Home Public Transit Policy On La Guardia, NIMBYism and a master planner

On La Guardia, NIMBYism and a master planner

by Benjamin Kabak

Twelve years after neighborhood opposition torpedoed a subway connection to La Guardia Aiport, the city is hoping to improve bus access instead.

New York City as we know it today exists under the shadows cast by the ghost of Robert Moses. From the bridges that connect the boroughs to roads congested with automobiles to the elevated highways that cut through neighborhoods to the lack of airport-centric transit options to the parks and greenspaces we so enjoy, Moses’ influence runs far, wide and deep. We might even miss him.

Last week, as I took a few days off to spend some time in the Caribbean, I left up a short post on the upcoming plans to turn Robert Caro’s The Power Broker into a movie. Who, I asked, should play Robert Moses, and in doing so, I offhandedly called him the villain of the story. The reaction from regular readers was loud: Robert Moses was a man of many hats, but to call him a villain is an oversimplification. By the end of his career, the Master Planner single-handedly set the stage for decades of growth and stagnant transit development, but he also realized a vision for New York City that wasn’t all bad. Although Caro’s book, written at the city’s nadir in the mid-1970s, may have needed Moses to be that villain, his legacy is far more complicated than that.

For all the good Moses did early in his career, he is best known through the prism of Caro’s biography. We know Moses as the man who built low overpasses in order to limit bus access and the people who ride buses to the area around Jones Beach. We know him as the man who wouldn’t move his highways one block over in both the Bronx and Brooklyn, thus destroying two vibrant neighborhoods in the process. We know him as the planner who refused to allow for a rail right-of-way along the Van Wyck to provide better access to Idlewild Airport.

Yet, through the prism of today, we see Moses as the man who got things done, and since the state decentralized the planning process that Moses once helmed, things rather get done with any efficiency and speed. As the conversation flowed on my post last week, I kept thinking about the recent alternatives analysis NYC DOT is conducting for access to La Guardia. The city is trying to figure out how best to improve surface transit into and out of La Guardia airport while tying in those routes with Manhattan and the rest of the city’s transit network. It is a plan a long time coming.

As I’ve revisited from time to time, Mayor Giuliani in the light 1990s tried to grow support for a subway extension to the airport. He secured funding but lost out to Queens NIMBYs. As I’ve dug into that history, I’ve learned that New York City along with the MTA and FTA had engaged in some serious planning. By early 1999, they had identified two alternate routes for the subway extension that would have been included in an environmental impact study. The Federal Register from the time explained:

The 19th Avenue Alternative would be an extension of the BMT Broadway-Astoria Line (“N” Train service) beyond its present Ditmars Boulevard Terminus. From that point, the line would be extended northerly as a modern aerial transit guideway structure along the centerline of 31st Street up to 20th Avenue. From there, the alignment would curve easterly across the Con Edison property to 19th Avenue, where it would continue along the avenue. At 45th Street, the alignment would swing northerly and then enter a tunnel section, in which the alignment would remain as it crosses onto the airport property. After serving the Marine Air Terminal and passing around the runway at the airport’s western end, the alignment would rise onto an aerial section, and extend to two other on-airport stations–one at the Central Terminal Building (CTB) and a second to jointly serve the USAir and Delta terminals.

Sunnyside Yard Alternative would be a branch of the BMT Broadway-Astoria Line (“N” Train service) starting at the Queensboro Plaza Station in Long Island City. From that point, the alignment would extend as a modern aerial transit guideway structure along the northern side of the Sunnyside Yards, and would then pass over and run along the eastern side of AMTRAK’s Northeast Corridor tracks. At approximately 30th Avenue, the alignment would turn east and run along the northern side of 30th Avenue before turning north along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE). At that point, the alignment will enter a “depressed section” (where the tracks are below grade but in an “open cut” section rather than enclosed in a tunnel) as it travels along the southern side of the Grand Central Parkway (GCP). As it approaches the airport, the alignment would rise and cross over the GCP to enter the airport. On-airport stations are projected to be provided at the CTB and USAir/Delta terminals as noted above for the 19th Avenue Alternative.

