A Light Rail Extension for Staten Island?

» As the Port Authority plans for improved ship access, Staten Islanders hope a renovated Bayonne Bridge could mean new rail links.

When it opened in 1931, the Bayonne Bridge was the longest steel arch span in the world. Today it remains an impressive work of infrastructure, its magnificent girders visible from throughout the New York metropolitan region. The Port Authority-controlled link, which allows commuters to get to and from Staten Island and New Jersey, is an important connection in the regional road network.

With cargo ships getting bigger and bigger, however, the bridge has become an impediment: Its roadway hangs too low to allow for the easy passage of new Panamax-class ships readied for an expanded Panama Canal now under construction. Without clearing the way through the Kill Van Kull — the waterway over which the bridge runs — the Port of Newark will have trouble accommodating more commerce. For the region’s continued economic strength, that could be a major problem.

Thus the Port Authority has begun studying options for its replacement; right on cue, transit advocates have stepped in, arguing that the new structure could allow for better transit between the Island and the mainland. The major possibilities include lanes for bus rapid transit or an expansion of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Line, which will be extending a few blocks south to 8th Street in Bayonne on January 31st. Trains could cross the new bridge, then potentially run south towards the West Shore Expressway, in whose median a 14-mile light rail line has previously been proposed. This would ensure rail transit operations on both sides of the island (the eastern half is already served by the Staten Island Railway). Running the line along the North Shore, where a 5-mile abandoned rail right-of-way is ready to be reused, is also a possibility.

The Hudson-Bergen light rail line currently runs north to Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen, via the “Gold Coast” business centers in Jersey City and Hoboken where thousands of jobs have been created over the past decade. Plans to extend the route northwest to the Meadowlands, southwest to the Hackensack River, and north to Tenafly are also afoot.

The light rail line is destined to serve an increasingly important role as a north-south connector on the west side of the Hudson River. But just how useful would an expansion into Staten Island be?

Consider the commutes made by inhabitants of this New York City borough today.

As demonstrated by the map above — created using Census data from 2008, the most recent year available — most Staten Islanders work in their own borough. Those that don’t generally work in downtown and midtown Manhattan and on the western edge of Brooklyn. A few work in Bayonne, Hoboken, and Queens’ Long Island City.

Ridership on existing bus services confirms this bent towards New York, rather than New Jersey, jobs. A significant number of riders — about 20,000 per weekday — use the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s express buses into Manhattan business districts. The two most popular “regular” buses on the Island, including the S53 and S79, which total almost 20,000 riders alone, head to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where a connection to the R Subway is possible. The third, fourth, and fifth most popular — the S48/98, S46/96, and S44/94, totaling about 23,500 daily riders — link up with the Staten Island Ferry Terminal at St. George, at the tip of the Island. The Ferry attracts about 75,000 users daily with service to the Battery at the tip of Manhattan.

For comparison’s sake, the only public bus that runs across the Bayonne Bridge today, the MTA’s S89 to the Hudson-Bergen light rail line’s 34th Street stop, only moves about 900 daily riders. Is there really a case for the rail line’s extension onto the Island? Or would improved direct services into Manhattan and Brooklyn be more useful?

When considering potential routes for a extension of the light rail line, the argument for it appears relatively shaky.

As shown above (click to expand), people living within a half-mile of the proposed North Shore and West Shore rail lines — the two likely routes for any light rail extension — are not particularly likely to be attracted to working in neighborhoods along the existing Hudson-Bergen line. Inhabitants of both areas are most likely to work in downtown Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, and Midtown Manhattan — not New Jersey. This is largely similar to the working patterns of people who live within half a mile of the existing Staten Island Railway. And yet none of them have a fast route towards those employment centers, fault of the lack of a New York Subway link and express buses forced to use crowded highway lanes shared with private automobiles.

Should light rail be extended across the Kill Van Kull?

If the project were to decrease travel times significantly into Manhattan, it might be useful. Beginning at the end of the month, the Hudson-Bergen line will travel from 8th Street to Exchange Place in 20 minutes and from 8th Street to Newport in 27 minutes. From Exchange Place, a trip to Lower Manhattan’s World Trade Center on PATH takes 4 minutes; from Newport, a trip to Midtown’s 33rd Street takes 15 minutes on PATH. For people along the North and West Shore lines hoping to get downtown, a trip in 45 minutes minimum seems possible with a light rail extension, taking into account transfer times. But a trip to Midtown would be at least ten minutes longer; a commute to Brooklyn would be much more lengthy via New Jersey.

More direct routes on express buses could be equally or more effective for residents of Staten Island, if funds were allocated to dedicate lanes for transit on the highways that carry them. If Staten Islanders currently suffer from the longest commutes in the country — 42.5 minutes per direction on average — one can envision the advantage of investing in improved express buses that could speed past traffic on such choked arteries as the Gowanus Expressway. A light rail extension would not be as fast into Manhattan and Brooklyn — and it wouldn’t be direct, either.

