Home Gateway Tunnel From Staten Island, a false dichotomy on transit and the trans-Hudson issue

From Staten Island, a false dichotomy on transit and the trans-Hudson issue

by Benjamin Kabak

As the efforts to bring plans for a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel to fruition take off, political infighting is going to be a significant challenge. Just a few days after Gov. Chris Christie met with the feds, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer engaged in some unprovoked sniping over Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC Tunnel and was appropriately dismissed by Christie’s team. While I’ve been long critical of the ARC move, at this point, Christie is willing to talk, and moving forward on a new tunnel is more important than rehashing the past over the old.

Stringer’s words and Christie’s response are both indicative of the petty bickering that could hamper this project. New York and New Jersey are going to have to present a unified front, and they’re off to a rocky start. But the Stringer incident is small beans compared with the in-fighting that could threaten New York’s side of this project. We’ve also seen Gov. Andrew Cuomo dig in on the funding issues, and now other New York City representatives are chiming in. The latest comes from — where else? — Staten Island. As first reported by Politco New York’s Dana Rubinstein, newly elected Congressman Dan Donovan is skeptical of the tunnel for all the wrong reasons.

In a press release, Donovan “voiced reservations” over the tunnel plans because he feels Staten Island’s priorities should come first:

“Modern, efficient public transportation is obviously critical to our region, and we need to do what we can to relieve congestion.” Congressman Donovan said. “But for decades Staten Island has been ignored and forgotten, and the results are clear: no community in the entire country faces a longer commute than us. It’s disheartening to sit in traffic while listening to news updates about multibillion dollar investments for another underwater rail tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan. It’s time to get serious about viable transportation alternatives here at home.”

Through the gas tax, Staten Islanders likely pay more per capita into the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund than the residents of any other borough. The federal government distributes those transportation dollars to state and local governments, which then prioritize projects for funding. New York City’s OneNYC plan did not identify any near-term transit expansion projects for Staten Island.

Options exist for the borough, such as a light rail on the West Shore and Bus Rapid Transit along the North Shore. Both would bring relief and opportunity by providing what the rest of New York City takes for granted – meaningful access to public transportation. The West Shore light rail alone, which would connect the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system in New Jersey and stretch 13 miles to Richmond Valley Station, could see 13,000 riders per day. Congressman Donovan concluded, “I understand the importance of maintaining the regional infrastructure on which millions of people rely, and I will work toward a long-term transportation bill to provide funding certainty to regional planners. Still, it’s about time Staten Island got the attention it deserves. State and local planners have to prioritize this borough’s spiraling transportation challenges.”

On the one hand I understand Donovan’s call. He’s one of the few Staten Island voices actually arguing for transit for the borough, and his references to an expansion of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail or the West Shore line are the right ones. On the other hand, he shouldn’t be couching this pro-transit argument in an anti-Hudson tunnel press release. First, there’s no reason we can’t have both, and second, the scale just isn’t the same. The trans-Hudson tunnel is a vital connection for the region that serves nearly 20 times as many people as an HBLR expansion might.

Now, I can forgive Donovan here; he’s a bit new to this game. But in the back of my mind, I keep thinking about how hard it is to take calls from Staten Island for better transit seriously. To rehash the near past, certain S.I. politicians have complained about nearly every transit improvements. State Senator Andrew Lanza railed against bus lanes and then had the audacity to call for more Staten Island transit. He’s also spearheaded a lengthy opposition to flashing lights on SBS vehicles, and he’s not the only State Islander similarly complaining. The borough wants more transit but doesn’t seem to want the density that comes with it.

Still, as the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation fights for light rail, Donovan should push the MTA to include funding for a study in its capital program proposals. But it doesn’t have to compete against trans-Hudson tunnels. That’s just counterproductive for all of New York.

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Bolwerk August 21, 2015 - 11:39 am

Speaking as someone who thinks Stringer is basically an idiot, I don’t see why his comment is so out of bounds. ARC was flawed, but would have prevented most of the problems we’re now facing. It was cheaper for everyone than Gateway is turning out to be. Kind of unfair for New Yorkers to now be expected to shell out billions of dollars when even doing ARC would have cost New Jersey less and New York nothing beyond its share of the PA contribution. We had no say in the cancellation decision, so why the fuck should we be on the hook now?

Donovan is even kind of right: we have our own projects. Politicians’ irrationality about bus lanes aside, SI should get some proper transit. Though either North Shore light or heavy rail makes more sense than either North Shore BRT or West Shore LRT.

