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OPINION: Never mind the bikes: subways to Staten Island!

This photo shows the Bay Ridge Avenue station on the R line. A mass-transit tunnel to Staten Island would likely branch off the Fourth Avenue R tracks, then connection with the Staten Island Railway across the narrows. File photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to a concert at Historic Richmondtown in Staten Island. I thought this would be a simple matter: take the subway from our home in Chelsea to South Ferry, take the ferry, then take a bus. The last time, I had rented a car and gone via the Gowanus Expressway and the Verrazano Bridge, but this time I thought I could do it more cheaply.

My flaw, however, was to think that the ferries came about once every 10 minutes. When we got to the ferry terminal, we found, to my chagrin, that the ferries came only once every half hour, at least on the weekend. Moreover, one had just departed. When we got to the ferry terminal in Fort George, there was no time for a bus. We ended up taking a cab to Historic Richmondtown, for $25. So much for saving money.

When Staten Island joined Greater New York, it was expected that a rapid transit connection to the island would be built. Since Brooklyn is much closer to Staten Island than Manhattan is, it was expected that the connection would be through Brooklyn. Indeed, in the early 1920s, the BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit, one of the ancestors of today’s city-owned subway system) began digging a tunnel from Bay Ridge to Staten Island, where it was expected to hook up with the Staten Island Railway (now also a part of the city’s transit system).

However, then-Mayor Mike Hylan stopped the BMT in its tracks, to use a poor pun, by refusing to provide funding. The mayor was a former BMT motorman who was fired during a strike, and he hated the BMT ever since. Mayor Hylan also stalled the 14th Street-Canarsie Line (today’s L train), and it wasn’t finished until 1928, when Hylan was out of office.

Later during the 1920s, the Port Authority of New York was formed. One of its first projects was supposed to have been a freight railroad tunnel under the Narrows. This tunnel would possibly have had tracks for rapid transit as well. For whatever reason, the Port Authority sat on the proposal, and it was eventually forgotten.

During the building of the Verrazano Bridge in the early 1960s, there were some people who wanted space for a subway connection, but builder Robert Moses ignored them. In fairness, most of the bridges of that era, such as the Throggs Neck Bridge and the Tappan Zee Bridge, were also built with no provision for public transportation. In the 1950s and ‘60s, rail transit was thought of as being so “yesterday.”

In today’s budget crunch, there seems very little opportunity for any type of rail connection between Bay Ridge and Staten Island. The bridge is already there, and there is no provision for subway or light rail, so it would have to be through a new underwater tunnel. But things do change. Bay Ridge and Staten Island do share a lot in common – both are family-oriented, both are somewhat conservative. In all probability, at least a third of the people living in Staten Island either once lived in Brooklyn, have parents or grandparents who lived in Brooklyn, and/or have close relatives who still live in Brooklyn.

Yes, a bike lane on the Verrazano would be nice. But it would benefit a limited number of people. Rapid transit across the Narrows? Bring it on!

April 8, 2013 - 12:20pm


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