Today’s Headlines

  • Enviro Groups Send Obama Their Transition Plan… (Grist, HuffPo)
  • …Here Are the NRDC’s Recs on Transpo Policy (Switchboard)
  • Stimulus Talk Fuels Speculation About NY’s Transpo Mega Projects (Newsday)
  • Hasidic Leader Asks Buses to Block Traffic in Protest of Kent Ave Bike Lane (Bklyn Paper)
  • Broad Channel Drivers Vow Civil Disobedience If MTA Rescinds Their Bridge Toll Rebates (News)
  • FedEx Trucks Won’t Have a Hub in Astoria’s Asthma Alley (City Room)
  • Cap’n Transit: Make the MTA a Department, Not an Authority
  • More on the MTA’s New Text Alert System (NYT, Post, NY1)
  • Markowitz to Fight for More Power in the Hands of Beeps (Post)
  • Bike Talk: Earl Blumenauer Does a Quick Interview With Parade
  • Manhattan as Seen From the Waterfront Greenway (NYer)
  • Larry Littlefield

    “‘They want to balance the budget on the backs of Rockaway and Broad Channel taxpayers,’ said Dan Tubridy, a local restaurant owner who had led the fight against the toll since 1972.”

    There’s the word from Weinerland.

    There is one thing I absolutely want to see when the MTA fiscal crisis comes to a head — the limination of service on the A line past Howard Beach. The cost of that services is massive relative to the number of riders, the rest of the city subsidizes it, and the locals resent it even so.

    At the very least when the signal system comes up for replacement, at massive cost, it shouldn’t happen unless the locals beg for it. Which will not happen — just the opposite.

  • Streetsman

    Drivers can be so narrow-minded and egocentric that their stubbornness and defensiveness defeats ideas that would actually benefit them. I guess part of the trouble is that traffic operates in ways that are counter-intuitive. Dan Tubridy needs to realize that if higher taxes pay for mass transit to be improved significantly, that will take more cars off the road and make it easier for him to drive. Duh. The point is to keep drivers off the rode who don’t need to drive but have alternatives, and make those alternatives more attractive. Better transportation options benefit everyone and we all should pay for them.

    Seriously, though, a little off-topic from rescinding these toll rebates, but more related to East River Tolls and Congestion Pricing – the City needs to be way more intelligent about the naming and marketing of these ideas. They should spend a little more time thinking about that. “Congestion” and “Pricing” – two negatives. “East River” and “Tolls” – two negatives for most people (some may have positive feelings when they hear “East River”). “Peak Rate” and “Parking” – at least two sources of anxiety if not two full negatives. It is very important that the names of these programs have words with positive connotations and that better highlight the beneficial impacts in order for people to support them. For instance, instead of “Congestion Pricing”, howabout something like “Clean Air Pass” or “Mobility Source” or “Transit Choice”. Instead of “East River Tolls,” call it “Traffic Reduction Program”. Instead of “Peak Rate Parking” call it “Open Spaces Plan” or “Clear Curbs” or something like that. Think about drug titles – what if Celebrex was named “Joint Pain Pill” or if Abilify was called “Mental Disorder Treatment?” Too many of these great ideas have names that focus on the negative aspects of the programs and many people are feeling threatened where they could be feeling accommodated. It really makes a big difference.

  • Streetsman

    I just realized my suggestion “Traffic Reduction Program” has the negative word traffic in it – it’s so easy not to think about that. Maybe “East River Tolls” could be called “Quick Flow Plan”.

  • “We will ask all the drivers: ‘When you pick-up or drop-off our children, put your bus in an angle, block the entire street, wait ’til the parent gets to the door of the bus, [and] slowly — very slowly — take your child off or put it on the bus, [and] don’t rush to get back on the sidewalk,’” said Abraham, who added that the protests would occur every morning from 8–10 am and 4–7 pm and would be accompanied by rallies.

    “One day the traffic will be backed up all the way to Long Island City to [the] Department of Transportation Headquarters, traffic will come to a halt,” he said.

