VIEWPOINTS

Let’s Build a Train From Brooklyn to Queens and Someday to the Bronx

by |January 10, 2022

New York City’s subway system was designed to bring workers from the outer boroughs to downtown and midtown Manhattan. If you want to take the subway from Brooklyn to Queens, you typically get there by going through Manhattan. In addition, many parts of Brooklyn and Queens are mass transit deserts where there are no trains and only bus service. The part of Brooklyn I grew up in, Flatlands (specifically East 59th street between Avenue O and T), was in what used to be called a “two-fare zone.” In the era before free transfers, you took a bus to the subway and paid separately for each. In a move to reduce the problem of train-deprived neighborhoods, Governor Hochul, in her first state of the state address last week, announced her intent to build an inter-borough express train. According to Jen Chung of the Gothamist:

“A long sought train connection between Brooklyn and Queens may finally become a reality, as New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced she wants to ‘take an old, unused, 14-mile-long right-of-way and create what we’re calling the Inter-Borough Express’ during her State of the State address Wednesday. The route occupies existing freight train tracks that begin in Bay Ridge and go into Astoria, running through neighborhoods including Sunset Park, Borough Park, Kensington, Midwood, Flatbush, Flatlands, New Lots, Brownsville, East New York, Bushwick, Ridgewood, Middle Village, Maspeth, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights. If the project moves forward it would create new stations in underserved communities, or ‘transit deserts.’ Hochul directed the MTA to conduct an environmental review immediately. In early 2020, the agency initiated a study on the feasibility of using the route for passenger use.”

One of COVID’s impacts on land use development patterns has been to combine work and home in the generally larger homes available in the outer boroughs. This may well be reinforcing the earlier trend of more decentralized economic development in New York City. People are looking to reduce their commute time and avoid the high costs of Manhattan. Long Island City, downtown Brooklyn, and other neighborhoods are attracting businesses. Commuters who live in Brooklyn and work in Queens often find that driving a personal vehicle is their fastest way of commuting. This train would change that calculus for many.

The Regional Plan Association has long advocated this project. In fact, since 1996, they have advocated what they call the Triboro Line, a surface train that would end at Co-Op City in the Bronx. According to the group’s website:

“Running 24 miles on existing track from Co-op City in the Bronx to Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, the Triboro would be an above-ground rail line connecting 17 subway lines and 4 commuter lines…Transit improvements are typically focused on moving people in and out of Manhattan. Yet 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. The majority of people living in the four boroughs outside Manhattan don’t use public transit to travel to work within the boroughs, even though they live in the city with the largest subway and bus network in the U.S… New York City’s subways were built radially from the core to connect people to Manhattan, limiting the system’s value for residents traveling to other places. Indeed, the vast subway network, with 470 stations, isn’t within a reasonable walking distance for 43% of the city’s outer borough residents. Yet more than 50% of New York’s job growth in the last 15 years has occurred outside Manhattan. Many residents’ work or shopping trips are difficult or impossible to accomplish via the subway alone, requiring circuitous, time-consuming and multiple-transfer journeys by combinations of bus and subway.”

An environmentally sustainable New York City should encourage the use of mass transit, and that requires the construction of rail lines outside of Manhattan. Even more important is the impact a train line might have on the city’s use of land and the potential for building affordable housing. New train stations will encourage higher density development nearby. The city and state governments could create public-private partnerships to allow zoning changes and larger buildings in return for low-cost housing. This could enable economic development to be channeled into often overlooked neighborhoods and would allow for equity and diversity goals to be incorporated into the re-development of these areas.

Most New Yorkers (over 6.5 million) live outside of Manhattan, and the New York neighborhoods they live in often include vacant lots, abandoned buildings, undeveloped train rights of way, and even above-ground freight train lines. The new trainline could be designed to combine passenger and freight trains that would reduce truck traffic within the city. A trainline built on old train rights of way and existing freight tracks like this one would be far less expensive to build than an underground subway line. It could also be built quickly if the MTA could contract with the firms that rebuilt LaGuardia Airport in record time.

