Home Triboro RX As Triboro RX looms, a mayoral race on ferries emerges

As Triboro RX looms, a mayoral race on ferries emerges

by Benjamin Kabak

A 2008 MTA presentation on the agency’s 40th anniversary previewed a circumferential subway route.

For some reason or another, the 2013 Mayoral campaign has taken a turn for the water. While the MTA is beginning to take a serious look at forecasting transit demand, the front-running Anthony Weiner and Christine Quinn are trying to out-do each other on ferry proposals. It’s a transit policy focused around gimmicks rather than solutions.

The latest wacky idea in a campaign filled with them comes from Christine Quinn. In order to pander to voters supposedly improve commutes for people who I guess work at the Intrepid, Quinn has proposed an express ferry from Staten Island to Manhattan’s Pier 79 near 39th St. and the West Side Highway. Quinn claims such a ferry service would “help spur job growth and economic development on both Staten Island and on Manhattan’s Westside” and would offer a “20-minute direct access to midtown Manhattan.” To provide access to Manhattan’s actual job core, Quinn suggests subsidized bus shuttles or Citi Bike expansion. Never mind that a new subway station is opening in 11 months but half a mile away from the ferry terminal.

To garner support for this plan, Quinn points to the runaway success of the East River Ferries, but even that seems to be overstated. These ferries — with a fare structure separate and apart from the subway — have drawn 2.1 million riders in two years which averages out to just under 3000 a day. That’s essentially the equivalent of a whopping three peak-hour subway trains.

Ferries have limited utility in New York City because few people live near the water and even fewer work near the water. Without fare integration, ferries riders likely have a two-seat, two-fare ride to get to work, and even if Quinn can deliver a ride to Midtown that’s five minutes shorter than the current SI ferry to Whitehall, riders will still have to make the trek across Manhattan to get to work. Ferries may help out a handful of SI commuters in this instance, but they simply do not solve the city’s overarching mobility and transit expansion problems.

One project the mayoral candidates could focus on instead of ferries involves an abandoned right-of-way that stretches through numerous boroughs. Over the years, I’ve examined the Triboro RX in many contexts. Lee Sander discussed itdrew comparisons between the London’s new orbital line and the Triboro RX ROW. The line would carry around 75,000 passengers per day, and it’s one that could be implemented relatively easily.

Eric Jaffe at The Atlantic Cities examined the Triboro RX idea yesterday and determined that it is a far more valuable long-term growth project than ferries. “I think there’s an awful lot of transportation projects that are unimportant that people are talking about,” Jeff Zupan of the Regional Plan Association said. “On the other side of the coin, here’s one that has all the makings of being a real winner.” The RPA has been a major proponent of the Triboro RX route for nearly two decades.

Jaffe had more:

Best of all, almost the entire right-of-way necessary for the route is already available. That means the Triboro Rx would end up costing much, much less than a completely new line project like the Second Avenue line. (To bring the X line to Yankee Stadium, as described in the 1996 plan, would require some new terrain, but Zupan now says a more viable option could be to avoid that hassle and end the line near Hunt’s Point instead.)

The sheer extent of the line, Census commute patterns for the outer boroughs, the general high rate of transit use among immigrants — all these elements point to Triboro Rx becoming a big hit…”There’s a number of things that suggest that the Triboro Rx’s time is closer to coming than it was in 1996,” says Zupan.

Despite all its promise, the Triboro Rx still has a number of obstacles in its path. The project could conflict with the proposed cross-harbor rail tunnel beloved by U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York. The Federal Railroad Administration has requirements for tracks shared by freight and passenger rail that initial plans might not meet. The MTA recently told Dana Rubinstein of Capital NY that it “never formally backed” the X line concept.

The stumbling blocks are formidable, and it’s much easier for a mayoral candidate to avoid land-based transit projects during campaigns. After all, some people won’t endorse a new train line running through their backyards or while adding a ferry route isn’t nearly as disruptive as building out a train line. Still, the Triboro RX line could happen if any politician were willing to take a risk, and the current plan can even snake just across the Narrows to deliver a subway connection to Staten Island. It’s a far more useful transit expansion designed to meet the long-term growth patterns of the city, and it’s not a boat.

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Marc Shepherd July 23, 2013 - 2:24 pm

It’s easy to see why mayoral candidates don’t embrace “big transit.” They need proposals that can be implemented quickly, so that four years later they’ll have a record to run on.

Although Bloomberg championed the #7 extension, it was part of the Olympics bid. In order to get it funded, he had to claim that the extension would be built no matter what, and so the city dutifully proceeded. After three full terms in office the line still isn’t in service, and won’t be until after he leaves.

Although TriboroRX would be relatively easy to implement, compared to totally new construction, it still would take years, therefore giving a mayoral candidate nothing tangible that s/he could take into the race for a second term.

Ferries may be lousy, but they can be implemented relatively quickly. Still, even if they’re limited to short-term thinking, you’d like mayoral candidates to come up with ideas that make sense, and I agree with Ben: ferries just don’t.

