Home Staten Island What about a subway for Staten Island?

What about a subway for Staten Island?

by Benjamin Kabak

Restoring passenger rail service to Staten Island's North Shore would improve transit in the neglected borough. (Click to enlarge)

As the Mayor’s idea to bring the 7 train to Secaucus has gained steam over the past few weeks, New Yorkers have raised a skeptical eyebrow toward this plan. As many have noted, why should the city look to expand its subway to New Jersey when parts of, say, eastern Queens are chomping at the bit for better transit? Nowhere have the cries been louder to ignore the Garden State in favor of city-focused expansion than from Staten Island.

Now, I’ve been skeptical of Staten Island and its politicians. As I explored last week, the elected official raising the most hell is also the one who has been the least willing to embrace transit. State Senator Diane Savino vowed to block any funding for a subway to New Jersey that may arise before Staten Island gets its subway, but she’s also been one of the worst transit detractors amongst the New York City constituency in Albany. The city should hardly reward such petulant behavior.

But if we put aside petty differences and an obsession with borders that trumps a focus on the regional economy, we have to ask a serious question: Does Staten Island and its demographics warrant a rail connection, and if so, where should that rail connection go? The Staten Island Advance earlier this week kinda, sorta made that argument. In a piece that focused more on feeling left out of the city’s place, the Advance’s editorial board opined:

It seems to us that New Jersey commuters already have multiple mass transit connections to Manhattan, including the PATH tubes from Jersey City and Hoboken into downtown Manhattan and the New Jersey Transit tunnel that brings trains on that line into Penn Station. (And don’t forget that New Jersey residents also have ample car and bus access into the city via the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and the George Washington Bridge.)

This is where we start jumping up and down and yelling, “Hey! Mayor Mike! We’re over here!” State Sen. Diane Savino responded to the news of this proposal with disbelief…She has warned that she will vote against any state funds for expanding the No. 7 train unless Staten Island gets a rail connection to Manhattan. A light rail line to connect to New Jersey Transit’s Hudson Bergen Light Rail station in Bayonne over the Bayonne Bridge will do fine โ€” and it wouldn’t cost anywhere near what a tunnel under the Hudson will cost…

And, in any case, Mr. Bloomberg will be out of office by the end of the year, and will no doubt take this big idea with him. Still, it would nice if he thought about his fellow New Yorkers in this borough before worrying about easing the commute for people in northern New Jersey.

Here, we encounter two ideas for a Staten Island subway: a connection to Manhattan (either the slow way via 4th Ave. in Brooklyn or the fast way under the harbor to South Ferry) or a rail line over the Bayonne Bridge. There is no small irony in the Advance advocating for the latter while bemoaning Bloomberg’s “worrying about easing the commute for people in northern New Jersey” because that’s exactly what a connection to the Hudson Bergen Light Rail would do. Stil, Staten Island deserves something.

As it stands now, approximately 56,000 Staten Island residents commute to Manhattan every day. On the other hand, as of late last decade, over 70,000 Hudson County residents and over 65,000 Bergen County residents made the trip from New Jersey to Manhattan. According to research conducted by the Center for an Urban Future, approximately thirty percent of those New Jersey commuters drove alone into the city. The numbers for Staten Island weigh against a Manhattan connection in lieu of a Secaucus subway, but we run into a chicken/egg problem. A fast connection between Staten Island and Manhattan would likely boost the number of commuters, and New Jersey does indeed enjoy robust transit connections into Manhattan.

Meanwhile, the HBLR connection is likely a better one. The Center for an Urban Future has determined that, since 1990, the percent of Staten Island residents commuting to Manhattan grew by just four percent while trips within Staten Island grew by 32 percent and trips to adjacent counties — including New Jersey — increased by 22 percent.

So where does that leave us? The obvious candidates for Staten Island rail connections if we want to meet growing demand would involve an intra-island option — such as a reactivation of the North Shore Rail Line (and not

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Frank B April 18, 2013 - 1:14 am

Thank you. It’s about time we started talking about this again…

John-2 April 18, 2013 - 1:42 am

If Staten Island was willing to take a freight line that would use the lift bridge and the original SIRT West Shore alignment from Howland Hook to an area around St. George, and from there via a tunnel across the Narrows to the New York & Atlantic at Bay Ridge, then you might have the economics to justify a bi-level tunnel, similar to 63rd Street. One level for freight, one for the N, R or whatever letter designation the MTA would send to Richmond County.

Any plans for a cross-harbor tunnel rely in part on the fact that the next generation super-freighters can’t dock in New Jersey because the harbor isn’t deep enough there, but is on the Brooklyn side. Revive the Brooklyn docks, and get a rail line there with bi-directional freight access to both Long Island and points north, along with New Jersey and points south, and that would be where the money would be generated. The subway would be an add-on connection between the BMT Fourth Avenue line and the SIRT, since the freight line’s tunnel path would already be in the area.

As a stand-alone subway tunnel, the financial advantages just aren’t great enough to make a Narrows crossing worthwhile. Adding the freight connection gives far more people the incentive to make it happen, but the NIMBY factor would admittedly be severe, not just in Staten Island, but also for people in Brooklyn and Queens, who wouldn’t want their sleepy little rail line to suddenly become a major link in the national freight rail system.

AG April 18, 2013 - 11:03 am

They’ve been dredging the whole NY harbor to meet the standards of the new ships that will be coming through once the Panama Canal expansion is completed. This has been years in the making and why they are raising the Bayonne Bridge. Also – Staten Island and NJ will continue to receive the bulk of new heavy shipping activity. The land values in Brooklyn have risen too much and space is too tight for modern shipping… just like Manhattan… which is the reason the port activities went to NJ a decade ago. The cross harbor freight tunnel is a good idea… but its purpose is to reduce truck traffic across the Hudson and the harbor.

Eric F April 18, 2013 - 11:33 am

This notion of a freight line into Brooklyn doesn’t comport with modern reality. A freight line ties into distribution centers, not end users. Brooklyn real estate is too valuable to support a massive distribution center on the scale currently being used. Drive into NJ or the Lehigh Valley in PA. That’s where your Amazon packages and local store’s inventory are coming from. There is nothing in Brooklyn for a freight line to tie into witout razing half the boro. Trucks and the past, present and future of NYC freight. You could build a freight line right up the gut of Brooklyn and route it over the Brooklyn Bridge all the way up to SoHo, demolishing everything in its path, and you’d barely remove a single truck from the roads.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 11:41 am

Most plans I’ve seen involve connecting to Maspath by way of the NY Connecting Railroad. It seems like a good idea, but to fully exploit the tunnel plan you need to make many improvements between the tunnel landing and Maspeth. Trucks would still be necessary for the “last mile,” but the trucks would be distributed over multiple East River Bridges rather than just the GWB and Verranzano.

Boris April 18, 2013 - 11:42 am

A Brooklyn distribution center would be no larger than, say, Hunts Point in the Bronx. The Army Terminal area can accommodate a facility that size, since it (1) already performs a similar function; (2) still has empty or underused lots; and (3) is right by the BQE, so some rail containers can go directly onto trucks to be unpacked on Long Island and elsewhere.

John April 18, 2013 - 11:44 am

It wouldn’t just be for Brooklyn — a Harbor Tunnel (via S.I. or directly from New Jersey) connects New England rail freight traffic with the rest of America south of the 41st parallel for the first time. Currently, if you’re sending orange juice from Florida to Boston, or anything else to New England by rail, you’re going through Albany.

A Harbor Tunnel and the NY&A connecting railroad cuts 150-300 miles off any freight routing, depending on the final destination. That’s the other benefit, along with any possible local benefit (which is what Rep. Jerold Nadler has been pushing for the past 15-plus years for Brooklyn). A tunnel straight to Bayonne from the NY&A is the more likely option (even if ‘slim’ and ‘none’ are your two options here), but running it via Staten Island and the Howland Hook freight yard would allow a Narrows subway tunnel to piggy-back on top of the project.

Eric F April 18, 2013 - 12:22 pm

If there was any utility to this thing, it would be fertile ground for a public-private partnership. There is no interest for such a project from private capital. It would be just about useless.

