Archive for Queens
Throughout the debate over the future of the unused LIRR Rockabway Beach Branch right-of-way, I’ve frequently returned to a point about branding. While many QueensWay proponents understand the difference between the proposed greenspace in Queens and the High Line, media coverage has trumpeted the park as a High Line in Queens, and considering the popularity of the High Line, few Friends of the QueensWay are rushing to issue a correction.
The QueensWay, though, isn’t the High Line for reasons relating to geographic and population. Chelsea was the ideal place for a successful elevated park. It was already a tourist destination and already an expensive and popular neighborhood. The corridor from Rego Park to Ozone Park is, as New York City neighborhoods go, off the beaten track. It’s not in the guidebooks, and the residents are fine with that. It’s not as densely populated as the High Line area and not as well trafficked.
That’s the point made in a post on The Architect’s Newspaper today. Don’t call it a High Line, says B. Tyler Silvestro. He writes:
The proposal calls for the connection of ecologies to be the guiding framework. “QueensWay with sensitive design can become a critical artery of green open space for a diverse, vibrant community, offering opportunities for recreation, education, community gathering, and ecological productivity to our great city,” said dlandstudio’s Susannah Drake in a statement. Claire Weisz, principal at WXY agreed, “This study is an important next step in making the vision of reclaiming the QueensWay as a green connector and cultural corridor a reality.”
What they did not see was the High Line. The skyrocketing real estate value surrounding Manhattan’s famed elevated park is not the anticipated outcome of a park in Queens. Nor is it the intention. Both Rego Park and Ozone Park (neither of which are parks) are sorely lacking open space, and it is TPL’s ambition that the QueensWay will bring needed green space and more. “Boosting the local economy, activating abandoned and unsafe property, and accommodating bicycles—all with the goal of improving quality of life and connecting diverse neighborhoods.”
It’s a key distinction in the debate over the future of the right-of-way. Creating greenspace and bike infrastructure is a laudable goal; restoring rail service too would be a laudable goal. But converting the ROW into a park without ensuring that rail is impossible must take priority, and that means recognizing that QueensWay won’t, can’t be and shouldn’t be a High Line for a different borough. It serves a more functional purpose but so does rail. Balancing the two complementary and competing uses is a tricky proposition.
During Thursday night’s Public Advocate debate, three of the five candidates expressed their support for subway naming rights deals. I don’t know why the other two were so hesitant, but Tish James, Daniel Squadron and Sidique Wai all said they would support such deals. This is hardly a controversial position to take, but it’s one that requires a partner. New Yorkers can support naming rights until the cows come home, but if no one is buying them, what’s the point?
Over the past few years, I’ve detailed repeated attempts by, well, every transit agency around to sell station naming rights, and successes have been few and far between. At some point, I’m going to put together a master list of every agency that wants to sell naming rights with a glimpse at those that have been successful. As you can imagine, the former far out-number the latter.
Naming rights in New York City entered the fray a few weeks ago when the MTA put forward an official policy on assessing these deals. The agency’s annual take from naming rights is $200,000, but now they have a plan should someone come knocking. And lo and behold, someone has sort of come knocking. That someone is the Resorts World New York casino out in Queens.
The casino, the first of its kind within the boroughs of New York, is located near the Aqueduct Racetrack stop on the A train. For years, that stop has not been a crown jewel of the system. Decrepit and open only in one direction and also only sometimes, the station is a far cry from, well, anywhere. Its neighbor to the south is the Howard Beach station that feeds weary travelers to JFK Airport, and it was purely functional.
As part of its entry into New York, though, the casino funded a $15 million station renovation. The Resorts World SkyBridge is the centerpiece of this work. It’s a covered passageway that offers, as the casino put it in a press release, “an enclosed, temperature-controlled, direct path between the casino and the station.” Furthermore, the station — on the northbound side — is now a 24/7 stop. Some Ozone Park residents don’t need to take the 1500-foot walk to the next stop, and casino-goers can buy a MetroCard in the Resort World gift shop before boarding the A train.
