UPDATE (11.26.2020): Updated to include an alternate alignment for the Lafayette Avenue subway (SAS Phase 2X, Option 4). Some images updated.
Welcome to my ongoing NYTIP series! In the next series of posts, I will expound on point 2 in my three-point plan to fix the NYC Subway – extend. I’ll begin with Phase 2 of the Second Avenue Subway (SAS) and rail service to LaGuardia Airport. The current plans fall short, so allow me to discuss a better way.
Note: Click any image to enlarge.
I. SAS Phase 2
The current plan extends the Q train past its 96th Street terminus to Lexington Avenue – 125th Street station, connecting to Metro-North and the 4, 5, and 6 trains. Curiously, the plan calls for tail tracks extending past Malcolm X Blvd – 125th Street station (2/3 trains), but no connecting station. The plan retains a provision for future service to The Bronx. Unfortunately, this phase isn’t scheduled to open until at least 2027.
That’s where NYTIP comes in.
Previously, I discussed the Broadway and Queens Boulevard de-interlining, where the N and Q trains serve 63rd Street/SAS and the R train serves Astoria. With both the N and Q trains serving SAS, NYTIP proposes two SAS extensions – one across Harlem and one to The Bronx. Under NYTIP, both extensions comprise a single phase – SAS Phase 2X. In SAS Phase 2X, the N serves The Bronx and the Q serves the Cross-Harlem branch.
Let’s explore the many ways we can realize SAS Phase 2X.
Option 1a: Regional Plan Association (RPA) recommendation – Cross-Harlem and Concourse extensions
[Fig. 1] Overview of Option 1a with emphasis on the Cross-Harlem (125th Street) branch of SAS Phase 2X, served by the Q train. Created using Brand New Subway.
[Fig. 2] Overview of Option 1a with emphasis on the Concourse extension, served by the N train. SAS via Concourse requires some changes to C service.
The RPA proposed two extensions of SAS Phase 2 in their Save our Subways publication. RPA’s SAS Phase 2B is the Cross-Harlem extension, and SAS Phase 2C is the Concourse extension. The N serves new stations at 3rd Avenue – 138th Street (6 train), 149th Street – Grand Concourse (2, 4, and 5 trains), and 161st Street – Grand Concourse (4 and D trains), then meets the Concourse line at a point south of 167th Street station.
To provide some relief on the overcrowded 4 line, the N runs via Concourse express in the peak direction, while the D runs local. Since the Concourse line is only three tracks, NYTIP recommends running a maximum of two services on this branch. Thus, the C – originally rerouted via Concourse as part of the CPW de-interlining – would run north to Inwood instead. Owing to the limitations of the existing 207th Street terminal on the A line (an island platform with no tail tracks), the C train terminates at Dyckman Street and uses existing switches north of the station to turn.
An optional enhancement under this option, if feasible, is extending the C train to a new station just east of the 207th Street yard leads, as follows:
[Fig. 3] C extension to Inwood via 207th Street Yard leads. The original track map belongs to vanshnookenraggen.
This optional terminal station has side platforms for several reasons. First, the leads are immediately below street level. Second, 207th Street runs downgrade, leaving no room for a mezzanine – a requirement for an island platform. Finally, the station site is close to the Harlem River. Importantly, this short extension could also serve as a provision for a Bronx crosstown subway via Fordham Road.
A drawback of this option – aside from the capital investments required – is reduced service at the 155th Street – 8th Avenue station on the Concourse line. An alternate option exists to address these issues.
Option 1b: Cross-Harlem – Concourse connection
[Fig. 4] Overview of Option 1b.
Option 1b is a modified version of Option 1a that requires less new construction, albeit at the expense of a direct route from Concourse to the SAS. A key advantage of this option over Option 1a is doubled service on the Cross-Harlem line at Lexington Avenue, Malcolm X Blvd, and St. Nicholas Avenue, and increased service at 145th Street station. As with Option 1a, the A and C trains serve Inwood and the D and N trains serve The Bronx; in The Bronx, the D runs local and the N runs express in the peak direction. New track connections preserve the CPW de-interlining, as follows:
[Fig. 5] Track connections between the SAS and the Concourse line via CPW stubs.