The federal government under Joe Biden has gotten back into the infrastructure business. That means for the first time in a long time, the city and state might have a federal partner. The cost of the line is estimated to be about $2 billion, which does not even add up to the $2.4 billion it cost us to extend the number 7-line to Hudson Yards. The 7-line extension was financed by New York City alone. According to Bloomberg CityLab’s Eric Jaffe:

“The funding structure they devised, known as ‘tax incremental financing,’ was an innovative one—at least by the standards of U.S. transportation funding. The city issued bonds for the construction to be repaid by future tax revenue from developers whose property value would soar once the extension was complete. On paper, at least, the plan was a great example of what’s called ‘value capture’—leveraging real estate gains for the good of public transit.”

The 7-line extension is having a major impact on real estate development on the West Side of Manhattan. A $2 billion investment on transit in Brooklyn and Queens would have a massive impact on real estate development in New York for generations. A financing structure similar to the 7-line extension might be utilized on this project as well. An exciting public works project like this would be a great psychological lift to a city that, over the past two decades, has persevered through the endless pain of COVID, the battering of the 2008 Great Recession and the horror of 9-11. For our new outer-borough mayor (following two from Boston), the new train line would be a concrete (and steel) example of his commitment to the New York that lives and works outside of Manhattan.

It would also reduce traffic congestion in the outer boroughs. As Brooklyn and Queens have become more attractive over the past several decades, its traffic problems have gotten worse. Anything that helps concentrate population and employment density and enables mobility makes our city more environmentally sustainable and attractive. I’m with our new governor. Let’s build that interborough train line and once it’s up and running, build a second phase to the Bronx.


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Nancy Anderson
8 months ago

This is a more a question than a comment. Since proposed right of way for this subway is at street level, not underground, what discussion is being had about sound mitigation? There are lots and lots of people who live adjacent to the project proposal and are very likely to be alert to proximate quality of life impacts

JimCav101
JimCav101
Reply to  Nancy Anderson
8 months ago

This line runs mostly in an open cut anywhere from 10 to 30 ft. deep, and other parts run above ground about 30′ high. So passenger train noise should be tolerable. The problem will be the construction phase, where I agree, the surrounding homes all along the line would be severely disrupted. The line needs a total rebuild, sewage, roadbed, retaining walls, stations, bridge repairs and a lot of other things, not just new track. 2 billion dollars worth! And ridership is questionable. There is no hub on the line, no terminal, just quiet neighborhoods. Who needs to go from Bay Ridge to Glendale?

Paul Silverstrom
Paul Silverstrom
Reply to  Nancy Anderson
8 months ago

I agree with you. The Bay Ridge line runs below my window. Even though freight trains run infrequently, when they do, the noise level can sometimes become intolerable. Many times, they run during the middle of the night. I can just imagine what it would be like when commuter trains and freight trains begin to operate on a regular basis.

Allen
Allen
8 months ago

The article is not entirely accurate from the get-go, stating that concurrently the only way from Brooklyn to Queens via subway is through Manhattan. This is incorrect. MTA’s G Line provides service from Church Ave (Kensington) to Court Square (Long Island City).

Sarah Fecht
Admin
Reply to  Allen
8 months ago

Thanks for pointing that out. We have fixed the sentence

Raymond i Blum
Raymond i Blum
Reply to  Allen
8 months ago

The G train? Not ready for prime time

April Guscott
April Guscott
Reply to  Allen
8 months ago

Thank you so much. I had to look for another article that left out mention of the G to see if it was me or if everyone suddenly forgot about it, and it’s not me. PIX11 also doesn’t know that the G train exists.

Jackson Heights
Jackson Heights
8 months ago

make a train go from Barclays Center to LGA is a no brainer. DO IT!

Sha
Sha
8 months ago

The J,Z and A,C lines can be taken from Brooklyn to Queens.

Last edited 8 months ago by Sha
John
John
8 months ago

The G train goes from Brooklyn to queens. But yes more coverage would be great

Larry Adams
Larry Adams
8 months ago

When you consider that it took ten years and billions of dollars to build 3 subway stations on Manhattan’s east side such a project should be carefully planned and monitored.

Jdr2128
Jdr2128
8 months ago

No please! We don’t want the gentrification that will bring! Leave Queens alone!

Jason Barrows
Jason Barrows
8 months ago

The very first paragraph is blatantly inaccurate, as the G does run between the two boroughs. However, everything else rings true.

Kisha
Kisha
Reply to  Jason Barrows
8 months ago

And the J…

Laura Caruso
Laura Caruso
8 months ago

Make the new subway line a monorail like they were predicting at the 1939 World’s fair in Queens.

