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!

6 thoughts on “NYTIP – extending the nyc subway, part 5c: southeast queens

      1. I was trying to say it would reduce confusion if was labeled as Z train
        Since both would run express mytre ave and Marcy ave And both run local in manhattans

        Liked by 1 person

  1. There was an error with the other post. The Jamaica express line to me is a great concept but it’s only a minor improvement compared to the real needs of the people.the Jamaica line is basically a dinosaur and outdated the design itself limits service while I would love to demolish and tear down the Jamaica Elevated we can’t realistic do that because let’s be honest THAT WOULD BE A TERRIBLE IDEA SINCE WE WOULD BE MAKING THE SAME MISTAKE WITH AS WE DID WITH THE 3RD AVE LINE ALL THOSE YEARS AGO so I have a plan to reimagine it to better serve modern customers. I mean I’m satisfied that the mta a repairing some of its stations but disappointed in the fact that they don’t want to try to expand it. I mean if we need to repair the majority of the line then why are we just doing it to better serve the needs for the PRESENT? Let’s sit back and see what investments and extension will be needed for the FUTURE! I have a plan that would make better use of the proposed 2nd ave line and help out Williamburg. Let’s start off with the Manhattan bridge so first let’s rework the existing tunnels built for the Chrystie St Connection. The current express tracks (used by the B/D trains to reach the Manhattan Bridge) would be severed from 6th Av and connected directly to 2nd Av. This would only require digging under the northern section of Sara Roosevelt Park. 2nd Av trains would take over for the B/D the full time K train would take over for the D via 4th Av-West End to Coney Island and the weekday only V would take over for the B to Brighton Beach.
    Pros
    1. Pairing the Broadway Line with the new 2nd Ave Line would give riders a new one seat option to get to either the west or east sides of Manhattan (or rather central Manhattan and the east side).
    2. This would immediately have a major positive impact on transfers at overcrowded midtown stations like 59th/Lexington Ave and 53rd/Lexington Ave and to a lesser extent Grand central Union sq and canal st.
    3. This frees up capacity on 6th Av to be used to serve Williamsburg.
    4. The 2nd ave line can be included into the rest of the MTA network
    Cons
    1. Brooklyn Riders would lose access to the 6th ave lines
    2. Riders made oppose this serve change
    3. If major rerouted are needed on the 6th ave line like the rebuilding project the service would be SCREWED.
    4. This might be too expensive and you know how Andrew “I hate the mta” cuomo is (Pardon the pun)

    Now for Williamsburg so first we must rebuild the line from Marcy ave to myrtle ave to handle bigger and longer train cars. Next as I stated before shifting the 6th Ave express trains from the Manhattan Bridge through a new East River tunnel to Williamsburg. This new 2 track tunnel will continue east under Houston St with a station between Clinton St/Ave B and Pitt St/Ave C the el would be bury from Havermeyer St (so right off the bridge) where it will meet up with the new tunnel to Manhattan and then run out to Lenoard St where a new portal will be built to connect with the existing el out to Jamaica. the J would be rerouted and run up to queens via a new subway line up Myrtle ave. The B/D would go down to Broadway junction with the B/D train serving wiallimburg the M train could be rerouted to provide express service for the culver line. I was thinking maybe sending the B train to queens but I was proposing to extend the line to Long Island expressway. And I didn’t want to make the train route too long but it would be cool to see the B train serve all four boroughs at once. But anyways the Z train would temporarily be eliminated and absorbed into the J train for a short duration. The Canarsie line would be connected to the eastern half of the Jamaica line the Z train would then be restored as a Canarsie line serving all of the Jamaica line stops the new line would be built on Jamaica ave to remove curves allowing for more faster service.

    Pros
    1.Riding at wiallimsburg would have a one seat ride to either lower Manhattan or midtown
    2.Also freed up is the capacity along the 6th Av local, now used by the M train, which can now be used for express service along the Culver Line
    3. The Long Island expressway would have a subway line
    4.This would greatly reduce crowding on the L train
    5. The lengthen cars would allow more passengers to ride the trains
    6. Canarsie Riders would have a one seat ride to archer ave
    7.the Jamaica line would be reimagined to better serve the people
    Cons
    1. People may oppose this at this don’t want elevated lines running nearby gardens and parks.
    2. This made require shutdowns pissing off even more people
    3. Jamaica rider from archer ave to Alabama ave would lose access to lower Manhattan
    4. This made be too expansive. And too long too build

    How I propose we can deal with opposition and backlash is by having a much more bolder planning that engages with residents sooner. Instead of the traditional top down approach the MTA should work with the communities to find the best solutions based on residents needs and develop plans from these. Citizens are more likely to support more expensive, even disruptive projects if they feel they are part of the planning and understand how it will help their lives. You know let’s describe how these projects would help them out. What do you think

    [nerdy.nel: Noted. I deleted the comment with the error. I will respond to this comment later.]

    Like

    1. This is a lot to digest. Honestly, I think this plan creates more problems than it solves.

      For starters, integrating the 2nd Avenue trunk into the greater NYC Subway system doesn’t require severing the existing Chrystie Street connections (you would, however, have to expand the existing Grand Street station). You also don’t have to sever Chrystie to send a branch of SAS to South Brooklyn if demand for such a service exists.

      Secondly, I don’t see a need for a one-seat ride from Canarsie to Archer. The existing system already accommodates such ridership with a change at Broadway Junction. Capital funds are better spent elsewhere.

      The other lines (particularly the LIE line) are interesting, though I wouldn’t build such by rerouting the B or D trains.

      Now, platform lengthening in the Eastern Division is a good idea. It may not be as expensive as you think; these stations could originally accommodate 8-car trains of BMT Standard cars (67 feet), allowing for 536-foot trains. Thus, you’d only need to extend the platforms about 60 feet or so for a 600-foot train.

      The boldness of the plan isn’t so much the issue – my plans for NYTIP are also bold! But any bold plan should address extant issues and, to the fullest extent possible, avoid creating new ones.

      Like

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