UPDATE (12.04.2021): This major update revises post commentary and clarifies subway extension options for both SAS Phase 2X and LaGuardia Airport.
Welcome to my ongoing NYTIP series! In this series of posts, I will expound on point 2 in my three-point plan to fix the NYC Subway – extend. I will begin by discussing Phase 2 of the Second Avenue Subway (SAS) and subway service to LaGuardia Airport.
Note: Click any image to enlarge.
I. SAS Phase 2
The current plan extends the Q train past its current 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 2029!
Is a mere three stations the best we can do in a decade? Methinks not! Enter NYTIP.
The enhanced NYC subway under NYTIP sends the N and Q trains via SAS. With two lines serving SAS, opportunities exist to extend SAS Phase 2 further for greater benefit. I will call this extension SAS Phase 2X. Let’s explore the 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. Source: RPA Save our Subways report.
The RPA’s Save our Subways report recommends two SAS Phase 2 extensions. SAS Phase 2B is the Cross-Harlem subway, while SAS Phase 2C is a proposed Bronx extension via Grand Concourse. In RPA’s plan, the T – a new line serving the full-length SAS – would serve the Cross-Harlem subway, while the Q serves the Grand Concourse. However, SAS Phase 3 is the earliest phase that would provide a southern terminus for the T. Thus, as applied to NYTIP, Option 1a would extend the N and Q trains instead.
[Figs. 2, 3] Modified version of Option 1a. Created using Brand New Subway.
Here, the Q would serve the Cross-Harlem subway. The four 125th Street stations served by the Cross-Harlem subway connect to all extant Bronx subways; in addition, the Cross-Harlem subway lends itself to further extension to New Jersey.
Meanwhile, the N would 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) before meeting the Concourse line at a point south of 167th Street. Consequently, peak-directional D express trains would run local between 167th Street and 145th Street. (Alternatively, all D trains could run local in The Bronx.)
With D and N trains serving the Concourse line, C trains would run local to Washington Heights – 168th Street instead of serving the Concourse line.
Honestly, I’m iffy on RPA’s Concourse line connection. The connection does not yield more service than combined C/D service in the enhanced NYC subway, and it also leaves the 155th Street – 8th Avenue station with less service. An alternative option exists to address these issues.
Option 1b: Cross-Harlem – Concourse connection
[Fig. 4] Overview of Option 1b.
Option 1b requires less new construction than Option 1a, 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 subway at Lexington Avenue, Malcolm X Boulevard, and St. Nicholas Avenue, and increased service at 145th Street. As with Option 1a, the A and C trains serve the Inwood line and the D and N trains serve the Concourse line. Seldom-used stub tracks between 145th Street and 125th Street on the Central Park West line would connect to the Cross-Harlem subway, as shown in the figures below.
[Fig. 5] Track connections between the SAS and the Concourse line. (Original track map by vanshnookenraggen.)
[Fig. 6] Overview of the CPW-SAS track connection.
Even without a Concourse-SAS service, these track connections allow operational flexibility. With these connections, SAS trains can access both the 207th Street and Concourse yards – an important consideration, given that these yards are potential maintenance facilities for SAS trains.
That said, if SAS Phase 2X serves The Bronx, is the Concourse line the best option? Let’s explore alternative Bronx extensions.
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 RPA 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 for The Bronx, 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, like Option 2, begins with a 3rd Avenue subway serving 138th Street, The Hub – 149th Street, and 163rd Street. Rather than continuing north, the line takes a northeasterly route via Boston Road and Morris Park Avenue to Morris Park. This route would relieve the overcrowded 2 and 5 trains, and 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 contemplating regional rail service at Morris Park (see section 3.7.6 of the linked document). A new rail yard could be built near the Hutchinson River Parkway and I-95, northeast of the Morris Park terminal.
Option 4: South Bronx subway
[Fig. 10] Overview of Option 4.
Option 4 provides a subway connecting key hubs in the South Bronx – namely, The Hub and Hunts Point. This subway serves as a minimum operating segment for an extension to the East Bronx. There are four potential alignments for the East Bronx extension.
Option 4a: White Plains Road takeover
[Fig. 11] Overview of Option 4a.
Option 4a extends the South Bronx subway to East 180th Street, then via the White Plains Road el to Wakefield. The el, having been built under the Dual Contracts, is strong enough for the heavier SAS trains. However, its platforms require modification for wider trains. The 239th Street yard would serve SAS trains, leaving the East 180th Street and Unionport yards for the 2 and 5 trains. Under Option 4a, the 2 gets truncated to East 180th Street, while the 5 serves the Dyre Avenue line.
Option 4b: Dyre Avenue takeover
[Fig. 12] Overview of Option 4b.
Option 4b extends the South Bronx subway to East 180th Street, then via the Dyre Avenue line to Eastchester – Dyre Avenue. The Dyre Avenue line, being a former railroad right-of-way, can accommodate larger SAS trains; this requires platform modifications for wider trains. The Unionport yard would serve SAS trains, leaving the East 180th Street and 239th Street yards for the 2 and 5 trains. Under Option 4b, the 2 runs to Nereid Avenue during peak hours and to East 180th Street other times, while the 5 runs to Wakefield – 241st Street.
Option 4c: Pelham line takeover
[Fig. 13] Overview of Option 4c.