Eric F August 21, 2015 - 1:12 pm

“It was cheaper for everyone than Gateway is turning out to be”

Um, given that Gateway is a simpler project (i.e., no brand new, deep cavern station), might the vastly higher Gateway cost simply be the product of a more accurate cost estimate?

Bolwerk August 21, 2015 - 2:29 pm

Doubtful, since there has been no evidence that ARC costs were especially inaccurate, and their highest plausible estimates were well below the lowest for Gateway.

Also, not sure even the comparable components to Gateway are in any way simpler. Penn Station South is probably a loftier goal than the “bat cave.” It’s more accessible, but probably involves a lot more eminent domain.

adirondacker12800 August 21, 2015 - 4:13 pm

It’s bit more accessible if you want to go to 28th St. Anyplace else not so much.
ARC was going to have separate access to the subway including Herald Square and add pedestrian entrances to the station north of 34th. Instead everybody is going to become part of the horde inside the existing Penn Station.

Bolwerk August 21, 2015 - 5:09 pm

Fair enough, but I meant in the sense of easily walking in an out. As far as transit connectivity is concerned, Penn Station South is definitely worse.

Alon Levy August 21, 2015 - 10:28 pm

Two issues:

1. Penn Station South.

2. Everything Amtrak touches turns to shit.

Basically, compare the ARC projections with the current ESA projections, and ask yourself why the fuck Gateway is well above even that baseline.

Nathanael August 22, 2015 - 6:20 pm

Well, Penn South needs to be removed from the plan, yes.

The rest of the design is OK as far as I can tell.

I should point out that, for an interesting contrast, Moynihan Station cost estimates have been going *down*. Of course, it’s being managed by the Empire State Development Corporation, not Amtrak or the Port Authority.

William Hays September 3, 2015 - 9:01 am

IMO, (not ‘humble’, me) the ARC was a total boondoggle. Ill conceived and engineered, it was a pathway-to-nowhere, except for Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Christie, methinks, did the right thing by squelching it.
We almost had a rail tunnel between Richmond (Staten Island) and Kings (Brooklyn) Counties, but “wunnerful” Robert Moses put the kibash to it. I wonder if he was in cahoots with nice people at National City Lines. The adits, and ROW, are still available.
Anyhoo, with the secession movement in upstate New York starting up, maybe Richmond should join the movement and align with New Jersey. Might make sense, but “Putzie’ de Blasio would raise the SI Ferry rates to $14.00+ (and not just for German tourists).

adirondacker12800 September 3, 2015 - 10:13 am

It was the pathway to Grand Central, was four blocks closer to the subway, had more capacity than Gateway will and was going to cost half as much. And add entrances to Penn Station north of 34th Street.

Roy August 21, 2015 - 11:52 am

Why is Staten Island in New York anyway? It’s much closer to the Jersey coastline than to any other part of New York.

Chris C August 21, 2015 - 1:28 pm

Because of History – The Treaty of Breda.

Rex August 21, 2015 - 12:15 pm

This illustrates so many things
For starters we need a TfGNYC, or a Transport for Greater NYC, it also needs to be a non-political non-partisan group that is run by engineers ( and not be a job for life cronyist disaster like the PA). Odds of this happening close to zero.
Then we need to do a truly global review of transport needs for the entire greater metropolitan area, a best practices review so we find out why it costs so much to do anything here, some smart metrics that would allow a half decent stab at cost-benefit analysis, and for the politicians in NY, NJ, the PA, the counties, and townships as well as the QUANGOs like the major utilities to get on board with this approach. Odds asymptotically approaching zero on that happening.
The total looming disaster that is hanging over us is depressing me.

Ryan August 21, 2015 - 12:29 pm

The borough wants more transit but doesn’t seem to want the density that comes with it.

At roughly 8200 people per square mile Staten Island has more density than Baltimore, which doesn’t have people whining about it supposedly “not being dense enough” for its (pathetically short) rail transit network and using its perceived lack of density as an argument against subway expansion.

The fact is that it’s already long past time for the subway to run to Staten Island.

Joe Steindam August 22, 2015 - 7:50 am

Well, I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison, because Baltimore was built out to accommodate more people than Staten Island could accommodate today. But at Baltimore’s peak, their population density was roughly 11,700 people per square mile, which is roughly equivalent to existing population density of Staten Island in its denser areas (north of the Expressway and east of Richmond/Arthur Kill Rd) where some kind of higher capacity transit should run to connect these neighborhoods to the rest of the city.

