New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his idea to put in a light rail that would connect Brooklyn and Queens. With the exception of Red Hook and Sunset Park, his light rail system would not be bringing public transit to places that need it but rather add additional tourist glut and uber-gentrifying cachet to areas already overpriced and tourist heavy.
The idea sounds great at first. The public transit system in New York is abysmal and the outer borough are woefully underserved. To get from Southern Brooklyn to Northern Queens would require a lengthy detour through Manhattan or an epic journey of Byzantine bus transfers that would see you grow old or give up on life before you were halfway there.
The proposed rail runs only along the East River waterfront of Brooklyn and Queens. Some of these areas, such as Astoria, Queens and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, are already served by rail system and there are not too many people commuting between Sunset Park and Astoria.
With our subway dollar stretched thin and the MTA constantly cutting service while increasing fares, de Blasio says he’ll rake in the $2.5 billion he needs to build this light rail system from the increase in property tax that will result from the light rail being built. So he’ll wring money out of rich people who will somehow welcome this sorry trolley outside their homes and this will help the working class people of Red Hook and Sunset Park commute to Astoria where there are no good jobs waiting for them.
Whatever de Blasio’s motives or likelihood of the light rail system coming into being, the issue highlights two central problems of New York City transit: Our transit system is very Manhattan-centric to its own detriment and New York City does not have enough control over its own transit system.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority, though it generally serves New York City, is controlled by New York State. Whatever we need to do here in the five boroughs has to pass through several gatekeepers in Albany. The bureaucracy is twice-removed from the systems it operates, and it shows in every step of the system’s operation. The New York City transit system is among the most extensive in the country and it runs 24 hours, but that’s more of a remark about how sad the state of public transit is in the U.S.A. rather than a statement about how good New York City’s transportation is.
Every weekday morning I give myself an hour and a half to travel 11 miles, and I’m sometimes late. My first day back at work this year after the holidays, it took me more than two hours to get to work, even after I left the subway in disgust in Jackson Heights and took a cab the rest of the way to work.
New York City is comprised of 304.6 square miles and Manhattan comprises only about 33 of them. I have nothing against Manhattan and it makes sense for it to have a large transit infrastructure to deal with commuters going to work every week, but this leaves the most of the city underserved. Even many parts of Manhattan are not well served by the subway system – the Second Avenue subway has been a running joke for decades. They expanded the terrible 7 line so that people can go to the Javitz Center with greater ease – well not with greater ease since it involves having to take the 7 train. That the 7 train is an overcrowded clusterfuck in every way imaginable doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar to fix.
This latest proposal from the mayor looks like it will go the way of so many well-intentioned and poorly planned transit fixes. When it gets built, if it gets built at all, it will be way over budget and of limited usefulness.
I wish I could be more hopeful, but the line as planned will not go into any of the parts of the outer boroughs that are not served by a rail system, so the people still not served by our subways will still be out in the cold, waiting for the bus.