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

Welcome back to my NYTIP series! The borough of Queens, despite its size, has little subway coverage in its eastern half. In my last post, 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 (today’s J/Z trains): 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 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 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 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 Archer Avenue subway – and the Hillside Avenue subway to the north – contain provisions for further extension. Let’s explore them – and the rationale for building each one.

I. Hillside Avenue subway

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, the M train can also serve Hillside Avenue to improve service.

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

[Fig. 3] Snippet of vanshnookenraggen’s track map showing the east end of the Hillside Avenue subway and storage tracks.

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 (which recently underwent a major overhaul and now includes 2019 traffic estimates), 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 Queens Village, or further to Glen Oaks.

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

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

NYTIP contemplates a two-track extension to Queens Village with 3 new stations, with an option for further extension to Glen Oaks with an additional 4 stations. The project could consist of two phases, or a single phase. Of the 7 new stations, 4 of them – 188th Street, Francis Lewis Boulevard, Springfield Boulevard, and Commonwealth Boulevard – are located in or near highly-dense areas. 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.

While the 1939 plan called for an extension to Little Neck Parkway, NYTIP takes this plan one step further and extends the line to 268th Street at the Queens-Nassau County border. There are some small businesses and a shopping plaza in this area, providing an anchor for the proposed terminal.

II. Archer Avenue subway

[Fig. 7] Overview of the Archer Avenue subway. 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 and Z trains serve 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. 8] 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. 9] Overview of Option 2.

Option 2 uses the same provision as Option 1. However, instead of 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; however, the purpose of this alignment isn’t nostalgia.

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

[Fig. 10] Overview of Option 2 overlaid on 2018 population density map.

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

This option is likely pricier than Option 1 since it involves all-new construction instead of converting an existing right-of-way.

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 and Jamaica Avenues. 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 extension, NYTIP nevertheless recommends:

Extension to Hollis, or further to Queens Village.

[Fig. 11] Overview of the Hollis extension.

As with the Hillside Avenue subway extension, the Hollis extension project could consist of two phases, or a single phase. The first three stations – 168th Street, 177th Street, and 190th Street – coincide with the original extension plan, while the next three stations – 109th Avenue, Francis Lewis Boulevard, and Springfield Boulevard – close the gap between the Hillside Avenue and Linden Boulevard extensions.

There is considerable population density along the Jamaica Avenue/Hollis Avenue corridor…

[Fig. 12] Hollis extension overlaid on 2018 population density map.

…which makes this extension worthwhile. To allow for future service increases on the J/Z line, NYTIP recommends building the 168th Street station as a bilevel station (or at least include a provision for such construction) to allow local trains to terminate and express trains to continue eastward.

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.

In my next post, I’ll explore the Nostrand Avenue corridor in Brooklyn and other optional line extension options for the subway system at large. Until next time!

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