In its 1996 Third Regional Plan, the Regional Plan Association describes a rapid transit line in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx that could be built almost entirely on pre-existing rail rights of way and would connect with at least twenty existing subway lines. The so-called ''Triboro RX'' (''TRX'' for short) presents a unique opportunity to provide mobility and accessibility to New Yorkers living or working within these three boroughs, at a fraction of the cost of most transit projects of similar size. In my part-time internship at the RPA, which ends today, the lion's share of the work I have done has focused on fleshing out the idea of this line.
Working with the singular Jeff Zupan and his former sidekick Alexis Perrotta, I helped to develop a possible alignment for the Triboro RX, and a crude estimate of what levels of initial commuter ridership one could expect to see if it were built. The fruits of this labor can be seen on the web at http://transit.frumin.net/trx/TriboroRX (including sections on the alignment, our data sources, the demand model, and detailed results). There I describe in detail how the line and its stations are laid out and how we made our estimates. At the end of the day, we can comfortably say that at least 76,000 New Yorkers (including 32,000 diverting from other modes of transportation) would use the Triboro RX to get to and from their jobs every day. This number that is quite competitive with many existing lines, and without ever touching the island of Manhattan.
At the heart of our ability to make this estimate is the Journey-to-Work data published by the census -- counts of commuters between every census tract and every other census tract in the city. Given these flow data, the shape of the subway network with and without the Triboro RX, and a rough model of how people make travel decisions on public transportation, it's not so hard to guess which subway riders would use a new transit line if it were built. Estimating new transit riders is more nuanced, but we did our best with limited resources.
This study of the Triboro RX has, for me, been much more than a semi-traditional transportation modeling exercise. I took it as an opportunity to get intimately familiar with the state of the art in Open Source mapping and GIS software, including PostGIS, GeoServer, and OpenLayers. These pieces represent a full network-enabled stack for, respectively, storing and manipulating, mapping and presenting, and client-side interfacing of spatial data. I don't think they are quite yet usable by the non-hacker, but I wouldn't be doing this work if I didn't think that my computing skills brought something special to the table. That said, I encourage you to check out the following:
- Interactive map of New York City, its subway system, and the Triboro RX (don't forget to try changing the background map and various overlays)
- Subway and Triboro RX in Google Earth
- The whole enchilada in Google Earth
Now, it wouldn't be a perfect project to do, for free, when I should be saving money for school, if it didn't also involve getting my hands dirtier than they already do from all the crumbs in my keyboard. It seems absurd to talk about planning a transit line without actually having visited the areas it would connect. Having synced the clocks on my GPS device and digital camera, I twice explored the Triboro RX right-of-way and its environs from Flatbush to Bay Ridge, in Brooklyn. The results are viewable either in Google Earth or directly on the web. What really struck me was the diversity of neighborhoods -- Flatbush, Ocean Parkway, Borough Park, Sunset Park, Bay Ridge -- traversed by the Triboro RX in less than a third of its length. Continuing on, it runs through East New York, Brownsville, Cypress Hills, Middle Village, Jackson Heights, Astoria, and Mott Haven. You could eat your heart out while getting from Brooklyn to the Bronx, skipping "the city" entirely.
Finally, no contemporary New York transportation project is complete if it doesn't some how tie into Congestion Pricing. In terms of providing mass transit to unserved communities in the outer boroughs, methinks this graphic speaks for itself:
PS Please forgive me, I know these maps need legends for the quantitative parts. It's all a big hack, trust me!
PPS The interactive web maps work much better in FireFox than Internet Explorer. Save your soul and get a real browser.