Home Staten Island A history of connecting the disconnected borough

A history of connecting the disconnected borough

by Benjamin Kabak

Schematics of a 1912 plan to connect Staten Island with the BMT via a subway tunnel under the Narrows. Click to enlarge.

Staten Island is often called the forgotten borough by New York’s transit literati. With only some local and express bus routes connecting through to other boroughs and the Staten Island Railway as its only train line, the borough plays host to a high car ownership rate and is relatively disconnected from New York City Transit’s extensive four-borough subway network. For nearly 100 years, Staten Islanders have clamored for a subway connection to nearby Brooklyn or Lower Manhattan, and at every turn, the project has been shunted aside over costs or worse.

A 1912 article in The New York Times introduces us to a plan to build a subway to Staten Island under the Narrows. The piece focuses on how real estate values in Tompkinsville and Rosebank were on the rise amidst rumors of a direct subway connection to Manhattan’s Broadway line via a tunnel from Brooklyn that would parallel 67th St. in Kings County, and developers were excited about the future of Staten Island real estate. “In the first place, all Staten Island will not be greatly benefited because there is a large portion of the Borough of Richmond where there are no trolley lines connecting to with the future subway,” William E. Harmon said.

Harmon also mentioned the proposed terminus of this underwater subway route. “The end of the Staten Island subway is, according to present plans, to be at Arrietta Street, about five minutes’ walk from St. George’s Ferry,” he said. Today, Arrietta St. is better known as St. Marks Place, and the subway would spurred both south and north to make a connection with the Staten Island Railway.

Even though the Board of Estimates approved this subway connection to Staten Island on July 11, 1912 and the Mayor William Jay Gaynor followed suit on July 16, the subway was slow to materialize. A 1915 letter to the editor of The Times from Robert T. Cone highlights how borough activists were dying for a subway. Cone noted how travel took three times as long as it should have on the ferry and how Staten Island, if developed properly, could house 3 million taxpayers. He advocated for a two-track subway connection as well as a two-track freight connection from Staten Island to Manhattan. It was an ambitious plan indeed.

A 1919 proposal for a subway from Staten Island to Manhattan. Click to enlarge.

Four years later, the issue of a Staten Island subway connection again reared its head. Proponents of any subway plan had decided that a connection to Brooklyn via the 67th St. tunnel would be too indirect and the trip too long, and so they proposed a direct Manhattan-to-Staten Island tunnel. The Staten Island Subway Committee called for one of two routes: either a direct route to Battery Park via Ellis and Bedlow Islands under “the shallows of the bay of Robbins Reef and thence under Kill Van Kull” or by subway via Ellis Island to “within the bulkhead line below Communipaw [in Jersey City]; thence on an elevated structure just within the bulkhead line to a point near Robbins Reef; thence by subway under the Kill Van Kull.” The committee declined to include any cost estimates but assumed the net increase in tax assessments would eventually cover the price of this lengthy subway expansion.

In 1921, optimism was on the rise as the city promised residents of Richmond a subway expansion. For $25 million, the city would build a tunnel under the Narrows and connect Staten Island with the BMT routes in Bay Ridge. In present-day values, that $25 million would be approximately $297 million — or the equivalent of a few blocks of the Second Ave. Subway. At the time, the Board of Estimates had yet to determine if the subway to Staten Island would go under 67th St. or continue from the BMT’s terminal at 86th St.

In 1925, with the BMT in dire fiscal straits, the city’s engineers seemingly torpedoed the subway. That optimistic $25 million was far too low, they said. According to a survey, the real cost in 1925 would have been at least $40 million, and city engineers said they could build a bridge spanning the Narrows for $90 million. “But where a tunnel, if built, could be used only for rapid transit,” The Times said, “a bridge could carry not only vehicular traffic, on which tolls could be charged, but might be so constructed as to afford an outlet for freight cars.”

And thus died the subway to Staten Island. The plan for a bridge meanwhile laid dormant for decades. In the mid-1950s, Robert Moses revived the plan to span the Narrows, but much to the chagrin of The Times, writing in 1955, Moses declined to provide space for rail service on what would become the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. When the bridge opened in 1965, the paper called it “more of an esthetic and engineering marvel than a way to get to Staten Island.” Without rail, it would become dominated by cars, and Staten Islanders were left waiting for that rail connection to the rest of the city. It’s 2010 now, and they’re still waiting.

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Bolwerk August 31, 2010 - 8:12 am

They’ll probably be waiting for a frost in Hell. I can’t imagine the level of NIMBYism and BANANAism that must exist in that suburban hellhole today.

Still, with better land use regulations, it wouldn’t be a bad idea – and probably could still pay for itself. Even on the north shore, the relatively low density construction is practically virgin land compared to even lower density Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Marc Shepherd August 31, 2010 - 11:11 am

First, I’d like to see if they can get the already-designed full-length Second Avenue Subway built, before speculating on extensions to Staten Island that are just glimmers in someone’s eye.

Bolwerk August 31, 2010 - 11:32 am

I’d rather see NYC and the USA get a handle on astronomical construction costs so we can actually build things again. The current SAS is a very mixed blessing, given its costs, Manhattan-centric route, and inherent capacity limitations compared to other trunk lines. It would make more sense to build new routes to midtown from the outer boroughs, which would probably better meet the goal of relieving the Lex services of overcrowding anyway.

~15 years of construction time? The original 4-track IRT route was built in four.

Marc Shepherd August 31, 2010 - 6:38 pm

You cannot build new routes in the outer boroughs without building a new trunk line in Manhattan for them to connect with. This is precisely what the SAS gives you.

