NYTIP – extending the nyc subway, part 5c: southeast queens

UPDATE (12.27.2020): Post revised with modified extension recommendations and updated images.

Welcome back to my NYTIP series! The borough of Queens, despite its size, has little subway coverage in its eastern half. Previously, I discussed options for serving Northeast Queens by extending the Flushing line. In this post, I explore options for providing subway coverage in Southeast Queens.

Note: Click any image to enlarge.

Subway coverage in Southeast Queens is bare today, but plans for such were anything but!

Consider, as I’ve often mentioned, the unbuilt IND Second System:

[Fig. 1] Snippet of the 1929 IND Second System plan showing proposed routes in SE Queens.

[Fig. 2] Snippet of the 1939 IND Second System plan showing proposed routes in SE Queens. Note the contrast to the 1929 plan.

The 1929 plan included the following routes:

  • Liberty Avenue El (branch of today’s A train): extension to Queens Village via Brinkerhoff and Hollis Avenues.
  • Jamaica Avenue El (J train): extension to 180th Street, then south to meet proposed Liberty Avenue El extension.
  • Van Wyck Boulevard branch of the Queens Boulevard subway.
  • A new trunk line through Central Queens, beginning at the proposed South 4th Street station in Brooklyn and continuing eastward, running roughly parallel to today’s M train. The line contained branches to the Rockaways via the LIRR Rockaway Beach branch and Cambria Heights via Rockaway Boulevard, Baisley Boulevard, and 120th Avenue.

The 1939 plan included the following routes:

  • Hillside Avenue subway extension to what is now Little Neck Parkway.
  • Van Wyck Boulevard branch of the Queens Boulevard subway.
  • Fulton Street subway extension to Cambria Heights – 229th Street via Pitkin Avenue and Linden Boulevard, with a connection to the Rockaways.

Of these, New York only built a small piece of the Van Wyck Boulevard branch (part of the Archer Avenue subway) and the Rockaway line south of Liberty Avenue (now the Rockaway branch of the A train). The Archer Avenue line in particular was mired in controversy and plagued by delays, finally opening in 1988 after some 15 years of construction – and even then, it was only partially built! (The 1968 Program for Action called for extensions both east and south of the current Jamaica Center terminus.)

Combined with the loss of the Jamaica Avenue El east of 121st Street station, the result was a net loss in subway coverage in SE Queens. The saving grace, however, is that the subways in Southeast Queens contain provisions for expansion. Let’s explore them, shall we?

I. Hillside Avenue

The Hillside Avenue subway is the eastern end of the Queens Boulevard subway, beginning just south of Briarwood station and continuing east to Jamaica – 179th Street station. It is currently served by F trains; however, under NYTIP, both F and K trains serve the station.

Past the terminus, there is a bilevel storage area that also serves as a provision for eastward extension:

[Fig. 3] Track map showing the east end of the Hillside Avenue subway and storage tracks. (The original track map belongs to vanshnookenraggen.)

The storage tracks aren’t the only provision. Hillside Avenue widens significantly between 218th Street and 231st Street as a provision for both the Hillside Avenue subway extension (Springfield Boulevard station) and an underpass for through traffic:

[Fig. 4] Hillside Avenue subway and underpass provisions near Springfield Boulevard.

Hillside Avenue, a major arterial street in Queens, sees high traffic volumes. Per the NYS Daily Traffic Viewer, with data as of 2019, the stretch between Queens Boulevard and Francis Lewis Boulevard has an estimated Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) count of 28,626 vehicles; notably, the part of this stretch east of the subway also has a high AADT with nearly 22,000 vehicles. Further east, AADT ranges from over 16,000 vehicles to over 26,000 vehicles; the higher counts are in the vicinity of the Clearview Expressway and the Cross-Island Parkway.

Owing to both the heavy traffic and the moderately high density of the Hillside Avenue corridor east of 179th Street:

Extend the Hillside Avenue subway to New Hyde Park.

[Fig. 5] Overview of the Hillside Avenue subway extension, via Brand New Subway.

[Figs. 6, 7] Hillside Avenue subway extension overlaid on 2018 population density map. Density map developed by Jim Herries as part of the Urban Observatory project.

In a previous update, I proposed an extension to Floral Park. However, vanshnookenraggen made a good point on Twitter concerning density and employment in Glen Oaks:

And he’s right. As Figs. 6 and 7 show, the new stations indeed serve dense areas. In addition, the Creedmoor Hospital complex, which spans Hillside Avenue from Winchester Boulevard to 240th Street, has several abandoned buildings and sites amenable to transit-oriented development.

Note: NYTIP is agnostic on the exact alignment between Winchester Boulevard and Commonwealth Boulevard stations. In the Twitter thread linked above, vanshnookenraggen proposed a direct alignment that runs under some private property; if adopted, the Winchester Boulevard station shifts northward to Seward Avenue. Otherwise, an alternate alignment such as that shown in Figure 7 could connect the stations.

II. Archer Avenue

[Fig. 8] Track map of the Archer Avenue subway. (Original track map by vanshnookenraggen.)

At present, the Archer Avenue subway consists of just three stations: Jamaica – Van Wyck, Sutphin Boulevard – JFK Airport, and Jamaica Center. The E train serves all three stations and traverses the Archer Avenue subway’s upper level, while the J train serves Sutphin Boulevard and Jamaica Center on the lower level. There is no physical connection between the two levels. As vanshnookenraggen’s track map shows, both levels contain provisions for future extension.