Granted, this density is still low compared to much of the rest of the city, and by most areas that have subway service (Bay Ridge has both large apartment complexes and big areas of single family detached homes and row houses, and has a density over 30,000 per sq mile). But Staten Island is built out based on the infrastructure it has today, and the only solution to adding people there, which we need to do achieve the Mayor’s housing goals citywide, would be to add some better transportation options in Staten Island.

lop August 22, 2015 - 1:25 pm

Why are you comparing citywide density in Baltimore to neighborhood density in SI? Not all of Baltimore has rail transit. Better to compare just the neighborhoods that do. Hint, they’re denser than average.

Bolwerk August 22, 2015 - 6:21 pm

Because it’s easy.

But I don’t see any reason to be angsty about SI’s density as it relates to transit. Portland, OR, doesn’t have many zip codes with higher average density than SI, maybe just one.

Ryan August 22, 2015 - 8:59 pm

That’s because there IS no reason to keep angsting about Staten Island. The borough-wide to city-wide comparison of Baltimore and SI is useful as a fast and loose comparison of a place that everyone agrees needs fixed-rail rapid transit and one that quite a lot of people insist doesn’t need or doesn’t deserve it until some arbitrary benchmark of “dense enough” is reached.

The fact is that Staten Island is already dense enough for a subway, and it’s absolutely appropriate to extend the subway into Staten Island now and let the upzoning conversation happen later. People talk about SI like’s a depopulated suburban wasteland, when it’s absolutely not. It’s embarrassing and pathetic that the subway hasn’t been extended yet, and in spite of comments like Nyland8’s below me, I believe there is a strong consensus for a subway extension amongst the people of Staten Island, which absolutely should have been done 50 years ago, and frankly I have trouble siding against Staten Island when calls for that subway are repeatedly dismissed but, hey, how about a bus? What, you don’t like your marginal improvements to bus service? Too bad, you’re not dense enough for anything else!!

Tower18 August 22, 2015 - 11:41 pm

I’m not sure about this “strong consensus” you mention. I think Nyland8 actually has it exactly correct: Staten Island wants a subway because they know it’s off the table, but it’s something to yell about that might eventually result in toll relief. If a subway was actually on the table, with pros and cons, I bet dollars to donuts the whole thing would fall apart in squabbling about routings, funding, whether anyone wants it at all, “can’t we just take this $xx billion and make the VZ toll-free?”, etc.

Ryan August 23, 2015 - 11:31 am

Of course, there’s no way to actually know this unless and until the subway to Staten Island is seriously proposed – meaning, put forth a plan, put forth a draft, put forth an estimate and engage with the community.

It could very well turn out that the united cry for a subway will break down the second the rest of New York City gets serious about extending rail to Staten Island. It could very well be that this is all a long con by Staten Island NIMBYs to try and make a whole bunch of money available that could then be funneled away from its intended purpose and into VZ bridge toll relief instead. I, personally, don’t believe that – I think that the bridge angst is entirely separate from the subway angst and, more importantly, it seems to me that Staten Island is more than capable of arguing for reduced or eliminated VZ bridge tolls directly without needing to hide that message within calls for transit improvements.

Again, though, as long as the prevailing arguments from everyone else are reasons why Staten Island doesn’t deserve rail access to the rest of NYC – there’s no way of knowing what would happen if the rest of NYC got serious about a subway!

Bolwerk August 23, 2015 - 4:08 pm

Well, no reason to be angsty, but for subway-level service it probably would be best to encourage some more density. I don’t believe that would be very hard, technically anyway.

It’s pretty hot to trot for light rail though.

johndmuller August 24, 2015 - 9:44 pm

Alright already; so lots of people agree that SI should have a subway. Unfortunately, we know that not everyone on SI agree with that. Quite possibly, the same people who want better transit options are also afraid of the possible collateral damage, i.e. construction hassles, more and less desirable neighbors, more congestion and traffic, crime, etc.

Politically, this is dangerous stuff – the supposed beneficiaries of the subway contain a subset of people who don’t want it, or who will at least complain about some aspects of it. The kind of issue where a political backbone is helpful. It doesn’t help if the rest of the city is indifferent to negative.

Seems to me that someone with a backbone should just decide to build the relatively cheap option of connecting the SIRT to the 59th St. station AND at the same time introduce STUDIES of further connections – like a commuter RR direct to lower Manhattan and maybe also to Long Island and/or NJ. The cheap route will not be much faster than the ferry or driving, but it will be doable and reasonably inexpensive and without very much construction disruption; it will also be much nicer in winter or other inclement weather.

This might have to compete with Utica Ave and the Bronx 2nd Ave Subway and Rockaway branch reactivation, but it is a worthwhile project on many fronts, without major complications or side issues compared to the other projects and it is affordable.