Taken from a regional perspective, though, a light rail extension might make more sense. Were New York and New Jersey to work together on increasing employment and residential construction in areas along the corridor — in both states — the route could be a useful economic development generator, helping to build up a counterpoint to the dominance of Manhattan in today’s regional employment market. Perhaps the lack of Staten Islanders working in New Jersey now is not a consequence of people “not wanting” to do so, but rather the result of poor transit connections to and from jobs there.

100 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Jer

    Excellent use of Census Data, but I agree more with your final paragraph. While the demand might be small now, the extension would have important, long-term effects on development. The incredible growth in Jersey City along the light rail line in a very short period is a testament to the power that would have in changing land-use patterns along the corridor. Hudson County is incredibly dense — any future growth requires transit.

    Also, if we want to consider travel patterns between SI and NJ, in early 2008, the MTA implemented the S89, an express bus to Bayonne (connecting with the Light Rail). The S89 is unique, because is the only MTA bus that serves NJ. If we could get some ridership data on the bus, that might give us some more information about potential ridership. (http://www.mta.info/mta/news/releases/?agency=nyct&en=080128-NYCT16)

    Also, small correction. Hoboken is a tiny place that measures 2 square miles. The area north of Bayonne is Jersey City. In your census data map, that where some of those Staten Islanders work.

    • Jer

      Oops – you mentioned the s89. sorry bout that.

    • Nathanael

      The HBLR extension to Staten Island remains a no-brainer: it should be constructed. (Frankly, much of the rest of the HBLR was less plausible, and much more expensive for its value). The Jersey City connection alone would relieve pressure on the roads. As for Lower Manhattan access, 45 minute travel time? The ferry alone takes 25 minutes, so it’s going to end up being preferable for people coming from the West Side.

      And as others have noted, the failure of people in Staten Island to work in New Jersey is probably due to lack of transportation connections. If you build it, they will come.

      If you really want to hedge your bets, build dual-use light-rail and bus lanes across the bridge. It’s light rail, so this is legal.

  • George

    there won’t be too much of a market for extending HBLR to Staten Island unless the line can compete time-wise with MTA express buses into Manhattan. Currently (and with the addition of 8th St HBLR) there are so-called Bayonne Flyer trains during weekday peak hours that shave off 4 or 5 minutes off the northbound commute for passengers from the southernmost stations. A “Staten Island Flyer” service could be potentially attractive for people living in West SI and commuting to NJ’s Hudson waterfront or Manhattan, but the existing infrastructure of HBLR means these trains have to be squeezed onto the same two tracks used by local HBLR trains. Staten Island Railway has some express service, so maybe this can be done with HBLR, too. The main advantage over buses is that light-rail does not run with traffic, and MTA buses might get stuck in traffic on the Gowanus or on the New Jersey freeways.

    The 800-pound gorilla in the room: the best solution (advocated on earlier posts on this site) – a Staten-Manhattan tunnel!

    • Buckeyeman

      Well, There was a subway tunnel started back in the early 20th Century but a small-minded NYC mayor named Hylan stopped work on it. Perhaps this tunnel could be studied for it’s potential for either a light rail connection or very possibly a subway extension or line. What i’m looking at is what more rail transit might be good for as a development tool. Had the subway tunnel not been stopped I have an idea that Staten Island would be MUCH more developed than it has otherwise been.

      • Alex

        The islanders appear to have been so grateful to Mayor Hylan that they named a prominent boulevard after him. Or is that for another Hylan?

        • Did they really name Hylan Boulevard in honor of Hylan’s subway screwup? Or did they just name it because he was a mayor, just like they named Parsons Boulevard or Roosevelt Avenue?

  • BLambert

    Is the lower population density in the western half of SI is an artifact of a lack of transit access, and that, as stated in the conclusion, a transit option will spur an increase in density?

    • Vin

      No. The western edge of SI was, until 2002, the site of the world’s largest garbage dump, the Fresh Kills Landfill. That’s why so few people live there.

      Beyond that, there is a chain of big box stores and malls near the island’s geographic center, and a series of parks, called the Greenbelt, that is by some measures the largest in the five boroughs.

      • Adirondacker12800

        and they put the landfill there because it was “useless” swamp. Lots of western Staten Island will never be developed because it’s …swamp…

        • statennyc21

          That statement is partially incorrect. If you look at the old maps of SI (17-1800s), most of the island was in fact swamp, esp along the water on the East side which is now largely developed. There is no question that given time, convenient quick transportation will encourage development. The rockaways would have been nothing without the A train.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The A train didn’t go to the Rockaways until well after it was developed. It was bucolic suburb back then, served by the Long Island Rail Road.

  • Avi

    How would building the West/North Shore Line and connecting to the Ferry to Lower Manhattan compare time wise with the HBLR route into NJ?

  • There’s also the question of the benefits of more transit for circulation on Staten Island itself. Building both the North and West lines would seem to offer a nice opportunity to improve transit within the confines of the island even without improved connections to NJ.