I agree that having a closest Hudson crossing at Selkirk is batty, but what can you do? You want to route a freight line across Westchester and Rockland? How is that going to happen? Westchester blocked third-laning the Hutch and adding an HOV to the cross-Westchester expressway. They are not going to consent to laying track down the middle of the county to allow chemical tanker cars to run through the place.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 12:51 pm

It’s true that it may or may not be profitable (to build), but since it would open up an additional channel for goods to reach the boroughs, it would be far from “useless.” It alleviates a major problem.

Eric F April 18, 2013 - 2:07 pm

It has such little utility that it’s useless when weighed against the cost. The idea of somehow vacuuming thousands of trucks off teh roads is wonderfukl, but this just won’t do that. What you could do is build a Nassau-Westchester tunnel that would get tons of cars and trucks off NYC roads, and apply private capital to defray the cost. That would actually serve the purported purpose.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 2:17 pm

Vastly increasing capacity to bring food and other goods into the city is “useless when weighed against the cost”? Even if it doesn’t take a single truck off the road, it’s far from useless. Remember, you’re the one who scoffs at the idea of urban farming.

Anyway, it doesn’t take trucks off the road. It probably adds them in the end, since we don’t have a last-mile freight rail system, but the upside is it might move some from the bridges and crossings to less congested Bushwick/Maspeth – still a secondary benefit at best.

John-2 April 18, 2013 - 2:19 pm

Freight does drive the national rail network — it’s just that living in the northeast, you get a skewered idea of where the railroads’ priorities are, because Amtrak and commuter rail is such a big presence here and an afterthought in most other places.

The utility of having what would be a freight-only line from southeast Astoria to either Bayonne or Elizabeth, N.J. (depending on your Harbor Tunnel route) would definitely have financial advantages for shippers and for whatever rail companies had rights over that line. And yes, it wouldn’t come cheap, but if one were in the cards, combining a Narrows freight crossing with a Narrows subway tunnel would be a way to connect the borough to the rest of the subway system as something more than a stand-alone tunnel (since Staten Island may have a harbor ferry for commuters, but it doesn’t have a money fairy).

Eric F April 18, 2013 - 2:42 pm

Ok, try and site this in NYC. Let me know what spot you pick. Also, note the truck bays.


Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 3:33 pm

Why would you need something like that? Any number of smaller freight transfer stations could be used, many of which already exist in and around Maspeth.

Imitate Rotterdam, not New Jersey.

Tower18 April 18, 2013 - 3:35 pm

There’s plenty of room for something like that along the ROWs that are being bandied about. The already-existing UPS facility in Canarsie/Bushwick is a little over half that size, and happens to be right on the proposed ROW. Greenfield? No of course not. But the space exists for things like that.

John-2 April 18, 2013 - 9:19 pm

You also open up areas off the NY&A on the LIRR for freight sidings, if the connection to the rest of the U.S. freight rail network is only 25 miles west via a new tunnel, and not 165 miles north at Selkirk.

AG April 18, 2013 - 3:04 pm

just so you know… industry has wanted that for decades…

I won’t re-hash what others stated are the potential benefits for the entire northeast.

Nathanael April 25, 2013 - 6:56 pm

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was supposed to build the cross-harbor freight tunnel something like 100 years ago, and just… hasn’t… bothered…

It’s well within its remit and an appopriate use for port fees, since it helps goods distribution from the ports (especially the Brooklyn ports).

AG April 26, 2013 - 4:35 pm

And getting a good share of those trucks off those crossings would ease congestion… and maintenance from from the reduce truck traffic stressing them.

Nathanael April 25, 2013 - 6:53 pm

Eric: the problem is that the only freight rail crossing of the Hudson, right now, is just south of ALBANY, NY at Selkirk.

A freight line on the cross harbor freight tunnel into Brooklyn would really be for *through freight*. To Long Island, the Bronx, Westchester, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, etc. The area east of the Hudson has a substantially lower percentage of freight transported by rail than the rest of the US due to the “Selkirk hurdle”, as it is nicknamed.

Nathanael April 25, 2013 - 6:54 pm

Currently, the through trucks drive either through Manhattan (Canal St), across the Verazanno Narrows, across the GW Bridge, or across the Tappan Zee.

bob sowin January 26, 2018 - 7:48 pm

LIRR 4 tracks Bay ridge Armay/marine terminal threw east NY , astoria ,BRONX & on to BOSTON! SI north Shore bridge to NJ /ACLLA, or old B&O route to PHILLY ? whats ‘s missing ? tunnal from last turn before army /marine termanil TO & under SI & connect to 4 tracks fraight yard / I like Forest ave hoock up with “light rail ” at Bayone bridge 2 tracks subway /passenger / Fright more north at satitation /(creak } 2 tracks / shipping /fraight oil/ gass / pips to NJ . the curve? D”Q “N ” R ” ! EAST NY “L A” C” J / & ON to SUNNY SIDE , Most infusrure in plac CHEEP!

Larry Littlefield April 18, 2013 - 6:41 am

The existing subway system more than 3/4 of its operating costs, as these things are commonly measured.

The Staten Island Railroad? Perhaps 1/5, at most.

At the density Staten Island has, and will accept, a busway is more efficient than a rail line, because it can be used by buses on multiple lines.

There is a proposal for a real busway (not just SBS) in this corridor, but it is unfunded.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 8:22 am

I’m not sure how fair that argument is. SIRT contributes to the subway system same as any other line, but is accounted for separately.

BBnet3000 April 18, 2013 - 4:51 pm

Not same as any other line. There are very few sections of the subway as poorly performing as the SIR. Far end of the A train and Franklin Ave shuttle maybe.

Bolwerk April 19, 2013 - 12:02 am

“Poorly performing” doesn’t mean it doesn’t contribute. It’s a bit unusual in that it’s accounted for separately, with some of the revenue attributable to the subway and some not.

Henry April 18, 2013 - 7:59 pm

No – intra-island travel on SIR is free so long as you’re not getting off at St. George.

Thomas Mercado June 27, 2013 - 10:15 am

Henry hopefully you have rode a bus in staten island, the fact that mass transit in that borough lacks , the roads are packed with vehicles at all times in that borough no matter what time of day it is u will sit in traffic on SI expressway SI is completely under utilized we are in The. middle of brooklyn manhattan and new jersey, and by providing transport for residents with in the borough would only benefit the borough and the city no one travels to staten island right now unless they really have too.. due to high bridge toll or not wanting to take a hr ride on the bus for something that would take a car 10 mins . thats like saying bayridge brooklyn doesnt need a train cause there 10 bus lines servicing that area.

T merc

Nathanael April 18, 2013 - 10:02 am

New-build busways are pretty much never more efficient than rail lines, due to maintenance alone. If you really want to extend the railway out to multiple routes, put in some streetcar tracks.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 10:10 am

Yeah, I can’t see the slightest sense in doing anything but a railroad in that corridor, light or heavy rail.

Alon Levy April 22, 2013 - 6:07 pm

Given the existence of a mostly intact rail ROW on the North Shore, rail is more efficient. Rail operating costs are already lower than bus operating costs per unit of capacity: in New York, subway operating costs per revenue car-hour are a hair less than bus operating costs per revenue bus-hour, but rail speeds are and will always be higher and there’s also more overstaffing in rail operations that can be eliminated.

John T April 18, 2013 - 7:28 am

The most logical to me is to connect to Brooklyn’s 4th Avenue, ideally at 86th St. which would be an express stop, and expand that line to 4 tracks to 59th & 4th, benefiting everyone.

In S.I. it should at leas have a transfter station to the current SIR, maybe someday a true thru connection.

We need to expand our city transit for a viable economy and adding to transit coverage should be encouraged . . . if only we had a way to pay for it!

Chet April 18, 2013 - 7:59 am

That would work.

I often drive to the 59th St station and take the N train into Manhattan. From that stop to around 34th Street takes about 35 minutes or so. Combined with the drive to the station from the Castleton Corners area of Staten Island, the entire trip is often less than an hour. It is much more comfortable and reasonably faster than an express bus. It is also more dependable by a factor of about a billion.

If the N express service in Manhattan was restored, it would be an even faster trip.

The Cobalt Devil April 18, 2013 - 12:38 pm

I thought I was the only one who did that Chet, though I drove to 36th Street because parking was easier and I could catch the 4th Ave local or express (R/N/D) trains to Manhattan. It wasn’t ideal, considering the V-N Bridge toll ($5.25) and then the subway fare ($4.50 r/t) but for less than it cost to ride the express bus I got rail service every few minutes and a two-seat ride from Midtown to Staten Island in about an hour.

ajedrez April 18, 2013 - 1:46 pm

You still have to pay for gas and maintainance, though. Being conservative, a gallon round-trip adds about $4 to the cost.

