Crossing the Other River, or, the region’s biggest transit barrier

While geographically close, New Jersey often thinks of Staten Island as a distant place that does not have much importance to the mainland.  To some, it’s that place where 3/5 of the cast members of the Jersey Shore are from.  To others, it might as well be Long Island.

Staten Island is well connected to the other boroughs, with MTA express buses to Midtown Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the Staten Island Ferry to Lower Manhattan.

But to get to New Jersey, a Staten Islander’s transit options are very limited.  There are no transit services at all that cross the Arthur Kill, the 10-mile body of water separating Staten Island’s western shore and New Jersey.

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This gap in the region’s transit system stretches up Newark Bay, which lies between Bayonne and Elizabeth. A trip from Staten Island to central New Jersey requires taking the ferry to Manhattan and then backtracking (or an expensive taxi ride). The first break in the gap is NJ Transit’s #1 bus between Newark and Jersey City.  But it hasn’t always been like this.

For most of the 20th century, it wasn’t hard for a person to cross Newark Bay or the Arthur Kill without a car. The Central Railroad of New Jersey’s Newark Bay Bridge connected Bayonne and Elizabeth, carrying commuter trains. Formerly the railroad’s main line until 1967, the bridge became part of a shuttle line between Cranford, Elizabeth, and Bayonne.  This train, called the “Scoot,”  lasted until 1978. The bridge’s central span was demolished in 1980.

At the southern end of the Arthur Kill, a ferry once traversed the short distance between Perth Amboy and Tottenville, at the southern terminus of the Staten Island Railway.  This ferry ceased operations in 1963.

A ferry once crossed the channel between Perth Amboy (left) and Tottenville (right).  These neighborhoods are now two hours apart by transit.

A ferry once crossed the channel between Perth Amboy (left) and Tottenville (right). These neighborhoods are now two hours apart by transit.

If not for a rush-hour only bus route connecting Staten Island to the 34th Street Hudson-Bergen Light Rail station in Bayonne, there would be no transit connections to New Jersey at all.  MTA started this route, the S89, in 2007. Currently, it only offers limited service during weekday peak periods.

A former route over the Bayonne Bridge, Red and Tan’s 144, was discontinued by 2007.

There are also a handful of MTA express buses from Staten Island that run through New Jersey to Midtown Manhattan, but make no stops in New Jersey.

What can be done to get people across this canyonlike gap in the transit system?  Extending the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail over the Bayonne Bridge is already a lost cause.

A short-term fix could be extending the MTA’s S40 bus across the Goethals Bridge to Downtown Elizabeth.  The route, which currently runs along Richmond Terrace on Staten Island’s North Shore, currently dead-ends on the access roads for the Goethals. According to Google Maps, an extension from the current terminus to the Downtown Elizabeth train station would require 14 minutes via the Goethals Bridge and Broad Street.

Currently, this bus runs every 15 minutes for most of the day.  Extending every other trip to Elizabeth, or even one trip an hour, would have a huge impact on connectivity and job accessibility in the area.

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 2.15.09 PMStaten Island has a population of about 475,000 residents. Elizabeth is a city of 125,000.  There is no reason there should not be a bus connection between the two.

A new bus route could also use the Outerbridge Crossing to connect Perth Amboy to Tottenville or some other southern Staten Island point.

A third improvement, the most likely to occur but least transformative, would be to add midday and weekend service on the S89.

Why is there little to no transit service crossing the Arthur Kill or Newark Bay?  Highway bridges are already there, but no transit agency wants to run buses over them.  It’s not NJ Transit’s job to run buses to Staten Island, and it’s not the MTA’s job to operate buses that go to New Jersey.

To bridge the Staten Island/New Jersey transit void, interagency cooperation is needed.  But that’s hard.

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2 thoughts on “Crossing the Other River, or, the region’s biggest transit barrier

  1. I think the S98 should be the one to travel across the Goethals Bridge. Forest Avenue could use the off-peak limited-stop service, and Forest Avenue is more centralized within Staten Island compared to the S40. But the S40 is still better than nothing.

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