Maura Yates brings us this story on the traffic on Staten Island, which is bad and getting worse. Projections show a 35 percent growth in traffic in the next twenty years. The story mentions an individual who moved to the island from Brooklyn and, at 29, took her driver’s test for the first time, because she will need a car for the first time in her life now that she lives on Staten Island. There has been a ten percent increase in car registrations in the last decade. To alleviate some of that congestion, Jonathan Peters of the College of Staten Island is encouraging transit-oriented development. Unfortunately, Staten Island is the least transit-oriented of the boroughs.
Part of Staten Island’s problems are its streets. Although it does have much greater connectivity than your average suburb, there are quite a few loops and lollipops in the system, and the large park in the center of the island, though an absolute asset to the community both of the island and the city at large, doesn’t help with road connectivity. Staten Island also is very dependent on freeways to funnel traffic in and out. This is partially due to a problem with external connectivity. There are only four bridges and a ferry that connect the island to the rest of the city and to New Jersey, and only three of these options lead conveniently to Manhattan, where many of the residents work.
Another part of the problem is transit coverage. The Staten Island Railway does a fine job of connecting the island together and routing commuters to the Staten Island Ferry, but it doesn’t connect to other rail transit systems throughout the area. The bus system has pretty good coverage, but is too slow for many commuters. The buses only drop people off at the ferry, which means that people would have to switch transportation systems to complete their journey, and every time you have to switch systems it makes people more likely to drive. The subway in Brooklyn or the light rail in Bayonne is a similar story. If someone has to ride the train to a bus stop to a subway station to get to downtown, they will probably drive instead.
There are a variety of solutions that Staten Island could pursue. They could encourage TOD, as well as greater connectivity and infill development. If the cities of New York and Bayonne and the states of New York and New Jersey are willing to spend some money to fix the problem, there are a number of ways they could improve the transit system. One of the most effective would probably be to link the Staten Island Railway to the city subway. The easiest way to do this would be to tie into the 95th Street-Bay Ridge Station in Brooklyn, either by adding a deck or taking a lane on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge for trains, or by building another bridge near the Narrows Bridge. This would require the least amount of track and would probably make for the fastest route, but it would be either very expensive or impossible to refit the Narrows Bridge, and very expensive to build a new bridge and to but up the properties needed on either side and tunnel down to the station. Not to mention possibly ruining the view of the Narrows Bridge.
Another option would be to connect the Staten Island Railway to the light rail in Bayonne. The shortest route with the least amount of track would be from the Ferry to the industrial area on the southeast of Bayonne, but this would mean the construction of a new bridge and conflict between passenger and freight rail. Another route could take it on or near the Bayonne Bridge, but this would require a lot more rail being laid and a lot more properties being bought, and still may need a new bridge.
Fixing Staten Island’s traffic and transit problems won’t be an easy or a quick job, but it would help the island deal with intense growth over the next few decades and could make for a more sustainable lifestyle.