» New York’s forgotten borough could see more service on two fronts
With a population of about 500,000, Staten Island is by far New York’s least populous borough, and its transit options are correspondingly limited. Though it has no subway access, the Staten Island Ferry connects Lower Manhattan with St. George, the island’s “downtown.” Commuters on the east side of the island have access to the Staten Island Railway, which runs 24 hours a day and connects to the bottom tip of the island in Tottenville. In 1922, initial plans for the Independent Subway System suggested a subway connection to Brooklyn near the route of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, though that project never came to fruition. Most northern and western areas of the island lack convenient transit access.
That would change, however, if plans on the books to restart rail service along the north shore and create new light rail service on the west shore came to fruition.
The Staten Island Economic Development Corporation studied the latter line recently, arguing that a new rail line there would improve travel times for people on that side of the island attempting to get to jobs in Manhattan. The new line would begin in the southwest section of the island, near the terminus of the existing railway, follow the West Shore Expressway through the future Fresh Kills Park, then cross the Bayonne Bridge into New Jersey, where it would join the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Line, operated by New Jersey Transit. An extension of that latter line is under construction from the existing 22nd Street terminus in Bayonne to a new stop several blocks south at 8th Street. Preliminary plans indicate that the West Shore line would operate as an extension of that New Jersey service, a good concept, though not necessarily a feasible one considering that MTA operates all in-city transit in New York City today.
I’m not the biggest proponent of building rail lines in highway medians, as the West Shore planners envision, as they prevent effective transit-oriented development, but the report suggests that the line, costing $1.8 billion, would attract almost 13,000 riders a day, the vast majority of whom would be commuting to jobs in Manhattan. The first phase, in the denser northern section of the island and ending in Bloomfield, would attract 10,000 of those transit trips at $1.2 billion.
I’m a bit skeptical of the economic development group’s focus on the West Shore line. As the satellite image above demonstrates, much of the corridor is relatively uninhabited, meaning that a light rail line – a mammoth investment – would be underused. Is this really what the city of New York should be focusing on, or would a better bus system using dedicated lanes on the same freeway and allowing easy connections to New Jersey be a better use of money? After all, if we’re talking about highway-median stations, highway right-of-way, and not-so-high predicted ridership, bus might be the perfect fit.
On the other hand, the North Shore project, which would connect the northern area of the island to St. George along an existing right-of-way that carried passenger trains until 1953, would be quite useful. That five mile line, which skirts the bay, could be extended easily across the Bayonne Bridge to the Hudson-Bergen line, as well as south to Bloomfield, following the path of the proposed first stage of the West Shore line. A North Shore line would provide connections with the existing Staten Island Railway line and the Lower Manhattan-bound ferry. More importantly, though, it would serve some of the densest areas of the island, not true of the West Shore line. It would be a better investment from the cost-benefit perspective.