The Cobalt Devil April 18, 2013 - 4:05 pm

True, but living on Staten Island (like any boro) is a choice. Rented a nice 1 BR with a parking spot and huge outdoor patio for $1200, which not only wouldn’t be possible in Manhattan, but would cost $4000/month if it did exist. It’s all give-and-take, so you make do with what you have.

Thomas Mercado June 27, 2013 - 10:21 am

i understand what your saying in regards to that but do you see all the work you have to do just to get to work u literally need to drive into brooklyn which if u wake up late u know damn well u stuck in the traffic on the expressway to park jump a train to the city thn when work done battle the traffic back into staten island which is a mess during rush hour . for all that from castleton corners u go down to richmond terrace hop a train(i wish) to the ferry or maybe one day (dreaming) directly into the city to transfer where u need to go .. theres money in this city for everything else theres money to monitor every persons whereabouts and theres money to pass campaigns in our city for all types of stuff but theres no money to fully connect all our boroughs together it really isnt right ..

Chet April 18, 2013 - 9:14 pm

I started doing that when I was going to grad school. I would park in Cobble Hill and take the F train from Carroll Street to 42nd Street. Trip took about an hour and was much more convenient than the express bus- especially when coming home after a class that ended at 8:00pm.

I live and work on the island, so my trips in the city (as we say here) aren’t everyday by any means. I’ve also started driving to 36th Street. The stop gives another option in the D train, and there is usually parking (on weekends) around Sunset Park High School.

Larry Littlefield April 18, 2013 - 8:12 am

“If only we had a way to pay for it!”

If the money existed, there would be an interest group stampede to seize it. Mass transit would end up losing more than 100 percent of the money.

The only source of money for the future is to steal it from the future. But the special interest stampede has already grabbed that money too, but running up debts for past short term spending.

And not just at the state and local level, and not just in the government.

Nathanael April 18, 2013 - 10:03 am

The way this has always been dealt with throughout history is to print money and default on the debts.

Money is just a tool. The real question is, do we have the *real resources* to build what we need?

Well, we’ve got the labor: there are enough unemployed people.
We *are* running out of oil, so we should avoid using that to the extent possible.
There’s plenty of sunlight, so we should use that (in the form of electricity).

Et cetera.

Larry Littlefield April 18, 2013 - 11:06 am

“The way this has always been dealt with throughout history is to print money and default on the debts.”

You mean “run the government like a business?”

NYC didn’t get away with that in the 1970s. The debts got paid. The retroactively enhanced pensions got paid. The infrastructure rotted, public services got gutted, and the bag ladies were left to die in the streets.

Nathanael April 25, 2013 - 6:57 pm

We had a hard turn towards mismanaged government in the 1970s. A lot of people didn’t seem to notice…

BoerumHillScott April 18, 2013 - 8:22 am

I think the only way that passenger rail on the North Shore makes sense is with a massive upzoning to allow high density reidential, office, and commercial buildings.
Without that, a BRT system is more than good enough.

When comparing Staten Island to New Jersey, especially Hudson County, another difference is tne number of people who commute from New York to New Jersey.
My understanding is that there is close to no reverse commuting to Staten Island.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 8:31 am

You can make the case for a subway connection to SI, but the reason for it is vastly different than the reason for Secaucus. The latter takes a big load off the existing commuter rail network, and the former is more like an investment in the future of the borough.

Larry Littlefield April 18, 2013 - 9:40 am

It’s a future the borough doesn’t want. Or didn’t.

Let’s try putting BRT in that corridor, and upzoning on the less affluent and influential North Shore and see if it flies.

If it does and ridership soars, it would be pretty easy to lay tracks through to the South Shore.

If ridership soars again and it becomes possible to upzone the South Shore, then its time to talk about a connection.

Staten Island has had the slowest population growth in NYC in recent years, after decades of having the fastest. The borough is now pretty much built out.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 10:27 am

Why blow the money on BRT? For probably less money you can get the higher capacity of rail.

But yes, any scheme involving massive transit improvements probably requires vast zoning changes.

Larry Littlefield April 18, 2013 - 11:09 am

“Why blow the money on BRT? For probably less money you can get the higher capacity of rail. ”

It wouldn’t cost more money to put in a two lane road than rail, and rail could be put on it later. The advatage of BRT is that many bus routes could run up to the ROW and then run express on it.

That makes BRT more useful in the Staten Island context. Unless the light rail line would be linked to a network of streetcars.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 11:46 am

Yes it would. A two-lane road is more expensive to build, even before you consider the higher footprint (=more land comdemnation?). And you’re just spending that kind of money twice if you build a road and then a railroad over it.

Unless the light rail line would be linked to a network of streetcars.

It could be “linked” to SIRT and HBLR. And nothing about it prevents tight integration with feeder buses. I’m not sure streetcars are especially advantageous over buses, but articulated LRVs certainly are.

Boris April 18, 2013 - 11:47 am

The North Shore busway study lays out the costs: BRT is cheaper today, but in the long run (2030 or whatever the report looks at) rail and BRT almost break even due to reduced maintenance needed for rail. However, as is usually the case, the future is not considered in the analysis. Neither are the benefits (e.g. rail is perceived to be more permanent, hence a better case for upzoning a la Hudson Yards could be made).

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 12:05 pm

All that extra maintenance, not to mention the additional vehicles and drivers, fit with the MTA’s core mission of providing jobs to transit workers.

Alon Levy April 22, 2013 - 6:22 pm

The study is a sham, because it combines a segment that’s near existing density (the actual North Shore Branch) on which rail should be cheaper than BRT with a segment that isn’t (the line down to the Teleport) on which there’s no legacy rail line and so rail should be more expensive.

BrooklynBus April 19, 2013 - 9:57 am

I thought the MTA already decided on SBS (or BRT) as the way to go through one of their biased studies where they inflated the costs of light rail?

Benjamin Kabak April 19, 2013 - 9:59 am

That’s not set in stone. It was the “best preferred” alternative based on cost and usage. But with enough of the right kind of pressure and an identified funding source, they will change their minds.

ajedrez April 21, 2013 - 9:19 pm

What are you talking about “Lay tracks through to the South Shore”? What’s wrong with letting it terminate at Arlington? There isn’t that much density on the West Shore (in fact, between Arthur Kill Road & the SIE, the only residential neighborhood is Travis)

Yeah, maybe we have the slowest population growth in absolute numbers, but percentage-wise, we still had the most growth between 2000 & 2010. (5.6%)

There’s always ways to add more housing. Take some old industrial areas and buil housing there, knock down more single-family homes, and so on.

Shabazz April 18, 2013 - 9:56 am

and the future of NYC. The development of Staten Island should be a major priority for NYC in the future. It’s land that is largely untapped.

AG April 18, 2013 - 11:05 am

that’s they point… they want it “largely untapped”

Larry Littlefield April 18, 2013 - 11:10 am

It isn’t untapped. It’s built out, and population growth has stalled. Any additional people would require expensive purchase, demolition and replacement at much higher density.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 11:47 am

Or infill, which would only require zoning changes.

Plus, it could be private money. The public investment need only be in the transportation.

Henry April 18, 2013 - 8:14 pm

The West Shore is anything but “built-out.”

Douglas John Bowen April 18, 2013 - 9:00 am

Many of us Jerseyans are all for an extension of Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (Staten Island officials use that very phrase) to and from the Forgotten Borough. Overlooked by borough advocates, however, is the possible link between HBLR(T) and a No. 7 subway extension, most likely in Hoboken or Weehawken, offering a great shot to and from East Midtown. Unless no one in Staten Island works in East Midtown, that’s a potential (albeit very long-range) winning possibility!

Beyond that, overlooked by many “anti-Jersey extension” New Yorkers is the possibility of the Garden State actually chipping in its fair share (to be determined, yes, but real for all that) for any No. 7 extension. Since New Jersey is unlikely to chip in for subway additions to eastern Queens, the two valid needs are not automatically on the same fiscal plane.

