Home Staten Island Thoughts on getting to, and around, Staten Island

Thoughts on getting to, and around, Staten Island

by Benjamin Kabak

This Ferris wheel sure will look great surrounded by a mall, hotel and acres of parking lots.

What do you do with Staten Island? What is its role in the future of New York City? How does the city develop accessible areas while opening up other parts of the island? And should these other parts even be opened? These are the perennial questions facing the city’s isolated borough, and with development plans on tap and a mayoral election in full swing, Staten Island is inching, perhaps reluctantly, into the spotlight.

Over the next few years, for some reason or another, the St. George area in Staten Island may become a destination. Near the ferry terminal is a quaint minor league ballpark where some of the greenest prospects play, and in a few years, a 350,000 square foot outlet mall, a 200-room hotel and a 625-foot tall Ferris wheel are set to debut. These aren’t attractions for the natives; they are very much designed to attract tourist dollars to the area.

The city is actually being blatant in their attempts at drawing people to Staten Island. NYC & Co. recently unveiled a new initiative promoting day trips to Staten Island. The campaign encourages visitors to check out the North Shore, and The Wall Street Journal recently urged its readers to look even further than that. Anne Kadet urged her readers to dig deeper, and Staten Island’s politicians hopped aboard the effort.

“We welcome thousands of visitors who travel on the Staten Island Ferry every day, and we’re glad for this opportunity to show them a few more family-friendly reasons to visit with us,” Councilwoman Debi Rose said. “There’s no shortage of things to do, places to stay, and places to eat for visitors coming to Staten Island. We’re not ‘the forgotten borough’ but ‘the unforgettable borough.'”

So that’s all well and good, but what about Staten Island’s problems? We can send a bunch of tourists to Staten Island on the ferry, but then they will find themselves stranded at the norther end of the borough trying to decipher a convoluted bus map or relying on expensive cabs to get anywhere else. Tourists, by and large, don’t rent cars when traveling through New York, and the car ride to Staten Island — via congested roads in Brooklyn — is hardly an easy or convenient trip. The Staten Island Rail Road serves some of the island, but large areas are without easy transit access. What can the city do?

The easy solution is a North Shore rail line reactivation. Despite the glaringly obvious need, the MTA over a year ago issued a feasibility study promoting bus rapid transit instead. A subway connection, via the Narrows to Brooklyn or the harbor to Manhattan, is discussed only on message boards devoted to our transit dreams. Meanwhile, the plans for these St. George attractions call for a considerable amount of parking. Shocking, I know.

There’s no easy solution to this problem, and many Staten Islanders are OK with that. They don’t necessarily want the density that comes with transit or the crowds that come with tourist attractions. The city though is intent on turning at least a part of Staten Island into a destination for better or worse, but they’re doing it without addressing fundamental problems of access and accessibility. We may not want a giant Ferris wheel sitting in the harbor, vulnerable to whatever weather may come its way, and we certainly don’t want a Ferris wheel, mall and hotel without a way to get there that doesn’t involve more cars on the road. But that’s what we’re on the verge of getting.

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Anonymous September 16, 2013 - 12:29 am

Whatever the pros and cons of building a busway instead of a railway on the North Shore, the NYC EDC has been busy sabotaging even the possibility of transit access improvements. It has refused to cooperate with the MTA on adjusting its parking deck design to allow for an SBS bus turnaround near the ferry – even though it has in its plans a space for tourist buses and a shuttle service. Usually the EDC is only tone-deaf when it comes to transit, but here there appears to be a certain “my way or the highway” viciousness that I think is only going to backfire.

This lack of cooperation is a scandal waiting to happen – but when it does it will be too late. I hope the next mayor will reform the EDC’s pro-car, anti-people ideology and make it work for all of us, not just real estate developers.

Bolwerk September 16, 2013 - 11:23 am

No beating around the bush: EDC should be abolished, and its budget should go to transit.

The agency completely misses the point about desirability anyway. People don’t want malls and parking lots; they want the Greenwich Village and Williamsburg (to a lesser extent brownstone Brooklyn) pattern of intimate streets, low traffic, and convenient transit/walking, maybe tweaked a bit for some extra space and comfort. Even private developers only sorta get that, since they put the big, ugly glass penises in the traditional neighborhoods – but some of that is probably because they need scale to be profitable.

Epson45 September 16, 2013 - 1:23 am

You mean Staten Island Railway… not Rail Road.

Guest #1 September 16, 2013 - 4:06 am

Staten Island? What the …

Chet September 16, 2013 - 6:31 am

There’s a lot that can be written about this topic. I can approach it from the viewpoint of someone who has lived on Staten Island since 1967 and yes, this place has changed a lot, to say the very least.

Traffic and reliance on cars is one of the biggest problems here. Work being done to the Staten Island Expressway to put some entrance/exit ramps in the right place, lower some of the inclines, extending the bus/HOV lanes will improve things, but it is far from a complete answer.

The planned changes to the St. George area go much further than the Wheel. It is the Wheel, the Outlet Center, another smaller hotel/apartment/retail complex called Lighthouse Point, and the development of apartments and retail further down the eastern side of the island at what was the Navy Homeport. All of this is going to alter that part of the island. If you judge people’s views towards all of this by comments on silive.com (the website of our newspaper, the Staten Island Advance, you’d think that there was almost universal opposition to all of this. Nothing could be further from the truth. With rare exceptions, silive.com is a cesspool of ignorant, angry, selfish complainers about everything. Rarely is there anything that makes people there happy. (As an example, people still post there about their tax dollars being spent to build a wheel when it is all private money and the articles have said that about a thousand times. They don’t read, but they still comment.)

It is incredibly important to remember just how big Staten Island is- in land area, its larger than both the Bronx and Manhattan- combined. More importantly, there are just about 500,000 people here. A lot of people, including many islanders themselves, seem to forget a zero or two on that number. If we were a separate city, we’d be the 36th or 37th largest in the nation.