The problem with time frames and costs would, of course, be an issue no matter where you built. Although there is room for improvement, comparisons to the IRT are off-the mark, given that it was cut-and-cover, a technique considered unacceptable today. You should also look up how many men died during its construction.

Bolwerk August 31, 2010 - 11:43 pm

Why can’t new routes get built in the outer boroughs without a new trunk line in Manhattan? Ever seen the 7 or L Trains?

Why cut-and-cover should be off limits, I don’t know. Well, actually, I do: we can’t disrupt suburbanites who drive.

And I seriously doubt there’s any need to do the types of risky excavations done in 1904. But that doesn’t mean construction can’t be achieved at least at rates in similarly well off developed countries.

Benjamin Kabak August 31, 2010 - 11:55 pm

I’m no fan of cars in New York City — especially towards the core of the city — but cut-and-cover is a huge inconvenience to everyone. It ruins neighborhoods for years on end and is pretty disruptive to city life. Imagine the inconvenience of the SAS construction and then imagine the entire avenue ripped up.

Bolwerk September 1, 2010 - 12:30 am

Cut-and-cover probably means a shorter, faster, but more intense dose of construction. There’s no reason the entire avenue needs to be torn up at once. It can be done in sections, as is kind of being done anyway.

Think twice September 1, 2010 - 1:07 pm

Exactly. I don’t get the whole “the streets nowadays are too congested argument”. In those days the surface was even more crowded with wagons, carriages, pushcarts, throng of people, elevated trains, and most of all, streetcars and trolleys that couldn’t be easily rerouted. If they could put up with disruptive but faster cut-and-cover construction so could we. Short-term pain, long-term gain.

Nathanael September 5, 2010 - 10:10 pm

Honestly, often bored tunnels are cheaper than cut-and-cover — and faster.

It really depends on the situation. Note that the incredible delay and expense on the SAS was all in the cut-and-cover launch box, and the tunnel boring machine is going like gangbusters.

The real trouble is in utility relocation. Failure to map the utilities properly when they were built is coming back to bite NYC.

Andrew September 2, 2010 - 10:36 pm

The 7 and L, as built, included their own short Manhattan trunks.

I think Marc’s point is that you can’t just build a new outer line if the inner line that it connects to is already basically full.

Bolwerk September 4, 2010 - 3:06 pm

Well, then, it would be cheaper to bore across town than to bore longitudinally down Manhattan. There’s no reason we need to connect new services to longitudinal trunks, especially since much of the crowding is due to outer boroughs riders heading for midtown.

But why do you even need all lines to go Manhattan? There are over six million people in the outer boroughs, and there are inter-borough trips that need not involve Manhattan. Sadly, they need to involve an automobile in most cases.

Alon Levy September 1, 2010 - 4:13 am

The original 4-track IRT took about 35 years to get from concept to construction. Sure, between the beginning and end of construction there were just 4 years. But endless debates over routes and funding are not a new development.

Bolwerk September 1, 2010 - 9:39 am

So it’s roughly in proportion to our endless debates to construction time for SAS?

ajedrez August 31, 2010 - 8:24 pm

Maybe expansions to Staten Island are not feasable at the moment, but expanion within Staten Island are very feasable. For example, the North Shore Rail Line would cost $400 million an transport 15,000 daily riders, for a capital cost of about $26,000 per rider. The Second Avenue Subway would cost $17 billion and transport about 600,000 riders, for a capital cost of about $28,000 per rider. Expanding servie wthin Staten Island isn’t that inefficient.

Skip Skipson August 31, 2010 - 8:37 am

Bolwerk, What does ‘BANANAism’ mean? I’ve never heard that term before.

Frost in hell aside, let’s see if they can re-build the North Shore Line.

Bolwerk August 31, 2010 - 9:10 am

Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.

Those LRTs would be nice, but they also aren’t even close to a solution to the terrible connectivity to Manhattan.

Eric F. August 31, 2010 - 8:57 am

Unless a subway train ran express and was a pretty fast mover, that would one slow subway slog into Manhattan. I would think that a continuous bus lane over the same space would allow for a much quicker ride.

Benjamin Kabak August 31, 2010 - 9:00 am

A bus lane with or without stops? With stops, the subway’s always faster. Without stops, it would just be an express bus lane, and to make that work, you’d have to make sure the bus lane was a dedicated one that could avoid any road congestion.

Honestly, the ferry from St. George isn’t that slow considering the distance. A subway would be faster, but the cost would be tremendous.

Bolwerk August 31, 2010 - 9:12 am

It would probably take at least four tracks to match the capacity too.

Eric F. August 31, 2010 - 9:55 am

I’m thinking a continuous bus lane on the west shore expressway, staten island expressway and the gowanus into the BBT, without stops. You’d get on the bus in your neighborhood and it would get on to the busway without stopping through to then end point. A bus could cruise at 60 mph all the way in under a scenario like that. The notion of a Staten Island subway is sort of difficult to imagine because people still need to get to the subway, meaning that it can’t go merely to the edge of the island in order for it to be useful, but rather it would have to extend deep into S.I., which just seems fanciful to me as a practical matter. Adding true bus/HOV/HOT capacity on a suped up road network seems more workable, and you can defray costs by charging tolls. I would like to see express lanes on the S.I. expressway without exits from the VZ to the West Shore and Goethals to get thru traffic off that poor island’s road network. That place is a just a disaster to get around.

Bolwerk August 31, 2010 - 10:14 am

Well, that sounds like the most expensive proposal you can come up with, from an operating standpoint. From a capital standpoint, a subway would probably be more expensive, but LRT would probably be cheaper.

However, that assumes that a dedicated ROW is possible without extensive tunneling or expensive land condemnation. Once you start bothering with either, I would guess it’s always worth it just to go with a rail solution, even if it adds to the expense.

