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

UPDATE (12.11.2020): Post substantially revised with new extension options for Northeast Queens.

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 originally-proposed College Point route curved north at 149th Street, then west on 11th Avenue to what is now College Point Boulevard, whereas the proposed 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:

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

Given this, is a 7 train extension to Northeast Queens warranted today? In my view, the answer is a resounding YES! Let’s take a closer look.

Option 1a: Extension to College Point via 149th Street and 14th Avenue

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

Option 1a proposes a roughly 4-mile extension to College Point. Rather than take the originally-proposed 11th Avenue route, this extension traverses 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 service within 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 found that the 7 local service averages about 17.5 MPH between stations; an average speed of 17.5 MPH over 4 miles yields less than 14 minutes of travel time. 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 149th Street and 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 curve from 149th Street to 14th Avenue in Option 1a runs alongside a highway interchange, minimizing private property impacts.

Option 1c: Direct extension to College Point via Linden Place

[Fig. 6] Overview of Option 1c.

A recent Twitter thread discussed Northeast Queens transit improvements; among them was a direct 7 train extension to College Point. This extension is part of Alon Levy’s NYC Subway expansion plan. Unlike the historical circuitous alignments, Option 1c provides a relatively straight shot with stations near Flushing’s Town Hall and several shopping plazas. In a Twitter thread on the topic, I drafted potential alignments for this route; the desired alignment is the most direct, coming in at just under 2 miles from Main Street station:

(The 2.07-mile distance includes Main Street station, so the actual extension length is about 1.97 miles. Also, my Twitter thread includes a modified version of Option 1b that traverses Parsons Boulevard instead of 149th Street.)

At the same average speed of 17.5 MPH, the extended 7 takes less than 7 minutes to reach College Point from Main Street – roughly half the time of Option 1a.

Option 2: Extension to Bayside via Northern Boulevard

[Fig. 7] 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, Option 2 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, Northern Boulevard’s proximity to an existing commuter rail line doesn’t necessarily preclude an extension; compare Metro-North’s Harlem line and the 3rd Avenue branch of the SAS.

Option 3: Extension to Whitestone via 154th Street

My previous Options 3a/3b combined elements of Options 1a/1b with Option 2, forming two separate branches of the 7 train. For NYTIP, I am no longer pursuing branches of individual lines due to the resulting capacity constraints. Instead, consider this new Option 3 – a modified version of a plan advanced by Twitter user @Union_Tpke. This option provides a direct route to Whitestone via 154th Street, with stations at Parsons Boulevard, Northern Boulevard, Bayside Avenue, Willets Point Boulevard, Cross Island Parkway, and Whitestone Landing. While this extension provides direct service to Whitestone, it mainly traverses low-density areas, limiting its ridership potential.

Recommended path forward: Option 1c. This route provides the most direct service to College Point and serves both residents and businesses. Importantly, choosing this option does not preclude additional improvements in Northeast Queens, which I will explore in future posts.

Given that Queens is second only to Staten Island when it comes to driving to work and owning a car in NYC, extensions like this one are key to increasing transit’s mode share.

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. 8] 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 2a: Extension to Secaucus Junction via Hoboken

[Fig. 9] Overview of NJ Option 2a.

The purpose of NJ Option 2a 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.

NJ Option 2b: Extension to Hoboken

One way to reduce the costs associated with NJ Option 2a is terminating the 7 at Hoboken instead of Secaucus, where it retains connections to NJ Transit and PATH.

Another option?

Some time ago, I came across an interesting plan posted on a Facebook transit group. A group called Real Transit developed several rail improvement proposals, one of which was a new “Hudson Terminal” that would connect extensions of the 7 and L trains to an extension of NJ Transit service from Hoboken. I really liked this idea, and initially recommended it as part of NYTIP.

[Fig. 10] Overview of Real Transit’s Hudson Terminal plan, which includes the 7 and L train extensions.

However, this plan is no longer feasible as designed. The Hudson Terminal’s proposed location has since been built upon with not one, but two “floating parks” – Little Island and the Gansevoort Peninsula. There is also a smaller park at Pier 51 a few blocks south at Jane Street. While a modified Hudson Terminal may still be possible with some creative engineering, I think it’s best to move away from such; any commuter rail extension from Hoboken should be part of a regional rail network. I will explore different ways of conceiving such a network in future posts.

In light of these developments, NYTIP does not recommend the Hudson Terminal. I will also leave the L line as is, for now. It is possible to construct tail tracks west of the L train’s 8th Avenue terminus to permit service increases; these tail tracks can also serve as a provision for future extension.

Recommended path forward: NJ Option 2b. This option provides subway coverage in Manhattan’s far west side and enhances the existing transit hub at Hoboken.

My next post in this volume discusses subway extensions made possible by fully de-interlining the Queens Boulevard trunk line. Until next time!

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

  1. I just came up with something. I could create the 11 train for the Flushing Line. But I would have to figure out where the 11 would be.

    Like

    1. Hi Joseph:
      Are you thinking of a 7/11 split similar to Option 3? This was my initial choice, but I reverted to Option 1a because I don’t think we should build subways with artificially-limited capacity.

      Put another way, if I send the 7 extension to College Point, then a new Northern Boulevard subway and/or enhanced service on the LIRR’s Port Washington branch takes the Bayside corridor.

      Like

  2. Sorry. I once tried the 7 on 2 different lines but it just went between two stations
    like this.

    [nerdy.nel: Link removed since it doesn’t work.]

    Like

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