Can Staten Island’s North Shore Become NYC’s Next Great Neighborhood?

Corridors and intersections slated for mixed-use development by DCP and EDC.

Staten Island’s North Shore is one of the city’s great sites of opportunity. The neighborhoods along the Kill Van Kull are twice as dense as the rest of Staten Island, but lack any transit option beyond the bus. There are historic town centers at St. George and Port Richmond, but car-centric planning deadens street life. The waterfront, much of which still hosts a vibrant maritime industry, is only accessible to the public at three locations in six miles.

The opportunities aren’t lost on the city. With the release of North Shore 2030, a plan put out in December by the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Department of City Planning, the stage has been set for opening up the waterfront, fostering mixed-use development, and making streets safe and friendly for pedestrians and cyclists. Realizing the full extent of that vision, however, largely hinges on the success of plans to restore rapid transit to the North Shore.

To learn more about the plan, this Wednesday I headed over to the North Shore, where Staten Islanders Meredith Sladek and Nick Rozak took me on a half-day bike tour of the area. North Shore 2030 is a broad planning effort, looking at everything from transportation to bolstering the North Shore’s significant maritime industry. At the center of the plan is a proposal to encourage traditional mixed-use developments, with residences on top of retail, along certain corridors, including Richmond Terrace, Castleton Avenue, and Victory Boulevard.

The economically depressed intersection of Richmond Terrace and Port Richmond Avenue. Photo: Noah Kazis

Pedestrian-oriented housing and commerce would be clustered in four “neighborhood centers.” Along the North Shore, there are a number of older neighborhoods with walkable bones, especially where rail and ferry stations existed prior to the opening of the Verrazano Bridge. As Staten Island has shifted toward the automobile, however, those areas have fallen on harder times, with commercial activity moving into malls and shopping centers. At the corner of Port Richmond Avenue and Richmond Terrace, for example, one block from a former rail station and ferry terminal, older pedestrian-oriented buildings have shuttered windows and “for rent” signs. North Shore 2030 reimagines the intersection full of pedestrians walking between the waterfront, shops, and their apartments.

The city imagines the intersection of Port Richmond Ave. and Richmond Terrace as a bustling pedestrian center.

Revitalizing these areas will take more than zoning, though: The key will be restoring rapid transit service. Rail used to run along the North Shore and the tracks are still in place. In some locations, the right-of-way is still being used for freight transport; in others, they’re overgrown with trees, or even underwater.

Train tracks are still in place along the North Shore waterfront, but overgrown with trees. Photo: Noah Kazis

Currently, only buses run through the area. Despite the paltry transit options, 35 percent of people living west of the ferry terminal take transit to work: a number that’s low for New York City but high considering the infrastructure in place, and indicative of the untapped potential to boost transit ridership. The MTA is studying plans to bring a half-billion dollar transit line back to the North Shore — either light rail or bus rapid transit — but with the evaluation incomplete and the agency’s budget ever more strained, there’s no guarantee the North Shore will actually see rapid transit and the development it can foster.

The beginning of the North Shore rail line, here in good condition, heading west from the ferry terminal. Photo: Noah Kazis

If built, the new routes would make transit a much more attractive option, cutting travel times in half or even up to two-thirds, according to the MTA, a potentially transformative effect. Feeding directly into the ferry terminal, the rail right-of-way would make it easy for North Shore residents to get into Manhattan. The very beginning of the rail line is already used for passenger service on days when the Staten Island Yankees are playing a home game.

There's no park-and-ride next to the Stapleton SIRR station, just a pedestrian-oriented retail strip. Photo: Noah Kazis

One downside: The DCP/EDC report calls for new park-and-rides at the future transit stations. Those lots could turn the planned transit line from one that facilitates growth and revitalization around stations to something meant only to shuttle motorists more quickly to the ferry. Even on the Staten Island Railroad, which runs down the more suburban South Shore, only five stations have park-and-rides.

Luxury apartments are slated for the Homeport site, on the far side of the street, where there currently aren't any sidewalks. Photo: Noah Kazis

Even if rapid transit doesn’t materialize on the North Shore, the bicycle and pedestrian improvements planned for the area should help people get around their neighborhoods safely without a car. Right now, the area’s pedestrian infrastructure varies dramatically in quality. The Homeport site, a former Navy base shown above, is being redeveloped as a $150 million project with luxury apartments and retail. Right now, there aren’t even sidewalks on that wide section of Front Street, which is just outside the North Shore study area. The 2030 plan calls not only for building sidewalks where they’re missing, but also installing bulb-outs to extend existing sidewalks where traffic calming is needed for pedestrian safety.

A bus stop in front of the Snug Harbor historical site lacks both a shelter and a crosswalk. Photo: Noah Kazis

Bus stops, in particular, are slated for improvements. This bus stop, located across from the historic mansions of Snug Harbor, is one of the more popular on the North Shore. There isn’t even a crosswalk connecting the stop to the park across the street, however, much less a bus shelter to allow riders to wait in comfort. The blind curve of Richmond Terrace makes the crossing that much more dangerous.

DCP and EDC specifically identify this location as in need of a safe pedestrian crossing. In general bus stops are slated to get improved infrastructure, including new shelters.