Running the subway deep into the island isn’t a bad idea for a number of reasons. It ought to distribute passenger traffic better and there might actually be sensible space for a rail yard somewhere on SI.

Eric F. August 31, 2010 - 1:18 pm

With respect to ROW space, it dDepends where you are looking. The West Shore Expressway is a ridiculous 2 lanes but clearly has space for widening. The S.I. Expressway would probably need to be decked. Doing anything with that monstrosity is likely expensive, but note that the expressway is not terribly long, it only seems that way because it takes an hour to traverse its mileage. The Korean War highway needs to be extended and the Willowbrook parkway built. You’d probably want to tunnel some sections with cut and cover. Having a dedicated bus R.O.W. in places could also enhance longer distance transit, as it could facilitate interstate bus transport out of a central terminal. As of now, I’d imagine that taking a train to Phili would involve a 2 hour trip to Penn Station, followed by a one hour train ride to Phili = kind of absurd.

Bolwerk August 31, 2010 - 2:12 pm

It’s a shame regional planners lack the foresight to see to it that connections between major transit points are possible. If a subway from Manhattan/Brooklyn was extended along SI’s north shore, it’s another half mile or so to Newark Airport, and not too far from there to get to Newark Penn.

Many birds killed with a single (billions$) stone’s throw!

Alon Levy September 1, 2010 - 4:22 am

The cheapest kind of tunnel to build is one that minimizes the bored cross-section and the amount of ventilation needed. Sometimes busways are cheaper than railroads for the traffic they carry, but they’ll never compete on ROW width.

A straight-shot subway from St. George to Lower Manhattan would take about 8 minutes. With a detour through Brooklyn, make that anything between 10 and 20, depending on whether it gets a greenfield route or is hooked to the BMT. And it already has feeders in terms of the SIR and the future North Shore Line…

Shabazz Stuart September 1, 2010 - 11:00 am

Has anyone just considered re-vamping the Verrazano bridge so that it can carry two rails? Sure it would cut out two lanes of traffic, but I imagine the bridge can be retrofitted, haven’t other bridges been retrofitted in the past?

I imagine that using existing infrastructure would be the most cost effective way to do this, instead of building a new tunnel, most of the costs would come from building a spur from the 4th avenue line or the sea beach line and a similar connection in Staten Island to the Staten Island Railway…

Bolwerk September 1, 2010 - 1:19 pm

It’s likely possible, but it has a number of problems, not least of all is the roundabout trip it would mean for people using, say, the R Train. And then there’s the matter that the R Train runs below grade, and would need to cut through a dense neighborhood to get up to the bridge. Not sure about the traffic situation, but it could cut into much-needed toll revenue. And I really have no idea what engineering challenges might exist on a 50yo bridge designed for lighter vehicles.

But sure, it’s probably technically possible.

Alon Levy September 1, 2010 - 5:42 pm

The approaches to the Verrazano are too steep for rail. Moses built them deliberately so, to make future rail construction too expensive.

The bridges that have been retrofit for rail are those that were built to carry rail. The GWB could be retrofitted because it was built in a rail-compatible way; the Verrazano can’t.

Bolwerk August 31, 2010 - 9:22 am

I’m rather perplexed by how this mid-20th century obsession with buses lingers on. If you want to guarantee slow speeds, being stuck in traffic, and high operating costs, by all means, advocate for buses. Once it gets to the point where any kind of dedicated ROW is workable, buses are probably always the worst option.

But I agree that a subway commute from SI to Manhattan would suck. Just like all other commutes from SI to Manhattan suck. A major problem with SI is it’s geographically isolated; that is what attracted people to it in the first place. The people there deliberately moved there to avoid the urban core that provides them economic sustenance, and can’t reasonably expect a short ride with few intermediate stops. I think a subway extension there is reasonable, even advisable, but it will never mean a commute that can match the speed of a private automobile in no-traffic conditions.

Eric F. August 31, 2010 - 10:01 am

Whether your bus ride is fast or slow depends on the right of way it runs on. A bus can be very fast. I think trains are more fun to ride on, but a bus can give you an effective express ride point-to-point, can handle grades and curves that trains can’t and can ride on an assembled right of way much more cheaply and quickly. The key train advantage is the separate rail right of way. If you give that same dedicated ROW to a bus, it can move very quick.

Bolwerk August 31, 2010 - 10:16 am

I know buses can be “quick,” but their higher operating costs are a killer.

I seriously doubt any dedicated transit ROW to SI can be justified without intermediate stops in Brooklyn, anyway.

Eric F. August 31, 2010 - 1:24 pm

I don’t see that. You can make a bus right of way tolled for other users during non-rush hours and cover maintenance of the ROW. I’ll profess ignorance as to whether it’s cheaper to run a train or a bus on a per passenger basis over a heavily traveled route, but S.I. does not have the population density needed to run trains full. Further, if Bolt and the like can profitabily run buses from DC to NY for a fraction of what non-profit Amtrak charges (at a loss), then I assume operating costs must be lower. Amtrak is saddled with having to maintain its ROW, and as noted even if tolls can’t finance building an ROW, it certainly can finance maintenance. You can charge $5 for a nonstop free flow 60 mph trip from the Verazanno to the Goethals, $25 for a truck, without a sweat.

Bolwerk August 31, 2010 - 2:07 pm

I don’t get the fetish with population density either. There are demonstrated, operational rail transit services in rural areas around the world. The only thing that makes such things somewhat impractical in the USA is the regulatory environment. SI probably has routes that can meet the rather minimal boarding requirements for reasonably operating an LRT service, and a Subway service to the island fed by those routes would probably work quite well – hell, like I said, the ferry probably has a higher capacity than a two-track heavy rail service as is.

