Home Staten Island Staten Island board rep pushing for projects

Staten Island board rep pushing for projects

by Benjamin Kabak

Poor Staten Island. It is, by far, the most transit-neglected borough in the city. Once envisioned as a destination for a subway line spurring off the R in Brooklyn, the city’s least connected borough enjoys a slew of buses and one fare-less subway line that runs from the ferry terminal to Tottenville along the island’s south side.

Now, though, Staten Island’s borough representative to the MTA Board wants to increase transit offerings on the car-dependent island. Allen Cappelli told the Staten Island Advance’s Maura Yates over the weekend that the time is now for SI-based transit improvements. From the sound of it, the SI transit outlook may actually be a rosy one. Yates writes:

With Albany’s approval of a bailout package back in May that included a payroll tax and other revenue sources to help the MTA address its forecasted $1.2 billion budget deficit, the MTA board can now turn its attention back to moving forward with much-needed projects, including the borough’s proposed light rail system.

“I’d like to see us have rail access,” Cappelli said. “We’ve got to get cars off the streets. We’ve got to give people a real way to commute, because we’re not going to be able to handle the cars to a greater extent than what we’re doing now.”

With projections of population growth that will further tax the borough’s clogged road network over the next two decades, “We’ve got to plan this now, or 20 years from now, somebody will ask, ‘Why didn’t they do anything about this’?” Cappelli said. He said he hopes funding will be included in the MTA’s 20-year capital plan.

Cappelli has made progress on the bus front as well, with Staten Island receiving the first of the city’s brand new hybrid-electric local buses. The new buses will eventually account for more than half of the borough’s local bus fleet, he said.

Staten Island is ripe for transit experimentation. The borough could really benefit from a light rail system and from legitimate bus rapid transit plans. Ideally, of course, those BRT routes would connect into and through Brooklyn and Manhattan for faster commutes. The light rail would be an intra-borough mode of transit.

In the end, the MTA should probably look at reviving the Brooklyn-to-SI underground subway connection. While the project would be expensive and wouldn’t become a reality for decades, a subway to Staten Island would do wonders for the mobility of a part of the city often considered the forgotten borough.

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A-W June 15, 2009 - 2:18 pm

Thanks for the shout out to Staten Island!

Although I love the idea of a Staten Island to Brooklyn subway as much as anyone else, I would be more confident if the MTA made small incremental service improvements first. Like ensuring that express buses and local buses that run on time and that they don’t bunch together. Also, it would be great to expand beyond the proposed Richmond-Hylan-Bay Ridge SBS bus corridor. Mass transit connections between Staten Island and other places (i.e. Brooklyn, New Jersey) are minimal right now; it’s as if they expect any sane person going beyond Bay Ridge to drive. In the future, I’d love to see buses or rail service to Bayonne, Elizabeth, Perth Amboy, or even Metro Park in New Jersey, but I just don’t see this happening any time soon.

I think the next big rail project for the MTA should be the phase-by-phase reactivation of the dormant North Shore rail. Given the precedent of the Second Avenue Subway, I think this is probably the best way for Staten Islanders to get any kind of rail service on the North Shore.

Matt June 15, 2009 - 2:32 pm

The North Shore light rail would be a great stimulus project. Much like the F express plan, it’s a matter of taking existing tracks and putting them back into service; i.e., a lot of benefit for relatively little investment.

Connecting the North Shore light rail to the Hudson-Bergen light rail would be good too, but there might be jurisdictional problems connecting an NJT service directly with an MTA service.

Marc Shepherd June 15, 2009 - 3:00 pm

I’m as much a proponent for growing the subway system as anybody. But I must say that I cannot imagine how a S.I. subway connection would be cost-justified. As far as bang-for-the-buck goes, there are probably a dozen or more worthy projects ahead of it—and that’s more than we’ll likely see in our lifetimes.

Alon Levy June 15, 2009 - 4:27 pm

The growth of SI means that the amount of bang you get from an SI project will increase over time. This is especially true for projects that will engineer more development in SI, such as a subway connection to Brooklyn or an underwater rail connection to Manhattan.