So what to do about transport here.

1) The development in St. George will force better ferry service. The amount of tourists that will arrive to the wheel and the shopping will be overwhelmingly by boat. The city will have no choice but to increase service to handle the crowds. Even better would be the addition of faster boats. Currently the ride is about 25 minutes. If that could be cut to 15 minutes, it be a massive improvement. With the increase in service will mostly come a price- as in a fare. That will not be popular here at all. Of course that could be mitigated by giving residents a free ride. Just as an EZ-Pass knows where we live and what discounts we are entitled too, a MetroCard (probably its replacement) could do the same.

2) The North Shore Rail needs to be replaced. No, the development does not make that impossible. The tracks are underneath the outlet center and wheel that continue down the northern shore of the island. The MTA’s bus plan for that right of way is just stupid. Beyond that, that new railway should go across the soon to be built new Goethals Bridge so there can be a transfer to NJ Transit.

3) Connecting the island to the subway system may not be worth it unless it is a straight shot across the harbor. Extending the T or the 1 train from Wall Street to Governors Island- Red Hook -and to Staten Island would add service to three places without it. But truth is, the costs are prohibitive. Well, at least we think so. At the very least, there should be a study just to get an idea of how much it would cost and how many people would use it. Connecting across the Narrows to the N train at 59th Street Brooklyn is also a good idea, but the travel times wouldn’t be much better for most people, and possibly worse in some cases.

4) The bus system on the island is pretty good if you look at a map. The problem here, like in many places is they are incredibly slow and not frequent enough. Traffic holds some of them up, but natural geography is a greater enemy. Some streets are too narrow and the hills here just kill any attempt for a bus to make decent time. The MTA should look into more powerful buses for some routes and smaller vehicles that can provide more frequent service outside of rush hour. No one should have to wait 20 minutes for a bus in the middle of the day.

5) Over the past few years, a lot of the island was downzoned to prevent unchecked overdevelopment. You could put a subway line down Victory Boulevard (just saying) but you still can’t build 20 story apartment buildings all long the way. Proper zoning along with transit development go hand in hand.

That’s really about it. There are no simple solutions unless someone drops about $40 billion in our lap. Then we can build a rail system here of sorts, a cross harbor tunnel that would remove tens of thousands of trucks from our roads. But that isn’t about to happen.

Eric September 16, 2013 - 8:40 am

“That will not be popular here at all. Of course that could be mitigated by giving residents a free ride.”

Why should Staten Island residents, of all people, get a free ride? It’s not fair to the rest of the city. Just because it currently exists doesn’t mean it’s justified.

Jeff September 16, 2013 - 9:59 am

Because they pay NYC taxes like everyone else and probably deserves somewhat equal treatment transit-wise?

Without the free ferry ride, SI would be the only borough where one cannot use a single Metrocard fare to get to Manhattan.

Jerrold September 16, 2013 - 10:21 am

Don’t you remember the slogan “One City, One Fare” that was being used when MetroCard transfers came into existence?

For Staten Islanders, that means a single fare being deducted from a MetroCard for a bus(or SIR) – ferry – subway
trip, and the same for the reverse sequence on the homeward trip.

Bolwerk September 16, 2013 - 11:16 am

In a sense, they get better-than-equal treatment. Wouldn’t be surprised if the per capita transit subsidies on SI were higher than the rest of the city, given the free ferry, high bus proliferation, and low rail penetration.

Jeff September 16, 2013 - 11:42 am

The individual Staten Islander is not responsible for how much taxes the rest of SI pays. The point is that particular person pays taxes and should get benefit of traveling to the CBD for the same price as other NYers.

Bus proliferation in SI isn’t much better than the rest of the city.

Bolwerk September 16, 2013 - 12:05 pm

And I suppose you think every inner city New Yorker deserves a single family lot and room for a car? There is a place for transit investment in SI, but at some point it has to be admitted that if people there want better transit they should move to another borough.

Bus proliferation doesn’t need to be better to be more expensive. SI isn’t very dense, and there is less ridership per mile of bus route than elsewhere. That’s expensive.

Jeff September 16, 2013 - 1:36 pm

What? We’re talking about whether the ferry should remain free. I’m not sure what you are trying to argue.

The point is every single person is able to use some combination of bus/subway to get to Manhattan in NYC except for those in Manhattan. Making the SI ferry free is as close a solution to SIers having the same privilege.

Its an absolutely terrible argument to tell SIers to move to a different place to get better access when we should be advocating the reverse. One goal of public transit is to get people AWAY from the CBD so we don’t have everyone living in Manhattan.

Avi September 16, 2013 - 1:57 pm

His point is that Staten Islanders get a lot more space and cheaper prices on that space by virtue of living on Staten Island. But living there comes with tradeoffs, and cost/time of transit is one of them. For the price of my 1br apartment I could have a house on Staten Island, but I made the tradeoff that I’m willing to trade less space for a shorter/easier commute. Staten Islanders can’t expect to get all the benefits of living far away and then not pay for the added cost of transportation from there.

Jeff September 16, 2013 - 2:12 pm

Not every part of every borough is like Manhattan. There are low density areas in most of Queens, half of Brooklyn and a big part of the Bronx.

And again, ALL of them still have access to the subway through a local bus line. Except for SI.

Henry September 19, 2013 - 12:55 am

All of them are also a mile or two away from Manhattan. The reason there isn’t a tunnel is because the only one worth building would go directly under the harbor to the Battery, which is almost certainly not happening within my lifetime. (Bay Ridge is doable, but would be really slow.)

Jeff September 16, 2013 - 1:57 pm

“except for those in Manhattan”

meant to say except for those in SI

Bolwerk September 16, 2013 - 2:12 pm

What Avi said.