Amtrak is saddled with some pretty absurd operating/labor costs, onerous regulatory requirements, high maintenance costs, and an inflexible pricing regime. Even with that, the NE corridor services have pretty good farebox recovery and Acela even turns a profit. There is a rather tremendous difference between providing frequent service like transit agencies and even Amtrak offer, and a few buses a day that are guaranteed to be full.

I’m sure you’re right that it would be possible to put a dedicated bus ROW on SI, but what about Brooklyn and Manhattan? And, if you use the expressways, you’re using space where no intermediate stops would be feasible or even practical. By doing that, you are guaranteeing high operating costs and low farebox recovery just to offer some suburbanites a convenient ride to and from work.

ajedrez August 31, 2010 - 8:05 pm

The thing is that those rail services are generally commuter-based. If you look at the terminals of some commuter rail lines in NYC, you can see that they can probably be considered rural. The idea is to have a park-and-ride for residents and then have them all take the train-in short, the passenger base isn’t local people in the surrounding neighborhood-it is people withn a radiu of several miles.

As far as the bus lanes on the expressways go, there are no stops as is. Also, these routes generallly have a high cost per rider anyway, so at least the trip time is reduced. Also, if enough land could be aquired, theoretically, the bus lane could pass through a large bus station, where passengers can access the station, like a subway station, and then take an express bus to their destination. For example, a station could open near major junctons-the 65th Street exit to serve the Sunset Park neighborhood, the Prospect Expressway exit to serve Park Slope, and a station to serve Red Hook. This can actually be used to improve cot efficiency-both by attracting passengers to lightly used express routes and allowing express buses to connect at a big hub.

Bolwerk September 1, 2010 - 12:35 am

The thing is that those rail services are generally commuter-based. If you look at the terminals of some commuter rail lines in NYC, you can see that they can probably be considered rural.

NYCTA is “commuter-based.” It’s anchored by people’s need to commute to work.

Sure, rural lines in, say, Germany maybe aren’t all that frequent. Some might be hourly or less. But, they work.

As far as the bus lanes on the expressways go, there are no stops as is. Also, these routes generallly have a high cost per rider anyway, so at least the trip time is reduced.

Wasn’t that my point? It moves people from farthest away by the most expensive means possible.

Also, if enough land could be aquired, theoretically, the bus lane could pass through a large bus station, where passengers can access the station, like a subway station, and then take an express bus to their destination.

Sure, but why? At the point where such mass stations are being built, buses no longer have operating cost advantages…at least not under normal circumstances.

ajedrez September 1, 2010 - 1:00 am

The advantage of buses serving the mass stations is that the MTA could advertise it as frequent service.
Commuter lines tend to be based around rush hour periods, whereas the NYCTA system runs 24/7. Look at the outer extremities of some NJ Transit, Metro-North, ad LIRR lines, and you’ll see that a lot of them have sparse,if any off-peak service.

I’m saying that those lines run long distances anyway. You might as well speed up those long journeys. It would be different if the express network was going to be replaced with commuter rail, but it isn’t, since most Staten Islanders are used to having express service directly to their neighborhood, instead of to a rail line where they have to get home from there.

The advantage of a bus lane instead of a rail line is that the MTA could say something like: for $5.50, you are guaranteed a bus to your destination (either Downtown or Midtown) every 2 minutes during rush hour. You can’t offer that type of service with commuter rail, as the operating costs would be tremendous. I see your point, though-the buses cost more per person, to operate when you are dealing with large numbers of people. Maybe, as a compromise, the express buses could feed into a massive station in Bay Ridge and have a commuter rail in the median of the Gowanus Expressway (instead of a bus lane) pick up all of the people.

Alon Levy September 1, 2010 - 4:29 am

A lot of what you say is an incorrect generalization from legacy US commuter rail to every suburban line. It wouldn’t be true for e.g. BART, the DC Metro, and the Rockaway segment of the A, all of which are on the scale of an S-Bahn, not a U-Bahn. For example, when you say:

Commuter lines tend to be based around rush hour periods, whereas the NYCTA system runs 24/7. Look at the outer extremities of some NJ Transit, Metro-North, ad LIRR lines, and you’ll see that a lot of them have sparse,if any off-peak service.

You should take into account the various regulations that make this so: impossibly heavy trains, multiple conductors punching tickets, high fares. In the absence of regulations, off-peak service can be quite good: for example, Far Rockaway gets 15-minute service.

The same is true for what you say about park-and-rides. The Rockaways, which have similar density levels to Staten Island, manage without them. So does suburban transit in places like Zurich and Geneva. On the contrary, competent rail operators (i.e. ones that aren’t American) tend to avoid having too many park-and-rides, as those are expensive to construct, and generate traffic in just one direction. When possible, they encourage commercial development near stations and time connecting buses. This generates some reverse-peak traffic, which has zero marginal operating cost.

Bolwerk September 1, 2010 - 10:04 am

All those rail distinctions are regulatory. Light rail, heavy rail, commuter rail are all pretty artificial differences. There is absolutely no technical reason why a commuter railroad can’t use a vehicle like you find on HBLR. A century ago commuter rail from the LIRR ran on the Jamaica Line, and the Main Line of the LIRR might have hosted streetcars. Those things weren’t driven out by actions of free markets, but by regulators.

Your claims about $5.50/2m service are a bit preposterous. To move a fraction of the same number of people as a commuter rail train, even with its top-heavy labor and regulatory requirements, you would need probably 1.5 times as many buses as there are train cars, each staffed with a driver as opposed to an engineer and a few conductors aboard a train. The current regulatory environment might make buses useful where rail would make more sense under normal circumstances, but when it gets to the point where 2m bus service is demanded, it might be time to start laying track.

