Home Brooklyn-Queens Connector Thoughts on and reactions to the Brooklyn-Queens Connector

Thoughts on and reactions to the Brooklyn-Queens Connector

by Benjamin Kabak
A streetcar cuts through the rain in Downtown Brooklyn. (Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector)

The Brooklyn-Queens Connector is metaphorically and physically heading right toward us. (Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector)

After a day of headlines and intense discussion regarding the Mayor’s endorsement of a $2.5 billion waterfront streetcar connecting Brooklyn and Queens, Bill de Blasio’s State of the City speech was almost anticlimactic. His prepared comments contained only a few sentences on the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, and the fact sheet [pdf]his administration released on Thursday was light on details. We haven’t yet seen the report promoting this plan with its projections of 53,000 daily riders and $25 billion in economic activity over some indeterminate period of time, but it’s coming. Or so the mayor said.

“Tonight,” de Blasio said, “I am announcing the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, or BQX, a state-of-the-art streetcar that will run from Astoria to Sunset Park, and has the potential to generate over $25 billion of economic impact for our city over 30 years. New Yorkers will be able to travel up and down a 16-mile route that links a dozen waterfront neighborhoods. The BQX has the potential to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.”

According to the mayor’s fact sheet, the administration “will begin engaging communities along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront this year to develop a conceptual framework and expects to break ground on the project in 2019-2020.” That’s an aggressive timeline considering how Community Boards are structured to say no to everything new, and the city is going to have to line up the dollars while assuaging NIMBY concerns. Even with these challenges and a revenue service date that extends beyond de Blasio’s tenure in office whether he wins reelection or not, there’s plenty of reaction to go around.

First, a few of my random one-off thoughts.

In a way, the tweet speaks for itself. We need to be careful about what sort of infrastructure we’re placing in flood-prone areas and how we can best protect these investments. There is also a more expansive conversation to be had about whether or not city policies should be encouraging more development and growth in neighborhoods most vulnerable to climate change and future flooding.

In another vein, although it’s promising that de Blasio is the first city official in a while to look outside of Manhattan for transit expansion efforts, a mix of valid complaints and New York City parochialism has other boroughs peeved. Staten Island is upset that its five-year requests for streetcars has gone largely ignored, and no one is even considering transit through the Bronx, a densely populated borough that desperately needs additional high-speed, high-capacity transit lines. Even certain areas of Manhattan should be miffed as we’re only a few months removed from Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway being delayed. There are clear class issues at play as waterfront developers fund their streetcar project while East Harlem has to wait longer for a badly needed Second Ave. Subway. In fact, this speaks to the next issue regarding state and city cooperation.

As Jillian Jorgensen explores, de Blasio’s streetcar proposal highlights the tensions between NYC and Albany with regards to transit planning. We live in a city where our local transit decisions are controlled by the state capital and governor. The only way the mayor can bring projects into being is by bypassing the agencies that run our extensive transit network. Thus, a waterfront streetcar that isn’t part of the MTA’s network avoids meddlesome interference from Andrew Cuomo and the other electeds in Albany.

“I’m agnostic on the politics,” Thomas Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association, said to Jorgensen. “I’m not a political commentator, but yes, it’s obvious that the city is looking for things that it controls, and it control the city streets.”

Others involved in the planning process see benefits to avoiding state agencies. “Everything is within the city family to do it,” Sam Schwartz, a major proponent of the BQX, said “It makes it easier and faster, and in my estimation probably would cost less, than having the feds involved, the state involved, all these oversight committees, whereas the city has a pretty good process.”

Others were a bit more skeptical of the plan. The Transit Center posed a series of questions New Yorkers should see answered before they embrace this plan. Two stand out to me: “If New York City has $2.5 billion to spend on improving transportation, what evidence indicates starting a streetcar system is the best use of the money?” and “What is the anticipated role of streetcars in the city’s transportation strategy?” It’s not really clear if de Blasio (or, for that matter, Cuomo) really has a holistic plan for improving transportation in New York City or anything related to access and mobility. Is this streetcar part of a bigger plan or is it just a cool idea? These are questions the administration will have to answer.

And finally, over at Streetsblog, Ben Fried unequivocally states that the proposal simply doesn’t add up. He looks at underserved neighborhoods and subway connections, questions surrounding the price tag and fare integration, and what should be the cities other transit priorities to conclude “there’s no way this proposal will deliver on the hype. What we’re going to end up with is a highly-subsidized transit route with modest ridership at best.” His critique is well worth a read.

Ultimately, though, I’m struck with a question regarding our assessment of this project. The transit literati will always have their pet projects and their fantasy maps. Right now, the consensus seems to be focusing around the idea that this project isn’t A-Number-One on the priority list, but it seems to be good enough. There’s a powerful coalition of backers who are willing to contribute the resources to see this through. It may not be great, but there appears to be a need for it. It also solves issues of interconnectivity and mobility between neighborhoods. Is that good enough? So long as other, more worthwhile projects aren’t jeopardized, it just might be.

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Stephen Smith February 5, 2016 - 12:48 am

Someone who’s not as lazy as me should calculate the average weekday boardings per mile of the city’s best performing existing bus lines. I suspect that would show that the best candidate for surface rail is actually the M14.

Bolwerk February 5, 2016 - 1:17 pm

I’m sure surface rail would be great on the M14, but I don’t like that approach very much. The M14 seems to do its job and the misery for its riders tends to be short.

Start somewhere the transit isn’t working well. Somewhere that has long trips that aren’t well-suited to buses, where long/straight boulevards are not available, and/or where rush hour capacity is hard to meet. That somewhere would be in close proximity to a potential yard or shop, which the M14 is not. That might not actually be the busiest surface transit route, though it probably should have at least modest-high ridership.

Stuff like the M14 can come later, when a surface rail transit network is built out and the M14 has a route to a yard or shop (over a bridge, I assume).

Tower18 February 5, 2016 - 2:22 pm

There’s an idea! The city is trying to sell off parking lots and spare space within NYCHA properties. Turn them instead into shops and car barns for a streetcar system. NYCHA residents get a new transit option, and likely always get a seat due to being at the beginning of the line. I’m sure this would be received much better than a new highrise.

Bolwerk February 6, 2016 - 4:20 pm

It seems unwise to me to put the land-intensive yards and shops where the most valuable land and biggest housing crisis is. Not to mention that it’s nicer for people to be able to live near their jobs and stuff, while the vehicles don’t have feelings and don’t care where they’re maintained.

Ed Unneland February 5, 2016 - 6:04 pm

Would the BX12 (Inwood, Fordham Rd, Pelham Parkway, Co-op City) be a good candidate for a streetcar?

bigbellymon4 February 5, 2016 - 8:37 pm

The B46 is the perfect candidate for the streetcar because it does have a nearby shop (Flatbush Depot from Kings Plaza). At the other end in Willamsburg, the Grand Street Depot could be used but that might be to far.

Peter February 5, 2016 - 1:24 am

So who runs this? The DOT? A new city agency? I get the political angle, and we all know the MTA isn’t a model of managerial competence, but it seems ludicrous — especially in a city where the transportation network is already balkanized among a multi-state patchwork of agencies — to create yet another entity to manage a single 16-mile rail line. To say nothing of the fare integration question.

Take a fraction of this $2.5 billion, use it to beef up G and R service and buses in the vicinity of this route, and you’ll do almost as much good as the BQX.

Bolwerk February 5, 2016 - 1:21 pm

I’m kind of bemused by the idea. Given the city’s financial constrains, imposed from without, we might very well be forced to run it efficiently. Maybe driverless tech will mature enough in the decade it takes to start it that it won’t even need drivers, which has the ironic side-effect of likely creating a profitable operation.

Not saying it will happen, but if it does it can put to lie at lot of the silliness of the MTA’s labor practices.

tacony February 5, 2016 - 2:25 pm

Or it more likely becomes the embarrassing debacle that is the DC Streetcar.

Stephen Bauman February 5, 2016 - 3:02 am

There are 356,795 people who live within 1/2 mile of one of the proposed streetcar stops. Of these, 328,996 already live within 1/2 mile of a subway station. This leaves only 27,799 additional people who will be within 1/2 mile of rail transit.

There are 132,578 workers who live within 1/2 mile of one of the proposed streetcar stops and who also travel more than 1/2 mile to work. Of this total, only 11,236 also work within 1/2 mile of one of the proposed streetcar stops. Only 2250 would be traveling more than 4 miles.

8696 would be traveling between 1/2 and 4 miles. They will make better time by bike, without working up a sweat.

Marc Shepherd February 5, 2016 - 8:26 am

This is a pretty good example of how to lie with statistics. The question is NOT whether those 356,795 people already live reasonably close to a subway station, but whether the routes passing through those stations take them where they want to go.