Jose Martinez of NY1 was at the opening, and he reported that Resorts World is interested in securing some naming rights to this station. As politicians are hoping that the MTA will consider building a platform on the Rockaway-bound side of this station, casino officials want their name on the renovated stop. “We’ve been asking them for the last several months what we can do to get the station named after us,” Edward Farrell, president of Resorts World Casino New York City, said to New York 1. “We definitely want it done.”
If this deal is completed, it could set a potential model for future engagements in New York. A private entity right near a subway stop — and, in fact, one of the main reasons for people to use this subway stop — helped fund the renovation and wants naming rights as well. That’s the ideal situation. How many of those opportunities exist throughout the city though? Probably a few, but nearly as many as politicians eager for more revenue would like.
The powerfully connected proponents of the QueensWay — a misguided plan to turn the Rockaway Beach Branch ROW into a park — are pulling out all the stops as they forge forward with their plans. Earlier this week, an email from the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects arrived in my inbox trumpeted the annual AIANY Emerging New York Architects design competition, and the subject is the QueensWay. On August 22, ENYA will launch the 2014 version of its biennial contest that calls upon young architects to design “a viable green space” for the park.
In literature associated with the competition’s upcoming launch, ENYA refers to the QueensWay as “an abandoned elevated railway snaking through some of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in central and southern Queens.” The contest will focus around designs that “include a strong connection between the proposed elevated park and the adjacent urban fabric below” in an effort to create “a community hub which extends the street activity up to the future park.” In the past, QueensWay proponents have seemingly wanted to remove activity from the street into the future park.
Now, this competition, led up by Adrian Benepe, former Parks Department head Senior Vice President of The Trust for Public Land and representatives of Friends of the QueensWay, is all well and good, but where’s the competing rail contest? The need to consider some rail connection via the Rockaway Beach Branch Line is evident, and Albany voices have been calling for a study for months. Maybe such a study would show a clear need and way forward for the restoration of rail service; maybe a study would show that rail service is unnecessary and impractical. Either way, before we proclaim the QueensWay the future, the rail study must go forward.
Ultimately, ENYA’s contest is a failure in creativity before it begins. It’s convenient for them to support the QueensWay, but imagine what a bunch of young architects could design if the task involved putting forward a proposal for rail as well. A future-forward vision of rail for young designers is exactly would this project needs. The Queensway, well, that will look just like any other rails-to-trails park.
Over the past few years, I’ve wholeheartedly embraced the MTA’s countdown clocks. Despite a seemingly interminable wait for technology that leading international subways have enjoyed for years, Transit finally figured out how to introduce a modern technology into its 100-year-old system, and now we never have to guess when the next 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or L train is coming. But what of the rest?
While the lettered lines are still years away from a countdown clock solution, one sliver of Queens is getting something resembling next train information today. As the Daily News first reported, five stations along the BMT Astoria Line — 39th Ave., 36th Ave., Broadway, 30th Ave. and Astoria Blvd. — will soon enjoy the MTA’s next-train announcements. These are audio messages broadcast into each station that proclaims a train one or two stations away. Decidedly low-tech, they allow passengers some measure of relief, but I’ve never been too convinced of their utility.
The system that will go live today in Astoria is the one in place at a few other stations. The BMT platform formerly known as Pacific St. has these announcements, and the IND level at Columbus Circle enjoys this system too. It’s not the most useful though. As Donohue notes, the audio announcements will not specify whether the next train is an N or Q, and it’s unclear how much advanced warning these systems give. As Queens riders note, it’s better than nothing.
My problem with this system is the lack of information. As opposed to offering something useful, the MTA here is providing a service that doesn’t deliver the key information. What train is arriving is equally as important, if not more so, than when that train is arriving. At Pacific St., the announcements simply talk of an arriving local or an express train one station away. That’s fine if you don’t care what train you’re taking, but except for Herald Square-bound passengers, everyone else wants to know if the next train is a D or an N. Columbus Circle suffers from the same problem. I want to know if a C or B is next because I need one and have no use for the other.
In Astoria, that problem is mitigated a bit. Most riders who board in Astoria don’t care if an N or a Q is next. Few of them are heading to the reaches of Brooklyn far from Queens where the N and Q diverge. It will be a relief for riders whose only way of trying to guess where the next train is involves peering down the elevated tracks. Still, these announcements can end up as noise pollution if they’re warning only of trains one or two (visible) stations away.
