NYC DOT 2011 Streetcar Study 

Project Updates:

(9.11.2010NYC DOT Announces Study To Determine Feasibility Of Streetcars In Brooklyn

Related News Articles:

9.11.2010)  NY Post Article:  "City revamping plan for Brooklyn streetcar line" (PDF)

(9.11.2010)  NY1 TV News Report & article:  "City Considers Plan To Revive Brooklyn Trolleys" (external link)

(9.11.2010)  The Wall Street Journal:  Red Hook’s Desire for a Streetcar Gets a Boost

(9.11.2010)  Cobble Hill Association: Street Cars from the Past in Brooklyn's Future?

(9.30.2010)   A Word on the DOT's Brooklyn Streetcar Study- We're Not Part of It, But We Hope It Works !

(10.23.2010)  Bob Diamond's Notes from the Oct 18, 2010 Brooklyn Streetcar Study Community Advisory Committee (CAC):

(10.23.2010)  Additional Info on Passenger Boarding Islands / Areas for Streetcars

(12.27.2010) BHRA's comments regarding NYC DOT's Red Hook Streetcar Study, CAC Meeting 2, Dec 13, 2010

A Word on the DOT's Brooklyn Streetcar Study- We're Not Part of It, But We Hope It Works !

We have a unique "once in  lifetime" opportunity to get a Brooklyn streetcar system totally for free- 100% Federally funded. We feel the DOT should be marshaling all resources at its disposal, to get this study done successfully, and speedily, before the political climate in Washington changes again.

As we know, after a delay of five years, the DOT has now decided to move ahead with the Red Hook Streetcar study- something which we heartily applaud. This delay was largely due to the "bucking" of their Brooklyn office for the past several years (see attached letter (pdf). 

We know from experience, that the first order of business in any study, is the review of all previous studies on the same subject.  This isn't happening with the DOT Brooklyn streetcar study, even though "several feet" of prior studies are available. The Brooklyn office has opted to not include us as part of the study team. Rather, they are starting over from "square one".

The DOT Brooklyn office is causing the consultant, URS, to operate in what we fear is a virtual "local information vacuum". The study will be devoid of the unique, useful information, accumulated over 29 years of experience in the specific field of resurrecting the Brooklyn streetcar system, which we could have brought to bear for the benefit of the project. The present modest level (under $300k) of available funding, really does not afford the option of "starting over from scratch", and we hope the result is not a study that concludes another study is needed.
We truly hope that we are incorrect in our assessment of the situation, and are looking forward to being proven wrong. We wish them all the best of luck in their endeavors!

Bob Diamond's Notes from the Oct 18, 2010 Brooklyn Streetcar Study CAC (Community Advisory Committee):

Organizational Structure:
I think the composition of the "advisory board" is great.

Economic Concept:
The bottom line of building any functional streetcar line is financial benefit to the community: the enabling and promotion of neighborhood revitalization and development. Therefore, this study, however preliminary, really needs to address opportunities for "Transit Related Development" along the route. The word "Streetcar" must become synonymous with the phrase "transit oriented development".

Pre- Engineering Considerations:
From group feedback at the meeting, another important topic to address in this study, is the misconception that "the streetcar will only be one slow and poorly operated mode of transportation replacing another- the bus". There has to be a tangible and substantial improvement to Red Hook's "lack of transportation dilemma". The study currently at hand, needs to speak in terms of using streetcar to improve mobility between Red Hook and other neighborhoods- transforming Red Hook from a "half hour neighborhood (time needed to get to the nearest subway station)" to a "seven minute neighborhood"- by using all available tools, such as:
- preemptive traffic signals controlled by the movement of the streetcars.

- passenger boarding islands with right lane traffic bypass (as per San Francisco, upper Market Street) to expedite passenger loading and unloading, while minimizing traffic delay. A functional boarding arrangement (the traditional way to create boarding areas) is via a designated passenger boarding island in the center of the street (this is utilized in New Orleans and San Francisco).  These principles are explained in detail in the section below entitled: "Additional Info on Passenger Boarding Islands / Areas for Streetcars"

- utilize new and/or refurbished streetcars that have acceleration and braking performance comparable with that of the classic "PCC". Essentially, use streetcars that can "keep up" with other traffic, and not themselves become obstructions to the other traffic in the common roadway they share. The PCC was developed with this specific goal in mind, back in the 1930's, right here in Brooklyn.