    Likewise, the decision on a new bridge should look at the cost of making the bridge rail-ready, even if rail isn’t a good idea just yet. This isn’t something you’d want to have to re-do in a short while.

    • Yes, making the new bridge rail-ready is a very wise hedge. It’s very hard to predict the next 70–100 years. Designing in the ability to handle the extra weight and vibration from the start doesn’t cost much (at least in percentage terms). You might have to make a trade of one traffic lane for one set of tracks later on, though (that was the compromise reached for the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis).

  • Andrew

    Considering that both of the planned rail alinements are fairly easy to construct (highway median and abandoned rail line) and the bridge is top priority for the region, I think this plan is worth it. Of course, a rail tunnel from Staten Island to Brooklyn would be pretty awesome.

  • Scott Mercer

    A rail tunnel SI to Brooklyn would be a lot shorter (and cheaper) than SI to Manhattan.

    The SI Railway could then be linked up to the rest of the MTA system.

    SI residents working in Brooklyn or the southernmost part of Manhattan could take that route to work.

    SI residents (western and northern sides of the island) working in Midtown Manhattan could take the S89 bus to the HBLR to the PATH, and probably get there a little quicker.

    If it’s a question of limited resources, a rail tunnel to Brooklyn for the SI railway rather than an HBLR extension across a new Bayonne bridge would probably give more bang for the buck. And it has the advantage of not getting New Jersey or the Port Authority into the mix, and making sure that Chris Christie has no input into the project.

    • The Wikipedia article on the BMW 4th Avenue line says that it includes provision for an Express section between 59th and 85th streets in Brooklyn if need be.

    • The Wikipedia article on the BMT 4th Avenue line says that it includes provision for an Express section between 59th and 85th streets in Brooklyn if need be.

    • There are two basic problems with doing just a subway extension from Brooklyn to SI:

      1. The subway is slow – even if the line hooks up to the 4th Avenue express tracks, it’ll be a long commute for people living far from the SI portal.

      2. Because of capacity issues, the subway extension would have to come out of Bay Ridge, in which case the SI portal would be Grasmere and not St. George, which has the higher population and job densities.

      • Adirondacker12800

        It has to be faster than taking the ferry which is going to be hard to do with a detour through Brooklyn.

      • AlexB

        The subway would NOT be slow. It would be much closer time-wise to Manhattan than Coney Island or even Bensonhurst. Per the N train schedule, it’s 21 minutes from 59th St (Brooklyn) to Canal St and 32 minutes from 59th St (Brooklyn) to 57th St (Manhattan). If you add a five or so minutes for the tunnel between the 59th St station and St George, that is faster than express buses and the train + ferry + train combo. Not to mention, this would connect with EVERYTHING at Atlantic-Pacific. No part of the SIRR would be more than an hour from midtown during rush hour.

        • There’s no capacity for a tunnel from 59th. The tunnel portal would have to be 95th, to avoid making too many lines share the same tracks on 4th Avenue. This would add 4 stops on the R, and create a detour for people living on the North Shore.

          • AlexB

            12-15 trains per hour each:
            M or W: 4th ave local to West End
            R: 4th ave local to Bay Ridge
            D: 4th ave express to Sea Beach
            N: 4th ave express to Staten Island, branching after 59th St.

            This would be more service that these lines have today (about 10 trains per hour) and they are currently underused and empty. All of South Brooklyn has been down zoned and will never again produce a huge number of subway riders. There will never be huge demand coming from anything that branches from the 4th Ave line.

            • I don’t think it’s wise to drop West End from the express, and I’m quite sure it’s politically infeasible. (Actually, if I had to localize one, I think Sea Beach is the less important line.)

            • FG

              The thing is, zoning can and does change, sometimes fairly often, it’s much less permanent that fixed infrastructure.

            • Adirondacker12800

              I’m confused. Don’t the trains that leave 95th Street/Bay Ridge go through 59th/Sunset Park?

              …if they had the money… some sort of commuter rail extension to the SIR through St George to the tip of Manhattan. Few stops in Manhattan but ones that connect well with subway lines. Gets you to Staten Island faster. Sorta like LIRR or Metro North service, like people in Riverdale or Bayside get. If that would be too pricey, extend a subway line and make the SIR subway.

              • I think that first is in Alon’s “RER for NYC” plan, put a tunnel between Penn and Grand Central in Manhattan, and a tunnel to connect to the SI railroad, run the Harlem Valley line through to Staten Island.

                The second is what I noted, finish the BMT 4th Avenue express line, and run a tunnel through from the end of the BMT 4th Avenue line, link up to SI railroad, extend one of the expresses through to St. George and then on the North Shore line to connect to the LRT over the Bayonne Bridge, extend the local to run down to Tottenville, have a local subway run on SI railroad from Tottenville to the LRT transfer across the Bayonne Bridge.

  • Vin

    There is a bus lane on the Staten Island Expressway and, during the morning rush, on the inbound Gowanus.