Jimmy June 15, 2009 - 6:14 pm

We need to think boldly. Small improvements will lead to small changes. We used to think boldly as a city and built a subway system that sustained the city’s growth for a century. If we think small, we win small.

rhywun June 15, 2009 - 6:43 pm

A subway to SI would get NIMBY’d so fast one’s head would spin. One MTA board representative isn’t going to change the attitude of 500,000 residents.

A-W June 15, 2009 - 9:54 pm

Sadly, I suspect you are right. That’s why I’m in favor of realistic enhancements to Staten Island’s transportation network.

Besides, a SI to Manhattan subway through Brooklyn would remain very slow regardless. The last best chance we had to get SI to Brooklyn rail was when the V-N bridge was built. And that opportunity is now long gone.

Adam June 15, 2009 - 9:12 pm

PATH to SI >>>>> R train to SI. The route is more direct into the city and it allows for a 1 seat ride. Plus the Port Authority has way more money than the MTA.

Cap'n Transit June 15, 2009 - 10:46 pm

Yes, we should restore the North Shore line. But why light? So far nobody’s given me a good reason.

George June 16, 2009 - 10:03 am

Relatively light ridership, perhaps? Heavy rail transit lines are most suited for heavily used corridors in densely populated areas, and no matter how much its grown in the last few decades SI is still the most lightly populated borough. Light rail provides the opportunity to offer cheaper and more frequently service than heavy rail does.

Matt June 16, 2009 - 5:43 pm

I think everyone just assumes anything too expensive or invasive to build will end up failing due to lack of political will.

Think twice June 16, 2009 - 6:05 pm

I agree. The MTA should just get a bunch of R44s or r68s and operate the North Shore SIRT like they operate South Shore.

Quadboy June 16, 2009 - 1:01 am

Nice to see someone in the MTA caring about Staten Island. I’ve met with Cappelli the day of the Staten Island MTA hearings and he seems to be extremely interested in helping out Staten Island. However, that’s only one board member sadly…

However, this to me is just more talk, less action. They’ve been talking about the North Shore rail for decades now.

Its time to stop talking. Stop studying. Start doing.

The MTA can easily do this if they really wanted to. Problem is, Staten Island doesnt have the population as compared to Brooklyn/Manhattan/the other boroughs. It also seems that thanks to local politicans over a span of quite a few years, Staten Island cannot handle the population now, let alone 20 years from now. I remember reading a report regarding Staten Island in the year 2020 that basically said that if things do not change, Staten Island is doomed to mediocrity. No one in their right mind would want to take more than two hours one way just to get to work (with no one to actually improve the situation). Its already happening. Ive seen it. They also reported in the advance sometime in February that this was the first year where there were more people leaving the island than moving.

More people in Staten Island would be more inclined to mass transit if it actually took you somewhere fast and convenient. As a Staten Islander, I wish I could sell my car and take mass transit 100% of the time. However, that would basically completely cut out my social life, as friends live near either bus routes that stop at night or no bus route at all. A car in Staten Island isn’t an option. There’s a pretty good reason why we have more cars (at least percentage wise) than any other borough.

Even if they received all the federal funds in the world, we would never see some of these improvements in our lifetimes. The problem here is bureaucratic red tape. Its time to start to seriously cut the ribbon.

Some possible solutions to this problem can be alleviated if Staten Island Generated more money for mass transit. Charging for the SI Rail is one option, as that has the lowest farebox recovery ratio of all trains/subways in the city. They could also charge for the ferry as well. However, that is assuming that the MTA will actually use those funds for staten island. Verazzano Bridge anyone?

Unfortunately, the way things are with Staten Island, it seems alot easier to just move to New Jersey than to try and wait for these improvements to appear. I hate to have a defeatist attitude towards the situation, but the more i read, the more Im convinced that politicians and the MTA just like to hear themselves talk instead of actually improve the situation.

Larry Littlefield June 16, 2009 - 10:03 am

You’ve got to be kidding.

