South Bronx Building Boom

My transit-oriented part of the South Bronx is undergoing a building boom, which is great to see. It’s partly the result of two rezonings from 2009, the Lower Concourse Rezoning, and the 161st Street/River Avenue Rezoning. Let’s take a look at what’s going on.

South Bronx Building Boom - 138th Street

Three new buildings under construction along 138th Street

This photo shows the three blocks under development along the northern side of E. 138th Street from Canal Place to Third Avenue, within the footprint of the Lower Concourse Rezoning.

In the foreground we have 221 E. 138th Street, which is slated to have 47 market-rate rental apartments on seven floors. Next is 255 E. 138th Street, an eight-story mixed-income residential building with 96 apartments above ground floor retail. The third building is part of an expansion of a supportive housing complex at the northeast corner of 138th Street and Third Avenue at 275 E. 138th Street and 2550 Third Avenue. Here the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing is expanding the Borinquen Court complex with a total of 174 apartments for low-income seniors and the disabled combined with social support services and ground floor community oriented retail.

South Bronx building boom - 149th Street

Three new buildings in various stages of construction at 149th Street and Gerard Avenue.

This photo is taken from the corner of 146th Street and Gerard Avenue, looking northwest, inside the footprint of the Lower Concourse Rezoning, where we see that virtually an entire city block is rising. The building at left, nearing completion, is 500 Exterior Street, which reportedly will be a hotel with 69 rooms and parking for 29 cars. Next to it to the north is the rear facade of 530 Exterior Street, an apartment building with 157 apartments of affordable housing. At right, rising to the second story, we have 491 Gerard Avenue, a future 12-story apartment building slated to have 136 apartments of affordable housing.

Construction is slated to begin on two more buildings for this block. In the foreground we see the lot that will become 477 Gerard Avenue, planned as an apartment building with 66 market-rate rental apartments. And at the north end of the block and out of sight from the vantage point of this photo, will be 110 E. 149th Street, a hotel with 152 rooms and ground floor retail.

So if these reports are right, on a single very active block in the South Bronx, we’ll soon have two hotels with 221 rooms, and three apartment buildings with 359 apartments, 293 of which will be made available through the City’s affordable housing lotteries, and 66 to be rented out at market rates. The block formerly had housed an empty lot and a one-story food distribution warehouse. The only part that isn’t currently planned for construction is a flat tire fix-it shop at the northwest corner of the block, at 149th Street and Exterior Street, at the landing of a Major Deegan off-ramp.

810 River Avenue

810 River Avenue

This is 810 River Avenue, in the footprint of the 161st Street/River Avenue rezoning. Yankees fans might remember this site as the location of a former one-story bowling alley and bar across the street from the House that Ruth Built. The site is now on it’s way to hosting a 17-story mixed-use building with ground floor retail and 134 apartments of affordable housing looking out over the Heritage Field/Macombs Dam Park, which has taken the place of the former Yankee Stadium. It also has a parking garage for 61 cars that’s required by law even though it’s directly across the street from the B, D and 4 subway hub and a three-story full-block garage open 24/7/365 with more than 2,400 parking spaces. Maybe the bowling alley can come back to occupy the ground floor retail space that it used to occupy.

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State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Six Sterling Stations

Ridership goes up. Ridership goes down. With all the fluctuation, it could go up quickly for four years and then take a pause for one year, then go up again. The six stations in the graph above have attained a rare thing indeed. Of the more than 500 Amtrak stations in the country, they are the only ones to never have registered an annual ridership decline from 2003 to 2014. For the record, they are: Alexandria, Va. (which grew 143% over the time period), Poughkeepsie, N.Y. (83% growth rate over 12 years), Joliet, Ill. (230% growth), Yonkers, N.Y. (65%), Summit, Ill. (360%), and Rantoul, Ill. (540%).

What do they all have in common? Luck certainly plays a role. So does the general rising tide of ridership increases that the country experienced over the past dozen years that has lifted all boats.