I think the ferry should stay free for practical purposes, at least until the next fare media is out. But I don’t buy the notion that you have a right to move to a remote place and get the same accessibility as people who don’t live in a remote place.

One goal of public transit is to get people AWAY from the CBD so we don’t have everyone living in Manhattan.

There are three other boroughs with good-excellent transit access and affordable neighborhoods. If people want to move away from the CBD, they have plenty of options.

If SI wants Brooklyn accessibility to the CBD, it needs to accept Brooklyn land use patterns.

Jeff September 16, 2013 - 2:20 pm

That’s where you’re not getting it. People in SI, free ferry or not, are NOT getting the same accessibility as people who don’t get a remote place. They are still stuck with a 1 or 2 hour commute to whereever they need. People in remote places in Queens and Brooklyn get the same if they choose to take mass transit. However, the latter DO have the option to spend 1 MetroCard fare. The people in SI are the ONLY PEOPLE not to have this option.

Its about fairness and about having a connected city. There are tons of students and lower income people in Staten Island who may not have the income to take an express bus who needs to commute to the city.

Bolwerk September 16, 2013 - 2:37 pm

What am I not getting exactly? People in Staten Island shouldn’t get that kind of accessibility, because it’s not economically or physically realistic. With billions of dollars of investment accompanied by huge land use reforms and a few decades of concerted effort that could be changed.

If you want to help low income people, there are much cheaper ways to do it than make relatively low-population, largely middle class, SI more connected. There are parts of The Bronx that could use the investment more, given present circumstances. For present circumstances to change, the NIMBY culture that makes retarded land use the rule in SI must be overthown.

Jeff September 16, 2013 - 2:47 pm

You’re just throwing one red herring after another as usual. Having a free ferry is not economically or physically realistic?

Let me ask you this… If you take away the free ferry because the city “lose money”… Should we…
1) Take free transfers between buses and subways too, because the MTA “loses money”?
2) Take free parks away from the public too? Since they only benefit the few people who live nearby?
3) Take free education away too? Because god knows how much money is wasted.

Might as well have no government at all so everyone pays for his or her own service?

Bolwerk September 16, 2013 - 3:20 pm

Good God, what can we do about this literacy problem? I quite clearly said above I think for practical purposes the free ferry should be kept for the time being.

Let me ask you this… If you take away the free ferry because the city “lose money”… Should we…

Since your attention span is so short, let me repeat what I said before the block quote for the third time: I don’t think we should get rid of the free ferry for the time being.

1) Take free transfers between buses and subways too, because the MTA “loses money”?

Why is this even a comparison? The MTA doesn’t perish 100% of the cost of a bus or subway ride, and the transfer might actually contribute revenue over not having it.

2) Take free parks away from the public too? Since they only benefit the few people who live nearby?

Ohhh, a red herring! No, I don’t think that, but I, again, don’t see a comparison. Expecting SIers to pay the incremental cost of their more expensive transit isn’t the same thing as taking away their transit.

3) Take free education away too? Because god knows how much money is wasted.

No, we should just rejigger public education so people can come out of public schools with strong literacy skills and the ability to reason. *wink wink*

Phantom September 17, 2013 - 1:14 am

Jeff 959

–Without the free ferry ride, SI would be the only borough where one cannot use a single Metrocard fare to get to Manhattan–

That’s not true at all. Plenty of Staten Islanders take the S53 and S59 to catch the R line at 86th St in Brooklyn. And many of them go to Manhattan, at one fare.

Not quite at easy a deal while the tunnel reconstruction is going on, but still – this is a really useful option for more Staten Island commuters than you may realize

Alon Levy September 18, 2013 - 10:31 pm

Then set up free transfers.

Lady Feliz September 16, 2013 - 12:17 pm

“Why should Staten Island residents “of all people” get a free ride?”

Sorry if “we people” don’t live to your higher standards. So, you ever ride your bike across the Brooklyn Bridge? It’s free. Drive down Fifth Avenue (free)? Jog thru Prospect or Van Cortlandt parks (free and free)? Oh, you say your taxes help pay for the upkeep of the bridge, the avenue and the parks? You’re right, they do. Just like our taxes support the free ferry ride.

BoerumBum September 16, 2013 - 1:43 pm

Wow… you cover all the operating costs for the SI Ferry and the SIR using property taxes alone? That’s impressive; I’d love to see the numbers!

Jeff September 16, 2013 - 2:42 pm

Thats…. Completely not what she said.

BoerumBum September 17, 2013 - 11:52 am

Fill me in, then, Jeff, because the only other reading that I can take from her comment is “The reason that the city has made the Staten Island Ferry (but not any other ferries) and the SIR (but not the rest of the MTA) free, is that Fifth Avenue is not a turnpike, therefore the decision to subsidize Staten Islanders over any other population is equitable.”

Henry September 19, 2013 - 12:58 am

SIR is set up in such a way that given the low patronage numbers and physical constraints of existing stations, turnstile installation would probably not recoup maintenance and installation costs. The majority of people are caught at St. George anyways, where they DO have to pay a fare.

Bolwerk September 21, 2013 - 12:08 pm

SIRT’s supposed low farebox recovery is probably at least in part an accounting problem. SIRT is still a piece of the transit system, and contributes users to it, just like many money-losing buses and even rail spurs around the city.

BoerumBum September 16, 2013 - 10:31 am

“Extending the T or the 1 train from Wall Street to Governors Island- Red Hook -and to Staten Island would add service to three places without it.”

I believe that the MTA prefers B Division for new development. Given that, and the timetable for SAS development, wouldn’t an extension of the Nassau Line to Governor’s Island, Red Hook and Staten Island make more sense?

Joey September 16, 2013 - 3:28 pm

Operationally maybe, infrastructure-wise no. The Nassau line already hooks into the Montague Tunnels and it would be quite difficult to modify the setup for extension further south.

