Home Asides An expansive rail solution for Southeast Queens

An expansive rail solution for Southeast Queens

by Benjamin Kabak

Southeast Queens — the area of the city’s largest borough out beyond JFK Airport — currently sits in something of a transit dead zone. It’s served by subway lines on the north and south and has the AirTrain and LIRR tracks running through certain neighborhoods, but the rail transit options are not integrated in a way that promotes convenient or face commutes from the eastern edges of New York City into Manhattan’s Central Business District. While certain bus rapid transit/select bus service plans are on the table to address some Jamaica-area bus service improvements, rail options are rather mentioned by planners looking to improve access.

In an interesting and thorough piece at The Transport Politic, Yonah Freemark explores a few solutions to the Southeast Queens problem. He first proposes a city-subsidized fare for Long Island Rail Road that would keep intra-city travel costs the same as a MetroCard swipe. Doing so would allow for faster, better and cheaper commutes for residents in the Queens neighborhoods such as Rosedale and Queens Village that are serviced by LIRR but not New York City Transit. He then proposes a few additional stops in southeast Queens and urges a new Jamaica-to-Howard Beach AirTrain line that would serve as a connector between the A and E/J/Z with stops at Liberty Ave. and Linden and Archer Blvds.

Freemark’s plan is an interesting one in that it uses existing infrastructure and would require relatively low-cost investments by the city, state and MTA. For an area of New York City far from the job hubs of downtown Manhattan and long underserved by transit, implementing any aspect of this plan would go along way toward encouraging transit use in a car-heavy area of the city. [The Transport Politic]

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18 comments

pete February 25, 2010 - 2:23 pm

They were supposed to take 1 of the 2 LIRR lines and make it an extension of the E train. The E train’s tunnel goes on after Parsons Archer station. I guess when the SAS is fully built, then the MTA will address Queens. In the meantime expect BRT and express buses as the MTA’s solution.

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SEAN February 25, 2010 - 2:53 pm

Also extending the F, R & V trains eastward along Hillside Av to the Nassau County line could allow for extended F express service from 179th St. Also this allows for bus service restructuring for feeder service to the new stations by the MTA & LI Bus.

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Marc Shepherd February 25, 2010 - 3:24 pm

Both of the above are correct, but considering that the MTA doesn’t even have full funding for the SAS, I doubt we will see either the E or F trains extended within the next twenty years.

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Nesta February 25, 2010 - 5:20 pm

If the expansion of the system isn’t in manhattan then the MTA doesn’t really care about it. Same goes for the upkeep of the stations.

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bob February 25, 2010 - 6:34 pm

The head of the MTA is appointed by the governor, as is the majority of the board. In truth it really does what he wants. Pataki wanted expansion, especially for LIRR, so East Side Access became the number one priority. Bloomberg (the mayor appoints most of the rest of the board) wanted to develop stuff on the West Side and came up with a few hundred million $ and suddenly the 7 line extension started happeneing.

So really the politicans are who you need to focus on. If they care, and send money, things happen. If they just make speeches things plod along.

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aestrivex February 25, 2010 - 5:50 pm

improved service in eastern queens is something the MTA desperately needs to address, but right now it seems to me as though they have enough problems to worry about.

If, in 5 years time, the economy ends up back on its feet, it would seem to me irresponsible that MTA not do a better job of providing services to eastern queens, but then again we’ll see where we are at that time and if we have politicians who are willing to do anything at all to fund mass transit.

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Scott E February 25, 2010 - 9:52 pm

The article is a bit idealistic. LIRR and Metro-north both already offer a “CityTicket”, which is a discounted flat fare ($3.25 or $3.50, I think) on weekends for travel where the origin and destination are in the city. They exclude attractions such as Yankee Stadium, Willets Point-Mets, and Belmont, though (other then Belmont) I’m not sure how its enforced. No Metrocard transfers though.

Adding a new Francis-Lewis stop to the LIRR mainline is not likely. There is already a huge bottleneck around Jamaica – until those signals and switches are upgraded, and the third-track from Queens Village to Hicksville is approved and built, even a 2-minute dwell during rush-hour would have far-reaching repercussions.

Added stops to the Airtrain, aside from the differing operating entities, would turn a comfortable ride to the airport into a crowded commuter train, making it more prone to delays and less attractive to airport travelers. Fare collection would also be an issue, since travel between terminals is free.

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Alon Levy February 26, 2010 - 1:26 am

First, a regular subway train loses about 40 seconds making each stop – check local and express subway schedules. With three extra stops, we’re talking two extra minutes.

And second, not all trains have to make all stops. The AirTrain is automatic, which puts it in the unique position to be able to follow a schedule, consisting of a mixture of local and express trains. Local trains would make all stops, express trains would only serve Jamaica and the terminals.

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Nathan February 26, 2010 - 8:25 am

I think a good compromise for the 5-borough commuter lines would be to set the fee at that of an express bus: $5.50. No one complains that those are more expensive than subways. And if they could give the conductors portal metro-card readers so that the trains could actually charge metro cards like an express bus, even better.

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Ed February 26, 2010 - 12:07 am

This doesn’t use existing infrastructure, but you can extend the Air Train along Grand Central Parkway to LaGuardia, adding two stops in Flushing. Then (and this is the expensive part), to avoid the nimbyism in Astoria, extend it further along the waterfront and eventually into the Bronx, where it would connect to either the 4,5, or 6 or the D there.

