About Roosevelt Island

How Will These Transit Options Affect Roosevelt Island?

Updated 2 years ago Peter McCarthy
Subway Crowding
Subway Crowding
Photo Credit: User: Dschwen - commons.wikimedia.org

We recently published an article about the Second Avenue Subway and how its opening will affect travel to and from Roosevelt Island. Other proposals are floating around, some very good ideas and some more like "OMG, what are they thinking?"

Three large scale proposals for major change in how New York City does transit, each dealing with an unwritten, century old requirement that every working New Yorker must touch Manhattan once a day, landed on the table in recent weeks.

Garnering the most attention for no apparent reason is Mayor Bill de Blasio's Brooklyn-Queens Connector, BQX for short, designed to ease travel between Astoria, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Like other proposals we'll look at, it aims to relieve riders of the need to take an underground tour of Manhattan while traveling between other boroughs. A closer look suggests this plan is all about marketing, more sexy, a real estate developer's dream, than effective.

More promising, feasible and much less expensive is a Regional Plan Association proposal that uses twenty-four miles of already existing above ground rights of way to carry passengers from Co-0p City all the way to the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Bay Ridge. 

Easily, the worst proposal is one put forward by MoveNY and championed by The New York Times. The Times editorial board says that charging commuters $11 plus dollars a day to inch across the East River on The Queensboro, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges will do nothing less than save the subway system. In our view, it's a regressive tax that piles expenses on working people that neither the State nor the City has the gumption to shoulder.

What Do These Proposals Hold For Roosevelt Island?

A leftover element from designs more than a century old that intended to make Manhattan the heart of New York City, often at the expense of the other boroughs, is a legacy of subway lines that always include stops in the borough that outsiders believe is the city, although many more of us live in either Brooklyn or Queens with The Bronx not far behind.

When you consider that, of all the subway lines built over the years, only one never touches Manhattan, you start to get the picture. This made more sense when the outer boroughs were more like suburbs that fed workers into the urban center and took them back at night. History shows that the subway, plus the elevators that were introduced to accommodate all that incoming labor, made Manhattan soar.

Oh, by the way, the subway line that services only Brooklyn and Queens is the G. Seen it lately?

That's not how we work anymore. 

Today, "...more New Yorkers commute within the outer boroughs than into Manhattan, and the city is gaining more jobs in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island than it is in the urban core," according to the RPA. Yet because subway lines are more permanent than working trends, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, maybe millions, must go through Manhattan to complete commutes to, from and between Brooklyn and Queens or The Bronx.

This ads time and expense, and for Roosevelt Island, it means more people crowding onto F Trains to go from Queens to Brooklyn as well as parking in Motorgate to access better travel options.

Each of the recent proposals may ease the burdens of which we are already aware and are likely to increase once the Second Avenue Subway opens – or make them worse.

Rating The Plans

It's far from surprising that the Manhattan-centric New York Times backs a plan that is as spineless as it is painless for people who are already in Manhattan.

The Times plan that it claims will save the system includes a charge of $5.54 every time you drive across the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg or Queensboro Bridges, in either direction. Commuters would pay $11.08 per day for the privilege of sucking exhaust fumes on congested spans.

Or, if space is available – as it often isn't on Roosevelt Island's platforms – they can squeeze into an overcrowded train that 43% will have to walk more than a quarter mile to reach.

What makes this plan so lame is that a combination of modestly higher subway fares – current prices cover less than half the actual cost of a ride – and appropriately increased State, City and Federal funding would do much more without isolating the pain among the most vulnerable. 

Consider:

  • New York State has recently diverted over $100 million in taxes supposedly dedicated to the MTA into the slushy General Fund, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. This seems especially reckless in light of circumstances, not to mention cowardly in its attempt to rob Peter in order to not face the facts with Paul.
  • New York City comes nowhere near paying its fair share toward the subway system. Inflation calculations suggest that the City ought to pay three to four times the $100 million it now contributes – and does so grudgingly.
  • With Republicans the majority in both houses of Congress, the Federal government's support for mass transit is abysmal and not in line with important goals for controlling greenhouse gases and fuel imports.