  • Corey

    Yohan , the north shore is supposed to be connected to Midtown Elizabeth not just stop at the Bayonne Bridge. Theres also the proposed SIR line extension to Perth Amboy.

  • Des

    Maybe the SI Ferry could have two routes, one to the Battery (as now) and one to the Brooklyn waterfront.

  • AlexB

    The holy grail would be one seat express train access to Midtown from SI. Short of that, SI residents will choose a one seat bus ride. Making the express buses cheaper and making more dedicated lanes on the SI Expressway, Gowanus, and Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel is the best use of money if we are trying to help SI commuters.

    A slow-ish light rail to an awkward connection to the PATH to another awkward connection to a subway somewhere isn’t going to draw a ton of commuters (and will cost a lot in multiple fares), and the market for trips along the line isn’t really big enough to warrant the West Shore Line. Extend the light rail to St George and build a dedicated bus lane on the west side of the island. Light rail through such poorly populated areas is unfortunately not a good use of cash.

    • Andrew

      Under my usual rules of transit planning, I’d go for rail extensions, either through Brooklyn or NJ. Mainly under the logic that choice commuters would rather take a one ticket train than a bus. But NYC doesn’t exactly follow these rules, as there is more leeway for transfers, people are more likely to take a bus, and making a one seat-train-ride is a difficult prospect.
      Considering that the other alternatives are relatively expensive, slow, or politically difficult, I do think having one-ticket express bus rides on dedicated lanes is definitely the best choice at the moment. The light rail construction on SI itself would be more useful as an intra-bough transit option, but buses and bike lanes might be a better option for the most part.

  • Ocean Railroader

    They should look at extending the New York City Subway itself into the the closet point on this map into this area along the light rail line. Or they should go with the light rail idea. The New York Subway has a lot more respect then the light rail or the bus so it would gain more respect to say that your town has a New York City Subway Line running though it.

    • The closest subway to Staten Island is the BMT 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. The southern end is local only, with the layout for express tracks seeming to be designed but not built.

      Coming up to grade to run onto the Staten Island railroad and then to the North Shore Line to end the subway line with a transfer from the LRT across the bridge and down the West Shore line would seem to give good connectivity, but it would be a subway tunnel and subway work to finish the unbuilt Express layout on the BMT 4th Avenue line.

      • Andrew

        And how much political effort would that take? On top of the 2nd Ave Subway, Brooklyn streetcars, extensions of the metro through Brooklyn and Queens?
        Probably is relatively cheap, but not high priority. I’m not exactly sure how happy Brooklyn would be with spending all this money for a project that mainly benefits SI. Then again, I’ve never lived in NYC and I don’t have a feel for the local politics.

        • I’d imagine that the main part of the politics would be to logroll the improvement in Staten Island for support for improvements elsewhere. After all, unlike the proposal to extend a subway line to NJ, Staten Island is a borough of NYC, and so there’d be a coalition of both developers and NYC residents to build for it, whereas the extension to NJ is just angling for developer support.

          Indeed, given the tunnel and an Express / Local layout in the southern part of the BMT 4th Avenue line, you could imagine converting the Staten Island railroad to subway, with the BMT 4th avenue express heading north, the BMT 4th avenue local heading south, and a Staten Island line running from the south through St. George and to the LRT line.

          I don’t know what the loading gauge issues are for the subway and the Staten Island railroad, but converting it all to subway would seem to be one way to resolve them.

          • Adirondacker12800

            I don’t know what the loading gauge issues are for the subway and the Staten Island railroad, but converting it all to subway would seem to be one way to resolve them.

            They are identical. They recycle old subway cars for service on the SIR. Add some FRA bits and run them more or less unchanged.

            • OK, then the SI local is set, just extend an express down the BMT 4th Avenue, through the tunnel, north to St. George and then the Bayonne Bridge LRT, continue the BMW 4th avenue local to southern SI.

  • Adirondacker12800

    The extension to Newark, meh. There’s not a whole lot in Harrison and Kearny except other railroad tracks. Via Raymond Blvd in Newark might attract riders. It’s too bad the CNJ RoW in Newark has been built on.

    • AlexB

      What/where is the CNJ ROW in Newark?

      • Adirondacker12800

        You can barely see it on the satellite views. The West End branch of the HBLR uses it in Jersey City. Keep going in a straight line to Newark, you can see the piers for the bridges that crossed the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers. Through the Ironbound section of Newark you can follow it by picking out the oddly shaped buildings and parking lots. They are more or less parallel to Market Street. The viaduct over the Pennsylvania Railroad is still there. It’s parallel to Edison Place and Hamilton Street. The few blocks to Broad Street has been obliterated by the Prudential Center. There’s an oddly shaped parking lot east of the Pru Center. That’s where the tracks began to fan out to the platforms. They saved the facade of the station on Broad Street. Still emblazoned with Jersey Central. It was abandoned for passenger service in 1967 when the Aldene plan was implemented, bringing CNJ traffic into Penn Station in Newark.

        • AlexB

          I’ve noticed that before. You could still use the RoW up to Penn Station though, right? Or has the land East of Penn all been sold off?