The issue certainly can and should be debated, but one hopes the level of discourse rises above the so-far reflexive, parochial New York attitude of “Thar be dragons” west of the Hudson Ocean.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 9:18 am

Where the hell do people come up with comments like this? Who ever said anything about New Jersey chipping in for subways in Queens?

I’m fine with the 7 extension but there is, rightfully I suspect, skepticism that New Jersey would pay its fair share for a subway extension to Jersey – a fair share being basically the whole bill, plus an ongoing contribution to operations. Part of the reason for that is it only takes a, uh, parochial politician (or small group of them anyway) like Chris Christie to decide to pull the plug.

Larry Littlefield April 18, 2013 - 9:43 am

I’d even be willing to skip the ongoing contribution to operations, if NJ paid for the extension to Secaucus. NY would pick up “our” New Jerseyites there and bring them in here.

As I’ve said, NJ could pay for it with a bond backed a regional tax in North Jersey. A third track under the Hudson would then be enough for Amtrak’s problems.

Adirondacker12800 April 18, 2013 - 8:35 pm

The rough estimates I usually see is that New Jersey contributes 5 billion dollars a year to New York in income and sales taxes.

Bolwerk April 19, 2013 - 12:04 am

Let’s tell them not to travel interstate at all, shall we?

Alon Levy April 22, 2013 - 6:27 pm

There will never be through-service between light rail and the subway. I’m not aware of a single example anywhere in the world today of through-running between light rail and a high-platform subway (the subway-surface lines in e.g. Boston and the tram-trains in e.g. Karlsruhe use low platforms throughout).

A transfer connection is of course precious and any subway extension to Jersey should have stops at the intersection with the HBLR and with any potential future rail lines (for example, the lower West Shore Line).

Bolwerk April 22, 2013 - 11:00 pm

I’m not sure about the specifics, but perhaps Cleveland is an example.

Nathanael April 25, 2013 - 6:59 pm

Cleveland is an example of track sharing, and of station-sharing. But not of platform sharing — the shared stations have “low platforms” and “high platforms” which are quite separate.

R2 April 18, 2013 - 9:25 am

Any discussion of expanded transit to Staten Island must be coupled with a serious discussion on development plans. Can’t have transit w/o density. Can’t have it both ways after all.

Shabazz April 18, 2013 - 9:55 am

Ben, as always, this is a great anaylisis.

However, I have some serious concerns about the premise. Current demographics are likely to shift if a subway to Staten Island is built. It’s the classic chicken and egg problem.

Travel to Midtown from many parts of Staten Island routinely takes longer than suburbs such as Scarsdale. Why would commuting professionals choose to live in such a place?

Yet, Staten Island is one of the most underdeveloped parts of the city. With about 25% of the city’s land mass it has about 5.5% the people.

If a Subway were built under the harbor, which is the right solution (albeit not the most expedient), neighborhoods such as St. George, Brighton and Stapleton would see their commute times drop by over 60 percent.

Who wouldn’t want to live in St. George, with beautiful harbor views of Manhattan and Brooklyn, with a 6 minute commute to wall street and a 20 minute commute to Midtown (currently it’s a 30 minute ferry ride just to south ferry)

With a direct connection to Manhattan, Staten Island would boom, in similar ways that many parts of Brooklyn and Queens did when the subway was built to outlying neighborhoods.

Nathanael April 18, 2013 - 10:04 am

It’s not clear that we should encourage a boom anywhere which is flood-prone.

The Cobalt Devil April 18, 2013 - 12:45 pm

Staten Island is far from flood prone, in fact it’s probably the least flood prone borough because of its many high hills. The Todt Hill section of the Island is the highest point on the eastern seaboard south of Maine. The parts that DID flood during Sandy were right on the beach and many homes were built directly in wetlands that should never have been developed in the first place.

St. George, New Brighton and Stapleton got through Sandy much better than Downtown Manhattan did, and would benefit greatly from continued development, which is SLOWLY happening right now.

Nathanael April 25, 2013 - 7:00 pm

All right. I’m OK with encouraging development on the high parts of Staten Island.

Tsuyoshi April 18, 2013 - 10:07 am

You could look at it as having three potential commuting corridors:

1) to Jersey City via Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, over the Bayonne

2) to Downtown Brooklyn via the R, over the Verrazano

3) to the Financial District via some to-be-determined subway route connecting to the Staten Island Railroad, tunnelling under New York Harbour to St. George or Stapleton

1 is the cheapest. The Bayonne Bridge is relatively short, and it would be pretty easy to have the route through Staten Island go either along streets or through unused rail corridors.

2 is probably the easiest politically. You only have one city and one state to deal with. But I have a feeling that you’d just end up with a single park-and-ride station at the end of the bridge, due to the cost of going any further, and the existing car-orientation of people there.

3 would give the most benefit. I think that if you compare the potential ridership of this route to the others, it’s really the best option. It would easily connect to the existing rail corridors in Staten Island, which already have the highest density in the borough. But nobody thinks about it too much, because it would obviously be a very long and expensive tunnel.

It does not seem to me that under any possible scenario we will ever have many people people commuting from Staten Island to Midtown. It’s just too far. But 3 would get you the most.

AG April 18, 2013 - 11:13 am

I think #1 is the best option…. well rather – the most practical.

Ian MacAllen April 18, 2013 - 11:55 am

The route over the Bayonne Bridge is already popular with a bus line connecting to the Bayonne portion of the light rail. In fact one of the many failures of regional transit planning has been the raising of the Bayonne Bridge without including an expansion of light or heavy rail over the structure (a bridge replacement, as had been discussed prior to the decision to raise the bridge, was on the table for a while).

Eric F April 18, 2013 - 12:28 pm

It’s not a failure of planning, it’s responsible planning. There is no cost justification for HBLR over that bridge. For the amount you’d pay for that you can run several free feeder bus lines to the existing terminus for eons.

Henry April 18, 2013 - 8:16 pm

If you call 900 riders every weekday “popular”, then what the hell is the subway?

The bus route is underutilized as it is.

The Cobalt Devil April 18, 2013 - 9:05 pm

Henry, you’re good at seeing the forest but lousy at eyeing the trees. Those 900 riders represent 450 cars that otherwise would travel to NJ and back every day. Considering the S89 only runs during the am/pm rush (and even then only toward NJ in the morning, and to SI in the pm) that’s not bad ridership. If a better scheduled rail connection with a one-seat ride to Jersey City or Manhattan were on offer, you’d see that 900 turn to 9000 within a year. A big part of public transit’s mission is to get cars off the road, but you can’t do that without viable alternatives.

Build it and they will come…

Henry April 19, 2013 - 7:35 pm

“Build it and they will come” is a crock.

See: VTA in San Jose, pretty much every greenfield commuter rail project in the United States

A big problem with using an existing ROW is that the line may have poor catchment due to either poor pedestrian/road connectivity or lack of big anchors within the catchment area of stations. The North Shore ROW has both of these problems, not least because half the catchment area of the stations is in New York Bay.

Ian April 22, 2013 - 10:17 am

The attitude towards transit has always been reactive — a refusal to make investments until there is an existing demand for service or until other options like new highways are impossible to executive. Highways and roadways are usually proactive — expand a highway and allow uncontrolled growth to fill it up until its time to expand it again. That kind of attitude needs to stop because its unsustainable.

Another common problem with getting transit projects to exceed ridership goals is that local government bodies often obstruct new development either through restrictive zoning or failing to up-zone around new projects. Local zoning continues to be a serious problem for higher density development around transit centers in suburban New Jersey, even where rail service has been around for a century.

If the HBLR connected all the way to St. George, it would have created vital link to the region’s network. Linking commuters to a free ferry might even help alleviate congestion on the path. New development along the eastern portion of the island could further attract reverse commute riders. And also, buses continued to be stigmatized as transportation for poor people while light rail is acceptable middle and upper middle class transportation.

Henry April 22, 2013 - 6:46 pm

I’d like to point out that connecting to Manhattan via an HBLR line from St. George would be going three-quarters around a circle. It’s probably slower than existing services into Manhattan and New Jersey (Ferry + PATH is probably faster.)

Alon Levy April 22, 2013 - 6:35 pm

On the contrary. The North Shore ROW serves a dense neighborhood by Staten Island standards. It’s not at the center of the neighborhood and that’s a problem, but a substantial fraction of borough residents are within a kilometer of the proposed stations.