Meanwhile, according to the MTA, a countdown clock solution for the IND and BMT subway lines is still three to five years away. That’s a long time to wait, and I’m glad my nearest subway lines have countdown clocks. From the Subway Time API functionality to the in-system clocks, this technology has made waiting more tolerable and trip-planning easier. When these — and not just audio announcements — are available system-wide, the age-old New York complaint involving endlessly waiting for the subway may just go up in smoke. For now, though, the next Manhattan-bound train will be two stations away.
The state-funded feasibility study for the QueensWay — a misguided effort that would turn an underused rail right-of-way into an underused park — is well under way with no comparable effort aimed at studying rail use, and Queens politicians are taking note. Already some local politicians and Congressional reps have voiced concerns over the sole focus of the study, and these politicians have instead urged rail reactivation. Now, another Queens State Senator and Borough President candidate has added his voice to the fray.
As Streetsblog reported yesterday, Tony Avella is the latest to call for rail reactivation. Joining with a group called the Queens Public Transit Committee, Avella has called for a study that includes rail as well. Stephen Miller has more on these efforts:
Rockaway Beach Branch rail service is the group’s priority. “The most efficient way is this train system,” said committee leader Philip McManus of Rockaway Park. “This goes all the way from South Queens all the way into Manhattan, and the Select Bus Service will not do that.” McManus said a study should determine whether LIRR service, which would not requite tunneling, or subway service, which would require a new tunnel beneath Rego Park connecting to Queens Boulevard, is the preferred option. “Whatever works,” he said at this morning’s press conference on Liberty Avenue. “We need a legitimate study, but it has to be first that the public needs to support this. That’s why we’re here.”
U.S. Representatives Hakeem Jeffries and Greg Meeks support federal funding for a feasibility study, and Avella joins Assembly members Phil Goldfelder and Mike Miller in advocating for rail.
If a feasibility study is conducted and political support lines up behind reactivation, the project would still need to secure funding from the MTA capital program. Avella, who opposed congestion pricing as a council member and mayoral candidate, thinks casinos could be a source of revenue for the project. “Hopefully the public will approve the gambling referendum that’ll be up in November,” he said. “That’s gonna generate billions of dollars.”
“It’s a transportation line,” McManus said, adding that it would be difficult for rail and trail to share it. “We don’t want a park, okay? We want a transportation option.”
The ask right now is a simple one: As the state is paying to study the practicalities of building a park through parts of Queens that likely won’t see much usage, the state should study the practicalities of restoring rail service along the Rockaway Beach Rail Line. Our governor has noted the need to build up infrastructure to better prepare for future storms, and the right of way already exists. Maybe the study determines nothing is feasible; maybe the study finds rail service could be restored. Either way, the study should go on.
As with any capital project, though, this one needs a clear champion. Avella is the fifth politician to either issue an explicit statement on the rail preference or appear with groups advocating for such a solution. If he were to win his Queens Borough President race, he could deliver some discretionary funding for a study, but nothing is stopping one of the other four from finding a grant of money either. The rail efforts won’t move forward without some funding. Now is the time for someone to step forward with it before QueensWay “wins” by virtue of being able to act quickly and coherently.
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.
New York City’s local races — of which there are plenty this year — tend to bring out the crazier transportation ideas. Over at Streetsblog, local candidates have offered up their views on the MTA ranging from the incomprehensible to the sensible while Sal Albanese has focused his mayoral campaign around a congestion traffic plan that would boost mass transit. My favorite though comes to us from Queens.
Leroy Comrie, a current City Council member, is running for Queens Borough President. He isn’t likely to top Melinda Katz who has the backing of the county leaders, but that shouldn’t stop him from trying. In announcing his candidacy, Comrie unveiled his desire to see new subways for Queens. The plans aren’t exactly well formulated or even on the table, but the idea is an intriguing and fanciful one.
The Daily News had more about the ideas put forth by the chair of the Council’s Land Use Committee:
Councilman Leroy Comrie re-launched his bid for borough president this week by dropping a stunning bombshell: he wants a new subway line in Queens. “The E and the F lines are more congested — we could build another line in that tunnel,” said Comrie (D-St. Albans). “Those are the most congested lines in the city.”
