Home PANYNJ Making way for transit on the Bayonne Bridge

Making way for transit on the Bayonne Bridge

by Benjamin Kabak

The Port Authority is looking to raise the Bayonne Bridge. Will the work allow for better transit connections? (Photo by flickr user andy in nyc)

In late-December, amidst holiday vacations and blizzard hullabaloos, the Port Authority announced its preferred method for dealing with the pesky Bayonne Bridge. Unfortunately, as container ships grow larger, the bridge is not tall enough, and to address this issue without risking a steep decline in business through the region’s ports, the Port Authority had to decide between replacing the bridge and raising it. With cash short, the PA said it will try to raise the bridge, leaving many to wonder what future transit will have over this key link between Staten Island and New Jersey.

To solve the height problem and keep the project’s budget manageable, the Port Authority would like to raise the bridge from 151 feet to 215 feet. The water crossing much reach that height after the Panama Canal is widened in 2014, and in today’s economy, building a new bridge isn’t a feasible solution. Just ask supporters of the ARC Tunnel about that. In its December 30th release on the decision, the PA had the following to say about its plan:

The “Raise the Roadway” solution will involve reconstruction of the existing approaches, ramps, and main span roadway to a higher elevation that would allow the crossing to accommodate larger ships for years to come. The alternative, as compared with others reviewed to replace the bridge, is the most cost effective, and has the fewest environmental and neighborhood impacts. This bridge modification approach also minimizes visual and physical impacts to the historic bridge and seeks to preserve the iconic arch, while improving the navigational clearance restriction.

Port Authority staff is currently drilling down on engineering issues for the proposed solution, including roadway design, lane configuration and upgrades to the existing 10-foot-wide lanes, providing median dividers and shoulders, and adding additional safety and security measures. The Port Authority also will work with its regional partners to initiate and expedite the environmental regulatory process.

Noticeably missing from the Port Authority’s own initial announcement was any mention of transit. Those who wish to see Staten Island’s nascent transit network better connected to New Jersey’s and who are pushing for a North Shore Rail Line reactivation were dismayed by the news. As Maureen Donnelly reported in the Staten Island Advance last week, the borough’s transit activists are not happy that the Port Authority has said that “it’s too soon in the process to make an informed determination whether space might be set aside to handle bus or rail traffic over the bridge.”

A PA spokesman said that raising the roadway “does not preclude the use of mass transit,” but borough officials aren’t satisfied. “We have a significant opportunity here, and it would be the right thing for the Port Authority to at least provide the space — and we’ll work on trying to figure out how to establish whether it’s a rail link or bus rapid transit, or something of that sort,” Linda Baran, president of the SI Chamber of Commerce, said. “They’d be crazy not to have a dedicated lane. This is something that’s feasible.”

Feasible is almost too tame a word for this scenario. After killing the ARC Tunnel, might New Jersey, the primary mover behind the Bayonne Bridge makeover, be again sacrificing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve transit access and interconnectedness between Staten Island and the Garden State? In an ideal world, the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail would run over the bridge and offer a connection to the North Shore Rail Line. Of course, in an ideal world, costs don’t matter while here they do. Anything less than a truly dedicated bus lane shouldn’t even be on the table.

The Bayonne Bridge has stood for 80 years at its current height and with its current configuration. As New York and New Jersey look for ways to improve transit connections, this bridge shouldn’t be overlooked, and now’s the time to act. The region can’t afford to wait another 80 years before having another go at it.

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Andrew January 10, 2011 - 7:39 am

Misleading. There’s been transit over the Bayonne Bridge since 2007: the S89 bus.

The foamer in me would love to see an extension of HBLR. But before we spend money doing something expensive like that, shouldn’t we take a look at the performance of the S89? The S89 currently runs rush hours only, on a headway of 15 minutes at best. How crowded are the buses? How much of a market is there for off-peak service? Is there a market for more frequent service? Obviously, extending HBLR would promote ridership, but if the S89 is a weak bus route, then an extended HBLR will be a very weak rail route.

As for something as basic as a dedicated bus lane, is the Bayonne Bridge congested enough to warrant one?