The problem, of course, was that “modern aerial transit guideway structure.” The 19th Avenue alternative included nearly 12 blocks of a new elevated structure through some residential neighborhoods. The Sunnyside Yard plan also would have included new elevated tracks, albeit through neighborhoods not quite as residential as the northern ends of Astoria. Neither were good enough for certain factions of Queens’ politicians. City Councilman Peter Villone, the loudest opponent, called it a “horrible, loud, noisy ugly elevated train line through the heart” of a vibrant neighborhood. “Extending the elevated track will cause unnecessary hardship to residents and businesses in the area,” he claimed in 1999.

Eventually, this NIMBYism killed the project, and today, we’re left with a study that may call for something resembling better bus service. Our dreams and goals certainly have shifted downward over the past 12 or 13 years.

As this torturously slow La Guardia planning process plays out — whatever alternative is selected won’t debut until 2013 — I kept thinking about Moses. Does New York need a Moses that can work through neighborhood opposition to realize a plan that would benefit the city as a whole? We want a Moses whose ideals are aligned with ours when it comes to transportation planning. We want a figure who can cut through countless Community Board meetings and the red tape of planning. But we don’t want a Moses who will run roughshod over too many neighborhoods.

In Queens in the late 1990s, the memories of devastating elevated structures still percolated in people’s minds. These New Yorkers remember what happened along 3rd Ave. in Brooklyn when Moses refused to move the Gowanus to the more industrial 2nd Ave. They saw the way the Cross-Bronx Expressway cut through Tremont. They didn’t want the same, and we’re still paying the price in a never-ending planning process to improve access to a nearby but inaccessible airport. With NIMBYism on the creep and threatening to rise as the population ages, it all almost makes me yearn for Robert Moses and his power to move mountains.

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al November 9, 2011 - 1:59 am

Don’t be so glum. There is the fact that right after they killed the N extension, the Port Authority got the AirTrain built for a very reasonable (in NYC) price. It somewhat resembles the Sunnyside Alternative that the AirTrain also runs down a highway (Van Wyck Expy), with elevated, grade, in building, and opencut/tunnel sections.

Perhaps its time to take a through look at what the AirTrain project got right in persuading stakeholders to get the project to go forward and what the LGA connection project failed to do.

Benjamin Kabak November 9, 2011 - 8:04 am

Giuliani’s plan involved building both the JFK AirTrain and the La Guardia connection. In fact, the AirTrain protests were very similar to the uproar against the N train extensions with residents near the Van Wyck bemoaning the impact construction noise would have on them during the build and the presence of an elevated. What saved that project is likely some combination of the fact that the AirTrain is much quieter than a subway and that it runs down a big highway from Jamaica and through the airport from Howard Beach. I wonder what would have happened had the city planned for an AirTrain via the Grand Central’s right-of-way for LGA.

Larry Littlefield November 9, 2011 - 8:41 am

Worse than that. An air ticket tax was imposed on our airports. A comprehensive airport access program was promised, including a connection direct from JFK and LaGuardia to Manhattan. We got the Airtrain only, and are still paying the tax.

I actually think the “red tape” aspect of doing things in New York is currently balanced between the Robert Moses and Bananas (build absolutely nothing absolutely anywhere) Jane Jacobs extremes, despite some yelling on either side. I fact, I’d say it’s about right for the first time ever, though some improvements could be made (particularly at the federal level).

Now the real problem is another problem Moses solved — cost. He was able to get things done affordably. In some cases too many corners were cut — the West Side Highway fell down and the Tappan Zee is about to. But in most cases he got a good deal for the city, the state and the future compared with what we get today. And he followed a Tammany Hall regime that has overpaid for the IND, nearly bankrupting the city.

BrooklynBus November 9, 2011 - 9:45 am

Air train was not the best choice. You may think $3 billion for Airtrain was reasonable. But if they used the existing unused LIRR Rockaway line instead, it would have cost much cheaper and you would have had a direct ride to Manhattan.