Karm September 16, 2013 - 7:54 pm

Thanks for the views from an actual – and practical – Staten Islander.

As to the wheel/outlet mall development – from what I read – the developers have been working with New York Water Taxi for 10 or so boats depending on demand…. It was an interview they gave on SIlive. It seems this would not be a city or MTA project… but strictly for them… in similar ways I guess to the ferries that go to Sandy Hook beaches from Wall St. (though obviously lower cost).


Nyland8 September 18, 2013 - 8:29 am

Chet …

1) Increases in tourism will result in no change on the speed of ferries – nor should it. They are there for the free ride, and if it took ten minutes longer it would have zero impact on their numbers.

2) Agreed – the North Shore should be reactivated, and it should go right past Arlington into New Jersey. But it should be the extension or continuation of a subway tunnel originating in the Owls Head area of Brooklyn – part of a quad-borough beltway connecting Richmond to Kings, Queens and Bronx.

3) Red Hook is not a good launch point for a Staten Island subway. Extending the T down to Governors Island, and then across the Buttermilk to Red Hook from there, makes perfect sense, but what alignment it takes from Red Hook, or even whether or not it stays underground before advancing farther, would be a debate I’d love to be privy to.

4) I’ve waited more than 20 minutes in midday for busses anywhere in the city. I’ve waited more than 20 minutes for cross-town busses that traverse Central Park in the middle of the day – and then seen a cluster of three of them arrive within minutes of each other. If what you say were true, and I’m not saying it isn’t, it would be true citywide, not just Staten Island.

5) Yes, proper zoning along with transit development should go hand-in-hand. But they rarely do. What is more likely is that one will follow the other. The question is: Which will come first? I believe that transit should drive development, not vice versa.

Nyland8 September 18, 2013 - 8:31 am

Sorry Karm. I didn’t post this under your comment – but I guess the thread space under Chet’s was exhausted, so it wound up here.

AG September 18, 2013 - 5:25 pm

2) are you meaning that it connects to a “Triboro RX”… or something else? I’d be interested to see what the travel times would look like from different points. I think it could be useful for Staten Island. Either way – I think it’s more likely we an subway extension from Brooklyn than from Manhattan and Governor’s Island.

Nyland8 September 20, 2013 - 6:45 am

Yes, AG – an extension of the Triboro RX … and beyond in both directions. The devil is in the details.

Rather than rebuilding so much of the North Shore on pilings out in the Kill Van Kull (we don’t want any runaway ships bumping into our subway, and the Kill has heavy traffic) just continue tunneling all the way out past Snug Harbor before coming out of the ground – say about Davis Ave. Follow along Richmond Terrace for the placement of surface vents.

Then go elevated for the short connection to existing infrastructure at roughly Bissenbach Marina. A couple of months ago I had a chance to examine the concrete superstructure west of that point, and most of it is still sound enough to be patched back into operation. West of there it’s easy-peasy … relatively speaking.

Alon Levy September 18, 2013 - 10:38 pm

Re 5, they can be built simultaneously; that was the case for Metrotown, which they started to build at the same time as SkyTrain. SkyTrain opened first so back then the area was still low-rise, but there was ongoing construction early.

Re 3, see map.

Nyland8 September 20, 2013 - 7:13 am

Yes Alon … Simultaneous is ideal, but rare.

I see by your map that you didn’t even bother to consider the alignment down at the Narrows. I don’t like it either. Too far out of the way.

But a Bay Ridge connection seems the most satisfying, especially when viewed in conjunction with a greater beltway project. Not the shortest distance, but perhaps the most easily rationalized. And coincidently, it’s much closer to the proposed 1939 alignment – back in the day when subway expansion was actually given some thought.

Nyland8 September 20, 2013 - 7:20 am

Hmmm. I don’t know why that fell apart. The link was working fine when I pasted it in.

I’ll try it again

Nyland8 September 20, 2013 - 7:23 am

Nope. I won’t be buying any lottery tickets today.

jfruh September 16, 2013 - 6:35 am

It’s worth keeping in mind that Staten Island only lacks density when compared to the rest of New York City. At 8K people per square mile, it’s denser than Baltimore, San Diego, Houston, and any number of other cities that have built rail transit.

Eric September 16, 2013 - 8:41 am

Staten Island has built rail transit too. That doesn’t mean it’s worth building MORE rail transit, unless it comes along with upzoning.

Eric September 16, 2013 - 8:42 am

Although reopening the existing North Shore line (as rail) would be worth it.

Brandon September 16, 2013 - 8:54 am

The aggregate density of those cities doesnt tell us much about the density of the parts of those cities where they built rail lines.

AG September 17, 2013 - 10:33 am

True… I think Staten Island is the perfect “light rail” candidate for NYC. The zoning does permit for the type of density that subway construction would… but light rail certainly could be useful… Especially one that connects it to NJ.
Would be nice if PATH could somehow be connected to SI… but that’s a very long shot.

Bolwerk September 17, 2013 - 11:13 am

I don’t disagree with you about light rail, but still…if NYC doesn’t change the zoning in SI at least somewhat, it’s foregoing a massive growth opportunity that could probably more than finance the relatively meager costs of getting the subway to SI.

paulb September 16, 2013 - 9:05 am

An outlet mall. NYC, the home of creative thinking. Bleh.

BoerumBum September 16, 2013 - 10:33 am

That’s just proximity to Jersey rubbing off. 😉

Bolwerk September 16, 2013 - 1:30 pm

It’s worse than that. That’s been the type of neighborhood-raping project EDC has been pushing for at least a generation.

Karm September 16, 2013 - 8:07 pm

paulb – actually – it’s not the city… it’s private developers…. and there is actually another one being built in the Bronx at the old Whitestone cinema. Developers are smart enough to know that many many city dwellers take out of town trips to go to outlet malls… and even international tourists take bus trips from NYC to go to them. As to the city – well why would the city want to miss out on the sales tax if developers want to build them???