    Which begs the question… how is this day different from any other day?

  • In addition to the list of long-term projects in the news article, a couple of environmental groups have compiled a list of ready-to-go projects funding funding trails, bike lanes, sidewalks and the like, which can be funded with the stimulus package that will be enacted shortly after Obama takes office. Sign their petition asking for a stimulus package that funds environmentally sound transportation at http://support.railstotrails.org/recovery.

  • Re: Larry’s comment:
    Rockaway contains vast tracts of undeveloped and underdeveloped land, which could be an excellent place to build new housing – IF the subway line remains. Of course, the new housing would mean more customers for the subway and more property taxes for the city.

    A New Urbanist development is already being built on part of the 310 acres of land in the Rockaways that were abandoned in the 1970s – the largest single tract of abandoned urban land in the nation, larger than anything in the south Bronx. I don’t think we should cut off subway service and leave this land (and other land in the Rockaways) vacant and abandoned for the indefinite future.

    Incidentally, I just read a history of the decline of the Rockaways which said that Robert Moses built the elevated rail structure there in the 1930s, when it was still part of the LIRR, and built the connection between the Rockaway line and the subways between 1950 and 1956, after the LIRR bridge over Jamaica Bay burned. This convinced me that I was wrong about two things I have said about NY transportation history: that Robert Moses built only highways and no transit (actually, he built this one subway line plus a huge number of highways) and that the subways were not expanded after the 1930s (actually, they were expanded in the 1950s, but only to replace lost LIRR service, not to improve overall rail service).

    Moses wanted to connect the Rockaway line to what is now the Queens E line, which would have given it a more direct trip to mid-town Manhattan. The Board of Estimate saved a bit of money by only connecting it with the A train, for a longer and more indirect trip to Manhattan, much longer than the old LIRR trip was, hastening the decline of the Rockaways.

    But the Rockaways will rise again!! Think of all that land on the beach with a subway commute to Manhattan!!

  • A footnote (literally) to my last comment: the book is Lawrence Kaplan, _Between Ocean and City: The Transformation of Rockaway) (Columbia University Press, 2003).

    Read about how the city treated the Rockaways, and you will see that the locals have plenty to be resentful about.

    You can read part of the book at
    http://books.google.com/books?id=n7E2GiRQg0cC
    On this page, click Preview this book.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    You are right Charles that this is an excellent read but you give Moses too much credit for what was then a Pennsylvania Railroad project. The Rockaways deserve the commuter service that originally built them. The Rockaway Branch of the LIRR 1)Connected Nassau and Queens, since the line was severed the LIRR runs in one direction and the A train (dubbed the “African Queen in Italo-American Ozone Park). That transportation distinction is a classic segregation in transportation study. 2) After the LIRR Rockaway Branch became the A the neighbors in the Rockaways went from being a half hour from midtown Manhattan to being 45 minutes from East New York and subsequently suffered the diminished real estate values thereby 3) The Rockaway Branch ran double loop service one loop serving east from Flatbush through Five towns back through Rockaways and Ozone Park, and vice versa and the other loop from midtown through Forest Hills through Ozone Park, Aqueduct and the Rockaways into Nassau Five Towns and back to midtown, and vice versa fantastic service.
    4) The conversion of the LIRR premium commuter rail service, though more expensive, into the cheaper TA local service, dovetailed exactly with the demise of the Rockaways and its conversion into ghetto by the sea.

    It is a great example of how there is much more to mass transit than a low fare.

  • Nick: Thanks for the history. I had been wondering about the gap between the current LIRR Far Rockaway stop and the Far Rockaway subway stop, a short distance that is filled with a very low density shopping center and parking lot on what clearly used to be a rail right-of-way. From your history, I assume that both Rockaway lines used to stop at what is now the Far Rockaway subway stop. When the LIRR abandoned one of the loops, they moved their Far Rockaway stop a short distance away. Is that right?