          • Adirondacker12800

            Everything in Newark going east/west has been built on. The only thing untouched is the grade separation over the former PRR just south of Penn Station. It’s been out of service since 1967….

  • William M

    Another idea besides the NYC Subway would be the NYC LIRR. The Bay Ridge Branch has tracks that run right up to the Brooklyn waterfront. Any farther, and it would be St. George. You can walk over there any time, and if it’s a good day weather permitting you can see St. George. It’s feasible. Plus the Bay Ridge Branch is connected to the Atlantic Branch which would allow Staten Islanders to access Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island. Plus you can put a station at 59th Street, and New Utrecht Avenue-62nd Street which would give Staten Islanders access to Midtown, and Lower Manhattan. Thus it’s easier for them to access all 3 boroughs. The problem would be the LIRR would cost $5.50 one way, and the subway costs $2.50 one way, but if Staten Islanders think the subway promotes crime this would be the only way for them to get to Brooklyn. Also a second benefit is since the SIR is a railroad, and the LIRR is a railroad there would be no need to change the SIR to a subway line although there would still be a need for platform lengthening, but some stations would be closed after the lengthening, because some stations would be too close to another.

    • Tommy Samson

      Alon came up with some diagrams for expanding LIRR to SI a while back (almost like S_Bahn or RER-type service, if I’m not mistaken):

      http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2009/07/17/regional-rail-for-new-york-city-part-ii/

      • If you have a tunnel from Penn to GCT, that’s seems like an extension of the Harlem Valley line, which is a Metro-North line.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Think in three dimensions Bruce. Metro North isn’t going south of Grand Central without spending lots and lots and lots of money relocating subways.

          • The Metro-North lower level is deeper than the subway. The relocation issue is that turning west to 34th Street might encroach on one of the four subway tracks.

          • And in turn, through running rather than terminations through the dominant morning peak destinations, evening peak origins is worth quite a bit.

            I’m not 100% convinced on the long tunnel SI / Manhattan ~ I’d want to see the incremental cost/benefit for that relative to extending the BMW 4th Avenue ~ but the general concept GCT/Penn for outer suburban through running and for intercity trains is worth paying quite a bit of a premium.

            • I should clarify that I’m not 100% convinced on the SI/Manhattan tunnel. Even with aggressive TOD, the cost per rider would be quite high, though lower than many LRT lines in the US. The main benefit would be in terms of large time savings for Staten Island residents, who currently have the longest commutes in the US. Unlike the other bits in my plan, where the benefits are large and there aren’t many alignment choices, this one should be studied with a very wide array of options for both alignment and technology, as well as No Build.

              • Given that (as I was unaware), SI basically already has an at grade subway line, just unconnected to the subway system, and an alignment that might be used to extend to the SI side of the Bayonne Bridge access, I expect that a narrows tunnel and completing the express layout of the BMT 4th Avenue will come out as a better benefit/cost ratio.

              • It could be connected to both the subway and commuter rail – the infrastructure permits both.

              • Adirondacker12800

                It could be done, after all the LIRR used to run to Wall Street – on what is now the BMT – but I don’t know if they’d want to do it.

  • Everyone: please separate questions of fare integration from questions of technology. Fare integration can be done regardless of how many agencies or modes of transportation are involved. That New York chooses not to do it is a problem independently of Staten Island rail access issues.

  • JJJ

    If it werent for arbitrary state lines, and everything on that map were part of one state, I wonder how much different (better) the entire regional subway system would be.

    • Tommy Samson

      Hoboken, Jersey City, Bayonne, Union City, West New York, and possibly Newark and Elizabeth would have MTA Subway service (if only a single line through each of their respective “main drags”).

      In this situation, the first five mentioned would have probably long ceased to be independent municipalities and would have been absorbed by NYC as were Brooklyn and Staten Island (perhaps as the borough of “Bergen”).

      Newark and Elizabeth may have elected to remain independent anyway, like Cambridge has with Boston.

      PATH, if it ever existed, would probably have been absorbed by the MTA.

  • Corey

    The PATH and MTA will always be separate….trust me they will never merge. As for someone saying theres nothing in Newark , the CBD and North / East wards offer alot of Historic / 4 star Restaurants….. There also transforming Kearny and Harrison into thriving Cities…

  • statennyc21

    I live in Grasmere in SI. I know for a fact, based on taking the S53, it takes only 10-15 mins longer(generally) to take the bus to the R train to Manhattan vs the ferry.
    However, late nights, with the subway and ferry running less frequent and the express buses stop running after 12:30am, I am forced to drive. A rail line can run with more frequency and therefore encourage more usage. As far as trying to say that a new rail line on the North Shore or West Shore wouldnt make sense b/c people dont work in Manhattan. That’s simple: If you build it, they will come. People wont live in those transit-difficult areas if they work in Manhattan b/c it takes too long. If you change that, as people move around, more people will make the decision to live in an area that is easy for that situation. The R train extension would never work b/c the State doesnt care about NYC and NYC doesnt care about Staten Island (have you seen the infrastructure on the island?). By hiding the rail line cost in the cost of the bridge, there’s a small chance it could happen. And chance is better than none.

