UPDATE (04.08.2021): Post revised to reflect updates to the enhanced NYC Subway. Because NYTIP is still a work in progress, I’m removing language referring to recommended plans, and instead listing the options I’m currently considering.
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, served by the Q train. Created using Brand New Subway.
[Fig. 2] Overview of Option 1a with emphasis on the Concourse line connection, served by the N train.
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 Bronx extension via Grand Concourse. 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. This merge requires a significant modification to the Concourse line, with 167th Street likely converted to an express stop to facilitate the merge. Consequently, peak-directional D express trains would run local between 167th Street and 145th Street.
With D and N trains serving the Concourse line under Option 1a, C trains would run local to Washington Heights – 168th Street station instead of serving the Concourse line.
A drawback of Option 1a – 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. 3] 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 the Concourse line 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 Boulevard, and St. Nicholas Avenue, and increased service at the 145th Street station. As with Option 1a, the A and C trains serve the Inwood line and the D and N trains serve the Concourse line; on the latter, the D runs express in the peak direction and the N runs local. New track connections preserve the Central Park West de-interlining, as follows:
[Fig. 4] Track connections between the SAS and the Concourse line via CPW stubs. (Original track map by vanshnookenraggen.)
[Fig. 5] Overview of the CPW-SAS connection using CPW stubs.
Even in the absence of a Concourse-SAS service, the track connections shown in Fig. 5 allow operational flexibility. With these connections, SAS trains can access both the 207th Street and Concourse yards; given that these yards are potential maintenance facilities for SAS trains, these track connections are crucial. As such, the Cross-Harlem subway should be built.
But what about The Bronx? Aside from a possible Concourse line connection, other options exist.
Option 2: 3rd Avenue subway
[Figs. 6, 7] Overview of Option 2.
Option 2 is the oft-discussed 3rd Avenue subway. 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. This option contemplates a subway to Fordham Plaza with provisions for an extension further north.
The Regional Plan Association once recommended the 3rd Avenue SAS branch. In recent years, however, RPA changed course and proposed SAS Phase 2C instead (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. Nevertheless, I find the T-REX proposal intriguing; as such, I will devote a future series of posts to regional rail under NYTIP.
Option 3: Morris Park subway
[Fig. 8] 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. 9, 10, 11] 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, Garrison 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. A disadvantage of this option is a missed transfer at Prospect Avenue station. (An optional capital investment that resolves this issue is consolidating the Prospect Avenue and Intervale Avenue stations on the 2/5 line into a single station at 163rd Street.)
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 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 former 177th Street to Throggs Neck. Unlike Options 2 and 3 which are wholly underground, Option 4 contemplates an elevated extension for most of its length due to two water crossings – Bronx River and Westchester Creek. The likeliest location for an el portal is on the north side of Soundview Park west of Morrison Avenue. A rail yard could be built near the Bruckner Interchange.
As of 04.08.2021, I am leaning toward Option 2 for SAS service to The Bronx, along with the Cross-Harlem subway for enhanced service and yard access. The 3rd Avenue subway closes a large gap between subway lines in The Bronx, making it a no-brainer. Importantly, choosing this option doesn’t necessarily preclude the others if the full-length SAS is ever expanded beyond two tracks. I’ll discuss SAS expansions in future posts.
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! Unfortunately, Governor Cuomo doubled down on the LGA AirTrain in his 2021 State of the State address. Does this make the “Backwards AirTrain” inevitable?
I devoted two editions of the NYTIP INSIDER (see here and here) to the LGA AirTrain, where I discussed ways to make it useful. As I outlined in those posts, we can realize a better LGA AirTrain by combining Alternatives 9B and 9N, instead of pursuing the flawed Alternative 9A:
[Fig. 12] A better LGA AirTrain.
But do we even need an LGA AirTrain? A few months ago, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a rule change regarding mass transit connections to airports:
This rule change effectively allows rapid transit services to serve airports directly.
More recently, the Guardians of Flushing Bay, an advocacy group, revealed just how rigged the so-called EIS process actually was:
There are two takeaways from this. First, we don’t have to build the Backwards LGA AirTrain. Second, we can – and should – entertain more viable alternatives, like an Astoria El extension. Let us consider two potential alignments for said extension.
LGA Option 1: Astoria El extension via 19th Avenue
[Fig. 13] Overview of LGA Option 1.
LGA Option 2: Astoria El extension via Ditmars Boulevard
[Fig. 14] Overview of LGA Option 2.
LGA Option 1 is a modified version of EIS Alternative 8B, while LGA Option 2 is a modified version of EIS Alternative 8D. The modifications in both options involve a station at 94th Street to serve East Elmhurst residents and provide direct access to car rental facilities.
As of 04.08.2021, I am leaning toward LGA Option 1. This option allows for a smoother curve for the Astoria El extension, easier access to a new storage yard within the Con Edison property (see figure below), and direct access to LaGuardia Airport.
[Fig. 15] Con Edison storage yard.
In my next post, I’ll discuss subway extensions to Co-op City, the largest housing cooperative on Earth with no rapid transit service. Until next time!