Bolwerk September 16, 2013 - 9:54 pm

Too bad the city isn’t smart enough to know that cratering a potentially prime neighborhood so some suburbanites can shop at Kohl’s is not exactly a win for the local economy.

Henry September 19, 2013 - 1:02 am

There are a fair amount of people from the outer boroughs driving up to Woodbury and Tanger Outlets to do their shopping over city stores. It’s so common that Woodbury Commons issues announcements in Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean (maybe), and there aren’t that many people who need that sorta thing upstate.

Bolwerk September 21, 2013 - 12:10 pm

That there’s a market for it doesn’t make it worth it. There’s a market for teenage smokers too, afterall.

The EDC big box boner is hitching the city’s economy to the wrong horse. It creates some low-wage jobs, but big box money doesn’t tend to stay in the local economy.

paulb September 18, 2013 - 12:42 am

It’s a point that NYC is an int’l shopping destination, and retail tourism will be just fine if Brazilians can keep their credit lines open, although the profit margins are miniscule. OK, an outlet mall. But what else? There must be something else.

AG September 18, 2013 - 5:14 pm

why should we care about their profit margins?? we as taxpayers should only care that we receive tax revenue…
From what the new campaign to draw tourists to Staten Island is that there are cultural and historical things to do on Staten Island – but ppl don’t leave the ferry terminal. The wheel and mall are to get them to stay longer… and hopefully go explore. There is a hotel as a part of the project as well.
There is housing being built nearby as a separate project.
As to what else? Well we can’t tell a private developer what to build… there doesn’t seem to be any demand there for office space there. When the city issues an RFP – they look through the choices and see what will produce the most tax revenue for the city.

Brazilians tend to pay cash for real estate (see South Florida) so I’m sure they tend to pay cash for shopping. The Chinese and the Europeans actually spend more here.. and they tend to use cash as well. Most countries aren’t as credit dependent as the U.S. Most auto companies love China because they don’t need to spend anywhere near the time or energy to have financial services there. Most cars are bought cash there.

Bolwerk September 21, 2013 - 12:12 pm

Well, since the only way tax payers will receive tax revenue is through what can broadly be called profitability, we should care.

AG September 21, 2013 - 4:16 pm

no – there is a city sales tax. if they stay open 50 years and only make a tiny profit each year – the city will still benefit from the sales tax.

llqbtt September 16, 2013 - 9:13 am

In the past of course, not only was there a North Shore branch but also a South Beach line (in addition of course to the current SIR), and that was before the Verrazano Bridge opened the flood gates. There were more lines serving fewer people (albeit people with fewer cars). There must be some form of demand now.

It seems that the MTA’s vision relies almost exclusively on +SBS+ or Limited services (such as the recently introduced niche Q70).

Some day in the future, the way transit planning is conducted in a silo will need to change.

lawhawk September 16, 2013 - 9:21 am

There’s a feeling on the Island that they don’t want additional subway service because it would bring in the undesirables and would change the look and feel of the borough.

Mind you, this is as developers shoehorn in ugly townhomes on every available plot of land that had to date been deemed too small to build housing. All those people (and cars) have to go somewhere, and more than a few are going to the ferry into the City or are driving in via Brooklyn.

That has to change, and it will take zoning changes beyond what Bloomberg has achieved. St. George is changing because of its proximity to transit options, and it’s among the more densely populated areas of the borough – and for good reason.

The new retail/housing/amusement being built there will add to the attractiveness of the site and build up the density there.

That’s going to take thinking about expanding the SIR or a light rail or BRT (not the half-assed versions popping up elsewhere in the City).

The North Shore link would definitely help expand transit options, though I’m concerned about sections adjacent to the shore and whether we should build on a segment that is likely to be washed out again as during Sandy.

Higher speed ferries makes sense, but the City is looking to reduce the number of class ships it runs in the ferry fleet, not adding to them. Higher speed ferries would add to the numbers and number of trips that could be made, but they aren’t about to do that at this point.

Kevin September 19, 2013 - 1:19 pm

I know the North Shore line hugs the coast for a decent amount of its length, but I remember it being steep and rocky. Is it really close enough to sea level to be washed away in another storm?

David Brown September 16, 2013 - 9:23 am

I happen to like the idea of the Ferris Wheel and St George Redevelopment (as do most people, otherwise the NIMBY types would be out in force). But in addition to that, Freshkills Park is supposed to have 2,200 Acres, almost three times the size of Central Park (according to the Parks Website). While they say it will take 30 years (I bet longer) to finish, once work starts on these type of projects, it is rare it does not get completed (even the abandoned tunnels from the 1970’s will be used for the Second Ave Subway)). What does it mean? They will need upgraded transportation options to get there. Now assuming that the St George Project passes the City Council, and based on the fact I am hearing no credible opposition it will. Then, with the fates of the Park & St George secure, you will start to hear more about upgraded Staten Island Transportation once the New MTA Five Year Plan comes out (and I suspect there will be a lot involved). I hope to see Ben revisit this issue once it happens?

Jeff September 16, 2013 - 9:54 am

Public parks generally don’t drive transit demand…

What the St. George development does is to take advantage of all of the tourists who get a free ride on the ferry and give them a reason to stick around on the island.

The fact that the development is so close to the ferry anyway means there’s absolutely no reason to think its going to improve transit access to anywhere else on the island.

Nyland8 September 16, 2013 - 1:16 pm

Indeed. The so-called “development” of shopping and ferris wheel is only designed to capitalize on the already-paid-for ferry. As the reasoning goes, “they’re already here, they can’t stay on the boat, and the fact that the boat costs them nothing is a great rationalization to pay … whatever … $20-a-head for an arial view of the skyline.

I know if I had just flown in from Oslo or Osaka, and my travel guide listed the SI Ferry as one of the “must see” great bargains of the City, I’d be inclined to take the ride up the wheel and get a picture of the skyline from that elevation.