[Fig. 6] Overview of the CPW-SAS connection using CPW stubs.
Even in the absence of a Concourse-SAS service, the track connection shown in Fig. 6 allows operational flexibility and SAS access to both the 207th Street and Concourse yards. Given that both the 207th Street and Concourse yards are potential storage/maintenance facilities for SAS, this track connection is crucial. In my view, this makes Option 1b more desirable than Option 1a.
But there are other options for extending the SAS to The Bronx.
Option 2: 3rd Avenue subway
[Figs. 7, 8] Overview of Option 2.
Option 2 is the oft-discussed 3rd Avenue subway. Under NYTIP, the N train would serve this line. It is the long-overdue replacement for the 3rd Avenue El, which MTA demolished in 1973. It closes a long gap between the Concourse line and the southern portion of the White Plains Road line. The relatively high ridership of the existing bus services – the Bx15 and Bx41 – make the 3rd Avenue subway a strong contender.
The Regional Plan Association once touted the 3rd Avenue SAS branch. In recent years, however, RPA changed their Bronx-SAS plan to SAS Phase 2C (see Option 1a above). RPA’s justification for this is their T-REX proposal, where enhanced local service on Metro-North’s Harlem line serves the 3rd Avenue corridor. As someone who lived on or near the Grand Concourse for most of my life, I can appreciate RPA trying to breathe new life into the oft-neglected Concourse line. However, I’m not sure the T-REX is the best way to serve the 3rd Avenue corridor. That said, I find T-REX intriguing; hence, I will devote a future series of posts to regional rail under NYTIP.
Option 3: Morris Park subway
[Fig. 9] Overview of Option 3.
Option 3 begins the same way as Option 2, with a subway serving 3rd Avenue – 138th Street, The Hub – 149th Street, and 163rd Street stations along 3rd Avenue. Rather than continuing north, the line takes a northeasterly route via Boston Road, Tremont Avenue, and Eastchester Road to Morris Park. The purpose of this route is to relieve the overcrowded 2 and 5 trains, as well as enable a future transit hub at Morris Park – the site of one of four new Metro-North stations comprising Penn Station Access. Importantly, the FRA is also contemplating regional rail service at Morris Park (see section 3.7.6 of the linked document). A new rail yard could be build in the vicinity of the Hutchinson River Parkway and I-95 due northeast of the proposed terminal.
Option 4: Lafayette Avenue subway
[Figs. 10, 11, 12] Overview of Option 4. The first two images show alignment options for the western portion of the subway.
Option 4 is my take on the proposed Lafayette Avenue subway – a plan dating back to 1939. There are two possible alignments for the western portion between 3rd Avenue – 138th Street and Soundview Park stations.
Option 4a is the 163rd Street alignment. Under Option 4a, the line travels via 3rd Avenue, 163rd Street, Hunts Point Avenue, and Lafayette Avenue. Advantages of this option include increased service at 163rd Street and a multimodal transfer at Hunts Point Avenue – a future Metro-North station. Disadvantages include a somewhat circuitous alignment and a missed transfer at Prospect Avenue station. (A capital option exists for the latter, if desired.)
Option 4b is the Longwood Avenue – 160th Street alignment. Under Option 4b, the line travels via 3rd Avenue, takes a curve under private property to 160th Street, then traverses Longwood and Lafayette Avenues. Advantages of this option include a more direct route and in-system transfers at both Prospect Avenue and Longwood Avenue stations. A disadvantage of this option is the missed connection to future Metro-North service at the Hunts Point Avenue station.
Under both options, the line continues eastward via Lafayette Avenue and the Cross-Bronx Expressway to Throggs Neck. Unlike Options 2 and 3 which are wholly underground, NYTIP contemplates a mostly elevated line for Option 4 due to two water crossings (Bronx River and Westchester Creek). The likeliest location for an el portal is Lafayette Avenue between Bryant and Longfellow Avenues, due to the steep grade of the street. An alternate site for the el portal is the north side of Soundview Park west of Morrison Avenue, though this requires an underwater crossing at the Bronx River. A rail yard could be built in the vicinity of the Bruckner Interchange.
