NYTIP – extending the nyc subway, part 4: the flushing line

UPDATE (10.15.2020): Post lightly edited to correct location of optional el portal on the Bayside extension.

Welcome back to my NYTIP series! Nowhere is the need for subway extension more pronounced than Eastern Queens, which has very little subway service at all. In this post, which is the first of two covering Eastern Queens extensions, I will explore options for extending the Flushing line (today’s 7 train) to fill the gap in Northeast Queens. This post also explores westward extension options.

Note: Click any image to enlarge.

I. Eastward extension of the Flushing line

As with most NYC subway expansion plans, proposed eastward extensions of the Flushing Line go way back – in this case, 107 years! The Flushing – Main Street station, which is the busiest in Queens, wasn’t intended as a terminal. Indeed, there were two competing extension proposals – one to College Point and one to Bayside.

The infamous 1929 IND Second System plan also included these extensions…

[Fig. 1] Snippet of the 1929 IND Second System plan showing proposed College Point and Bayside extensions.

…as did NYC’s 1939 subway expansion plan:

[Fig. 2] Snippet of the 1939 subway expansion plan with the College Point and Bayside branches.

The historical College Point route curved north at 149th Street, then west on 11th Avenue to what is now College Point Boulevard, whereas the Bayside route originally traversed Roosevelt Avenue, Station Road, and 38th Avenue to 221st Street. Both routes would’ve emerged onto els after a short distance; the College Point branch would’ve emerged at 149th Street around 35th Avenue, while the Bayside branch would’ve emerged near Northern Boulevard around 155th Street.

Incidentally, there used to be rail service near College Point – namely, the LIRR’s Whitestone branch. There were even plans for the IRT to take over the branch, which would’ve extended the Flushing line to College Point and Whitestone. However, that never materialized, so the LIRR ended service on this branch in 1932 and abandoned the line. Very little trace of it remains.

As you can guess, all of the other plans went nowhere too.

Which is a shame, because Northeast Queens contains considerable population density today. (EDIT: Replaced 2010 population density map with 2018 map.)

[Fig. 3] Population density map of Northeast Queens. This map uses population estimates from 2018.

Given this, would either – or both – of these extensions be warranted today? In my view, the answer is a resounding YES! Let’s take a closer look.

Option 1a: Extension to College Point via 14th Avenue

[Fig. 4] Overview of option 1a, via Brand New Subway.

Rather than take the historically-proposed 11th Avenue route, Option 1a proposes a roughly 4-mile extension to College Point via 14th Avenue. There are two reasons for this – one, 14th Avenue is wider than 11th Avenue and thus more amenable to a subway extension. Two, it provides closer proximity to the businesses in College Point. Despite the circuitous route, the extension may actually provide faster service than the Q65 bus, which takes about 18-22 minutes to travel from College Point to Flushing. A 2010 analysis determined the 7 local service averages about 17.5 MPH between stations; an average speed of 17.5 MPH over 4 miles yields a travel time just under 14 minutes. Given that CBTC is now live on the Flushing line, it may be slightly faster than that.

While previous proposals called for a mostly-elevated extension, I expect a larger portion of this route – if not the whole route – to remain underground. That said, the west edge of Flushing Fields and the south side of the Cross Island Parkway are potential candidates for el portals.

Option 1b: Extension to College Point via 20th Avenue

[Fig. 5] Overview of Option 1b.

Option 1b provides a shorter extension to College Point, albeit at the expense of serving the neighborhoods of Whitestone and Malba. The purpose of the 20th Avenue alignment is to provide service closer to the businesses near the Whitestone Expressway, as well as the College Point shopping plaza. One potential difficulty is the curve from 149th Street to 20th Avenue, which would likely run under private property and thus face opposition; in contrast, the 14th Avenue alignment in Option 1a would curve near a highway interchange, minimizing private property impacts.

Option 2: Extension to Bayside via Northern Boulevard

[Fig. 6] Overview of Option 2.

Option 2 extends the Flushing line to Bayside via Northern Boulevard – also a slight deviation from historical plans – for simplicity. While prior proposals extended the line to Bell Boulevard, NYTIP proposes an extension past Bell Boulevard to Queensborough Community College. As with the College Point extension, the line could be fully underground or partially elevated. Northern Boulevard is wide enough to support an el portal in its median; one likely candidate for said portal is immediately east of 158th Street.

In fairness, one could argue that the LIRR’s Port Washington branch could cover the Bayside corridor if it had more frequent service – which is exactly what the Regional Plan Association’s T-REX proposal contemplates. However, a similar situation exists in The Bronx with Metro-North’s Harlem line and a hypothetical 3rd Avenue branch of the SAS. The same could also be said of the LIRR mainline and the Queens Boulevard subway. The point here is that the Port Washington branch’s existence wouldn’t necessarily preclude a Northern Boulevard extension.

Option 3: Build both the College Point and Bayside extensions

[Figs. 7, 8] Overview of Option 3. The difference between Option 3a (top) and Option 3b (bottom) is the College Point extension alignment; Option 3a uses 14th Avenue and Option 3b uses 20th Avenue.