Ed Unneland August 21, 2015 - 12:40 pm

Staten Island is in New York because all islands in New York harbor were given to New York. Read Justice Souter’s opinion in New Jersey v New York.

Eric F August 21, 2015 - 1:14 pm

I did not know that, thanks. It had always struck me as an odd circumstance that S.I. isn’t part of NJ.

Chet August 21, 2015 - 2:20 pm

Yup…all dates back to colonial times. Late 1600’s actually.

AG August 24, 2015 - 9:12 am

The better question is why wasn’t northern NJ given to NYS during that time. If all the islands in the harbor were made NY – so should everything bordering the Hudson River.

Nyland8 August 24, 2015 - 11:19 am

The usual story: Governorships were granted by monarchs in power.

New York and New Jersey actually fought a border war over their territories. New Jersey lost, and is somewhat smaller than it once was.

I believe the angle of the border from Port Jervis to the Hudson River was once larger, apropos of which, the Chimpanzee Bridge might have been an interstate crossing if the results of the war had been different.

Nyland8 August 24, 2015 - 11:20 am

Or perhaps the angle opened towards the west. I can’t recall.

Chet August 21, 2015 - 12:42 pm

As one of the few (only?) Staten Islanders that regularly comments here, I couldn’t have said it better than Ben. I live here since I was 5 years old…that was 1967, so I’ve seen a lot on this rock.
There is no doubt that this island needs better mass transit and needs to understand what comes with it. Just like the development coming to St. George- (outlet mall, the Wheel, hotels, housing, etc.)- the area is now zoned for high storied buildings. With that, I see people who have been screaming for St. George to be cleaned up and made nice for years. Now that that is happening, they’re upset because the nature of the neighborhood might change.
The same goes for mass transit. A subway should have been built here 90 years ago. I always tell people that if that happened, this island would look a lot more like parts of Queens or Brooklyn. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
That Staten Island needs some serious improvement to mass transit is a no-brainer, but as Ben says, it should have absolutely NOTHING to do with a new Hudson River rail tunnel. That new tunnel has become a lot more than a transit convenience, it is a vital national need. If that current tunnel suffers a true catastrophic failure, we could be talking about hundreds dead and the north east corridor severed for years.

Eric F August 21, 2015 - 1:18 pm

The lack of alternative highway routes is also killing S.I. The original plan to have a circumferential route on the southern part of the island and the Willowbrook alignment running north-south would have solved a ton of problems. It’s not as if the development didn’t show up anyway.

Chet August 21, 2015 - 2:19 pm

Yes, exactly. If the Richmond Parkway in particular had been built, a pile of cars that now travels down the Staten Island Expressway and on to the West Shore Expressway would have been able to exit near Clove Road and drive cross island all the way to the Outerbridge Crossing.
Unfortunately, that road, and the Willowbrook Parkway (now the MLK Jr. Parkway) were somewhat poorly planned and Robert Moses who could never understand the word compromise doomed his own ideas by his own arrogance.
An example. If you look at a map of Staten Island, the MLK highway was supposed to cross Victory Boulevard and eventually go to Great Kills Park on Hylan Blvd. Well, the planned right of way back in the late 1960s went basically through my house! My parents were part of a rather large group that wanted the route just shoved over (to the east) a bit- to run between Willowbrook Park and what is now the College of Staten Island campus. Moses refused… the city by then (this is around 1968) told him to piss off…and the end result, nothing got done.
In any event, the current construction on the Staten Island Expressway, which has caused a lot of delays the last two or so years is coming to an end in a couple of weeks. That should help the situation somewhat.
Also, by 2017/18 we should have an HOV/bus lane that goes from Victory Blvd to the BBT/Carey Tunnel…including a lane over the VZ Bridge. That should cut 10 to 20 minutes off some express bus routes.
Time will tell.

Brian August 21, 2015 - 6:11 pm

I don’t understand why Staten Island Polticians are not taking this advantage to clamour for Staten Island Railroad trains to reach Manhattan, either for New Jersey Coastline by building a new vertical lift bridge between Tottenville and Perth Amboy and re activating the North Shore Line and linking up with Northeast Corridor. If the Cuomo vs. Christie game is hurting Staten Island then the New Hudson Tunnels could be the way for Staten Islanders to link to NJ, Newark Airport, and Mid-town Manhattan, and could end the Christie vs. Cuomo game. I know many Staten Islanders on the weekend that go to the Jersey Shore, well if a connection to the Jersey Coastline is created then the many cars on the Parkway could be rail riders hitting the shore. Then if the rail ridership on the routes want faster connections to New York, then build the multi-billion dollar tunnel under the harbor to lower Manhattan. Why? Because the demand for it is there. If Staten Islanders are happy with the connections to NJT and SIR using NJT lines to reach Manhattan then leave the system as is.

