Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Service Cuts May Derail Transit-Oriented Development

Two months ago, a real estate developer struck a deal with the Town of Hempstead to construct 150 units of much-needed rental housing next to the Long Island Rail Road's West Hempstead station on the site of a notorious motel that the Town wants to condemn. Now it appears this transit-oriented project could be in jeopardy because the LIRR plans to eliminate weekend service on its West Hempstead branch.

At a hearing last month held by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on its proposed 23 percent fare hike, 40 West Hempstead residents protested the planned service cut. They fear the cutback will lead developer Trammell Crow to walk away from the project.
"In these difficult economic times, eliminating weekend services will create hardships for both workers and customers," Civic Association president Rosalie Norton testified at the hearing. "You should be exploring ways to increase ridership, improve service and make every effort to keep fares reasonable."
LIRR officials say its West Hempstead branch, which operates on weekends as a shuttle to Valley Stream, where passengers change for trains to Jamaica, New York and Brooklyn, generates only 360 riders on a typical weekend day, compared to 3,110 on weekdays. However, Trammel Crow officials say the railroad should factor future traffic generated by the development into their plans.

"The construction of 150 new residences directly adjacent to the station will most certainly increase demand and ridership to this branch," Trammell Crow spokeswoman Maria Rigopoulos said. She called weekend service "critical" to its transit-oriented development.

There are additional transit-oriented possibilities near the West Hempstead station. A discount store occupying an even larger site across the street from the motel recently closed.

Even if the LIRR discontinues weekend service on the branch, it won't be lacking for transit options. Long Island Bus, which operates bus service in Nassau County, connects four of the five stops on the branch with LIRR stations in Lynbrook, Rockville Centre or Hempstead. But that would make communities on the line the equivalent of a two-fare zone on weekends. Hence it only seems fair for the buses to honor LIRR tickets when the trains don't run.

The West Hempstead branch isn't only LIRR route threatened with cutbacks. The railroad would end its practice of running specials to Belmont Park for thoroughbred racing, expect for the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown. Horse racing specials on the LIRR date back almost to the railroad's founding in the early 19th Century. The move is opposed by the New York Racing Association, which operates Belmont.

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