Saturday, March 17, 2012

7 Line to Secacus? Nah, I'm not aboard.

Manhattan in the background, with the 7 train approaching 33 St-Rawson St Station

The 7 line, shown here approaching 33rd St-Rawson St, could soon be extended to New Jersey if Mayor Bloomberg has his way. (Photo by Brian Zumba)

Over the past couple of months, there has been a lot of buzz on transit websites and transit advocates on the news that Mayor Bloomberg is throwing his support behind the proposed extension of the 7 line to Seacucus Junction, and will soon begin to push for funding to jumpstart the construction of the extension.

It's the wrong way to go.

The 7 line, or the IRT Flushing Line (as it's known to transit buffs), runs from it's Northern Queens termini, Main Street-Flushing, to it's Midtown Manhattan termini, Times Square-42 Street. Coincidently, both Main St-Flushing and Times Square are among the Top 10 busiest stations in the whole system, #10 and #1, respectively. In between, especially during rush hours, it gets crush loaded with commuters looking for fast and easy service to Midtown Manhattan and points in between, and the 7 has seen increasing ridership, due to fast population growth on the line and the exploding gentrification of Long Island City, which occupy the first three to four stations on the line in Queens (Vernon-Jackson Aves, Hunters Point Ave, Court Square, and Queensboro Plaza). As a regular 7 line rider who, up until recently, boarded at Times Square and took the express all the way to Main Street, it can get extremely uncrowded, and if the U.S. Open is occurring or the Mets are playing, or if the line suffers a malfunction- forget it.

Now that I'm done giving my anecdote on the 7 line, let's get down to the point. The 7 line, at this point, is being extended as we speak to the Javits Center, where it will wait for the Hudson Yards Development to materialize. Some transit advocates, however, are calling the extension flawed and unnecessary, given the fact that it didn't include a crucial station at 41 St & 10 Ave to serve a neighborhood that's already there (Hell's Kitchen), and the fact that Hudson Yards is moving at a snails pace.

We're not done even with this boondoggle, and the Mayor wants to create another one. However, to find out why the Mayor wants to extend it to New Jersey, we must look no further then to New Jersey itself, where it gives a set of clues that includes a canceled megaproject, a former governor, the current governor, NJ Transit, and the federal government.

Access to the Region's Core (ARC) was a megaproject intended to benefit NJ Transit commuters, by alleviating delays and increasing capacity for NJ Transit for trains going to and from Penn Station. Planning began 2007, and groundbreaking held in June of 2009, during Jon Corzine's admnstration. It would have included new trackage, a new rail yard, and most importantly, a new rail tunnel for the exclusive use of NJ Transit,which would have doubled capacity for trains heading to and from Penn and NJ. A Federal Transit Administration document prepared in 2007 stated that....    
New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJT) is proposing to construct a new 8.3-mile commuter rail line adjacent to the existing Northeast (Rail) Corridor (NEC) between Secaucus, New Jersey and Manhattan. The Trans Hudson Express Tunnel, also known as Access to the Region’s Core (ARC), includes the construction of two new tunnels under the Hudson River; new rail tracks between Secaucus Junction and New York Penn Station (PSNY); a new six-track rail station underneath 34th Street in midtown Manhattan (with pedestrian linkages to PSNY); a storage yard in Kearny, New Jersey; and the purchase of specialized dual-powered rail locomotives (electric and diesel) and bi-level coaches. The NEC is the only Hudson River commuter rail crossing into midtown Manhattan. Already near capacity, the NEC currently experiences significant travel-time delays whenever there is a train malfunction incident; one train disruption of 15 minutes, for example, can delay as many as 15 other NJT and Amtrak trains. As passenger demand increases, congestion and service reliability are expected to worsen. In addition, commuter rail passengers on NJT’s Bergen County, Main, Pascack Valley, Port Jervis, and Raritan Valley commuter rail lines today must transfer at either Secaucus Junction or in Hoboken to reach New York City. The purpose of the ARC project is to double rail capacity between New Jersey and New York City, thereby relieving congestion and transit delays, while providing for more direct, one-seat service to midtown Manhattan.
It was project to cost anywhere from $7.2 Billion to $8.7 Billion, and once it completed and opened in 2017, it would've already had an instant 203,000 average weekday boardings alone, and by 2030, there would have been 254,200 average weekday boardings, or 24,800 riders benefiting from this project. Coupled with the projected growth of population and jobs between New York and New Jersey, this would have benefitted the region for a long time, and setting the stage for even more transit oriented developments. Plus, add the fact the federal government woud have funded the majority of the costs, it appeared to be a sweet deal.

It wasn't enough for Gov. Chris Christie, who canceled the project in October of 2010 due to concerns of cost overruns, of which New Jersey would have been on the hook to cover, which it simply didn't have the money to do so. In an instant, he give away billons of dollars of federal dollars, and the chance to redevelop and put NJ in a position for expansion was gone. In the midst of all the confusion, Mayor Bloomberg stepped in, promoting an idea to extend the 7 line from it's future termini at 34 Street & 11 Ave to Secaucus Junction as a more cost efficient, and a win-win for both states, saying it provided what ARC didn't- direct access to Midtown Manhattan, Times Square, Grand Central, and transfers to most of the other New York City Subway Routes.

No. Just No.

There are several problems I have with this current extension, but it's already close to being completed, so no point on being a whiner on that. However, there is everything wrong with this extension, and people, especially those who are residents of Queens and use the 7 line, should rise up and actively oppose this extension.

Why, you might ask, am I acting like a reactionary and rising in revolt against this idea? The root of the answer here lies in the fact that this plan is ill-conceived and and heads in the wring direction, completely giving a giant middle finger to the residents of Northeastern Queens, who have been pleading for better transit access for a while now.  In one of my earlier posts, I talked about the IND Second System, which would have provided better transit access by expanding the transit system radically, which would have potentially transformed the city in a way much more different then the one we know of it today. Queens would have received the biggest benefit, with 52 miles of new track alone Included in that would have been an extension of the 7 line from Main Street to the far streched of Northern Queens, with the line splitting in two around Bayside to serve Colege Point and Little Neck, respectively.

Bloomberg, as Mayor of New York CIty, should be looking at extending and completing the subway system here, where wide swaths of the city, not just Northeastern Queens, suffer from a lack of subway access. Neighborhoods such as Flatlands, Utica Ave, Flatbush, the southern portion of Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, Central Brooklyn, much of the Central Portion of the Bronx, and the vast stretches of Southern Queens suffer from lack of decent transit access. Staten Island is a notorious example, as it's the only borough without any subway access to the city, and there is no rapid transit access to LaGuardia Airport in any form. Why doesn't he try to resolve those problems first. Why doesn't he serve the constituents who elected him in the first place, which were the people of New York City, and the people of the state of New Jersey. NJ has PATH, in addition to NJ Transit. Why doesn't NJ take up expansion of those systems- since, after all, this 'proposal' is intended to benefit NJ more then it benefits New Yorkers. The system here urgently needs expansion and renewal, to help it advance and grow for the 21st Century, to keep it in pace with the demands of New York City, which are growing ever more bigger. I urge you, to oppose this expansion, to tell the Mayor of New York City to serve the people of the city of New York first, to improve the subways here first, before we ever think of extending the subway beyond NYC.