JJJ August 21, 2015 - 2:31 pm

Standard politics.

You want me to support your project? Then support mine.

At least in this case, his project is a good one.

It’s somewhat ironic that if SI was part of (suburban) Jersey it might have already had that light rail line.

Nyland8 August 22, 2015 - 3:42 pm

Ironically, if Staten Island were part of New Jersey, it would have never lost its old mass-transit infrastructure, would still have a commuter train across the Kill, and would probably have a train into NYPenn.

adirondacker12800 August 22, 2015 - 6:39 pm

No it wouldn’t because getting off in St. George and taking the ferry would be faster.

Nyland8 August 23, 2015 - 12:53 am

It’s only faster if you happen to work in the financial district and can walk from the ferry. If you wanted to go into NYPenn, it wouldn’t be faster. And with the ferry lead times, if you miss one, you’re late for work, especially if you work off-hours.

My post presupposes that passenger rail across the Kill never ended – which would have meant greater western development for Richmond – so getting to St. George would have had no advantage.

adirondacker12800 August 23, 2015 - 2:08 am

The train ride from St. George to Elizabeth would take as long or longer than the ferry ride. Transferring from the line the CNJ used to the line the PRR used would take time and then there’s the ride from Elizabeth to Manhattan. It would take longer than taking the subway from South Ferry.

Brian August 23, 2015 - 7:47 am

I believe Nyland’s post stated that the Western areas of Staten Island (Port Ivory and Mariners Harbor) would have been more developed if commuter rail to NJ existed. I am sure going to New York Penn via the Kill lift, taking the B & O line connection to the Northeast corridor and running express to Newark and to New York Penn would be the faster route for people living there than train to St. George, then Ferry, and then finally subway to Mid-town. Plus, the one seat ride to the city is extremely attractive to commuters who need to commute to the city. You can ask many NJT riders who commute in the mornings to the city on lines that don’t have one seat rides and I am sure it is unanimous that those riders desire one seat ride.

adirondacker12800 August 23, 2015 - 1:36 pm

There was no connection to what is now the Northeast Corridor.

Brian August 23, 2015 - 1:48 pm

There was a freight connection, I am sure it could have been upgraded if needed. Excerpt below from the following website: http://jcrhs.org/B&O.html

… Just over five miles long, it was double-tracked as far as Bantas, a little station that stood about a mile and a half from Cranford Jct. Just east of Cranford, a crossing with the Lehigh Valley and a connection made, named Staten Island Junction. The LV was also under construction at the time. Another junction was built to reach the Pennsylvania at Linden. A precipitous grade lead down and north from the B&NY trestle and fill work to the east side of the PRR main line, where a small interchange yard was built. Nearly a third of this line was built on wood trestle work and bridges, from the grade east of St. George’s Avenue and onward to the Arthur Kill. Some of the wooden trestle work was filled in with cinders as time went by. A two-track, pin-connected truss bridge was built over the PRR mainline at Linden, although the line is single track at that point. The B&NY line then crossed the northwestern corner of Standard Oil’s Linden Refinery (Esso, now Exxon) with a round-about branch reaching down into the refinery. However, the Jersey Central handled the bulk of rail traffic with Standard Oil.

adirondacker12800 August 23, 2015 - 3:43 pm

The B&O had delusions that the 5th or 6th best route to Manhattan was a good idea. Freight doesn’t care if it takes a few hours to interchange. Passengers do. And the PRR would have had to agree to it. They wouldn’t have.

The best you could have hoped for was walking between the CNJ Elizabeth station and the PRR Elizabeth station. Or a train to the CNJ terminal in Jersey City and a ferry to Manhattan. As near as I can tell they never got the urge to build a station where it crossed over the NY&LB so that passengers could change trains. It didn’t make sense when people didn’t own automobiles and no matter how hard you clap it wouldn’t today.

Brian August 23, 2015 - 4:18 pm

Well, after the no matter how hard you clapped comment, this will be my last word with the railroad history expert. The original thread for this conversation was about if a rail connection existed between Northwest part of Staten Island and to New York Penn Station, then this part of Staten Island could have been developed. I agreed with Nyland, and I stated there was a connection, just used for freight. Of course, back in the day of Private Railroads, the PRR would not allow the B & O a route to Penn Station, they were competitors. But, the days of private railroading is over and a regional access to transportation needs to be looked at to get cars off the road in Staten Island and Northeast NJ. and easy accessibility to Manhattan, Airports, and Shopping areas need to be looked at. I suggested a way to do it by using the existing Land Use and old Railroad routes that are being underutilized today, without the multi-billion dollar tunnel under the Harbor.

