New York City: A Transit Wishlist

NYCT Articulated Bus

New York City public transportation.
(c) 2012 C. Walton

New York City: the greatest city in the world.  Great food, great stores, great tourist attractions, great history, great culture, great diversity, great transportation.  Great transportation that can be greater but isn’t quite there yet. It will only take a billion years.

This is a post similar to the “What Would I Do” series, so I categorized it to make it easier to write and catalogue it for future reference.  Make it relevant, you know.  This is meant to be a list of things that would complement the current transit system and add precious capacity but wouldn’t become a huge mega-project that other cities would just point and stare at like a tourist attraction.

There are so many things that I would love to see for New York as far as public transit goes, some things which need improvement, some of which should be new infrastructure to complement the existing system, and others that would make lives for New Yorkers easier but also keep New York competitive versus the world.  Let’s not get it twisted:  this isn’t a list of bus and rail projects through the eyes of a transit nut.  I am including multiple modes of transportation, a reminder that this city isn’t just about cars, buses, and trains.

Transit shouldn’t just be about drawing lines on a piece of paper or one mode versus another.  It should be about connecting people to their lives and doing so with modes that make sense, about giving people options to get around the city most efficiently, and about allowing people of all walks of life and income levels to experience their city and give them enough to brag about to the world outside of New York City.  As a transit enthusiast, it’s also about having a transit system to rely on to get me from point A to point B but also giving me a source of entertainment knowing that these buses and these trains move all of these people day in and day out in all different directions.

Now, to the wish list:

1. Expanded Select Bus Service with most if not all SBS amenities.

B44 Select Bus Service

(c) 2013 C. Walton

I know I spoke about this before in a previous post, but it is noteworthy because SBS, though not perfect and not quite BRT as done in cities around the world, could and should be expanded and should complement the existing network.  Some SBS lines could benefit from all of the amenities including off-board fare collection, dedicated (though not segregated) bus lanes, transit signal priority, and bus bulbs with tree plantings and tactile strips.  Other SBS lines may not need all of these features but should have at least some of them to still be effective.  Some of these potential routes would serve to improve the ride along a given corridor, while others would be implemented for greater exposure and a perceived inter-connectivity with other SBS lines and the subway.  Among a list of potential SBS conversions, including routes being worked on:

  • Q52 and Q53 via Woodhaven and Cross Bay Blvds
  • B46 via Utica Avenue (no bus lanes north of St. Johns Place)
  • Q44 via Main Street and the Whitestone Bridge, which should include extension to Fordham Plaza for connection to Bx12 and Bx41 SBS
  • S93 via Clove Road and Verrazano Bridge, which should be extended to 59th/4th for connection to N/R trains (and not just R trains at 86th Street)
  • B6 via Bay Parkway and Avenue H
  • Q5 via Merrick Blvd, with all SBS runs to Green Acres Mall and bus lanes to benefit all buses on Merrick including NICE’s N4/N4x
  • Q43 via Hillside Avenue, with bus lanes to benefit all Hillside Avenue buses and bus bulbs specifically for Q43 SBS

Among a list of potential new SBS routes, again not all needing all of SBS’s amenities:

  • Bx56 via 163rd Street and Story Avenue, with targeted bus lanes on 161st Street; operating over a combined Bx5 and Bx6 routing.
  • Bx50 via Webster Avenue and Astoria Blvd, the Webster-to-LGA SBS line
  • B85 via Flatlands, Kings Hwy, and North Conduit to JFK; operating over most of the B82 and a portion of the B15 routing.
  • Q105 via BQE, the Downtown Brooklyn-to-LGA SBS line
  • Q62 via Northern Blvd; operating over a combined Q12 and Q66 routing.

If SBS is supposed to be perceived as a “surface subway” of sorts, then some really good candidates for SBS conversion should be heavy ridership routes that would have been subway extensions or routes that connect to major destinations not reachable by subway.  Let us not downplay the importance of more subways (and a better subway overall), but if we are to increase transit capacity, it should be in the areas with no subways.