Beyond that, of course, is the fact that when you build transit, you alter people’s behavior. Trips that were formerly undesirable become more appealing. This is not an argument for or against this particular proposal, but more of an indication of where the conversation ought to be going.

Stephen Bauman February 5, 2016 - 10:07 am

I tried to answer the question of “whether the routes passing through those stations take them where they want to go” in my second paragraph. To wit:

Government’s major transportation obligation is to facilitate the journey between home and work. I enumerated how many workers lived within 1/2 mile the line (132,578) and did not live within walking distance of their work place. I also enumerated how many of these workers also worked within 1/2 mile of the line (11,236).

I used the 2013 US Census Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics database to derive these numbers. I believe this is an honest attempt to gauge potential use. Moreover, its application ease makes it ideal to comparatively evaluate different scenarios.

If the BQX’s proponents believe these figures do not represent the streetcar line’s potential, they should show the statistical basis for their optimism.

Joe Steindam February 5, 2016 - 10:42 am

The journey to work is definitely important, as it is inherently an economic activity, and one governments are most intent on serving. But the journey to work, according to nearly every household transportation survey done, accounts for something like 27% of all trips we make. The rest fall into smaller chunks of moving around for running errands or making social trips. But since they’re harder to predict and aggregate and accrue into significant traffic flow (except in special cases, like a sporting event or a a celebration like Times Square on New Years Eve), they are mostly ignored in considerations of how best to accommodate travel and provide mobility.

All of this is to say the journey to work is significant in determining transit investments, it has long been a metric used in some form or another to determining transit service and alignment, but these decisions should also consider broader mobility as a metric to consider.

Now I’m still a skeptic of the BQX. The BQX line would certainly provide mobility improvements merely by existing, as any line would, but I’m not sure outside of a few areas (Red Hook, maybe western Astoria) that it would provide a significant transformation in your mobility options.

Henry February 5, 2016 - 11:53 am

There are already bus routes (The B61/B62) that run this exact route, and they are not crowded, nor do they run particularly frequently. For a fraction of the price you could improve bus options significantly. The fact that these bus routes exist is also not a good omen for the streetcar; they used to be one route, but it was split up because it became too unreliable.

VMC February 5, 2016 - 1:43 pm

Those bus lines do not run into Queens.

Henry February 5, 2016 - 1:53 pm

The B62 has its northern terminus in Long Island City. On its own, extensions to Astoria and Sunset Park are not going to create jumps in ridership that are enough to justify $2.5B, and the bus routes all have spare capacity.

Sam February 5, 2016 - 2:07 pm

I understand the arguments against this plan but some are a bit simplistic. Let me explain:

1) “There are already buses and some subway stations” That’s true, but both the city and private developers have invested heavily in neighborhoods along the waterfront. Domino, massive apartments in LIC and Domino in Williamsburg South, along with huge development at the Navy Yard and Industry City mean many more people and jobs than current infrastructure can support. The looming L train shutdown further highlights this problem.

2) “There are better uses of city money.” This is also true BUT, the governor has made it politically impossible to get anything done with respect to the MTA. The mayor wants to break ground on something. If you’re looking for someone to blame, blame Cuomo (this has always been the case)

3) “It’s a giveaway to developers” Maybe, but the neighborhoods along the waterfront are rapidly developing and are in need of transit. Anyone who lives in South Williamsburg and works in Downtown Brooklyn is screwed.

4) “Its in a flood zone” I find this to be the least effective of the arguments. Like it or not, we’ve promoted a massive amount of development in flood zones. NYC is primarily a city of islands. No way around that.

5) Lastly, the same critiques could have been leveled at the very similar Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Project. I think everyone agrees that it’s been very successful.

Henry February 5, 2016 - 6:47 pm

Number 1 is the exact problem. There is a lot of capacity to be squeezed out of the existing infrastructure. The G is crowded, but the trains on the G could also be doubled in length for significantly less cost than building out a new subway. The buses are not the busiest in the city, and if they were going to get busier it would be pretty trivial to just add more buses. Could overcrowding be a problem in the future? Sure. Is it a $2.5B problem? Absolutely not.

Sam February 5, 2016 - 11:58 pm


The streetcar is about the passenger demands of tomorrow. As I said above, the reality is that there is massive development in the pipeline for the waterfront area. Every neighborhood, including Downtown Brooklyn is seeing double digit growth in either the residential, job, or retail sectors. The infrastructure in 10 years, wont be able to keep up.

The G train is far away from the waterfront and is not an ideal solution. The busses are slow and infrequent. If this can be funded in a value capture system, it makes alot of sense and could spur a much larger light rail system.

Henry February 6, 2016 - 11:47 am

The things that would make a streetcar either slow or fast could also make a bus slow or fast. There is nothing inherently better about streetcars, and certainly nothing that makes them worth spending $2.5B on, when there are corridors that are busier and more underserved that have never been promised a streetcar or a subway in the first place. It just so happens that serving gentrifying transient hipsters and property developers is a lot more politically acceptable than building rail for working class minorities, students, and commuters who have lived in the city their whole life and not seen a dollar’s worth of MTA investment.

TomSchmidt February 6, 2016 - 12:02 pm

Actually, there IS something inherently better about a streetcar. It’s more obvious in New Orleans, but would apply to the battered streets of Brooklyn, too. The ride on rails is MUCH smoother and more pleasant than any bus ride could be, unless on perfectly flat concrete.

One problem is we try to create a commodity product in public transportation. I am old enough to remember first and second-class cars on the Paris Metro. If the rich want to pay for a premium service in transit, let them, and use the excess money to support building infrastructure for all. Imagine using the express tracks on the Bronx elevated trains (Woodlawn and Dyre Avenue) to build a way for an elite Westchester streetcar to feed into the subway. At Metronorth prices (and maybe more; charge for a first class car with amenities and let people pay), you could use some unused infrastructure and improve service for the subway riders as well.

Henry February 6, 2016 - 2:26 pm

The odds are, however, that this will not be a project for the rich paid for by the rich; at least some money is going to have to come from the general fund, a good portion of which is taxes from outer Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Staten Island residents who haven’t seen an improvement in their commutes since the MTA was created in 1968.

This idea that we should use City-owned express tracks to funnel in Westchester residents at a premium fare is ridiculous when you consider that most of the Bronx ridership comes from within the Bronx anyways, and that the express services for Bronx residents are already full during the peak hour. Dedicating it to Westchester residents would lengthen commutes for most New Yorkers even though they are the ones paying for the majority of this service.

adirondacker12800 February 6, 2016 - 6:08 pm

The New Haven tried that and it didn’t work.


AG February 6, 2016 - 6:40 pm

I totally agree with the last half of your statement.

Martin February 5, 2016 - 4:39 pm

I invite you to wait in Williamsburg for the B62 as it crawls through Greenpoint. It’s not a reliable bus at all. Now, could we make it more reliable by eliminating street parking and giving it a designated bus lane – absolutely. But you get more passengers into a streetcar.

mister February 5, 2016 - 5:44 pm

But those passengers aren’t there. You get even more passengers into a heavy rail train that’s grade separated, but there’s just not enough ridership, and there’s not enough to justify a streetcar either.

Henry February 5, 2016 - 7:25 pm

Capacity on the bus is not a problem. It isn’t even the most frequent route in Brooklyn; if capacity is a problem then we can add buses for a lot cheaper than building out a streetcar.

(Unless you’re trotting out the “rail is more popular than a bus” canard, which is also not worth spending $2.5B on when transit unpopularity is the least of our issues.)

anon_coward February 5, 2016 - 8:42 am

the subways mostly go through manhattan and from what I hear the G train is only like 4-5 cars and always full to the point that people have to wait for another train

Stephen Bauman February 5, 2016 - 10:20 am

It’s difficult to judge how crowded the G train is because its passenger counts are not included in NYMTC’s Hub Bound Report. The reason for this omission is that the G does not enter Manhattan’s CBD.

What is known, is that it operates 8 half length trains between 8 and 9 am. This service requires 52 rail cars.

If the G train is as crowded as you state, an additional 52 rail cars would double the service and should eliminate crowding. The cost of each rail car is approximately $2.5 million. The capital cost for doubling G service would be $130 million.

If overcrowding on the G train is the BQX’s primary reason for being constructed, the capital cost for providing adequate G train service is only 5.2% the cost of building the BQX.

Sam February 5, 2016 - 3:31 pm

Not really.

Anyone who has tried to get from Downtown Brooklyn to the Navy Yard knows that transportation is sorely lacking. Red Hook doesn’t have subway access. Industry City is far enough from the subway that a shuttle is required. The Williamsburg waterfont is more than 15 mins from the G train and 10 mins from the JMZ.

