Home Brooklyn Is light rail right for Red Hook?

Is light rail right for Red Hook?

by Benjamin Kabak

A glimpse at the Red Hook streetcar alignment DOT rejected in 2011.

I took a long walk from Park Slope to Red Hook and back a few weekends ago. It’s a great stroll through a diverse group of Brooklyn neighborhoods and includes a some sights and some food. Along with the obligatory stops at El Olomega for papusas, Steve’s for key lime pie and Fairway for groceries, a number of restaurants, craft distilleries and unique shops line some of the route. It is not particularly transit accessible.

Red Hook residents know full well that the nearest subways aren’t particularly near. The F/G stop at Smith/9th Sts. is back open, but it’s a trek from all but the closest parts of the neighborhood. The B61 runs through the area, but residents have a love-hate relationship with the bus. It also, I noticed, stops more frequently than every other block along certain stretches of Van Brunt Street.

For decades, Red Hook residents have argued for, well, something. A streetcar has been the goal of certain advocates, but the fight for better options has been an uphill battle. The area isn’t zoned for much more residential development, and it now clearly suffers from the fear of a future storm. It’s next to impossible to get flood insurance, and many believe it’s just a matter of when and not if the next flood will arrive. There are pockets of gentrification, but the neighborhood may be reaching something of a peak.

Still, the fight goes on. At a recent City Planning forum, Red Hook residents gathered to discuss resiliency, and, as DNA Info’s Nikhita Venugopal reported, light rail was on the agenda. She writes:

A dedicated light-rail system through Red Hook would ease the neighborhood’s transportation hassles, locals said at a community meeting Tuesday night. About 30 residents, business owners and people who work in Red Hook discussed ways to improve the neighborhood’s network and bolster its resiliency to future storms, at a community meeting organized by the Department of City Planning.

Split into groups of five, people studied large-scale maps of the neighborhood, marking suggested bus routes, potential Citi Bike terminals and spots vulnerable to flooding. A streetcar system, which advocates have been fighting for since 1989, would give locals an easier way to travel through Red Hook and avoid the B61 bus, they said.

Streetcars are “efficient,” “cleaner” and “would increase business in Red Hook,” said Bill Appel, director of the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation. The light-rail line, which would run down Van Brunt Street, should accommodate the corridor’s two-lane car traffic and have a travel time of about eight minutes, locals said.

This isn’t the first time in post-Sandy New York that a potential light rail system for Red Hook has come up. Former deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff discussed the idea a few months ago at a city forum as a potential economic driver for the area, but such a move would have to come with a corresponding change in zoning to spur development. Various commercial entities in the area are keen to see better transportation options, and Bob Diamond, of course, hasn’t given up the fight. If anywhere is primed for an experiment in surface transit, it would be Red Hook.

Or would it? In a contested move two years ago, DOT already torpedoed a streetcar over costs. At the time, the agency estimated that building out the route, along with the infrastructure needed to support and maintain a new-to-New York transit option, would cost $176 million in capital funding and approximately $7 million a year in annual operating costs. Ridership projections anticipated under 2000 new riders per day. Outside of a few new bars and restaurants and one devastating hurricane, nothing has changed that would have a material impact on that analysis.

To realize a dream of light rail will require substantial buy-in from private developers and some changes to the condition on the ground. It’s not impossible, but in today’s transit investment climate, it isn’t — and probably shouldn’t be — a priority. That said, Red Hook needs better transit, and why not dream of a space for New York’s first experiment in light rail?

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johndmuller September 24, 2013 - 12:30 am

Perhaps bundling this route with a similar one going northish through Williamsburg (perhaps on Bedford) to Greenpoint would both double the constituency and divide in two the fixed costs.

One long line or two shorter, doesn’t matter too much, so long as there is a connection between them so that they could share facilities. DC is resurrecting their streetcar system starting with a very short line (complete with new facilities, etc.), so the “it’s a new transit option” argument doesn’t have to be a show stopper.

Walt Gekko September 24, 2013 - 1:02 am

The thing to maybe look at is instead of light rail, building a new, two-track elevated rail line that could connect to the elevated portion of the Culver Viaduct somewhere between Carroll and Smith-9th Streets or 4th Avenue, joining the (F) and (G) going towards Coney Island (with the new line having the potential side benefit of allowing the (F) to go express in Brooklyn) AND going north from Red Hook, go across Brooklyn in a north-northeast direction (with transfers to just about every other subway line in that part of Brooklyn along the way) to a new, rail-only bridge into Manhattan that could be placed between and go underground somewhere between the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges and re-join the (F) at East Broadway, Essex or 2nd Avenue as a potential new 6th Avenue line AND/OR perhaps has a branch that joins the SAS (T) at Grand Street on Phase 4 of the SAS as a Brooklyn branch of the SAS.

That to me might be the best solution to this.

Joseph Steindam September 24, 2013 - 8:22 am

I certainly have to give you credit for creativity, but this is a wildly farcical proposal. I feel this proposal has several issues which prevent it from serious consideration: First you are suggesting building a diverging elevated structure from the tallest station in the city. Next, to adequately serve Red Hook, you have to go further west than you’re suggesting, which would ideally situate the structure to cross the East River from Red Hook, which would make it a structure as long as the Battery Tunnel. Third, I don’t know if it’s still required but the existing East River crossings provide 130 feet of clearance for ships below. A subway bridge will need a lot of extra land (including in Manhattan) to reach the required height of a bridge. And lastly, finding a new ROW for this whole route, plus a portal and approach in Manhattan to connect this elevated in with any of the subway connections you suggested would require a lot of eminent domain.