Let's look at a side by side comparison of the performance characteristics of an obsolete streetcar, which the PCC replaced, with the performance characteristics of the PCC: (Source: PCC The Car That Fought Back, by Stephen P. Carlson and Fred W. Schnieder III, 1980, pg 56- 57.)

Performance of an Obsolete Streetcar, Toronto 2700-2898   
Acceleration Rate, MPHPS- 2.00
Service Braking Rate, MPHPS- 2.70
Emergency Braking Rate, MPHPS - 3.30
Balancing Speed, MPH- 30

vs. Performance of Brooklyn PCC 1001-1099
Acceleration Rate, MPHPS- 4.75
Service Braking Rate, MPHPS- 4.75
Emergency Braking Rate, MPHPS- 9.00
Balancing Speed, MPH- 42

Ridership Demand Estimates:
When using existing bus route data to estimate new streetcar demand, certain parameters for estimating the lower and upper range must be taken into account. First, lets look at estimating the lower limit. According to Boris Pushkarev, past President of the Regional Plan Association and author of Urban Rail In America: Exploration of Criteria for Fixed Guideway Transit, when estimating new streetcar line demand, existing bus ridership numbers must be increased by a "Rail Factor" of at least 30%.

Pushkarev's "Rail Factor" theory is greatly expanded upon, by the actual numbers experienced on San Francisco's (MUNI) Market Street "F" line. The "F Line Streetcar" came about during the 1990's, when an existing bus line was replaced by a streetcar. The ridership instantly DOUBLED (100% increase) and has been steadily increasing every year since. See Railway Age, May, 2001, for the explanation proffered at that time by then MUNI General Manager Michael T. Burns "people who wont ride a bus will ride a streetcar"(PDF) . Therefore, the immediate demand (the day the line opens) for a new Red Hook streetcar should be somewhere between a 30% - 100% increase over the existing bus route.

One "Fatal Flaw":
The one "fatal flaw" that I can see (with nearly 30 years of hindsight), is the fact that a follow up- and currently unfunded- "alternative mode analysis" would be required in order to get the Federal construction $$. We have a very narrow window of opportunity to execute this project, we need to strike while the iron is hot- while the Obama administration and Transportation Secretary LaHood are still in office!

My suggestion, was that URS, as a "super turn key contractor", should consider providing that "Alternative Analysis" report ASAP at no up front cost- initially on "speculation", or as a tax deductible donation to a non- profit entity, as URS is potentially the overall project contractor/developer.

Additional Info on Passenger Boarding Islands / Areas for Streetcars

On NYC DOT's streetcar website, it mentions that "streetcars pick up passengers curbside". If by curbside, they mean swerving the tracks toward the existing curb, that isn't the best way of doing it. Here's why:

Back in the 1930's the NYC Department of Traffic (DOT's predecessor) did a study on Manhattan traffic congestion. What they found, was that much of the congestion was caused by buses- because buses weave through traffic, from the left lane, to curbside, and vice verse, in order for passengers to board and alight. This "weaving motion" was found to create "congestion waves" in the traffic behind the buses.

Further, a "buffer zone" consisting of a row of parked cars, separating moving vehicles and pedestrians, has traditionally been used throughout NYC. This so vehicles can travel at faster speeds, while having a minimum potential impact on pedestrians.

If by curbside boarding however, they mean extending the curb into the street to form a passenger boarding area (as they do in Portland), this is a much more practical approach. In this arrangement, also known as "Bus Bulbs", the boarding area is a curb extension from the sidewalk, through the lane that is typically used to park cars in, to the streetcar tracks in the center of the street. This method of passenger boarding, appears to work best on wide, one way streets.

