Archive for Triboro RX
When the MTA unveils its next five-year capital plan later this fall, the biggest ticket item will likely be a significant investment in Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway. It likely won’t, as I’ll discuss later this week, include funding for Staten Island projects that have been on various planners’ and advocates’ wishlists for years, and it won’t include any money for Triboro RX, that circumferential line proposed nearly 20 years ago by the RPA and talked up extensively by Elliot Sander six years back. These are projects without the right champions, but what if we took the Second Ave. approach?
For better or worse, the Second Ave. Subway is a multi-phase project, broken into bite sized pieces due to the whims of politicians who couldn’t stomach a $20 billion price tag for the full line. Instead, we have four phases — only two of which are useful together. Phases 3 and 4, the southern extensions south of the connection to the 63rd St. Tunnel, wouldn’t work independently whereas Phase 1 on its own would be successful and Phase 2 an added and much needed northern bonus. The multi-phased approach leads to higher costs and redundant work, but it also means parts of the subway line will come into service much sooner than otherwise expected.
As New York City struggles to expand its high speed, high capacity transit network, I wonder if the phased approach could work elsewhere, and I’m not alone. Cap’n Transit has picked up in this thread, in a way, in some posts on the Triboro RX line. What, he asked in a recent post, could be done now with a minimum amount of newbuild? The answer is plenty.
Reviving a 1969 plan the MTA put out during its infancy, the good Cap’n advocates for an O train that would use some of the Triboro RX right of way but would be a more feasible route. He writes:
Under this proposal, the L train would be split into two routes. At Broadway Junction (or maybe Halsey Street) they would diverge, with one continuing to the L current terminus in Canarsie. The other branch, which I’ll call the O train, would travel parallel to the L within the right-of-way of the Bay Ridge Branch, skipping a few stops but connecting to the 3 train at Junius Street. It would then follow the Bay Ridge Branch west through past Brooklyn College (with a transfer to the 2 train), terminating at the Brighton Line with a transfer to the Avenue H station.
This is only one possibility. Another way to handle it would be to run the B trains 24/7, turning them east on the Bay Ridge Branch to Broadway Junction – although riders in Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay would probably complain about losing express service. A third would be to have the O and B trains overlap, providing more frequent service.
That seems to be all that can reasonably be done with the existing trackage without sharing tracks with freight trains or pouring lots of concrete. There is a four-track section between Broadway Junction and Fresh Pond Yard, but there’s not much reason to send L (or J or C) trains up there. If you’ve ever taken the M to the end of the line you’ll understand why – it’s not much of a destination.
Running trains on this section would bring train service to a large section of Brooklyn that currently has none, and provide access to potential sites for new housing in these areas. There is no need to wait for a full build of the “TriboroRx” line – that was just somebody’s idea. It should be explored now.
Building out new stations and retrofitting existing ones for a parallel train service wouldn’t come cheap; you can take a look at the state of the ROW in an old Forgotten NY post. But then again, neither will building out the entire Triboro RX, and the political and economic barriers currently preventing any real planning work will exist into the foreseeable future.
But by chopping this project up into pieces, it’s easier for local champions to carry the torch, and it’s easier to find the money to make it one step closer to a reality. As Cap’n Transit noted, there’s no need to wait until some faraway time when Triboro RX becomes a priority (because that time is, more likely than not, never). Let’s start working on smaller pieces today.
Updated (4:00 p.m.) with corrections from Quinn surrounding estimated Triboro RX costs: Throughout the course of the NYC mayoral campaign, buses and ferries have come to dominate the transit discussion. These aren’t transformative solutions that address the myriad access issues with the city’s subway network, but rather, they are two modes of transit over which the next mayor can actually assert control. Candidates don’t need to pay lip service to the unrealistic idea of an MTA under city control when they can, by action or fiat, better expand the city’s bus services or ferry networks.
If the right politician saying the right things on the city’s buses came around, we could embrace that person, and in discussions this week about his dreams for the city, Brad Lander did just that. The City Council member recently put forward a bill requiring the Department of Transportation to come up with a comprehensive ten-year plan for the city’s buses that would involve a massive rollout of Select Bus Service. I think the timeline could be reduced significantly, but Lander’s proposal would be a sea change in the way DOT has slowly brought SBS to the city’s streets.