By the way, the 20-year planning PDF that Ben linked this morning refers to re-activating disused and/or little-used rights of way. This seems to be a reference to TriboroRX without actually stating the name.

Bolwerk July 23, 2013 - 3:17 pm

What are you, the Minister of Municipal Learned Helplessness? Stuff like Triborough RX could probably literally be implemented in a mayoral term or two. Ditto Rockaway or even North Shore.

Laying track and building statins isn’t all that difficult, especially on a relatively undeveloped ROW.

Henry July 23, 2013 - 8:18 pm

There was a nine year gap between the DEIS and FEIS for the Second Avenue Subway. Any subway project would have to go through a similar process, and while it might not take very long, it’s certainly not going to be speedy.

Bolwerk July 23, 2013 - 10:42 pm

The 7 extension certainly didn’t go through a process that long. Sometimes it can be better to not rely on federal funding. Seriously.

Henry July 24, 2013 - 2:41 am

Of course, but the 7 line extension was sold on the promise of an Olympic Games. Doubtful the city has the political will to raise taxes for such projects, and we can’t put a transit sales tax to a referendum.

I’m perhaps overly pessimistic.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 10:28 am

As I remember it, the Olympic games were rejected well before the 7 extension ever had a chance to break ground.

SEAN July 23, 2013 - 2:35 pm

Comparing ferries to the RX line is like comparing NY Waterway to NJT busses. They are totally seperate transit modes, both have there own merrits & neither should be discounted in any way. The key to world class transit is… & I’m putting this in all caps… MULTIMODLE. Lets not forget about that.

For those on this blog who support the RX proposal, you are right but don’t forget other modes are nessessary to have the complete transit system. Same for those who support ferries.

Benjamin Kabak July 23, 2013 - 2:41 pm

Ferries should come last, not first.

vanshnookenraggen July 23, 2013 - 2:45 pm

Tell that to Greenpoint.

Benjamin Kabak July 23, 2013 - 2:47 pm

The ferry that stops at Greenpoint is the one with under 3000 daily riders, and it also stops in Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, LIC and in Manhattan. The 11222 zip code alone has 37,000 people in it. I’m sure they won’t mind.

vanshnookenraggen July 23, 2013 - 3:03 pm

That’s today. What about when those 10, 40 story towers start to open?

Benjamin Kabak July 23, 2013 - 3:12 pm

For Domino? They’ll still mostly take the subway until the fare policies are unified. Plus, there’s already an East River Ferry those hypothetical residents can use in 10 years when those buildings are ready. We’re not debating the relative merits of that.

SEAN July 23, 2013 - 3:34 pm


I NEVER said first. The point was, don’t get wrapped up in one transit mode at the exclusion of another. RX line? Go for it. Ferries? Cant hert, even though they won’t carry the passenger load of a subway. They can still serve a growing nich of transit users.

Henry July 23, 2013 - 8:20 pm

The problem is that in the great transit rat race for money, you have to prioritize. Sure, it’d be nice if the MTA had unlimited resources to issue bonds and fund debt service, but it doesn’t.

Spiderpig July 24, 2013 - 11:27 am

If it’s so important, home come you don’t know how to spell it?

Herb Lehman July 23, 2013 - 2:54 pm

Christine Quinn’s proposal for a fast ferry from St. George to Pier 79 makes less than no sense, and as a Staten Islander, I’ve seen no shortage of ferry proposals over the years.

(1) Except for the people who are lucky enough to live in the vicinity of the ferry terminal, people still need to get to St. George. (2) Once at Pier 79, even if the boat does take 20 minutes, they’ll have to take a crosstown bus across town, and the crosstown buses are slower and run more infrequently than any train — negating any time savings. (3) Plus, most people will then have to just transfer to ANOTHER subway, anyway. Staten Islanders will still have a nightmare commute; perhaps it would just be a more scenic, nightmare commute.

I really don’t know what Quinn is thinking of. Meanwhile, she’s not in favor of increasing service on the existing Staten Island Ferry, which would be drastically cheaper and make a lot more sense.

Ralffff July 24, 2013 - 1:08 pm

I’m also a Staten Islander, and I work in the marine industry, and while I have no specific expertise on ferries or transit issues, I have noticed that every fast ferry project on Staten Island has fizzled out. I submit that the reasons for this are:

1. High labor costs because of federal regulations. Not knocking these; puts food on my table, but it’s a good reason why we don’t have European-style ferry frequency today.

2. More importantly, hydrodynamics dictate that a boat’s speed is proportional to energy input, cubed. Thus, for example, let’s say we increased the Staten Island Ferry’s cruising speed by 25%. All things being equal, and ignoring air resistance, the ferry would consume nearly twice the fuel for the same trip.

alen July 23, 2013 - 2:56 pm

i know of people who live in staten island and work in or around the CBD and this is going to be very good for them. at this point i believe they take an express bus that sits in traffic on the BQE

you can build a lot of small projects like this around the city for the cost of one SAS or 7 line extension

Benjamin Kabak July 23, 2013 - 2:59 pm

You keep making these blanket statements without any supporting evidence. How many people would take this ride? Is there legitimate demand for it considering costs? Does it solve the city’s overarching transit issues? I doubt a rigorous analysis would support the contention that this project would be good enough for enough people.

alen July 23, 2013 - 3:11 pm

i’ve driven south on the BQE and seen the traffic going north. i’m sure there is at least 3000 people in staten island who would benefit from a more direct path

what exactly is so bad about a direct connection of staten island to the city core?