I think these obstacles are basically insurmountable, which is the subway is unlikely to ever reach Red Hook. I’m not a big fan of the existing plan for the Red Hook light rail (I don’t know if many locals are going to IKEA, and for them its a walking distance, so maybe the light rail can have a straighter alignment), but I think that’s the likely solution to transit improvements in that neighborhood.

Gary September 24, 2013 - 9:31 am

Not that it is likely to happen, but a much simpler subway solution would be to extent the SAS further south (if it ever reaches lower Manhattan) with stops for Governors Island and Red Hook.

Bolwerk September 24, 2013 - 10:28 am

Whatever the merits of a subway to Red Hook, it doesn’t replace the surface option. It will still need a bus or light rail. Something has to provide the local street-level service.

Cynflor September 24, 2013 - 1:23 am

Conspicuously missing in the article: what’s the problem with the bus? If the existing route is poorly designed and therefore unappealing, then spend a tiny fraction of what “light rail” would cost (and assuming there’s money to burn – which there isn’t – wouldn’t a “streetcar” make more sense for this relatively low-density/short-ish distances area?) and lure those 2,000 or (hopefully) far more riders into a more efficiently and comfortably-designed and run bus line. Why is this such rocket science to NYC transit advocates/planners? Have a limited-stop bus line originate at Smith/9th (or Carroll St) and coordinate its departures with arriving/departing F/G trains (coordinate via API with trains’ countdown clocks and bus’ GPS). Such a bus line could be built for a few tens of millions. Any rail solution would be to the tune of hundreds of millions, at least = never going to happen.

Walt Gekko September 24, 2013 - 1:25 am

Maybe not now, but as noted in my other comment, this if done as an elevated line could eventually become the Brooklyn branch of the SAS and connected to the Culver Line somewhere on the viaduct between Carroll Street and Smith-9th or 4th Avenue.

JMB September 24, 2013 - 10:15 am

We all know you absolutely love els, but get real. Their time in nyc is over. Even something so simple as an N extension to LaGuardia (which makes so much sense) can never get started due to Nimbys…you think a brand new el anywhere else is going to happen?

Its not.

Walt Gekko September 24, 2013 - 2:59 pm


One thing Sandy taught us is everything has to be given a new look. In this case, a new, MODERN el that connects to the existing Culver Viaduct initally with additional connections going north after reaching Red Hook might be the best solution from a transportation standpoint.

I would think in Red Hook, the YIMBYs (yes in my backyard) would severely outnumber the NIMBYs (not in my backyard) in a case like this.

JMB September 24, 2013 - 4:53 pm

You would think that common sense would prevail, but time and again it does not. Even though the proposal you suggest would provide untold benefits both for locals and the city as a whole, it still would get shutdown. Any mention of an elevated structure and the ignorant will dial up their derp to full retard.

Bolwerk September 24, 2013 - 10:59 pm

It’s not necessarily ignorant, in any case. It’s one thing to extend an existing el, but building a new one in a built environment isn’t all that advantageous over building a subway properly.

Henry September 25, 2013 - 4:24 pm

Not to mention, the amount of disruption on a viaduct that was just partially closed for significant repairs would probably not go well with the community. The viaduct would probably need significant engineering work to accommodate a flying junction (and anyone suggesting a flat junction needs their head checked, and should be sent to see the capacity issues on the Brooklyn IRT.

Ned September 26, 2013 - 8:08 am

This is all basically a non-starter because of the basic pricetag and eminent domain. I also think that, as Ben alluded to, the current density of Red Hook is much too low for any of these transit options that require dedicated (and pricey) infrastructure with the attendant maintenance and operations costs.

As someone else wrote, we should be improving the B61 service instead, or maybe even making it into some form of an SBS. Traffic never seems very heavy once you get across the canal from Park Slope, so I don’t think the issue is traffic re-engineering — just get off-board fare payment together (if possible) and significantly reduce the number of stops. But even this would probably need to be tied to some flood-proof upzoning — the crowds just aren’t there.

Nathanael September 28, 2013 - 3:30 am

Important point: we don’t *want* to increase the density of Red Hook given that it’s a future flood zone.

TOM September 30, 2013 - 5:57 pm

Not all Red Hook was below water before/during/after Sandy but that small area was isolated during the surge. The City has a big investment in Red Hook Houses and that is not to be abandoned, only protected and made safe.
In the meantime people continue to make major investments with their own money in private residences there. Construction loans for new residences is another question. I’m certain banks will require flood insurance which is reasonably priced at present. Who knows what the future will bring.

Bolwerk September 24, 2013 - 10:34 am

The fairly universal disadvantages to buses are speed, comfort, reliability, more difficulty boarding/alighting, capacity, and (at least past a certain point) higher per-user operating costs.

Maybe Red Hook isn’t worth that type of public investment at this point, being in a flood zone, but there are plenty of problems with buses and, if New York advocates/planners have a stupid obsession, it’s over-reliance on them (and automobiles).

Andrew September 25, 2013 - 7:48 am

Translation: Bolwerk doesn’t like buses.

In fact, none of what you list, except to a very limited extent comfort, is determined by steel vs. rubber wheels. For a route with the middle-of-the-road ridership and frequency of the B61, it is impossible to justify spending public dollars on the very significant capital and operating investments that would be necessary to convert it to rail.

Bolwerk September 25, 2013 - 10:59 am

Uh, no. I don’t like misuse of buses. I agree with your last sentence: sometimes they are just the most cost-effective option. I never said they weren’t.

But, pretty much everything I listed holds, though I didn’t say it had anything to do with steel vs. rubber wheels. Buses can’t load as well because they have fewer doors and can’t(?) use doors on both sides, and that has little to do with the type of wheels.