The impetus here is that our hub and spoke transit system is a bit outdated. A streetcar/light rail system in the other 4 boroughs could be a great, effective way to increase mass transit that’s not through the Manhattan.

mister February 5, 2016 - 5:10 pm

No doubt that a Manhattan-centric system doesn’t completely reflect the realities of current commuting, but how is a plodding streetcar going to fix this? Even if it is traffic separated, no one is proposing grade separation. It’s going to be too slow to be a viable crosstown trunk line, like the TRX could be and like the G is to some extent. This means that longer distance trips are still going to be faster by subway-bus, unless you’re making a one-seat ride on this new BQX line. It’s going to take nearly an hour to get from Sunset Park to LIC on this thing, even that one seat ride could likely be bested by an R to G transfer.

It makes no sense.

Sam February 6, 2016 - 12:01 am

12mph is actually much faster than the current busses, which average 5-7mph.

Keep in mind up to 70% of the system will be its own ROW. I also don’t think that many people are going to ride it from end to end. But, Sunset Park to Red Hook? Red Hook to Downtown Brooklyn? Downtown Brooklyn to the Navy Yard?

Those are links that DO NOT currently exist.

One thing, though… fare integration is a MUST

AG February 6, 2016 - 11:20 am

Triboro RX would help more people… Streetcars could be built in already dense areas that have no subway. This is simply to attract “the hip” who are moving to the waterfront neighborhoods. There are already New Yorkers who have lack of transit in more densely populated areas.

Eric February 6, 2016 - 11:50 am

If the streetcar will be faster than the buses, that’s only because it has separate ROW. Guess what? You can also put buses on a separate ROW, and they will go even faster than a streetcar (they accelerate/decelerate faster), and it will be MUCH cheaper.

Bolwerk February 6, 2016 - 5:28 pm

EMUs certainly accelerate faster, and this is helpful when you stop a lot. More importantly, they load much faster.

Lower per-axle weight and better traction probably let buses decelerate at least negligibly faster. I seriously doubt this matters at 5-15 mph.

Here’s the kicker: if they get around 50k riders a day (insanely high) and that stays static over time, they’re talking about startup costs of about $4.57/rider over 30 years. The project would make sense if those startup costs got to about $1/rider over that time.

mister February 6, 2016 - 6:46 pm

I think that a bus with multiple doors and off-board payment could load just as fast as an EMU.

Bolwerk February 6, 2016 - 9:40 pm

Pretty close I guess, though when it’s busy an EMU can still have 2x as many entrances.

Also, wheelchair boardings disrupt buses more.

Eric February 7, 2016 - 2:39 am

Wheelchair boardings in hipster country are one in a thousand trips, roughly. Totally negligible.

Bolwerk February 7, 2016 - 11:45 am

Probably far, far, far fewer, actually, but not sure it’s entirely negligible when each each vehicle might contain a hundred of those trips at once.

Henry February 6, 2016 - 11:51 am

You can literally make all of those links by a bus, today. Red Hook to Sunset Park? Take the B61 to the B37 (or to the subway). Downtown Brooklyn to Red Hook? Take the B61. Downtown Brooklyn to the Navy Yard? Take the B67 or B57. Just because you might be too pretentious to be seen on a bus doesn’t mean the links don’t exist.

Those are also all easily walkable or bikeable trips. We should not be building transit to compete with people’s own two feet in the first place.

Joe February 5, 2016 - 3:58 pm

The G is 4 cars and gets pretty packed during Rush hour in particular (can’t say I’ve ever had to wait for a next train though) but it’s not particularly crowded off-peak. That said, ridership is definitely growing quickly.

Roxie February 5, 2016 - 4:54 am

I could see some good coming out of this, if they were forced to contiue the line up into the Bronx, perhaps along 3rd Ave to Fordham Rd by way of the RFK bridge. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it’d establish another connection to Queens that isn’t the somewhat unreliable Q44/50. It might be the closest we’d get to both 3rd Ave rail service and the Triboro RX. And honestly, if some rich schmucks want to pony up to improve transit in our city, I’ll take it, even if it isn’t perfect.

VMC February 5, 2016 - 1:48 pm

It would be in the best interest of the creators of the “Piano District”, formerly known as the south Bronx, to have a streetcar that connects easily to other boros. I wonder if this streetcar would be subsidized by the developers eating up waterfront property in BK and Queens. It’s notable that I never heard of this streetcar plan before the development began.

AG February 6, 2016 - 11:24 am

Nowhere in Mott Haven is far from the 6 train. The old 3rd Ave. El corridor is another story. Also Highbridge – Morris Heights – University Heights – Soundview – Castle Hill – Harding Park – Clason Point are another story.

AG February 6, 2016 - 11:26 am

To truly replace the old 3rd Ave. El it would have to go up to Gun Hill Rd. along Webster Ave. as well. The New York Botanical Garden and Fordham Univ. are spearheading the redevelopment of that corridor. It doesn’t look as “sexy” as the waterfront though – so that’s why we hear nothing about it.

Voice of Reason February 5, 2016 - 7:57 am

5 Reasons The BQX is a Stupid Idea

1- The streetcar is advertised to take 27 minutes to go from Greenpoint to Dumbo. The East River Ferry does that same trip TODAY in 15 minutes and requires no further infrastructure.

2 – Many of the roads along the waterfront carry cars, pedestrians and bicyclists – and are already straining at capacity. Adding a streetcar infrastructure won’t deepen the problem – slowing traffic and creating a congestion nightmare for the people who live there.

3 – At peak rush hour, the city is currently running east river ferry boats every 20 minutes along much of the BQX route. Those ferries never run at full capacity and are often half full or less. If someday they do fill up, it would be simple to double capacity as needed by running the boats every 10 minutes – all without clogging the already over-burdened streets along the waterfront.

4 – An observation of ferry ridership during morning rush hour reveals that of the passengers getting on in Dumbo, South Williamsburg, North Williamsburg and Greenpoint – 98 out of 100 get off the ferry at the Manhattan Stop. They DON’T get off in Queens. The real community need is to get Brooklyn and Queens residents to their jobs in Manhattan. Yet the BQX doesn’t travel to Manhattan and has minimal connection to the subway. Who are we building this for? (answer: Brooklyn and Queens real estate developers hoping to capitalize in increase property values).

5- The $2.5B needed to build the streetcar system that will be theoretically “recouped” from residential real estate taxes driven up by increased real estate values and increased taxation – are revenues that are already growing – and will continue to grow – and could be better spent on more important and less invasive infrastructure projects (e.g., fixing the L train, getting better service on the JMZ train, adding a subway stop on the Brooklyn side of Williamsburg Bridge (e.g., Wythe avenue), building parks along the waterfront, adding buses to key routes, adding ferries and ferry stops, etc.)

6 – Growing industrial centers like the Brooklyn Navy Yard will indeed require mass transit to ensure their growth and to provide easy access for the people who will need to travel to these destinations. However, the Brooklyn Navy Yard has more river frontage than any growing industrial center in the northeast. Bringing people to the Navy Yard by ferry from Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan would be one of the easiest and cheapest urban transportation projects in recent memory. Why would we need a streetcar infrastructure running exactly the same route?

Douglas John Bowen February 5, 2016 - 8:28 am

With respect, scratch off Point #1 as “linear-think” all too common for advocates (and critics!) of passenger rail. A given line’s worth is not solely linked to end-point reach. Lots of intermediate points can be served by a streetcar that, I suspect, that speedy ferry does not.

That doesn’t even delve into the issue of “positive redundancy,” which we’ll leave for another day.

I do share the skepticism advanced in Point #5, to be sure.

Henry February 5, 2016 - 11:58 am

Minor quibble about point 5; you can’t add stops closer to the river on the either side of any tunnels or bridges, because at that point you’d have to account for both the slope of the rail line at the location and dealing with modifying the infrastructure around it. The Willy B is a can of worms that I am sure DOT is not willing to reopen, if they have any sense in their heads.

Bolwerk February 5, 2016 - 1:29 pm

#1: two stops? Not as useful as 10 or 15. Fail.

#2: the cars are the problem. Everything else can be accommodated easily. Transit is in the interest of the peds, the cars are not.

#3: people have already voted against ferries with their feet. The people pushing ferries are really out of touch.

#4, #5: hmm, well, that’s probably broadly true or at least debatable

#6: this is the place where the streetcar actually makes a lot of sense. Most people are not near ferries and don’t want the double-transfer penalty to take one. At least a streetcar from Red Hook to Williamsburg’s Marcy stop (a logical terminal) makes that a 1-transfer penalty for J/M and Brooklyn Heights subways. North of Broadway, a streetcar really doesn’t make much sense right now.

mister February 5, 2016 - 5:13 pm

With regard to your point #6, this could easily be established right now with bus service to gauge ridership growth before a major capital investment is made on a whole new maintenance and support system for a mode that doesn’t exist in NYC right now.