    Do you know when the current Far Rockaway subway station was built? It looks like it was built in the 1960s, and I wonder if there was a Victorian railroad station there until then.
    (There is a great picture of the current Far Rockaway station at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/24/nyregion/24laststop.html?_r=1&pagewanted=2 Scroll down a bit and click on the second Enlarge this image.)

    Kaplan’s book said very clearly that Robert Moses built the trestle to elevate the Rockaway line during the 1930s, and that he built the bridge and extension that connected it to the subway system between 1950 and 1956. Are you saying that he is wrong and that the trestle was actually built by the Pennsylvania Railroad? I would like to see some evidence for that, to add to my anti-Robert-Moses collection. I assume that Moses did build the bridge and connection to the subway during the 1950s, after the LIRR abandoned the line.

    Incidentally, I think Kaplan was too kind to Robert Moses housing projects in the Rockaways. Their anti-urban tower-in-a-park design also helped to cause the decline of the Rockaways.

  • vnm

    Let me get this straight. A Broad Channel resident who wants to take his polluting, space hogging, foreign-oil-dependent danger box onto the streets of the Queens land mass can do so for free, but if he wants to just travel there by himself it’s $2?? WHERE ARE OUR PRIORITIES?????

  • One more question: did the loop that went through the five towns to Flatbush have a connection to the subway in Flatbush?

  • Larry Littlefield

    My sources on this is “Under the Sidewalks of New York” and “How We Got To Coney Island” by Cudahy.

    The City of New York bought the Rockaway Branch from the then-private LIRR, which kept having problems with the wooden trestle burning down and not having the money to replace it. The price was $8.5 million in 1953, about the time the Board of Transportation gave way to the New York City Transit Authority. NYCTA connected it to the subway line, installed new power and signal systems (the latter still in use), and replaced the wooden treste with concrete. Was Moses involved with this? I never heard of him having anything to do with projects by the New York City Transit Authority, but it is possible. The project was completed on time and on budget.

    In 1956, the subway line opened with a double fare, which was eliminated in 1956. Rockaway’s role as a vacation destination went downhill soon after. Was it the movement of former customers to the suburbs, the opening up of air service to other destinations, the housing projects? I’m not sure.

    “One more question: did the loop that went through the five towns to Flatbush have a connection to the subway in Flatbush?”

    The New York and Manhattan Beach railroad, which became part of the LIRR, had its own rail line that ran alongside the Brigthon Line without connecting to it, except during the construction of the embankment and open cut portions of the line when Brighton Line transit were shifted there.

    There was a connection further west to the Prospect Park and Coney Island Avenue (aka the Culver Line) at Parkville Junction when it ran at grade, that was severed when it was replaced by an elevated line over Gravesend (McDonald) Avenue as part of the Dual Contracts.

  • Thanks for the information about the loop to Flatbush. Very interesting.

    Kaplan says that the trestle was built by Moses in the 1930s, and that before then, the LIRR ran at grade level. Kaplan says that the fire in the 1950s destroyed the bridge over Jamaica Bay – not the trestle.

    I think Cudahy is wrong about the trestle burning down and being replaced in the 1950s. I asked my mother about this, she says she never remember a time before trestle was there – and she lived right next to it beginning in the 1940s. I think Kaplan is right that it was just the bridge that was replaced in the 1950s and the trestle was built earlier.

    I also had never heard of Moses being involved in transit projects before reading Kaplan’s book, so I am slightly dubious – but Kaplan does say that Moses built both the trestle in the 1930s and the bridge plus connection to the subway system in the 1950s, and this is a University Press book that seems very well researched.

