While New York City’s rail plans for Staten Island include just a modest proposal to reactivate the North Shore rail line and Mayor Bloomberg wants to spend the federal government’s $3 billion left over from the ARC Tunnel on a 7 line extension to Secaucus, one Staten Island politician would prefer to see the city deliver on a long-promised subway line to the island. State Senator Diane Savino (D-North Shore/Brooklyn) said this weekend that instead of pursuing a subway extension to New Jersey that “flies in the face of practicality and fairness,” the city should connect Staten Island to the rest of New York’s extensive subway system.
“If the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) wants to truly move people out of their cars and onto rail, extending a subway to the Island is the way to do it,” Savino said in an interview with SILive.com’s Judy Randall. “The MTA should complete a 1912 plan that would have rail and freight access from the terminus of Victory Boulevard to Brooklyn, along 67th Street, and then utilize the R train route along Fourth Avenue. The projected cost of the plan is $3 billion, the same as the extension of the 7 line under the Hudson River.”
The long-planned extension of the R train under Narrows wasn’t the only idea Savino put forward. “If a bi-state alternative is necessary in order to access federal funds, the city could extend the Hudson Bergen Light Rail from its present terminus at 8th Street in Bayonne over the Bayonne Bridge, making a ‘northwest passage’ to Manhattan via the PATH trains in Jersey City and Hoboken,” she said. “Keep in mind that 12,000 Islanders work in Hudson or Bergen County and 100,000 Islanders work in Manhattan every weekday.”
By my count, this is now the fourth public claim New York officials have staked to the ARC tunnel money. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has called for the money to go toward MTA capital projects, and a group of House representatives echoed that call on Friday. Mayor Bloomberg of course is working on his 7 line program, and Savino wants to bring it home for Staten Island. Is her plan feasible?
In August, I explored the long and tortured history of a subway to Staten Island, and even then, I omitted the early years. Since the dawn of the 20th century, city planners had promised a subway to Staten Island from via the Narrows. Articles from 1901 and 1903 mention those plans, albeit in skeptical tones.
In 1919, the most ambitious expansion plans involved a tunnel under the Narrows as well as another to Lower Manhattan through the New York harbor. Had that Staten Island subway been realized, it would have traveled under Kill Van Kull and through New Jersey or via a direct line past Ellis and Bedlow Islands under the shallow part of the bay. Both routes would have connected to the IRT just north of South Ferry.
Today, the only feasible — and I use that word loosely — approach would seem to be via the Narrows to the BMT Fourth Ave. line. It’s five miles from South Ferry to the northern tip of Staten Island but just one mile under the Narrows. The line would branch off at around 59th St. where a short tunnel stub exists, but the trains would make the long, slow slog to Lower Manhattan via the 4th Ave. local and Montague St. tunnel. Such a trip would arguably be slower than taking the ferry, and without significant subway development in Staten Island, it wouldn’t provide comprehensive service at that end either.
Ultimately, it seems as though Savino’s subway plan is a wise one on paper that flies in the face of practicality. It would, however, make far more sense to Hudson Bergen Light Rail because it would draw riders from an underserved part of Staten Island. Only then with ARC money could dreams of better transit from Staten Island be realized a century in the making.
“In 1898, when the boroughs voted to consolidate,” Savino said this weekend, “Staten Island voted overwhelmingly to become part of New York City on the basis of two promises, a municipal ferry and subway service. After seven years we got ferry service, but 112 years later we are still waiting on the subway. Staten Island is part of New York City, with over half a million people. It is past time we have similar transportation alternatives that other boroughs have.”