Bolwerk February 6, 2016 - 4:14 pm

Not sure that’s possible. A bus automatically won’t be as attractive. They want to turn the Navy Yard into a job center? Fine by me. If a streetcar can really make that happen, I don’t see anything wrong with doing that. Just cop to it. Cop to the possibility the idea could fail too.

In any case, NYC needs light rail. It doesn’t need it here per se, though at least the Red Hook community has asked for it.

Henry February 6, 2016 - 5:07 pm

In regards to instigating development, a streetcar might be better, but in terms of both instigating development AND running well/being affordable, DC’s Circulator bus compares very favorably to the mess that has been DC Streetcar.

Bolwerk February 6, 2016 - 5:53 pm

What is this bizarre intolerance for failure? It’s rather rare for surface rail to financially perform as badly as the average for the local bus system. But it happens. Mistakes are made.

Also, are there so few streetcar failures that the DC streetcar must be mentioned every time? From what I can tell, it’s a good route bungled by incompetent consultants. I assume it will be made to operate properly eventually, and the time wasted will be nothing more than another sunk cost.

As far as light rail fail goes, I’d say VTA is probably the most unambiguous fail in America? It has been around a long time and sometimes even gets a passenger. I don’t think anyone actually bungled the construction. Just, for whatever reason, it’s not well-used.

mister February 6, 2016 - 6:59 pm

Failure can’t be tolerated when you’re proposing to spend $2.5 Billion.

What is it that makes a streetcar “more attractive” than a bus? It’s not necessarily true. If driving isn’t subsidized in the area through free parking, and transit is operated at a high frequency and a high enough speed, then people will be willing to use it regardless of the mode.

There has been tremendous growth in the area already without a streetcar. The notion that a new rail line needs to be built to spur additional growth is not true. And it especially doesn’t make sense when that rail is going to be slow, not well connected to the rest of the transport network, and costs are going to be astronomical. It’s not unlike Cuomo’s LGA link; build rail because it’s cool, but for little practical reason beyond that.

Bolwerk February 6, 2016 - 9:10 pm

Sure it can. It must be, actually. If you want big projects of any sort, you must risk building them. This is axiomatic. Failure doesn’t need to be dire, but there will be times when ridership projections don’t meet expectations, the economy shifts, etc..

My best guess is from the POV of a rider, a (modern anyway) streetcar is simply more pleasant to ride, which is why they are preferred. Buses are “rockier,” and motor buses anyway are louder. On average they’re typically a little slower in practice, though they could adhere to the same schedule. That doesn’t mean buses can’t offer attractive service, because they can and clearly do. And of course there are design reasons to favor buses sometimes…

There has been tremendous growth in the area already without a streetcar.

…but this isn’t one of them either. I don’t really regard this overall as a very useful project, independent of the mode, certainly not at the price it’s being proposed.

I admit to thinking the Navy Yard – Red Hook segment is sort of intriguing though. A bus could do the trip, but given the geography of any potential route I don’t think it would work as well as LRVs. Cf. Woodhaven Blvd. or most Manhattan avenues, where there is little reason to believe there actually is a performance disadvantage for a bus because buses work very well on long, wide boulevards in a dedicated lane. At least, there isn’t a compelling LRV advantage until ridership is so high that surface rail becomes cheaper per-rider.

The rest of the streetcar proposal? Meh.

mister February 9, 2016 - 12:42 pm

I get your point, but the problem here is that the risk of not meeting these ridership projections is probably pretty high.

I also agree that the Navy Yard/Red Hook portion of the proposal is probably the best part of the idea, but I still think the best way to gauge that is to build a BRT styled operation first with off-board fare payment, higher frequency than what exists, and bus lanes is probably a more wise use of funds.

Henry February 6, 2016 - 7:34 pm

Streetcars are usually sold as a catalyst for redevelopment and not as a viable commuting option, so most of those projects are not good comparisons; in our case the development is already here and it’s supposed to function as something actually useful to commute by. The only modern streetcar with a similar length and similar goals is the H Street Streetcar in DC, which was supposed to be part of a citywide system of streetcars. It’s also useful because DC has a high-frequency bus circulator system that serves roughly the same purpose, and has caused development, for a significantly lower cost, so we can measure against an alternative.

As far as the comparison to DC goes, it’s not very flattering, because the business case for the route is actually stronger; it’s supposed to replace a bus route that runs more frequently than the B61/62 do today (suggesting stronger ridership), and the parallel subway line is actually at capacity. Neither of those conditions are true along the Brooklyn waterfront.

Bolwerk February 6, 2016 - 9:37 pm

The DC streetcar, which AFAIK is not even in revenue service yet, seems like it was bungled a bungled capital project. This is not a useful criticism of streetcars. At this point, it’s presumably best to just get it operating because its costs are sunk and it can still provide a good service.

I generally agree* the Brooklyn waterfront project is a bad idea, but I don’t see how buses make it a better idea, and if anything they make it a worse idea.

* same qualification as above, the Red Hook – Navy Yard segment seems worthy. But even then, not at ~$180/mile.

Bolwerk February 6, 2016 - 9:38 pm

~$180 million/mile, that is!

Henry February 7, 2016 - 12:51 am

I’m not saying buses make it *better*, but buses can provide at least some of the same benefits without nearly as much of the cost. Even without bus lanes, you can still speed up buses using traffic signal priority, and the DC Circulator has proved that all you really need is frequent service and a decent media rebranding to get redevelopment going and transit ridership rising.

Bolwerk February 7, 2016 - 3:23 pm

Buses unambiguously reduce costs in one (huge) area: lower startup costs. More ambiguously they might reduce maintenance costs sometimes.

Frequent bus service certainly can work great. Nobody denies that. Sometimes it’s the best choice. I’d venture to guess the people who built the DC Circulator probably knew that, knew the conditions in their city, and really didn’t need to “prove” anything.

That doesn’t mean every mention of a streetcar service should be countered by an unthinking suggestion to use buses instead.

Henry February 7, 2016 - 10:45 pm

I’m not saying that every streetcar project should be buses. Crosstown routes in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan could potentially be light rail routes. This specific one, however, follows the routes of existing bus routes that are not high-ridership or high-frequency and parallels several travel options that are faster. Even with property development the fundamentals are not there.

Bolwerk February 8, 2016 - 12:08 am

True, north of Broadway. South of Broad the picture is somewhat different. There are real transit gaps there, a development picture that’s still at least 10 years behind the northern half of Williamsburg, and a community has actually wanted light rail for some time.

This would make a lot more sense if the scope were limited to that.

LLQBTT February 8, 2016 - 9:49 am

The problem with MTA buses is that they are so notoriously slow and unreliable. Some factors are of course not the fault of the MTA, but so many are in their control and yet this has been the status quo for a half century at least.

johndmuller February 7, 2016 - 3:32 am

The DC Streetcar project is also comparable in that it is supposed to be funded by the District (and maybe with a separate fare system from Metro) perhaps due to difficulties with the WMATA compact – obvious parallel to NYC/MTA relationship. All three DC area jurisdictions seem to be ending up funding their own capital improvements with a concomitant lack of coordination and possibly compatibility.

If DC builds the rest of this starter line, the portions from Union Station to Georgetown, it should be reasonably successful, certainly much more appealing to tourists than the bus system. Larger proposals for extensions are also pretty well thought out (with the possible exception of a lot of street-running), largely recreations of legacy corridors.

The problem in DC is mostly politics, with a greatly scaled-down project just barely surviving (maybe) a change of administration, with constant harping and demagoguery and other political BS. NYC could easily go this way too, eh?

Bolwerk February 7, 2016 - 3:40 pm

Well, to begin, from the standpoint that the NYC project probably mostly does not make sense, we might be off to a worse start in at least one regard. I think there are some great potential corridors for LRT in NYC, and Red Hook might be one of them.

I’m rather less skeptical of NYC’s ability to do the project than I am of its usefulness. Unpredicted cost overruns in NYC tend to come in certain specific areas that are fairly well-documented, and don’t have much to do with running rails by themselves. But this is, of course, a little unprecedented in modern times for us, which is why some people find the idea exciting.

Then part of that worry just seems to be reflexive insinuation. This originates from the usual IQ-of-105 RWA tabloid commentariat, and the Dunning-Kruggered IQ-of-98 masses in the public that lap up whatever they diarrhea out. You know, the people who have to wipe the slobber off their chins before pulling the lever for Rudy or Mitt or Mike or Joe, politicians that of course are just rational technocrats. Those people automatically think BdB is a fuckup who can’t do anything right, even when he does the exact same things as Rudy and Mike and Mitt….

