Alon didn't like my idea. I respect that; he's been a faithful reader and a reliable source of transit information and wisdom. However, I think there were a few things I wasn't clear about, and hopefully Alon will change his mind.
I've only now seen this idea... I can't say it looks good. Streetcars have lower capacity per track than rapid transit, which means that what you're proposing is a net reduction of transit capacity from Queens to Manhattan.
Not at all. All those B division trains that I'm talking about running on the Flushing line wouldn't be diverted from the W or R or anything; the idea is to supplement those lines by sending the trains through 60th Street tunnel. If there isn't enough room in the 60th Street tunnel, there should be room in the 63rd Street tunnel; they don't run that many F trains.
Even without entering Manhattan, there's little need for light rail on QB. There are corridors that make far more sense for light rail: 125th, Fordham (or Tremont), Ditmars (or Junction), the Brooklyn Bridge. For a given light rail investment, these all should give better returns than adding service to QB.
I wholeheartedly agree that the corridors you mention have a much more pressing need for light rail. If we could put light rail in a dedicated right-of-way on any of those corridors, it would serve deserving populations, shift trips from private cars and relieve some of the nearby subway lines.
I'm happy to concoct all kinds of what-if scenarios here. But I'm also willing to talk realpolitik, and putting dedicated transit right-of-ways on any of those corridors (let's set aside the Brooklyn Bridge for now) is a heavy lift. Okay, here we go:
- 125th Street is seven lanes (including parking) from the Hudson to Morningside Drive, and then six (including parking) to Second Avenue, and then a block of six lanes without parking between Second Avenue and the Triboro Bridge.
- Tremont Avenue is four lanes (including parking) from Sedgwick Avenue all the way to West Farms, then six lanes (including parking) the rest of the way to the Long Island Sound. In a few spots it's wide enough for a median.
- Fordham Road is six lanes including parking for almost its entire length.
- Ditmars is four lanes (including parking) from the East River to Hazen Street, and then six lanes (including parking) for the rest of the way.
- Junction is four lanes its entire length.
A two-way dedicated transitway takes up about two lanes of space. On a four-lane road like Junction Boulevard, that means removing all parking. That should work fine on 34th Street in Manhattan, but could make lots of business owners upset. In fact, it was opposition to removing parking from a de facto four-lane Merrick Boulevard that convinced the DOT to give up on their "BRT" plans for that corridor.
For the six-lane roads, you would essentially be removing a passing lane. People would still be able to drive and park (assuming that you put the streetcars in the middle so as not to interfere with parking or standing), but they wouldn't be able to double-park, and they'd be stuck if there was a breakdown. Not a big deal to me, but the DOT still finds it necessary to open the Fordham BRT lane to deliveries during certain hours (PDF), and seems to have dropped 125th Street from the First/Second Avenue BRT (before PDF vs after PDF).
Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me like it would be easier to take two lanes from a boulevard that varies from eight to fourteen lanes wide, and that is acknowledged by large numbers of people to be dangerously overbuilt. Queens Boulevard may not be where trolleys are desperately needed in the city, but they'd be well-used and well-appreciated.
I'm all for building light rail or BRT on any of the corridors that Alon identified, if there's political support for them. But right now Queens Boulevard has the space, it has the connections and it has the constituency. Why not use it?