UPDATE (06.22.2021): Post substantially updated with revised subway extension options for SAS Phase 2 and LaGuardia Airport.
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, opportunities exist to extend the line further for greater benefit. I will call this extension SAS Phase 2X, because each of the extension options send the line past the proposed Lexington Avenue – 125th Street terminus.
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 SAS Phase 2 extensions 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.
However, if SAS Phase 2X serves The Bronx, is the Concourse line the best option? Honestly, I think better options exist – I’ll get to those shortly. But first, allow me to introduce a new option.
Option 1c: Cross-Harlem subway
[Fig. 6] Overview of Option 1c.
Unlike Options 1a and 1b, Option 1c sends both the N and the Q via the Cross-Harlem subway to Morningside Heights, enabling frequent service at all stations along this busy corridor. Importantly, the four 125th Street stations connect to all existing Bronx subway lines and Metro-North. Option 1c could include the non-revenue CPW-SAS connection discussed earlier for operational flexibility. Exercising this option does not preclude building SAS extensions to The Bronx later; the line also lends itself to further extension to New Jersey.
Option 2: 3rd Avenue subway
[Figs. 7, 8] Overview of Option 2.
Option 2 is the oft-discussed 3rd Avenue subway. It would replace the 3rd Avenue El, which MTA demolished in 1973. It would also close a large gap between the Concourse line and the southern portion of the White Plains Road line. The relatively high ridership of existing bus services – namely, the Bx15 and Bx41 – make the 3rd Avenue subway a strong contender. This option contemplates a subway to Fordham Plaza with provisions for 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 regional rail service on Metro-North’s Harlem line serves the 3rd Avenue corridor. While I don’t think sending SAS via Concourse is the best option, regional rail has significant potential. I have some ideas that differ from RPA’s – as such, 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 138th Street, The Hub, and 163rd Street. 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 built in the vicinity of the Hutchinson River Parkway and I-95 due northeast of the proposed terminal.
Option 4a: Lafayette Avenue subway
[Figs. 10, 11] Overview of Option 4a.
Option 4a is my take on the proposed Lafayette Avenue subway – a plan dating back to 1939. It runs via 3rd Avenue, 163rd Street, Garrison Avenue, and Lafayette Avenue to Throggs Neck. When combined with regional rail investments, the Lafayette Avenue subway forms what I’ll call the maximum coverage paradigm. In The Bronx, existing subway and rail infrastructure covers large portions of the borough, but still leaves a gap in the southeastern portion. The Lafayette Avenue subway would fill this gap.
Unlike Options 2 and 3 which are wholly underground, Option 4a 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.
Option 4b: South Bronx subway
[Fig. 12] Overview of Option 4b.
Option 4b provides a subway connecting several key hubs in The Bronx. It runs via 3rd Avenue, 163rd Street, Bronx River Avenue, and Morris Park Avenue to East 180th Street, with provisions for further extension. The purpose of this line is to relieve the 2, 5, and 6 lines.
Both Options 4a and 4b include what I’ve called the “minimum segment” – the South Bronx subway from 116th Street to Hunts Point Avenue. This segment is designed to work with either Option 4a or 4b – or both:
[Fig. 13] Option 4 maximum service paradigm.
As a future consideration, both elements of Option 4 could be built as shown in Figure 13, providing frequent service in the South Bronx and allowing full de-interlining of the South Bronx IRT. These elements form what I’ll call the maximum service paradigm, which enables major service increases on many subway lines at once.
As of 06.22.2021, I am now leaning toward Option 1c for SAS Phase 2X in the near-term, and Option 4 integration in the long-term. The Cross-Harlem subway in Option 1c provides near-term relief for Bronxites by connecting to all Bronx-bound subway lines. Regional rail could serve the 3rd Avenue corridor. In the future, the full-length SAS could take over the Cross-Harlem subway, allowing the N and Q trains to serve The Bronx as in Option 4.
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. 14] A better LGA AirTrain.
But do we even need an LGA AirTrain? In February 2021, 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 a subway extension.
[Fig. 15] LGA subway extension options. Source: LGA FEIS – Alternatives.
As of 06.22.2021, I am leaning toward a modified version of Alternative 8B. The modification is an infill station at 94th Street to serve East Elmhurst and LGA’s west side, as shown below:
[Fig. 16] Astoria El extension to LGA.
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!