Sunday, October 28, 2007

Smith/9th Streets: What If?

Metro reports that the MTA's project to reconstruct the Culver Viaduct in Carroll Gardens will require them to close the Smith-9th Street station for up to a year, starting in 2010. The Daily News reports that people who use that station regularly aren't happy. The Brooklyn Eagle says that many Red Hook residents take the B77 bus to Smith/9th and transfer for the F to Manhattan. Curbed, the Gowanus Lounge, SubChat, Second Avenue Sagas, TransitBlogger and the Rider Diaries point out that this is a Bad Thing in the short term.

I don't know what the ridership figures are, but it's fair to say that this will inconvenience a lot of people. Nobody seems to have any ideas about how to mitigate this. Some of the reports say that the MTA will run a free shuttle bus to connect with the F and G at Carroll Street. Shuttle buses for a year One SubChat commenter suggests extending the B77 to 15th Street and adding service on the B75. Mostly, people seem pretty resigned to being inconvenienced. Craig Hammerman gives the usual Community Board whine about not being consulted sooner. Paul Fleuranges points out that there's no way to avoid closing the station - thanks, Paul! Sometimes I think transit advocates have been beaten down so much that they've sacrificed some of their imagination.

When I read something like this, I like to play a game of "what if?" As in, "What if I had an unlimited budget and supreme power?" Sometimes I get into wacky territory, but then I can pull back a bit and get something useful.

Okay, let's start with the wacky: if I really had unlimited budget, I'd dig a tunnel. The Culver Viaduct is said to have one of the best el views in the city, but it still slows down the trains a lot. And you can dig a tunnel first and then tear down the viaduct. I'm sure it would cost an arm and a leg, but they're talking about doing the same thing with the Gowanus Expressway viaduct. If it's worth a cost-benefit analysis for the cars, it's worth one for the trains, too.

Here's another possibility: what's the big problem with bustitution? Buses get stuck in traffic, a lot. This slows them down and makes them unreliable. There's no guarantee that the bus schedule will match up with the train schedule, meaning that people may have to wait for the bus and the train. This could add a lot to people's commute time.

This is not an impossible problem, just a very difficult one. The main thing that makes buses go slow is that they get stuck in traffic. So what if we got rid of the traffic? (Remember, we're still playing "what if?".) Let's take Smith Street and make it into a two-way dedicated busway, with only local car traffic allowed, like Fulton Street in Downtown Brooklyn. Ideally it would go all the way up to Borough Hall since many people transfer from the F or G to one of the other lines in Downtown Brooklyn, but just having it on the eight blocks from Ninth Street to Carroll Street would be a big help. Sure it would inconvenience a lot of drivers, but I'd like to see numbers: how many drivers would be inconvenienced by being barred from Smith Street versus how many subway riders would be inconvenienced by bustitution. If there was a problem with Smith Street, you could put it on Court, Columbia or Hicks.

My last idea would be the easiest to implement. Where are all these F train riders going? If they're staying on the F train, probably somewhere in Midtown. Plenty of them probably switch at Jay Street for the A train to downtown, though. Just six blocks west of the Smith/9th Station is the entrance to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, but even though the Red Hook and Carroll Gardens residents have to deal with the pollutants it brings to the air, if they have a car they can't use it without going to Staten Island or Canarsie.

Using the tunnel, a shuttle bus could probably get to the A train station at Broadway/Nassau in not much more time than it would take to get to the Carroll Street Station. And of course people would be able to transfer to all the subways that run through Lower Manhattan - or just walk to their jobs down there. If they really want to go to Midtown, the bus could be extended along Church Street or the FDR Drive to meet up with the F/V at West Fourth, or even all the way up to 57th Street. They should probably have something like that already, considering how badly served Red Hook is by transit.

I'm sure it would cost a lot of money to run the buses and pay the drivers, but come on: we're closing an entire station, and a busy one at that. I'd like to see a cost estimate. If it turns out that it's just too costly to run buses through the tunnel 24/7, how about just during rush hours? You wouldn't even need to set up an extra route: the x29 bus (PDF) from Coney Island goes right past the Smith/9th Street station and makes eleven runs every rush hour in peak directions. All it would have to do is pull off the expressway, pick up passengers and get in the tunnel.

So we've gone from the fabulously expensive to the pretty reasonable. I think some combination of these things with a shuttle to the Carroll Street Station would help. Considering some of these things is a lot better than just saying, "Gee, I guess we'll have to close the station. Sucks to be you!"

View Larger Map


Cap'n Transit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
George K said...

Looking at the Brooklyn Bus map, it appears that the BM1, BM2, BM3, and BM4 also travel along the Prospect Expressway, which was the same route the X29 took prior to its discontinuation. From what I've heard, Saturday ridership on all of those routes is very low, meaning that there would be plenty of space on those routes for Red Hook customers on the weekends. If all 4 routes stopped near Smith-9th Streets, that area would have 15 minute service to Lower Manhattan.

During rush hours, there is probably at least some spare capacity on one of the routes (and if worse came to worse, the people who got on in Red Hook would have to stand for the 10-15 minute ride into Manhattan)