Marc Shepherd November 9, 2011 - 10:24 am

NIMBY’s killed the Rockaway Line option, because that ROW is no longer fully available; private property would have needed to be taken, in order for it to be implemented.

MacLondonuk November 10, 2011 - 5:43 am

Marc is indeed right that NIMBYism combined with the need to acquire private property that was cheaply given away on the unused Rockaway line killed any rational plans just as the airline industry killed the larger AirTrain project becuase it refused to allow airport funds to be used if non airport commuters were allowed to use the trains. When I worked on the AirTrain project the constraints faced by PANYNJ led to a project which while useful is not necessarily best in providing benefits to NYC as a whole.

On the subject of Moses, while he is indeed a complicated character, his ruthlessness on many of the grand projects he was responsible for (and his constant run-ins with the other great builder of New York in Austin Tobin) has led to such a negative reaction to future projects (even when rational) that his legacy on the long term health of the city may indeed be more negative than positive.

Andrew November 11, 2011 - 11:57 am

$5 to ride a shuttle train is a very reasonable price?

Ed November 9, 2011 - 5:33 am

Looking at that map, I noticed that Rikers Island was right next to LaGuardia.

Is there a reason why some version of the Air Train couldn’t be run past the prison on Rikers Island, then through industrial zoned areas in the South Bronx? Not much potential for successful NIMBYism there.

Eric November 9, 2011 - 6:05 am

Yes – it would have to cross the river, and river bridges/tunnels are insanely expensive.

Bolwerk November 9, 2011 - 10:36 am

For what purpose? AirTrain needs to go to Grand Central and LaGuardia.

Al D November 9, 2011 - 1:48 pm

There is also opportunity to have it connect in Queens, Woodside, LIC, and Jackson Heights are the first 3 that come to mind.

Bolwerk November 11, 2011 - 10:34 am

Well, yeah, but connecting to The Bronx makes no sense to me – unless it’s going to Teterboro or Stewart, but I don’t think that really makes sense either.

John-2 November 9, 2011 - 8:19 am

The bad part is that, as the main short-hop airport in the metro area, including the Boston and D.C. shuttles, LaGuardia is the airport that could most benefit from direct subway service, since it’s the airport that has the largest percentage of ‘day trippers’, who leave sans luggage in the morning and fly home at night.

Astoria opposition means any extension from there would have to resemble the Archer Ave. plan with the J train — that is, at least the north end of the el would have to be replaced with a subway tunnel and a new underground station at Ditmars before you could turn the line east towards their airport because of the opposition to an el extension. And even then, you’d probably have to run the line along the route of the GCE to avoid the NIMBYs who don’t want their street dug up, in an area of Queens were deep bore likely is not an option.

The other “go play in traffic and don’t bother us” options to bypass the NIMBYs would be to split a route off the existing M/R line where it crosses the BQE and run that along the highway and the Grand Central to LaGuardia, or split off a spur from the 63rd Street tunnel, have that follow the rail lines to the BQE and from there follow the highway system to the airport.

The problem with the first option would be unless you could squeeze the G back onto the tracks between Queens Plaza and Northern Blvd. during regular hours, you’d be taking a local line away from the route from 65th Street to Continental Avenue (and Manhattanites would demand that the M or R beat the train going to LGA, leaving the outer Queens Blvd. local stops stuck with the G again).

With the latter, while the 63rd St. tunnel has spare capacity, you’d either have to switch the M over there at Rockefeller Center, leaving 53rd St. under-served, or you’d have to restore the W train on Broadway, and — due to the track layout at 57th Street — make it the new (and only) Astoria train, while the Q goes up Second Ave. and the N switches tracks at Lexington to join the F train on the way to Queens. Do that and you anger the Astoria people in a different way (though if you want to play out the fantasy map past just a LaGuardia line, a Phase III lower Second Ave. route and 63rd St. connector would create the mid-Manhattan tunnel space for a new line to the airport).

Eric November 9, 2011 - 8:50 am

Much simpler – Have the N/Q turn east at the Grand Central freeway and follow the freeway to LaGuardia. Destroy the Astoria/Ditmars station and the last 500m of elevated structure between Grand Central and Ditmars. (According to Astoria residents, elevated rail can only hurt a neighborhood, right?)