The traditional way however, to create boarding areas, is to utilize "Passenger Boarding Islands With Right Lane Traffic Bypass" to expedite passenger loading and unloading, while minimizing or eliminating traffic delay behind the streetcar. Such a functional boarding arrangement, is via a designated passenger boarding island in the center of the street. (Note the preceding linked image shows this method in use on Brooklyn's Livingston Street, circa 1935. Note the sign for Loeser's Department Store). This method is currently utilized in cities such as New Orleans, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Both Bus Bulbs and Passenger Boarding Islands, are also superior to curb side boarding, as they allow the streetcar to maintain a designated lane and straight track. This enhances ride comfort, and minimizes wheel noise.  While Bus Bulbs do not create a weaving effect producing "congestion waves" like a city bus typically does; however, on narrow streets, whenever the streetcar or bus stops at a Bus Bulb, the traffic behind it has to stop too.  In terms of traffic operation, Boarding Islands With Right Lane Traffic Bypass, are superior to Bus Bulbs, as the vehicles behind the streetcar on narrow streets, do not have to stop when ever the streetcar stops.

Suggested Reading List:
The following books are available from the Transportation Research Board's on-line bookstore:
TCRP Report 95- Chapter 17- Transit Oriented Development
TCRP Report 33- Transit- Friendly Streets: Design and Traffic Management Strategies To Support Livable Communities
TCRP Report 65- Evaluation of Bus Bulbs
TCRP Report 100 2nd Edition- Transit Capacity and Service Manual
TCRP Report 137- Improving Pedestrian and Motorist Safety Along Light Rail Alignments
TCRP Report 40- Strategies To Attract Auto Users to Public Transportation (Note: May be out of print, can also be obtained through Amazon.com or Ebay).

BHRA's comments regarding NYC DOT's Red Hook Streetcar Study, CAC Meeting 2, Dec 13, 2010

The reports generally look good, except for three major concerns:

1) The "Alternative Comparison with Bus Mode" needs to be done as part of this report. There is no money on the horizon for any "follow up" studies. It's now, or never.

2) The assumption that streetcar will only cause a 12% increase in passenger usage is unreasonably conservative.  Based upon comparable precedents and studies we believe that ridership should be (at the very minimum) double within the first year or service and likely triple within the first five years of operation.  For more information, refer to written comments made previously by the Regional Plan Association's former President, Boris Pushkarev, and the actual numbers experienced on the San Francisco "F" streetcar line- who's ridership immediately DOUBLED when converted from bus.  for more info see:   Charts & Data on Environmental and Economic Advantages of a Streetcar line (vs. other transit modes)

An Additional factor that will account for increased ridership are the private bus shuttles that operate in Red Hook (ex. the IKEA shuttle), the Streetcar will likely pick up riders that would otherwise take the shuttle or drive to retailers like IKEA and Fairway.

Also comparisons with extensions to existing streetcar systems (ex. Philadelphia) are not as comparable as the opening of the first line of a new system - there will be a substantial ridership increase due to the novelty draw of the first streetcar line in Brooklyn. 

3)  Finally, the streetcar's operating speed is an important aspect of the project. We completely disagree with the report, which says streetcar's have to run at the same speed as buses.

Any number of traffic engineering tools can be used to increase the streetcar's speed over the existing bus. For example, traffic light preemption controlled by the movements of the streetcar, passenger boarding areas or boarding islands with right lane traffic bypass (reduces streetcar dwell time at stations), and many other methods can be used. (from more details see: Additional Info on Passenger Boarding Islands / Areas for Streetcars).

Furthermore, even if the most bare-bones streetcar system possible was built by merely laying down streetcar track that follow the existing bus route (with no signal timing, traffic engineering, boarding areas or pedestrian/ street improvements of any sort);  even this bare-bones streetcar line would run significantly faster that the current bus that run that route.  The reason for this is: NYC Transit buses are purposely run at very slow speeds, in an effort to make their pollution emissions seem lower. Since streetcars are electric and have no spot emissions, they transcend the whole bus paradigm (of necessitated slow speeds to save fuel/ limit pollution) and therefore can be run at faster speeds than buses, improving commuting times over the buses they replace.   (for more info refer to the Transportation Research Board's TCRP Reports 33 and 137).

Map of potential routes from 2nd CAC Presentation (notice similarity to our various route designs featured on our maps page).

Here is a complete PDF version of the powerpoint presentation URS made during the 2nd Streetcar Community Advisory Committee Meeting   (PDF)

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