Note that all options include the Cross-Harlem extension. This is a recommended extension under NYTIP, regardless of which Bronx extension is ultimately built. Importantly, choosing one option doesn’t necessarily preclude the others if the SAS is ever expanded beyond two tracks (future post).
Recommended path forward: Option 2. The 3rd Avenue subway connects to a major transit hub at Fordham Plaza and closes a large gap between subway lines in The Bronx.
Alternate recommendation: Option 1b. If funding precludes a full Bronx extension, then the Cross-Harlem – Concourse connection offers the biggest bang for the capital buck.
II. LaGuardia Airport
LaGuardia Airport (LGA) is one the busiest airports in the United States, yet it has no direct rail link. It is widely criticized as a substandard airport in terms of flight delays, outdated facilities, hellish traffic, and the aforementioned lack of rapid transit options.
A few years back, Governor Cuomo unveiled an ambitious redevelopment plan for the airport, which includes an AirTrain. However, this AirTrain is rife with problems, from its proposed routing away from Manhattan, to its $2 billion price tag, to its Flushing Bay alignment. Mind you, the project was initially slated to cost $450 million and was supposed to run over the Grand Central Parkway (GCP).
It’s clear we need something different.
The previous plan for an LGA rail link called for extending the Astoria El to the airport – a plan that dates back to 1943! Community opposition killed this plan each time the City proposed it. More recently, the proposal appeared to die once again at the EIS phase of Governor Cuomo’s LGA project – a phase transit advocates lambasted as “rigged”.
And I agree! Indeed, with COVID-19 drying up transport funds, there is still a chance to kill this “Backwards AirTrain” boondoggle, pursue a superior rail link, and save transit.
So, where does that leave NYTIP? Simple:
Extend the Astoria line to LGA. But how?
Option 1: 19th Avenue alignment
[Fig. 13] Overview of Option 1.
Option 1 is a modified version of EIS Alternative 8B. Option 1 contemplates an Astoria El extension through the Con Edison property to 46th Street and 19th Avenue, then underground to LGA. The extension includes new stations at Steinway Street, Hazen Street, 94th Street, and East Elmhurst – LaGuardia Airport; it also includes a new storage yard within the Con Edison property north of the Ditmars Blvd station. (Note that one could build the Con Edison yard independent of any LGA extension.) Rather than follow the GCP to LGA, Option 1 follows the GCP only up to 92nd Street. East of 92nd Street, the route runs via Ditmars Blvd. This alignment retains connectivity to LaGuardia Airport while providing stations closer to the surrounding neighborhood.
Option 2: Ditmars Boulevard alignment
[Fig. 14] Overview of Option 2.
Option 2 is a modified version of EIS Alternative 8D. Option 2 contemplates an Astoria El extension that begins with a sharp curve onto Ditmars Boulevard, then continues to 78th Street before heading underground. The curve from 31st Street to Ditmars Boulevard includes an at-grade junction with tracks feeding the aforementioned Con Edison yard. The extension includes stations at Steinway Street, 75th Street, 94th Street, and East Elmhurst – LaGuardia Airport; the gap between 75th Street and 94th Street stations avoids potential conflicts with LGA’s Runway 4.
Rather than follow the GCP to LGA, Option 2 contemplates an extension via 23rd Avenue, which allows the 94th Street station to serve a greater proportion of the surrounding community.
Under either option, since the R does not merge with any other line, an optional service enhancement is peak-direction Astoria express service. The previous iteration of this service was unpopular and hence short-lived; however, the LaGuardia extension and the service increases made possible by NYTIP could make it viable again. To optimize this service, NYTIP recommends new switches immediately north of Astoria Boulevard station to avoid switching delays near Ditmars Boulevard station.
Recommended path forward: Option 1. I’ve gone back and forth on this. Truth be told, both options have their merits. However, given that tight curves can constrain capacity (as the City Hall reverse curve on the R does), I’m going back to my original recommendation of Option 1 for the Astoria extension.
In my next post, I’ll discuss the Concourse line and Pelham line extensions to Co-op City. Until next time!