Upper Level Extension

The original plan called for extending the upper level to Springfield Boulevard via the LIRR Atlantic Branch. The upper-level tail tracks curve southward just east of Jamaica Center, running under 160th Street to Tuskegee Airmen Way. Somewhere south of here, the line would’ve emerged and taken over the LIRR right-of-way. NYTIP contemplates two possible extension options – one of which is a modification of the original plan.

Option 1: Extension via LIRR Atlantic Branch to Green Acres

[Fig. 9] Overview of Option 1.

Rather than terminating at Springfield Boulevard, Option 1 proposes an extension further east to Green Acres, taking advantage of the buildable space around the right-of-way. To minimize costs, Option 1 retains existing stations on this right-of-way and converts them to subway stations. (Option 1 would include a replacement Rosedale station for LIRR trains, which would run via St. Albans.) Thus, only 4 of the 7 new stations require full construction.

While this option is beneficial from a cost and coverage perspective, it would create a “squeeze” on the LIRR’s south shore services – the Far Rockaway, West Hempstead, Long Beach, Babylon, and Montauk branches would have to share two tracks through St. Albans. In particular, the Babylon branch is one of the busiest branches in the system. Owing both to this and the regional rail implications of the existing LIRR rights-of-way in Southeast Queens, let us consider a second option.

Option 2: Extension to Cambria Heights via Linden Boulevard

[Fig. 10] Overview of Option 2.

Option 2 uses the same provision as Option 1. Rather than taking over the LIRR Atlantic Branch, the line curves eastward, briefly running parallel to said branch before curving further east onto Linden Boulevard. This alignment coincides with the east end of the proposed IND Fulton Street subway extension plan from 1939.

As it turns out, such a line would serve areas of moderately high density in South Jamaica, St. Albans, and Cambria Heights:

[Fig. 11] Overview of Option 2 overlaid on 2018 population density map.

Only the proposed 229th Street terminus is in a less dense area – and even here, there are some small businesses and a post office which could serve as an anchor.

Recommended path forward: Option 2. Owing to the regional rail implications of the existing LIRR infrastructure in Southeast Queens (which I will explore in future posts), NYTIP recommends Option 2 for the E train extension.

Lower Level Extension

Original plans called for extending the lower level to Hollis via Archer Avenue. This would’ve been a de facto extension of the former Jamaica El, which once ran to 168th Street. While part of this extension would parallel the Hillside Avenue subway, NYTIP nevertheless recommends this extension.

[Fig. 12] Overview of the Hollis extension.

Through the Hollis extension, the J serves three new stations at 168th Street, 177th Street, and Hollis – 190th Street. The Hollis extension provides an additional subway link to the 165th Street bus terminal on 89th Avenue, roughly two blocks north of the proposed 168th Street station.

This extension eliminates the capacity constraint caused by the Jamaica Center terminal’s inefficient design; when combined with de-interlining, it allows significant service increases on the J. To facilitate these increases, NYTIP proposes eliminating skip-stop service and the Z train, and implementing “diamond J” peak express service similar to the diamond 6 and diamond 7 peak express services. The diamond J operates the full route and runs express in the peak direction between Broadway Junction and Marcy Avenue stations, while the J local makes all stops from Crescent Street, Brooklyn to Broad Street, Manhattan. To make the diamond J more attractive:

Potential capital investment: construct the Jamaica Avenue express track between Crescent Street and Sutphin Boulevard – JFK Airport stations.

[Fig. 13] Track map of the Jamaica Avenue El with new express track.

By utilizing an existing provision, the diamond J can run express from Sutphin Boulevard – JFK Airport station to Marcy Avenue station. (In this case, both J local and J express trains make all stops between Crescent Street and Broadway Junction.) NYTIP recommends eliminating existing switches near 111th Street and 121st Street stations, while adding new switches around Woodhaven Boulevard station for operational flexibility. Given the transit connections available at Woodhaven Boulevard, an optional investment is converting this station to an express stop. With the J fully de-interlined, both the J local and J express would run frequently, improving service for thousands of riders.

III. Liberty Avenue

The Liberty Avenue El was originally the eastern end of the Fulton Street El. The IND Fulton Street subway made most of the Fulton Street El obsolete, leading to its demolition west of 80th Street station in Queens by 1956. The A train serves the remaining segment to this day, though only half of the total A train service serves the stretch east of Rockaway Boulevard.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, the 1929 plan called for a Liberty Avenue El extension all the way to Queens Village. NYTIP does not contemplate such an extension; however, an opportunity exists to improve service using this structure.

Potential capital investment: extend the Liberty Avenue El to Jamaica Station.

[Fig. 14] Overview of the Liberty Avenue extension.

This short extension brings the Liberty Avenue El to Jamaica Station with two intermediate stops, offering connections to the E and J trains, the LIRR, the JFK AirTrain, and several buses. An alternative to building the 127th Street station is relocating the Lefferts Boulevard station so that it runs between Lefferts Boulevard and 121st Street instead of between 116th Street and Lefferts Boulevard. While this extension is infrastructurally feasible, it isn’t operationally feasible due to Jamaica Station’s high ridership and the split A train service. I will explore ways to increase service on both the Lefferts and Rockaway branches in future posts.

Taken together, each of these extensions would change the transport landscape of Southeast Queens, reducing car dependency and increasing transit’s mode share and reliability.

Next up on NYTIP, I will publish my updated post on subway extensions in Brooklyn. Until next time!

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