Chris C July 23, 2013 - 5:09 pm

There is nothing (in theory) wrong with wanting a direct connection between SI and the core but the issue is the cost and is the cost less than the benefits? And that means benefits to the city as a whole rather than a specific Borough or group of commuters.

Are people (not just those on SI) willing to pay extra taxes or higher fares to pay for this direct service which as it involves tunneling won’t be cheap?

Bolwerk July 23, 2013 - 3:32 pm

Is he Ryan or what? The inanity is almost indistinguishable. I don’t even know how to describe it, except that it’s compulsive, the kind of blather you see from middle aged people who have been baked on weed since their high school glory days.

Benjamin Kabak July 23, 2013 - 3:35 pm

Alen is not Ryan.

Tower18 July 23, 2013 - 4:27 pm

As soon as the current project on the Gowanus wraps up, I believe the idea is to have full-time bi-directional HOV lanes from the bridge to the tunnel, which should speed SI bus commutes significantly.

I ride a motorcycle and sometimes enter the HOV lane at the Prospect Expwy heading for the tunnel, and it’s a breeze in the morning.

alen July 23, 2013 - 4:32 pm

still doesn’t change the fact that to go from staten island to manhattan you have to take a ferry to downtown or a bus that goes through brooklyn.

a ferry is just another water bus. why not add one to the west side? one ferry can carry more people than a single bus

Chris C July 23, 2013 - 5:05 pm

But at what multiple of cost is the ferry over the bus (and there would need to be several buses all lined up to meet the ferry)

Henry July 23, 2013 - 8:21 pm

A ferry burns a lot more fuel than a bus.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 1:33 pm

Not necessarily per passenger-mile. With high enough use, a ferry can be a pretty efficient mode.

The problem in NYC is they probably will never get much use.

Henry July 24, 2013 - 10:56 pm

The Rockaway Ferry and the other new ferries being bandied about aren’t exactly standing room only. The East River ferries and Staten Island Ferry are very economical assuming that no one is building a tunnel across the Bay or the Narrows anytime soon, and in the case of the East River ferries, people are willing to pay the price necessary to run them. With the newer ferries, that’s not the case – they’re subsidized for millions by the City Council. Granted, millions won’t get you the next phases of the SAS, but millions was the difference between the MTA budget in 2009 and 2010.

llqbtt July 24, 2013 - 9:42 am

There are express bus options as well, some via NJ during peak hours, and they drop SIers smack dab in the CBD. The buses of course are at the mercy of traffic.

Tower18 July 24, 2013 - 12:49 pm

Because, as has been pointed out a few times, the express buses through Brooklyn begin their trips where people live. The ferry, by and large, does not.

20-25 minutes from home to ferry, 5-10 minutes wait, 25 minute ferry, 15 minute walk.


60-70 minute express bus

Betcha people choose the bus.

JJJJ July 23, 2013 - 3:07 pm

” To provide access to Manhattan’s actual job core, Quinn suggests subsidized bus shuttles or Citi Bike expansion”

It looks like Quinn, and Harb above arent aware of the bus network that currently operates free crosstown buses for NJ ferry riders.


Its not one seat, but free crosstown buses meet all the boats to distribute passengers. Obviously the same system would work for a SI ferry

JJJJ July 23, 2013 - 3:08 pm

Heres the bus map for Manhattan

Ben July 23, 2013 - 4:05 pm

I assume the city would have to pay NY Waterway to take on different customers, though. Right now, NY Waterway can offer the bus service for free only because they get to bilk people coming from NJ for ~$7 a ferry ride. If they need a ton more buses because traffic increases, they’ll demand money from the city.

Bill July 23, 2013 - 3:12 pm

The Wall Street East River Ferry station is much closer to job centers than the 34th Street ERF Station. Friend of mine who’s a broker says he’s getting a lot of interest in Greenpoint from Wall Street types who want a one-seat, 25-minute ride to the battery.

I play fetch with my dog on the India Street ERF pier every afternoon, and I have noticed a steady uptick in riders all year, even more so on weekends when the sightseers show up.

Benjamin Kabak July 23, 2013 - 3:14 pm

I’m not denying that the East River Ferry has met its expectations, but the scales of magnitude are off. Ferries aren’t going to solve the transit problems facing the city, and no mayoral candidate wants to recognize that. Ferries serve a very limited subset of (generally wealthy) people who already have waterfront access.

lawhawk July 23, 2013 - 4:35 pm

If the object is moving the largest number of people in a cost effective manner, subways are the only practical mass transit option. Ferries may fill an interim need or significant need for waterfront communities that are underserved by subway or buses (like Red Hook, parts of Williamsburg), but they aren’t a panacea.