Whether it’s related or not is unclear, but five of these six stations also enjoy regional railroad service in addition to their Amtrak trains. Alexandria is on Virginia Railway Express’ Fredericksburg Line and Manassas Line. Both New York stations are on Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson Line. Summit and Joliet are on Metra’s Heritage Corridor, and Joliet is also on Metra’s Rock Island District. That leaves Rantoul as the exception among these exceptional stations, as it is the only Amtrak-only station in the group.

It’s also notable that these stations are concentrated in just three states. The Illinois stations benefited from the big service increases that Illinois’ state-sponsored routes experienced. Ridership in the state was already increase when service was effectively doubled, in October 2006, which yielded years of continuing ridership gains. Alexandria has benefited from Amtrak’s gradual and ongoing expansion of Northeast Regional service south of Washington. The New York stations did not benefit from increase in train frequencies or the addition of new destinations. These two stations, rather, grew only from increasing popularity of existing trains on New York’s empire corridor.

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State of U.S. Passenger Rail 2014

This brings us to the end of the weekly state-by-state updates on the health of passenger railroading in the Lower 48 States. This project is associated with my ever evolving map of all U.S. rail stations. This table below summarizes the overall data that we’ve used as a guide.

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State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s Amtrak ridership has surged 79% over the past dozen years, making it the eighth fastest growing state in the country over that time frame. We’ll see the factors driving that growth below, but first, here’s a quick summary of the state’s passenger rail infrastructure.

Wisconsin is served by two passenger railroads, Amtrak and Metra. Amtrak has two routes serving Wisconsin, the Empire Builder, a long-distance overnight train that runs from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest, and the Hiawatha, with multiple daily departures between Milwaukee and Chicago. Even more frequent service to Chicago is available to the folks in the southeast corner of the state, where Metra has a station at Kenosha, the terminal for its Union Pacific/North Line.

Amtrak’s ridership in the state is influenced most by the Hiawatha. As of today, it has eight trains per day in each direction (seven on Sundays), compared with the Empire Builder which is just one train a day (the maximum frequency for the long-distance overnight trains). This chart shows the Hiawatha’s ridership per month.

Ridership surged with the 2008 spike in gasoline prices, but then it stayed high and even increased further. The frequency of Hiawatha train service and the popularity of Milwaukee as a destination combine to make Milwaukee the busiest Amtrak station in Wisconsin, by a large margin. This pie chart shows the breakdown.

As of 2014, Milwaukee accounted for two thirds of Wisconsin’s Amtrak ridership. The next two stations, stops on the Hiawatha but not the Empire Builder, were Milwaukee Airport, which had at 18% of the state’s riders, and Sturtevant, with 8%. The rest of the state’s stations, all on the Empire Builder but not the Hiawatha, ranged between 1% to 3%. For a sense of perspective, trying to put Metra’s stop at Kenosha on the same scale, I think it would fall just below Milwaukee Airport, which has an average daily ridership of 438 (dividing the total by 365). Kenosha’s average weekday ridership is 358, according to Wikipedia, and it would be lower on weekends. Now let’s look at a stacked column chart that shows us how these numbers add up to the state’s total ridership, and how that has changed over the years.

The growth of Wisconsin has been driven by the growth of Milwaukee, certainly, but also by the growth at Milwaukee Airport, which opened as a new station in January 2005. This next line graph shows how the stations have grown individually. Milwaukee Airport clearly stands out as a success story rise.

Every station in Wisconsin grew from 2003 to 2014, though the scale of the graph makes it hard to see the growth of some of the quieter stations. Milwaukee Airport grew 426% from its opening year, 2005, to 2014, rising from 30,415 in 2005 to 159,869 in 2014. Sturtevant grew 84%, to 70,341, up from 38,307 in 2003. Following down the line were Milwaukee, up 47%, Tomah, up 44%, Wisconsin Dells up 23%, Portage and La Crosse, each up 19%, and Columbus, up 8%.