Nyland8 August 23, 2015 - 4:23 pm

My point, which won’t be sloughed aside, was that if Staten Island were part of New Jersey, it would likely have had a northeast corridor connection to NYPenn.

It has the proximity, it has the population density, and it has a history of more rail connections to the mainland than it currently does.

Nothing you’ve posted has made any of that disappear, 12800, nor is it likely to.

Need you persist?

adirondacker12800 August 23, 2015 - 5:06 pm

If the B&O had been less delusional there wouldn’t have been a bridge. They would have put their car float along the Arthur Kill like the Reading did. Like the CNJ did before they built to Jersey City.

Why would people take longer train rides to suburbs on the North Shore when they could take shorter cheaper train rides to the developing suburbs in Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey? Or the developing ones along the South Shore?

Michael August 21, 2015 - 5:18 pm

There are times when I look at certain Staten Island and city-wide transportation issues I am filled with both optimism and dread.

a) Optimistic – The new Ferris Wheel and related development is under construction right now – meaning more tourists and others visiting Staten Island. The new planned retail developments should give visitors a reason to get off the boat and explore the island. Because of the new Ferris Wheel the god-awful abomination of the hourly ferries will be eliminated – not because it was the right thing to do and about 30+years of a long slog for SI residents – but because monied interests see increased service as a part of the promoting NYC as a tourist destination. In a couple of years the rebuilt South Ferry station will open, and a more resilient Battery Park will exist.

b) Dread – those same damn tourists simply do not know how to quickly EXIT the boats, which could easily send on-time performance downward and delaying regular riders. On the weekends – such events have been a problem, and when the Ferris Wheel opens – it might be a greater problem. However the tourist attraction allowed the increase in ferry service – so one has to take the good with the bad. When you’re talking about 90-minute commutes on average, added minutes can make a big difference.

c) Optimistic – Dan Donovan and other political folk talk about SI transportation issues. Sometimes the guys have good intentions, however they respond to their voters the majority of which drive cars as their main means of commuting and other trips. Meaning that lip-service will be given to transit issues, especially where there are limitations placed upon the usage of cars.

d) Dread – Concerning the suggestions often promoted. I’ll use three examples – proposed revival of the North Shore Railway, the proposed BRT on the North Shore, and the West Shore LRT. Transit fans have repeatedly call for the revival of this abandoned rail-line even though the land uses that supported and would thrive by the railway 50 years later are now in different places very far from the railways in the middle and southern sections of the island. The revived North Shore railway does NOTHING for those sections! However there are those who don’t support the proposed BRT on the North Shore – because it is NOT RAIL, it is not “true BRT, and its NOT RAIL!!

The major rationale of the proposed BRT on the North Shore is to spread the benefits to more sections of the island, and extend services to places that the revived rail could never reach, the middle populated sections of the island. These are points that are often repeatedly over looked by the transit commentators. The West Shore LRT is bascially “let’s put an LRT over a highway that goes to the places that have very limited population, to build stations in places that are difficult to get to for most riders or walkers, and that does not service existing transit centers, shopping centers or work locations on the island – but it is a proposal. The rush hours only S-89 bus that already travels to the NJ Light Rail Line has not in any year over the past decade pulled in any thing close to the projected ridership of the proposed West Shore LRT. So yes – let’s believe that this is a viable transit pathway – since it involves taking the West Short LRT, to HBLRT and then the PATH trains to Manhattan. It is a proposed transit pathway – see “we” thought of something. Any a proposal – even if it is not a very good one – can still be used to beat other political folk over the head with, since they were not going to do anything anyway.