Glynn
Glynn
8 months ago

This is why they mention the right away The tracks is already there The land is already taken the old Freightliner that was there before the New York City subway system they should have show people the route but it’s actually already there The infrastructure abridges everything and it don’t interfere with any street traffic and most likely they still run in freight on those lines The outer boroughs need something everything is focused on Manhattan all the money is spent in Manhattan that will give Brooklyn and Queens more economic growth people always complaining about noise and they live somewhere live in New York City You don’t like the noise You don’t like the city traffic go live in Florida this is New York City this is what it is we’re the center of the world and we need better transportation options not another second avenue train station

Paul Silverstrom
Paul Silverstrom
Reply to  Glynn
8 months ago

You are absolutely right. Too much noise, crowds and traffic in NYC for my taste. I am considering moving away.

Adam Roelantsen
Adam Roelantsen
8 months ago

This interborough express is a much better investment than the stalled LGA AirTran for the same projected budget! A much longer line with many more transfers serving more transit deserts and using existing transportation corridors instead of building through a public park (as the AirTran proposes).

Rogelio young
Rogelio young
8 months ago

Its a brilliant epiphany long time coming,kudos. The idea of using existing freight lines is a laudable one since it’s going to service those of us who would benefit immensely from this project and who otherwise would have to continue to drive or take multiple buses to a mta station. It gives far more communities access to public transportation that does not exist, not yet anyway ? Bravo.

Waj Far
Waj Far
8 months ago

I live in Queens and it’s insane that you have to pay toll heavily in order to travel from a borough to another. Else you have to drive through congested Manhattan. In talking about traveling from Queens to bronx. Besides this, there is no subway taking you from Queens to bronx. What a Shame.

Zvi Bushwick
Zvi Bushwick
8 months ago

If we really want to do something simple and useful why not connect the M line in a loop? It already ends in 2 Queens neighborhoods which aren’t all that far from each other, and connecting them would make a commute from Forest Hills and Central Queens to Ridgewood and various neighborhoods in Brooklyn a matter of minutes rather than hours by public transportation.

Last edited 8 months ago by Zvi Bushwick
Peter p
Peter p
Reply to  Zvi Bushwick
8 months ago

Brilliant idea. Adding to it: connecting G line from Bedford-Nostrand Ave station to M line on Myrtle Avenue, then extending M line to Woodhaven Blvd. that would create new line from downtown Brooklyn to Astoria.

Brian G. Andersson
Brian G. Andersson
8 months ago

Enough of the “outer” boroughs. We are the OTHER boroughs.

Barry Michlowitz
Barry Michlowitz
8 months ago

I saw on the Jetsons cartoon houses in the middle of the air and transportation was flying cars .. Seriously, let’s get the existing subway lines to work well before some pie-in-the-sky plans for expansion are made. Besides, how will this be paid for? COVID-19 devastated the world’s economy.

Rasheem
Rasheem
8 months ago

I could take one train “the L” and never have to leave a train station until I get to my stop in any borough and to other states as well!

Jeffrey H. Wasserman
Jeffrey H. Wasserman
8 months ago

I believe I went to PS 236 with Steven Cohen back in the 1960s. PS 236 is in Mill Basin which remains quite distant from the subways. A station on the old LIRR line at Ralph Avenue would certainly help the East Flatbush and Flatlands areas.

Steven Cohen
Steven Cohen
Reply to  Jeffrey H. Wasserman
8 months ago

Hi Jeffrey- Yes, I did go to PS 236 with you back then. And this wouldn’t do much for my old neighborhood, but it would be a start

Jerry Wechsler
Jerry Wechsler
8 months ago

It would be useful if the new line could link to the Roosevelt Avenue station. Also, the 7 train should really extend farther East, to the Nassau line or even Port Washington. It takes forever to get anywhere from Bay Terrace, because the 28 or 13 buses to Flushing are terribly slow.

Dee James
Dee James
8 months ago

‘ An exciting public works project like this would be a great psychological lift to a city that, over the past two decades, has persevered through the endless pain of COVID…’

Not sure it’s been 2 decades yet with COVID…I think we’re coming up only on 2 years…

But definitely a long awaited change needed for residents of Brooklyn and Queens

Last edited 8 months ago by Dee James
Mark Richardson
Mark Richardson
8 months ago

We need this! And a passenger rail service to Staten Island!