Henry September 25, 2013 - 4:26 pm

I mean, the doors on both sides is not really an issue in New York, since we have few stations that utilize the “Spanish solution” layout. Plus, buses can be configured to have doors on both sides.

Light rail is all well and good, but we should probably look at it in a network context, rather than just building out-of-the-way spurs for out-of-the-way neighborhoods here and there. I’m not too sure that a Red Hook light rail could be realistically connected to something else, so it might be better to have a short SBS shuttle.

Bolwerk September 25, 2013 - 7:21 pm

It’s a pretty big issue if you care about having a flexible range of boarding and transfer options. But one of the commandments of the gospel of bus ideologues is that’s less important than just spending $ on buses, even when buses aren’t the best solution. Which happens, shockingly.

But I agree, whatever light rail we build should be in busier corridors that could use the extra reliability and capacity. The buses it replaces should be moved to new (I prefer experimental) routes, rather than burned because buses r teh bad.

John-2 September 24, 2013 - 1:31 am

Unless the neighborhood becomes so upscale/quirky it has a high enough percentage of high income residents to lobby the city and the MTA for a street car start-up, I think Red Hook’s probably going to have to wait for the mythical Phase V of the Second Avenue Subway project (deep tunnel link from Hanover Square to the Culver express tracks at Seventh Avenue via Red Hook and Governor’s Island) to make it a reality.

Walt Gekko September 24, 2013 - 2:49 am

As said above, my plan would do an elevated line in Red Hook that initially would connect to the (F) and (G) somewhere in the Culver Viaduct with perhaps the line also going north in Red Hook towards downtown Brooklyn and eventually over a new, rail-only bridge that would go underground in Manhattan somewhere between the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges as noted in my first post.

Bolwerk September 24, 2013 - 10:35 am

It has to be more upscale? Why do only affluent people have a right to a dignified transit ride?

John-2 September 24, 2013 - 10:56 am

It’s not that it has to be upscale to deserve transit. It’s that the squeaky wheel gets the grease — i.e., upscale people have more influence across the river at City Hall, and up the river in Albany.

A poor neighborhood with poor transit options tends to stay one with poor transit options (unless the poor neighborhood is already on the transit line — Queensbridge and the 21st Street stop and Lennox terminal are the only instances I can think of where poor neighborhoods got new mass transit, and that’s because they already were on the ROW). A gentrifying neighborhood with people who have the cash and connections to complain that the area with no mass transit they moved into has no mass transit tends to have a better chance of getting the attention of the higher-ups (even if it is a drawn-out fight — see the current situation with Williamsburgh and G, L and M service for an example).

SEAN September 24, 2013 - 12:50 pm

Money + bullshit make the world go round.

Alon Levy September 24, 2013 - 2:46 am

A mixed-traffic streetcar is not light rail. And surface transit that turns so many corners is not good transit.

Eric September 24, 2013 - 4:04 am

Any transit that turns so many corners is not good transit. It would be faster to walk than take this route.

Brandon September 24, 2013 - 8:04 am


A B61 on rails is not going to be faster than the B61.

Benjamin Kabak September 24, 2013 - 8:38 am

Don’t get hung up on the map. It’s for illustrative purposes of the streetcar proposal DOT rejected. A potential light rail routing would be far more direct.

BrooklynBus September 24, 2013 - 8:51 am

I agree. DOT were idiots to even consider light rail along Atlantic Avenue. Light Rail along the waterfront would be a great idea, but it needs to continue north to Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Then it could take old Fulton Street to Tillary Street to Cadman Plaza East (or possibly a route through DUMBO to Washington Street). then it would go through Borough Hall Park like the old trolleys used to do and onto the Fulton Mall to Ashland Place to Atlantic Terminal. They coud replace buses on the Fulton Mall. It would be an economic boom for the entire area.

Anon256 September 24, 2013 - 1:24 pm

That ridiculously circuitous route would make the streetcar completely useless for getting from Red Hook to the downtown Brooklyn subway stations (which is where people actually want to go, so they can get to Manhattan and elsewhere).

BrooklynBus September 24, 2013 - 2:17 pm

It’s not as ridiculous as you may think. It may be circuitous and a longer distance but it would be quicker time wise. Let’s compare it to getting to Downtown Brooklyn via Alantic Avenue in mixed traffic as DOT proposed. The first stop you pass is Borough Hall which still involves almost a quarter mile walk. Then you pass Hoyt Schermerhorn which is still a short two block walk. Finally you reach Atlantic Avenue where you have many more subways to choose from. Those trips have to take at least 10 to 15 minutes once you reach Atlantic and Columbia from Red Hook.

From that point to Clark Street via light rail would take under 10 minutes via the circuitous route I proposed. You could take two lanes from traffic for the light rail on Atlantic Avenue to make the trip faster, but that would have disastrous implications for traffic.

Anon256 September 24, 2013 - 4:19 pm

As shown on the map in the post, the route was only going to run along Atlantic Ave (probably through the tunnel, not in mixed traffic) to Boerum Pl, then turn north to end right at Borough Hall (going nowhere near the other stations you mention). This would provide a good connection to a variety of subway lines, as directly as could be hoped.

The Beard St – Borough Hall part of the proposed route actually seems pretty reasonable to me, there aren’t really better options for surface transit to Red Hook. The various turns to get from there to Smith-9th are more problematic (and I don’t think many people would want to climb the stairs and transfer to the F there when they could take the streetcar straight to downtown Brooklyn). That said, mixed-traffic streetcars in general are rarely a good transit investment, it seems far more worthwhile to put the resources towards bus service through the tunnel to Manhattan, and citibike expansion.