Asked to comment, after promising "to support initiatives that provide increased funding for the MTA and aim to ease the daily commute and unburden our overcrowded subway platforms," State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright observed, "The MoveNY plan would include tolls on all East River bridges, including Queensboro Bridge, the only bridge to Roosevelt Island, and therefore, would have a significant impact on my constituents."

Seawright went on to caution that the plan "...is in the early stages of the legislative process, and I expect that there will be revisions, such as toll free Queensboro Bridge for Roosevelt Island residents, which I am advocating for. I will continue to fight for having a public transportation plan that moves New York and is truly fair to all."

Josh J. Jamieson, a spokesperson for City Council Member Ben Kallos, tells The Daily that while Kallos has been committed to "congestion pricing" from the time he launched his run for the office, his plan differs significantly from that forwarded by MoveNY. Noted for progressive thinking, Kallos proposes that "...city tolls would go into effect in a decade, so the city has time to improve transportation today by borrowing against the projected earnings tomorrow, to increase public transportation capacity ahead of need."

Jamieson emphasizes that "The final congestion pricing plan should meet environmental goals to reduce the number vehicles entering the city while also raising money for public transportation infrastructure and protecting residents."

State Senator Jose Serrano did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

It seems clear that the original proposal from MoveNY will not pass unchanged without stiff resistance from Kallos and Seawright. 

Mayor de Blasio's BQX Connector Plan, with its $2.5 billion price tag, seems to offer too little in exchange for its costs, and what public works project comes in at its projected cost, anyway?

Planners say the BQX will carry 45,000 to 50,000 riders per day, a minuscule number relative to the 6 million who take subways. A city commissioned study says that all of about 200 people would use this system between Red Hook and DUMBO, each day. Astoria would send another 50. That reads like a lot of empty seats to me, and your guess is as good as anyone else's as to where the other 45,000 riders would materialize.

The idea originated with Two Trees, a DUMBO based real estate company, which may help explain the slippery figures.

As for Roosevelt Island, it looks like the best this might do is divert 50 people out the subway system from Astoria, and few or none of those would be F Train riders.

But a brighter plan from the Regional Plan Association has recently surfaced, and it is both bigger, less expensive and more likely to directly help ease system crowding than either of the others. The Triborough Rail Line (not an official title yet) would use 24 miles of already existing right of way, much of it currently in use by Amtrak and CSX freight trains. These tracks are currently underutilized, carrying just one or two trains per day.

Using existing lines means this option can be built faster and cheaper than the BQX. Moreover, it's projected to serve 100,000 riders, about 30,000 more than the Staten Island Ferry, per day between the three boroughs.

For Roosevelt Islanders, the great thing is that it intersects with the F Train in Jackson Heights, offering all those sleepy riders a faster, less grueling run to Brooklyn than coasting all the way through Manhattan and back out into Brooklyn. It also has a stop not far from the Avenue I station on the F Line in Brooklyn. The clear picture here is the reversal of a twenty year trend; that is, fewer not more passengers riding the tunnels into and out of Roosevelt Island.

Conclusion

While it's difficult to see how the Move NY bridge toll plan will do anything more than raise revenue while helping only those living and working in Manhattan, the RPA proposal has great promise for painlessly easing travel pains. It's the only one offering hope for helping us on Roosevelt Island.

The BQX reads more like a cookie tossed to voters in Queens and Brooklyn than a well thought through plan. At worst, it looks like a publicly sponsored gift to real estate developers.

In the long run, we wish that City, State and Federal governments will stand tall on behalf of the values of efficient, environmentally conscious mass transit by stepping up the funding significantly. As much as any other issue, this should be brought to the attention of the elected officials who represent us. It has been neglected for too long.

In the meantime, we should oppose plans like East River bridge tolls that are really regressive taxes that protect Manhattan at the expense of the other boroughs and chime in when we can in favor of smart and fair ideas like the Triborough Rail Line.

 

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