  • Henry

    For the time being, the most cost effective solution would be to implement express bus lanes on the Verrazano and in the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel – similar to the setup at the Lincoln Tunnel.

    I don’t know why they don’t do it though. Concrete barriers don’t cost much, and the MTA owns both structures, so what’s the problem?

    And while light rail sounds nice (in theory), does the HBLR have the capacity for a connection to Staten Island?

    • Adirondacker12800

      The XBL to the Lincoln Tunnel doesn’t have any concrete barriers. Just traffic control lights over the counter flow lane.

    • Gil

      Would it be at all possible to piggyback some sort of rail service onto the Verrazano? Extend the R over to Staten Island or a spur line over to Brooklyn. The easiest and cheapest option to connect with the SIR would be at Grasmere, but if they really wanted to they could piggyback the spur line on the SIR line up to St. George.

      • Robert Moses designed the bridge approaches to be too steep to be usable by rail.

        • William M

          Plus he designed the bridge to be extremely light. So if any rail traffic in the future could go up that grade would require the bridge to be expensively retrofitted. Face it Robert Moses suck.

        • Is that just a matter of traction, or does the grade change too fast? There are a number of ways to assist trains up grades — counterweights, cog racks, rubber tires, and linear motors all come to mind.

          • Any such technology would be incompatible with the subway system, making the line a shuttle instead of a subway extension.

            • I have trouble imagining how it would necessarily be incompatible. In the worst case, you could attach a special locomotive to the train for the trip across the bridge. Not the most graceful of solutions, but doable.

              However, I would think that the accessories needed for most of the technologies I mentioned could be made to retract. You’d need special cars for that line in particular — not an uncommon situation — but they wouldn’t need to be incompatible with anything else.

              • First, if you want to climb a steep grade, then all or almost all cars must be powered.

                Second, the off-the-shelf implementations of the technologies you describe aren’t retractable; transit agencies that combine regular trains with rubber-tired or linear motor-powered trains keep separate fleets, with no line combining both technologies.

              • Max Wyss

                What grades are we talking about?

                2%? 5%? 7%?

              • NYCRoads says it’s 4%.

              • Max Wyss

                4% grades are no big deal for modern urban transit vehicles. In fact, that’s about the standard nowadays for short grades to get underground or up onto bridges.

                Note that in order to achieve good accelerations, urban transit vehicles must be well powered anyway.

              • The Verrazano’s 4% grade is quite long, persisting from the approaches almost to the midpoint of the bridge. The subway fleet, or at least the fleet used when the bridge was built in the early 1960s, can’t climb such grades.

              • Adirondacker12800

                They don’t like to do it but freight railroads haul freight over grades that steep. And it’s not short sections.
                … If they were possessed of the urge I’m sure trains that could cope with it could be designed. I’m not sure that it would be cost effective. Or that the bridge could have a rail line added to it.

                Odd things happen when trains go over bridges

              • It’s certainly possible for adhesion-mode EMUs to go up grades of 4%, or for that matter 8%. But it’s unusual, and the subway fleet isn’t built for it. So far New York has achieved remarkable rolling stock cost reductions by designing the trains to be as standardized as possible.

              • Adirondacker12800

                Interesting little tidbit I stumbled on today…. the Steinway tunnel’s grade is 4.5%…. if you believe what you read on Wikipedia and nycsubway.org. So Steinway Lo-Vs could run across the Verrazano…

        • Adirondacker12800

          If they had made the grades gentler the ramps on either side would have been much longer. Then everyone would be bemoaning all the neighborhood destruction on either side.

          • William M

            Again Robert Moses didn’t just built the bridge to be extremely steep. He built the bridge to be extremely light too so if any train can get up that grade they still can’t use the bridge, because they would be too heavy for the bridge.

            A better idea would be to put light rail on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. That is more feasible, and possible.

            • Light rail trains aren’t any lighter than subway trains – they both weigh around 36 metric tons per car. If just running a shuttle were adequate, then it could be a subway-technology shuttle running shortened trains, like the SIR.

              • William M.

                Then again it depends on how short you are talking about. If it is extremely short trains then the better budget would be to use light rail cars.

              • What’s the point? LRVs would have to be maintained at separate shops, and crew would have to be trained separately. The only advantage is if those LRVs can climb steeper grades, and for that the MTA might as well order the next trains to have better grade-climbing capability; it’d raise initial acceleration, too, which would raise capacity and speed.

              • William M

                Though the train cars would be so short they would just carry the capacity of a light rail car. A better idea would be to build a different right of way so it can move a massive amount of people in, and out of Staten Island, and to have the SIR converted into a subway line, but we would have to get the FRA’s permission like what we did with the Rockaways.