BrooklynBus September 24, 2013 - 4:27 pm

I looked at the map too quickly. Yes, Borough Hall makes more sense than Atlantic Avenue, but I never read or heard anything about using the abandoned tunnel which would have to be rebuilt at considerable cost.

Benjamin Kabak September 24, 2013 - 4:29 pm

The idea of using the tunnel was fantasy put forward on one set of plans that was never going to get any sort of approval. You name it — cost, practicalities, etc. — and there’s a reason against it.

Alon Levy September 25, 2013 - 12:47 am

Also, Atlantic is wide enough that dedicated lanes might just politically work there.

BrooklynBus September 25, 2013 - 4:09 pm

Not with the current traffic congestion and lack of viable alternatives.

Karm September 24, 2013 - 4:16 pm

you might be on to something… there is a proposal for light rail along the east river waterfront from Queens to the DUMBO area…. might be able to link. Of course – money talks.

David Brown September 24, 2013 - 8:16 am

Light Rail in Red Hook is about as likely as me getting a date with Ali Landry. Why? In the article it was noted only 30 people showed up for a Community Meeting, so obviously it was not that important for the locals. No matter your political beliefs, that kind of poor attendance will be noted (particularly when it comes to “bolstering its resiliency to future storms.” (which is obviously not cheap)) Why? For the same reason that the City can have 25 Homeless Shelters in Bed-Sty and 23 in East New York (out of 127 in Brooklyn), because without positive (or even negative (like with the Shelters)) input from the Community they can get away with it.

BrooklynBus September 24, 2013 - 8:54 am

People only show up in mass when there is something they want to protest. People do not come out in large numbers to support a project. You can also look at it the other way that only 30 showing up was a good sign because the community isn’t opposed to the idea.

Bolwerk September 24, 2013 - 10:37 am

Dude, never go by community board turnout. Most people don’t have time for such crap. Hell, I frequently find myself at work at that time and can’t make it if I did see a point.

Karm September 24, 2013 - 4:14 pm

David – I tend to agree… but some thing like homeless shelters should be “close to home”. Homeless shelters in the Bronx have to receive homeless from Brooklyn.. why? On the other end of the spectrum – ppl on the Upper East Side are complaining that the mayor and the sanitation dept. are ready to build a transfer station on E. 91st Street. They say the trucks are dangerous for children and will decrease air quality… but yet they have no problem with the transfer stations in poor areas?? In my opinion – the Upper East Side should handle their own waste transfer – and East New York should contain it’s own homeless. Again – I don’t know the ratio – but it seems the Bronx bears the biggest burden for all homeless. If you ask the homeless – they actually like to be among familiar surroundings. Different talk for a different time.

paulb September 24, 2013 - 8:27 am

Perfect neighborhood for a bunch of Citibike stations.

llqbtt September 24, 2013 - 9:33 am

Instead of light rail, a full route analysis of the B61 can be undertaken, similar to recent studies of the F and G. Minor adjustments can be made: bus stops can be re-located, maybe the route re-configured, perhaps turn signals, rights on red for buses and so on.

But as for the route, is it effectively managed? To me, that seems the question. Who runs it? Someone manages the subway lines..a dispatcher.. constantly adjusting service, but the buses don’t seem to have this (any more)? And instead rely on the drivers to ‘manage themselves’.

BrooklynBus September 24, 2013 - 10:31 am

Actually, there is a road service unit to manage bus routes, but they are spread far too thin to have any real effect. They basically put out fires.

Andrew September 25, 2013 - 7:49 am

There are dispatchers in the field, but by and large they have no idea where the buses are.

That’s beginning to change with BusTime, which, as well, can also be used for schedule revisions.

MRB September 24, 2013 - 9:47 am

Park Slope to Red Hook is about as least a diverse trip you could make through Brooklyn.

VLM September 24, 2013 - 10:04 am

I’ll just assume you’ve never made the trip. Fancy residential to heavy industry to low income projects to middle class area to that weird liminal area between the BQE and the waterfront. It’s more diverse than walking past a few thousand Italians in Bensonhurst or the Jews in Borough Park. That’s for sure.

MRB September 26, 2013 - 1:45 pm

I’ve actually made the trip plenty.

The point is not that the trip “isn’t diverse”, but if you draw a 2-mile route through any few Brooklyn neighbhorhoods (instead of walk in circles in Boro Park) and you’ll see as much if not more diversity. Remember – buildings aren’t people.

MRB September 24, 2013 - 9:56 am

Increasing property values are the reason the streetcar network was built back in the day. If Appel thinks it’s a good investment, why doesn’t the community become a financial backer of the project – if they stand to gain, investing their own money should not be twisting their arm – especially if the math doesn’t pen out for MTA to construct new bridges and subway tunnels.

Alon Levy September 24, 2013 - 3:01 pm

Increasing property values are the reason the streetcar network was built back in the day.

[Citation needed]

Guest September 24, 2013 - 10:04 am

Add two rail lines through the battery tunnel. remove traffic. link it to the 4/5 at Bowling Green and or the southern end of 2nd Ave Subway. Link it the F/G at 15th Street and the D/N/R at Prospect Ave.


Anon September 24, 2013 - 10:28 am

That’s actually a really good idea.

Henry September 24, 2013 - 6:07 pm

I drew up a version of this idea a couple years ago. See my website: http://www.henrypmiller.com

I didn’t think of the possible connection to the SAS, but another great possibility with this is converting the existing vent structure at Governor’s Island to a subway station.