Joe Steindam January 10, 2011 - 10:08 am

Yes, the S89 has one of the lowest riderships in the system. But ridership on Staten Island is vastly lower than in the other borough’s, probably due to the lack of a transit connection along most routes. Yes, the S89 2009 numbers do not make a compelling case for a light rail replacement, but to make the 3-part ride to Manhattan (S89-HBLR-PATH) costs the rider $6.10 and the need to carry 2 different payment systems (a Metrocard for Bus and PATH, and a pass for HBLR). I doubt the rider would qualify for a free transfer back onto the Subway once they reached Manhattan, so the full cost of a one-way trip to Manhattan via NJ is $8.35. I think it’s a compelling case why the S89 is probably only used right now by those who live in Staten Island and work in New Jersey.

Now extending the PATH to Staten Island would only eliminate a transfer for those who are close enough to wherever the line runs or terminates after crossing the Bayonne Bridge. So still the bigger obstacle over this path is the cost to the rider, and the different fare collection methods. Unifying fare collection (as the PA has done with the MTA, NJT still needs to get on board) is the first step, because then you could possibly allow a discounted ride (maybe the cost of the express bus) to Staten Islanders to bring incentives to using this route.

Joe Steindam January 10, 2011 - 10:12 am

Sorry, at the top of my second paragraph, I meant to say HBLR, not PATH. Extending PATH would actually be ideal, but that’s not the issue here and there is no chance in hell the issue will arise anytime soon. Apologies for the error in my post.

ant6n January 10, 2011 - 3:05 pm

One should also consider that the area around Exchange place is an employment center, with potential to grow. So connecting HBLR with the north shore line could give a one seat ride from the northern part of SI to there; and a 1-transfer ride from other parts of SI (via the railway).

Eric F. January 10, 2011 - 3:10 pm

It would probably be a quicker trip via ferry from St. George to Exchange Place, which has it’s own ferry slips.

Bolwerk January 10, 2011 - 4:22 pm

Maybe, but probably only if you already live near St. George.

al January 10, 2011 - 5:44 pm

The LeFrak family would like that. They have a huge share of the real estate around there and around Jersey City.

ajedrez January 10, 2011 - 7:02 pm

You still get a free transfer to the subway, so the cost would be $6.10 (not factoring any discounts in)

Also, this route was meant for people going to Jersey City-not Mannhattan. If you wanted to get to Manhattan, the express bus would be cheaper and faster.

Personally, I would like to see a new bus route that would follow the proposed path of the West Shore Light Rail. It would run via Morningstar Road, Richmond Avenue, the SIE service road, South Avenue, the West Shore Expressway, and end at the park-and-ride in Pleasant Plains. This should begin to build a ridership base if the HBLR were extended over the Bayonne Bridge.

Go here for the report containing information about the West Shore Light Rail: http://www.siedc.org/Capital-P.....light-rail

Joe Steindam January 10, 2011 - 9:13 pm

I included an additional MTA fare payment because I thought the whole trip would be so long that riders would transfer to the subway outside the 2 hour time limit for free transfers between buses and subways. According to MTA’s schedules the trip on the S89 between Hylan Blvd and Exchange place takes 70 minutes, plenty of time to use the PATH and reach the subway before 2 hours are up. So yes, the rate would only be $6.10.

I wasn’t the person making the case for using the S89 ridership as an example of expected ridership for a Staten Island HBLR extension. I was responding to a comment that suggested making that argument, I found the figures, and offered my best assumption as to why ridership is low. My conclusion, the high price (as you noted, it’s still more expensive than taking an express bus), and the difficulty with using 2 different fare payment systems and 3 different fares makes the current setup not viable for commuting to Manhattan. Unifying the payment system or making it as expensive as the express bus might make it a more viable route to Manhattan. Another good step would be to run a bus first along the proposed routing in Staten Island (as you suggest) to Exchange Place preferably. But seeing as we’ve just cut bus service all over the city and the MTA is still searching for funds, neither proposal is truly available at this time.

Andrew January 10, 2011 - 10:03 pm

I certainly wasn’t arguing that extended HBLR ridership would be no different than S89 ridership. Of course it would. I was just pointing out that this isn’t an untapped transit market – the S89 already taps into it, and any evaluation of a rail option has to take S89 ridership into account.

As for the fare, while developing a unified fare structure has proven to be a political and institutional challenge, it would still be a lot less expensive than building a rail line. Extending HBLR for the purpose of lowering the fare makes no sense – if that’s the only goal, just lower the fare without extending HBLR.

Bolwerk January 11, 2011 - 1:43 am

There’s always the possibility that the fare can be lowered more easily with LRT. Buses aren’t more cost-effective.

ajedrez March 24, 2012 - 1:00 pm

I’d say that ridership actually going over the Bayonne Bridge is more or less a seated load (of course, keep in mind that it picks up riders within SI as well).