Don’t get me wrong, Staten Island rapid transit service is definitely on the shape side of serve-or-shape debates. But there’s a lot of existing population to be served, too, in addition to the desirable upzoning near stations.

ajedrez April 21, 2013 - 6:58 pm

The S89 has reverse-peak service roughly every 30 minutes (it’s roughly every 15 minutes peak-direction). At the height of rush hour, I’ve seen standing-room only buses, and even a few packed buses, but towards the tail end of rush hour, buses tend to empty out. I definitely wouldn’t call it successful, though I wouldn’t call it a failure either. Ridership was projected to be around 1200 when it first started.

Also keep in mind that some of those 900 riders are intra-SI riders like myself who would otherwise take the S44/94, S59, or S79.

I do think that an extension of the HBLR should take place, though. There is always going to be additional ridership attracted by not having to transfer, and the fact that it is rail rather than a bus line. But I’d hold off on extending it too deep into SI, though, as only the areas north of VIctory could definitely support the line. I remember a study on it that said that the line could get something like 10000 riders a day if it just went to Bloomfield, and Bloomfield itself would be a low-ridership station.

Nyland8 April 19, 2013 - 7:05 pm

I see it as having FOUR options. It doesn’t take more than a look at a map to see that the shortest/cheapest/quickest way from Richmond to New York is through New Jersey.

I’d start by subsuming the PATH into the MTA, reconnecting the SIR from the ballpark to Arlington, and extending it across the Kill with a new bridge to meet the PATH system – somewhere east of Elizabeth.

With some obviously needed expansions and modifications, it would give Staten Islanders a one seat ride to either Herald Square of the WTC – and do that for a tiny fraction of the cost of tunneling the Narrows, let alone tunneling the harbor to Manhattan.

OR … for a really radical expansion idea which might creatively pay for itself in the long run, sink a TBM launch box just southest of Division Road on Governors Island, drop in two machines and send one north and one south. Start driving sheet pile like mad and use 100% of the spoils as fill to expand the size of Governors Island. (half of it, the cone, is already man made landfill)

The north spur heads for Hanover and right up the proposed T train ROW. The south heads toward Richmond. The fill creates expensive real estate one train station away from the financial district, with the greatest harbor views in the city. And get this: No NIMBYs. Since nobody really resides there, there will be nobody to bitch about it.

The size of New York city grows, the subway grows, the prime real estate grows, the revenues grow … the bastard stepchild of the boroughs finally gets its long awaited rail connectivity, the SAS advocates get phases 3&4 funded. It’s as close to a win, win, win as you can get.

Of course, there may be some folks in Brooklyn who’d hate to see their view of New Jersey spoiled … but … hey … I don’t think anybody has air rights over Governors Island.

Nyland8 April 20, 2013 - 10:55 am

That should read: ” … Herald Square OR the WTC … ” and ” … launch box southWEST of Division Road on Governors Island”

My editor had the day off …


AG April 20, 2013 - 10:33 pm

I like your first idea… I think it’s cost effective.

As to the Governor’s Island idea…. there are restrictions on what the land can be used for. For instance – there cannot be residential development on the island. So I think the ferries from Manhattan and Brooklyn will remain the transport option. Last I was there they were doing work to restore the historic structures for visitors and beginning to build a park. There is a school there… and the city plans to allow even more concessionaires to collect revenue… But there probably won’t be much in the way of an “office district” either.

Nylan8 April 21, 2013 - 11:49 pm

Well … of course the historic district – the ice cream scoop – must remain untouched. The northernmost part of the Island is original and significant for many reasons.

But any restrictions to build on the cone – the southern part – could disappear with the wave of a pen. Besides, what I’m proposing doesn’t actually involve putting anymore structures – residential or business – on Governors Island as it exists today. What I’m proposing actually increases the size of the island, and confines those structures only to the land which is created in the expansion. It’s the ultimate loophole. Every square inch of parkland would still exist after the project ends. Maybe more.

Perhaps the funding needed to expand the size of the island could come directly from the developers who would stand to gain the real estate. How many billion$ would 80 or 100 acres of land be worth located one subway stop from the financial district? If you offered 20 years of tax breaks to sweeten the deal, then running the SAS all the way to Richmond might not cost the public anything more than the price of new train sets. You could even run a spur across the Buttermilk Channel to Red Hook.

Anyway, I was just looking for a way to fund subway expansion while having the private sector pick up the tab, and avoiding the NIMBY lawsuits at the same time. It wouldn’t hurt to develop a prospectus. Let the market decide if the numbers work or not.

Henry April 22, 2013 - 12:36 am

The last time they tried large-scale land reclamation in New York, Robert Moses was finally defeated, the West Side Highway was torn down, and the MTA got hundreds of millions of dollars because the environmental impact was deemed “too great”.

This sounds like an ecological disaster.

Nyland8 April 22, 2013 - 7:42 am

Indeed. But all tunneling spoils go into the environment somewhere. They don’t just disappear. To have no environmental impact at all would mean to have no underground subway expansion at all.

Are you suggesting EAS, SAS and 7 Line expansion have all been ecological disasters? Because I would argue that ANY mass-transit expansion – even wasteful caverns like the ARC project – give a net benefit to the ecology by taking cars off the road.

Happy Earth Day!

Henry April 22, 2013 - 8:21 pm

They don’t, but something tells me there’s something less environmentally damaging than dumping lots of rock onto the oyster beds at the bottom of the harbor, which are still recovering from the water pollution of the past century.

Spoils aren’t necessarily ecological disasters, but where you’re proposing to dump them would definitely cause one.

ajedrez April 21, 2013 - 9:22 pm

Here’s a Phase II study for the HBLR extension: http://www.siedc.org/Capital-P.....light-rail

Keep in mind that it still wouldn’t offer a one-seat ride to Manhattan, though.

marv April 18, 2013 - 10:41 am

As has been posted previously:

Send the #7 to Hoboken and then on to Staten Island.

*NJ gains east side access
*Pressure is take off of Penn Station
*Staten Island gains – one seat rides : to times square and grand central + easy transfer at hoboken to Path to 6th Ave, WTC, and Newark.
*The metropolitan area gains
*Pollution is reduced.

If Times Square and/or Grand Central Platforms can not handle the crowds, build platforms one one or both sides of each station. This must be doable and more cost effective than other ideas for dealing with Penn Station crowding and providing access to the east side from Jersey.

Herbie April 18, 2013 - 11:15 am

Or send the #7 to Hoboken as you said, then ::dons crazy hat:: convert the SIRT line to commuter rail so that it can interface with the LIRR at the Atlantic terminal via Hoboken and the Financial District.

kvnbklyn April 18, 2013 - 1:47 pm

This is my thinking exactly. Both New Jersey and Staten Island could benefit from an extension of the 7 train across the Hudson.

The route through Jersey City and Bayonne is largely already established as a railroad right-of-way. Either directly or from Secaucus, the route could travel through the Bergen Arches and parallel the HBLR (using it as a local service) before tunneling beneath the Kill van Kull to St. George. Add an infill station along the PATH route for transfers to Lower Manhattan and a cross-platform local-express station at Liberty State Park for the HBLR.

Much less underwater tunneling than coming from Brooklyn and a quicker ride to Midtown than via Bay Ridge and the R.

Sean April 18, 2013 - 11:37 pm

Could not agree more.

marv April 19, 2013 - 2:23 pm

The area east of the Bayonne Bridge on the north shore of the Kill van Kull is tank farms. An elevated structure leading to to a Bridge (closer to St George) could be built and would not evoke community oppostion. Such a bridge could run northwest to south east to facilitation connection to the SIRR (north shore line). This new span (either all rail or both rail and traffic) could be built prior to the raising of the Bayonne bridge and could serve as temporary detour for the Bayonne Bridge allowing The Bayonne’s raising to be done without continued traffic which would allow the project to be done cheaper.

ajedrez April 21, 2013 - 9:24 pm

The area immediately south of Bayonne is Elm Park/Port Richmond, not St. George. Unless you want it to backtrack diagonally to St. George and then go across the North Shore.

Eric F April 18, 2013 - 11:18 am

I don’t see how light rail would work here. Getting the sytem up the grade onto the Bayonne Bridge, assuming it is raised seems very difficult. The EPA is now threatening to sue to prevent the raise (so much for Obama’s ‘fast track’ scheme), but that just leaves the bridge in limbo. The PA believes that raising it is required, and they are not going to enhance the bridge at its current height, if and when EPA manages to scuttle its plan.