THAT SAID, the insinuation may not be wrong in this case.

LordDeucey February 6, 2016 - 12:31 pm

As someone who rides the East River Ferry from Wall St to North W’burg during Rush Hour frequently, your #3 doesn’t jibe with how long I have to wait for riders to disembark before I get on, nor the line of riders getting on when I disembark.

On another note, I normally use the J train to the job more often than the ERF (I live on Staten Island), and if this streetcar were built with a connection to Marcy Ave or Essex St station, it’d cut my commute from 90 minutes (including waiting for the Q59 or B32 bus) to 70-80 minutes. While that would benefit me (assuming my company remains in W’burg), I don’t see it making much of a dent in transportation issues – given 1) how empty both aforementioned bus routes are normally in this section of town, and 2) most people in W’burg tend to walk everywhere to/from the L or take the B62, bus-only lanes on Bedford would make more sense.

The money for this line should be spent on the Utica Ave Line, 2 AV extension to 125 St or the Bronx, or another cross-Brooklyn line (on Kings Hwy?) between 4th AV Broadway Junction to start the Triboro Rx line.

Douglas John Bowen February 5, 2016 - 8:32 am

Ben Fried, usually spot on, misses on this score, succumbing to the “laundry” list of worthwhile-ness which, applied here, makes BQX somehow invalid because others are deserving. I can vouch from experience that such purity would have killed some metro-area rail projects that, while not No. 1, have proven worthwhile. To his credit, Mr. Kabak spots this issue.

Mr. Kabak also sagely cites flooding issues as a real and valid concern, something this advocate hadn’t considered at all — good job and my thanks.

Ben Fried February 5, 2016 - 5:34 pm

It’s not just that other projects are more deserving, it’s that this project is not worth building. The whole thing is a pretty transparent ploy by Two Trees et al, and the idea that costs will be covered by a property tax increment is laughable. This commenter is spot on.

Bolwerk February 6, 2016 - 4:48 pm

Is this this is a transparent ploy too? I don’t suppose Walter Hook’s economic stake in promoting BRT is coincidental.

Jonathan Forte February 5, 2016 - 9:52 am

If we’re going to build light rail in NYC, the route that has always made the most sense to me would be one that connects the northern subway stops in the Bronx, starting at 238 or Van Cortland on the 1 and heading east to East Tremont and over the Whitestone Br.

Jonathan R February 5, 2016 - 10:30 am

Such a route would be an extension westward of the Q44 SBS bus. But the Q44 is a lot less crowded than the Bx12; why not lay the streetcar tracks along that line?

Henry February 5, 2016 - 12:01 pm

To be honest, the Bx12 makes a lot more sense as an extension of the A, simply because most of the right-of-way is so large that it could reasonably host a rail line. In fact, it has been proposed to bring the A to Fordham Plaza in the recent past, and connecting between Inwood and Fordham is the difficult part of building a cross-Bronx subway line.

The true light rail line should be a line operating similar to the Green Line subway in Brooklyn; a light rail tunnel under 181 St that turns into surface running in the Bronx, with all current bus routes using 181 St converted to light rail.

Henry February 5, 2016 - 12:01 pm

That should say Boston, not Brooklyn.

johndmuller February 7, 2016 - 4:14 am

This cross Bronx route sounds like a good idea in whatever version, light rail, subway or the combo.

W/R the subway variations, the 1 line could also be re-routed at or before 207th St and sent east to Fordham instead of the A (which would be extended to finish off the 1’s current route). Running an elevated line across the Harlem River and (vertically) straight into a tunnel in the high Bronx riverbank would cut down the vertical grade some and the IRT hardware would give more connection and yard options as the Bronx lines are nearly all IRT.

AG February 7, 2016 - 10:02 am

Yeah – you would think that with the debacle of the Cross Bronx Expressway causing so many problems in The Bronx that someone would have had the bravery to right the wrong and put a cross subway going across the borough as a sort of atonement… But it never happened.

Henry February 7, 2016 - 12:17 pm

The A already has a tunnel running to the edge of the river at the 207 St Yard. I don’t really know how much the Harlem River is used for shipping these days, but you don’t need to tunnel that deep to do it.

I prefer extending the A simply because I don’t know if the 1 line that far north was built to B-Division standard, and because the B-Division trains have more capacity. Line length would be an issue, though.

AG February 7, 2016 - 9:51 pm

I think the A would be the better extension as well. If for no other reason the ability for transfers to different lines in Manhattan.

johndmuller February 8, 2016 - 9:05 pm

I see what you mean about the A train’s yard tracks being a step already in the right direction, not to mention the flying junction and all the switching already installed.

Mostly I’d like to extend the A to Westchester (i.e. Yonkers in this case) rather than the 1 train (as if Westchester is actually on anyone else’s top 10 list, let alone someone who mattered), so I agree that the A is probably more of a candidate to go east than the 1, realistically speaking.

I thought I read somewhere that the Bronx part of the 1 was indeed built to B division standards and in any case it has that middle track which could be sacrificed if there was insufficient horizontal clearance. Stations could always be lengthened (there are only a few anyway) and the edges of platforms pruned in any case, so I’m pretty sure that the A could ride those rails; there don’t seem to be any tight curves, except who knows about the yard near the end of the line.

adirondacker12800 February 8, 2016 - 9:55 pm

It was part of the original subway. Before there was a BMT. Well when there was a BRT in Brooklyn. Only.

matthew February 5, 2016 - 3:21 pm

Yes, that makes a lot more sense since Fordham Rd is the 3rd largest commercial district in the city. Such a streetcar line could connect the A and 1 line to the 4 line, the D line, 2 MetroNorth stations(University Heights and Fordham Station), the Fordham Plaza bus hub, the Bronx Little Italy, The Bronx Zoo and NY Botanical Garden, and then once it gets to Pelham Parkway it would connect to the 2, the 5, and be a very short walk from the light rail line to the 6 train.
The street already has a dedicated bus lane, and a SBS route and parts of the roadway are already grade separated from cross streets. Upgrading the route to a streetcar could use the same stops locations and fare vending machines as the existing SBS stops with the same fare proof of payment system. You might need to elevate the curb slightly for at grade boarding, but that could be done as a ramp adjacent to the existing fare machines.

The route itself would run straight with no turns which would make it faster, and there is already a large bus ridership along the route, so it would have a high ridership.
I would assume that once the city builds the route they would contract with the MTA to operate it similar to how the city is contracted with the MTA to operate the subway the city owns.

LordDeucey February 6, 2016 - 12:38 pm

You’d have to contend with the Jerome Ave bottleneck, but a below-grade LRT (like LA’s Blue/Expo Lines above Pico, including the future Regional Connector to Union Station) along Fordham to the Bronx Zoo, then At Grade/Aerial in the Pelham Pkwy median to Co-Op city (which I think is how the streetcar that became the BX12 was routed) would be awesome and bring “irrigation” to a transit desert.

AG February 7, 2016 - 10:04 am

Yes Fordham is the 3rd largest commercial district – but it doesn’t have the hipsters that the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront do – so no developers are pushing for it. “Tale of Two Cities” Deblasio is a phony.

VLM February 5, 2016 - 10:17 am

This is in reply to both “Voice of Reason” and “Jonathan Forte” so I’m leaving this here instead of replying. If we were planning a surface light rail network in NYC with unlimited money and unlimited political support, there are of course better routes, but you’re missing Ben’s last point. Considering that this has support and a potential funding scheme, is this route good enough to build out? I think the answer is a qualified yes, but just because you’ve identified better routes or drew some lines on the map doesn’t mean the politics are there to ever see it built. There are some valuable lessons to learn here.

Henry February 5, 2016 - 12:04 pm

“Potential funding scheme” is very shaky, considering that 1. The areas in question are already being redeveloped, so if we’re using property tax districts the horse has already bolted out of the barn.

The only other project where this kind of funding is the case is the Hudson Yards, which the city has spent millions on tax breaks for to move companies into the district. If a business district in the size of tens of millions of square feet is not enough to break even on a single-stop subway extension, what is?

Larry Littlefield February 5, 2016 - 10:22 am

DeBlasio will probably claim this $2.5 billion is the city’s contribution to mass transit, in lieu of contributing to the MTA. And blame the deterioration on Cuomo.

Cuomo in turn will not contribute and blame DeBlasio.

They may have already agreed to this.

AG February 6, 2016 - 11:30 am

Sadly – you could be very right indeed.