But will it open the North Shore rail spur for residents? Not likely. Will it spark mass-transit interests to Brooklyn via subway? Not likely. Will it sway the often isolationist view of many Richmond residents. Not likely.

It’s just a clever way to take a few bucks from the visitors before sending them back to South Ferry the way they came.

Sajh September 16, 2013 - 10:32 am

Yes, I have spoken to a few politicians’ offices actually asking them to charge a transfer to the SI Ferry. The problem with the ferry as someone who takes it daily, is the tourists overwhelm it in the summer NOW. I’ve had ferry service canceled on me on weekends b/c of too many tourists delaying the boat (they dont load the same as normal commuters, very slow and b/c of the language barrier, many dont realize you MUST leave the boat).
However, there is a reason why they do not charge for the ferry not just including the “one ride to the city for all residents” excuse (which is BS, b/c some areas of the city, Riverdale, or Coop City for example dont have an easy one ride either). The reason is b/c you have federal money, state money and city money all contributing to the SI ferry operations (DOT runs the ferry). Thus it gets complicated on the revenue side. Again, however this is also BS, simple math allocation can fix this.
However, for this tourist attraction projects, since the city cannot fix the fare issue on the ferry, they instead are trying to increase revenue to offset the cost. Thus this project. If you charge for the ferry, even a free transfer from the subway, tourists will not go. Even at $2.50 each way, more than half of them wont go.

Staten Island’s transit problems are a result of nimby-isms and lack of city planning. At one time, there was a grand plan to create round abouts, wider straight streets… a new street plan much like was planned in the rest of the city. But this was before the Verrazano was even a thought. It never happened when the subway plans did not happen due to the depression. As a result, the road system is still in the original farmland pattern. It does not work and it’s too late. The roadways need a complete overhaul.

Jeff September 16, 2013 - 11:46 am

“However, there is a reason why they do not charge for the ferry not just including the “one ride to the city for all residents” excuse (which is BS, b/c some areas of the city, Riverdale, or Coop City for example dont have an easy one ride either).”

That’s false. People in Riverdale or Coop City can easily take the bus and transfer to the subway. Bus lines in all 4 non-SI boroughs connect with the subway at one point to allow for transfers to subway lines, which takes them to the CBDs. SI is the sole exception.

SEAN September 16, 2013 - 1:03 pm

Don’t forget that Riverdale is served by MNR as well , so an express bus isn’t always nessessary.

Jeff September 16, 2013 - 1:40 pm

I wasn’t even thinking of the commuter railroads or express buses… What I was saying was that all 4 boroughs have access to LOCAL buses that connect to subway lines on one Metrocard fare. People can choose to pay more for a faster commute if they want.

However most people in SI do not have that choice.

SEAN September 16, 2013 - 3:24 pm

Oh, I wasn’t trying to imply that. Riverdale has far better connections to the rest of the city than SI does, but the question is how to correct that condition. An even better question might be – under all the blather do SI residents really want better transit service? If they do, then it’s time to demand it & not wine to the advance.

Chet September 16, 2013 - 3:48 pm

Actually we do have a couple of buses that run into Brooklyn and go to the 86th R Station in Bay Ridge. I’ve never done it, mostly because I think I could walk faster.

There is also the S89 bus that goes to an HBLR station in Bayonne, NJ. That bus has turned out to be pretty popular.

Z September 16, 2013 - 12:33 pm

I find it hard to believe the ferris wheel will be a success. The wheel is five miles from Lower Manhattan. The skyline will look virtually the same from the top of the ride as it does on the ground. Now, it might be fun to get a new perspective on the baseball stadium, the harbor, and Bayonne Peninsula, but I doubt that will draw a lot of tourist dollars.

David Brown September 16, 2013 - 1:37 pm

If you look at the Bloomberg approach to generating revenue in a different way, you see that quite a bit of it is related to entertainment and tourism. Lets look at the projects. 1: Yankee Stadium. 2: Citi Field. 3: Barclays Center. 4: Kings Theatre Renovation. 5: Trump Golf Course. 7: Additional Museums. 8: Lincoln Center Upgrade 9: Carnegie Hall Upgrade. 10 BAM Expansion. 11: Kingsbridge Armory Ice Facility. 12: Upgrade of the USTA Tennis Facility. 13: Coney Island Redevelopment. Even the failed Olympic bid, and West Side Stadium were part of this, and there still might be a Soccer Stadium to come. The Ferris Wheel (coupled with the St George Redevelopment) is simply another part of it. I know many (if not most) of these projects are controversial, and very few people would admit to being for them (I certainly am). But, I think 10 years down the line, when History has a more objective opinion of Mike Bloomberg, because of these projects, and other projects designed to help the City Grow (like Hudson Yards and the (7) Train Expansion) it will be quite favorable (particularly if Willets Point and other important projects (like St George) get approved and finished).

Jeff September 16, 2013 - 1:55 pm

You think too highly of tourists and their priorities.

Its going to be the biggest Ferris Wheel in the world, with a great view of the NY Harbor and the Statue of Liberty and the Lower Manhattan skyline, makes the SI Ferry a bit more than a harbor cruise, and its an experience they don’t get anywhere else in the city… It’ll be a success.

Chet September 16, 2013 - 3:53 pm

Millions of tourists take the ferry every year and I’ve struck up conversations with quite a few. They all want to know if there is anything they can do on Staten Island that’s near the ferry terminal. Sadly, the answer is generally no..there’s nothing. Sure, you can maybe have a bite to eat; but even the Snug Harbor Cultural Center requires a short bus ride.

The Wheel and outlets will be very successful because tourists will be looking for something to do. The wheel will be an iconic symbol (look for firework displays like the London Eye). As far as the shopping, think of how many tourists take an hour long bus ride to Woodbury Commons everyday to buy stuff. In a couple of years, it will be a 25 minute boat ride away.