Fast ferries might make sense from SI (but not necessarily from St. George, which already has regular ferry service) to Pier 79 on the West Side, which isn’t close to the 7 extension, but does get NY Waterway bus loop. That’s got some utility to someone who lives on SI who works in Queens or works in Hells Kitchen, but that overlaps the ability to pick up the subway at South Ferry and transfers in Midtown. It builds redundancy (also a needed feature) but the capacity issue remains.

Far more people would be served in a much more fundamental way with Triboro RX, and if sufficient political support were put behind it, it could get up and running far sooner.

Henry July 24, 2013 - 2:44 am

Certainly the existing Staten Island Ferry could be speeded up, and I’m sure that the Staten Island Railway could be as well. Nothing quite beats the express bus in Staten Island though, and the riders are willing to pay the premium.

PlanNYC July 23, 2013 - 4:03 pm

Ultimately, you can’t simple slap a bandaid on a problem that is in need to some serious surgery. With rising energy costs (5.00pg gas anyone?) the system will be more taxed than ever before. And last time I checked, even the transit guys who commute from SI take the bus.

Frank July 23, 2013 - 4:17 pm

I get that ferries are a waste, but how is this any better? It looks like the G train on steroids–goes from nowhere to nowhere. We need lines that connect people to job centers. Neither Triboro Rx nor most of the ferries do that. Just because a corridor is available doesn’t mean it should be used.

lawhawk July 23, 2013 - 4:38 pm

Triboro RX would connect neighborhoods that are geographically close, but are miles apart due to lack of mass transit connectivity. This would allow outer borough commuters to bypass Manhattan in their daily commutes, freeing up capacity in the process. It opens up new real estate for development along the corridors since it enhances value. The end points have value, even if they aren’t a destination in and of themselves.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 12:24 am

It really seems like it might arguably be the most useful transit project in the city, at least of the ones that cost sane amounts to finance.

lawhawk July 24, 2013 - 8:49 am


Guess the next step would be what it would actually take to get it up and running – has anyone run the numbers on the cost to get the RX operational (breaking out the costs to build/rebuild line and stations, plus additional costs to purchase a fleet of railcars to run on the line).

Woody July 24, 2013 - 3:02 pm

It’s hard to talk about the Triboro RX project without updated estimates for the line. No wonder no politician has touched it. We need to ask the wanna-be Mayors to commit to funding a solid study to get things moving.

We need a breakdown of the Triboro RX route into Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3, maybe Phase 4, as with the Second Avenue Subway. Yeah, I know we can’t seem to get started on Phase 2 of the SAS, but if the SAS hadn’t been broken down into “affordable” pieces, we wouldn’t even be seeing Phase 1 underway.

So what would the cost/passenger forecasts be for segments of the Triboro RX? Say, halfway across Brooklyn Phase 1, deep into Queens Phase 2, the other half of Brooklyn toward the Harbor Phase 3, maybe into the Bronx Phase 4?

Funding the project becomes more realistic if it can be gathered $2 or $3 or $4 billion at a time, not $10 or $15 billion at a one whack. And if no segment stands alone (“independently operable”, isn’t that the phrase with Califormia’s HSR?) on desirable cost/ridership figures, that’s a flashing red light.

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 3:59 pm

But Triboro isn’t nearly as expensive as Manhattan tunneling per unit of length. The most I can see it segmented is two pieces – south of the Montauk Line and north of it – and if the entire project costs as much as even one phase of SAS, something is deeply wrong.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 4:26 pm

Those SAS phases are probably intended to be minimal operational segments more than sane injections of financing.

Costs for Triborough RX may reach into the hundreds of millions, but for that amount of more or less at-grade track, costs should not be in the billions unless something is going really, really wrong.

Henry July 24, 2013 - 11:31 pm

If the MTA really wanted to phase the project (not sure why they would), the logical segments would be Bay Ridge to Broadway Junction, Broadway Junction to Roosevelt, and Roosevelt to the Bronx.

It’s not exactly expensive, though. It’s certainly no Second Avenue Subway.

Bolwerk July 25, 2013 - 11:26 am

Of course they’ll want to phase it into minimal operational segments. That’s how you build a railroad. They’ll probably want to open 5 or so stations at a time, and then work on the next segment.

Alon Levy July 25, 2013 - 5:08 pm

In cities where subways don’t cost more than a billion dollars per kilometer, they routinely open entire lines all at once, rather than 5 stations at a time.

AG July 23, 2013 - 4:54 pm

Job centers in NYC are often job centers because of transit… not really the other way around. Also the trend in the past 20 years has been greater job growth in the outer boroughs.

Chris C July 23, 2013 - 5:17 pm

Not all ferries are a waste though but some are – especially when the service only exists for political reasons rather than providing a well used service.

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 1:50 am

Your “nowhere to nowhere” is the Bronx’s busiest subway station (Yankee Stadium), Queens’ second busiest station (74th), and Brooklyn’s sixth busiest (Brooklyn College).

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 1:54 am

Forget that maybe half the point of Triborough RX is making it every line it intersects more useful.