Let’s list the recent proposed ideas that have been argued about, shot down or savaged. For example – a city wide system of ferries to connect each borough, Astoria and the Rockways. Nope – can’t do it – because it is supporting housing developers, plus there’s no infrastructure to support those ferries. Since there’s no support structure why bother building the ferry system? A city-wide system of monorails connecting each borough! Dead before the ink was dry! A bus rapid transit system in Queens or the revival of a long-closed rail-line. Or Railroad X – the revival of closed rail lines in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Or extend the #7 train to New Jersey. Please, please extend the N & Q trains in Queens to LGA – but nope don’t build it due to NIMBY, but let’s build the Air-Train to Willets Point. Nope – no Air-Train to Willets Point because it might be a convoluted trip, but we need it. Please, please build bus rapid transit all over the city, but no don’t build bus rapid transit in any way but the “true way” even in Queens. On second thought don’t build it because there’s an old rail-line nearby that might or could in some possible future might connect to the subway. Please, please build bus rapid transit all over the city but not on any streets where the parking might be disturbed or removed for bus lanes. Bus rapid transit is not RAIL, and we should be building rail – but rail to so very much expensive! And please, please do not mention bike lanes! Or another “fast ferry” idea between Staten Island and Manhattan or Brooklyn – plenty of us remember the last “fast ferry” idea – the high costs, limited runs, the limited service, the creaming of the crop, etc. Name an idea that has not been savaged or worse! Is the goal to look for the absolute best in all ways transit idea, or the good enough for right now transit idea?

e) Optimistic – There is a strong argument for ranking Gov. Christie over the coals concerning the plans for a new rail tunnel between NJ and NYC. Basically it is, “Fool Me Once – Shame On You – Fool Me Twice Shame On Me!” Remember the assurances given by Gov. Christie over the ARC Project – blind trust should not be given now. Trust then verify is the least that should be done. Gov. Christie wants “us” to believe him now – he’s interested in rail transit – and not the him that was hostile to rail transit. Gov. Christie objects to the “crow” that he now has to eat because he can’t pick his favorite ketchup or mustard.

Fickle transit fans both loved ARC when it was underway and hate it now because there’s something new on the horizon – Gateway, the new thing to love because it is shiny. So the costs of Gateway are doubling with every press release – give it time – there will soon be breaking headlines on the cost of Gateway, and how ARC was so much better and cheaper! The snipping over the finances of the new WTC PATH terminal building will begin again in earnest, the headlines are being written. Remember the snipping over the finances of the Fulton Transit Center? I’m optimistic because I know the tides will change, and the transit fans will hate Gateway soon enough.

f) At times I simply can not take seriously the online transportation forums when there are questions about, “Why is Staten Island even a part of NYC!” I’m thinking that a new “Godwin’s Law” has to be created – where anyone who questions Staten Island belonging to NYC – immediately has lost any other arguments that they are trying to make. Where any suggestions, recommendation by that person are ruled in invalid, and so on!

When Staten Island elected officials attempt to argue for that the needs of their voters should be attended to, it is beyond galling to have to persuade others that your locality should even exist.

g) Dread – there are plenty of political folk on Staten Island who pay attention to their voters – meaning the majority of voters who drive cars! So any limitations on where their cars can go – is seen as limitations by those persons. Congestion pricing – all of the fluff aside – basically means limits on where cars can travel, in this case Manhattan. Leaving aside the extremely low numbers of Staten Islanders who travel by car every weekday to or through Manhattan, there’s the always congested routes to Brooklyn and New Jersey that pisses off many SI drivers, places that transit does not serve well. Proposals that attempt to re-structure the tolls, but also reduce a major funding source for transit are not going to go over well. The grid lock, congestion and stalemate just continues – while public transit on Staten Island still just barely rises to pathetic. The reality is that a traffic accident in New Jersey means that traffic on Staten Island is backed up for miles! These kinds of issues allows those who want to stroke the politics of resentment, and create an “us versus them” view.

h) Optimistic – Too many folks act as if the decades long pathetic patchwork of transit on Staten Island has not had an effect on people’s lives, viewpoints, travel and living arrangements. The 1920’s bankruptcy of the BRT, and the collapse of the subway tunnel rail deal to Staten Island, and the rise of Robert Moses and the automobile – highway – suburban housing lobby all started a chain reaction of events – the effects of which still exist today. Who wants to wait around an hour for a ferry when you can just hop in your car and be in Brooklyn or New Jersey for work, school or shopping in a quarter of the time? Often to places that have zero or very time consuming public transit options. Those are real every day concerns by real people that rarely get talked about!!

The billions required for a rail link between Staten Island and Brooklyn, or the multiple billions needed for a rail tunnel link between Staten Island and Manhattan will not exist until the 29th century when Star Trek space ships are traveling the galaxies. The billions required for just a small part of the transit dreams of interested fans and others that connect the twin cities of Hoboken-Jersey City-Manhattania will be argued about extensively on the inter-planetary linkages. Even then there will still be folks questioning “Why Is Staten Island a part of New York City?”

I) Dread – Does Staten Island need better public transit – Yes! Does Staten Island need better linkages between Brooklyn and New Jersey – Yes! Does New Jersey need better linkages to Manhattan – YES! Should a whole host of transit and transportation issues need to be looked at for the betterment of the city and the region as a whole – YES!