Karm September 16, 2013 - 8:15 pm

Yeah – the ppl questioning why an outlet mall don’t understand how many tourists take the bus up to Woodbury. The one being built in the Bronx is looking to target them… with obviously a much shorter bus ride.

You are correct – there is the Snug Harbor Cultural Center – the Fort – and possibly a lighthouse museum… all things that could attract some tourists… but not as simple to get to from the ferry. At least the city is starting to promote those things. I’m sure the ppl at the hotel they are building on the site will want to take in some of those things. I’m actually surprised it’s only going to be a 200 room hotel.

AG September 17, 2013 - 10:39 am

Yeah – the London Eye even has champagne and wine tastings… it’s quite an upscale experience. There will be plenty of even just Europeans who will ride it just to compare the 2.

As to Woodbury – that is correct as well. Foreign tourists go to Woodbury and spend “busloads” of money. Surprisingly I was up in Minnewaska hiking and a load of Asian tourists were up there as well – taking pictures of the cliffs just like they do the skyscrapers in Manhattan. I was thinking to myself – “how do they even know this exists”??? It’s amazing.

Alon Levy September 18, 2013 - 10:42 pm

The London Eye is far more centrally located than anywhere on Staten Island.

AG September 20, 2013 - 7:26 pm

true – but as he pointed out…. literally millions of tourists per year will be dropped right at it’s doorstep (NY Wheel)

Karm September 16, 2013 - 8:35 pm

Z – the “London Eye” is the most popular paid attraction in the entire UK (3.5 million ppl)… That says a lot. It’s not like riding a ferris wheel at an amusement park. Think of it as a luxury ferris wheel. The Singapore Flyer is another popular one.

The NYC one will most likely prove just as popular as the London Eye. Millions of visitors already use the Staten Island Ferry…

Tony September 17, 2013 - 9:36 am

Yup. Woodbury Commons is over run with bus loads of tourists. The London Eye is a massive hit.

Combine these two types of extremely successful attractions at the exact spot where zillions of tourists already arrive *with nothing else effectively to do* and there is little doubt that all this will be a massive financial success. Anyone arguing otherwise has their head in the sand.

SEAN September 16, 2013 - 1:00 pm

As someone who has followed retail over the past decade, an outlet mall in St George doesn’t make a lot of sence to me. If you want tourists to visit SI, give them something compelling that causes people to linger. Along with that needs to come increased bus & ferry frequency.

Jeff September 16, 2013 - 1:45 pm

It’d be the only outlet mall in NYC though… That’s not compelling enough? Tons of tourists come to NY to shop.

SEAN September 16, 2013 - 3:59 pm

In a word, no. An outlet mall in SI doesn’t contribute to what makes NYC the great city that it is. Infact there are nine outlet malls under construction right now across the country & even more planned for the next few years.

There was an interesting article I came across in the ST. Louis Post Dispatch on outlets. You’ll find it on the bottom of the Palm Beach Mall page at http://www.labelscar.com.

Chet September 16, 2013 - 6:28 pm

The equation is different here.

The closest thing you have to outlet shopping in NYC is Century21. Jersey Gardens near Newark gets a reasonable amount of tourists, mostly those waiting for their flights at Newark Airport.

Yet, tens of thousands of out of town, including foreign tourists schlep all the way up to Central Valley, NY on an hour+ bus ride to drop dollars, yen, euros, and pounds all over Woodbury Commons. Why would these same people not hop on the ferry- (which 99% of them will do anyway for the ride)- to do the same shopping?

This has nothing to do with making NYC a great city- its already achieved that mark…a couple centuries back. This is about economic development.

Karm September 16, 2013 - 8:25 pm

I’m not a shopper so I don’t know how they compare – but don’t forget the 2 Tanger Outlets on Long Island.

yeah – there was an article in the Times that the owners of Woodbury Commons were “worried” they will lose a chunk of their 12 million annual visitors (hard to imagine it’s that many) when the NYC outlets open.

pete September 17, 2013 - 4:19 pm

Jersey Gardens might have been built as an outlet mall, but its been renovated in the last 3 years into a first class mall with first class prices. Most of the outlet stores left and were replaced with generic full price mall stores.

AG September 17, 2013 - 4:47 pm

Jersey Gardens still considers themselves to be an outlet mall… an upscale one.. but an outlet nonetheless.
Unrelated – they say 36% of their shoppers are overseas visitors. If there number of 18 million yearly shoppers is accurate – then that means they get more than Woodbury Commons even.

Karm September 16, 2013 - 8:21 pm

The Paragon Outlet Mall in the Bronx might open before this one.

JJJJ September 16, 2013 - 3:19 pm

Whats with this Brooklyn obsession?

SI needs a rail line to Elizabeth and Newark

Brian September 16, 2013 - 6:12 pm

I agreee, building the North Shore rail link to Elizabethport, by the Jersey Gardens Outlet, connecting Airport Monorail to this place as well. If you want tourists to go to NYC, this idea would be better, get them off the plane at Newark and have Staten Island be the gateway to the city. If Staten Island wants a better connection to Manhattan, then the possibility of linking the North Shore with the NJT Northeast Corridor to Penn Station (whenever ARC or Amtrak Gateway project decides to get started) Now the MTA could finally help with the cost of building this tunnel, instead of stuffing NJ. with all the cost overruns.

AlexB September 16, 2013 - 7:59 pm

The answer to Staten Island’s transportation problems isn’t difficult, it’s raising the money and political capital to realize them. SI needs:
-Hudson Bergen Light Rail extension to North and West shores,
-Subway connection from Brooklyn to the SIR,
-Bi-directional dedicated bus lanes on the Gowanus to match those on the Verrazano and SI Expressway,
-A high quality BRT busway on Victory Blvd connecting to St George and the proposed West Shore Light Rail line; and,
-A fast and reliable connection to the Newark Airport station so Staten Islanders can access NJ Transit, Amtrak, and the rest of the country/world. This could be a bus connection at first that was eventually upgraded to another branch of the light rail system.

