NYTIP: enhancing the nyc subway, part 3: broadway and queens boulevard

In my last post, I discussed the South Brooklyn de-interlining. So far, the de-interlining plans contemplated by NYTIP involve simple swaps. In this part, we’ll explore the Broadway (N, Q, R, and W) and Queens Boulevard (E, F, M, and R) lines; while streamlining the former is trivial, the latter is much more challenging.

Broadway

The Broadway trunk line runs from 57th Street and 7th Avenue to Canal Street in Manhattan. The N and Q make express stops and cross the Manhattan Bridge, while the R and W make local stops and run via Lower Manhattan. Conflicts occur north of 34th Street – Herald Square station, when the N joins the R and W on the local tracks; the three services run together until reaching Queens, where the N and W serve Astoria and the R serves Queens Blvd. Meanwhile, the Q serves the Second Avenue Subway (SAS) via 63rd Street.

This pattern causes delays and restricts N, R, and W service since they share tracks from the 60th Street tunnel to Times Square. To address these issues and improve service on the N, Q, R, and W lines under NYTIP:

Reroute N trains via the SAS to 96th Street.

[Fig. 1] Overview of the N reroute, via Brand New Subway.

Under this reroute, the N no longer switches to the local tracks north of 34th Street; instead, it runs with the Q to 96th Street and 2nd Avenue. With only the R and W on 60th Street, there is now room to increase service on both lines to make up for the loss of the N.

After the N reroute, the operating patterns are:

  • N: Broadway express via 63rd Street/SAS
  • Q: Broadway express via 63rd Street/SAS
  • R: Broadway local via 60th Street/Queens Blvd
  • W: Broadway local via 60th Street/Astoria

A service increase on the W alone, however, is not enough to make up for the loss of the N on Astoria during off-peak hours. As such, in parallel with the N reroute, NYTIP prescribes changes to the Queens Blvd service that will not only enhance service to Astoria, but also improve service on Queens Blvd.

Queens Boulevard

[Fig. 2] Snippet of the NYC Subway map showing the Queens Blvd trunk (E, F, M, and R lines) and branches.

The Queens Blvd trunk serves three different Manhattan trunk lines and connects to several other lines, making it one of the highest-ridership lines outside of Manhattan. It serves 8th Avenue (E train), 6th Avenue (F and M trains), and Broadway (R train). The E and F run express in Queens, with E trains entering Manhattan via 53rd Street and F trains entering via 63rd Street. The M and R run local, with M trains entering Manhattan via 53rd Street and R trains entering via 60th Street. The current pattern poses several conflicts:

  • The E express and M local merge near Queens Plaza.
  • The F express splits from the E west of 36th Street station to serve the 63rd Street line; this switch induces delays on the Queens Blvd express.
  • Forest Hills – 71st Avenue, due to its nature as a relay terminal for the M and R trains, induces delays on the Queens Blvd local.

Unfortunately, addressing these conflicts is not trivial. vanshnookenraggen explored some of these difficulties at length while discussing his plan; in his plan, the R runs to Astoria and the N, running via 63rd Street, replaces the R in Queens. Honestly, I don’t think it’s a bad plan; however, for the purposes of NYTIP, sending both the N and the Q via SAS allows for building both the Cross-Harlem and Bronx extensions of SAS Phase 2 (future post).

The first step in addressing the Queens Blvd problem is resolving the Astoria problem; to do that:

Reroute R trains via Astoria to Ditmars Blvd.

Rerouting the R addresses the loss of the N beyond the rush hour. With the R and W now fully contiguous, NYTIP contemplates eliminating the W designation and simply running these trains as R trains. Taken together with the South Brooklyn de-interlining previously discussed, the R will no longer conflict with any other lines, allowing for significant service increases. If necessary, select R trains can terminate at Whitehall Street to preserve regularity.

One of the main obstacles to running the R to Astoria is the lack of storage space for the R line’s subway cars; the current R serves Queens Blvd for easy access to Jamaica Yard. To address this…

Potential capital investment #2: Construct a new yard within the Con Edison property north of Ditmars Blvd.

Building this yard solves the storage space issue, and building it inside the Con Edison property mitigates residential impacts. Importantly, this investment also serves as an anchor for the oft-discussed Astoria line extension to LaGuardia Airport. Although Governor Cuomo’s proposed LaGuardia AirTrain keeps chugging along, it does not obviate the need for the Astoria extension. I’ll discuss this further in a future post.

Now, let’s explore the possible de-interlining options for the Queens Blvd trunk, and the underlying challenges in each.

Option 1: Partial de-interlining with G extension

[Fig. 3] Queens Blvd partial de-interlining option.