I’ll be stunned and pleased if we get a three-station Second Avenue S Subway and East Side Access before everything stops, forever.

It’s know as Social Security and Medicare, debt and pensions. The needs and demands of senior citizens, and the costs they shifted to younger generations, are going to eat every last dime. If it isn’t done by 2016, it isn’t going to be done at all.

Start thinking about what parts of the transit system to eliminate.

AlexB June 16, 2009 - 5:23 pm

Everyone thinks connecting the SIR with the 4th Ave express is a pie-in-the-sky endeavor. I think it’s very practical and reasonable thing to do and the only long term way to reduce congestion on the Verrazano. This is why:

The schedule for the N trains says that the trip from 59th St in Brooklyn to 57th St in Manhattan takes 33 minutes during rush hour. The trip from Tottenville to St. George on the SIR takes 34 minutes during rush hour. It would take about 5 minutes to travel the three miles from St. George to 59th St if a new tunnel were built, meaning the trip from Tottenville to 57th and 7th would take 72 minutes and cost 2 bucks. Currently, the same trip on the x22 express bus takes 1 hour and 36 minutes during rush hour and costs 5 bucks. A trip from the Eltingville Transit Center to Union Square would take about 49 minutes and cost $2 via the new tunnel and 75 minutes and $5 via express bus. The new tunnel would put northern Staten Island in the same commuting range from Manhattan as Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge and save a lot of time and money for commuters from the island’s southern and middle parts. Trips to points in Brooklyn and Long Island from Staten Island would be drastically shortened as well.

All the express buses in Staten Island move 35,000 people every weekday. This is a lot of people considering the trip is often over an hour, unpredictable, and costs 5 bucks each way. The $2 SIR+ferry combo moves about 15,000 every day, but is hampered by the half hour ferry ride. I think it’s safe to assume the new subway service would attract half the express bus riders, all the current riders of the SIR and a portion of current drivers. Conservatively, I think 45,000 people would use the tunnel each day from day one. The increased access would bring more people to Staten Island and that number would grow, maybe to 60,000, in a few years. After a few decades, the tunnel could see well over a hundred thousand per day traveling under the narrows.

If we assume a three mile tunnel would cost about $3 billion, a new subway station at St. George would cost $.5 billion, lengthening all the platforms on the SIR and adding turnstiles will cost $1 billion, and we round up, the total cost for direct train service comes to about $5 billion. In comparison, the new Hudson River tunnel is projected to cost $8.7 billion and move an additional 50,000 people daily to Penn Station, not nearly as good of a deal per rider. The Verrazano plus SI Expressway cost $2.5 billion (in today’s dollars) and about 45,000 people crossed the bridge daily when it opened, but hundreds of buildings had to be destroyed and 10,000 people relocated. Another deck had to be installed on the bridge to accommodate additional demand. A train tunnel would be able to handle capacity increases for decades before reaching it’s limit with no additional construction necessary.

Today, with 200,000 daily crossing on the Verrazano and extreme congestion, a train tunnel not only seems desirable, it is also the only solution. Staten Island is one of the most congested areas in the region and there is no room or political will to build more roads. If someone from Tottenville or Eltingville can save 20 minutes getting to work in midtown each way, that’s 40 minutes a day, or 146.67 hours a year. If this hypothetical person earns $30/hour (about $60k/year), they have created $4,400 in a year in regained productive time. Added up over many years, the tunnel will more than pay for itself in increased productivity and development near stations. The tunnel would also reduce the amount of money the MTA has to spend on express buses, and greatly improve the farebox ratio for the SIR.

There are two issues that prevent discussion of a tunnel from progressing. The first is the psychological barrier between the four bigger boroughs and Staten island. Staten Island is seen as a place to escape the other boroughs and building an expensive way to get to the island seems counter intuitive. This creates a lack of political will and a sense of apathy about the island’s congestion. After all, if someone chose to move to Staten Island, they must not mind traffic, right? The other problem is that all the current political capital for infrastructure is being spent on other projects. This will eventually go away in a decade or so as the SAS, ARC, ESA, etc. move forward. The cultural problems are slowly changing. Staten Island has not brought up secession in a while and the demographics that distinguish it are changing. The difficulty of getting to and from the island doesn’t make it seem cozy as much as frustrating. Eventually, there will be room to discuss this project, possibly when the cross harbor project starts to move forward. Someday, the focus will return here.