Stephen Smith of The Observer spoke with Lander earlier this week, and he is sick of the slow process that gives too much weight to individual Community Boards in a vacuum:
To Mr. Lander, the piecemeal approach that the MTA and DOT took to the lanes, and their strict policy of not rolling them out without approval from local community boards and elected officials, doesn’t go far enough. “Of course you work with communities to make it happen,” Mr. Lander told The Observer (followers of Mr. Lander on Twitter can attest to the fact that “community” is by far his favorite word), “but I don’t think you can approach it so that each one has to be considered on its own, and any time some interest in a community seeks to block it, that can be enough resistance to stop it from moving forward.”
“The majority of New Yorkers,” he continued, “don’t own cars. We need to improve public transit, but unfortunately often community boards overrepresent car owners, and you can get interest groups to step up on something most people don’t know anything about, and block something that’s absolutely in the broader interest.”
…In addition to quantity, Mr. Lander wants better quality. SBS is not, some detractors claim, robust enough to qualify as true bus rapid transit, and Mr. Lander wants to give SBS routes physically-separated lanes—as opposed to the painted ones they have now, which he’d also like to see better enforced, ideally by cameras on the fronts of buses—and the busiest stops stations instead of mere stops, like with some of the more complete bus rapid transit implementations in Latin America and China. Mr. Lander also said he’d like to see SBS-like features to speed buses routes along streets that are not wide enough for the dedicated lanes that SBS requires. (B35 on Church Avenue, we’re looking at you!)
Lander, in closing, said that the next mayor could be the “bus mayor” much as Mayor Bloomberg is the “bike mayor.” All it would take is some political will and a solid plan. So does anyone currently in the running for Gracie Mansion have such a plan?
In her latest policy announcement regarding transit, Christine Quinn unveiled a challenger to the Triboro RX rail line. She is instead proposing the Triboro RX Select Bus Service line, and it is an unqualified disaster. The route would essentially mirror the Triboro RX line over 25 miles from Yankee Stadium to Bay Ridge but with enough twists and turns that it’s hard to see how it could be an express bus, let along a dedicated Select Bus Service/BRT combination, as she has proposed.
For starters, though, her heart is in the right place. “We need to update our city’s transportation to meet the needs of real New Yorkers,” she said in a statement. “Our subway system was completed in the 1950’s, when more than half of New Yorkers lived in Manhattan and less than 200,000 lived in Queens. Times have changed, and today Brooklyn and Queens together have nearly 5 million residents. Many of them commute to boroughs other than Manhattan. It’s time we make the MTA work for all New Yorkers.”
But otherwise, Quinn’s proposal is a mess. Without citing any studies — largely because there aren’t any — Quinn claimed that Triboro RX would cost $25 billion to build and take 40 years to construct. Those are figures for a surface rail system that would run on preexisting track and right of way. She claims Triboro RX could be up and running in a year and at a cost of $25 million instead, all numbers plucked from a 17-year-old, far more comprehensive regional report from the RPA [PDF].
After speaking of the $25 billion cost and originally printing it on her website, Quinn later revised estimates downward to $1 billion for the entire Triboro RX rail line. At that price point, why are we even considering a cockamamie bus route?
(As an added zinger, Quinn claimed that “we need to do a better job involving communities in the input process, in the development process.” I’m assuming she’s taking about the M60 SBS debacle, but as many have mentioned, the community input wasn’t the problem; rather, obstructionist politicians concerned about their parking spots and with a disproportionately loud voice were.)
Proponents at the Pratt Center spoke with Dana Rubinstein at Capital New York and seemed ready to chop up the Triboro RX SBS while embracing it. Joan Byron claimed that the Triboro RX SBS “wouldn’t clog up railroads that could be used to get more freight rail off city streets.” She also proposed “several different routes instead of trying to do it all with one.” I’m pretty sure that’s called a local bus network, and we already have that.