The J and Z lines that connect Brooklyn to Queens also could use an overhaul, he said.
The cost of additional service makes Comrie’s proposal as likely as a Mets World Series victory this year. After all, the long delayed Second Avenue subway, which will run from 63rd to 96th Sts. in Manhattan, will cost $4.5 billion by the time it is finished in 2016.
I’m not quite sure what Comrie intends to do with the Queens Boulevard line. There’s no room to “build another line” in the same tunnel, and any new subway in Queens should enhance service, not duplicate preexisting routes. Still, there are significant parts of Queens that are sorely lacking subway service.
For starters, a rail connection to Laguardia would improve mobility to the airport. In terms of access to and through residential neighborhoods, Middle Village could use better subway service, the areas east of Flushing are cut off from the system, and, of course, the Rockaway Beach Branch line could be reactivated. That last proposal has been in the news of late.
With around 2.25 million people, Queens is the second most populous borough, but its subway routes are limited. The western parts of Queens are well served, but the eastern parts are not. Additionally intra-borough, north-south travel is nigh but impossible. Had either version of the Second System plans (1929 or 1939) seen the light of day, Queens would have a more extensive subway network, but only bits and pieces have come online over the decade. None of the transformational lines have seen the light of day.
Ultimately, Comrie’s ideas won’t go anywhere. His candidacy is barely hanging on by a thread, and he’ll likely drop out well before September’s primary. Plus, the Borough President has very little pull in matters of state or even city politics. Still, I like seeing bold ideas presented to the public. Subway expansion plans happen only when leaders are willing to champion them, and if anyone in Queens truly wants better subway service, the calls for it must start somewhere.
In a repeat of the mid-March FASTRACK treatment, the MTA’s not-so-new overnight construction program returns to the Queens Boulevard line this evening. From 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. each night this week, there will be no subway service between Jackson Heights and 21st-Queensbridge on the F or the World Trade Center on the E. Shuttle buses and the 7 train will provide alternate service.
Here’s how this goes:
- E in Queens only between Jamaica Center and 74th Street/Roosevelt Avenue
- F in two sections:
- Between 179th Street and Roosevelt Avenue and
- Between Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue and 21st Street-Queensbridge.
So how does one get around? Well, the MTA offers up these lovely suggestions:
- Take the 7 between Manhattan and 74th Street-Roosevelt Avenue or Queensboro Plaza
- Take the N between Manhattan and Queensboro Plaza
- In Manhattan, transfer at 5th Avenue/42nd Street-Bryant Park for the 7 or F, Times Square-42nd Street/42nd Street-Port Authority for the 7 or A, and 34th Street-Herald Square for the F or N
- In Manhattan along 8th Avenue, take the A local instead of the E
- Take free shuttle buses running LOCAL between Queensboro Plaza and 74th Street-Roosevelt Avenue making station stops at Queens Plaza, 36th Street, Steinway Street, 46th Street, Northern Blvd and 65th Street
- In Queens, transfer between shuttle buses and trains at 74th Street-Roosevelt Avenue for the 7, E and F or Queensboro Plaza for the 7 and N
While looking at the map and the shuttle bus route, I realized it’s an odd service pattern. It connects a 7 train stop with another 7 train stop while running above the route of the Queens Boulevard local trains, but it doesn’t contain to the F at Queensbridge. Thus there is a bit of a gap in service. It’s useful for people who need the Queens Boulevard local stops, but it’s not useful for anyone continuing to travel on the F.
And as with last time, not much in the way of media coverage here. FASTRACK is here to stay, and it’s causing nary a stir any longer.
The geography of New York City makes for some strange transportation bedfellows. Manhattan — a long, narrow island — contains a lot of key job centers and is the house of city government while Brooklyn and Queens, as close neighbors, are home to a combined 4.7 million people. Yet, it’s relatively easy to take a train into Manhattan and relatively painful to travel between the counties of Kings and Queens. That’s a problem.
Every now and then, this transit imbalance takes center stage for a few days. On and off for the past few years, the Pratt Center has tried to fight for better interborough travel options, and the G train remains an object of scorn and derision. Yet, true Select Bus Routes between Queens and Brooklyn remain elusive, and plans to build subway connections died along with the rest of the Second System in the 1930s.