If it is so important to have subway access at Astoria/Ditmars (just a 5 minute walk north of the new Grand Central alignment), the Triboro subway can provide it when it is built.

This option requires no subway digging and causes no capacity problems.

Don Anon November 9, 2011 - 10:46 pm

I have always wondered why this wasn’t considered as an option (with the exception of demolishing the last portion of the El–multiple terminals are a good thing).

Eric F. November 10, 2011 - 2:05 pm

I bet I know. Look at the overhead lights on the GCP by La Guardia. They are barely off the ground so as not to clip planes. Same problem would befall any elevated rail line. You’d probably only be able to do it by in effect sinking the roadway.

Eric November 12, 2011 - 1:04 pm

Interesting theory… of course, it’s only relevant under the flight path (for a few hundred meters east of the BQ Expressway), and there, the Grand Central ROW appears to be wide enough that two rail lines could be added at grade (two road bridges over the Grand Central would have to be rebuilt though). No need to sink the roadway though.

Italianstallion November 14, 2011 - 7:22 pm

Major problem with Grand Central Pkway alignment — getting elevated subway over or under the Amtrak Hell Gate line that crosses the GCP circa 45th St. in a massive structure that is low to the ground.

Bolwerk November 9, 2011 - 11:03 am

The solution to NIMBYs is: have them show what harm is being done to them, and

(a) when they fail to do so, ignore them. This should be regarded as the automatic result for almost any underground subway project (not to mention bike lanes).

(b) when actually do so, mitigate the harm and go back to (a) or weigh the benefits against the costs somehow to decide how to procede. This is a little more complicated, but the way to do it should still be fairly streamlined.

NIMBYs usually don’t even represent the interests of their own neighborhood. I’m all for public input, but weighing the interests of an entire region against maybe a couple of hundred people who might be affected negatively and concluding the latter has all the say is just bullshit.

Al D November 9, 2011 - 1:54 pm

Property owners on a block that would have a proposed elevated line, and for most folks, the house is their primary and perhaps their sole worth, and the elevated line results in a 40% loss of equity, sleepness nights, less sun, steel dust and so on and so on and so on, you can quickly see the NIMBY effect, and rightly so.

Alex C November 9, 2011 - 5:56 pm

Steel elevated? This isn’t 1925. A new elevated would be a concrete guideway, which is much, much, much quieter than a steel elevated. That also helps reduce steel dust.

Bolwerk November 11, 2011 - 10:41 am

40% loss of equity? Where do you get that from?

There is absolutely no need to use steel, as Alex C says. A modern el could have a concrete viaduct with a pretty minor footprint too.

At least one option is a new service branching off around Astoria Blvd, over the Grand Central. The noise from the el and the general pollution of the highway would probably make even the effects a steel structure rather trivial. I can’t see how such a thing would have the slightest effect on NIMBYs.

Adirondacker12800 November 10, 2011 - 2:40 am

There’s the radical option of making the Northeast Corridor faster so people don’t take the plane to DC and Boston. An even more radical option of shutting down LaGuardia – which increases capacity at JFK and Newark. If the airport isn’t there you don’t need to run airport trains to it.

Eric November 10, 2011 - 7:04 am

You seem to have a rather backwards understanding of the word “capacity”.

Bolwerk November 11, 2011 - 10:35 am

I figure he’s referring to airspace, but I don’t think it’s accurate.

Adirondacker12800 November 13, 2011 - 12:51 pm

I didn’t save the links. You close La Guardia you eliminate conflicts with traffic into Newark and JFK. Newark and JFK can then handle more planes. More planes than La Guardia handles.

Larry Littlefield November 9, 2011 - 8:45 am

To the specific issue: how about building Phase II of the Second Avenue Subway and, while you are at it, building an underpass under 125th Street for Second Avenue?

This would allow both 125th Street and Second Avenue to have signal priority at that intersection, speeding traffic onto the Triboro Bridge. Including the M60 Bus.

