• The New New York: Transit

All I Want For Christmas Is A Subway To Staten Island

Gridlock Sam outlines his transit dreams for New York's future: the return of streetcars, more bus rapid transit and even a pedestrian bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn.

I'm a dreamer, a pragmatic dreamer, but still I subscribe to George Bernard Shaw's approach to the future: "Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not."

I've been around long enough to have heard Charles J. Urstadt's dream over 40 years ago about a proposed new community to be built at the western edge of Manhattan in Battery Park City, and then to see the Hudson River get filled in and a beautiful neighborhood built. (He now dreams of extending it to Canal St.). I was part of the team that conceived a boulevard for the West Side that now graces the Hudson River's edge. I dreamed of a car-less Times Square and Herald Square in the 1970's, and it only took 35 years to see that done. I am still working on returning tolls to the East River bridges (come join me in a resurrection event on the centennial of their removal in the summer of 2011—check nycbridges100.org soon for more info).

I was born during the can-do era just after World War II. The Battery Tunnel opened in my lifetime in 1950. As a teenager, I watched through my Bensonhurst apartment window the Verrazano Bridge rising out of Gravesend Bay. I saw the Gowanus Parkway transformed to an expressway and the spaghetti ramps of the Bruckner interchange take form.

So what should we be dreaming for our city 30 or 40 years hence? As you read this, think about a city of 10+ million people. Gas will have risen to $20/gallon in today's dollars (as China's middle class quintuples), and the world will be one to two degrees warmer. Congestion pricing will have been in effect for 30+ years generating more than $1 billion/year in today's dollars. Here's my wish list for mid-century, partially funded out of the $30 billion collected through congestion pricing. Some are dreams from others from 200 years ago. Others are from early last-century. Some are just whims I've developed over the past four decades. (Note: In my dreams, "state of good repair" for existing infrastructure is a given.)

  • Completion of 2nd Avenue subway (T-line) from Hanover Square to 125th St.
    I'm joined by just about every other planner in envisioning completion of the subway promised since the 1920's.

  • A subway extending into Staten Island
    One could go from St. George to the Battery into the T-line. Another could go from Clifton to Bay Ridge to link with the R train (groundbreaking for this subway was held in 1923; let's open it for the centennial). Both would originate from the existing Staten Island Railway. While we're at it, let's also re-establish the Staten Island North Shore Railroad and attach a West Shore link.

  • A pedestrian bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan with a link to Governors Island
    About two hundred years ago, Thomas Pope proposed the "Flying Pendant Lever Bridge" to cross the East River. While Pope's bridge (as seen from his schematics) would have collapsed as opposed to "fly," his idea was kept alive for 60+ years as plans for the Brooklyn Bridge developed. Walking will once again be a major "mode" of urban transportation. It is the "walking cities" that will thrive the most with high fuel prices and a warming planet. My proposed pedestrian bridge could possibly link the Brooklyn waterfront with a walkway to lower Manhattan (as the crow flies and the bridge spans roughly 1.5 miles) which can be covered in 25-35 minutes (with no waiting for trains and no parking problems, it's a competitive form of transport).

  • Bring back streetcars
    The last streetcar made its final run on the Queensboro Bridge in 1957. Huge advances have been made in streetcar propulsion by batteries or fuel cells that eliminate the need for overhead wires and power stations. My first stop for a streetcar would be 42nd St. from river to river. Next up are streetcars along Brooklyn's waterfront from Red Hook to Greenpoint. I'd follow that with a streetcar along the West Side Highway linking West Midtown with the World Trade Center and Financial District.

  • Trains to planes
    JFK, Newark and LaGuardia airports should all have direct links from our subways. First up would be extending the PATH train from Herald Square in Midtown or the Financial District via World Trade Center to EWR (Newark). . Next, link Midtown to LaGuardia with a spur off the #7 line using the Sunnyside Rail Yards to get close (then maybe a streetcar to LaGuardia). Lastly, Air Train to Kennedy should be linked to the A train. I also propose a rail link to Stewart Airport, our fourth terminal, for the third quarter of the century.

  • A new NJ-NY rail tunnel (Just don't call it ARC!)
    This should be a joint NY-NJ undertaking and not end at Herald Square or Penn Station. Ideally, it would go at least as far as Grand Central Terminal. That's what makes the #7 extension into Secaucus appealing.

  • Other subway extensions (Dedicated to Bob Olmsted, who passed away this year)
    1.        Second Avenue Subway extensions:
    a)        Crosstown branch via 125th St. to Broadway.
    b)        South Bronx extension to 161st St.
    c)        Northeast Bronx extension to Co-op City.
    2.        Rockaway Beach branch extension restoration from Liberty Ave. to Queens Bypass.
    3.        "L" train extension to far west side and then north to link with #7 line at the Javits Center.

  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in the medians of the Long Island Expressway (LIE) and Bruckner Expressway
       Just like JFK's AirTrain was built in the median of the Van Wyck Expressway, I propose BRT from Long Island and Westchester to Manhattan via elevated busways spanning the L.I.E. and Bruckner respectively.

  • Two highway widening projects are warranted.
    If we implement congestion pricing, a significant amount of Brooklyn to New Jersey traffic will be diverted through Staten Island. I propose adding a lane to the Staten Island Expressway in both directions. I also recommend widening the Belt Parkway to accommodate trucks through Brooklyn and into the Cross Island Parkway in Queens. Now, trucks cutting across Brooklyn must use local streets because the Robert Moses built parkway has low clearance bridges and anachronistic on and off ramps.

    In the 40 year span from 1883 to 1923, the city of New York built 23 major waterway bridges including all four East River bridges. By 1923, the IRT was essentially complete (1-7 trains) along the Lexington and Seventh Ave. lines, as was the BMT (Q, N, R) along Broadway. Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal also both opened. Clearly, city leaders 130 years ago had long-term big dreams for New York and followed through. Come dream with me and dream big. That's the only way great things can happen.

  • Gene Russianoff

    Gene Russianoff

    Staff Attorney

    It's hard not to share Sam's dreams of new subway lines and other transit improvements. After all, it has been more than 70 years since New York City has opened a new subway line. Meanwhile, our global competitors from London to Paris to Moscow to Hong Kong to Tokyo have been steadily expanding their transit networks.

    As always, the challenge is raising the money – and balancing the bright new improvements with fixing the existing system of thousands of subway cars, buses and rail coach cars and hundreds of miles of transit infrastructure, like track and signals.

    I also Sam's view that eventually adopt some form of congestion pricing, as both a way to discourage driving and to generate revenue. Whether it will happen and how much it will raise for mass transit is uncertain to say the least.

    But if there were money, the priority must be bringing the existing subway, bus and commuter rail system to a state of good repair, as well as underwriting important improvements.

    The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has spent more than $72 billion on mainly rebuilding the existing system since 1982. The results have gotten the region a vastly more reliable transit system. Just one statistic: In 1980, subway cars broke down every 7,500 miles. Now they go 150,000 miles without a delay caused by mechanical problems.

    So that's my dream: That 7.5 million daily transit riders get the reliable service they deserve. Coupled with improvements like computerized signals that provide less crowding throughout the system, systemwide count down clocks, flexible SMART cards for paying fares, faster and more reliable bus service and an end to moldy,creepy, dreary and paint peeling stations.

    Those are some of the transit goodies on my holiday list.


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