  • Thomas Marchwinski

    There already was a study done by the Staten Island Borough president’s office on Extending LRT from NJ to West Shore and part of north shore. The ridership was significant. You should contact the borough presdident’s office. I know, because I helped with doing the forecasts.

    It would get some people to Lower Manhattan as well as J.City. But there are capacity and cost problems. So its not a slam dunk, its in the mid range of being feasible.

    Also, I would like to know the source of the census data. Is this on The map data. How did you get census work trips to destinations and what level is that at.Can you send me a link or source?

  • Chet- Staten Island

    There is a long range plan to replace the Gowanus Expressway with a tunnel (See http://gowanus-tunnel-initiative.googlegroups.com/web/GCSG+2010+Update.pdf?gda=g3XE8EYAAAAR1GX7PUUGlSNBGmOHGgkmkwm42Svgn2InLf3f53pVyH7H7p1yj4rBe0sQA4NvL1m4qzmRyw7pERYbIIbTVVQIE-Ea7GxYMt0t6nY0uV5FIQ)

    If such a tunnel was ever to be constructed, it should be dual deck affair, similar to the 63rd Street tunnel that carries the F train on one level, and will carry the LIRR into Grand Central in a few years.

    For a Gowanus Tunnel, it should have a level for cars, trucks, and buses, and the other level a subway that not just connects to Staten Island, but runs above the Staten Island expressway with stops along the way. From Staten Island, it should be an express with just two stops- Red Hook and Governor’s Island before linking up with the southern end of the Second Avenue subway.

    Imagine a train that starts somewhere in the western/mid island part of Staten Island and goes all the way up to 125th Street in Manhattan.

    • Henry

      You can’t connect the SAS to the SIR – the SIR is regulated by the FRA, just like the LIRR, and the SAS isn’t.
      A stop at Governor’s Island is a ridiculous idea – there’s nothing there.
      Building the subway above the SIE is pointless – the highway has poor connections to surrounding neighborhoods.
      I would like to know, however, if it’s possible to route NJT trains from Hoboken through Staten Island above the SIE to Brooklyn and then Grand Central via the FDR. It’s the best of both worlds – a connection to New Jersey, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.

      • It’s in principle possible to formally cut off the SIR from the mainline rail regulatory system, since there’s no active track connection to mainline rail. Such a severing has been proposed for PATH, but is not pursued in order to keep open the possibility of future extension to Newark Airport on existing track.

        Routing trains from Hoboken to Staten Island is quite difficult and pointless. It would be a slight detour from Hoboken to Staten Island, and tracks would have to dive under the entire PATH system. It would also be a very circuitous route to Brooklyn, the most important off-Manhattan destination. It would be much better to go from Hoboken to Brooklyn through Lower Manhattan, providing maximal connections.

        • Adirondacker12800

          The trains would have to dive under the PATH system in Hoboken no matter which way they go if you are planning to cross the Hudson. PATH is shallow in Hoboken, the trains come in from the west. To get under the river the trains have to be more or less as deep as they are in Exchange Place.

  • dw

    My understanding is that there is a 400 foot extension that branches off in Bay Ridge and actually extends into the narrows. It was part of a NYC subway connection to Staten Island. It was killed when construction had barely begun by our old anti-subway friend, Robert Moses.

    Whether or not this spur could be completed out to Staten Island after all these years would be a decision for the engineers.

    Sadly, I don’t expect SI will ever be connected to the rest of the system. There’s not enough widespread support and the city is on the verge of going broke.

    • Andrew

      Speaking of Robert Moses, if there was a Robert Moses of rail construction, would he had supported building a rail line from Brooklyn to SI? Or from SI to NJ?
      It seems that ever since WWII, New York has either been too preoccupied with automobile based transport or they’re on the verge of insolvency? Seems like the most logical time to make improvements to public transit (like during the 1970s oil crisis and the 2000s) is the same time when NYC is about to go bankrupt.

      • If there was a Robert Moses of rail construction, he’d support both ~ extend the subway to SI, extend the light rail to SI.

        • William M

          Hopefully we will never get a rail transit Robert Moses. Although Robert Moses was a great builder, and I have respect for him for that he was a tyrant to people in his way. He would bulldoze people with little regards on what he was doing. A rail transit Robert Moses won’t be any better.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Pure speculation but a transit Robert Mose would love BART and be especially enthusiastic about the dual terminals, one in Millbrae and one at SFO….

  • JMBX

    I know you are using census data, but how did you get so specific data for commuting patterns from zip code to zip code? I have used the Census County-to-County Worker Flow Files, but that is as detailed as I’ve been able to get. If you could inform me on how to get that data, I would really appreciate it.
    – Thx

  • Mike O

    Since commuting from Staten Island to Brooklyn/Manhattan/LIC is primarily one way in the morning, and the other way in the evening, how well would a single track deep bore express tunnel work?

    Start at St. George, have two stops in Brooklyn, one at Wall Street, one midtown, and the end in Long Island City. A few passing sidings, for the reverse commute trains to wait (along with dual platform stations.)

