NYTIP – enhancing the nyc subway, part 8: the low-hanging fruit

UPDATE (05.19.2021): I will include the M extension to Kew Gardens Hills in NYTIP (again), so I’ve updated this post accordingly.

Welcome to my ongoing NYTIP series! Recall my three-point plan to fix the NYC Subway – enhance, extend, and expand. Though I started talking about subway extensions recently, I’m circling back to point one – enhance – to address some low-hanging fruit.

Point one – enhance – addresses subway improvements using existing infrastructure; hence, I focused on de-interlining. However, there are other ways to use existing infrastructure to improve subway service.

I. Infill Stations

Consider the Harlem – 148th Street terminal on the 3 line. This is an example of an infill station built in a train yard. There are other yards amenable to infill stations – with a few minor modifications, of course.

Concourse Yard

In 2016, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. proposed decking over the Concourse Yard to spur development. However, nothing has come of it. As it turns out, there’s low-hanging fruit here that could catalyze development.

Potential capital investment: extend the C train to a new station inside the Concourse Yard.

[Fig. 1] C extension to Concourse Yard.

Any development at the 19-acre Concourse Yard site should be transit-oriented development, and this extension could catalyze such development. Based on the track layout, one could site the Concourse Yard station as follows:

[Fig. 2] Conceptual layout of the Concourse Yard station.

One potential drawback is interference with yard movements. Unlike Lenox Yard, a train traveling from the Concourse Yard station must traverse the entire yard lead to reach Bedford Park Boulevard station. Owing to this and the relative proximity of the existing Bedford Park Boulevard stations on the Jerome and Concourse lines, this will be an optional investment.

Livonia and Pitkin Yards

Several subway lines serve the East New York neighborhood in Brooklyn. Under NYTIP, these are the 5, A, E, J, L, and Z trains. Using existing yard leads, opportunities exist to provide greater subway coverage in East New York. The key:

Extend the 5 train to Livonia Yard, and extend the A train to Pitkin Yard.

[Fig. 3] 5 and A train extensions to their respective yards on Linden Boulevard.

On the 5 line, the Livonia Yard is elevated between the playgrounds north of Hegeman Avenue and Stanley Avenue. NYTIP contemplates a station on the center of the yard between Linden Boulevard and Stanley Avenue with entrances at both ends.

On the Fulton Street line, NYTIP contemplates an A train extension to Pitkin Yard. This yard is already decked over – the Linden Plaza apartments sit atop the yard – and there are other housing complexes in close proximity.

Jamaica Yard

Under NYTIP, the W extends to Jamaica – 179th Street on weekdays to relieve pressure on the Forest Hills – 71st Avenue terminus. However, with M trains continuing to terminate at Forest Hills, congestion could still occur. A capital solution to this issue exists.

Potential capital investment: extend the M train to Kew Gardens Hills.

[Fig. 4] M train extension to Kew Gardens Hills.

This extension is tricky because Jamaica Yard is surrounded by highways and not easily accessible. Thus, NYTIP contemplates a station on the yard’s east side, as follows:

[Fig. 5] Conceptual layout of the Kew Gardens Hills station inside Jamaica Yard.

This station requires several elements – an overpass over the Van Wyck Asthmaway, new crosswalks at 77th Avenue and Park Drive East, and a new entrance area where no sidewalks currently exist. Thankfully, existing traffic calming measures make this arrangement possible with minimal disruption. When combined with the W train extension to 179th Street, this extension provides significant relief at Forest Hills, allowing service increases on the Queens Boulevard local. As such, the enhanced NYC subway under NYTIP would include this extension.

II. Platform Straightening

One piece of low-hanging fruit I didn’t mention when I first published this post is platform straightening. Several stations sit on curves – some of them so tight that they leave large gaps.

One infamous example is 14th Street – Union Square on the Lexington Avenue line, which uses gap fillers to close the large gaps between trains and platforms. Recently, the Union Square Partnership released a plan to expand Union Square; naturally, this led to a question regarding platform straightening:

This wouldn’t be the first time the MTA embarked on a platform straightening project; the ongoing 42nd Street Shuttle improvement is one such project. However, there are other stations with dangerous gaps – mostly in the South Bronx on the IRT White Plains Road line – which I will now discuss.

West Farms Square – East Tremont Avenue

Not only does this station sit on a curve, but trains approaching this station from either direction must negotiate other curves; the curve from the north is especially sharp. Straightening this station requires a structural realignment, as follows:

[Fig. 6] West Farms Square realignment.