I was also thinking that it makes sense to make Van Brunt pedestrian only, with an open subway cut. With the automobile tunnel approach gone, Columbia can be reconnected as a through street:


And why not build a stadium for the relocated Brooklyn Dodgers over all the reclaimed land? 🙂

A Different Henry September 25, 2013 - 4:33 pm

The 4/5 are already at capacity, and all that capacity is needed for the Joralemon St tubes. The Second Avenue subway is certainly not happening in my lifetime.

Also, not sure about the Brooklyn-Battery specifically, but didn’t Robert Moses build most of his projects at grades that would exclude operation of current subway rolling stock?

AlexB September 24, 2013 - 10:15 am

I understand why Red Hook would want a fast and reliable light rail system, but there are so many ways to improve transit to this area for so much less. The MTA couldn’t afford a light rail system on its own and would almost certainly have to apply for federal money. It would require an Environmental Impact Statement and generally take at least 5 years to get up and running in the best of scenarios. The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel is a huge resource the neighborhood would do well to exploit. I think that creating a bus route as shown in the google map link at the beginning of my comment would be the best way to begin to improve transportation through the neighborhood. It could be running within a year, existing bus routes already use the route, and it would be relatively cheap to implement.

Bolwerk September 24, 2013 - 10:40 am

What’s wrong with getting federal money? If it’s not spent on capital programs here, it’s spent on capital programs in red states, and it was our money to begin with.

AlexB September 24, 2013 - 11:06 am

Federal money is great! I’m not saying no to a light rail line ever, just saying that there are easier and faster remedies to the Red Hook problem that don’t involve hundreds of millions of dollars and years of waiting.

David Brown September 24, 2013 - 12:06 pm

If all of the money would get spent here, and the financial option was Light Rail for Red Hook or SAS part III , what do you think the correct choice would be? You could apply that to an Airport Connection to LaGuardia, and quite a few other things. The idea of a Red Hook Light Rail system is so awful and expensive it would make the Christie Quinn new Penn Station ( and MSG) see cost efficient.

Bolwerk September 24, 2013 - 12:27 pm

The choice depends on the goal. What is the goal?

Comparing LRT and SAS is sophistry. LRT is not inherently expensive, and usually ends up saving money in the long run over, say, buses, which nobody complains about spending money on. The costs of SAS phase III are orders of magnitude higher than any of that, but presumably the payoff is vastly bigger too.

The case to be made against LRT in Red Hook is the high risk the investment will be flooded away, not that it couldn’t work.

SEAN September 24, 2013 - 12:48 pm

Practicle? No, but I wouldn’t say a streetcar/ light rail through Red Hook is awful. I do like the idea of the Battery Tunnel as a transitway though.

Alon Levy September 24, 2013 - 3:03 pm

Actually, the cost per rider (as opposed to per-new-rider) projections are not that awful. I’m skeptical that a mixed-traffic streetcar has any use in retention of transit riders as they get wealthier and could buy a car if they had poor transit options, but in principle, it could work. It’s not that or SAS 3 – the investment levels and the ridership levels differ by more than a full order of magnitude.

Bolwerk September 24, 2013 - 10:47 am

My question: why Red Hook? It’s almost not an exaggeration that you can take a map of New York City, throw a dart at it, and if it hits land that isn’t a swamp or flood zone, you probably have neighborhood that can support light rail somewhere between well and spectacularly. Certainly any existing bus line with ridership in the mid-ten thousands range is screaming for the relief.

I thought it was a good idea before Sandy too, but the probability of another Sandy-esque storm within the time it takes to amortize the construction costs is…high.

Billy G September 24, 2013 - 10:57 am

It’d be more economical to put citibike docks in the area, build a sheltered bike path to Smith/9th along that route described for the streetcar and use an MTA-contracted car service to transport the infirm (isn’t that already done anyway?). Heck, isn’t that area pretty flat?

Bolwerk September 24, 2013 - 11:21 am

It’s fine, but it’s not more economical since it doesn’t serve the same purpose.

Billy G September 24, 2013 - 11:50 am

Getting people to the subway from the fringes? Yes, actually, it DOES serve the same purpose. The major hurdle is rain. Covered paths attend to that.

Bolwerk September 24, 2013 - 12:32 pm

Bikeshare is presumably more useful for day-to-day trips than as a subway feeder. LRT moves far more people, potentially tens of thousands, including disabled/infirm people and the presumable majority of people who don’t want to use bikeshare and already have metrocards.

Nothing wrong with either, but they serve entirely different audiences and purposes.

A Different Henry September 25, 2013 - 4:35 pm

You can use bikes for last-mile trips, but the issue with this is that travel demand would be overwhelmingly peaked in one direction, whereas bikeshare is better for more balanced trip demand.

Bolwerk September 25, 2013 - 7:13 pm

I don’t even see why this is taken as anything more than a gimmick. There is nothing wrong with bikeshare, but the void it fills has precious little to do with transit.

Billy G September 24, 2013 - 11:51 am

I would also point out that it would provide for, based upon the number of available docs, a greater potential for enhanced commerce in the local area due to ease of path departure/re-entry.

Billy G September 24, 2013 - 11:52 am


Bolwerk September 24, 2013 - 12:33 pm

What? There probably aren’t enough docks in that area to fill a few LRVs.

Billy G September 24, 2013 - 10:58 am

Also, Sheltered, as in a roof to block rain, not just sheltered from traffic by parked cars.

TOM September 24, 2013 - 1:22 pm

Big plans here for small roadways. Aren’t we overlooking the facts-on-the-ground.

Trucks & Buses need access to ‘safe & convenient’ roads, meaning a wide roadway, to operate.

Matthias September 24, 2013 - 1:03 pm

ITDP just came out with a study saying that BRT attracts more development per dollar spent than light rail. Interesting considering that historically rail has been thought to attract more ridership and more development.