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 1:59 am

It doesn’t go through any of the major secondary job centers (that was the G’s job, except for its lack of connections to Atlantic/Pacific and QBP), but it does go through some of the tertiary ones.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 10:37 pm

IMHO what is so neat about it is that it turns a lot of complex 3- or 4-seat rides into 2-seat rides. It even seems to mostly mitigate the problems with losing the M to southern Brooklyn (not to say that’s very important).

Henry July 24, 2013 - 2:50 am

The (G) is so close to Manhattan, the frequencies terrible, and the connections so inconvenient that you might as well go into Manhattan anyways. The Triboro RX actually provides “crosstown” service, and we see the demand in the high ridership of routes like the B6, the Q58, and the Bx36. These routes also tend to be very slow, so any decrease in travel times will be very high for a large amount of people.

A route that allows cross-borough transfers also allows office growth to develop away from Manhattan, because skilled workers from all over the city now have secondary nexuses at easy reach. Roosevelt will be a nonstop bus ride away from LaGuardia, and Flushing will be the same, only fifteen minutes away on the (7). It will most certainly be a net positive for the region – at least more than ferries are, anyways.

The transit projects of yesteryear laid the foundations for today’s growth. Triboro RX will do just the same. After all, the 7 and Queens Blvd are now some of the most congested lines in the system, and when they were built it was all farm towns and fields.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 10:48 pm

What is so terrible about the G? It’s downright convenient to the A, C, and (mostly) F. It’s got a good connection to the L, not bad to the D, N, and R. Even a meh-but-bearable one to the 7 (the stairs suck).

I mean, you can’t seriously advocate intra-borough SBS on one hand and then complain about the G. The G runs on time and more or less manages its loads well. The only shitty part is the need for a transfer to Manhattan, and that’s easily avoided by living elsewhere if you hate it so much (I do!).

Henry July 24, 2013 - 11:38 pm

Using the G as a “crosstown” line in the manner that you would use the TriboroRx is the part I’m complaining about. The passageway transfer from Court Square is inconvenient (and it still boggles me as to why there’s only one moving walkway). Transferring from the Astoria Line requires going onto a crowded 7 train and then transferring again. There is no transfer available to the J or M. There is no transfer to any of the trains serving Atlantic Terminal, and with the exception of the F, if you’re looking to go between Queens and Southern Brooklyn, you’re better off transferring in Manhattan. Heck, if you’re coming in from Eastern Queens, it would probably be easier to take the J to the A and the Franklin shuttle, or the J to the N, Q, or R at Canal. The G doesn’t really work as the train to take when avoiding Manhattan, because it’s not very easy to connect to many of the trains.

Then again, this is probably the outcome that Hylan wanted to achieve many years ago.

Bolwerk July 25, 2013 - 11:32 am

It was never intended to be used the way Triborough RX would be used. It was intended to move people between downtown Brooklyn (admittedly they screwed the pooch on that one a bit) and LIC, and to add local capacity to Queens Blvd, all while feeding the IND.

Keep it in perspective: obviously its use has been retooled in recent years, but it does give its riders two-seat access to the majority the Midtown CBD though. Not perfect, but certainly a well-run and useful part of the system. Yes, the part where they disregarded the IRT and BMT connections really is galling, but that reduces the G from excellent to good rather than from good to terrible.

J_12 July 24, 2013 - 1:47 pm

20 years ago, or perhaps even 10, you could make the argument that this project was speculative in the sense that it was connecting “nowhere to nowhere.”
But over the last decade, large parts of the city that lie on or close to the proposed route have been developed as both job centers and residential centers. In spite of the fact that many people must travel inefficiently through Manhattan to get back and forth, areas throughout Brooklyn and Queens have been experiencing huge increases in cross traffic. This is mostly a result of rising prices within Manhattan, and the rezoning of the waterfront in the affected areas.
A triboro line would allow these parts of city to realize their full potential as places for people to live and work, while taking pressure off of both transit and land use in the CBD.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 10:49 pm

20 years ago New York City was supposed to be dying. 10 years ago the urban revival that has continued unabated was supposed to be a fluke.

AG July 23, 2013 - 4:47 pm

I don’t see why it’s one or the other. NYC was always a nautical city… we got away from it.. but as the population grow increasingly the waterfront has come back en vogue. Once upon a time there were ferry traffic jams in NY… while it won’t get back to that it should be feasible…especially since we don’t get those cold winters they used to have where the harbor would freeze.

To me the Triboro RX is a no brainer. I do however support some of the ideas of the Metropolitan Water Alliance to increase ferry services where it’s not currently served. If ppl pay extra fares for express buses they will for ferries (as seen on the East River). It makes no sense that ferries work for beach goers but not commuters. For instance one they propose is to Ferry Point in the Bronx… a place that got its name because it was a ferry landing for ferries between the East Bronx and northern Queens (of course before the Whitestone and Throggs Neck bridges opened). No subway will be built there in our lifetimes… and unless they put light rail to run all the way to the end of East Tremont Ave. – there will be no rail whatsoever. Ppl pay taxes there – so they should have more transit options also (though because it’s an area of mostly homes with driveways – most ppl drive).