Matt June 16, 2009 - 5:43 pm

Something tells me that $3bn would quickly become $5bn, then $8bn, then $12bn, then the project would be scrapped (the SAS looks more and more like that every time an announcement is made about it).

Would be cool if it happened though. I’ve never understood why these extreme cost overruns always seem to happen in NY area mass transit projects.

Quadboy June 17, 2009 - 12:51 am

The reason why it doesnt happen is because of bureaucratic red tape. Before any construction is done it takes studies, which take years and years to see the environmental impact and such.

They’ll all have the same outcome though: It would be a great idea and it can be done, but we dont have the money to do it (Which translates to: We dont want to spend so much on Staten Island/Brooklyn).

Even if there were more ways to get money out of Staten Islanders, I would bet that none of the money would go towards their commute anyway. Toll and tax all you want, they just dont want to spend the money on Staten Island. They would rather spend it elsewhere where it makes more economical sense. Unfortunately, this will probably kill the future of Staten Island.

Think twice June 16, 2009 - 6:52 pm

Alex B—first off, I LOVE how much thought and effort you’ve put into your argument and I would love to see you pass it along to as many places as possible. May I suggest putting into a PowerPoint file. A good example would be “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz argument for congestion-pricing. You can send it as a pdf to any number of agencies, elected officials, and other parties who can be motivated to seeing the Staten Island tunnel built.
One way to move it closer to the front of the line would be to tie it into the movement to build a Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel and the NYSDOT’s Gowanus Expressway Plans. This would give it even more emphasis in line with the Obama administration’s push for economic stimulus, green infrastructure, and strong urban policy.

As an aside, there’s also a way to route the D train alongside the N train to Staten Island. Read the notes on the side of the map to see a more detailed description.

rhywun June 16, 2009 - 9:54 pm

Are you including the cost of building out the express tracks in Bay Ridge?

The increased access would bring more people to Staten Island

I don’t think the culture of SI has changed enough where they don’t still think of themselves as “suburban”. I could be wrong though. It’s not like I’ve even been there, beyond a trip to the botanical gardens and the Tibetan center.

AlexB June 17, 2009 - 1:46 pm

You are probably right about SI culture. Who knows though. I guess it’s all about your frame of reference. Would you prefer to keep out “those people” more than you would prefer to shave hours and hundreds of dollars off your commute? I know what I’d pick. But then again, I live in Brooklyn.

My cost assumptions are super-vague, based generally on what the 7 extension and 2nd ave subway cost. Half a billion per subway station and a billion per tunnel mile seems pretty typical these days for NYC. The express tracks already exist on the 4th Ave line to 59th, so no, I did not include their build out.

Rhywun June 18, 2009 - 10:20 am

I live in Bay Ridge, so to me “those people” means the hordes of SI’ers who overrun my neighborhood with their cars–especially on Friday and Saturday evenings….

Alon Levy June 17, 2009 - 2:08 am

The length of the underwater section you propose is about half that of a tunnel from St. George straight to Lower Manhattan. The SI-to-Manhattan option will not cost twice, because much of the work is at the two ends. Using the Jersey City-Brooklyn freight tunnel proposal as a yardstick, an SI-to-Manhattan tunnel should cost about $5 billion, and take close to 100% of the SI-to-Manhattan travel market, consisting of 53,000 commuters as of 2000 and rising.

AlexB June 17, 2009 - 1:37 pm

For an extra $2 billion or so, you could extend the W train (or possibly the 1 or E), and shave 3 miles off the trip between St George and Canal (6-9 minutes). I would think that that route should include a stop in Red Hook as it’s basically on the way, but that would add a bit more time and another half billion for the station. If you are headed to midtown, your time savings would be more like 4-6 minutes because the N would make the longer trip with 4 fewer stops (6 on the N vs 10 on the W to Herald Square). (By the way, my assumption in my first comment was that the M would run full time on what’s now the D, the D would be re-routed to what’s now the N and the N would run to Staten Island.)

