UPDATE (09.19.2021): Post substantially revised for clarity. This update includes new commentary and updated images.
Welcome to my ongoing NYTIP series! Recall my three-point plan to fix the NYC Subway – enhance, extend, and expand. In this post, I will address “low-hanging fruit” opportunities to enhance the NYC Subway.
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
10th Avenue – 41st Street
One of the most obvious candidates for an infill station is the planned – but unbuilt – 10th Avenue station on the 7 line extension. This station would serve Manhattan’s bustling Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Though the only evidence of a planned station is a change in the tunnel profile from curved to straight, it is still feasible to build it. Given the immense benefits such a station would provide, the enhanced NYC subway under NYTIP would include the 10th Avenue – 41st Street station.
Leveraging Subway Yards
Consider the Harlem – 148th Street terminal on the 3 line. This is an example of an infill station built in a yard. There are other yards amenable to infill stations – with some modifications, of course.
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, such an extension isn’t necessary.
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.
Potential capital investment: construct infill stations at Livonia and Pitkin Yards.
[Fig. 3] 5 and E train extensions to their respective yards on Linden Boulevard.
On the 5 line, the Livonia Yard is elevated between the Elton and Linwood playgrounds and Stanley Avenue. The proposed station is at the center of the yard between Linden Boulevard and Stanley Avenue with entrances at both ends.
On the E line, the Pitkin Yard is partially decked over – the Linden Plaza apartments sit atop the yard – and there are other housing complexes in close proximity. The proposed station is on the west side of the yard near the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Linden Boulevard; it includes an entrance at Linden Boulevard near Lincoln Avenue and, if feasible, another entrance at Dumont Avenue and Lincoln Avenue.
Given the benefits, the enhanced NYC subway under NYTIP would include both of these infill stations.
Under NYTIP, the W train extends to Jamaica – 179th Street to relieve congestion at the existing Forest Hills – 71st Avenue terminus. However, with M trains terminating at Forest Hills, congestion could still occur. Several options exist to address this issue.
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, the proposed station would be on the yard’s east side, as shown in the figure below.
[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 local service increases on the Queens Boulevard corridor. Because of this, I originally included this station in NYTIP. However, the QueensLink proposal – which I think is a good idea – complicates this.
If built, the QueensLink would send the M train via the Rockaway Beach branch and extend the G train via Queens Boulevard to replace the M. In this case, the G could serve the Kew Gardens Hills station to mitigate congestion at Forest Hills. However, if the goal for Queens Boulevard is full de-interlining, then a maximum of two local services should serve Queens Boulevard. With one of those locals serving QueensLink, it makes more sense to send the second local to 179th Street than Kew Gardens Hills.
Thus, the enhanced NYC Subway under NYTIP would not include the Kew Gardens Hills station. Instead, I’m leaning on a one-stop M train extension to Parkside – Metropolitan Avenue and an express stop conversion at Woodhaven Boulevard using existing provisions, as recommended in the QueensLink report.
Note that I’m not proposing a phased approach to QueensLink. Rather, the segment from the Queens Boulevard line to Parkside would be a “minimum operating segment” designed to relieve congestion at Forest Hills while the rest of QueensLink gets built. Though I don’t think the M should run to Far Rockaway or Rockaway Park due to a merging conflict with the A, the extended M could serve Howard Beach or JFK’s Central Terminal Area without merging. I’ll discuss these options further in a future post.
The Aqueduct Racetrack and Aqueduct – North Conduit Avenue stations are very close together, and the former only serves northbound trains. To improve A train service with minimal inconvenience:
Build island platforms at Aqueduct Racetrack, and abandon the North Conduit Avenue station.
[Fig. 6] Overview of the proposed Aqueduct improvement.
Originally, I proposed a southbound side platform at Aqueduct Racetrack. However, converting Aqueduct Racetrack to island platforms allows for future QueensLink integration without merging conflicts.
The converted station retains the existing entrance to Resorts World and adds two new entrances – one at Pitkin Avenue and one at Hawtree Street; the latter obviates the need for the North Conduit Avenue station. These changes result in a slight speed improvement for A train riders on the Rockaway line.
II. The Canal Street Flip
[Fig. 7] Overview of the Canal Street Flip, a.k.a. Canal Flip.
I first learned of the Canal Flip through the Regional Plan Association’s Save our Subways publication. At first, I wasn’t a fan because I felt such a drastic change wasn’t necessary to de-interline Broadway or South Brooklyn. However, the Canal Flip’s real purpose isn’t de-interlining.
The thread includes a link to the 1999 Manhattan East Side Transit Alternatives Study (MESA), which discusses the Canal Flip in detail. As shown in Figure 7, the Canal Flip is a capital investment that restores the original Broadway express tracks, extends the upper level platforms to meet said tracks, and reroutes the Broadway local tracks to the lower level platforms and the Manhattan Bridge. Combined with a proposed extension to Lexington Avenue – 125th Street via SAS, the Canal Flip would make the Broadway express a viable alternative to the overcrowded Lexington Avenue line.
As a complement to the SAS, the Canal Flip is a good plan. However, for maximal benefit, the SAS must reach Lexington Avenue – 125th Street at minimum. Thus, this investment should be deferred. I think integrating the Canal Flip with SAS Phase 2 is a viable path forward.
III. 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 Lex, which uses gap fillers to bridge the 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 recently-completed 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. 8] 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 have no problem with 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. 9, 10, 11] 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.
IV. Other Improvements
Here are additional examples of low-hanging fruit.
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. 12] 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. 13] 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, allowing sufficient space for the transfer and ensuring ADA compliance. As of 09.19.2021, I am still 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. 14] Optional Marcy Avenue island platform conversion.
This conversion would improve J/Z express service and significantly improve passenger circulation through the station.
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 full 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. Full ADA accessibility would do the same.
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 many subway riders.