Can there ever be a good discussion of these issues? Not when there are folks questioning “Why Is Staten Island a part of New York City?”

VLM August 21, 2015 - 5:23 pm

Can someone tl;dr this? There’s no way I’m reading a comment 8x the length of Ben’s original post.

Stephen August 21, 2015 - 5:46 pm

I think it boils down to the fact that there are good and bad things about living in Staten Island. And you have to take the good with the bad. And lastly, you can’t talk about Staten Island’s needs when everyone is asking the question: “Why is it even a part of NYC?”

Oh, he mentions Star Trek and the hope that those types of spaceships will be zipping across the galaxies in the 29th Century. He also figures that’s when the money will be available for all these tunnels and rail links.

Michael August 21, 2015 - 6:40 pm

There is not a single proposed transit or transportation improvement idea in recent years that has not been snipped, loved, hated and gripped over! Whether is it the design, the route, the finances, the politics, the “environment”, the this-the that, the whatever! There’s consensus about almost nothing until something literally falls to the ground!

ajedrez August 22, 2015 - 8:54 pm

I’m not sure if the tourists really caused an increase in weekend evening service. Tourists usually ride the ferry during the day. In any case, hopefully the increase in tourists results in an increase in ferry service to run every 15-20 minutes throughout the whole day.

Nyland8 August 22, 2015 - 4:12 pm

“It’s disheartening to sit in traffic while listening to news updates about multibillion dollar investments for another underwater rail tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan. It’s time to get serious about viable transportation alternatives here at home.”

I totally reject the idea that “another rail tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan” somehow doesn’t benefit Staten Island. Even above and beyond the more general statement that “anything that serves the region serves Staten Island”, the fact is that there ARE Staten Islanders who drive through New Jersey into NYC, and there ARE Bronx and Upper Manhattan residents who find it easier to get to Staten Island by driving through New Jersey. I know, and have worked with, both. So anything that has the potential to take cars off the roads in northern New Jersey also benefits Richmond.

While I have no objection in principle to Richmond getting a subway link – (I personally favor the jump from St. George to Owl’s Head, and on through something resembling the proposed Triboro Rx) – I nevertheless feel that the borough itself suffers from some self-sabotaging battered-wife syndrome … some sort of schizophrenia … about what it truly wants and needs. I get the impression it prefers to complain about being the bastard stepchild of the boroughs then to actually do something about it.

If the residents of Richmond rose up and spoke with one unified voice, engineering for a subway connection to Brooklyn could start before the year was out. But THEY don’t know what THEY want. THEY only know that THEY don’t want other things in other places to happen unless THEY get something … which THEY have yet to agree on!

Either they want to be the 5th borough of NYC, or they don’t. Until they figure that out, they should just be ignored entirely.

Alvin Draper August 23, 2015 - 2:41 am

Your continued hatred for Staten Island is tiring. Please realize that we are a part of the city, and treat us with respect.

Nyland8 August 23, 2015 - 4:31 pm

Well … I, for one, certainly respect Staten Island no less than it seems to respect itself.

Any genuine mass transit improvements they reach unanimity on I will advocate for – including a subway extension from Brooklyn. Frankly, it is long overdue, and if Staten Islanders wish to protest the oversight by stopping traffic and occupying the VNB, I’ll sit with them. And I suspect a lot of people hear on SAS might do so also.

If you want things to really move, sometimes it’s best to grind them to a halt.

Nyland8 August 23, 2015 - 4:33 pm

I mean ” a lot of people HERE on SAS …”

My editor has Sunday’s off.

wise infrastructure August 24, 2015 - 9:26 pm

As neither the full Richmond Parkway nor the Cross Brooklyn Expressway were ever built/completed, the 12 lane Verazano Bride connects to but a (now) 8 lane Staten Island Expressway and basically 4/6 lanes of the BQE and 4/6 lanes of the Belt Parkway.

While expensive river/harbor crossings are usually constriction points in a highway network, the Verazano Bride basically has 4 lanes (50%) capacity in excess of of the roads to which it connects.

The question is simple: how do we put light rail, subways, and/or bus lanes on the bridge using this 4 lane capacity. The real issue is what to then hook it up to on either end.

In Staten Island the question is clear – the SIRR both south to Tottenville and north to the ferry terminal and then continuing west along the SIRR right of way. In addition a branch should continue along the Staten Island Expressway and then down dedicated lanes on Richmond Ave.

In Brooklyn the options are either a new right of way (perhaps by double decking the BQE) or along Bay Ridge rail road right of way.


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