Under Option 1, the G extends to Forest Hills to replace the R. The F and M switch alignments west of 36th Street station, with the F running via 53rd Street and the M running via 63rd Street; this swap removes a conflict with the E. As an optional enhancement, the G/M can extend to Jamaica – 179th Street, allowing the F to run express east of Forest Hills. To preserve connectivity to Broadway under all de-interlining options:

Potential capital investment #3: Construct an in-system transfer connecting the Queens Plaza and Queensboro Plaza stations.

This transfer will give Queens riders some flexibility; however, it is not trivial – Queens Plaza is underground, while Queensboro Plaza is above ground. Nevertheless, NYTIP recommends this investment as it will be a key transfer point for eventual access to LaGuardia Airport.

Full De-Interlining Options

So long as Queens Blvd serves more than two trunks or branches, full de-interlining is not possible. Furthermore, full de-interlining requires some level of capital investment. The Regional Plan Association, in their Save our Subways publication, tries to get around this by rerouting the M via the J line to Broad Street. This leaves Queens Blvd with only the E express via 53rd Street and the F local via 63rd Street; RPA suggests doubling both E and F service to preserve service levels. NYTIP does not contemplate this option since an M reroute isn’t necessary to fully de-interline Queens Blvd.

Before exploring full de-interlining options, let’s discuss the tunnels to Manhattan. The 53rd Street tunnel connects to 6th Avenue and 8th Avenue, while the 63rd Street tunnel connects to 6th Avenue and Broadway; the latter includes a provision for a future 2nd Avenue connection. Since the 53rd Street tunnel is the only tunnel connecting Queens to 8th Avenue, all 8th Avenue service should serve 53rd Street and all 6th Avenue service should serve 63rd Street. This leaves the following options:

Option 2: 6th Avenue service express, 8th Avenue service local

[Fig. 4] Overview of Option 2.

Option 2 fully de-interlines Queens Blvd. Under Option 2, the E runs local while the F and M run express. When combined with the Central Park West de-interlining, the E under Option 2 no longer conflicts with any other line, allowing for significant service increases. However, this option presents several issues. First, the E’s current southern terminal – World Trade Center – is a stub-end terminal with no tail tracks, limiting capacity. Absent new tail tracks (possibly using the Worth Street subway provision), this option becomes untenable due to the potential capacity crunch on 53rd Street. While the 8th Avenue line has stubs south of Penn Station and south of Canal Street, each one requires crossing over the express tracks and is hence undesirable.

The second issue is the M’s short length. All Queens Blvd services use 600-foot trains except the M, which uses 480-foot trains. At present, the Queens Blvd express service is at capacity with full-length trains running about every 2 minutes. While de-interlining allows service increases on the M, its short trains result in a net loss in capacity – another untenable situation. A third issue is ease of access to 6th Avenue from the local stops west of Jackson Heights. Since the F and M diverge east of the next express stop (Queens Plaza), these passengers lose direct access to 6th Avenue.

Of these three issues, only one is solvable without capital investment – the last one. From west of Jackson Heights, riders can connect to 6th Avenue by making a cross-platform transfer at 7th Avenue – 53rd Street to the B/D. For the second issue, lengthening M trains to 600 feet requires lengthening all M line stations from Essex Street to Middle Village. Resolving the first issue requires the aforementioned tail tracks.

Option 3: 6th Avenue service local, 8th Avenue service express

[Fig. 5] Overview of Option 3 with the new K line.

Option 3 also fully de-interlines Queens Blvd. Under Option 3, the F and M run local and the E runs express. Owing to the capacity limitations of the World Trade Center terminus, Option 3 prescribes a new K line. The K originates from Jamaica – 179th Street station and runs express with the E. Together, the E and K make the same stops from Kew Gardens to Canal Street in Manhattan; the E continues to the World Trade Center as normal, while the K takes the Worth Street subway to a new terminal at Grand Street:

[Fig. 6] Overview of the Worth Street subway.

As is clear, Option 3 requires more capital investment than Option 2. Option 3 also presents some issues:

  • The F, as a local train, becomes the longest local train in the system with 54 stops end-to-end.
  • Unlike Option 2, local riders west of Jackson Heights have no opportunity to transfer to 8th Avenue service unless they ride back to Jackson Heights.

Owing to the second issue, NYTIP does not contemplate Option 3. However, the Worth Street subway warrants more discussion, so I’ll come back to it in a future post.

Option 2 is the likely path forward, but owing to the capital investment needed, Option 1 is the better short-term strategy. What do you think?

In my next post, I’ll address the Brooklyn IRT (2, 3, 4, and 5 lines). Until next time!

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