That concludes my series on the state-by-state passenger railroad ridership trends across all 46 states that have service, and Washington, D.C. I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

Posted in Amtrak, Empire Builder, Hiawatha, Metra, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, trains, transportation | Comments Off on State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Wisconsin

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – West Virginia

West Virginia’s Amtrak ridership has grown almost 10% from 2003 to 2014, making it the 40th fastest growing state in the country over that time frame. There are 10 Amtrak stations in the state, including two that are also served by MARC‘s Brunswick Line, and another station, Duffields, that has only MARC service but no Amtrak service. Amtrak’s routes in West Virginia are the Cardinal, which runs three times a week in each direction across the southern/central part of the state en route between Chicago and New York, and the Capitol Limited, which briefly touches the northeast panhandle of the state at Harper’s Ferry and Martinsburg as it runs daily between Washington, D.C., and Chicago. We looked at Cardinal ridership in the post on Kentucky, and we looked at MARC ridership in the post on Maryland. So now let’s take a look at the ridership trends affecting West Virginia’s stations, and then round it out with a look at the Capitol Limited.

Passenger volumes are fairly evenly distributed throughout the state. Huntington has the highest, but it isn’t as if it is way off in its own category. This pie chart shows the breakdown.

Huntington accounted for 21% of the state’s ridership, followed by Martinsburg (18%), Charleston (17%), Hinton (15%), and so forth. There are three stations with relatively low ridership: Montgomery, Alderson, and Thurmond each account for about 1% of the state’s total. Alderson and Thurmond are flag stops. This stacked column chart shows how all the stations add up per year.

Now lets turn to the station-by-station growth rates. This line chart makes it more clear.

Most obviously, Hinton took a big hit in 2006, dropping from 11,102 in 2005 down to 3,105, before rising within two years back up to it’s usual levels. I believe that the station was closed for much of 2006 for renovations. The Cardinal stations were generally somewhat flat. Huntington, for example, fell 13% over the timeframe, but still retains its spot as the busiest station in the state. The two biggest growth stations are the two Capitol Limited stations. Harper’s Ferry grew 112%, to 6,313 in 2014, from 2,983 in 2003. Martinsburg grew 97%, to 9,824 in 2014, from 4,976 in 2003.

Speaking of the Capital Limited, let’s turn now to its overall ridership. This next graph depicts monthly riders on the route, and the smoothed line is the 12-month rolling average.

Average monthly ridership on the route is up 36% over the time frame shown, in part reflective of, and also reinforcing, the ridership growth in West Virginia.

Posted in Amtrak, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, commuter rail, MARC, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, trains, transportation, West Virginia | Comments Off on State of U.S. Passenger Rail – West Virginia

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Washington

To say that passenger rail ridership in Washington State is booming, would be an understatement. Yes, Amtrak ridership is up significantly, rising 20% over the past 12 years, making it the 36th fastest growing state in the country over that time period. But the ridership boom in Washington is really taking place on Sounder, a Seattle-area regional railroad where ridership has exploded nearly seven-fold (675%) since its founding in 2001, rising to an average of 291,258 passengers carried per month as of March 2015, up from 37,583 as of August 2001. In this post, let’s look at Sounder first and then turn our attention to Amtrak’s trends in Washington.

Sounder is an 83-mile, 12-station regional railroad with two lines (North Line and South Line) that terminate at Seattle’s King Street Station. It has been in expansion mode since it opened in September 2000 with service on the South Line with service between Seattle and Auburn, Sumner and Tacoma Dome. In February 2001, Kent and Puyallup opened, and in March 2001, Tukwila opened. In December 2003 with service on the North Line from Seattle to Amtrak’s two stations at Edmonds and Everett, and added a new Sounder-only station in May 2008 at Mulkilteo. In October 2012, the South Line was extended two stops, to Lakewood and South Takoma.

Sounder stopped reporting its ridership numbers to the American Public Transportation Association in April 2005, and didn’t begin again until October 2006, creating an 18-month gap in raw ridership data, and a 30-month gap in reliable averages. But as of March 2005, average monthly ridership was rising steadily, reaching 77,692. It seems to have really taken off during the gap. By October 2007, it had risen to 172,825. I’ve added a grey line to represent a straight line during the gap months.