Bolwerk September 24, 2013 - 1:15 pm

Didn’t read the report, but probably not a very good metric if it just looks at return on upfront costs. The upfront cost of LRT is higher than for buses (though probably not purist visions of BRT). The savings light rail achieves is realized over time in reduced operating costs and higher ridership.

Karm September 24, 2013 - 4:01 pm

Matthias – if it’s the report that came out a couple of weeks ago… the variables don’t really allow it to tell much. For one thing they were comparing routes in different cities. That’s a problem because real estate and development is vastly different. That’s just one of the issues.

Matthias September 26, 2013 - 5:52 pm

That’s a very good point. Also development is only one desirable outcome, with quality service being the main goal I’d argue.

Alon Levy September 24, 2013 - 8:27 pm

A pro-BRT thinktank, whose BRT guidelines include a political section for how to deal with BRT opponents who prefer rail, says BRT is superior to rail? I’m shocked.

I’d write more, but a bear just pooped in the woods here and I need to write it up.

Matthias September 26, 2013 - 6:11 pm

Didn’t realize they were pro-BRT, but they reveal a bias when referring to an antiquated elevated rail line as “blight-inducing” (quoting “local experts” on p. 105).

A Different Henry September 25, 2013 - 4:37 pm

It’s per dollar, and BRT is cheaper in terms of captial cost, so you can spread the goods around more. It says nothing of how much development intensifies around specific lines, since LRT systems are generally slower to roll out than BRT systems that cost the same amount.

Bolwerk September 25, 2013 - 6:59 pm

Another {{citation needed}}

Anon256 September 24, 2013 - 1:15 pm

By far the best bang-for-buck transit improvement for Red Hook would be a bus through the tunnel to lower Manhattan (indeed this seems like one of the best bang-for-buck transit improvements in the whole city). The tunnel usually has spare capacity; a bus could easily get people from most of Red Hook downtown in under 15 minutes, and by transferring to the 4/5 at Bowling Green (or other trains) it would provide them with the fastest way to midtown too. I’m not normally a fan of proposing lipstick-on-a-pig buses as an alternative to rail, but in this case there’s a piece of underused road infrastructure leading where people want to go faster and more directly than rail could without spending many billions.

TOM September 24, 2013 - 8:20 pm

As they say in Maine: You can’t get there from he-ah! Red Hook to lower Manhattan, I mean.

Your idea appears to be the best bang-for-the-buck transit improvement for just you.

Just how many fare payers do you figure(not counting yourself) desperately desire to go from Red Hook to lower Manhattan, and back(or the reverse)?

Anon256 September 25, 2013 - 3:41 am

I live in East Harlem and have no reason to go anywhere near Red Hook; I don’t know what your point is with your comments about me personally.

Since most jobs in New York City are in Manhattan, and a bus through the tunnel would be by far the best way from Red Hook to Manhattan (and several other places in the city), I’d expect most transit-riders in Red Hook to use it. I’d predict at least 10k daily boardings, for a service that could be run by 2-3 buses running back and forth.

Andrew September 25, 2013 - 7:29 am

A realistic running time would be on the order of 30 minutes each way, including a number of stops around Red Hook, the time to reach and run through the tunnel, and a few stops in Lower Manhattan. Add at least 15 minutes of recovery time per cycle, since there is often heavy traffic near the tunnel at both ends, and we’re up to a round trip cycle time of 75 minutes.

So 2-3 buses wouldn’t be nearly enough. If it ran on a 10 minute headway, it would need 8 buses.

I do think it would be a valuable route, but it wouldn’t be cheap.

Bolwerk September 25, 2013 - 11:54 am

It is, in all fairness, a good way to use some under-utilized capacity if the ridership is there. There is reason to suspect it is, if nothing else because it makes potentially quick transfers to many uptown-bound lines.

Kevin Walsh September 24, 2013 - 2:26 pm

Bob Diamond, who “rediscovered” and publicized the LIRR Atlantic Avenue tunnel, actually acquired some streetcars and began construction of tracks along Conover and Reed Streets before the city pulled its funding. The cars now sit abandoned and rusting in back of the Fairway Supermarket.

Karm September 24, 2013 - 3:55 pm

yeah – Red Hook probably could use light rail… but my problem is that there are other areas too that need it. The media only focuses on the “hip” areas that the style makers say are important. There used to be a trolley on Ogden Ave. in the Bronx – but now nothing. Once you go “up the hill” from Yankee Stadium there is a dearth of transit. Or what of Castle Hill or Soundview/Clasons Point in the Bronx? Or what of Hunt’s Point – which resembles Red Hook in terms of industry/old residential/ no immediate subway access. What about Staten Island overall? What about parts of Queens? Since those neighborhoods are not hip – they don’t get first or equal consideration???

Alon Levy September 24, 2013 - 8:28 pm

Red Hook isn’t hip. It’s just near the hip areas, sort of.

SEAN September 26, 2013 - 7:35 pm

True, but it has Fairway wich brings the hip to the neighborhood.

johndmuller September 25, 2013 - 12:50 am

Streetcars are not necessarily about speed and efficiency, especially in mixed traffic. Primarily, they are about getting from where you are to where you’re going more comfortably (dry, and at a decent temperature) than if you walked, and more serenely than if you drove. They are, in other words, quite acceptable, if not perfect. If there were a subway or a limo also waiting for you as well, you might pick them instead, but ….

The trolleys can be bullies on the road, very large and heavy with a loud bell, which is unpleasant when you are driving alongside (OK if you are riding inside), but they are cute and charming to tourists. It wouldn’t hurt if they were priced a little below the alternative (or a lot below even), but not entirely necessary as they are a cut way above the bus in the intangibles.

