BREAKING NEWS...The Cut: Circumferential Light Rail or A Suspended Tram?

In May of 2008 I posted a map of the proposed Cross-Harbor Tunnel Project, which is presently undergoing feasibility reviews, and a map of what the MTA suggested could be a very long-term capital project to build a circumferential subway line following the same route.  

The Circumferential Line Suggested by the MTA in 2008

The Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel Suggested in 2005

What both proposals had in common was the track bed forming the southern border of our neighborhood presently used by the LIRR to run an average of one freight train a day from Queens to the Bay Ridge Army Terminal at the foot of 65th Street. The MTA has not uttered another word about its 2008 idea and the Cross Harbor Tunnel is another 10 years away, were it to ever be approved.  Readers in 2008 will no doubt remember, if they have perfect recall, that I was very much enamored with the idea of a new subway line that would link with the airports and all other subway lines, allowing five million folks in Brooklyn and Queens to get around without having to (UGH!) traverse Manhattan.

Imagine my surprise then to suddenly read today that two of the largest and most prestigious architectural firms in America agree with me!  Crains New York reached out to a number of firms engaged in large scale urban planning enterprises and asked them for proposals that would address New York's growing population, expected to reach 9 million souls within the next eight years. The resulting article (you can read it here) led with the ideas of two firms that both addressed THE CUT.    

First, GENSLER of San Francisco, which for five years has ranked as the top grossing architectural firm in the U.S., proposed converting the Cut into a light rail line.  And to illustrate their proposal they used the stretch along Avenue H at the intersection of the Brighton line with the LIRR freight line!  In the GENSLER mock-up, here's what that stretch looks like now (slightly idealized):

Avenue H Station In Distance Crosses Above the LIRR Cut (GENSLER View)

 And here's what it ACTUALLY looks like:
Ave H Station of the Brighton Line Crosses Over the LIRR Cut

And here's what it would look like in the near future were their idea to be implemented (heavily idealized!):

Note the Avenue H Light Rail Station on the Left

According to GENSLER, this high-powered, multimodal, 15-mile light rail line from Jackson Heights to the Brooklyn Army Terminal would simply require "repurposing existing freight lines. By leveraging current infrastructure to support emergent commercial activity, the below-grade transportation corridor would effectively create new land to develop. The key is getting the tracks’ owner,
the Long Island Rail Road, to share them."
Oliver Schaper, GENSLER director of planning and urban design said: “All the track you need for this project already exists. Economics wouldn’t be an obstacle.”

Not to be outdone, New York's own FXFOWLE ARCHITECTS took a look around and decided the same cut should be used to create a circumferential SUSPENDED TRAM line that would pass through every borough, even wandering over to New Jersey for a ways.

Does This Map Look Familiar? (FXFOWLER)

The Overhead Tram (In NJ?) (FXFOWLER)

Says Crains: "FXFOWLE has devised an ambitious plan to create an entirely new transit system: a suspended tram that would encircle the city, connecting the five boroughs and the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. The 57-mile 'halo line' would pass over several bodies of water by running along existing infrastructure, including the George Washington, Bayonne and Verrazano bridges. The tram’s construction would be less disruptive than subway expansions and provide a mode of transportation that is operable in the event of widespread flooding, which is becoming increasingly likely. Crucially, it would provide new routes to LaGuardia Airport, Hunts Point Market and other hubs and spur development in far-flung areas such as St. George, Flatbush and East New York. The system would be within a half-mile of 1.7 million residents." Jack Robbins, a major domo at FXFOWLE, feels this investment in transportation infrastructure would really spur growth and development.

Hard to believe but there you have it. So now we have multiple independent sources, private and public, urging new expanded use of the Cut.  Of course, this renewed interest in a man-made gash in the Earth, winding for 15 miles through Brooklyn and Queens, brings to mind some ancient proposals that never went anywhere. In the 1950s, there was a plan to use the Cut as part of a new "Cross-Brooklyn Expressway", an eight-lane highway connecting the Gowanus and Nassau Expressways (GULP!). Then in the 1960s Mayor Lindsay's planners suggested the Cut be covered, with a highway below, a commuter line above, and residential/commercial development everywhere else (DOUBLE GULP!) to form a new "Linear City." Ironically, master planner Robert Moses opposed Lindsay's idea because he thought the commuter line (almost an after-thought in the grand scheme) might discourage automobile traffic.

But at some point there has to be a dawning realization that a barely utilized rail-bed running through one of the most densely populated urban areas in the country, which intersects with a dozen subways, just might be the answer to a number of growing transportation needs.   


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