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Congressman Dan Donovan

Representing the 11th District of New York

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Cross-harbor tram is a bold idea whose time may be here (editorial)

September 14, 2015
In The News

It's not pie in the sky. The proposal to build an aerial tram above New York Harbor from Staten Island to Manhattan is more than simply a big idea.

As put forth by the Staten Island Economic Development Corp. (SIEDC), the concept of a 5.7-mile transit link towering over the water is viable at least.

We need this kind of bold thinking in order to deal with the Island's growing transportation challenges.

So it's important not to be swayed by the fact that the city has all but dismissed the prospect of creating a cross-harbor tram to ease congestion in St. George.

It's not because of technical factors.

It works in Venezuela

After all, the city of Merida cable car in Venezuela is not only the highest in the world at 15,633 feet, but it is also the longest aerial tram at 7.8 miles.

The proposed harbor tram in New York is being questioned because it would duplicate the route of the Staten Island Ferry, which carries 70,000 people a day.

The city is always receptive to "bold proposals to expand transit options," said Wiley Norvell, who is a spokesman for Mayor de Blasio.

"Tram technology has come a long way, and we think there's more we can do with them in NYC," Norvell said. "A tram like this could be challenging, though, because competing options like the ferry service the same routes, and are likely to be both faster and less expensive to ride."

Some possibilities

However, let's not overlook other possibilities.

Perhaps an aerial tram from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge could link to a Brooklyn subway stop as a way to travel to Manhattan.

Could traffic be eased by constructing a tram on the North Shore from the area of the Bayonne Bridge to the site of the New York Wheel? It may be worth considering.

Calls to install a bus rapid transit connection along the route of the old North Shore rail line have yet to result in a sufficiently positive official response.

Back in July, Staten Island Rep. Daniel Donovan wrote to Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen to urge full consideration of the proposal for a cross-harbor tram.

Mr. Donovan wrote: "The potential benefits to Staten Island and the City demand further analysis of this proposal, as would any viable alternative to the unacceptable status quo."

A traffic tamer?

We have long been urging city and Staten Island officials to find adequate ways to deal with the influx of traffic expected in the near future with the openings of the Wheel and Empire Outlets in downtown St. George.

According to SIEDC President and CEO Cesar Claro, "The only thing we know for certain is this: Every day, traffic gets a little worse on Staten Island and we're not going to build any more tunnels or subways."

For our part, we have warned repeatedly that the good that the borough hopes to see from all the new development would be undermined by turning the North Shore into a frozen zone of incessant traffic jams.

Traffic engineer Sam Schwartz, known as "Gridlock Sam," has been hired by the Wheel and Outlets developers to seek ways to mitigate the problems.

He has recommended traffic-light improvements, re-striping new turn lanes, and expanding and extending existing streets to ensure better access.

But there is more to be done, of course.

The Department of Transportation has required that 10 intersections be studied, but only after the developments open. Which won't ward off potential problems.
An indication of what's to come is the planning being done by developers for parking.

Rich Marin of the New York Wheel is now seeking the OK for an enclosed parking garage with 950 spaces.

There is to be even more parking required for Empire Outlets and nearby Lighthouse Pointe, a new office, retail and rental complex in St. George.
Bold thinking and action will be needed to save the day.