Apart from the grade on the bridge, the light rail line is only one track in most of southern Bayonne. Not one track in each direction, but one track total. Widening the line would run into practical and political problems. I also don’t see an obvious place in S.I. to put the light rail approach on that side.

If you look at a map, Staten Isalnd is almost a natural extension of Union County, NJ. To me, an easier solution is to replace and enhance both the Goethals and Outerbridge and related approaches and offer a reliable 10 minute ride to Elizabeth Station for those on the north and Woodbridge or Perth Amboy from the south. SI’ers closer to the eastern part of the island already have relatiely easy access to the ferry.

There is also glacial movement to have better express bus service via Brooklyn over a dedicated lane on the Veranzano and Gowanus.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 12:02 pm

Depending on demand, a single track with enough sidings could be plenty.

Eric F April 18, 2013 - 12:25 pm

If the demand can be met with a single track alignment, then I don’t see the cost justification for building all the infrastructure to allow a river crossing and approaches. If demand is that light, given the amount of work entailed, just do it by bus. It’s one thing to tack on a half mile over land extension, quite another to get tracks from ground level to 160 feet in the air and back again to move people on what is basically a two-car bus on tracks anyway.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 1:08 pm

What demand are you talking about? Demand to SI-NJ demand or Manhattan-NJ demand? I don’t see how the demand for the former is anymore than an order of magnitude less than demand for the latter.

“Just do it by bus” sounds like it could be more expensive. A train of two articulated LRVs come out to the capacity something like five or six buses (multiply the wages of a number of bus drivers accordingly). The ROW is mostly there, and the North Shore needs light rail more than it needs buses. If high frequency isn’t necessary, it’s an affordable way to move a lot of people.

River Line pulls off about 4 packed trains per hour on a mostly single-tracked service. The show-stopper for SI is going to be inter-agency cooperation. ๐Ÿ™

The Cobalt Devil April 18, 2013 - 1:54 pm

“North Shore needs light rail more than it needs buses.”

Agreed. The MTA runs many bus routes on the North Shore, but they all run along winding, tiny streets and/or crowded avenues like Forest and Castleton. Many SI streets were laid out in the 1700s and it shows!

Take a look at a bus map of SI from 1950 and you’ll see pretty much the same routes today even though the population and demographics have changed mightily since then. Not to mention that SI had three rail lines and a ton of trolley service 70 years ago. Now there is one rail line and a bunch of slower-than-molasses buses that run more or less at will. Build a rail line within and off of the Island and you’ll see that 4% growth in ridership shoot up to 40% within a decade.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 2:20 pm

Maybe, but that 4% growth is probably more a function of zoning than transportation.

The Cobalt Devil April 18, 2013 - 3:27 pm

Or both. Zoning can be changed, especially in fallow areas along the North Shore like Mariners Harbor and Elm Park where there are tons of empty warehouses and junkyards.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 3:35 pm

Indeed, and almost for free. And it’s responsible for many of our most galling problems. ๐Ÿ™

The Cobalt Devil April 18, 2013 - 4:16 pm

Grew up in Mariners Harbor, and don’t I know it! North Shore has so much potential, maybe a rail connection would bring it back to life. What’s sad is the B&O Railroad petitioned the NYC Board of Estimate to discontinue the North Shore line in the early 1950s because city run (and heavily subsidized) buses were taking fares from the SIRT. Crazy that two of SI’s three rail lines were discontinued just a few years before the Verrazano Bridge went up, increasing SI’s population exponentially.

Here’s a photo of the North Shore line on the last day of service in 1953, with apartment buildings being built right next to the tracks:


Henry April 19, 2013 - 7:36 pm

Local residents would have to support any rezoning, and Staten Island hasn’t exactly been making pro-transit or pro-development noises up until now.

ajedrez April 21, 2013 - 9:26 pm

The NW portion of Staten Island is one of the quickest growing areas in the city, according to the census.

Epicgenius April 18, 2013 - 12:34 pm

A LRT line would suffice.

By the way Lois Laneis not even a major street.

The Cobalt Devil April 18, 2013 - 1:49 pm

Maybe not, but to the many residents nearby, a Lois Lane stop would be awesome. Any transit line works better if nearby residents can walk to a station.

ajedrez April 21, 2013 - 7:07 pm

Nobody lives near Lois Lane. There’s just the HIlton and maybe a couple of office buildings. I use the S46 in that area, and ridership is low for the most part. South of the SIE, buses generally carry 10 people or less.

The North Shore ROW needs heavy rail, not light rail or a busway. They’re going out of their way to serve the Teleport for no good reason. Heavy rail would be relatively cheap east of Arlington, since much of the RoW is already there. It would be nice to see it extended south, but it’s not a dire necessity.

Stewart Clamen April 18, 2013 - 1:53 pm

Has Staten Island really been neglected? Didn’t it recently get a half-billion-dollar subway station at South Ferry?

The Cobalt Devil April 18, 2013 - 2:00 pm

Well, technically that subway station is in Manhattan, and it was built to replace a 105 year old station that was woefully small and extremely crowded. But to answer your question, yes, the Island has historically been neglected, especially when it comes to mass transit. That has begun to change in the past 20 years as the Island’s population (and resulting political clout) has increased. Only in NYC would a section of town with 500,000 people be considered small!

Phantom April 18, 2013 - 5:12 pm

Staten Island has not been neglected.

Pound for pound they have more mass transit per capita than any other borough, including the wasteful and labor intensive Express Buses that run empty half the time.

There are a some crybabies there who complain about a neglect that simply is not there.

the cobalt devil April 18, 2013 - 5:27 pm

Now you are just being contrarian. There is so little MTA infrastructure on Staten Island that its not even funny. And wouldn’t it be wiser to replace those wasteful express buses with rail lines which can handle many more passengers with less drivers and equipment?

Henry April 18, 2013 - 8:19 pm

Staten Island has been neglected capital-investment wise.

However, Staten Island can get in line behind the other three boroughs, which suffer from over-capacity bus lines. The busiest bus routes in SI don’t even hit 20K a day.

The Cobalt Devil April 18, 2013 - 8:53 pm

Or the MTA can address both issues. Why is everything either/or nowadays? Queens needs more buses so to hell with Staten Island? It’s that mindless provincialism that left SI without a subway in the first place.

Henry April 18, 2013 - 9:12 pm

There are places more deserving of rail connections than Staten Island due to various factors (density, existing transit ridership, etc.), and with the limited resources we have, we have to prioritize. Multiple engineering challenges exist with using existing rail corridors (the Bayonne Bridge is too high and the grades required would be too steep, SIRT is not built to standard-IND specifications and has no accomodations for turnstiles, any tunnel under New York Harbor or the Narrows is going to cost billions and be done in one of the busiest ports in the country). Extending subway lines in the other boroughs is a matter of digging a bit further down the street.

It’s not provincialism, it’s pragmatism.

The Cobalt Devil April 18, 2013 - 9:21 pm

Only if you live outside SI is it pragmatism. Sorry, but SI has been getting the short end of the transit stick for way too long. Tell us more about how badly a borough with zero subways should feel for other boroughs that have tons of them. These problems should have been addressed 50 years ago when the VZ Bridge was being built, but the city and state sat on its hands hoping that Islanders would use their cars instead. Well, the city got its wish, and now our highways are falling down and traffic-choked 18 hours a day. Should we wait another 50 years until it’s complete gridlock out there?

Henry April 18, 2013 - 11:01 pm

We already pay some of the highest local taxes in the nation. If SI is willing to somehow finance a project in the couple-billion dollars range and can work out a deal with the rest of the city and state, while managing to convince the FRA that it is a sound project based on actual cost per rider metrics and not based on lofty development promises, then SI will eventually get a train connection to somewhere else. Politicians and local groups can’t just sit pretty waiting for money to fall out ofthe sky.

North Shore LRT is not a bad idea because it’s relatively cheap and can be done rather quickly, although I don’t know how easy it is to make the ROW ADA compliant. Half of the catchment area of the stations is also basically in the water, and the pedestrian network in the area makes feeder buses very difficult to implement. Long-term, the only thing I might be able to justify is a one-stop R extension to St. George, and maybe integrating it with the North Shore line (SIRT integration would be very difficult engineering-wise). Improving transit on Staten Island is a worthy aim, but we don’t have spare billions lying around to throw at any project we see fit.