For many New Yorkers, they why of it all is elusive. In 2013, it’s viewed as a great failing that there is no quick way to get from Forest Hills or Astoria to Downtown Brooklyn or Park Slope, that the best transit route from Coney Island to Flushing involves hours of travel through three boroughs. Yet, these patterns have their roots in the history of the city’s economic development and transit policy, and yesterday, at The Atlantic Cities, Richard Greenwald, a history professor at St. Joseph’s College, offered up a brief history of the tortured connections. Here’s his take:
In the beginning, the New York City subway system, as historian Clifton Hood details in his masterful book, 722 Miles, was a commuter line. As such, it was designed to bring people to where the jobs were, and that meant Manhattan. So all subway routes lead there…While the subway got people from the outer boroughs into Manhattan, the once-vast trolley system of New York connected the residents of Queens to Brooklyn…
The demise of the trolleys in the late 1930s and ’40s seems to be largely responsible for disconnecting the two sister boroughs. Yes, they were replaced by buses, but buses have never — for a number of reasons — been able to cement the connection the way trolleys seemed to.
Starting in the 1920s, a company called National City Lines started buying up street car lines, then mostly privately owned. In 1936, the company became a holding company owned equally by General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California, and Phillips Petroleum. Perhaps you can guess where this is going. NCL bought up trolley systems in over 40 cities and 15 states, converting them almost overnight into bus lines. In 1947, they were indicted in federal court, in what became known as the “Great American Streetcar Scandal.” Two years later, the four original companies who owned NCL, along with MAC Truck, were found guilty of conspiracy to monopolize mass transit. But by then the damage was done. Most of the nation’s streetcar system was in junkyards, replaced by buses.
Outside of the streetcar conspiracies, Greenwald points his fingers at the social stigma attached to buses as a reason why the trolley connections were cut. “In the outer boroughs of New York, trolleys had acted as a primary mode of transportation,” he said. “Buses, on the other-hand, were tertiary, connecting commuters first-and-foremost to subway lines.” That’s not quite accurate though as the current Brooklyn bus map and the old trolley map look awfully similar. At ground level, at least, it’s no harder or easier to travel between Brooklyn and Queens than it was 80 years ago.
What happened were social shifts. Up until the last decade or so, few people noticed the poor quality of transit connections between Brooklyn and Queens because no one wanted to travel between these two boroughs. As gentrification took hold though, suddenly, middle/upper class neighborhoods were disconnected. It’s easy to travel from East New York to Jamaica or the Rockaways via the IND Fulton Line. It’s not easy to get from South Slope to Forest Hills without a arduous slow ride through Manhattan on the F train. Neighborhoods eight miles apart may as well be in different cities.
Fixes for this problem are not easy to identify. Even the long lost Second System wouldn’t have materially improved connections between Brooklyn and Queens. We instead need something as creative and fanciful as Vanshookenraggen’s Franklin Ave. Shuttle extension (or the entirety of his Second System plans). Such plans, though, require money to be no obstacle, and for the foreseeable future, money is an obstacle.
In the meantime, a better Select Bus Service would do the trick with a focus on interborough connections between neighborhoods that are current disconnected. Of course, SBS takes literally years of planning and is fraught with its own problems. Meanwhile, as jobs migrate from Manhattan to centers in Brooklyn and Queens, the Outer Boroughs remain frustratingly disconnected, a victim of the history of the economic growth and centralization of Manhattan and a lack of foresight by politicians over the past 100 years. It’s a rather familiar story after all.
Seven months after Sandy swept through, the A train returns. Beginning tomorrow at noon, the A will again run from Howard Beach to the Rockaways. First announced two weeks ago, this service restoration is approximately a month ahead of schedule, but despite the good news, lots of Sandy-related work looms large in the future.
As part of the relaunch of the A train tomorrow, the MTA will run a Nostalgia Train from Howard Beach to the peninsula. The R1s and R9s will depart at 10:30 a.m. with various agency officials and local dignitaries on board. There will be speeches at Rockaway Park-Beach 116th Street Station, and then regular A/S service begins anew. If you want to ride the H train, get thee to the Rockaways as tonight and tomorrow morning are your last chances.