AlexB February 5, 2016 - 10:23 am

I wonder about light rail on the St. Albans branch of the LIRR, or the Lower Montauk Branch (or a combination of both).

Also wonder about light rail on Webster Ave or Park Ave on the road or somehow in the Metro North ROW.

Both of these ideas seem like they’d better serve underserved communities than a waterfront light rail through flood plains that doesn’t connect with the subway.

AG February 6, 2016 - 11:31 am

Simply because those plans don’t have rich developers backing them… No matter what DeBlasio says to pretty it up – that’s the reality.

Phantom February 5, 2016 - 10:27 am

This seems to be a very good idea to me. I would use it.

But it only makes sense if there are transfers to and from MTA buses and trains.

And it should only be considered if there is a vastly expedited review process and construction timetable. NYC NYS and the construction industry need to show that they have some competence to get things done right, on a budget and on a timetable that is as good or better as other major cities do it.

Rob February 5, 2016 - 10:33 am

‘state-of-the-art streetcar’ – that’s an oxymoron.

and schwartz is nuts to think feds won’t be involved. no way city will build it w/o fed $. IMO $2.5 bil is a helluva lot compared to what nyc spends on its whole transit system.

Henry February 5, 2016 - 12:01 pm

7 Line Extension was $2.1B and was only City money.

Phantom February 5, 2016 - 12:20 pm

State of the art streetcar is no oxymoron

I’ve taken the LUAS light rail in Dublin. It is a wonderful service that runs slow in center city and quite fast once you get to the less built up areas. It is hugely popular.Such a service could be very useful in parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.


Dexter February 5, 2016 - 10:37 am

Just one question. Why doesn’t the City build it, then lease it to the MTA?

Dexter February 5, 2016 - 11:55 am

Let me clarify. The City could handle the construction and equipping of the line while the MTA handles the operating costs.

Eric Brasure February 5, 2016 - 4:06 pm

I bet you they will. For example, the Portland streetcar was funded and built by the City of Portland, but it’s operated by Trimet.

Henry February 7, 2016 - 12:18 pm

Not necessarily. DC formed an entirely new agency to operate its streetcar, probably due to jurisdictional issues regarding WMATA.

mister February 5, 2016 - 12:09 pm

Without comparing the plan to other projects of greater merit, this still doesn’t pass the sniff test.

-It’s going to create $25 Billion in economic development? Where? Williamsburg is already growing. here’s already a proposal to build office space there too. The Navy Yard has been experiencing a turn around for years and only recently got improved bus service in the form of a part-time extension of the B67. Unless the argument is that they’re going to expand the proliferation of luxury housing to Astoria and Sunset Park.

-The existing bus routes don’t generate much ridership. The B62/B61 already serve the heart of this route, and neither one is bursting at the seams. They operate at relatively low frequencies and generally operate as connectors to the existing rail system. Other outlets are citing a quote that puts this ridiculous spin on why BRT wouldn’t work here by saying that “with 52-53,000 riders per day, you would need a bus that operates on a 60 second headway”. Of course, that’s not true, because we actually DO have bus lines that carry that many daily riders over shorter distances, and they don’t have headway that high, and there is likely to be a lot of turnover throughout the route.

This is a case of using public money/projects to line the pockets of private developers. Simple changes to the existing bus network in the area could achieve the same improvements in travel time for a FRACTION of the cost. And, finally, there are many bigger transit priorities. Triboro RX, CBTC installation the full SAS buildout – all more important priorities than this. If the Mayor wants to build a signature project, maybe he should find something that would be integrated with the existing network and put his money behind that, much the way the Bloomberg did with 7 West.

Larry Littlefield February 5, 2016 - 1:50 pm

I use the B61, and it is heavily used.

But it takes forever, and here is why. It has to keep changing directions with very tight turns, and there aren’t a lot of good alternatives in Red Hook. I don’t see anyway light rail can handle the route.

mister February 5, 2016 - 5:20 pm

The 61 is well used, but it runs at an 8 minute headway, max. It’s not the 6, or the 35, or the 38 or the 41, or the 44, or the 46… you get he idea.

Chris L February 5, 2016 - 12:38 pm

There certainly should be light rail in the Bronx. The elevated Third Ave El (the 8 train) ran from 149th to Gun Hill Road via Third Ave and Webster. There’s a lot of new housing going up along Third. Light rail would be good for the Bronx. I think feasibility studies for the Bronx and SI should be conducted. These lines should all use the same vehicle design to streamline things. The Bergen Hudson lightrail could go into State Island too.

Phantom February 5, 2016 - 1:00 pm

I think that the greatest unmet transit need in the region in good connections between Staten Island and New Jersey.

There is such an enormous flow of people every day, principally over the ratty Goethals and Outerbridge, and the huge, frequent delays on both, and not one public bus and not one public train, ever.

I’m amazed that there is nearly no talk of it.

I think that if there was a light rail or bus connection that connected to NJT rail, it would be a very big success.

And a light rail connection from SI to Bayonne is a non brainer too.

Jason February 5, 2016 - 12:42 pm

Given how little Triborough Rx would have to do with the MTA if at all like this project. They should do this instead. A connection between Bronx and Queens would be tremendous.

Gian February 5, 2016 - 1:02 pm

Install CBTC on more of the subway system, faster. Build the proposed West Shore Light Rail on Staten Island. Build Triboro RX. Run the F express in Brooklyn and use the extra room to run more G trains. Extend the G to Astoria. Build a Utica Avenue subway. Build more of the Second Avenue subway. Extend the LIRR Atlantic Branch into lower Manhattan. Send Metro-North trains to Penn Station.

There’s a million things that can be done and should be done to improve both access to and quality of transit service. So focus on those before you spend $2.5 billion on a streetcar that runs parallel to a subway.

Phantom February 5, 2016 - 1:39 pm

Extend the G to Astoria? What would that accomplish? Why not extend The L train to the middle of the Hudson River? Are people talking about this?

bigbellymon4 February 5, 2016 - 9:32 pm

Instead of extending the G, the better idea would be placing the N/Q Astoria line underground (instead of letting it surface) and run it as a expanded from 3 to 4-tracks to Ditmars Blvd. The 7 would be by itself at Queensboro, which is extremely bad, but if the money was a round also place the 7 underground and expand the line to 4 tracks also. This would connect two major hubs in eastern Queens (obviously), allow express (not only peak direction) on Astoria line (stops: Quuensboro, Broadway, Astoria, then Ditmars) and allow express (not only peak) on the 7 (maybe an added express stop at 74th).

With the L train, turn it north at 10av and run it to 72nd. That would do wonders for the 2/3 during rush hours (which is at capacity from 72nd to Penn).

Justin Samuels February 6, 2016 - 1:25 am

Some of you miss the point the reason why the light rail is being proposed. The city is paying for this light rail project of it’s pocket because light rail or anything above the ground is substantially CHEAPER than building new subways.

A 16 mile light rail project costs 2.5 billion, while extended the Q train two miles to 96th Street (phase one of the Second Avenue Subway) costs 4.5 billion. To build the remaining phases for the 8.5 mile full length Second Avenue Subway will cost at least 12 billion.

So there is totally no chance of the N train being build underground in Queens as a 4 track subway when the 2nd Avenue Subway in Manhattan is only two tracks.

People on these forums can come up with fantastic lines by drawing on a map, but they can never identify funding sources in the current political realities.

The real estate industry is supporting the BQX, so with their support the city can make this happen.

AG February 6, 2016 - 11:36 am

“The real estate industry is supporting the BQX, so with their support the city can make this happen.”

That is the ONLY reason it is being discussed! Based on merit – this is not one of the most meaningful projects. $2.5 billion could help speed up the MTA capital plan. This is all political folly to appease the rich who want to live on the waterfront.

Henry February 6, 2016 - 11:55 am

That is $2.5B that could be used to plug the hole in the MTA Capital Plan, or to fund road repairs, or to do basically anything else that is actually useful to real New Yorkers. How much SBS or BRT could we be installing for $2.5B if the most expensive line on Woodhaven is only $200M.

Jeff February 6, 2016 - 11:01 pm

Except that 2.5 billion Is coming from the projected tax increases along the route in the first place. You’re NOT getting that money unless you do the light rail project. Money doesn’t just appear out of thin air unlike what many on this site thinks.

AG February 6, 2016 - 11:05 pm

Wrong… That was true of the #7 extension at Hudson Yards since that was a blank slate. This is not. Those “projections” could very well still happen since the waterfront is hot. this will make it “more hot” – POTENTIALLY – but this is no Hudson Yards by any stretch.