As far as transferring to the subway, the transfer from the S89 to the subway would still be valid, since it’s definitely less than 2 hours to reach Manhattan (and if not, you could always get a monthly pass)

As for the low ridership, how much ridership do you expect if the route runs rush hours only on 15 minute headways? Just because the ridership is low doesn’t necessarily make it a failure. If service were expanded to at least run between Elm Park and Bayonne off-peak (coupled with a park-and-ride for those who don’t want to transfer to another bus), you would likely see a boost in ridership.

ajedrez March 24, 2012 - 1:02 pm

Plus, you have to consider that there are people who don’t want to transfer, and a direct extension to SI would attract those riders, who currently aren’t using the S89.

Bolwerk January 10, 2011 - 12:56 pm

Even in the best cases, buses are far from substitutes for LRT service. I don’t know if a route over the bridge is by itself a good solution for, well, anything, but but an LRT service between that part of NJ and SI probably makes a lot of sense if it moves people to key major destinations, like the SI mall or some of the colleges.

John-2 January 10, 2011 - 8:18 am

It will also be interesting to see the logistics in the Port Authority’s final plan. Robert Moses made the Verrazano unusable for rail be making sure the grade on the bridge approaches was too steep to handle any traffic; what the PA is proposing here is a 45 percent increase in the height of the main Span of the bridge, which is going to require either much longer access ramps on both sides of Kill Van Kull or a lot steeper grade to access the main Span, which could create the same problem via modification that Moses deliberately created on his Narrows crossing.

al January 11, 2011 - 1:09 am

But then again, rubber tire trams and rubber tire metros can navigate 10 to 13 percent grades weren’t around or just from the prototype to operational systems.

The lower level might be perfect for a rubber tire tram or metro.

al January 11, 2011 - 1:11 am

But then again, rubber tire trams and rubber tire metros can navigate 10 to 13 percent grades weren’t around or just from the prototype to operational systems back in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

The lower level might be suitable for a rubber tire tram or metro.

Scott E January 10, 2011 - 8:54 am

“…lane configuration and upgrades to the existing 10-foot-wide lanes, providing median dividers and shoulders, and adding additional safety and security measures…”

So the bridge will get higher AND wider? I really don’t see how that is possible. And to add to John-2’s concern, the approaches would be far too steep for Light Rail (or perhaps any kind of rail).

I suppose the Arthur Kill Vertical Lift Bridge (just north of the Goethals) could be used for rail traffic, but that could make quite a circuitous route to Manhattan.

Name January 10, 2011 - 11:03 pm

The bridge was built with room for an 2 additional lanes.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines January 10, 2011 - 9:04 am

[…] Ben Kabak: Bayonne Bridge Overhaul Must Make Room For Transit […]

tacony palmyra January 10, 2011 - 9:14 am

In a perfect world the HBLR would be extended over the bridge into Staten Island and be stitched into the North Shore Line, although logistically I’m sure that’s difficult (as well as requiring NJTransit to partner with the MTA in a manner never seen before!)

The current “Bayonne Flyer” HBLR rush hour express runs take 16 minutes from 22nd Street to Exchange Place. If you could make it from Staten Island to Exchange Place in 20ish you’d open up some real mobility improvements.

Larry Littlefield January 10, 2011 - 9:53 am

The question is, will they save space for bicycles and pedestrians so residents of Staten Island can ride over the bridge and get on existing transit services, and will those transit services continue to run?

Transportation is about two things: debt service and retirement benefits. If you actually want to go somewhere, prepare to pedal.

ferryboi January 11, 2011 - 1:12 pm

“The question is, will they save space for bicycles and pedestrians so residents of Staten Island can ride over the bridge and get on existing transit services…”

Obviously Larry you’ve never walked over the Bayonne Bridge. It’s already very high and extremely windy, even on a nice spring day. Once they raise the bridge, it’ll be that much higher and colder.

I for one am not looking to ride my bike from Staten Island to Bayonne in the middle of the winter. This fascination with bikes really puzzles me. I live in the US, not Chairman Mao’s China. I’m not looking to risk life and limb to ride a bike to Manhattan via Jersey. For the dozen or so folks who really want to do that, have at it. The Bayonne Bridge and SI Ferry already allow bikes and have a dedicated space for that.

