Take a Look at RPA’s Vision for Better Bus and Rail Service Across the Hudson

RPA calls for new bus terminal at Javits Center and a new regional rail tunnel linking New Jersey to Queens and Long Island.

RPA's 20-year plan for increasing trans-Hudson transit capacity and developing regional rail.
RPA's 20-year plan for increasing trans-Hudson transit capacity and developing regional rail.

Transit capacity across the Hudson is at a breaking point. As more people living in New Jersey find work in New York City, regional officials are in a race against time to replace and upgrade old transit infrastructure, according to a new report by the Regional Plan Association [PDF].

The pressure points are well-known. The Hudson River tunnels that connect NJ Transit and Amtrak to Manhattan are old and at capacity. So is the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Penn Station serves twice the number of commuters as originally intended.

RPA anticipates 24 percent more daily commute trips across the Hudson and into Manhattan’s Central Business District by 2040, and 38 percent more into New York City. To meet that demand, the organization says regional leaders must move quickly on two projects: a new cross-Hudson train tunnel with connections to Queens and Long Island, and a new bus terminal in the basement of the Javits Center to relieve demand at the existing Midtown terminal, whose useful life can be extended another 20 or 30 years.

Along with a rehab of Penn Station, these projects would expand regional transit capacity while improving connections through Manhattan’s Central Business District to the outer boroughs, Long Island, Connecticut, and upstate New York. Without them, however, cross-Hudson transit capacity will start to buckle.

“Both sides of the river benefit from this, but the system is at a crisis point,” RPA President Tom Wright said today on a call with reporters. “We are living on borrowed time.”

What gives Manhattan below 60th Street its unique advantage is the dense transit network capable of providing access to the area’s two million jobs. If the transit system crumbles or reaches capacity, Wright said, those jobs start to leave.

Trans-Hudson train ridership grew significantly in the last 25 years, mostly thanks for NJ Transit capacity improvements on the west side of the river. Image: RPA
Cross-Hudson train ridership grew significantly in the last 25 years, mostly thanks to NJ Transit capacity improvements on the west side of the river. Image: RPA

The best way forward to expand capacity at the Port Authority Bus Terminal is the subject of an ongoing dispute that has pitted constituencies on both sides of the river against each other. RPA’s solution calls for a second bus terminal at the Javits Center, located on the far west side of Manhattan with a connection to the Hudson Yards 7 train station, that would primarily serve intercity buses, which currently account for 20 percent of trips at the 42nd Street terminal.

This would reduce bus traffic and idling on residential streets while allowing for the refurbishment of the existing bus terminal, which is located so advantageously close to Lincoln Tunnel ramps and several subway lines that moving it elsewhere would be a mistake, says RPA.

For rail, RPA has a long-term vision in which a larger Penn Station and the Gateway tunnel enable a more interconnected and expansive regional network, with through-running service linking New Jersey to Queens.

RPA is calling for Madison Square Garden to relocate to make room for more track and concourse capacity at Penn Station. Passengers would access intercity service at Moynihan Station (a.k.a. the Farley Post Office), while an addition at 31st Street — “Penn Station South” — would house tracks for regional rail service to Queens via an extension of the Gateway Tunnel under the East River to Sunnyside yard. (A more detailed rail proposal will be unveiled in November, when RPA releases its fourth regional plan.)

Because RPA’s Javits Center bus terminal would cost much less than the $10 billion project that’s been floated by the Port Authority, those savings could be repurposed to help pay for the Gateway extension to Queens, which RPA estimates will cost $7 billion.

Of course, just building a new rail tunnel across the Hudson is a formidable challenge on its own. That portion of the Gateway project is estimated to cost $13 billion, and the hoped-for 50 percent contribution from the Trump administration is not guaranteed. U.S. DOT withdrew from the project’s corporate board earlier this year.

Ultimately, the success of RPA’s proposals relies on ending what Wright called a “siloed” approach to transportation planning and management on different sides of the river, and between different levels of government.

Wright said he was optimistic that recent jolts to the transit system will spur elected officials to action. “I’m optimistic that things that maybe a year or five years ago would not have gained much traction, are going to get a fair hearing.”

