NYTIP: extending the nyc subway, part 1: 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.

I. SAS Phase 2

The current plan extends the Q train past its 96th Street terminus to Lexington Avenue – 125th Street station, connecting to the 4/5/6 trains and Metro-North. 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, which I’ll call SAS Phase 2X.

[Fig. 1] The Cross-Harlem branch of SAS Phase 2X, served by the Q train. Created using Brand New Subway.

[Fig. 2] The 3rd Avenue branch of SAS Phase 2X, served by the N train.

The first element of SAS Phase 2X is the cross-Harlem subway served by the Q train. It extends the planned SAS Phase 2 further west, with stations at Malcolm X Blvd (connection to 2/3 trains), St. Nicholas Avenue (connection to A/B/C/D trains), and Morningside Heights – Broadway (connection to 1 train). This subway includes a non-revenue connection to the Central Park West line, as shown below:

[Fig. 3] Potential track connection between the Central Park West line and the cross-Harlem subway. The tracks would run under the 125th Street A/B/C/D station and connect to the SAS. (Original track map by vanshnookenraggen.)

Given that both the 207th Street yard and Concourse Yard are potential storage/maintenance facilities for SAS, this track connection is crucial. NYTIP recommends its construction as part of the cross-Harlem extension.

The second element of SAS Phase 2X is the 3rd Avenue subway served by the N train. 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 Rd line. The relatively high ridership of the existing bus services – the Bx15 and Bx41 (respectively, the 19th and 21st-busiest routes in NYC) – warrant this connection.

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. (Incidentally, they also favor a cross-Harlem extension, which they call SAS Phase 2B.) Under RPA’s plan, SAS Phase 2C branches off the SAS north of 116th Street, connects to the 2/4/5 lines at 149th Street – Grand Concourse station, and then meets the Concourse line at a point south of 167th Street station. 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, owing to service increases made possible through de-interlining, NYTIP does not recommend SAS Phase 2C. RPA’s plan works best with a four-track Concourse line; while I favor such a conversion, I don’t think it’s worth sacrificing the 3rd Avenue branch. On the other hand, the T-REX proposal is very intriguing. It has its flaws, but integrating regional rail is key to enhancing New York-area transportation. I will devote a future series of posts to regional rail under NYTIP.

II. LaGuardia Airport

LaGuardia Airport 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 a LaGuardia 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. However, this extension is the only sensible way to bring rail to LaGuardia Airport, making it a key element of NYTIP.

[Fig. 4] Astoria line extension to LaGuardia Airport, served by the R train.

Given that the environmental review process for the proposed LaGuardia AirTrain just started, there is still a chance to kill the AirTrain boondoggle and pursue a superior rail link. NYTIP contemplates an Astoria El extension that combines elements of EIS Alternatives 7 and 8 – elevated from Ditmars Blvd to 45th Street and 19th Avenue, then underground from there to LaGuardia Airport. The extension includes new stations at Steinway Street, Hazen Street, 94th Street – LaGuardia Airport West, and East Elmhurst – LaGuardia Airport East; it also includes a new storage yard within the Con Edison property north of the Ditmars Blvd station. While EIS Alternatives 7 and 8 call for the Astoria El extension to follow the GCP to LaGuardia, the proposed route under NYTIP 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.

Since the R does not merge with any other line under NYTIP, 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. Even if the R made all stops at all times, it’d still be faster than the “backwards” LaGuardia AirTrain!

In my next post, I’ll discuss the Concourse line extension. Until next time!

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