Option 4c extends the South Bronx subway via the Pelham line. The Pelham el is also capable of supporting larger SAS trains with platform modifications. To facilitate the N extension, the 6 would be truncated to Hunts Point Avenue. With Westchester yard serving SAS trains, the 6 would need a new storage yard. (Alternatively, the 6 could extend to East 180th Street, providing access to the East 180th Street and Unionport yards.) As the N alone cannot replace frequent 6 service in its entirety, this option requires additional investments to be viable.
Option 4d: Lafayette Avenue subway
[Fig. 14] Overview of Option 4d.
Option 4d is my take on the Lafayette Avenue subway – a plan dating back to 1939. It runs via 3rd Avenue, 163rd Street, Garrison Avenue, and Lafayette Avenue to Throggs Neck. The two terminal options are Locust Point – Edgewater Park (minimum-disruption option using a highway right-of-way), or Tremont and Harding Avenues (higher ridership potential, but possibly more disruptive). This option contemplates an elevated extension for most of its length due to two water crossings – Bronx River and Westchester Creek. The line could emerge on Garrison Avenue east of Bryant Avenue to avoid tunneling under both waterways; if this is infeasible, the line could emerge on the north side of Soundview Park west of Morrison Avenue. A rail yard could be built near the Bruckner Interchange.
As of 12.04.2021, I am leaning on the Cross-Harlem subway (RPA’s SAS Phase 2B) in the short term. As I mentioned above, the Cross-Harlem subway provides immediate relief by connecting to every subway line that currently serves The Bronx. This also makes the Concourse line a viable alternative to the oft-crowded 4 line.
Optional Enhancement: Canal Street Flip
[Fig. 15] Overview of the Canal Street Flip a.k.a. “Canal Flip”.
At present, Broadway express trains cross the Manhattan Bridge, while Broadway local trains serve Lower Manhattan. The Canal Flip inverts this paradigm by sending Broadway express trains through Lower Manhattan – making them a viable alternative to the Lex – and sending Broadway local trains over the Manhattan Bridge. However, due to a capacity constraint south of City Hall (21 trains per hour, or TPH, maximum), not all Broadway express trains can serve Brooklyn – some must turn at City Hall’s lower level.
The Canal Flip also affects service in Brooklyn. On 4th Avenue, the Broadway express trains run local, while the Broadway local trains run express. This ensures conflict-free service.
[Fig. 16] 4th Avenue service post-Canal Flip.
As applied to NYTIP, the Canal Flip would result in the following service pattern:
- N: Broadway local via Queens Boulevard local, Manhattan Bridge, 4th Avenue express, and Sea Beach (N replaces W in Queens)
- Q: Broadway express via SAS, Lower Manhattan, 4th Avenue local, and West End
- R: Broadway local via Astoria, Manhattan Bridge, and 4th Avenue express (trains run local south of 36th Street)
This pattern has several benefits. First, the Q no longer merges with any other line, allowing significant service increases. The Q would run 30 TPH peak in Manhattan and up to 21 TPH peak to Brooklyn. This affords an opportunity to run peak-directional express service on the West End line. Bay Ridge riders get faster R service. The N takes over the W route, maintaining frequent service to Queens. Therefore, as of 12.04.2021, SAS Phase 2X would include the Canal Flip.
Building the Cross-Harlem subway does not preclude a future Bronx SAS branch, especially if the full-length SAS gets built. For many years, I’ve favored Option 2 for this branch. However, given the implications of regional rail, I’ve gradually shifted to a version of Option 4. In particular, the Lafayette Avenue subway in Option 4d would fill a gap in The Bronx served neither by existing subways nor future regional rail lines. On the other hand, the IRT takeover options afford an opportunity to de-interline the Bronx IRT without severing connections to Manhattan’s east side.
I will explore these options further in a future post.
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 its lack of rapid transit options.
The “Backwards” AirTrain
A few years back, former governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled an ambitious redevelopment plan for the airport, which included an AirTrain. However, this AirTrain was 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 dating back to 1943! Previously, community opposition killed this plan whenever the City proposed it. More recently, the proposal appeared to die once again at the EIS phase of Cuomo’s LGA project – a phase transit advocates lambasted as “rigged”.
And I agree! However, former governor Cuomo’s grip on NY was so strong that it appeared the “backwards” LGA AirTrain was inevitable. Thus, in two editions of the NYTIP INSIDER (see here and here), I discussed ways to improve the proposed LGA AirTrain.
However, two key events made the LGA AirTrain less “inevitable”. First, 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.
Some time afterwards, the Guardians of Flushing Bay, an advocacy group, revealed just how rigged the so-called EIS process actually was:
Second, in August 2021, the once-untouchable Cuomo was forced to resign after an investigation by NY Attorney General Leticia James found that Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women. His replacement, Kathy Hochul, effectively put the brakes on the backwards AirTrain shortly after she assumed office.
The “Forwards” AirTrain…Isn’t An AirTrain At All
With the LGA AirTrain effectively dead, there’s been a renewed push to extend the Astoria El to LGA. While some politicos are proposing convoluted schemes like a divergence south of Astoria Boulevard, there’s only one alignment that makes the most sense.
Ironically, the way forward is in the rigged EIS – namely, Alternative 8B:
[Fig. 17] LGA subway extension options. Source: LGA FEIS – Alternatives.
Alternative 8B sends the extended Astoria El through the Con Edison property (which would include the storage yard in the enhanced NYC subway), then via 19th Avenue and the GCP to LGA.
As of 12.04.2021, 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. 18] Astoria El extension to LGA.