But this is the state of the campaign. No one has the vision for rail, and while the plan is out their for a bus mayor to embrace it, we get empty promises that can’t, won’t and likely shouldn’t be fulfilled. If all it takes to run for mayor is the ability to draw a bunch of connected lines on a map, well, we all should be out there campaigning.
For some reason or another, the 2013 Mayoral campaign has taken a turn for the water. While the MTA is beginning to take a serious look at forecasting transit demand, the front-running Anthony Weiner and Christine Quinn are trying to out-do each other on ferry proposals. It’s a transit policy focused around gimmicks rather than solutions.
The latest wacky idea in a campaign filled with them comes from Christine Quinn. In order to
pander to voters supposedly improve commutes for people who I guess work at the Intrepid, Quinn has proposed an express ferry from Staten Island to Manhattan’s Pier 79 near 39th St. and the West Side Highway. Quinn claims such a ferry service would “help spur job growth and economic development on both Staten Island and on Manhattan’s Westside” and would offer a “20-minute direct access to midtown Manhattan.” To provide access to Manhattan’s actual job core, Quinn suggests subsidized bus shuttles or Citi Bike expansion. Never mind that a new subway station is opening in 11 months but half a mile away from the ferry terminal.
To garner support for this plan, Quinn points to the runaway success of the East River Ferries, but even that seems to be overstated. These ferries — with a fare structure separate and apart from the subway — have drawn 2.1 million riders in two years which averages out to just under 3000 a day. That’s essentially the equivalent of a whopping three peak-hour subway trains.
Ferries have limited utility in New York City because few people live near the water and even fewer work near the water. Without fare integration, ferries riders likely have a two-seat, two-fare ride to get to work, and even if Quinn can deliver a ride to Midtown that’s five minutes shorter than the current SI ferry to Whitehall, riders will still have to make the trek across Manhattan to get to work. Ferries may help out a handful of SI commuters in this instance, but they simply do not solve the city’s overarching mobility and transit expansion problems.
One project the mayoral candidates could focus on instead of ferries involves an abandoned right-of-way that stretches through numerous boroughs. Over the years, I’ve examined the Triboro RX in many contexts. Lee Sander discussed itdrew comparisons between the London’s new orbital line and the Triboro RX ROW. The line would carry around 75,000 passengers per day, and it’s one that could be implemented relatively easily.
Eric Jaffe at The Atlantic Cities examined the Triboro RX idea yesterday and determined that it is a far more valuable long-term growth project than ferries. “I think there’s an awful lot of transportation projects that are unimportant that people are talking about,” Jeff Zupan of the Regional Plan Association said. “On the other side of the coin, here’s one that has all the makings of being a real winner.” The RPA has been a major proponent of the Triboro RX route for nearly two decades.
Jaffe had more:
Best of all, almost the entire right-of-way necessary for the route is already available. That means the Triboro Rx would end up costing much, much less than a completely new line project like the Second Avenue line. (To bring the X line to Yankee Stadium, as described in the 1996 plan, would require some new terrain, but Zupan now says a more viable option could be to avoid that hassle and end the line near Hunt’s Point instead.)
The sheer extent of the line, Census commute patterns for the outer boroughs, the general high rate of transit use among immigrants — all these elements point to Triboro Rx becoming a big hit…”There’s a number of things that suggest that the Triboro Rx’s time is closer to coming than it was in 1996,” says Zupan.
Despite all its promise, the Triboro Rx still has a number of obstacles in its path. The project could conflict with the proposed cross-harbor rail tunnel beloved by U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York. The Federal Railroad Administration has requirements for tracks shared by freight and passenger rail that initial plans might not meet. The MTA recently told Dana Rubinstein of Capital NY that it “never formally backed” the X line concept.
The stumbling blocks are formidable, and it’s much easier for a mayoral candidate to avoid land-based transit projects during campaigns. After all, some people won’t endorse a new train line running through their backyards or while adding a ferry route isn’t nearly as disruptive as building out a train line. Still, the Triboro RX line could happen if any politician were willing to take a risk, and the current plan can even snake just across the Narrows to deliver a subway connection to Staten Island. It’s a far more useful transit expansion designed to meet the long-term growth patterns of the city, and it’s not a boat.