Absent extending the N train through Astoria — a dream that died at the hands of NIMBYs over a decade ago — the best way to improve transit to LaGuardia Airport involves buses. As buses have limited capacity especially for suitcase-laden travelers and with surface traffic heavy and variable on the roads approaching the airport, it’s not an ideal solution. Still, as the city examines various Select Bus Service routes to the airport, the MTA is working to boost existing service for a hub that’s near and yet so far.
This evening in East Elmhurst, the agency is hosting a public comment session on a proposed expansion of LaGuardia bus service. As you can see from the map above, the new route provides a connection from Jackson Heights to the airport via the BQE and Grand Central Parkway. If all goes according to plan, the new service would debut in the fall, and here’s how the MTA describes it:
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) proposes revisions to MTA Bus Company operated bus service to LaGuardia Airport. A new limited-stop bus service is proposed connecting LaGuardia Airport with regional transit hubs in Jackson Heights and Woodside, traveling non-stop via the limited-access Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and Grand Central Parkway. The service would be named Q70 Limited. The Q70 Limited would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Coincident with the implementation of the Q70, it is proposed that the current Q33 local bus route between Jackson Heights and LaGuardia Airport be shortened to no longer enter LaGuardia Airport. The northern terminus would be relocated to 95th Street and Ditmars Boulevard in East Elmhurst, and the southern terminus would remain in Jackson Heights at the E/F/M/R/7 subway station. The Q33 would retain its current hours of service, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
There’s good and there’s bad here. The good is obviously the speedier connection via limited access roads from the subway in Queens to the airport. This 24-hour service could dramatically improve transit connections for travelers trying to reach LaGuardia, and eliminating local stops in Queens means that all riders of this bus will be trying to reach the airport as quickly as possible.
The bad aspects of this plan though are problematic. First, the BQE and Grand Central do not have dedicated bus lanes and feature soul-crushing rush hour traffic jams. The buses, as with most in the city, will be subject to the whims of the road conditions. Additionally, by cutting off the Q33 before the airport, many local riders who live in the area and work at the airport will find their transit route eliminated. Doubling back to pick up the new Q70 Limited will add time to these trips. Finally, these buses will face capacity problems as they fill up with luggage and passengers. It’s a problem on the M60 and on the Q33 that this plan doesn’t solve.
Ultimately, this is a band-aid for a larger access problem. It takes existing resources and reshuffles them around to provide a better transit experience, and that’s fine if we’re thinking bigger. But LaGuardia access proposals haven’t moved beyond buses since the failed attempt at proposing a subway extension in the late 1990s. It’s time to revisit that effort whether the alignment runs through Astoria or above the Grand Central Parkway. In 2013, one of the city’s major airports shouldn’t exist in a transit desert.