First things first, however, the ferry needs to be sped up. Get the low-hanging fruit first.

Henry April 18, 2013 - 9:04 pm

The very first thing that should be done is upgrading the boats running the ferry service. As it is, the boats are slow, and faster boats operate in many places. Speeding up the boats would allow more frequent service to operate with less boats, reducing the amount of boats needed and saving money over the long-term. Faster journey times would also shorten commutes to Manhattan far more effectively than any realistic train extension to the borough would.

Don’t most Staten Islanders work on the island itself, anyways? That’s what the Census data says.

The Cobalt Devil April 18, 2013 - 9:14 pm

Goodness, you are great a simple-minded thinking Henry. Even if the city spent millions on brand new hydrofoil ferries that cut the trip time in half, commuters still need to get to and from the ferry terminals themselves, which is particularly slow on the SI end because it’s all done on crowded buses traveling via streets laid out 200 years ago.

Many Islanders do work on SI, but just as many work in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and not just downtown. There is also a lot of reverse commuting by students and workers coming IN to the Island, especially from Brooklyn. I know one girl who commutes from the Bronx to the College of Staten Island to attend its well-regarded nursing program. I bet she’d love a one or two seat subway ride instead of a subway, ferry and bus hike 2x a day!

It’s all the same city Henry, and SI needs to be brought into the fold instead of treating it like an unwanted appendage.

Henry April 19, 2013 - 8:15 pm

There’s something called “fiscal reality”. The MTA can barely afford to finance new capital projects and existing service as it is, and a rail line to the island is going to be another big-ticket item that will cost billions, even if it’s just a one-stop extension to St. George with transfers to SIRT. The MTA would also almost certainly require the help of the city, state, and feds, all of which aren’t in a particularly giving mood these days. Adding to whether or not this is really possible, the only lines with $1B+ funding costs that meet the FTA’s cost effectiveness standards are all projected to carry at least 75K riders a day, and it’s very hard to see a tunnel carrying 15% of Staten Island’s current population to the other boroughs. The MTA will also likely make a loss on any such service, given Staten Island’s low population and the abysmal farebox recovery on existing transit routes on the island.

If SI is willing to get its political leaders to somehow fund this sort of thing, while also convincing the various levels of government that this is a feasible project that won’t turn into a giant white elephant, then it is more than welcome to do so.

Alon Levy April 22, 2013 - 6:48 pm

The Feds don’t have a clue about how much to give. Neither does the state. They all think in terms of percentages: the pro-spending people want to fund it all, the moderates want to cut it by a preset percentage amount, etc. In particular, the more good infrastructure the city asks for, the more it’s likely to get. Eventually the decisions are filtered by the FTA, whose cost-effectiveness criteria are actually very friendly to Staten Island because of the borough’s long commute times, and the politicians, who aren’t going to find any major grandstanding item. In this environmentally, politically it matters only if costs are within budget, not what the initial budget is. Technically costs do matter, but technically the tunnel is a good project regardless of what the austerity brigade thinks.

Frank B April 18, 2013 - 11:40 pm

I posted this the other day, and I post it again; it comes from my graduate thesis;

Staten Island, the forgotten borough remains forgotten because its subway line, the Staten Island Railway, which use R44 Subway cars and 3rd rail, does not connect to the rest of the subway system; this tunnel, The Staten Island Tunnel, was cancelled by Mayor Hylan in the middle of construction in the early 1920โ€™s.

The North Shore & South Beach Lines have since 1953 been closed due to drop offs in ridership on the island that came with the proliferation of the automobile. The South Beach line has had its right of way irreversibly built over. The North Shore line, as of this writing, is planned not to become a new subway line like the rest of the SIR or Light Rail, like Hudson Bergen Light Rail, despite so much hot air from politicians; but a busway. While I applaud that much progress, I also shutter to think that a right of way that was once a train is merely turning into a bus line. Not much of an improvement. While Bus Rapid Transit can be quite helpful in speeding up times, I really rather the line be restored to the heavy-rail rapid-transit subway line it once was.

The main line was built in the 1860โ€™s, by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The Transit Authority took controls in the 1970โ€™s. It serves 23 stations and many neighborhoods along Staten Islandโ€™s South Shore.

In this proposal, there is the presumption that one day, the Staten Island Tunnel will be completed at last, and through service to Manhattan via Brooklyn will be implemented. It is merely a matter of when.

Under this proposal, the North Shore line would be reopened at its $400 million dollar cost as a standard subway line and both lines would operate through St. George through the now-finished Staten Island tunnel; it would travel under Owl Head Park, and join the BMT 4th Avenue Line as a 4th Avenue Express train.

The services would have to be scrambled as follows:

The W Train, last used before the service cuts of 2009, would again be reactivated. The W would operate from Tottenville Terminal, run up the SIR Main Line, (Possibly skip-stop during rush-hours) and into the BMT 4th Avenue Line as originally planned in the 1920โ€™s.

As the BMT 4th Avenue Line has some meticulous track set-ups, the D train will no longer run express up 4th Avenue, stopping at all stops between 36th Street and Atlantic Terminal. (Which will probably make the Park Slope and Gowanus Populations much happier.) It will also stop at DeKalb at all times. However, as a consolation to D Train riders, peak-express service on the BMT West End Line will be reactivated, to make up for lost time for those riding from the end of the line.

The BMT Sea Beach Riders can still have a express trip up 4th Avenue, however, due to track capacity on the Manhattan Bridge, all N Trains will run through Downtown Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan through the Montague Street Tunnel, along with the R Train. N train riders will still have cross-platform transfers at 59th & 36th Street Stations & Pacific Street for W Train/Manhattan Bridge service and express service up the BMT Broadway Line. The N train will also stop at DeKalb for cross-platform transfers to the Q train. The W Train will not stop at DeKalb.

The W Train will only stop at 59th Street, 36th Street, and Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, before going over the Manhattan Bridge. This is to provide speedy service between Staten Island and Manhattan. The W Train will stop at all express stops on the BMT Broadway line, restoring service lost during the 2009 budget cuts. Canal Street, 14th Street Union Square, 34th Street-Herald Square, 42nd Street, and 57th Street – 7th Avenue. It will terminate there, and the Q will terminate in Astoria (or 96th Street on the IND Second Avenue LIne) full-time.

This, in conjunction with skip-stop service on Staten Island will make the ride speedy, and far more cost-effective than a ferry. Congestion will drop, density will increase, and the 5 boroughs of New York City will be truly united at last.

Thoughts? I realize the complicated interlocking situation between Atlantic and DeKalb will raise some eyebrows, but I think it can be done, if we fully implement CBTC throughout the BMT.

Ted K. April 20, 2013 - 8:10 pm

I also shutter to think

Suggested edit : s/shutter/shudder/

Some good ideas in your post. But like us on the West Coast you too have a lack of money and an oversupply of yammerheads. Good luck.

LeBrew November 6, 2014 - 3:32 pm

Mayor Hyland was a total idiot to cancel subway in Staten Island. Almost 100 years and still Staten Island is the “Left Out” Boro of New York City.

ajedrez April 21, 2013 - 9:33 pm

To those who say we shouldn’t have a connection to Manhattan, I’d like to point out that the SI Ferry gets around 65,000 riders a day, and that’s considering the crappy headways and slow service. A new subway line would spur development and attract more rders. (Plus, there’s the riders on the express buses, and those who go into Brooklyn for the R).

Here’s a cordon count of how many people are crossing the East River tunnels. The existing ferry riders using it is comparable to the Clark Street tunnel. With the new development, and increased ridership, it would likely be busier than any of the East River crossings: http://www.nyctransitforums.co.....dge/page-2

Citybus April 22, 2013 - 12:13 pm

I’m coming at this from an outsider’s perspective, but I find the idea that New York owes Staten Island a direct link to Manhattan really facile because it ignores what’s staring everyone in the face. Why should SI be considered the fifh borough anyway? It’s just too far away from New York proper and should instead be concentrating more linkages with Jersey.