Andrew September 25, 2013 - 7:32 am

I’m sorry, what exactly is the problem that we’re trying to solve? It seems like we’ve jumped straight to a solution without first identifying the problem. It’s hard to determine whether a proposed solution solves the problem if we don’t know what the problem is.

Jeff September 25, 2013 - 11:25 am

Seems like there’s this place called Red Hook that has no access to subways and people don’t like to ride buses and businesses like more people to come.

VLM September 25, 2013 - 11:28 am

I enjoyed this answer, Jeff. I think it’s the appropriate mix of snark and explanation to a rather obvious question.

The Red Hook problem: It’s not close to the nearest subway. It is served by a single bus route that provides semi-reliable and slow service. It has businesses that are in demand and would love more transit and the potential for residential and commercial growth that would be enhanced by better transit options. Solutions could involve faster and more frequent connections to transit-accessible areas in Brooklyn, a ride through the tunnel or other. That’s the problem, and light rail could be a solution that’s better than the B61.

Bolwerk September 25, 2013 - 12:00 pm

The snark may not be wrong, but Andrew does have a point. Nobody exactly identified what this is supposed to do. Subway feeder? Getting around Red Hook? A catalyst for upzoning? Corporate welfare for Ikea or something?

I think it’s fair to say, in the wake of Sandy, we need to do better than just transit improvement to meaningfully reform Red Hook.

Jeff September 25, 2013 - 1:40 pm

A well-designed system can be all of the above.

As far as Sandy goes, I think it’s safe to say there hasn’t been much impact at all regarding people’s home buying habits in flood zones. Condos continue to be built and bought along the waterfront.

Andrew September 25, 2013 - 6:20 pm

So you’ve already decided on your solution and now you’re determining what problems it solves.

That’s backwards logic.

If you’re looking for an honest analysis, start by defining the specific problem. Then consider the possible solutions. A streetcar may well be one solution (I can’t say for sure, since I still don’t know what the problem is!), but there are surely others. Then think about how the various solutions stack up against each other – in the degree to which they solve the problem, in cost, in political viability, etc.

After all, if this is going to need public funding, you’re going to need to convince people who may not initially jump to streetcars as the automatic solution to all problems.

Bolwerk September 25, 2013 - 7:11 pm

It’s probably not a stretch to say the major problem with planning surface transit in NYC has proven to be the people who think buses are the solution to everything, however, and won’t consider anything else.

They’re in charge, of course. :-\

BrooklynBus September 25, 2013 - 8:56 pm

Correction. They think SBS is the solution to everything. If they thought buses were the solution to everything we would have express buses between major commercial centers and airports not only to Manhattan. And we wouldn’t have outdated overtly complex local routes that require indirect travel to reach your destination.

Bolwerk September 25, 2013 - 10:24 pm

SBS is a big improvement. They should reconsider the branding. SBS should be called “Bus” and convention local/limited buses can be called SlowBus, since it’s deliberately paralyzed by dumb boarding procedures and frequent stops. And the express buses can be called WasteBus or PorkBus or something.

But, unless you count the Roosevelt Island tram, there is literally no surface transit option in the city that involves anything other than a bus. They really do think buses are the solution to everything and won’t consider anything else, except uber-expensive subways.

BrooklynBus September 25, 2013 - 10:50 pm

Regardless of what you think, frequent stops are necessary for most bus lines. You cant expect people to walk half a mile or more to all bus lines epecially in bad weather. If you want the stops further apart then you have to invest in more bus lines that are spaced closer together and that would greatly increase costs. As for dumb boarding procedures, most routes don’t have the ridership to justify off-board boarding.

If you think buses are slow today what did you think when everyone had to pay with cash and the drivers had to provide change? There are many ways local bus service can be improved, but the MTA thinks everything can be accomplished with SBS which may be an improvement for some but it is vastly overrated.

A Different Henry September 25, 2013 - 10:57 pm

@BrooklynBus, studies have shown that the most effective stop spacing is around 400m, or a quarter between stops. It’s a lot less than what we currently have today, and there’s definitely scope to reduce stop spacing in extremely congested areas.

Also, on-board payment is only really slow because the Metrocard itself is a very slow system. Once the contactless card system is in (and there has to be one within the next decade, at the very least), taps will be registered in milliseconds, and portable card readers will be available to place at all doors of a bus.

A Different Henry September 25, 2013 - 11:06 pm

The other issue is that a lot of the current SBS lines under planning make more sense as fully-built out subway lines. For example, the B46 on Utica sees upwards of 6000+ boardings per mile, per day. The only light rail system in the United States that achieves this kind of ridership is the partially grade-separated Boston Green Line. And this is just assuming that ridership on a railstituted line would not skyrocket.

Hillside SBS could be a logical subway extension, as could Nostrand SBS and Merrick SBS (considered, but cancelled). Webster SBS is essentially the old Third Av El, which is the logical northern extension of the SAS once that’s completed. 125th St and Astoria would also be prime candidates for subway lines underneath. The problem is that even though the capacity is necessary, the exorbitant costs in this city make it not worth the money, especially since people in the neighborhoods that would receive these improvements are not politically influential.

Honestly, light rail/streetcars would probably better serve a “crosstown” function in New York City, promoting north-south travel in Queens and Brooklyn north of Fulton, and east-west travel in Manhattan, the Bronx, and the rest of Brooklyn. DC’s streetcar system will also prove instructive, and may demonstrate whether or not such a system could work for Manhattan.

Bolwerk September 26, 2013 - 12:04 am

Answered BrooklynBus in a new thread.