That improves the transportation situation in Queens somewhat, but doesn’t turn the Airtrain into a commuter train, while extending it to LaGuardia. You can still take the A or the E to the Air Train, and if you are going to LaGuardia you can take the subway to the Bronx and catch it there. It is still just one stop to whichever airport. Anyone in Flushing or Jamaica using it to commute will divide evenly northbound, to the South Bronx connection to the subway, or southbound, to the Jamaica connection, so it won’t be so bad. Given the cost of the airtrain and the fact that many middle class Queens residents would probably want to avoid the South Bronx, it won’t get alot of commuter traffic, but it would add to the transportation options in Queens. The main benefit of this scheme would be the extension to LaGuardia, something we should figure out how to do anyway.

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Alon Levy February 26, 2010 - 1:14 am

No, you can’t extend the AirTrain like this. It turns in the wrong direction to Jamaica, so extending it north would require a further split. This would reduce frequencies to each destination, which is a bad thing.

If you want to connect Queens and the Bronx, use the existing New York Connecting Railroad and Bay Ridge Branch rights of way, instead of building new els.

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Russell Warshay February 26, 2010 - 11:53 am

Has anyone given thought to building a two track El down Merrick Blvd.? Merrick Blvd. is wide enough (70′ versus the 40′ of Ditmars Blvd., where the Giuliani Administration wanted to extend the El to LaGuardia)so that if the architecture of an El is like that of the JFK AirTrain, it wouldn’t be that visually invasive.

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Alon Levy February 26, 2010 - 11:41 pm

A two-track el is still going to cost too much. Take the cost of an el in any other developed-world city (but not Chicago), and then multiply it by about 7. That should give you a rough estimate of how much the el would cost.

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Russell Warshay March 1, 2010 - 9:25 am

“A two-track el is still going to cost too much.”

That might be the case, but until the full opportunity cost is calculated, we don’t really know.

There is a very real possibility that a connector from the Archer Av. subway to the Montauk Branch will be more expensive than a connector to a new el. This is because Merrick Blvd. is closer. That has to be factored in.

Also, how will the two options effect property tax revenue? That needs to be calculated. A Merrick Blvd. option provides a greater opportunity for dense development, and that brings up the possibility of using tax increment financing to actually get this thing built.

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Mike G February 26, 2010 - 1:44 pm

How about a possibility of disconnecting the LIRR’s Atlantic branch between Jamaica and Laurelton from the national network and connecting the E and J trains to it for the fraction of the cost of building new down Merrick Blvd?

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Russell Warshay February 26, 2010 - 3:45 pm

First of all, the Atlantic Branch is too far west to connect to the Archer Avenue Subway in a way that makes sense. It could be connected to the St. Albans portion of the Montauk Branch.

The reason why I think that Merrick Blvd is a much better option than the Montauk Branch is because it will be more effective at encouraging denser development, and because it will be easier for bus lines to feed it, which will mean more cars off of the road.

Both options will trigger community opposition. The Montauk Branch option will generate very strong option from those who live right by those stations. It runs right in the middle of a single family residential area, and they will not want to live that close to a station with all that it brings.

The Merrick Blvd option will trigger opposition because of the noise that construction will bring, and possibly over concerns of blight from an elevated line. The noise will be gone once construction is over, and the width of Merrick Blvd should be able to overcome concerns of blight.

As I see it, it comes down to “saving money” with an inferior option, or spending the money to get it right the first time.

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PBK March 1, 2010 - 4:02 pm

Apart from operational issues, the AirTrain can’t be used for subway service as a condition of the funding that built it. It was built with an assessment on passengers to/from JFK, and must be used exclusively for airport-related travel. That’s why you can’t use an Unlimited metrocard on it.

I write more about it on my blog, inklake.typepad.com

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Fredrick Wells February 27, 2017 - 1:25 pm

Any Subway Extension to Eastern Queens and Southeast Queens will have to be elevated due to flood prone areas. Many people will eventually NIMBY that idea, which will lead to most of Eastern and Southeast Queens taking the bus to the nearest Subway Station.

If we are to extend any Subway line to the Queens/Nassau border, the priority lines are as follows:
1. (F) line extension to Bellerose (following the Q1 bus route).
2. (7) line extension to Bayside (replacing the Q28). Potentially branching off in Flushing to spur South to Lake Success (via Q26, Q76 and Q46 route) and spur North to College Point forming two new (8) and (9) lines.
3. (J)/(Z) extension to Southeast Queens. (J) extended to Queens Village (following the Q2 and Q110 route). (Z) extended to Rosedale (following the Q85, Q111, Q113 and Q114 routes).
4. (R) extension to Springfield Gardens, Rockaway Blvd/North Conduit Avenue via Lefferts Blvd and Rockaway Blvd.

All Subway extensions will require the restructuring of the bus routes, and improving the network in Eastern Queens.

Certain Subway extensions cannot take place due to NIMBY and certain areas of Queens not feasible for Subway extensions. They are as follows:
1. (E) to Cambria Heights. What can replace this is the extension of the Q20A/Q20B buses to Laurelton combining Q4 and Q84 bus routes, while the Q4 and Q84 are restructured as Southern Queens Crosstown routes.
2. Union Turnpike Subway. The (F) and (J) extension will allow new bus routes on Union Tpke East of Springfield Blvd to relieve pressure on the Q46 route.

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