The smart times to use buses are when use is so low there is no sense in investing in the expensive added capacity of rail, or perhaps on long-distance services where they are actually pretty efficient (albeit still slow).

Andrew September 2, 2010 - 10:41 pm

Subway lines run very high capacity vehicles at very short headways. They don’t make much sense in low density settings.

ajedrez August 31, 2010 - 8:35 pm

It depends on how many people will ride the transit line. Trains can carry up to 15 times as many people as a bus, but the question is: Will 15 times as many people rie the transit line? In the case of the North Shore Line, I agree that you need some extra capacity (maybe 4 car trains like on the east shore line, instead of 8 car trains)

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines August 31, 2010 - 9:09 am

[…] Ben Kabak Tells a Staten Island Subway Saga […]

Jonathan August 31, 2010 - 9:35 am

With the impending replacement of the Bayonne Bridge, why not extend the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail from Bayonne to Staten Island, with a terminus at the SI Mall?

Eric F. August 31, 2010 - 9:58 am

My understanding is that — at best — the bridge will be raised. No way you are getting HBLR up that grade. Note in addition that south of 34th street in Bayonne the HBLR is ONE TRACK. Not one track in each direction, one track total. This is not conducive to a quick ride over multiple stops from Staten Island. The HBLR system is kind of cool and modern, but it is slow and it’s not a way to cover long distances efficiently.

Nathanael September 5, 2010 - 10:17 pm

HBLR’s elevated at 8th St. already, IIRC.

No reason not to extend it over the bridge, and it would certainly relive bridge congestion. The single-track bottleneck isn’t that much of an issue if it’s going to simply terminate at the far end of the bridge (and it can be double-tracked *some* of the distance south of 34th St, only part of it is limited by structure).

The bottleneck would be pretty problematic if trains were to extend significantly beyond the bridge into Staten Island, but it’s only logical to extend it across the bridge.

ajedrez September 6, 2010 - 12:09 am

But couldn’t it be widened once it gets into Staten Island?

Boris August 31, 2010 - 2:47 pm

Because that makes too much sense.

ferryboi August 31, 2010 - 5:46 pm

Actually, it doesn’t make much sense. If the light rail ran over the bridge and down Richmond Ave to the Mall, it would still take a good 45-60 mins to get to Jersey City/Hoboken, and from there another 15-20 mins to midtown Manhattan on the PATH train. Add to that the fact that most Islanders would have to drive 15 mins or so to and park their car at the Mall, and you’re talking a 90 min commute by car/light rail/PATH train, not exactly the most convenient way to get to work!

ajedrez August 31, 2010 - 8:38 pm

The plan called for a West Shore Light Rail along the Martin Luther King Jr./Staten Island/West Shore Expressways centered around park-and-rides. The idea was to get people to Jersey City, not Manhattan, and to get people around Staten Island.

Alon Levy September 1, 2010 - 4:38 am

Not all transit has to be about driving to a train to Manhattan. There’s a fairly large SI-Hudson County travel market, and the Mall is a large employment center. A North Shore Line/HBLR transfer would also be good at connecting Jersey to St. George, which would interact well with an SI-Manhattan tunnel…

Bolwerk September 1, 2010 - 10:09 am

Indeed. I think it would be a good idea to encourage employment in places elsewhere on the rail network. Squeezing everyone into Manhattan (another giant mall) is a less than stellar solution.

There is a limited market for rail to other regional employment centers because there is limited rail to such centers.

Alon Levy September 1, 2010 - 4:36 am

For the same reason the fare systems on PATH, NJT, and the subway are completely incompatible.

Kevin Walsh August 31, 2010 - 10:04 am

Arietta Street was part of Victory Boulevard….

Benjamin Kabak August 31, 2010 - 1:21 pm

This site disagrees, but you’re the expert on lost street names. I’ll take your word for it over a random Google hit.

JebO August 31, 2010 - 10:33 am

With only some express bus routes and the Staten Island Railway as its transit routes

And 31 local and limited-stop bus routes, by my count.

Benjamin Kabak August 31, 2010 - 1:21 pm

But those don’t go off the island. The point of a subway connection would be to provide transportation to and from the rest of New York City.

Jerrold August 31, 2010 - 4:40 pm

The SIR (formerly SIRT) trains do not go off the island, either.
The transit that does go off the island, besides those express buses, is the ferry, and the local buses that go over the bridge to connect with the R train.

Andrew September 2, 2010 - 10:51 pm

SIR doesn’t go off the island either – and four local bus lines (S53, S79, S89, S93) do.

Many of the local bus lines feed the ferry, just like SIR does. Most of the people connecting to the ferry come from buses, not from the train.

And it’s simply not correct that Staten Island has “only some express bus routes and the Staten Island Railway as its transit routes.” Maybe you were only thinking of services connecting to Manhattan, but that’s not what you wrote.

tacony palmyra August 31, 2010 - 10:45 am

If Staten Islanders wanted a Brooklyn (or even Queens) level of density, sure. But they don’t. They get what they deserve. You can’t support a good level of rapid transit service with such low density of development.

SI already has better transit services than the areas of NJ and Long Island that logically should have more, solely for political reasons.

ferryboi August 31, 2010 - 5:33 pm

And what politial reasons would that be? That Staten Island is the fastest growing county in the state? That the population has doubled since 1980?

