Hicksville is located 43 kilometers east of Penn Station on the LIRR Main Line. It’s a major job center of eastern Nassau County, with 25,000 jobs and a rather large shopping center adjacent to the train station. The station itself gets about 8,000 weekday boardings, more than any other suburban LIRR station except Ronkonkoma.
However, the station has no TOD. The shopping mall is transit-adjacent, but the route to it from the station passes through parking lots at both ends. The station is surrounded by thousands of parking spaces; a recent reconstruction of a parking garage cost
$364 $36.4 million for 1,400 spaces, which at $26,000 per space is more than the per-rider cost of such expensive transit lines as Second Avenue Subway. As a result, the total number of people getting off at Hicksville in the AM peak is 700, for a rail share of 3%.
Such failure is quite common in the US. Leaving aside stations explicitly configured as park-and-rides, such as Metropark or Ronkonkoma, off-CBD stations have to have at least some retail and office space usable by reverse commuters, on the pure financial grounds that reverse-peak service is nearly free to provide. Otherwise, light rail and subway trains run empty in the reverse-peak, and commuter trains park downtown, leading to outsized costs for CBD railyard expansions.
For a comparison of how good TOD looks like, see this industry presentation about Tokyo’s Tsukuba Express. As is normal in Tokyo, the line is very expensive: $140 million per km for a line that’s just 26% in tunnel, though the tunnel percentage is much higher within the central city. But per rider this is not too bad, because as the images in the presentation demonstrate, intense TOD followed construction. Stations are surrounded by high-density office and residential buildings and not parking lots.
A theme I am going to revisit is that high construction costs should not be an excuse to scale down service levels. It may be expensive to develop on the parking lots adjacent to the station, but the ridership is always worth it.
If there’s to be a transit revival, it’s imperative to increase mode share at major suburban centers. The transit mode share for people working in Manhattan is 75%, while the auto share is only 14% – and the auto mode share is dominated by the suburbs that use the GWB, rather than Long Island. There’s some room to expand Manhattan employment, but not enough to make a dent in the region’s car use. It’s critical to instead make it easier to use transit and harder to drive to work in such secondary downtowns as Flushing and Jamaica, and in such major suburban centers as Mineola and, yes, Hicksville.