Henry July 24, 2013 - 2:56 am

Ferries are not necessarily bad – the Staten Island Ferry could do with a bit of upgrading and increase in service levels, with the crowding I’ve seen at the terminals. The problem is when a politician talks about ferries as if to say, “Look at me! I’m doing something great for our city!”, when ferries have less redevelopment potential than a coffeeshop.

Ferries are lured by development, not the other way around. With trains, it’s different. With SBS, it could happen, but it depends on making the right sort of marketing moves (which the MTA and DOT aren’t doing enough of).

AG July 24, 2013 - 8:10 pm

well we know most of the politicians talk is folly…. but ti doesn’t have to do with re-development… it’s about ppl having access to transit that they don’t now.

JJJJ July 23, 2013 - 4:50 pm

Why arent the mayor candidates jumping on the most needed ferry service of all? Ferries to laGuardia.

SEAN July 23, 2013 - 7:42 pm

Because… they are a bunch of Weiners.

BoerumHillScott July 24, 2013 - 10:14 am

With one exception, the Terminals at LGA are nowhere near the water.

Henry July 24, 2013 - 11:39 pm

To add on, most of the water is bordered by runways and taxiways, so a pier could pose a security issue.

Kevin Walsh July 23, 2013 - 5:01 pm

I love the proposed Triboro RX connection, but you have to remember, NIMBYs represent the 3rd most powerful force in the universe, after electromagnetism and strong nuclear.

Stephen - NYC July 25, 2013 - 10:47 am

You said it!

Ken July 23, 2013 - 5:05 pm

Triboro RX could have major impacts on real estate values. It would make living and working in Manhattan less desirable and have a real influence on real estate values. Even if it is the best project for the people of NYC to implement, there are going to be many influential special interests who will fight it. Anything that changes the Manhattan focus of the current transit system will be resisted.

Phantom July 24, 2013 - 3:20 am

Oh come on.

Manhattan will benefit if anything.

AG July 24, 2013 - 7:58 pm

everyone would benefit

J_12 July 24, 2013 - 1:50 pm

It will make land in the boroughs more valuable, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will make land in Manhattan less valuable. It’s not like it’s a zero sum game – if anything this would give NYC capacity to grow. The high cost of finding space and moving around currently are impediments to business growth in the city.
Also, many of the influential property owners in Manhattan are the exact same people and groups who are influential property owners in the Boroughs.

alen July 24, 2013 - 2:15 pm

well, if they want people to drive less this is what they have to do. i’m not going to spend 2 hours on the train to the bronx zoo when its a half hour drive and free parking. same with going to coney island

Adirondacker12800 July 23, 2013 - 5:41 pm

involves an abandoned right-of-way that stretches through numerous boroughs.

Most of it is still in use.

Henry July 23, 2013 - 8:24 pm

Once or twice a day, but there’s room to lay tracks on most of the route.

neil July 25, 2013 - 11:58 am

Is there really room to install 2 new tracks down there because i doubt they’ll be sharing the existing track with a freight operator? If they have any connections to a freight line, then won’t NYCT have to come under FRA regulations?
I think this is just as big of an issue as any up front costs for the line or NIMBY opposition. If they have any connections, then the whole system would likely have to come under the FRA regulations. The most obvious challenge in coming under FRA regulations is the PTC by 2015 mandate.
I’m a big supporter of this plan, but I doubt NYCT wants to even think about what would be involved with that federal oversight. I think that putting 2 tracks with 3rd rails, substations, relay rooms, etc down there is harder than it looks.

Henry July 25, 2013 - 12:38 pm

It’s feasible on most parts – the Hell Gate Line used to be four tracks, as did some other segments of the line. The only truly tight areas are those around Broadway Junction and the BQE, but those were always going to be the difficult places anyways.

Bolwerk July 25, 2013 - 12:51 pm

Some of the ROW can handle more tracks, yes. I would imagine some needs to be grade separated.

FWIW, the FRA does sometimes show leniency with regard to connections and temporal separation of operations. But, practically speaking, grade separation from freight is necessary either way, and keeping them disconnected is probably fairly trivial.

AlexB July 23, 2013 - 6:59 pm

No matter how you look at it, for 99% of trips, ferries will always be slower and more expensive than a bus or train. The city should still subsidize ferries and coordinate their routes, but politicians would do well to propose improvements based on costs and benefits, not on how fun it is to take a boat to work.

Unfortunately, there are way more under-served areas of the city away from the waterfront than near it. For example, in the MTA’s 20 year look ahead, they identified 25 potential Select Bus Corridors. If some mayoral candidate promised to make each of those routes a reality within 2 years of taking office (extremely doable), they would:
– Make the city much much more convenient to get around.
– Create all sorts of economic opportunities by providing reasonable commutes for the first time between boroughs.
– Convert trips which would otherwise be made by car to transit, making the city greener and less congested.