Sure, a cross harbor tunnel would be great and would speed up a lot of trips, but it’s not really necessary to provide a reasonable level of high quality connectivity within the borough and to its neighbors. The above list would cost about $5 billion, all in, and could be built over 10 or so years. That’s not that big of a deal. The problem is that everyone who lives there seems happy to complain about the traffic and they don’t really expect or want anything to ever change.

Karm September 16, 2013 - 8:16 pm

I think #1 and #3 are most likely to happen. Hopefully they will.

Michael K September 16, 2013 - 10:25 pm

I am not commenting in any official capacity, but:

The ferry is already one of the more popular tourist attractions in the city.

Residents are clamoring for better shopping that doesn’t require hours of driving and tolling.

Woodbury Commons is the most popular tourist attraction in the State.

The SI Borough President wants a project that will create jobs for local teenagers and young adults living on SI.

The vast majority of the onsite parking in owned and run by City DOT for commuter parking. The project will be built on the existing commuter parking lots and is being designed with the mall on a parking garage concept, so the garage will function as a floodwater stilt.

Nearly 85% of the Parking planned is replacement of existing commuter parking.

The wheel is being designed on parking garage pedestal as well, with the ability to withstand hurricane force wind.

The developers are required to construct the waterfront esplanade and will reconstruct multiple streets damaged by Sandy.

The MTA has required, and developers have agreed to build a tunnel box for the North Shore ROW.

The EDC is interested in developing a “scene” in ST. George.

The only real issue with the whole project is that the outlet mall developer has no prior experience building this sort of project and the city cannot afford a failed mall on such valuable property, like what has become of the Manhattan Mall.

Michael Sherrell September 16, 2013 - 10:34 pm

Improving transportation on Staten Island is not a) easy, b) cheap or c) without debate. I am an urban planner, and I have lived on Staten Island since 1990’s, and still do. I have attend community board and other planning meetings, and keep involved in urban affairs. Often on transit forums there’s the idea of “simply re-opening the North Shore Rail Line” as if that alone will solve a lot of Staten Island transit issues. What real use is a new rail transit line that only takes a person to the ferry terminal, where outside of rush hours, the ferries run at 30 and 60 minutes apart? I attended all of the public meetings of the North Shore Alternatives Analysis at Sung Harbor, where transit fans would often stand up at the beginning of the meetings shouting that “Rail Transit Is The Solution!”, not even bothering to hear of any of the ideas and proposals. These folks seem to forget that the North Shore Rail line – simply does not go to many places that exist today, where Staten Islanders want to go, where new housing, etc has been built since the line closed down decades ago. A re-opened north shore rail-line only really helps those near enough to it on the north shore! There were several proposals, some costing more than others, each with pros and cons. The Bus Rapid Transit proposal was given the green light because it would (if built as planned) try to provide transit benefits through-out the island, not just the narrow portion of the shore line railroad. The north shore rail line – which has been closed for decades – has parts eroded over by nature, water, decay, other land uses and buildings. It may exist in paper and in the minds of some transit fans – but on the ground is a different story. My basic point is that transit planning is not simple, there’s not a single solution that fits all of the problems. Simply dismissing a transit idea or plan because it is not a rail solution is short-sighted to say the least.

Eric September 23, 2013 - 1:57 pm

The North Shore line is very comparable to the Orange Line in Los Angeles. Both run through isolated outlying “boroughs” of major cities. Both connect to an express service to downtown. Both are on rail ROW which however would have needed extensive renovation for rail service.

Shortly after opening, the Orange Line was already over capacity with no prospect of adding more. By then it was too late to build light rail (whose longer vehicles would have provided the needed capacity).

The North Shore situation is so similar that I expect exactly the same will occur if BRT is built there. The line will quickly reach its operating capacity, but nobody will want to rip out the newly built BRT line for rail, so there will be no possibility of adding new capacity. Better to avoid this problem and build rail from the beginning, even if the construction costs are no lower than for BRT.

johndmuller September 17, 2013 - 12:49 am

Why not just build the subway to Brooklyn and get it over with already. It’s been on the planning books for about as long as the 2nd Ave. subway. If it connects to the 4th Ave. line at 59th St., there are only 7 to 13 stops (depending on express vs local) to get to Whitehall (2 fewer to Canal); it would probably be about the same time as the ferry, give or take. If it ran on the SIRT, it could save time for those who would no longer have to go to St. George and transfer to the ferry; it would likely be a more comfortable trip in the winter or bad weather.

It’s not a perfect solution, and it’s not free, but at the minimum level it only requires a tunnel (short compared to going to Manhattan), and some approaches at either end. It has been designed a few times, so the basic idea and some suggested routes are already out there.

The long subway to Manhattan is probably a good idea too, but it would involve some sort of big deal treatment in Manhattan (I.e. an expensive station and/or political monument) and perhaps also in St. George. If that is what it takes to get anything at all, then bring it on, but it’s not like a connection to Brooklyn would go to waste anyway, even if a full length harbor tunnel were subsequently built in some follow on phase V or VI of the 2nd Ave subway project.

Phantom September 17, 2013 - 1:30 am

If we really dreamed big, we could build such a tunnel and the very much on the back burner freight tunnel , and the Triboro subway as part of one large project.

If each had merit, you’d gain huge efficiencies by doing it that way,

Bob Miller October 2, 2013 - 3:32 pm

A revived North Shore rail line should hook up to NJ commuter rail lines. Look at a map! There should be adequate room for commuter parking at some stations, and bus connections from mid-island (also West Brighton and Sunnyside)to key stations. The Bayonne Bridge needs work; that could include adding the rail connection.


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