As the Mayor’s idea to bring the 7 train to Secaucus has gained steam over the past few weeks, New Yorkers have raised a skeptical eyebrow toward this plan. As many have noted, why should the city look to expand its subway to New Jersey when parts of, say, eastern Queens are chomping at the bit for better transit? Nowhere have the cries been louder to ignore the Garden State in favor of city-focused expansion than from Staten Island.
Now, I’ve been skeptical of Staten Island and its politicians. As I explored last week, the elected official raising the most hell is also the one who has been the least willing to embrace transit. State Senator Diane Savino vowed to block any funding for a subway to New Jersey that may arise before Staten Island gets its subway, but she’s also been one of the worst transit detractors amongst the New York City constituency in Albany. The city should hardly reward such petulant behavior.
But if we put aside petty differences and an obsession with borders that trumps a focus on the regional economy, we have to ask a serious question: Does Staten Island and its demographics warrant a rail connection, and if so, where should that rail connection go? The Staten Island Advance earlier this week kinda, sorta made that argument. In a piece that focused more on feeling left out of the city’s place, the Advance’s editorial board opined:
It seems to us that New Jersey commuters already have multiple mass transit connections to Manhattan, including the PATH tubes from Jersey City and Hoboken into downtown Manhattan and the New Jersey Transit tunnel that brings trains on that line into Penn Station. (And don’t forget that New Jersey residents also have ample car and bus access into the city via the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and the George Washington Bridge.)
This is where we start jumping up and down and yelling, “Hey! Mayor Mike! We’re over here!” State Sen. Diane Savino responded to the news of this proposal with disbelief…She has warned that she will vote against any state funds for expanding the No. 7 train unless Staten Island gets a rail connection to Manhattan. A light rail line to connect to New Jersey Transit’s Hudson Bergen Light Rail station in Bayonne over the Bayonne Bridge will do fine — and it wouldn’t cost anywhere near what a tunnel under the Hudson will cost…
And, in any case, Mr. Bloomberg will be out of office by the end of the year, and will no doubt take this big idea with him. Still, it would nice if he thought about his fellow New Yorkers in this borough before worrying about easing the commute for people in northern New Jersey.
Here, we encounter two ideas for a Staten Island subway: a connection to Manhattan (either the slow way via 4th Ave. in Brooklyn or the fast way under the harbor to South Ferry) or a rail line over the Bayonne Bridge. There is no small irony in the Advance advocating for the latter while bemoaning Bloomberg’s “worrying about easing the commute for people in northern New Jersey” because that’s exactly what a connection to the Hudson Bergen Light Rail would do. Stil, Staten Island deserves something.
As it stands now, approximately 56,000 Staten Island residents commute to Manhattan every day. On the other hand, as of late last decade, over 70,000 Hudson County residents and over 65,000 Bergen County residents made the trip from New Jersey to Manhattan. According to research conducted by the Center for an Urban Future, approximately thirty percent of those New Jersey commuters drove alone into the city. The numbers for Staten Island weigh against a Manhattan connection in lieu of a Secaucus subway, but we run into a chicken/egg problem. A fast connection between Staten Island and Manhattan would likely boost the number of commuters, and New Jersey does indeed enjoy robust transit connections into Manhattan.
Meanwhile, the HBLR connection is likely a better one. The Center for an Urban Future has determined that, since 1990, the percent of Staten Island residents commuting to Manhattan grew by just four percent while trips within Staten Island grew by 32 percent and trips to adjacent counties — including New Jersey — increased by 22 percent.
So where does that leave us? The obvious candidates for Staten Island rail connections if we want to meet growing demand would involve an intra-island option — such as a reactivation of the North Shore Rail Line (and not a base lane) — and a rail link to the HBLR via the Bayonne Bridge. A subway to Manhattan would be superfluous with a cost that far exceeds its demand. Even still, Staten Island certainly could use the increased transit investments, and the options are on the table for all to see. They’re just not as sexy as a subway to New Jersey for an outgoing mayor looking to leave one final lasting mark on his city.