Now think about the potential riders who are driving right now. What roads parallel that project? Are they being widened? Bridges replaced? New roads or bridges being built? Do the drivers pay anything to use those roads? Do they pay to park, at one end or both? Have the tolls or parking fees kept pace with inflation? Did they once pay, but no longer?
From time to time, I will dedicate a post to this theme. I will examine a transit project and look at subsidies to the competing roads. Some of them will be defunct transit lines put out of business by roads, others will be lines that are currently struggling with low ridership, and finally there will be lines proposed or under construction, whose successes are being undermined by subsidies to parallel roads.
In the comments to my post, Alon Levy said that his favorite, favorite projects were the Second Avenue Subway (currently moving very slowly), the Tribororx circumferential line (only in proposal), and a rail tunnel from Staten Island to Manhattan (only in proposal). The Second Avenue Subway and the Staten Island rail tunnel are special cases, because of the extreme density of Manhattan and the degree to which roads there are under-subsidized relative to their use. When the Second Avenue Subway is opened, and if the Staten Island tunnel is ever built, they will fill such a deep need that they will instantly have very high ridership, enough to run an operational profit. (As Alon pointed out, whether they will ever make enough to pay back the money borrowed to build them is another story).
The Tribororx line is quite a different story. You may remember that in 1996 the Regional Plan Association proposed linking the Bay Ridge Branch, New York Connecting Railroad, Hell Gate Bridge and Port Morris Branch to run commuter rail from Yankee Stadium to the Brooklyn Army Terminal, passing through several underserved neighborhoods and connecting with twenty other transit lines along the way. As I discussed last June, it might be easier to implement the Tribororx as a series of connecting extensions of existing subway and commuter rail lines.
Working for the RPA, in 2007 Michael Frumin modeled potential ridership on the line and estimated that it would draw 76,000 riders a day, including 32,000 new riders from "other modes of transportation." This calculation is based on the fact that many trips would require a smaller number of transfers, which is more attractive to travelers. Frumin hoped that this prediction would generate interest in the line, although sadly that does not seem to have occurred.
Unlike Alon's other two choices, the Tribororx route is paralleled by one major highway in particular: the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. It is also paralleled for part of its length by the Belt Parkway. Frumin assumes that these highways would continue to be just as unappealing as they are now - to everyone, including drivers. Taking the BQE from Brooklyn to Queens during rush hour is guaranteed frustration, especially on the Kosciuszko Bridge across the Newtown Creek. The Belt is also not a happy place to be.
As I've discussed in the past, the Shore Parkway is currently being reconstructed. We could save money by bringing the "parkway" back to true parkway standards, but that's on nobody's radar right now. The State DOT is also planning to reconstruct the BQE in Cobble Hill, at a cost of more millions of dollars. Finally, over the next few years the State DOT will spend $700 million to replace the Kosciuszko Bridge, expanding its capacity from six narrow lanes to nine wide ones and reducing the height of the bridge so that drivers can go faster.
So, if we're spending serious millions to make it easier for people to use the parallel roads, what do you think that will do to the ridership numbers for the Tribororx line(s)?