BrooklynBus September 26, 2013 - 8:24 am

@A Different Henry

And as I stated without more closely spaced bus lines in many areas a one quarter mile spacing would mean a half to three-quarters of a mile walk distance to a bus route. In addition to people having difficulty walking long distances to a bus, you also have to consider the extra time involved and the greater chance that you will miss a bus walking to the stop. All that could easily add twenty minutes to your trip.

When you consider the average local trip distance is only 2.3 miles, is it really worth it? How many riders would save 15 or 20 minutes? Only the low percentage of riders who use a local bus for 5 miles or more. Yes you would gain more long distance riders, but would it be enough to balance out the short distance riders who would walk or decide to just not make the trip?

These studies you mention that cite a quarter Mile bus stop spacing is optimal, what variables do they consider? How much time the bus saves or how much time a trip takes? There is a difference.

TOM September 25, 2013 - 10:24 pm

The cost of real transit(with rails, underground) just scares everyone. It’s what NYC needs.
The RPA 1929 original plan set out both rail and highways. Moses seized on highways. Rail was made obsolete by the automobile, or so he thought. Soon there was no money for subways. The auto took off for the moon, but no one understood its inordinate continued growth.
Just like the national freight lines which are booming, no investment in local passenger lines will be made until operating costs(labor) are brought down. You can always amortize capital costs but not if you always run a deficit.

Bolwerk September 25, 2013 - 11:50 pm

Am I the only non-mode ideologue left? :-\

Seriously: go back to All Four or at least something like it. Certainly not all transit should be underground. Some people need the accessibility of surface transit, and some surface transit should be buses. Sensible people can disagree how different routes can be done, but this doctrinaire mode adherence (subways! els! buses! BICYCLES NOW11!!) is getting tiring.

Andrew September 25, 2013 - 6:12 pm

And this makes Red Hook different from dozens of other New York City neighborhoods how exactly?

Jeff September 26, 2013 - 7:14 am

What does it matter? There’s a problem in this neighborhood and it’s been getting attention on the press. Other places having the same problem doesn’t make the problem here any smaller.

Karm September 26, 2013 - 11:29 am

Well it’s not Red Hook per se… but it’s the fact that ppl – including myself – realize that once IKEA moved to Red Hook and it became to be populated by “different” ppl – now Red Hook gets the consideration. If it was still the same place it was 2 decades ago when shoot-outs took place in broad daylight and school principals got caught in the crossfire… or even further back when the Gallo brothers were there… or as far back as to when Al Capone was living there… it wouldn’t get considered. Sure Red Hook has transport problems – but so do other neighborhoods…. perhaps even more so. IKEA is a private entity and can move wherever they want… and so can private citizens (I’m not one of the “anti-gentrifiers”). Public transport is another story. Public transport is supposed to be as fair as possible. Areas of Queens and the Bronx probably should be considered first in my view. In reality though – Staten Island is the most transit starved borough – so they should be considered before anyone (for light rail).

paulb September 25, 2013 - 11:41 am

I realize this discussion has max’ed out, nevertheless, I think a streetcar or elevated or subway or whatever to RH has to be virtually zero priority. (Unless it’s intended also to drastically increase the density of housing there with big new apartment buildings, but who would do that after Sandy?) I work with people who live in the Red Hook Houses and they’re OK with the buses, and some of them own cars, which, along with scooters and bikes, are the sensible alternative to the buses.

Bolwerk September 26, 2013 - 12:03 am

Regardless of what you think, frequent stops are necessary for most bus lines. You cant expect people to walk half a mile or more to all bus lines epecially in bad weather. If you want the stops further apart then you have to invest in more bus lines that are spaced closer together and that would greatly increase costs.

Where did you get half a mile from? Subway stops often aren’t even half a mile apart. I think it’s fair to say people can walk 5 blocks or so to a bus or train. If they don’t want to because of rain, they can move to Florida. And if they’re too old or frail, they shouldn’t be relegated to buses anyway; get them a taxi.

As for dumb boarding procedures, most routes don’t have the ridership to justify off-board boarding.

Virtually no route does. The TVMs belong on the bus. Onboard collection is a good thing; bothering the driver with it is the bad thing.

If you think buses are slow today what did you think when everyone had to pay with cash and the drivers had to provide change?

That was probably the spirit of the times. I suspect buses weren’t intended to be something we depended on way back then. They were supposed to service people between the time their streetcars and subways were demolished and they completed their move to the suburbs.

OK, maybe that’s hyperbolic, but you can’t deny that not giving a shit about bus riders’ time is a common problem. That’s probably it: bus riders didn’t matter, their time didn’t matter, and the ones who could voted with their feet.

There are many ways local bus service can be improved, but the MTA thinks everything can be accomplished with SBS which may be an improvement for some but it is vastly overrated.

SBS doesn’t mean much. Maybe as far as branding goes, it implies some distance and more infrequent stopping, but things like POP and boarding procedure should be universal across the city.

BrooklynBus September 26, 2013 - 8:13 am

“SBS doesn’t mean much. Maybe as far as branding goes, it implies some distance and more infrequent stopping, but things like POP and boarding procedure should be universal across the city.”

That’s not feasible which is why the MTA decided not to have POP on the S79 SBS.

Bolwerk September 26, 2013 - 10:53 am

This is just NIH. Of course it’s feasible; we know it’s feasible because it’s done the world over.

Nathanael September 28, 2013 - 3:27 am

Flood risk means that people should probably be discouraged from living in this area at all.

Seriously. We’ve got to stop housing people in flood zones, and the flood zones are moving uphill. It may be impossible to clear out lower Manhattan, but Red Hook, you could, you should.


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