Op-Ed | Transit equity starts in the Bronx

D_Train_3, MTA, subway
“The heart of the problem is Bronxites can move north and south and straight to Manhattan, but they cannot move across the Bronx and throughout the outer boroughs with ease,” says City Councilwoman Amanda Farías.
Photo Adrian Childress

In New York City, the politics of transportation access are painfully clear. The outer boroughs are not being prioritized for effective and accessible transportation options while Manhattan has numerous train lines that can take you almost anywhere you need to go. New York City’s Manhattan-centric transit system is centuries old, and for the sake of the majority of our population and our local economies, we cannot continue to build transit systems in this way.

This year, two new transit lines have been proposed to connect and create more access between the outer boroughs — the Penn Access and the Interborough Express. The governor’s leadership in prioritizing the modernization of our transit system is revolutionary. The historic initiative of both projects marks a new beginning for cross-borough transportation. Penn Access creates a new opportunity for almost 250,000 residents to cut their commute in half and the Interborough Express will be able to service more than 900,000 riders between Brooklyn and Queens. These new lines were conceived to deliver transit options to the outer boroughs, yet the Bronx is excluded from the Interborough Express.

While both lines are creating entirely new trains that all boroughs will benefit greatly from, I want to point out that both of those projects (Interborough Express and Penn Access) haven’t actually answered the main issue Bronxites have — which is commuting east to west efficiently. Gaining more transit access is not the only issue we need resolved. The neighborhoods in my district and throughout the borough need urgent solutions to the decades of non-existent transit infrastructure in the Bronx. While both initiatives do bring public transportation to areas long underserved, I need to reemphasize the true needs of our community. As someone born and raised in my own district, I feel these struggles first hand.

The heart of the problem is Bronxites can move north and south and straight to Manhattan, but they cannot move across the Bronx and throughout the outer boroughs with ease. For example, to get from Highbridge to Soundview via public transit you have to take at least two different trains and a bus for almost an hour — on a good day — just to get to a neighborhood that is only three miles away. In comparison, to travel three miles from City Hall to the Empire State Building only takes around 18 minutes.

Effective transportation options can change lives by giving back more time to working families to be home instead of on several different crowded trains, buses, or cars. Adequate transit options reduce commuting times and improve everyone’s day-to-day lives. If we are going to build these historic new trains, then let’s build new trains that do new things to prioritize Bronxites’ quality of life.

Though the vital work this administration has started through the Penn Station Access Project is extraordinary, the Bronx’s transit access problems do not end with a faster travel time to Penn Station. Expanding the Interborough Express into the Bronx would be transformative for our residents, many of whom live in some of the most transit-starved neighborhoods in the city.

Below are simple recommendations for Gov. Hochul and the MTA, on how the existing Interborough Express plan could deliver exactly what the outer-borough communities have been needing for decades.

There are several suggested proposals to increase transit access in the Bronx that I believe should be priorities. The Regional Plan Association’s Triboro Line – the foundation of the Interborough Express – adds an additional eight stops with two in Queens and six in the Bronx. While the Triboro Line has only been two-thirds approved, I would urge Gov. Hochul and the MTA to strongly consider adding an additional 1-2 stops.

The first priority of stops to add to the Interborough Express from the Triboro Line is one at 149th Street and 3rd Avenue. By having just this one stop in the Bronx that connects to Brooklyn and Queens, we could be growing and investing in our outer-borough economies. Currently, the walk from 149th Street to Yankee Stadium takes about 30 minutes or requires multiple transfers that add additional costs. If we extended the Interborough Express just one more stop past 149th Street and 3rd Avenue straight to Yankee Stadium we could alleviate both time and cost to riders, and bring them closer to everyone’s favorite baseball team.

As the Interborough Express is currently outlined there is no inclusion of the Bronx, Randall’s Island or Northern Queens stops that are pointed out in the Triboro Line. Keeping budget and construction in mind, if we could only choose one stop out of the extensive line the Triboro offers I would go straight to 149th Street from Jackson Heights, which is the last stop on the proposed Interborough Express.

As we prepare for the building of these new trains we must look at ways to be more inclusive of our neighbors, not only in the sense of transit accessibility, but also accessibility for those with disabilities. It is more important than ever to make sure we are building infrastructure that everyone can use, like ensuring 100% ADA and audio-visual compliance. I am so excited for what the Bronx can gain from these two new transit plans in the upcoming years. I would like to thank the governor for her leadership in prioritizing the historic and necessary transformation of our city’s transit system.

Let’s work together to do more for the Bronx.

Amanda Farías is member of the New York City Council representing District 18 in the Bronx. 

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