On the current North Shore "greenway," cyclists share space with trucks. Photo: Noah Kazis

Bicycle infrastructure, too, would get an upgrade under the North Shore 2030 plan. Currently, cyclists heading between the North Shore and the ferry terminal have very inadequate infrastructure. Just west of the terminal, there’s a stretch of road labeled as greenway. Unlike the city’s other greenways, however, cyclists here have to share the road with cars and trucks. “Vehicle priority” read the greenway signs.

This isn't a sign you should see on a greenway. Photo: Noah Kazis

After about a mile, the “greenway” turns inland and becomes an on-street bike lane for another half-mile before disappearing altogether. The city’s plan calls for extending the bike infrastructure much further west, with a “multi-purpose pathway” extending nearly to the end of the island. The exact form of that pathway is unclear, but it would seem to be a significant improvement for cyclists riding in the area.

Bike parking at the Staten Island ferry terminal. Secure parking would be provided under the North Shore 2030 plan. Photo: Noah Kazis

At the ferry terminal itself, the 2030 plan recommends creating a secure area for bicycle parking. Currently, outdoor racks are the best option for commuters who want to leave their bike on the Staten Island side of the harbor, and they aren’t popular with many regular riders. With its heavy commuter traffic, the ferry terminal would be the perfect place to build a Chicago-style bike station. A small satellite bike-share system could also be set up around the ferry.

The roadway in front of the St. George terminal is hardly inviting to pedestrians exiting the ferry. Photo: Noah Kazis

The city also wants to improve the pedestrian connection between the ferry terminal and the surrounding St. George area. The key will be improving the complicated and hostile intersection immediately in front of the terminal.

Staten Island is a borough of almost half a million people, more than Atlanta, Miami, or Minneapolis. There’s no reason it can’t have revitalized pedestrian neighborhoods built around a strengthened transit backbone, and the North Shore is the place to start. DCP and EDC’s plans — if they ever become reality, and if North Shore transit ever gets built — would put it on the right track.

  • Clarence Eckerson

    Richmond Terrace & Port Richman Avenue could be awesome.  I love biking there when on Staten Island, you can see the potential of a really cool neighborhood.  And I am not just saying that because Tom Cruise almost got fried by the aliens in “War of the Worlds” there.

  • Mfs

    Noah-
    Great piece. I think you overlook the current productivity of portions of the area for maritime support services. It’s a really critical stretch of shore for tugs, barges and repair facilities. While there are definitely parcels that can be redeveloped, the maritime industry needs to be protected to keep the harbor as a whole viable.

  • Mfs

    I should have been clearer. You definitely mention it up front but compatibility bt maritime and new development needs to be thought through here.

  • Anonymous

    I live in the north shore of staten island.   I Like it a lot, but it needs to be more walkable. the bike lanes might as well not exist. they are so poorly planned that they make it more dangerous to bike.

  • There is one thing that would augment this revitalization vision more than any other single thing.  Imaging reopening the north shore rail right-of-way (ROW) and the SIR going all the way to midtown Manhattan.  This is an achievable goal – IF the PATH system is subsumed into the MTA subway system.

    The SIR already operates under modified FRA regulations – as does the PATH !!  And it doesn’t take a Magellan to look at a map and see that the shortest, cheapest solution to the problem of Staten Island’s mass-transit isolation is through New Jersey.  The PATH system is already well on its way to extending down to Newark Airport – in fact, it’s a fait accompli – and building a viable two-track bridge across the Arthur Kill would cost a tiny fraction of tunneling across the Narrows and linking up with a Brooklyn subway line.  In fact, under current system incompatibility, SIR cannot link up with a Brooklyn subway line.  Which means that the most that can be hoped for (if funding miraculously appeared) would be for that subway to dead-end at an existing SIR station.

    BUT … if the north shore ROW is reopened – and it should be – then running across the Kill to link up with the PATH become a relatively tiny, achievable goal.  The required ROWs already exist, they are underutilized – or completely unused – and this would cost Billion$ of dollars less than tunneling the Narrows.  

    Imagine a single seat ride from Tottenville to Herald Square with nothing but the swipe of a MetroCard ??!!??

    Remember, the only reason that the Port Authority owns the PATH system is because they had the money to buy the Trans-Hudson RR when it went up for sale – NOT because of any imagined jurisdictional imperative.  MetroNorth and NJTransit both run interstate commuter rails into Manhattan with NO consent of the Port Authority.  The only power the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey has is that which is imparted jointly by Trenton and Albany.  If the political will existed, the PA could be divested of the PATH system with the wave of a pen.  If that happened, all sorts of saner regional mass-transit decisions could be made, including finally linking Staten Island – the bastard stepchild of the boroughs – with the rest of its kin. 

    THAT could make the North Shore “NYC’s Next Great Neighborhood”

  • Ross

    Well, I think it will be good to become part of NY, if that will mean that it will have more funds about the parks, streets, bike lines and etc… 

    Moving Homes

  • Anonymous

    The thing is that the MTA has the option to implement low- or no-cost improvements to existing service, until the time comes where they can (hopefully) manage to get the North Shore Rail Line up and running (and hopefully not as a light rail like they want, but as a heavy rail like the current SIR).

    If they simply cut a little bit into the local service off-peak, they could use it to create limited-stop service that would provide more frequent service along corridors such as Forest Avenue and Castleton Avenue and also give riders a faster ride to St. George. And the S53 route could get a limited to give us faster access to Brooklyn.

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