AG April 22, 2013 - 4:33 pm

Well it goes back to colonial times… Staten Island and Brooklyn form the Narrows that separate Upper and Lower New York Bay. As the harbor was the heartbeat of the colony – it was too strategic not to control (meaning from NY’s perspective). I agree though – that they should have rail links to NJ to connect them to rest of the regional network…and possibly a tunnel to Brooklyn to connect with the rest of the subway. A tunnel to Manhattan is just way too expensive.

marv April 22, 2013 - 4:56 pm

The purpose of a subway is not just for Staten Island commuters who will take the train. By taking cars and buses off the roads, the remaining drivers including those who are traveling to New Jersey and points south and west for most of whom mass transit is not an option will benefit from less congested highways.

AG April 22, 2013 - 5:15 pm

i’m not sure what part of my comment you are replying to.. i agreed they should have rail connections to the rest of the region… just not a super expensive tunnel to Manhattan.

Alon Levy April 22, 2013 - 6:42 pm

Personally, I don’t think New York owes anyone anything. I just think an SI-Manhattan tunnel would see a lot of usage even relative to the high costs of such a long underwater tunnel.

Thomas Mercado June 27, 2013 - 10:08 am

when you think about it its not really that long of a tunnel.. if from staten island, the harbor stretch is almost about the same stretch if not less then the battery.. lets do the math it takes staten island ferry 30 mins to cross at about 15kts (13mph give or take) respectively a tunnel would allow commuters to the city in less time average car speed for our high ways 55mph that would literally get commuters to downtown manhattan in about 10 mins or less 20 mins with traffic instead of having to travel the staten island expressway all the way through staten island through brooklyn to take a tunnel into the congested downtown area .. something needs to be done

Shabazz Stuart April 23, 2013 - 12:51 pm

Mostly because most parts of New Jersey ALREADY have much better rail access to manhattan than any part of Staten Island.

FYI, Neighborhoods like St. George are about 5 milies from downtown manhattan, that’s MUCH closer than many neighborhoods (see flushing, canarsie, the rockaways) that enjoy midtown rail service.

Shabazz Stuart April 23, 2013 - 1:09 pm


This talk of who owes who, what is a little silly.

New Yorkers from all boroughs are missing out from having an underdeveloped portion of the city. Distance is irrelevant. A modern subway connection can have commuters from St. George to Wall Street in about 8 minutes.

However that overlooks the relevance of the island’s current 450,000 residents. These people are New York State & City taxpayers not New Jersey. So, yes, New York does owe them something.

marv April 23, 2013 - 1:43 pm

The question of what is owed is interesting and applies in many cases. People bought homes in staten island because they were much cheaper. They were much cheaper because of the harder commute.
*Do we owe them something when they made an informed choice/investment?
*Are they entitled to have their property values soar by having subway access?

The notion of entitlement is a problematic concept which creates and environment of each of us trying to take a bigger part the pie without regard to how it affects others. The question is what will benefit the city as a whole in the long run after factoring in the costs involved .

Thomas Mercado June 27, 2013 - 10:00 am

450,000 thousand residents in staten island with a majority of those residents living well over the poverty lines , successful small business bloom in staten island, but with this type of thinking that staten island doesn’t deserve anything, when it definitely brings alot to the table, staten island holds the other piece to our harbor defense as well as ny history in the now inactive fort wadsworth, you have the yankee minor league team in the area there is shopping through out the island, crime is relatively less in our borough vice the others, but you have a borough of residents that our legitimately seperated from one another do to poor transit. open up the lines. in regards to people moving to staten island because of cheaper homes is BS any human being in this world is going to flock to where there family can live the best, so a decision to better your situation in this big city should not be held against our citizens especially when every week our residents get our federal state and staten island tax taken out of checks. its not just to fund medicaid…

Alon Levy April 22, 2013 - 6:39 pm

Sadly, nobody but Ajedrez is talking about how stupid it is to bundle the North Shore Branch proper with the north-south leg going down to the Teleport. There’s pretty much nothing along that leg, the development that does exist there is minimal, and rail is much cheaper on a preexisting ROW than on a new one.

Citybus April 24, 2013 - 5:13 am

My comments on Manhattan ‘owing’ Staten Island a direct subway is not because I’m against the idea of better links to Manhattan. It’s just that the way this question has been framed probably wouldn’t even have left the table if Staten Island was part of New Jersey. By all means extend subways, trams or heavy rail onto Long Island or the mainland, but the dispersed population of SI rules out a direct link to Manhattan- If you wanted to make a top ten list of of the most needed transport projects in NYC & ‘Urban New Jersey’ (North Jersey? Do they have a proper name for the vast city that stretches from High Tor to New Brunswick?), clearly a SI-Manhattan subway would be very low on the list- would it even make the top ten.

Citybus April 24, 2013 - 5:20 am

I suppose what I’m getting at is- if Staten Island taxpayers feel like they are getting short changed when it comes to funding- maybe they should become an independent county along the same lines Nassau & Suffolk. Yes I know this is unlikely to happen but it might have some merit. In the meantime the MTA should at least double the frequency of the SIR- they should look at how Transport for London has improved previously underutilised heavy rail lines in recent years under it’s London Overground brand.

ajedrez April 26, 2013 - 4:02 pm

The population is (relatively) dispersed, but that’s what feeder buses are for. You have buses coming from all over SI, each one dropping off their load at St. George, and then you add in the current SIR line and the North Shore Branch, and you end up with crowded trains into Manhattan. Like I said, the ferry gets 65,000 riders a day, and that’s with it’s crap headways and slow speeds.

AG April 26, 2013 - 4:39 pm

well this seems like a sensible plan:


and it seems to have support of mayoral candidates:


Thomas Mercado June 27, 2013 - 9:52 am

we are one of the closest boroughs to manhattan and the fact our only connection to the city is a ferry cuts off a lot, and its not like staten island is a bum borough over 80 percent of staten island residents live at middle class or higher rates, cutting off a borough that actually has the ability to generate more money is crazy .

Nyland8 June 29, 2013 - 2:13 pm

” we are one of the closest boroughs to manhattan and … ”

Well … no. Staten Island is indeed the furthest borough from Manhattan. That’s why it has no subway connection.

Thomas Mercado June 27, 2013 - 9:49 am

As a staten island resident the train lines on the north shore would definitely benefit citizens of our forgotten borough, traveling in Staten Island without a vehicle, is utterly horrible taking close to an hour to get from great kills to staten island mall (10 min drive) and for the residents on the north shore, a bus ride to the ferry is literally an hour riddled with over 40 stops per route, not to mention almost no service at all after 2 am on the island, opening up the north shore rail way would really benefit the island and its patrons and businesses, at this time consumers on the north shore can not simply just travel to the south shore without a couple buses trains and planes (excuse the pun) to shop and so on opening up the 6 or 7 stops on the north shore would make morning travel 10xs easier and probably would start to clear up that horrible mess thats left on that staten island expressway every day all day. a option regardless of how nice it would be to continue to hook new jersey up seems to just hurt staten island NEW YORK residents, which im sure does add to our states overall economy easier travel in and out of staten island would make staten island a better destination for patrons and residents in other boroughs to visit, we have a beautiful ferris wheel in plans to be made and an expectation that new yorkers from other boroughs are gonna pay 15 dollars to cross the verazzano or sit on one of two buses into staten island (79 & 53) is not a winning idea, if they want growth in staten island they need to find a way to make transportation easier to our island.

Nyland8 June 29, 2013 - 2:36 pm

Agreed. The north shore line should be reconstructed and reactivated.

” a option regardless of how nice it would be to continue to hook new jersey up seems to just hurt staten island NEW YORK residents, … ”

Well … Metro North runs through New Jersey and serves Orange and Rockland Counties … which are also NEW YORK residents.

If Staten Islanders really want rail connectivity to Manhattan, the shortest, fastest and cheapest route runs through New Jersey. Even swinging out through Brooklyn is longer, would costs Billion$ more, and is less likely to be achieved in our lifetimes.

There is no doubt that, because of its proximity, if Staten Island had been part of New Jersey, it would have always had a rail connection to Manhattan. Less populated and more distant counties in New Jersey are served NJTransit trains.

One approach that would certainly not be unprecedented would be another NJTransit/MetroNorth hybrid that diverged near Elizabeth, crossed the kill and joined up with the north shore expansion near Arlington, making the entire SIR part of MetroNorth.

Needless to say, an express track would be preferred – outbound in the AM and inbound in the PM. Then commuters would have a one-seat ride from Tottenville to NYPenn and back.

All that’s required is generating the political will to see it done.


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