If you’re going to be snarky, at least provide some specifics as to why Staten Island seems to be getting more than its share of transit services as opposed to “areas of NJ and LI that logically should have more” even though both NJ and LI have direct rail service to Manhattan when SI doesn’t.

ajedrez August 31, 2010 - 8:44 pm

I live in Staten Island and I’ll tell you this-Staten Island has the buses with the highest cost per rider in NYC-$2.53 on weekdays and $2.48 on weekends, compared to $1.44 on weekdays and $1.54 on weekends (This was before the service cuts). Yet, they feel that they deserve better service than the other boroughs. One of the politicians complained that the B25, which serves over 13,000 riders at non-ADA accessable stations was saved, while the S60, which serves 210 riders per day on a hill was cut.

ferryboi August 31, 2010 - 10:07 pm

So then most SI bus lines should be discontinued because they cost more per rider, and one politician didn’t want ths S60 bus cut? What a surprise, a politician crying against transit cuts in his district!

Who on SI is saying there should be “better service” than the other boros? I think most Islanders are just looking for enough service to meet regular demand, which is not unreasonable for a community that has a population 1.5 times that of St. Louis, a major American city.

ajedrez August 31, 2010 - 11:28 pm

A lot of the people are selfish when it comes to issues that affect them-moreso than other boroughs. That politician who said that the S60 should be saved was questioning why the B25 was saved-a route that is 4 times more cost efficient on weekdays and 8 times more cost efficient on weekends, and serves over 60 times more people on weekdays and over 120 times more people on weekends than the S60. They could’ve suggested an alternative-such as rerouting another bus route (which ended up happening), but instead they would rather the riders in 5 miles of neighborhoods suffer.
A lot of this selfishness is among the richer Staten Islanders. Everybody was acting like it was a right to have a seat on an express bus during rush hour. They have no problem with me packing myself on the S46 to get to school, but as soon as they have to stand on the express bus, it is the end of the world. Somebody said “I don’t care if a child has to pay for the bus-it is called contribution to our services“. The problem is that my S46 costs $1.96 per passenger to operate while his S54 costs $4.46 per passenger to operate. Even with him paying $2.25 and me paying nothing, the MTA is losing less money on my ride than his ride.
This works on other issues as well-people on the South Shore (this is where the selfishness is the worse) said that they don’t want their children passing through the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility if they lose yellow school bus service, while children on the North Shore pass through worse areas than jails. Instead of saying “The bus is every half hour, so my child will have to wait a long time for the bus, or “nobody rides the bus, so my child will be waiting by himself”, they are too scared to go through a jail, where, it isn’t the criminals on the bus-it is the correctional officers. I bet they would be scared out of their minds if their children had to pass through housing projects on the North Shore-things that children on the North Shore have to do daily. You can’t call me biased on this issue because my brother is perfectly content with losing school bus service-and I’ve waited in the rain and snow for local buses when I was in middle school.

I agree that Staten Island needs more tranprtation options-like the North Shore Rail Line and a tunnel to Brooklyn and/or Manhattan. I’m just saying that they should make sure that they are in places where people will use them-not just where people live who whine about more transit service and then don’t use it.

ferryboi September 1, 2010 - 1:31 am

Your argument doesn’t hold much water when you go on a three-paragraph whinefest yourself. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the S46 incurred zero cuts in the last round of service cuts, no? As for all those “rich” (meaning “white”) folks on the South Shore, they didn’t do any more complaining than residents of the other boros. The MTA asked for input and many riders took them up on their offer. That’s part of a democratic process which middle-class Staten Islanders, like it or not, are allowed to participate in. There’s nothing selfish about looking out for your children, especially if they have to walk on streets with no sidewalks past a prison to get to school. Your North Shore experiences do not negate those who live in Tottenville or Prince’s Bay (and FYI, I live in St. George).

Obviously you’ve never ridden an express bus to school in Manhattan. If you had to pay $11 a day to stand for 60 mins on an overcrowded coach bus with no handholds and no back door to exit from, you’d be complaining about service cuts too.

As for throwing all those numbers around (bus A costs X dollars per rider while bus B cost Y dollars), I don’t believe any of the MTA’s accounting for one minute. All I know is that there are half a million people on Staten Island, and over 100,000 of us commute to Manhattan daily. It’s not asking too much for reliable bus and ferry service, and yes maybe a nice one-seat subway ride sometime in the distant future (one can dream, no?).

ajedrez September 1, 2010 - 3:07 am

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but the S46 incurred zero cuts in the last round of service cuts, no?”
Except that people actually use the S46, unlike the S60 and S55/56.

“That’s part of a democratic process which middle-class Staten Islanders, like it or not, are allowed to participate in”
I’m not arguing about that. I spoke out at that hearing against the Student MetroCard cuts. I guess I can’t expect 500,000 people to make logical arguments like I do. I didn’t say to keep Student MetroCards for Staten Island. I said to keep them for everbody, an gave reasons why they should be kept. Somebody said “LIRR and Metro-North skate by with little to no service cuts while you slice our aorta open”. Another person literally said “Cut service everywhere else but here”.

“Obviously you’ve never ridden an express bus to school in Manhattan”
I have ridden the express bus before when it was overcrowded. Not to school, but I’ve ridden it many times. I’m asking for equality for local bus riders. When I take the express bus into Manhattan, I spend 30 minutes standng into Manhattan. When I take a local bus into Manhattan, I spend 25 minutes in travel time standing (fortunately, I get 5-10 minutes of sitting, as I live near the western end of the S46) and then I have to run to the Staten Island Ferry to go to Lower Manhattan. The S46 gets more crowded than any express bus ever gets.

“As for throwing all those numbers around (bus A costs X dollars per rider while bus B cost Y dollars), I don’t believe any of the MTA’s accounting for one minute”
Do you have better numbers to go by? From experience, a lot of the buses the MTA says have low ridership tend to have only a few people on the bus. The S46 and S48 are more crowded than the S40, and all of them are more crowded than the S54, at least during non-school hours, which match the MTA’s numbers.