2. The Triboro RX system.

Triboro RX

The re-imagined Triboro RX system. (c) 2014 C. Walton

I wrote about Triboro RX in detail back in January, mapping out the route and stations along a core route from the Bronx to Brooklyn via Queens.  I originally mapped out from Co-Op City to Brooklyn Army Terminal (Industry City, nowadays), with branches to Queens Village and Valley Stream.  What has changed from that post is that instead of service to Valley Stream and Queens Village branching off the core route, I have decided to include the entire LIRR Lower Montauk line (now currently 100% operated by the New York & Atlantic Railway) from Long Island City to Jamaica which would include building new stations in place of or near the locations of many former stations on the line (including Penny Bridge, Richmond Hill, and Haberman).  There would be a junction station near Fresh Pond Yard with a pedestrian walkway leading to Metro Mall and the nearby (M) subway at Metropolitan Avenue.  This junction would connect the Bronx-Queens-Brooklyn line with the Long Island City-Jamaica line and provide connections to LIRR and NYCT subway lines across Queens and Brooklyn.  Another option would convert the LIRR Atlantic Branch to a mixed operation of LIRR and Triboro RX from Atlantic Terminal to Jamaica, with LIRR continuing to Far Rockaway, Hempstead, and West Hempstead.  This whole entire concept would allow someone from southeastern Brooklyn to southeastern Queens without having to go through Manhattan first or resorting to driving.  This would also give many neighborhoods options for travel outside of Manhattan and for travel that would otherwise require a trip through Manhattan.

3.  Reactivation of the Rockaway Beach Line.  New York City Transit already runs subway trains on the lower half of the Rockaway Beach Line, the A train from just past Rockaway Blvd all the way down to the Rockaways.  The portion from Forest Park to Liberty Avenue has been disused since the 1950s and can be much more easily be transitioned to NYC Subway service than bus or commuter rail service.  Converting it to subway use would make it easier to maintain A train service than a commuter rail or light rail which would require re-aligning the A train so that the new train would run on the same right-of-way but side-by-side with fencing between the two services.  No, commuter rail cannot operate on the same tracks as the subway, or else the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) would have something to say about that.  Subway and light rail is a different story, but I’m sure that nobody wants these huge subway cars running with small light rail cars in fear of the aftermath of a collision between the two (although Cleveland could tell you different).  To make things easier, I would propose the Rockaway Beach line restoration as a subway extension.  The current Rockaway Park Shuttle would be extended up the line to Forest Park and then probably tunneled until it reaches the Queens Blvd Line.  There are two options that can be explored:  the Queens Blvd connection, which would send Rockaway Park trains to Midtown directly via the E line or the M line, or the LaGuardia Airport option, which would replace the Q70 but would provide a vital link between airports in case of flight changes.  If the Queens Blvd option is chosen, Rockaways commutes to Midtown would be as quick as 40 minutes versus 90 minutes or more on the current A train and would make it easier for gamblers to reach Aqueduct and Resorts World Casino.

4.  Emergence of a light rail or streetcar network.  Now, I will not go into the logistics of implementing the Vision 42 plan for light rail on 42nd Street, but I will say that it just might be time to think about streetcars or light rail as part of the future of transit expansion in this city, and to complement Select Bus Service expansion.  The perfect platform to phase in light rail would be the North Shore alignment in Staten Island, possibly tied in with the proposed West Shore alignment which remains unfunded.  With future implementation in these two corridors, it might be possible to convert the current Staten Island Railway to light rail operations in order to have common vehicles and common parts for all three lines.  I also envisioned a series of streetcar lines in Brooklyn and Queens (and maybe in the Bronx or Manhattan too) that can probably be connected physical via single-track connections, although the lines won’t really share common revenue track, but allowing to share common vehicles.

Among the streetcar route ideas:

  • Red Hook to Downtown Brooklyn.  Operating along Columbia St, Van Brunt St, Beard St, and Atlantic Avenue.  Borough Hall to Smith-9th Sts Station via IKEA.
  • Bay Ridge to Sunset Park.  Operating along 1st and 2nd Avenues.  Brooklyn Army Terminal to 36th/4th Avenue Subway via Industry City.
  • Downtown Brooklyn to Long Island City.  Operating along Boerum Place, Kent Avenue, Franklin Avenue, Vernon Blvd, and 44th Drive.  Borough Hall to Court Square via Broolyn Navy Yard.