Alon Levy June 17, 2009 - 8:54 pm

It won’t just shave 9 minutes from SI to Canal, but also make it feasible to get from SI to Lower Manhattan, which the N doesn’t serve. My pet proposal is connecting the SIR not to the subway but to commuter rail, with a north-south tunnel with stops at St. George, Fulton, Union Square, and Grand Central. This would also enable higher fares than $2, in accordance with the faster service and the higher maintenance costs of a long underwater tunnel.

Think twice June 17, 2009 - 9:12 am

Also this is probably how the route would look like:

and on 4th Avenue:

Think twice June 17, 2009 - 9:15 am

Don’t know what happened, but anyway here are the links:

Staten Island side.

Brooklyn side

AlexB June 17, 2009 - 12:38 pm

I have seen those maps before of the original proposal and they are what got me thinking about the project to begin with. Connecting the SIR to the 4th Ave line is not a new idea. It’s the age of the idea that makes it seems so far-fetched now, not the feasibility. I think they actually built a part of the tunnel under 67th St. If you look at the track map from the Brooklyn side, there are switches that would allow the local connection to immediately move to the express just north of the 59th st station.

Rhywun June 17, 2009 - 12:56 pm

Oh, I was assuming it would travel all the way down 4th Avenue as an express, stop at 86th Street, then on to SI.

Niccolo Machiavelli June 16, 2009 - 11:33 pm

Just toll the Gowanus expressway, upzone the Rock, and you can have all these projects and more.

Adam June 18, 2009 - 12:11 am

Like I said before, leave the MTA out of Staten Island and have the Port Authority run transit there (seeing as the most direct route to Manhattan runs through NJ, not Brooklyn). Tunneling under NY harbor is going to cost probably upwards of $25 billion, let alone doing it longways would probably cost even more ($40-50 billion maybe?) A PATH tunnel through Bayonne and Jersey City would probably cost a lot less. The trains could run on a new ROW along Newark Bay and Route 440 in Jersey City, then tunnel under Kennedy Boulevard in Bayonne (if the PA REALLY wants to splurge, an even better option would be under West Side Avenue in Jersey City, which would provide another connection to the HBLR).

There’s a rail line that runs along the north shore of SI right on the other side of the Bayonne Bridge, and the PATH could then use that to get to destinations on the north side of SI. Now how to get into the heart of SI I have no idea…

Jo' Gahtar September 16, 2009 - 9:15 pm

I like that there is an idea to connect Staten Island w/ the rest of New York City, not New Jersey. The Brooklyn-Staten Island tunnel can become a reality (no matter how much it costs cause nothing is impossible) but we have to put effort and heart to make it happen. I would have this happen first then light rail to New Jersey.

David Moog September 25, 2009 - 3:27 pm

Back about 90 years ago the owner of the Hudson Manhattan Railway (the precusor of the PATH) proposed running his trains to Staten Island. They would have run from Journal Square, down the CNY tracks (now the Bergan Hudsson Light Rail) down Bayonne and through a tunnel to St George. Another proposal had a tunnel running from Manhattan to Ellis Island and then on a viaduct near the Jersy side to Staten Island with a tunnel under the Kill Van Kull (with a variation of having a tunnel under Liberty Island and surface tracks through Bayonne).

If you look at other Federally funded subways a Staten Island to Manhattan tunnel would carry more passengers then most of the awarded projects.

sean February 6, 2010 - 3:39 am

First of all Adam and A-W MTA should not focus on transportation to or through new jersey they should focus on connecting staten island with the rest of new york city.Staten island is apart of new york NOT new jersey.Therefore there should be no light rail or any other transportation to/through new jersey.Also i agree with the tunnels to brooklyn,manhattan,and the connection to the 4th ave subway.It would be a great way to help staten islanders to commute around the rest of new york city and it would attract more people to the low populated staten island.


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