With the exception of a 26-month period of recession from March 2009 to April 2011, when it fell slightly, Sounder’s ridership has continued to push ever upward. If present trends continue, it’s on pace to break the 300,000 figure in the months ahead.

Sounder’s hub, Seattle, is also Amtrak’s hub in the state. All Amtrak routes in Washington serve Seattle in one form or another. The Empire Builder, to and from Chicago, splits at Spokane, with one part of the train continuing to Seattle, and the other part to Portland, Ore., via four stations in the southern part of the state: Pasco, Wishram, Bingen-White Salmon, and Vancouver. The Coast Starlight originates in Seattle and travels to Los Angeles, and the Cascades, with multiple departures daily between Vancouver, B.C., and Eugene, Ore., via Portland and Seattle. Seattle accounts for half of the Amtrak passengers in Washington State. This pie chart shows the breakdown.

Looking at a line graph, one can see that ridership at Seattle dwarfs the rest of the stations in the state.

Seattle ridership is up 6% over the time frame shown, to 626,623 passengers in 2014. If we exclude Seattle from the graph, we can see the ridership trends at the rest of the state’s stations more clearly.

Ridership at Tacoma is up 18% over the time frame shown. Vancouver is +42%, Olympia-Lacey is +46%, Bellingham is +10%, Spokane is +53%, and Everett is +23%. The fastest growing station in the state is Tukwila, which grew to 28,636 passengers in 2014, up from 8,288 in 2003. The second-fastest growing station is Bingen-White Salmon, which rose to 2,867 passengers in 2014, up from 1,086 in 2003.

Like Sounder, Amtrak, too, has been in growth mode in Washington. Amtrak added Leavenworth to the Empire Builder in September 2009, where ridership has grown 18% from 9,574 in 2010 to 11,307 in 2014. Amtrak added Stanwood to the Cascades in November 2009, and ridership there has grown 6%, from 4,396 in 2010 to 4,674 in 2014.

This stacked column chart shows how the ridership at all of the stations adds up to the state’s total.

Let’s close with a look at the Coast Starlight, an overnight train with sleeper car service that knits together the West Coast. Ridership on the route has been steady in recent years. The big dip in February 2008 was the result of a mudslide that covered 3,000 feet of track in Oakridge, in southern Oregon.

Posted in Amtrak, Cascades, Coast Starlight, commuter rail, Empire Builder, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, Sounder, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, trains, transportation, Washington State | Comments Off on State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Washington

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Virginia

Virginia is another state where railroad ridership is booming. Amtrak ridership in Virginia has doubled over the past dozen years, making it the third fastest-growing state in the country over that time frame. (Only New Hampshire and North Carolina grew faster.) On the regional railroad in the northeast part of the state, Virginia Railway Express, average monthly ridership has surged 148% from September 1994 to March 2015. Ridership is increasing as both railroads are in expansion mode. Amtrak has recently expanded its Boston-bound Northeast Regional service southward from Washington, with two new branches into Virginia. And Virginia Railway Express is poised to extend its Fredericksburg Line southward to Spotsylvania before the end of the year.

Except for the western panhandle, Virginia’s railroad stations are fairly evenly distributed throughout the state. Today there are 20 Amtrak stations in Virginia, up from 18 at the beginning of 2003. (Richmond-Main Street opened in December 2003, and Norfolk opened in December 2012.)

Besides the Northeast Regional, Amtrak also serves Virginia with seven long-distance trains, six of which originate in New York: The Cardinal to Chicago, the Carolinian to North Carolina, the Crescent to New Orleans, the Palmetto to Georgia, and the Silver Meteor and Silver Star to Miami. Virginia is also the embarkation point for the Auto Train, which rolls with you and your car down to the Orlando area. But the most frequent Amtrak service in Virginia is the Northeast Regional, and Amtrak has been increasing service in Virginia.