    Kaplan says summer rentals in Rockaways peaked in 1947, declined slowly for a few years, then declined very rapidly after the bridge burned in 1950. By 1952, there were less than half as many summer rentals as in 1947. Landlords converted the summer bungalow to low-quality year-round rentals. Because there was not good transportation, the welfare dept. used those bungalow rentals to house the hard-core welfare cases who did not have any chance of getting jobs. Because of welfare department policy, the bungalow rentals in Hammels soon became a slum, and Moses demolished them and built a slum-clearance project there. The displaced welfare tenants from Hammels moved to bungalows in Arverne that were converted to year-round rentals, and Arverne also turned into a slum. The decline began before 1956.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    There is a good buff book on the subject of the Rockaway Branch that I would recommend to anyone interested in the details of this fascinating transportation history, “Change at Ozone Park” by an FRN named Herbert George. On the LIRR under Atlantic Ave at Woodhaven Blvd you can still see the abandoned station and the cutouts and dormant track just before the train comes to grade eastbound.

    The grade separation was the real improvement in the early 1930s and still is the most valuable element of the dormant piece from White Pot to Ozone Park, unbelievable to me that the neighbors can continue to squash its use even as the Queens politicos squawk about how “underserved” their borough is.

    The through track at Far Rock is really from the predecessor railroad the New York and Rockaway, one of several predecessor lines that the LIRR and the Pennsylvania engineers massaged to their own standards when they took over these lines and created the double loop service that ran until the 1950 trestle fire and 1955-6 when the TA took over the service and cut the track to the five towns. Pieces of this predecessor history are still visible along the remaining, dormant, right of way.

    Freight service was also an important element of the Rockaway Branch and many freight relics still survive in the grade separation in Ozone Park and Glendale. They also had what were called “public delivery tracks” that brought producer and consumer goods to smaller venues along the track. The freight service, like the Bay Ridge Branch controlled by the Pennsylvania, at one time had electric service. How many decades until freight is delivered again with electric power? Climbing down the ladder of technological development.

    The trestle fire was the final straw for commuter service on the Rockaway Branch as LIRR. But there was much more to the story than that as far as what I find valuable in this history. Why rebuild after the 1950 fire (private money)and attempt to make a profit when the state (thats really where Moses comes in) was condemning land and transferring bridge tolls to the construction of parkways to compete with your service (public money)?

    Likewise with the chicken and egg issue of the transportation ghettoization of the Rockaways. Did white flight accelerate after 1950 as a function of the construction of automobile highways or the absence of a quick connection to Manhattan? Once everyone started buying cars and development sprawled outward to Long Island it essentially devalued the existing communities along the tracks. And while the TA could afford to rebuild the wooden trestle to proper standards, it wasn’t able to offer a premium commuter rail connection to midtown. It used to be a double fare but that ended as well under political pressure which meant that the service became much more of a budget drag.

    Thats how this discussion started and I’ll leave it at that. Larry’s right the toll payers who drive over the bridge really don’t care how expensive their transit service is to operate and maintain and for the most part don’t value it. The A train is the “African Queen” to the white community in Broad Channel. In fact they aren’t happy with tolls, or trains, they want ferries too and Weiner is the chief advocate of providing them.

    Still, I think the Rockaways could use commuter rail connections to Midtown and it would immensely benefit the property values. The connection to the five towns and further into Long Island is also something that going forward the advocates should focus on. But to do that you would have to pay off a couple dozen neighbors in Forest Hills-Rego Park-Glendale and quiet the anti-urban character of all the Long Island NIMBYs who rise to the battle every time the MTA meekly suggests increasing railroad connections anywhere but particularly on Long Island

  • Larry Littlefield

    Global warming and a hurricane or two has altered my opinion of the desirable level of density in the Rockways.

    Perhaps the original, unsubsidized, unplanned development pattern — cheap, unwinterized summer beach bungalos — was the right one.

  • Global warming and a hurricane or two has altered my opinion of the desirable level of density in the Rockways.

    I agree. Let’s bring it back to one of our core principles: sustainability. Conditions vary, but in general, waterfront locations in hurricane-prone areas are not sustainable places for year-round homes. The city shouldn’t build – or subsidize – any new home or workplace construction in the Rockaways.

    Given the lengths that people go to to get to Jones Beach or the Hamptons, you’d think there’d be a way to make money off of a beach right next to the A train.