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Ultimately, the success of RPA’s proposals relies on ending what Wright called a “siloed” approach to transportation planning and management on different sides of the river, and between different levels of government.”

    So how much are New Jersey residents going to pay for the subway?

    Here is the problem. NYC has ended up getting a worse than average deal out of the MTA, and New Jersey politicians think New York should pay them to provide their residents with transit service.

    Meanwhile, the rest of the country wants to suck even more out of NY AND NJ via the federal government, and everyone is broke due to the debts and pensions of Generation Greed.

    So when I hear this, I think of them breaking into our silo and taking what grain we have left, and putting it in their silo.

  • MWaring

    You don’t need to expand Penn to do through running trains. If LIRR/NJT ran through running trains you would increase platform capacity because you wouldn’t have these very long dwell times that you have now. Many major cities have less track capacity than Penn and run a lot more service via through-running.

  • Fool

    When you have finite capacity to move people across a river and the people are seriously considering the construction of a $10 billion parking lot this is just insane.

    An effective transportation system scales up in capacity and marginal costs per rider mile should go down. Instead of having miles, literally miles, of medium capacity buses queue up to enter midtown while spewing particulate matter into the air, NJT should create an actual transit system that takes people from buses to the closest train station. $10 billion in capital expense should be able to cover some operational improvements, schedule improvements as well as dedicated bus lanes.

    Or someone could look at this other massive project for Cross-Hudson commuters, realize that on the other end of existing and planed HIGH-CAPACITY (when they work) tunnels is a massively empty swamp with luxurious amounts of highway access and significantly cheaper land, operating and construction costs. Maybe something as simple as a NEC spur with a few dedicated platforms, one side track, one side road, for cross platform transfers. They would not even have to go through the station!

    Or someone could look at the station at the Meadowlands, realize the damn thing is not utilized for the vast majority of the year, build the flying junction they should have built in the swamp years ago and run the dedicated shuttles that would have stopped at Secausus to Xanadu instead! Now NJ would have hundreds of thousands of people going to that mall daily! Maybe they could even build a commercial district their given the massive transit links that would be created.

  • mfs

    Meh. This is a weird framework of hyper-ambitious proposals (new East River commuter tunnels) with lame ratifications of existing plans (back office for Amtrak at Moynihan? expansion of Javitts?) or modifications to existing plans (Penn South with less platforms).

    If we are just drawing lines on a map, why not connect Penn South with Grand Central? PATH barely registers as an afterthought but does more trips than Penn commuter rail.

  • AMH

    I’m not sure I understand why RPA wants to build Penn South and new tunnels to Queens, which already has 4 tracks. The bottleneck is the 2-track Hudson tubes, right?

  • Larry Littlefield

    New Jersey won’t pay for this. So they want NYC to pay. So they figure the way to make that happen is to also include new tunnels to benefit — Long Island.

  • Geck

    Yes, as I understand it there is a relatively short missing link between Gateway as planned and the four East River Tubes.

  • mfs

    yeah but we already have two “new” tubes to LI in the form of ESA. If we are drawing lines on a map, through-running via GCT makes so much more sense, and it gives NJ direct access to east side Manhattan (which RPA strangely pulls their punch by calling for a “station shell” at 31st and 3rd ave)

  • Lincoln

    There is no reason to believe that throughrunning would reduce platform time at all.

  • bolwerk

    Probably what Larry said, but the tunnels are needed at this point. And there should probably be a third set to New Jersey, besides what Gateway proposes.

  • bolwerk

    If it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong. Penn Station is a clusterfuck, and among other things through running means the disruptive task of reversing a train hundreds of feet long can be done in a remote area rather than at the busiest point in the system.

    And the cheapest way to reduce platform crowding is to pick up the crowds ASAP.

  • bolwerk

    The tunnel ideas here are good, but the station ideas suck, especially for bus riders. They want to move people further from where they want to go, make more people who currently walk have to take transit (either the 7 Train or a bus probably).

    Gateway’s two tracks are needed, but in addition there should be two tracks further north in Midtown from New Jersey that can take some of the load off the bus terminal. Going crazy on big headhouses is pointless. A single subway station can handle most of PABT’s load, and in reality that should never have to happen because some of that load could be taken further into Manhattan to alight there.