Justin Samuels February 7, 2016 - 4:02 pm

The real estate developers paid for the feasibility study and told the major that they were perfectly fine with area real estate taxes paying off city bonds used to finance the BQX project. Therefore the real estate sector along the waterfront has said they are happy to pay for a transit line for THEIR AREA only.

This money is not available for any other uses.

It’s happening only because powerful business interests are willing to pay for it and have already paid for the feasibility study.

So you can’t just like at a random map at NYC and decide other areas should have lines first without identifying who is going to pay for it and who is willing to pay for it. Keep in mind the wet dream of many here, congestion pricing has been repeatedly blocked. This is likely the best we can get for outer borough transit expansion for now. The only other project in the works is an Airtrain to LGA.

AG February 7, 2016 - 9:58 pm

Are you sure it’s ALL property tax revenue??? I think that would be illegal. I’m pretty sure it would be new developments going up in that area. By the time this thing starts to get build – there is no guarantee what will be going on in those areas. It’s “projections”. Just like the $2.5 billion probably would be $5 billion. So as my original statement – this is not another Hudson Yards.

But no it’s not the only expansion. The east Bronx is getting 4 new Metro North stations and Queens is getting 2 new LIRR stations. Those are in the capital plans. Big difference from this “rich getting richer” plan that the “Tale of Two Cities” mayor is ironically endorsing.

Henry February 7, 2016 - 10:49 pm

So, some specific tax surcharge, on top of whatever property tax is already levied, is supposedly going to fund this completely. I have a hard time believing that, particularly when the supposedly total TIF financing of the 7 Line Extension only worked out when the city used tax breaks to lure companies as anchors in Hudson Yards.

Any transit construction is not necessarily better than no transit construction. The AirTrain to LGA is a similarly awful project on the fundamentals.

Henry February 7, 2016 - 12:19 pm

The development is already happening on the waterfront. Any possible tax increment financing is going to come online at the peak of the market. That ship sailed a long time ago.

Jeff February 7, 2016 - 5:31 pm

Correction, residential development is happening at the some areas of this river front. There are still locations ripe for residential development, including Sunset Park, Red Hook, Greenpoint, parts of Astoria.

More importantly they are looking to develop the Navy Yards and Industry City as commercial tech hubs. They can’t do that with the current levels of transportation.

It’s the same situation as Hudson Yards, except the coverage area is much much more in this case which makes the singular purposes from the 7 line extension much less obvious, but the commercial benefits are there.

adirondacker12800 February 7, 2016 - 6:52 pm

Industry City is a block away from the subway.

AG February 7, 2016 - 10:00 pm

The Navy Yard and Industry City are already growing in terms of jobs… Hudson Yards had literally nothing.

Eric February 7, 2016 - 2:51 am

The city is never going to destroy an existing elevated line to replace it with a subway. That would mean all the expenses of a new subway line to an unserved area, with none of the transportation benefits.

The closest parallel in the US would be the northern Chicago Red Line which is 100+ years old and falling apart. They considered demolishing it an building a subway nearby on a faster, less curvy ROW. But in the end they decided on expensive repair and renovation of the existing elevated line instead.

adirondacker12800 February 7, 2016 - 3:52 am
Eric February 8, 2016 - 5:31 am

Yes, we all know it has happened in the past. Construction expenses were lower and political willpower much higher than they are today. But that was many decades ago. It wouldn’t happen now unless the elevated line was close to needing replacement anyway, like in Chicago.

Bolwerk February 7, 2016 - 9:11 pm

I suspect at some point all els will need to be completely replaced. That will probably mean demolition followed by replacement by less intrusive modern viaducts though.

Phantom February 5, 2016 - 6:07 pm

This was proposed by the same mayor who proposed extending the IRT into Brooklyn without consulting the governor or MTA first? A proposal that was a complete waste of time, with zero chance of happening?

Is this more of the same?

Henry February 5, 2016 - 7:28 pm

I mean, at least Utica has been on several wishlists over the year and actually benefits commuters. If they studied it the business case would probably be very strong given the ridership of the B46 on Utica today.

bigbellymon4 February 5, 2016 - 9:42 pm

But instead of extending the IRT, why not use the Fulton/Utica abandoned platforms to turn around trains on Utica Av that run down to Ave H (maybe Kings Plz, but I think that is a flood prone area). Yard access would be via the center track that is between the express tracks on the eastern side of the station complex. That center would go down (after budding off the expresses), turn south, and come back up to meet the between the expresses on the Utica Av line and diverge on the expresses that lead into the Utica/Eastern Av station. Leaving for yard: last stop Eastern Pkwy, then the track I propose. Entering service: Come from track and enter on the express side. After station trains can either go local or express with a double crossover.

Henry February 7, 2016 - 12:20 pm

Direct access to Manhattan is pretty important, and the IRT just happens to have a line ending at Utica. Extending the IRT down Utica does not preclude extending it north and using B-Division trains.

Chris February 6, 2016 - 11:24 am

DiBlasio recognizes that many of the problems with the MTA comes from Albany, and its resistance to let NYC take care of its transportation needs. Upstate sees NYC as a leech on upstate tax revenues, and Downstate rightfully feels that Upstate is the real leech on Downstate tax revenues and other resources. (And in another forum, I have discussed the upstate (in remote areas) prison industry, where they place downstate felons, providing jobs upstate – another way monies that should be spent downstate are kept upstate for people who just don’t want to leave areas which have no economic justification for being.) He rightly feels that if he can keep Albany out of the mix, he can get things done – even with NYC bureaucracy.

So, let’s look at the streetcar proposal. For the first thing, the idea of using street cars instead of buses may make sense. By isolating a right of way for the street cars (which could have been done for buses), they can travel at a faster speed than if there were reserved right of way. Next, it is a way for NYC to create (for the short term) jobs which will help develop the infrastructure of the city. And lastly, it may increase the number of people who use mass transit, because it becomes much easier to use.

Would this money be better spent if it went to projects like the 2nd avenue subway? Possibly. But large, underground projects like the 2nd Ave Subway, ESA, and the recently opened #7 extension to 34th street are extremely expensive, and tend to be Manhattan centric. This is a relatively “cheap” political way for the mayor to sate some of the cravings of Brooklyn and Queens civic leaders for more useful mass transit options. (Again, Staten Island keeps getting screwed!) Yet, if it weren’t for the political, and regulatory headaches of railroad issues, the RX transit line from Bay Ridge to the Bronx may have made more sense.

In the end, I have a feeling that NYC will choose street car options, only because it keeps Albany off its collective ass when generating mass transit options. If this route proves successful (a big IF!), then I think NYC will expand the idea into more areas of the outer boroughs and the cross streets of Manhattan – just to get things done without Albany’s interference….

Henry February 6, 2016 - 2:44 pm

The reason the projects are Manhattan-centric is because the system is at capacity in the core; you cannot add any more outer borough capacity without addressing the core capacity first. SAS at least has larger benefits deriving from congestion relief on the Lexington Avenue Line; this is just a toy for transplants and has no real side benefits.

Stephen Bauman February 6, 2016 - 11:47 pm

The reason the projects are Manhattan-centric is because the system is at capacity in the core; you cannot add any more outer borough capacity without addressing the core capacity first.

That’s not true. Daily subway ridership is at near record levels. Peak period ridership has declined since 1984. According to NYMTC’s 2014 Hub Bound Report Appendix I Table 2, the 8-9am period constituted 32.2% of the daily inflow in 1960; 31.1% in 1984 and 19.1% in 2014. The percentages for the 7-10am period for the same years are 59.4, 59.9 and 43.5. Further examination of previous reports show that the peak hour declines are absolute as well. Peak period trains are crowded because the MTA operate far fewer peak period trains and subway cars than they did in the past.

SAS at least has larger benefits deriving from congestion relief on the Lexington Avenue Line

No it doesn’t. The MTA policy is to adjust service levels to maintain loading guidelines. Any displacement of riders from the Lex to the SAS, will be met by reducing service levels on the Lex. This will maintain the present Lex loading guidelines (crowding).

Here’s a case in point, using previous NYMTC’s Hub Bound Reports from 1971, 1975 (after the financial crisis) and 2014. Between 8 and 9am, the Lex (local and express) carried 67,780 passengers on 547 cars for 124 pass/car in 1971. The figures for 1975 were 65,000 passengers on 500 cars for 130 pass/car. The 2014 figures are 51,016 passengers on 490 cars for 104 pass/car. Had the MTA operated 547 cars in 2014, there would have been 93 pass/car. The MTA’s rush hour loading guideline is 110 pass/car.

Henry February 7, 2016 - 1:17 am

Peak period ridership has declined since 1984. According to NYMTC’s 2014 Hub Bound Report Appendix I Table 2, the 8-9am period constituted 32.2% of the daily inflow in 1960; 31.1% in 1984 and 19.1% in 2014. The percentages for the 7-10am period for the same years are 59.4, 59.9 and 43.5. Further examination of previous reports show that the peak hour declines are absolute as well.