Total ferry ridership for the city is roughly a 100,000 per day divided between the Staten Island Ferry with 70,000 and NY Waterways with 30,000 (which includes the East River Ferry). Perhaps the new mayor could induce an extra 20,000 to 30,000 trips if they committed a huge ongoing subsidy for the service and expanded it to South Brooklyn, southeast Staten Island, the eastern Bronx, northern Queens, etc. and rolled it into the Metrocard. If they built the full Triboro line and started each of those 25 SBS corridors, they could easily increase daily transit ridership by probably 200,000 daily rides, each of which would require much less subsidy than those 20,000 ferry rides.

Spendmore Wastemore July 24, 2013 - 12:17 am

The Triboro Rx will not happen because:

1. It makes sense.
2. If it’s done with commuter rail equipment and stops are limited to connecting lines rather than every ten feet like some pol wants, it won’t be loud, slow hot and miserable enough. Transit planners hate speed, quiet, comfort and having enough room that someone’s armpit/elbow/crotch isn’t constantly in your face, so that’s the final nail.

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 1:57 am

If it’s done with commuter rail equipment

Then operating costs will be double, and rush hour capacity will be greatly reduced because of fewer doors and less standing space. How do you think the commuter rail equipment looks in cities where commuter rail isn’t just a high-cost shuttle from parking lots to the CBD?


Joseph Steindam July 24, 2013 - 8:14 am

Out of curiosity, why do you want commuter rail equipment, as opposed to R-168’s (I’m assuming it’d be part of the B division)? I find the R-168’s pretty quiet on the Brighton Line, which is a decent comparison to the setup of the Rx.

I forget how many stops Michael Frumin proposed in his attempt to make, but I think his stop spacing was average, but dense, as there are stretches where there are many intersecting lines (Midwood/Ocean Parkway) and complete gaps in subway service (Middle Village and Flatlands).

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 11:52 am

He intended to have about a stop every half mile. That’s 10 Manhattan blocks. A few of the stops are questionable on feasibility grounds, such as 21st Street in Astoria, but removing those still gives you about a kilometer of average interstation, counting the long stationless segment along the Hell Gate Bridge.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 10:32 am

Isn’t #2 the reason they like buses so much? I have no idea why you think commuter rail equipment would be quieter than subway equipment.

Henry July 26, 2013 - 1:16 am

The R160s are extremely loud, and could probably give the M7s and M8s a run for their money. Then again, there aren’t that many places where you can test similarities, since the R160 doesn’t really run on open embankments anywhere – mostly trenches, els, and tunnels, and sound in a tunnel is dependent on the characteristics of said tunnel.

Nyland8 July 24, 2013 - 5:01 am

It’s tragic when one mode of improved rapid transit is somehow seen as a direct threat to another no less favorable one. The fact is, if people from St. George could make it to the Javetts, the cross-town busses and the 7 line extension in 20 minutes, there would be plenty of benefit and plenty of ridership the day it opened. How long would it take to get from there to midtown by any proposed subway connection through Brooklyn? Half the time?

But as far as deep impact on the entire NYC transit scene, nothing serves the public like the Quad-Boro Rx. An expanded Triboro Rx with a tunnel from Owls Head to St. George would be something that could be politically pitched to every borough with great success, and have a large segment in operation before any new mayor’s first term was over.

And it should be done by our NEXT mayoral candidate, because the devastation of Superstorm Sandy is still fresh in everyone’s mind, and that kind of inter-boro, inter-line connectivity would have made everyone’s life a lot easier in the wake of losing all those East River connections.

It’s doable.

llqbtt July 24, 2013 - 9:47 am

Is it regulation or rocket science that would preclude subway and frieght from sharing ROW? If the former, well that could be overcome, if the latter, track gauge, third rail and the like, how would that be overcome? I mean the garbage train runs on MNR (as we all learned..well those of us who didn’t already know), and years ago the R44 tested on LIRR tracks. So there is indeed compatibility?

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 12:03 pm

It’s both; federal regulations have prohibited through-service between urban rail and mainline rail since the 1910s, when the ICC put a stop to BRT-LIRR through-service. It’s unlikely to change based on the needs of just one line. But there are also some rocket science-based issues:

1. Freight trains are slow. The average speed is often similar to that of local passenger trains, but the speed profile is different – lower top speed but without the stops. It’s fine at low traffic levels like 4 tph, but if you’re planning to run 12 tph, forget about it.

2. Loading gauge. A subway car is narrower than the mainline rail loading gauge by 8 inches, and the platforms interfere with freight operations.

3. Reliability. American freight trains derail, or stop on the tracks and then take forever to restart.

4. Track maintenance. The axle load of an American freight train is about 33 metric tons. The axle load of an R160 with 160 passengers is about 12.5. At the weights of freight trains, the relationship between track wear and axle load is superlinear, so the ratio of track wear levels is a factor of much more than 3. Freight trains are also much likelier to have worn out wheels from usage elsewhere on the national system.

It’s all too much work for a line that hosts about one daily freight train. In case of conflict, freight should be kicked out at least of the publicly-owned southern half of the line.