Part of the new structure would encroach onto NYCHA property, but this only affects a small part of an outdoor plaza and not the buildings.

In a recent post, vanshnookenraggen proposes going even further – straightening the line to remove the sharp curve entirely. Such a change requires a few property takings, but as the main casualty appears to be a parking lot, I can get behind it.

174th Street, Freeman Street, and Jackson Avenue Stations

Unlike West Farms Square station, platform straightening at these three stations does not require a structural realignment. Instead, straight platform extensions can replace the curved segments, as follows:

[Figs. 7, 8, 9] Platform straightening at 174th Street, Freeman Street, and Jackson Avenue stations, respectively.

Each platform straightening affords opportunities to construct new entrances and implement ADA upgrades, enhancing safety and encouraging ridership.

III. Additional Improvements

Here are additional examples of low-hanging fruit.

Aqueduct Racetrack Station

The Aqueduct Racetrack and Aqueduct – North Conduit Avenue stations are very close together, and the former only serves uptown trains. To improve E train service with minimal inconvenience:

Build a downtown platform at Aqueduct Racetrack, and abandon the North Conduit Avenue station.

[Fig. 10] Overview of the proposed Aqueduct improvement.

Consolidating these two stations at Aqueduct Racetrack improves E train service with minimal inconvenience to users of the existing North Conduit Avenue station. Potential entrances at Bristol Avenue or the corner of Eckford Avenue and Cohancy Street could accommodate North Conduit Avenue riders, and an additional entrance at Pitkin Avenue could further encourage ridership.

Broadway Station (Brooklyn) and Marcy Avenue Station

The Broadway El (J/M/Z) and Crosstown (G) lines intersect each other, but offer no transfers between them. There are two options for rectifying this problem.

Option 1: Replace the Hewes Street and Lorimer Street stations with the new Union Avenue – Broadway station

[Fig. 11] Option 1: Union Avenue – Broadway station.

The new station would be a local station with side platforms served by J and M trains. The station would include entrances and an in-system transfer to the G train’s Broadway station at its west end, and additional entrances at Middleton Street – one block from Lorimer Street – at its east end.

Option 2: Construct an in-system transfer between the Hewes Street and Broadway stations

[Fig. 12] Option 2: Hewes Street – Broadway in-system transfer. The white arrows show approximate locations of some closed entrances to the Broadway (G) station.

To facilitate this transfer, New Montrose Avenue would permanently close to cars; this allows sufficient space for the transfer and ensures ADA compliance. As of 03.24.2021, I am leaning on Option 2 since it is less disruptive to subway service.

Another optional enhancement for J/M/Z service in Brooklyn is reconstructing Marcy Avenue station with island platforms, as follows:

[Fig. 13] Optional Marcy Avenue island platform conversion.

This conversion would improve J/Z express service and significantly improve passenger circulation through the station.

Queens Boulevard

One of the busiest stops on the Queens Boulevard trunk line is a local stop – Woodhaven Boulevard. Over 6.38 million people used this station in 2019. The station serves the Queens Center Mall and is also a transit hub served by several buses, including the Q52 and Q53 Select Bus Service to the Rockaways.

Incidentally, the station contains provisions for express stop conversion. While the IND included this provision to support the unbuilt Second System, the heavy passenger traffic alone – not to mention the potential for major transit improvements – could justify such a conversion. Nevertheless, NYTIP will only contemplate this conversion in conjunction with subway expansion.

Final Thoughts

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the closed entrances systemwide. An obvious improvement is one echoed by other advocates:

Reopen closed entrances systemwide, and accelerate ADA accessibility.

This is the ultimate low-hanging fruit in the NYC Subway. Reopening closed entrances would increase the subway’s reach and encourage ridership. ADA accessibility would do the same. Unfortunately, Governor Cuomo’s “Enhanced Station Initiative” not only failed to make stations ADA compliant, it also doubled down on sealing these entrances! For example, formerly visible closed entrances at 174th-175th Streets on the Concourse line are now completely sealed. This is completely backwards. MTA should reopen these entrances and make the stations ADA compliant.

Taken together, this is the low-hanging fruit of NYC Subway expansion and improvement. These ideas – almost all of which use existing infrastructure – would improve travel for tens of thousands of people.

In my next post, I’ll return to point two – extend – and discuss the 7 train. Until next time!

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