When we talk about subway and transit expansion, it’s easy to get blinded by large and ambitious plans to transform the city. We talk about the Triboro RX line, reactivation of the Rockaway Beach Branch ROW or countless other pie-in-the-sky routes (including that Brooklyn-Queens Connector the mayor is pushing), but sometimes, we should take a step back and look at something easier. Not everything has to involve multiple stops spread out over many miles or a new-to-New York mode of transit.
In a way, that’s what New York state may be trying to do with the Penn Station Access proposal. For the relatively affordable price of $1 billion, Gov. Andrew Cuomo thinks Metro-North can construct four new stations in the Bronx along a preexisting right of way and provide commuter rail service into Manhattan’s Penn Station on the West Side. It’s not the sexiest of projects, but it provides a vital connection to Penn Station. It’s also an important reminder that low-hanging fruit can pay off.
Recently, a post on the Urban Omnibus blog had me thinking of even lower hanging fruit. This one concerned a plan to expand subway service in East New York. It involves the construction of a station only and some reallocation of yard space along a currently-active ROW in an area underserved by transit. I’ll let Jonathan English tell his story:
Imagine there were the possibility for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to extend a subway line to a major concentration of new affordable housing — and a neighborhood with some of the longest commutes in the city — without building a single foot of new subway track. That chance exists right now in East New York, where the 3 train’s tracks continue nearly a half-mile beyond their current terminal at New Lots Avenue to the Livonia maintenance yard, near the Gateway Center mall, Spring Creek Nehemiah, and several large public housing projects. Using these tracks for passenger service would significantly enhance transit access to a major development area at a low cost, and spread the city’s current subway expansion program beyond Manhattan…
Building such an extension is far less expensive than building a new subway line from scratch. Since the tracks already exist — and the yard makes land available for a surface station — there is no need for multi-billion-dollar underground construction…The only other cost would be replacing the converted train storage tracks. (Only a small part of the yard would need to be converted, and the existing maintenance facility could remain.) Trains could be stored at other yards in the “A division” of the subway (the narrow-car ex-IRT), where the MTA has indicated that slack is available. Much of the work could be joined with the $91.4 million renovation at the Livonia Yard that is included in the MTA’s 2015-2019 Capital Program.
Spring Creek, which would be served by the new extension, is both fast-growing — no Brooklyn neighborhood has added more residents since 1940 — and transit-deprived. It has been the site of major new affordable housing construction in recent years, including the Bloomberg-era 2,200-unit Spring Creek Nehemiah project. The nearby Spring Creek Towers, which opened in 1974 as Starrett City, comprise 5,881 Mitchell-Lama units. Right now, Spring Creek has some of the longest average commutes in the city, at 48.9 minutes. The extension would follow part of the route of the B6, which has over 40,000 riders on an average weekday and is one of the busiest bus routes in the city. And it would shorten or replace the route of the B84 shuttle, which takes riders from the Gateway Center to New Lots Avenue station.
English compares the cost of the work favorable to the in-fill Yankee Stadium Metro-North stop which the MTA was able to open for around $91 million as opposed to the one-stop $2.4 billion extension of the 7 line. For minimal amounts of money — a rounding error in the MTA’s capital plan — the 3 train could expand its reach through a neighborhood soon to be upzoned as part of the Mayor’s affordable housing project. That such an easy transit project isn’t on anyone’s agenda is problematic at best and a fatal flaw at worst.
These types of low-hanging fruit aren’t readily available in too many places throughout the city. Most expansion efforts — even modest one-stop plans above ground — require construction of new tracks, new tunnels, new stations and the land acquisition costs that go along with it. Here, in East New York though, the opportunity exists for a low-cost subway extension along an existing active ROW. Why not indeed?