Matthew July 24, 2013 - 10:50 am

For people wanting some data, here’s a blog post that a Master’s student did on her thesis:


BoerumBum July 24, 2013 - 11:43 am

Not making an argument for or against ferries (I used NY Waterways ferry from Weehawken to midtown for a year, my general impression was that it was the most calm commute I ever had, but also the most expensive), but I’m curious:

Does anyone know what happened to the UES Ferry Terminal (I think it was/is on 90th & York, or thereabouts). I see references to it on street signage and occasionally on the internet, but I haven’t physically seen it, and it doesn’t appear to have any services running.

BoerumBum July 24, 2013 - 11:44 am

…and by 90th & York, I of course mean 90th & East End

BBnet3000 July 24, 2013 - 8:07 pm

Wasnt that literally taken out when they built the FDR in the 60s or so? I seem to recall reading about it in The Power Broker.

BoerumBum July 25, 2013 - 9:27 am

Guess that answers that… still, signs and references to it abound.

IsaacB July 24, 2013 - 12:34 pm

Perhaps things have changed, but I recall two discussions of rail transit with Staten Islanders 20 years ago which went “We live here because there are no trains. I hope they never build them. Trains bring [nasty racial epithet]s.”

Most people who live on SI knew what they were getting into transit-wise. It’s not like they were promised something recently that didn’t happen. They repeatedly block substantive attempts at progress, unless its free tolls or more blacktop. I find this flurry of concern over ferry service (including the push for more overnight service with “smaller boats”) suspect. It may have more to do about increasing business for private ferry operators than about actual benefit to commuters.

Finally, while RX and Rockaway Branch are relatively easy to achieve from the engineering standpoint, the politics would be treacherous. Largely, the people whose backyards construction and operation will run past have no need for the line (they’ve bought into “car culture”). They’d have no appetite for any risk or disruption. Consider the hue and cry from people living along Second Avenue + the PPW bike lane and multiply it by 1000.

alen July 24, 2013 - 12:37 pm

they should probably build a few smaller lines to connect the current ones and a new line to run along the belt parkway to the beaches, the housing projects, etc.

BoerumBum July 24, 2013 - 1:15 pm

Chopping the RX into smaller pieces for implementation is probably a solid idea, so that NIMBYs don’t have a unified block all across the length of the line.

Ralffff July 24, 2013 - 1:19 pm

As a Staten Islander, I see a lot of truth in what you say, particularly the perpetual whining about transportation without any solutions that would actually fix it. The thing about SI is that the geography really doesn’t favor connections to Brooklyn; the low-hanging fruit is transit connections to New Jersey, and while we’ve done hardly any better on that in the last 20 years (and outright bungled the raising of the Bayonne Bridge as an opportunity for light rail extension) it would be far more affordable. It seems to me that the win-win for Staten Island, the city, and nearby New Jersey is committing to limited stop bus routes from NJ Transit stops near the Staten Island bridges to Brooklyn. For example, Newark/Newark Airport/Elizabeth/couple of stops in SI/Bay Ridge. That kind of thing. Right now there is no bus service SI/NJ except the still very limited S89 over the Bayonne.

J_12 July 24, 2013 - 1:57 pm

that’s sort of true, but you also have to consider that the population is not static. There are lots of people living in Staten Island today who were not born, or were too young to be part of the process, when those decisions were made. There are people who moved to Staten Island very recently for various reasons (such as it is cheaper) who were not part of the process.
The population of staten island is underutilized, or used inefficiently, by NYC because the commute from there to most other places is so difficult.

Jeff July 24, 2013 - 3:21 pm

When there’s a will there’s a way.

Every project has had NIMBY opposition. You can read NYTimes articles from the 1900s and 1910s that talk about NIMBY concerns in regards to where to build a subway. The Airtrain goes through a few residential neighborhoods and had to get through NIMBYs. Same with SAS. All that matters is that the people who want these built are willing to fight for them to be built.

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 6:00 pm

The past is another country. Something similar happened near Boston: Arlington, the next suburb over in the northwest direction, objected to the idea of extending the Red Line to its center, so the Red Line ends at a parking lot at the western edge of Cambridge. That was 30 years ago; a generation of gentrification later, the population increasingly consists of people who’ve been priced out of Cambridge and Somerville, who ride buses to Cambridge and very much would have liked to have a subway.

And that’s Staten Island. The Triboro territory is substantially more urban and less suburban. Most of the areas served already have subway service, just pointing toward Manhattan only rather than toward other outer borough neighborhoods. Along the entire length of the line, the only suburban-ish area with a large concentration of potential NIMBYs is Middle Village.

Henry July 24, 2013 - 10:50 pm

The younger generation of this city is generally not interested in that sort of demagoguery, and just generally just wants to get wherever they’re going, conveniently, and as quickly as possible.

Staten Island is rapidly changing demographically, so we may see a more supportive electorate within the next ten or twenty years.

geep9 July 24, 2013 - 3:03 pm

Is it too cynical to note that both ferries and a new metrocard are not in anyone’s back yard? A candidate proposing TriboroRx is guaranteed to annoy someone in a way that either ferries or metrocards won’t. Perhaps Quinn and others are just playing it safe.

Henry July 24, 2013 - 10:51 pm

Nope – that’s definitely what they’re doing.

Part of campaigning is making promises, whether or not the politician intends to keep them.


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