“It’s not asking too much for reliable bus and ferry service, and yes maybe a nice one-seat subway ride sometime in the distant future (one can dream, no?).”
My responses were in response to your original question: “If you’re going to be snarky, at least provide some specifics as to why Staten Island seems to be getting more than its share of transit services as opposed to “areas of NJ and LI that logically should have more” even though both NJ and LI have direct rail service to Manhattan when SI doesn’t.” I believe that there should be that type of expansion, with a North Shore/West Shore Rail and conection to the rest of the system. My responses were directed at your comments about having better service, proportionately than the other boroughs.

The Funky Apple | A New York City Blog » Blog Archive » Staten Island’s 98 year subway wait August 31, 2010 - 12:01 pm

[…] long time. Like, a really, really long time.Second Ave Sagas has an extraordinary post looking at plans to connect Staten Island to the rest of the city, including a 1912 plan to connect Staten Island to the Brooklyn BMT line (think of today’s R […]

petey August 31, 2010 - 12:21 pm

great post, fascinating stuff.

John August 31, 2010 - 2:44 pm

The only chance Staten Island would have to get a subway line today would be to piggy-back the effort on top of the cross-harbor tunnel effort to link the Port of Brooklyn with the rest of the U.S. rail network to the south and west (since the Brooklyn side of New York Harbor is deeper than the New Jersey side, and could handle the new generation of mega freighters easier).

You’d have to modify the cross-harbor plan to use a connection from Howland Hook on the west short and the Arthur Kill railroad bridge, and bring the freight tunnel around to the northeastern short of Staten Island, where economies of scale might make it possible to do a bi-level tunnel across the Narrows, similar to the 63rd Street tunnel, with rail service on one level and a subway connection on the other.

Aside from the cost, the downside is the NIMBYs who’d fight even an underground freight tunnel through their neighborhoods in S.I., let alone others in Brooklyn and Queens, since the New York Connecting Railroad and the LIRR’s Bay Ridge branch would then become viable as the fastest way to move freight between New England and the rest of the country. But it would at least involve more business and union interests in actually getting a tunnel between Brooklyn and Staten Island built, as opposed to a subway tunnel alone that would have the support mostly of mass transit advocates.

Think twice September 1, 2010 - 1:21 pm

Agreed. Package a subway tunnel to the freight tunnel. Plus tie it into the DOT’s discussion about rebuilding the Gowanus and BQE. The area around 65th Street and 3rd Avenue in Bay Ridge really seems like a nexus for big ticket infrastructure construction in the near and long term.

The problem is to somehow get the PA, MTA, NYDOT, and NYCDOT to come together and collaborate. Or perhaps have the RPA draw up such a master plan. And all of it financed by Sam Schwartz’s Congestion Pricing Plan.

Boris August 31, 2010 - 2:56 pm

I don’t understand the bus vs. subway fight here. Staten Island is a suburb of NYC, and like every other suburb of NYC it should have commuter rail service to the city. To address tacony palmyra’s concern, SI’s density is comparable to, let’s say, Middletown, NJ, or Greenwich, CT, so “what they deserve” is a train ride just like those other suburbs have.

And to follow up John’s comment, the ideal (in my view) connection would be commuter service over the currently freight-only bridge from NJ, down the North Shore, and continuing by tunnel to Brooklyn and then Jamaica on the unused LIRR tracks, with connections to the various subway lines in Brooklyn. Either NJ Transit or LIRR can operate this service.

Bolwerk August 31, 2010 - 3:44 pm

I don’t think anyone was seriously fighting, and I think you raise a good point. SI densities vary greatly too, from high to empty.

But I don’t think SI, or anyone, “deserves” rail transit. Rather, rail transit in some form is probably the only practical way to carry that density of people off the island. From the perspective of regional planning, the congestion caused by SI drivers is pretty hard to ignore.

Andrew September 2, 2010 - 10:56 pm

Which parts of SI have densities that would be considered “high” elsewhere in NYC?

I don’t see how rail transit would markedly reduce the rate of driving among SI residents. I don’t think many of them drive to Manhattan now, and regardless of where the rail line takes them, I don’t think many of them will stop driving to other destinations.

Bolwerk September 4, 2010 - 4:01 pm

Except perhaps for parts of the north shore, most parts of SI likely don’t approach average densities for NYC. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t high by national standards.

Without changes in lifestyle, it probably wouldn’t change driving habits much either. However, reducing trips over the bridge might be doable.

ajedrez September 6, 2010 - 12:12 am

This website shows the density of all of the census tracts (except 1) on Staten Island: http://www.city-data.com/neigh.....nd-NY.html

Jerrold August 31, 2010 - 4:31 pm

Staten Island is a BOROUGH of New York City, not a suburb of it.

ferryboi August 31, 2010 - 5:06 pm

Not according to some of the haters on this blog. I’m amazed at some of the invective from residents of the other 4 boros against Staten Island.

The first commenter states that he “can’t imagine the level of NIMBYism and BANANAism that must exist in that suburban hellhole today.” What an intelligent, cogent way to express your hatred for 500,000 fellow New Yorkers. Another posting implies that Islanders “get what they deserve” because we like a patch of grass and some green space in our neighborhoods (as if that’s a bad thing) and that people who live out here are somehow responsible for the subway not being built over the past 100 years.