    Only 60 percent of the tunneling costs of a full dual bore. Some of the Brooklyn track might be possible to do cut and cover. And, politically, Brooklyn gets an express train.

    • For every dollar you save doing a single-track bore, you’ll spend two building a place to store extra trains, be it a cavern in Manhattan or new tunnels to the Long Island City yard. And the rolling stock and operating costs will be higher, because you won’t be able to send peak trains back as reverse-peak trains so that they can do an additional run.

  • Mike O

    I look at the second avenue subway and see 17 billion for 8.5 miles of dual bore, for 17 billion. And a ridership of 700,000 a day.

    SI-B-M-LIC would probably have half that ridership, but with seven stations, and a good deal of the 8 miles of Brooklyn being cheaper cut and cover tunnel (is that realistic? or is the Brooklyn waterfront more suited for a boring machine?), the cost could be cheaper.

    All the stations space roughly 3 miles apart, so with the commute having priority, the reverse commute would wait at each station, if the timing wasn’t perfect. Each segment would get three minutes inbound, two minutes timeout, then three minutes outbound. And a little creative scheduling in the peak period – two inbounds in a row, etc. But fifteen minutes from St. George to Wall Street, and 18 to GCT sounds real good, with trains every ten minutes.

    My thoughts are that a third of the trains would turn back at Wall Street or GCT, and the rest go on to Queens.

    Some of the R line is four track? That could handle the reverse commute for a good part of the distance?

    I wonder if anyone has any “sharp pencil” costs for bores versus switches, etc? You may be right on about two-to-one. But the trains do get back for additional runs.

    “We’ve never done it this way before” (actually we have with cable cars permanently fixed to the cable – so that passing does occur at sidings) but with CBTC we may be able to make it work.

    • William M

      It depends on how much money we have on our current budget. Also we have to do schematics of any subway or railroad tunnel to Staten Island.

      This is the schematics for the Brooklyn-Staten Island tunnel. NY harbor is around 40 feet deep at most, but bedrock in Brooklyn is around 40 feet below the surface of the sea floor. Staten Island’s bedrock depth is around 35 feet below the surface of the sea floor. So we can’t just drill a tunnel into loose soil. We want a stable tunnel so this tunnel would have exist anywhere around 90-95 feet below sea level. This tunnel would require a steep approach or a very long approach. Since this is rail this approach would be extremely long. Though there are some benefits. This tunnel would be cheap, feasible, not as labor intensive as a Staten Island-Manhattan tunnel, and thus would be the best way to go.

      The Staten Island-Manhattan tunnel schematic proves to be extremely difficult. Although we know the bedrock depth, around Staten Island we don’t know Manhattan’s till now. Manhattan’s bedrock is around 75 feet below the sea floor. This huge depth to the bedrock if you read on the history of the Brooklyn Bridge prevented builders from reaching bedrock for the Manhattan pier. This depth caused bends, and many people gave up. The Brooklyn Bridge was still constructed though, because the pier was sitting on a tough sedimentary layer. Although bends or caisson disease is no longer a present problem this staggering bedrock depth would require the tunnel to be 120 feet below sea level. In Staten Island the tunnel would be 90 feet below sea level. So not just that you aren’t digging a 180 degree angle. You have to slope down so you can get stable bedrock for a stable tunnel. This presents to be a difficult challenge. If you want to have an 180 degree flat tunnel it would require different degree approaches at both sides which again is a labor, and engineering problem.

      The best choice here is since the bedrock, and depth around Staten Island, and Brooklyn is the same they can use similar approaches, and stand a better chance of not changing in depth during construction. Not just that it’s cheaper like I mentioned, and less labor intensive like I mentioned. Thus the Brooklyn-Staten Island tunnel is the best choice.

      • Gil

        Could a tunnel sitting on the surface of the Bay similar to BART’s Transbay Tube be a cost effective solution here? If it works in San Francisco which is a seismically prone area, it should definitely work in NYC where it is more geologically stable. With the tunnel sitting on the surface you wouldn’t have to dig as deep and the approaches wouldn’t have to be so long. Bury the tunnel afterwards for protection if need be.

        As for piggybacking on the Verrazano, if it’s going to be an orphan technology for it to work, keep it unique to Staten Island. You could build the network on the Island using the same technology, albeit separate from the SIR. If Staten Island will have no part of it, then perhaps use it to expand the rail transit network through the parts of Brooklyn that need the service which were identified in an earlier post. I would think either side would be receptive of improving transit regardless of its form.

        • The answer to your question is yes. Look for the public documents on the proposed Cross-Harbor Tunnel carrying rail freight between Brooklyn and Jersey City. They scoped both an immersed tube and a bored tunnel – if I remember correctly, an immersed tube would be more environmentally damaging, but cheaper. A two-track connection between Brooklyn and Jersey City was estimated at $7.4 billion, so that should be the first-order estimate for the cost of going from Staten Island to Manhattan.

  • peter

    they built thr Ver Bridge 2 levels no train and you really except them to build a tunnel

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