile away from the nearest subway.
If we’re truly concerned about getting people from transit deserts to jobs, then there are three discrete problems: The Navy Yards, an actual job center, isn’t close to transit while Red Hook, where low income housing dominates, is physically and psychologically isolated. Finally, in Astoria, parts of the waterfront are far from the N and Q trains, but there is an area where a ferry would make more sense as a lesser cost option.
The truth is the waterfront is not, by and large, without access to transit, and the G train, as scorned as it is, provides an adequate crosstown connection. A shorter streetcar route could help solve Red Hook’s problems and make the Navy Yards more attractive; a long streetcar that snakes past luxury developments that are a 10-minute walk from the nearest subway seems like more of a bonus for developers than a solution to a problem. But it’s still worth studying, objectively and thoroughly, and then when we have cost estimates and ridership projections, we can talk. As an object of desire though, it leaves much to be desired.
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For fun (?), I have two more screenshots of the radius maps. Take a look at South Brooklyn and Eastern Queens. Forget desire lines and the developing waterfront; these are massive areas of the two most populous boroughs where the nearest subway connections are miles away. No one seems interested in solving that problem though.
As 2013 unfolded and the promise of a new mayor came into view, the Forum for Urban Design hosted a series of meetings on urban development. As part of the forum, a variety of planners and designers submitted ideas for the Next New York. I highlighted one of those ideas — Alex Garvin’s waterfront light rail — in a September post on light rail for Red Hook. It is, of course, an old idea that won’t fade away and could make sense as a speedier connection to the jobs, shops, restaurants and subways in Downtown Brooklyn if the costs are right.
Today, that idea — and the rest of Garvin’s impractical line all the way to Astoria — is back in the news as The New York Times has discovered it. It’s always dangerous when The Times latches onto an element of urban planning as they tend to push real estate interests over transit needs, and their coverage of this idea as a mixed-traffic streetcar connecting waterfront areas that don’t need to be connected to each other follows a similar pattern. This is a Big Idea for the sake of Big Ideas and not to solve a discrete problem.
The presentation comes to us in a Michael Kimmelman column. I’ll excerpt:
There’s a wonderful term for the dirt trails that people leave behind in parks: desire lines. Cities also have desire lines, marked by economic development and evolving patterns of travel. In New York, Manhattan was once the destination for nearly all such paths, expressed by subway tracks that linked Midtown with what Manhattanites liked to call the outer boroughs.
But there is a new desire line, which avoids Manhattan altogether. It hugs the waterfronts of Brooklyn and Queens, stretching from Sunset Park past the piers of Red Hook, to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, through Greenpoint and across Newtown Creek, which separates the two boroughs, running all the way up to the Triborough Bridge in Astoria. The desire line is now poorly served by public transit, even as millennials are colonizing Astoria, working in Red Hook, then going out in Williamsburg and Bushwick — or working at the Navy Yard, visiting friends in Long Island City and sleeping in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
They have helped drive housing developments approved or built along the Brooklyn waterfront, like the one by Two Trees at the former Domino Sugar Refinery. But this corridor isn’t only for millennials. It’s also home to thousands of less affluent New Yorkers struggling to get to jobs and join the work force. So here’s an idea: bring back the streetcar.
The idea of a “desire line” is a literary device; it doesn’t mirror reality. Furthermore, the rest of Kimmelman’s column is replete with contradictions about this streetcar’s plan. Kimmelman opts for streetcars over buses because of “romance,” but and while there’s something to be said about the psychological impact of a streetcar, we’re talking about a half a billion dollars and massive upfront infrastructure needs for a mixed-traffic line that won’t do what Kimmelman wants it to do.
Here’s the question that needs to be asked first: Will the “thousands of less affluent New Yorkers struggling to get to jobs and join the work force” benefit from this streetcar route? What problem is a line near the waterfront from Red Hook to Astoria trying to solve? One Twitter follower put together a Google Map of the proposed routing, and you’ll see that the best it does is provide direct access to the Navy Yard, a decent sized job center in Brooklyn. As passé as it may be, jobs are in Manhattan or generally along subway lines, and this route doesn’t help improve access to subway lines. (It’s also a mess operationally with tight turns along narrow streets that would limit rolling stock length. It also parallels some bus routes, raising even more questions of need and cost.)
While Cap’n Transit believes that any area that could support light rail would be prime for a subway, if costs are lower and ridership falls in between buses and a subway, light could work. As I mentioned, we can’t dismiss the psychological edge they hold over buses, and with the right routing — dedicated lanes that run, say, from Red Hook to the Navy Yards via subway stations in Downtown Brooklyn rather than via the waterfront — they could solve the gaps in transit deserts. But we shouldn’t, as Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen does, love this idea simply because it’s new, romantic or big. Will the ridership justify the costs? Will the service connect to job centers and destinations or provide a faster way to get to New York’s developed subway network? Can we identify a need and support that need based on a thorough study? “Desire” isn’t enough considering how much this will cost.