At least the majority of the many comments posted are intelligent and informative, and I thank you Ben for brining up the subject. And Kevin Walsh is correct, Arietta St is now the lower part of Victory Blvd 🙂

Bolwerk August 31, 2010 - 11:49 pm

Yes, anybody who criticizes the NIMBYism and BANANAism in suburbia is automagically a non-cogent moron. It’s those attitudes that prevent good ideas from being implemented, and it’s very, very sad.

ferryboi September 1, 2010 - 1:37 am

Criticism is one thing. But you start off by calling Staten Island a “suburban hellhole” and then go on from there. There’s criticism and then there’s just plain nastiness, which unfortunately dilutes the conversation at hand. Many folks on this blog have left intelligent response pro and con regarding a SI subway and managed to do it without being insulting.

And NIMBYism is not exactly exclusive to Staten Island either. Many folks have been holding up the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn for years.

Eric September 1, 2010 - 10:11 am

Yes, and we know what a great example of urban planning, transparency and democratic process Atlantic Yards is.

Bolwerk September 1, 2010 - 10:13 am

Yes, those people are just as narcissistic. But much of Staten Island is indeed a suburban hellhole of automobile congestion and socially sanctioned white heterosexuality.

That’s why I think a subway would do them some good!

Think twice September 1, 2010 - 1:34 pm

Right on. SI is a borough and should be treated as such.

And it can be a even greater engine of economic growth, potential home to millions of future New Yorkers, and a far greater source of tax revenue if dedicated and reliable transit to the other boroughs was built there. Whether a cordoned-off BRT lane down the SI Expressway and VZ Bridge or a tunnel running from Robbins Reef to Ellis Island to the World Trade Center.

Aaron September 1, 2010 - 3:24 am

It is a borough of NYC but it’s also suburban. That’s not mutually exclusive. In Los Angeles, areas like Westchester (the LAX Westchester, not the Hilary Clinton Westchester), San Pedro and the western San Fernando Valley are similarly suburban, despite being jurisdictionally part of the City of Los Angeles. Suburban doesn’t mean being a separate city, it means being of a density and usage of an outer, non-urban residential area with some retail and commercial uses. In that regard, a good part of southern Staten Island is classic suburbia. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be served by transit, but transportation planning leads to suburbs getting different kinds of service for purposes of efficiency.

I’m not really all that convinced that an R extension to SI is a smart idea despite the fact that I’m well aware that SIR and the subway are more-or-less interoperable. I think it’d be one heck of a slow ride and I’m not sure that we went to be bringing all of that SIR traffic into Manhattan when the trunk lines as they presently exist couldn’t handle the capacity.

Having said that, I’m all about an MTA-NJT agreement to run commuter trains, NJT branded or otherwise, from SI to NY-Penn via Newark or Jersey City – it’s my understanding that the trackage already exists for this service and I think it’d be an excellent way to leverage existing infrastructure to both add capacity as well as serve the west side of SI and take a bit of pressure off of the SI Ferry. But I suspect the costs of a subway connection, when coupled with what I suspect would be pretty harsh travel times to Manhattan, may not be the most effective use of limited resources.

Bolwerk September 1, 2010 - 10:17 am

I’m not really all that convinced that an R extension to SI is a smart idea despite the fact that I’m well aware that SIR and the subway are more-or-less interoperable. I think it’d be one heck of a slow ride and I’m not sure that we went to be bringing all of that SIR traffic into Manhattan when the trunk lines as they presently exist couldn’t handle the capacity.

Interesting, but, by the time such a project got off the ground, there will presumably be a brand new trunk line under second avenue, albeit a stunted one.

Andrew September 2, 2010 - 11:02 pm

They’re not mutually exclusive. It’s functionally a suburb. Political boundaries don’t impact a transit system’s cost or viability.

AlexB August 31, 2010 - 3:49 pm

I made this comment on another post from Second Avenue Sagas, but I think a tunnel connecting the express tracks of the 4th Ave subway from the 59th St stop in Brooklyn to the Staten Island Rail Road at St George would be awesome. The trip from St George to Times Square would be a 30 minute train ride, shorter than the trip from Jamaica on the subway. Obviously, it would be much longer from the southern end of Staten, but much of it would be closer to Manhattan than Coney Island.

Andrew September 2, 2010 - 11:06 pm

I disagree.

If you’re going to build an underwater tunnel, you want to build it either on the shortest route possible (crossing the Narrows) or on the most direct route to Manhattan (from St. George to the tip of Manhattan). If you’re not going directly to Manhattan, there’s no reason to take a longer route than necessary.

The trip from 59th St to Times Square is already over 30 minutes, so your time estimate is clearly off.

And what do you do with the trains that already run on the 4th Ave express? There isn’t much room for more service there, and I don’t think N riders would appreciate being bumped to the local.

Think twice September 1, 2010 - 1:47 pm

I love the “Proposed Direct Route A” from 1919. Imagine if Jay Walder were to present a One-Hundred Year Blueprint for future subway extensions with this, that and all the other lines that never got built, at a big unveiling in City Hall.

“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.”
-Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect. (1846-1912)

Searching for political will for subway expansion :: Second Ave. Sagas September 3, 2010 - 6:01 am

[…] delved into the political history of numerous subway expansion efforts. Most resemble the failed Staten Island subway plans in that the Transit Authority proposes an extension, the Board of Estimates approves the program, […]

NYCEDC urges reactivation of SI’s North Shore rail :: Second Ave. Sagas November 19, 2010 - 1:06 am

[…] we should ponder a subway tunnel to Staten Island instead of Secaucus. After all, it’s been nearly 100 years in the making. Share Tweet Categories : Staten […]

Thinking big for the future and small for 2011 :: Second Ave. Sagas December 17, 2010 - 1:57 am

[…] Schwartz advocates for a subway to Staten Island. He writes: “One could go from St. George to the Battery into the T-line. Another could go […]


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