That bus has a fairly straight shot to La Guardia in Queens, but it is very unreliable and frequently delayed on the bridge. Give it some priorty to get around traffic, increase frequency to limit wait time, and have some “put ins” available to maintain frequent service when there are delays, and that could be your airport access from the Lex and Astoria lines.

Anon256 November 9, 2011 - 11:30 am

My experience is the opposite, the bus is always quick on the bridge but pokes along on local streets with stoplights in Queens. Having an “M60 Limited” that just used the GCP between the N and Laguardia would do a lot of good at zero capital cost. Similarly there should be a “Q33 Limited” from Roosevelt/Jackson Heights subway station (more convenient from most of Midtown than Astoria) straight to the airport along the BQE and GCP. Admittedly the freeways can get pretty clogged at rush hour, but airport trips are spread fairly evenly throughout the day, so this would get most of the benefits of a more capital-intensive solution at much lower cost.

There should also be bus lanes, prepayment machines, etc on 125th St, which would have many benefits far beyond LGA access.

ajedrez November 10, 2011 - 2:05 am

The problem with using the BQE is that the bus could become unreliable, and make it hard to maintain a steady ridership base.

David November 9, 2011 - 9:19 am

From Ditmars, trains reverse and switch onto a new La Guardia elevated line above the lskjf Parkway just before going back to Astoria Blvd.
The BART train does the very same thing going to SFO between Milbrae and the city.
The train driver will have to walk to the other end or it would be a shift change at Ditmars.
From LGA, the train heads back to Ditmars and then right into Midtown.

Douglas John Bowen November 9, 2011 - 9:22 am

The Caro book–if one reads all of it–is fairly evenhanded, and does notoverlook, nor give short shrift to, the “good” results Mr. Moses generated for the New York metropolitan region. That misperception may arise even now because, at the time of the book’s publishing, the prevailing view was that Mr. Moses was all-good or mostly good or productive (or fill in the positive adjective of one’s choice).

I recall arguing the case with someone as late as the mid-1980s who insisted Mr. Moses was right, rail transit was a dead duck and should be phased out quickly (in New York, yet!), and the book was a hatchet job. Indeed, I use Mr. Caro’s work to remind myself that Robert Moses moved a lot of dirt, sometimes clearly for the better, even as I run up against his legacy in things rail.

Eric F. November 10, 2011 - 2:08 pm

The book is only evenhanded if you believe that cars are the demon spawn of Satan and Lex Luther.

Paul November 9, 2011 - 9:38 am

I think ‘villain’ for moses is fair. He was responsible for lots of other negatives not mentioned here, such as no rail on the Verrazano Br.

Related to these results is that he did not ‘work through’ community and interest group opposition, but bullied, bulldozed and disregarded any opposition. While nimbyism has gone much too far, particularly in NY, that moses way is not how a democracy is supposed to work either. Although there are some contemporary America-haters here praising communist china because that is how things work there.

BrooklynBus November 9, 2011 - 9:56 am

It was mentioned how he refused to allow rail on his bridges and highways. Why don’t you mention how the Verrazano was completed in only three years by working 24 hours around the clock? What project does that today? why did it take 20 years for the MTA to build 1200 feet of subway near Northern Boulevard? Why do we have a completed 63 Street lower level tunnel that has remained unused for over 20 years? If Moses cared about building subways, you would never had part of a completed project wait 20 years for the rest of it to be completed? What kind of planning is that?Moses was a master planner, like it or not. If you have a perfect democracy, nothing would ever be built either.

Clarke November 9, 2011 - 10:31 am

“Why don’t you mention how the Verrazano was completed in only three years by working 24 hours around the clock? What project does that today?”

1WTC, for one.

Benjamin Kabak November 9, 2011 - 10:36 am

The Verrazano also wasn’t completed in three years. Construction started in August of 1959 and one level opened on November 22, 1964. That’s over five years, in line with what it would take to build something of that magnitude today.

BrooklynBus November 9, 2011 - 4:15 pm

Sorry about that. I thought I read three. Five still seems quick to me. I bet it was on schedule though. It seems everything we do today comes with delays.