Option 3 combines Options 1 and 2, closely resembling the historical extension plans. Under Option 3, the 7 train splits into two branches – one serving College Point and one serving Bayside. Since the 7 train from Flushing to points west runs frequently for most of the day, trains would run every 4 minutes or better on each branch during rush hours and every 8 minutes or better off-peak. Under NYTIP, with the LIRR Port Washington branch technically providing “express” service to Manhattan, all 7 express trains run to College Point and all 7 local trains run to Bayside.

Given that the Northern Boulevard station on the College Point branch and the 150th Street station on the Bayside branch are close to each other, a potential cost-saving move is consolidating the two at 149th Street. (EDIT: Previously, I said 147th Street; however, at 149th Street, you could orient the College Point branch station north-south to reach Northern Blvd, while orienting the Bayside branch station east-west.) Such a station would likely have two levels to allow for branch splitting and additional entrances to encourage ridership.

Recommended path forward: Option 3a. This option provides substantial subway coverage in developed areas of Northeast Queens, which should increase transit’s mode share. Queens is second only to Staten Island when it comes to driving to work and owning a car in NYC, and the lack of subway coverage in Eastern Queens is a major reason why.

Alternate recommendation: Option 1a. If it’s not possible to build both branches, NYTIP recommends prioritizing the College Point branch over the Bayside branch. The reason is simple – an alternative exists for Bayside, but not College Point.

II. Westward extension of the Flushing line

At its west end, the Flushing line originally terminated at Times Square. In 2015, after a two-year delay, the city opened a one-stop extension to 34th Street – Hudson Yards. The extension originally included a station at 10th Avenue and 41st Street, but the city cut it due to rising costs. It is still possible to build 10th Avenue – 41st Street as an infill station, which NYTIP recommends.

As the city constructed the Hudson Yards extension, then-mayor Michael Bloomberg also proposed extending the 7 further west to Secaucus Junction in New Jersey. The proposed extension functions as an “East Side Access” for New Jersey. In fact, the urgently-needed Gateway Program conceives tunnels that harmonize with a 7 extension to Secaucus:

[Fig. 9] Proposed Gateway tunnel alignment. (SOURCE)

(I always wondered why the proposed Gateway tunnel took such a curve instead of running parallel to the North River tunnels.)

In any case, the Secaucus extension is one option for extending the 7 past Hudson Yards. But there are others I’d like to explore.

NJ Option 2: Extension to Secaucus Junction via Hoboken

[Fig. 10] Overview of NJ Option 2.

The purpose of Option 2 is to provide service along Manhattan’s far West Side, with stations at 23rd Street – Chelsea Piers and 14th Street. The line then enters New Jersey with stations at Hoboken, Bergen Arches (near Journal Square), and Secaucus. West of Hoboken, the line would traverse the Bergen Arches – an unused railroad right-of-way – en route to Secaucus. While this option provides stations at several hubs and points of interest, it is certainly costlier than the “straight shot” extension to Secaucus that coincides with Gateway. (EDIT: To reduce costs, the 7 could terminate at Hoboken instead of Secaucus, where it retains connections to NJ Transit and PATH.)

NJ Option 3: Extension to both Secaucus and Hoboken

[Fig. 11] Overview of NJ Option 3.

Given the 7 train’s high frequency, another option is branching the 7 line to serve both Secaucus and Hoboken. This option doesn’t include the Bergen Arches alignment because it’d be somewhat redundant under this option, given the branch to Secaucus. In any case, the aforementioned T-REX plan includes a new station at Bergen Arches for NJ Transit trains running via Hoboken.

While this option provides greater coverage than the Secaucus extension alone, it results in less-frequent service on each branch past 34th Street – Hudson Yards.

This option is agnostic on local/express assignment, but I’m inclined to send 7 express trains to Hoboken and 7 local trains to Secaucus.

EDIT: I recently came across an interesting plan posted on a Facebook transit group. A group called Real Transit developed several rail improvement proposals, one of which is directly relevant to this post. I will explore that option below.

NJ Option 4 – Extend the 7 and L trains to the new Hudson Terminal

[Fig. 12] Overview of NJ Option 4.

[Fig. 13] Overview of Real Transit’s Hudson Terminal plan, which includes the 7 and L train extensions.

Real Transit proposes a new Hudson Terminal (likely built on landfill) just off 14th Street and 11th Avenue. The new terminal would host NJ Transit trains that currently run to Hoboken; the 7 and L train extensions, therefore, would establish this new terminal as a major transit hub that could take some pressure off of Penn Station.

Personally, I like this plan. However, in light of the need for through-running regional rail, NYTIP would modify this plan. Whereas Real Transit’s plan calls for four tracks to run under the Hudson before fanning out into 26 terminal tracks, NYTIP proposes using two of those four tracks for regional rail, while two tracks continue to a smaller Hudson Terminal. (The two tracks would fan out into additional terminal tracks, but probably far fewer than 26. I will expound on my ideas for regional rail – and how they differ from T-REX – in future posts.)

Unlike the other westward extension options, the 7 does not enter New Jersey. Instead, the Hudson Terminal serves as the connecting point between the subway and NJ Transit services.

Recommended path forward: NJ Option 4. While all options other than the straight-to-Secaucus plan extend the 7 further down the far West Side, this option also creates a new transit hub that may take some pressure off existing hubs.

Alternate recommendation: NJ Option 2. This option maintains connectivity to New Jersey while providing greater coverage in Manhattan’s far West Side.

My next post in this volume discusses subway extension options for Southeast Queens. Until next time!

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