Among the light rail ideas:

  • Jamaica to Rosedale via Merrick Blvd
  • Jamaica to Belmont Park via Jamaica Avenue
  • Flushing to Little Neck or Queensborough Community College via Northern Blvd
  • Co-Op City to Pelham Bay Park

5. A regional farecard with smart card or near-field communication (NFC) technology.  It’s about time.  Too often, New Yorkers find themselves with multiple fare cards and/or tickets to ride multiple modes of transportation.  When I worked at the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, I often took the subway to Lower Manhattan to get the PATH train to Jersey City, where I would catch the HBLR to work.  For someone outside of the transit world, that would require a NYCT subway fare, a PATH fare, and an HBLR ticket.  There are people that take the Metro-North from Westchester or Connecticut and then take the subway or bus to the PATH to get to their jobs or favorite malls in New Jersey; that ride would require three different fare media.  What we should have is a regional fare card that allows users to deduct the correct fare for each system the card is good for without having to add and subtract or hold tickets and cards for each system.  They ideally would use near-field communication, an emerging technology that would allow users to keep their cards in their hand or wallet and pass near the card reader (not physically tap it) to deduct their fares.  Now, if the regional farecard idea isn’t possible, then the MTA, PATH, NJ Transit, and any other transit provider in the Greater New York Metro Area should at least have NFC card readers so that each system can have their own cards which are acceptable on neighboring systems.  For instance, an MTA NYCT card can be used on PATH (as is the case today but only with Pay-Per-Ride Metrocards), and vice versa.  As for the railroads, the tap-in, tap-out method can be used to pay for rides on either Metro-North or Long Island Rail Road, similar to what is done in Washington, DC’s MetroRail, but very similar to what is being tested on SEPTA’s Regional Rail.  Users must tap in at their origin station and tap out at the destination for the correct fare to be deducted or else the full fare for that time period will be charged.

Anyone who plans to use public transportation in the region should be able to use one card for all modes of transportation but still have the ability to use cash or coins, depending on the system.  It will certainly bring us into the 21st Century along with systems such as in San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, and Toronto.  Now, I do understand there are bureaucratic hurdles to overcome, being that each system is operated or overseen by different agencies and municipalities (PATH is Port Authority of NY and NJ, NYCT is MTA, Bee-Line is Westchester County, etc.), but transportation in the region surrounding the greatest city in the world shouldn’t be behind the times, even when other world-class cities like London and Tokyo have had it figured out eons ago.  This isn’t as much about world-class cities competing with each other as it is about making the lives of New Yorkers easier and just a bit more convenient.  Then, maybe the fares going up won’t feel so bad, since there is some amenities offered for a more premium price.

While these projects are part of my transit wish list, some of these ideas are nearly dependent upon other ideas coming to fruition.  Such an example would include the streetcar from the Brooklyn Army Terminal to Sunset Park with a connecting track up 4th Avenue and across 9th Street to allow for non-revenue moves between the Sunset Park line to the Red Hook line or from either line to the shared barn facility.  Service to the Brooklyn Army Terminal would be complemented by the Triboro RX Core Route out to Queens and The Bronx.  This time around, I didn’t include a light rail alignment along Utica Avenue or a streetcar anywhere in Manhattan, nor did I include any projects that could improve the Long Island Rail Road or Metro-North, though Triboro RX would operate over segments of the LIRR.  The only improvement I would recommend for LIRR and Metro-North is a joint ticketing system, especially once East Side Access is completed, so that a single ticket can be purchased for a ride from Bridgeport, CT to Port Jefferson, NY.  Then and only then can this metropolitan system be cloer to truly regional.

With all of these items for transit expansion comes a price: operating costs and infrastructure repair and renewal costs 10+ years down the road.  The capital costs are probably going to be exorbitant for the numerous rail projects listed here (minimal costs for the SBS expansion) and nearly impossible to implement without major changes to our roads, but with increased attention to current infrastructure improvements and new infrastructure creating redundancy, we can also provide a more robust transportation system, one that we can be proud of as New Yorkers and one that we can brag to the rest of the world about.  We are the greatest city in the world, let’s travel like it.  With a region like Greater New York, we can finally have a system that is truly regional, as was designed in the late 1960’s.


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