What other major mass transit or highway project since Moses have we completed in 5 years? It’s taken eight years thus far for two SBS routes and that is no comparison to building a bridge.

Jerrold November 9, 2011 - 5:51 pm

1964 was quite a year for N.Y.C.
The World’s Fair, Shea Stadium, the Verrazano…
A lot of excitement for a 13-year-old kid like me.

Other kids and I were asking parents to tell us their memories of the FIRST World’s Fair (1939-40).
The nickel subway fare was part of those memories.

WilletsPoint-SheaStadium November 9, 2011 - 11:41 am

And from speaking to a sandhog friend of mine, Second Avenue Subway construction work is maintained 24 hours a day with 3 shifts a day.

VLM November 9, 2011 - 10:51 am

Whoa whoa whoa. Are you advocating for a dictatorship here? It certainly sounds like. 🙂

Anyway, I think you’re asking rhetorical questions but I feel obliged to answer them because you’re creating false strawmen arguments here. It took the MTA 20 years to to deal with the mess at 63rd St. because of one thing and one thing only: money. When the project started in the early 1970s, it was supposed to be a part of the super-express. But then, whoops, the city went broke and tunneling stopped. Then the project became mired in inane NYC bureaucracy as various plans to build the subway tunnels in Queens took centerstage. As tunneling continued on and off, various factions tried to argue over its use. D’Amato ceased work to ensure the tunnel as safe and eventually it opened in the late 1980s as the subway to nowhere. By the 1990s, money was in place to finish the connection to the Queens Boulevard Line. It was indeed a disaster but one that required the guidance of a master planner, not one brought on simply because it was a rail project.

Maybe that’s your point?

Chris November 9, 2011 - 4:24 pm

Maybe the lesson of Moses for the subway system is that we need someone who will go in and make the subways “cash flow” by raising fares and cutting costs. Moses was able to build, build, build in large part because his operations threw off lots of cash and his new projects would generate more cash. This was probably more important than his operational independence as a semi-dictator, in my view. Meanwhile the MTA is burning through billions and building projects that will create little new income.

No matter how great the guidance, it’s simply very hard to raise tens of billions for a project that once complete will continue to lose money indefinitely into the future. That’s something not even Moses ever attempted to achieve.

BrooklynBus November 9, 2011 - 4:36 pm

Let me ask you something. Moses set the prices of his bridges at 25 cents each for the larger ones and 10 cents for the smaller ones. Pretty expensive back then two or five times the price of the subway. But he was able to keep the tolls the same without raising them for 50 years and still generate a lot of revenue. By contrast we have to raise the subway fare every few years and still there is no money. Moses had to be doing something right.

Benjamin Kabak November 9, 2011 - 4:43 pm

Between 1936 and 1972 when tolls were increased, car ownership rates skyrocketed. If you have 10 people using the bridge in 1936 and 1000 using it in 1972, you will generate more revenue even if the toll is kept the same. Since then bridge tolls have gone up as infrastructure ages and maintenance costs increase. We have to raise bridge fares every few years too, and there’s not enough money to maintain bridges either.

Chris November 9, 2011 - 6:13 pm

I don’t think this is true for the MTA’s bridges, at least… as I understand it the TBTA facilities still generate an enormous amount of operating cash flow. Just looking at the MTA’s 2012 budget, there’s $1.5 billion in toll revenue (all basically from the TBTA facilities) and $417 million in expenses within the bridge and tunnel division. If the TBTA were spun back out of the MTA, along with its share of the MTA’s debt, it would still be a cash cow though not with the same buying power as it had in Moses’s day.

Benjamin Kabak November 9, 2011 - 6:18 pm

You’re right to a point because operating budgets don’t include capital expenditures. That’s not to say that the TBTA facilities aren’t cash cows; they still are. But that operating budget doesn’t include maintenance and other capital projects.

BrooklynBus November 10, 2011 - 9:06 am

How could an operating budget not include maintenance?