For the few thousand of us who seek a new connection to Jersey City or Manhattan, high-capacity public transit is what is needed.

Eric F. January 10, 2011 - 10:12 am

“The current “Bayonne Flyer” HBLR rush hour express runs take 16 minutes from 22nd Street to Exchange Place. If you could make it from Staten Island to Exchange Place in 20ish you’d open up some real mobility improvements.”

Note that the HBLR is a single track (shared by both directions) from 22nd to the new 8th street station. In fact, I think it’s a single track the whole way from 34th street. I doubt you would get very fast service below 34th on a one track alignment. It’s hard to conceive of how a HBLR car would climb to the top of the span. I don’t think you are going to ever see fixed rail over that bridge, and the ridership isn’t there to support the massive outlay anyway.

In terms of cost, I doubt raising a deck on a bridge kept in service is appreciably less costly than building a new bridge. It’s like a more costly way to do it. The problem is that the structure is viewed as historic, so tearing it down would be legally difficult. In addition, there is opposition to condemning any Bayonne property for a new span. How they plan on raising the deck without condeming property for new approaches is beyond me, and so far no alignment diagrams have been published.

Kid Twist January 10, 2011 - 10:55 am

Maybe they could lower the water instead.

al January 10, 2011 - 5:53 pm

An alternative to all this is to convert the recently acquired Bayonne Pier and modify it, and the Jersey City Pier north of it, for Suez max ships. It is on lower New York Bay, and wouldn’t need to pass the Bayonne Bridge. A revived freight rail connection would be in order.

al January 10, 2011 - 5:53 pm

Upper New York Bay, not Lower New York Bay

Alon Levy January 10, 2011 - 10:00 pm

A single-track alignment reduces capacity, not speed. In principle you could have a single-track high-speed rail alignment, as long as it was built to standard.

Al D January 10, 2011 - 11:04 am

As with a complete streets initiative, there should be a complete transit initiative, required by law, to mandate that, when a major roadway, street, rail line, bridge, etc. need to be reconstructed, for whatever reason, that all modes of transit be addressed as part of the review. At least this would force planners to look at everything, instead of just their own ‘silo’.

Joseph January 10, 2011 - 2:20 pm

I am so glad they are worried more about raising a bridge than replacing one that is going to collapse…

Benjamin Kabak January 10, 2011 - 2:25 pm

How so? I think they’re just as concerned with one that will collapse. They can work on two projects at once, you know.

Bolwerk January 10, 2011 - 2:39 pm

Which one is that? I was thinking you meant the Tappan Zee, but that’s not a PA bridge.

Vincent Valk January 10, 2011 - 8:32 pm

The Goethals.

ferryboi January 11, 2011 - 1:15 pm

The Goethals is old and woefully overused, but it is not in danger of collapse anytime soon.

Bolwerk January 11, 2011 - 4:48 pm

That’s what I was gonna say.

Vincent Valk January 10, 2011 - 8:27 pm

I’m torn on this one. I think there is real potential in Staten Island-to-Manhattan via Hudson County transit, but the existing infrastructure needs to be upgraded (HLBR, as is, is too slow) and connections on the Staten Island side vastly improved. When I lived on SI, I briefly tried commuting to a job near 23rd St by driving to Bayonne and taking the HLBR to the PATH. It was a bit slower than the express bus and much more expensive. And I wasn’t taking the S89, and I lived maybe a five minute drive from the bridge.

A bus lane on the Bayonne Bridge would be, frankly, useless. There’s just not enough traffic. I’ve always liked the Bayonne Bridge aesthetically, and it’s the only SI bridge that you can walk over, but it’s not very useful for getting anywhere, even for drivers. It’s really only useful for driving to Hudson County, and maybe the Holland Tunnel, and the SI-to-Hudson County travel market just isn’t that big, Exchange Place notwithstanding. There’s a reason it hasn’t been upgraded in 80 years.

All that said, if extra space for transit can be provided at minimal cost, I say do it. Maybe someday it will be warranted.

NJ Transit, PA discuss rail over the Bayonne Bridge :: Second Ave. Sagas January 14, 2011 - 12:58 am

[…] of this story as the natural accumulation of this week. On Monday, I tackled the upcoming changes to the Bayonne Bridge, and last night, I discussed the need for more light rail within the city limits of New York. […]


[…] as a healthy accumulation of this week. on Monday, you tackled a upcoming changes to a Bayonne Bridge, and final night, you discussed a need for some-more light rail […]


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