    And really, if you ARE going to move the bus terminal, why not have it share space with Penn? Bus riders are train riders when they can be, and long distance travelers are very likely to need both.

  • AMH

    Right, the sane thing to do is link the new pair with Penn and the East River Tubes to create a symmetrical system. Penn South makes zero sense.

  • Lincoln

    You can’t not do it wrong at Penn. The way throughrunning systems allow for reduced dwell time is by making multiple stops in the CBD to make each individual stop have less turnover. There is no way to do that with Penn.

  • bolwerk

    Sure you can. You want more turnover, not less. People waiting at Penn at Penn to go east logically need an eastbound train, and the people leaving at Penn on an already eastbound train are leaving empty space for them to fill. By through running, you make it so one eastbound train turns over its passenger load and continues in the direction it was going, rather than force two trains to reverse.

    It by no means fixes Penn, but it helps and is a no-brainer. It’s not a bad thing to serve those few people from New Jersey who might want to go to Long Island and vice-versa either.

  • Lincoln

    What is wrong with reversing? Reversing a commuter rail train is not an intensive process. outside of Amtrak, these are all double ended trains we are dealing with.

  • bolwerk

    A lot of track space Penn could use for approaching trains needs to be used by reversing trains. But even then, from a cost and time perspective, reversing in the yards on Long Island or the West Side just means that many more minutes a train is not in service moving passengers. For NJT that is probably especially long, since the train makes a trip from Penn to Sunnyside. The best strategy is to keep passengers moving.

    Amtrak is probably the only agency with an excuse for reversing there during busier daytime service hours.

  • Geck

    This video illustrates the benefits of through-running pretty clearly.

  • What the heck

    Wow, just wow. Yaro reduced a once fine agency into a junk pile. When the MAS fantasies make more sense, it’s time to close down.

  • Lincoln

    The problem is that video is not based on reality. As it is today, trains wait in the station for tunnel space. Platforms at Penn are not the constraining factor. Rethink NYC’s absurd through running proposal would make it a constraining factor, as they propose reducing the number of tracks, but it is not the biggest constraint today.

  • Michael Klatsky

    Seems that a tunnel connecting the Hoboken Division and the Brooklyn Division of NJT to LIRR is missing. Two extremely underutilized assets to Lower Manhattan.

  • bolwerk

    Some of that “tunnel space” is also the approach to the tunnel with another train doing a reverse movement.

  • Geck

    You seem to be missing the point. Both ThinkNYC and RPA are advocating that gateway not dead-end to allow for through-running service (obviously different from current conditions) ThinkNYC contends that the increased efficiency of through-running trains (with shorter dwell times and less waiting for tunnel space) would allow for some of the tracks and platforms to be removed (without being a constraining factor) so that others platforms can be expanded and the passenger experience at Penn Station improved.

  • Lincoln

    There is nothing wrong with throughrunning some trains- But rethink NYC’s contention is entirely false. Dwell time would likely INCREASE, you’d have to wait LONGER for tunnel space, and you’d be absolutely wasting most of that tunnel space on nearly empty trains. I’d be unsurprised if the RethinkNYC plan ended up reducing overall usable capacity, EVEN WITH the two additional tunnels.

  • Ben Theohuxtable Garber

    Any chance of them adding bike/ped ways to those tunnels?

  • sbauman

    I have not read the RPA report. However, the above graph shows only a very narrow perspective.

    What’s the peak hour (8-9) demand? This is the figure that should be used to determine how much additional capacity is required in terms of tracks and platforms.

    Here are the omitted inbound totals for Penn Sta during the peak hour (8-9): 10,236 (1990); 18,224 (2000); 18,131 (2010).

    There’s been no peak hour (8-9) demand between 2000 and 2010. The 80% growth occurred between 1990 and 2000. That growth is entirely explained by the introduction of Midtown Direct service in 1996.

    The static peak hour demand, since Midtown Direct’s introduction, should be the basis for tossing the report in the circular file and going back to the drawing board.


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