By: Abrahan Cruz
A general summary of a plan to place Gondolas over the east river and Randall's Island, connecting the Bronx and Queens with a means of public transportation, has yet to be seen.
Despite the Bronx and Queens being near each other and sharing three suspension bridges, there is no means of public transportation between these boroughs that directly bypasses traffic, i.e. a subway rail.
During the construction of the Whitestone bridge, an organization known as the RPA (Regional Plan Association) recommended that the bridge be able to accommodate rail traffic when it opened or sometime in the future. The city planner made no such accommodations. Instead, in order to get from one borough to the other one must either own a car, use an unreliable bus service, or take a train to Manhattan and transfer to another going to Queens.
According to the NYC Department of Transportation’s Bridge and Traffic Report, traffic over the Whitestone Bridge was recorded at 109,862 vehicles in 2015 and 124,337 in 2016, a 13.2% increase. (DOT, 2016, pp.11)
The report also records traffic over the Throgs Neck Bridge at 116,658 vehicles in 2015 and 119,249 in 2016, a 2.2% increase. (DOT, 2016)
Finally, traffic over the Triboro Bridge (Officially the RFK Memorial Bridge) was recorded at 84,220 vehicles in 2015 and 83,053 in 2016, a 1.4 % decrease in traffic.
For context, the most transited bridge in the world is the George Washington Bridge, carrying an average of 289,827 vehicles daily in 2016.
What must also be taken into account is that these numbers represent the large magnitude of commuters which come from suburban areas outside New York City. The bridges benefit residents outside of the communities in their direct impact. They tend to get heavily congested around rush hour due to the surrounding traffic on highways that these bridges connect.
The fact that there is no train exclusively connecting the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn, or exclusively the Bronx and Queens only makes matters worse. While a bus running through a select bus route might save time in traffic on city streets, it cannot account for traffic over bridges as there is no dedicated lane for them and such an idea would be extremely unpopular. Even if these buses can be reliably dependent, residents don't have the confidence in the on-time performance of buses compared to that of trains, though both can be traced to systematic problems in the MTA. Nevertheless, trains are generally considered to be faster and a bypass to burdensome city traffic. There are only 2 bus routes going between the Bronx and Queens. The Q44, which became a select bus service route on November 29th, 2015, and the Q40. Despite this, residents still report unreliability with bus service (even though select bus service lines are less prone to delays than their limited service counterparts). The other bus, the Q50, connects co-op city to queens (MTA.info). Therefore, the bus lines are inadequate and fail to serve the more impoverished sections of the Bronx, which happen to be the sections closest to Queens geographically (OSC, 2018).
A Gondola System over the RFK bridge and one of the two bridges that go over the Long Island Sound would be beneficial to residents who otherwise wouldn't have access to the other borough without heading into midtown Manhattan. It could be advertised as a possible part of a route to Laguardia International Airport and a transfer between the 6 (IRT Lexington line) and N/W (BMT Broadway line). The city would also gain some good publicity and some light tourism from the opening of these Gondolas. Not to mention the existing infrastructure of the bridges could help with the placement of these Gondolas and save immensely on the overall project budget.
Urban Gondolas have become a necessity in cities like Medellin, Rio De Janeiro, and Santo Domingo, where they serve to decrease traffic congestion and service outer and more disadvantaged neighborhoods. They are also cheaper to build than subway rails and other related infrastructure. A similar project suggested for the Williamsburg bridge was estimated to be significantly cheaper and faster to build than the $2 billion and five years it took to build the 7 line extension. The three open stations for the second avenue subway cost around $2.4 billion, with certain segments of those tunnels already in place from construction in the 70s.
The Gondola system would be a good way to incorporate neighborhoods that haven't historically had much connection despite being geographically close to each other. It could alleviate congestion from Bronx residents that would otherwise take the Lexington line of trains (4, 5, 6 IRT) which has a daily ridership of 1,289,338 people and is the predominant subway transportation in the Bronx. It would replace unreliable bus lines that could otherwise get stuck in traffic on the bridges and could provide the areas with a boost in tourism as well as alternate transport to Laguardia Airport in Queens.
There is a lack of more localized and residential data to measure the full scope and impact that a Gondola project would have, but it would undoubtedly be a good start to expanding outer-borough transportation.