The railroad has long had Northeast Regional service to/from Newport News. In October 2009 it added a western branch to Lynchburg, via Charlottesville, using tracks that were already in service for the Cardinal and Crescent. In December 2012, it added an eastern branch to Norfolk, and in October 2013 it began breaking out ridership statistics for trains to Richmond-Staples Mill, which is on the line to Newport News and Norfolk. I think this may have coincided with a service increase that made that data breakout worthwhile. This graph shows the average monthly ridership on each of these branches of the Northeast Regional in Virginia.

The total average monthly ridership has doubled over this time period, thanks to the service increases. What’s interesting is that the Washington-Norfolk service has certainly added riders to the overall total, but it also seems to have reduced some of the demand for service to Newport News, which is not surprising since the cities are near one another on opposite sides of Hampton Roads. As far as the apparent reduction in ridership to Newport News that results from the addition of the light blue component of the graph (Washington-Richmond), that’s really just a function of having more data available. You can effectively add the light and dark blue areas in this graph together, since prior to the data being presented separately, trips to Richmond would have been counted in the Newport News category. Since October 2013, the blue presumably includes just the ridership at Newport News, Richmond-Main Street, and Williamsburg. It presumably previously included all of the ridership those stations as well as at six stations now in the red field: Alexandria, Woodbridge, Quantico, Fredericksburg, Ashland, and Richmond-Staples Mill.

Now lets’s turn to overall Amtrak ridership across the state, looking at the Northeast Regional as well as the long-distance routes. This stacked column graph shows the totals by station, by year.

And this line graph has the same information, but putting the focus on the relative increases at each station.

Please note, in the legend at left, Lorton should be the second station listed. There is a glitch of some kind that is kicking it down to the bottom. The fastest growing station in the state is Lynchburg, where ridership is up 666%, growing from 11,267 in 2003 to 86,302 in 2014. Next is Culpeper, which grew 462%, from 2,536 in 2003 to 14,257 in 2014. Other stations with rapid growth rates are Woodbridge, up 313%, Newport News, up 289%, Manassas, up 285%, Fredericksburg, up 271%, and Quantico, up 225%.

Now let’s look to a pie chart that shows which stations are busiest.

Virginia is one of those states with an even distribution of passengers, such that no one station dominates too much. The busiest station is and has been Richmond-Staples Mill, which in 2014 accounted for less than a quarter of the state’s riders (23%), next was Lorton with 17%, then Alexandria, with 11%.

But it is important to remember that these statistics only cover Amtrak, not Virginia’s other passenger railroad, Virginia Railway Express, which is a major rail success story. It was started in 1992 as a commuter railroad with two lines operating between Washignton, D.C., and Virginia’s northern suburbs. Since then ridership has greatly expanded, as this next chart shows.

As you can see, if there was any doubt about ridership as of the summer of 1998, that should have quickly evaporated when the railroad began a long-term uptrend.

Let’s conclude the post as we did last week with Vermont, with a case study in what happens when Amtrak opens and closes stations that are near one another. In January 2010, three months after Amtrak began Northeast Regional service to Lynchburg, it added a stop at the Virginia Railway Express Manassas Line station at Burke Center. With that station in service, in April 2010 it ended Northeast Regional service at the nearby Virginia Railway Express Fredericksburg Line station at Franconia-Springfield (that was on the Newport News branch of the Northeast Regional). This graph shows the results on ridership.

As we’ve seen in Vermont, Michigan, and California, it seems the service planners knew what they were doing. Ridership had been growing at Franconia-Springfield, and one might hesitate to end service at a station that’s getting busier each year. But it grew even more at Burke Center.

Posted in Amtrak, Auto Train, Cardinal, Carolinian, commuter rail, Crescent, Northeast Corridor, Northeast Regional, Palmetto, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, trains, transportation, Virginia, Virginia Railway Express | Comments Off on State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Virginia

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Vermont

Vermont’s Amtrak ridership has risen 53% over the last dozen years, making it the 20th fastest growing state in the nation during that time period. Let’s take a look at some of the underlying trends supporting that growth. But first, let’s look at what makes up the state’s rail infrastructure.