Are we looking at the same 2014 Hub Bound Travel Report? According to Appendix I – Table 1B, since 1993 the amount of people entering the hub from 7am-10am by subway has increased from 859,000 to 910,000, and the percentage of hub-bound travel by subway has also increased from 62.2% in 1993 to 63.8% . According to Table 2, the total share of ALL travelers entering the CBD during the peak hour has dropped; it’s not that subway or auto entries during the peak hour are declining, but that the proportion of travelers travelling outside the traditional peak hour is rising due to increasing off-peak travel.

Even if your statement was true, the subway is at capacity. According to page 5 of this report from the State Comptroller, 15 out of 20 lines are at peak track capacity, and ten lines are at track and train capacity.

No it doesn’t. The MTA policy is to adjust service levels to maintain loading guidelines. Any displacement of riders from the Lex to the SAS, will be met by reducing service levels on the Lex. This will maintain the present Lex loading guidelines (crowding).

Which would be true, except the Lex is currently so overcrowded that any ridership diverted would not result in a decrease in capacity. It’s not uncommon for me to have to wait for a second or third train on the Lex during the peak hour; with 1.3 million daily riders the Lex alone has more ridership than the entire transit systems of San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston. That figure comes from the SAS FEIS, which was conducted in 2004; ridership has only increased since then.

Stephen Bauman February 7, 2016 - 10:40 pm

Are we looking at the same 2014 Hub Bound Travel Report? According to Appendix I – Table 1B, since 1993 the amount of people entering the hub from 7am-10am by subway has increased from 859,000 to 910,000,

We are looking at the same 2014 Hub Bound Travel Report. If you look at the 1993 Hub Bound Travel Report, the same table you cited, you note that the years from 1978 to 1993 saw the following totals (in thousands): 863; 898; 935; 954; 962; 958; 964; 980; 949; 935; 974; 1,009; 877;891;873 and 859. I stand by my statement that the peak period subway travel has decreased absolutely. One just has to go back a bit to verify this.

the subway is at capacity. According to page 5 of this report from the State Comptroller, 15 out of 20 lines are at peak track capacity, and ten lines are at track and train capacity.

That’s a report from the MTA not an audit by the State Comptroller. There is a capacity problem, the MTA lacks sufficient trains to operate on a sustained basis. If the problem were track capacity, then operating trains at greater than this track capacity would not be possible for short durations.The current schedule indicates otherwise.

The RPA’s May 2014 Moving Forward Report also believes these lines are operating at track capacity. However, this report gives the absolute trains per hour (tph) figures. Another comparison is a map of peak am service that the TA published with their first annual report in 1954. They operated 30 tph in 1954 on the West Side express (today’s 2 and 3). The RPA lists they currently operate 23 tph and that this is capacity. This is confirmed in the report you cited. A check of the computer format schedules the MTA publishes for app developers also shows the MTA operates 23 trains at 72nd St between 8:02:30 and 9:01:00. A further examination shows that the headways between trains are not evenly spaced. In particular, trains leave 72nd St 2 minutes after the previous train at: 8:22:00(2); 8:26:30(2); 8:28:30(3) and 8:35:00(3). Following these trains as far as Wall St shows they maintain the same 2 minute headway. A 2 minute headway = 30 tph.

The RPA contends the 6 is maxed out at 24 tph at 68th St. They operated 30 tph back in 1954. They operate 23 tph between 8 and 9am according to the computer schedule. A closer look shows that 8:00:00, 8:39:30, 8:46:30, 8:51:00, 8:53:00 and 8:57:30 depart 2 minutes after their preceding train. All these trains are still 2 minutes behind the preceding train when the reach Brooklyn Bridge. This shows that the signal system would still permit 30 tph operation, if the MTA operated 6 trains at 2 minute intervals.

That figure comes from the SAS FEIS, which was conducted in 2004; ridership has only increased since then.

Let me cite the following nugget from chapter 9D p 15 of the MIS/DEIS

“Lexington Avenue Line. The current NYCT signal system on the Lexington Avenue line is designed to allow 90-second headways, including a 30-second allowance for station dwell times, with operating headways of 120 seconds. The additional 30 seconds in the operating headway is meant to allow trains to move far enough ahead of the following trains, so the following trains generally can run on green signals. Ideally, 30 trains per hour can be scheduled along this line.”

Henry February 7, 2016 - 11:02 pm

They operated 30 tph back in 1954.

Did they actually operate this amount of service, or did they say that they did? The distinction matters, because look at this tidbit in page 1-6 of the FEIS:

Information on car and train capacity in the subway system—including on the Lexington Avenue Line—is provided in Chapter 5, “Transportation.” NYCT schedules 29 express trains on the southbound Lexington Avenue Line during peak hours. Given the merge between the 4 and 5 routes north of 125th Street and the constraints of the platform lengths and signal system, this is currently the maximum capacity of the line.

Because of frequent congestion south of 125th Street, only 24 to 26 of the 29 scheduled express trains depart Grand Central station during the peak hour. Congestion is most directly attributed to excessive dwell times (the time a train is stopped within a station to load and unload passengers).

If overcrowding has increased at certain points in the system then it seems as if that would be enough to decrease throughput due to things like the door being unable to close or inefficient boarding/alighting of passengers. In my experience using the East Side IRT at Penn going downtown during the rush, the excessive dwell time could also be a factor there as well; when I was commuting I would have to wait for the second or third southbound express.

Stephen Bauman February 8, 2016 - 12:21 pm

Did they actually operate this amount of service, or did they say that they did?

I’m not aware of any web available, independent audit of the performance data the NYCTA published in their annual report. The peak hour totals are close to those published by NYCTA’s predecessor, the NYCBOT, in 1949.

The NYMTC’s 1978 Hub Bound Report noted that the number of peak hour subway trains had declined by 10% between 1971 an 1978. That’s some corroboration that subway service levels have declined over time.

NYCT schedules 29 express trains on the southbound Lexington Avenue Line during peak hours. Given the merge between the 4 and 5 routes north of 125th Street and the constraints of the platform lengths and signal system, this is currently the maximum capacity of the line.

I limited my analysis to lines that were easy to show a discrepancy between the stated track capacity and what is scheduled for part of the peak hour. It’s a difficult comparison because NYCT schedules are rounded off to the nearest 30 seconds. This means I could show only scheduled headways of 2:30, 2:00 and 1:30 or 24 tph, 30 tph and 40 tph. It was impossible to show a discrepancy with the 4,5 because I could not show any difference between 29 and 32 tph. It was trivial to show the 6 train operated at 30 tph instead of its stated capacity of 24 tph.

It’s difficult to show a congestion point (the merges north of 125th St), if one does not schedule more trains than that congestion point is supposed to handle. As noted I cannot tell the difference between 29, 30 or 32 tph. The second principle is that the merges have to be equal to maintain uniform headways. This is easy to determine. There are 36 trains scheduled to arrive at 125th St between 7:30:30 and 8:45:30. There are 19 4 trains and 17 5 trains. During that time period the headways between 4 trains varied between 2 and 5 minutes. The 5 train headways varied between 4:00 and 6:30. That’s not the way to manage a merge for maximum throughput. It’s also not the way to manage the 125th St platform to minimize dwell time.

Because of frequent congestion south of 125th Street, only 24 to 26 of the 29 scheduled express trains depart Grand Central station during the peak hour.

Part of this problem is due to not making local service more attractive. If locals were as frequent as expresses, more people would board them at 86th or not switch from the local at 125th instead of opting for the express. The local is slightly slower. It’s also less frequent. That makes taking a local doubly longer than fighting to get on an express.

If overcrowding has increased at certain points in the system then it seems as if that would be enough to decrease throughput due to things like the door being unable to close or inefficient boarding/alighting of passengers

That’s an indication that an insufficient number of trains are being operated.

In my experience using the East Side IRT at Penn going downtown during the rush,

Was that the East Side IRT at Grand Central or the West Side IRT at Penn?

Eric February 7, 2016 - 4:12 am

More precisely:
The system is at capacity on most Bronx-Manhattan and Queens-Manhattan lines. Brooklyn-Manhattan lines are not at capacity. Which is why a Utica subway is a good idea, and so are extensions of the L and M subways along Triboro ROW.

Brett February 26, 2016 - 2:46 pm

The lack of a proper right of way would be a huge issue. You would need extremely active enforcement on the part of they NYPD to make it even somewhat usable. Just a small example from Kansas City.
360° Video of Cars Blocking New Kansas City Streetcar


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