Vermont has 11 stations. Nine of them, running north-south along the central spine of the state, are served by the Vermonter, which originates in Washington, D.C., and stops along the northeast corridor through New Haven, where it turns north to cross Connecticut to Springfield, Mass., before heading into the Green Mountain State en route to its terminal at St. Albans, Vt. Two stations in the central-west part of the state are served by the Ethan Allen Express, which originates at New York City and runs up the Hudson River, through Albany-Rensselear, to its terminal at Rutland, Vt. Both routes are support with financing from the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

This graph shows the booming ridership on the two trains over the past decade.

Ridership on the Vermonter is up a healthy 41%. On the Ethan Allen Express, even though it’s less noticeable on the graph because of the scale, ridership has grown even faster. It is up 86% over the same time period. The Ethan Allen Express has grown more steadily, but the Vermonter’s growth had a fairly big hiccup in 2011 when there were Hurricane Irene-related service disruptions and the route was replaced by buses because of a major track work project in Massachusetts that reconfigured the route to move more quickly because of fewer curves, and serve more stations, Holyoke, Northampton, and Greenfield, at the expense of Amherst.

Now let’s look at how the ridership breaks out by station in Vermont, which is one of those states that has many stations with roughly similar ridership volumes. This pie chart shows the evenness of the breakdown.

As of 2014, the busiest station in the state is Essex Junction, with 20% of the state’s riders. The next relatively busy stations are Brattleboro (19% of state’s riders), Rutland (16%), and White River Junction (15%). After that, the remaining seven stations each account for a single digit slice of the pie, from Montpelier (8%), down to Windsor-Mt. Ascutney (1%). This next line graph shows how the stations have grown over time, relative to one another.

This graph shows that the growth of the state overall owes a lot to the rising popularity of the train at Essex Junction. It’s grown 150%, from 8,765 passengers in 2003 to 21,883 in 2014. The second fastest-growing station in Waterbury, which grew 136%, from 2,799 in 2003 to 6,617 in 2014. Next is Randolph, which grew 115%, to 2,302 in 2014. Then comes Bellows Falls, which rose 102% to 5,463 in 2014. Among the busier stations, Brattleboro grew 86%, to 20,125 in 2014, and Montpelier grew 92%, to, 8,600. Excluding Fair Haven, which closed in 2010 (more on that below), only one station in Vermont registered a decline: St. Albans fell 49%, to 4,404 in 2014. Now let’s look at a stacked column chart that shows how all of these stations fit into the overall state’s ridership.

Finally, let’s turn our attention to an interesting case study. In 2010, Amtrak began Ethan Allen Express service to Castleton, Vt., and at about the same time, it ended service to Fair Haven, just a few miles to the west. There were two reasons the move would have been logical. One was the facilities at each town. Castleton offered a newly renovated building with an indoor waiting room, while Fair Haven had just an outdoor platform with a rudimentary plastic shelter offering the only formal protection from the elements. The second was geographic and market-driven. College students tend to be mobile, and often in need of transportation, and Castleton is home to Castleton University, with 2,000 students. Nevertheless, ridership at Fair Haven had been rising rapidly, to 2,763 passengers in 2009, up 169% from the 1,028 passengers who used the station in 2003. Did it really make sense to close a station that had been recording annual growth rates between 7% and 42% each of the previous half dozen years? This graph shows what happened.

Ridership at Castleton quickly outpaced even the highest numbers at Fair Haven, and it continues to rise. It’s difficult to say, though, whether Fair Haven wouldn’t have grown by just as much, as the ridership growth at Castleton seems to be pretty much a linear extension of what was already happening at Fair Haven, except for 2010 when it appears that the change in stations itself caused enough confusion that the ridership at both stations together was below the prior year. But ridership aside, the improvement to waiting conditions should by itself be enough justification for the change.

Posted in Amtrak, Ethan Allen Express, passenger rail, railroads, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, trains, transportation, Vermont, Vermonter | Comments Off on State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Vermont