Chris November 10, 2011 - 10:06 am

It includes some maintenance (e.g. painting bridges), but not most major capital projects which are put into a separate part of the budget. With many of those major capital projects, however, it’s hard to say how much is maintenance (i.e. the minimum necessary to sustain existing operations) and how much is discretionary. Long story short though, the TBTA installations throw off hundreds of millions a year in cash, which is partly reinvested in the B&T division but mostly goes out as surplus to support mass transit operations.

Chris November 9, 2011 - 6:02 pm

First, as Ben notes, there was significant growth in demand through that time, which could be accommodated as the bridges were built with lots of excess capacity. Second, the tolls didn’t need to pay for the cars or the fuel or the driver’s time. Third, though, it was just a different time in which costs overall were much lower, for bridge and tunnel maintenance and doubly so for the subways. I’m not sure what Moses would have done to deal with costs under today’s conditions, but it’s certain that since he was using the TBTA’s cash flow to build his legacy, he would have been well incentivized to keep down costs.

BrooklynBus November 9, 2011 - 4:25 pm

Actually, I wasn’t even thinking of the subway portion of the tunnel, because that eventually opened. I was referring to the lower level for the LIRR which still isn’t open awaiting the completion of East Side Access. I don’t remember when construction of East Side Access actually started, but when you build a complex project like that which includes an under river tunnel, you would think that that is the most difficult part to build so you start that first so it is completed at the same time the rest of the project is completed. Here we have a tunnel that was completed in the late 80s, and now its 25 years later and East Side Access is still many years away. That was my point. Why wasn’t the project planned so that all parts of it are completed at the same time? Haven’t they continually been adding on to East Side Access delaying its completion?

Benjamin Kabak November 9, 2011 - 4:45 pm

Why wasn’t the project planned so that all parts of it are completed at the same time?

Money. They knew they wanted to build out the LIRR under the East River but didn’t have money to do so. By building both tunnels at once, they could save on future construction costs while working to secure funding for ESA. That’s also why we have a variety of half-built Second System provisions and why we’re making a mistake at 41st St. and 10th Ave. by not constructing at the least a station shell.

AlexB November 9, 2011 - 9:46 am

Still not sure why the N or Q can’t branch off the existing elevated right before Astoria Boulevard and onto a new elevated like the AirTrain elevated over the Van Wyck. There could be new stations for underserved areas in northeast Astoria and a few stations serving LaGuardia. It seems relatively simple, no?

R2 November 9, 2011 - 9:50 am

I think the likely scenario is to have Select Bus Service for the M60. It will be considered for Q33, Q47, Q72 but might not get off the ground. Sorry, I don’t think there’s much for ambition these days. Best we’ll get for generations.

Larry Littlefield November 9, 2011 - 10:09 am

I think that’s the right solution — M60 or a specific airlink bus running on part of the route.

The problem with the Q33 and Q47 is they have to travel down narrow streets and cross major streets with signal priority, like Northern Boulevard. All the major streets run toward Manhattan, so those buses take forever.

Back to Moses: the assumption is that during the time of his massive investment in roads there was no investment in rail. Not true. There was substantial investment in both until the huge shift of public spending to senior benefits and NYC and NY State near bankruptcy after Moses was gone.

There was substantial public investment in the subways in the 1940s, 1950s, right up until the 1960s. Most of it was reconstruction, not construction, but the New York City Transit Authority was keeping up with ongoing normal replacement without much debt.

As for the commuter railroads, they were privately owned until the 1960s, and when they were acquired they became the priority of the subway.

So during the Moses era we got roads and rail, though we probably would have had more rail and less roads is rail had a Moses too. After Moses, not as much.

R2 November 9, 2011 - 11:14 am

That’s exactly what I was hinting at for the Queens buses, just couched in the “get off the ground” pun I just couldn’t help. I’ve only ridden the Q33 and I believe at certain times, there’s just enough ridership to justify Limited Stop service. As with all the Q routes, and the M60 in Queens, the trick is to balance the transit needs of airport employees and passengers.

I don’t think much can be done about the Triboro though. Dedicated lane? Probably not enough buses to justify that, plus there’d be a decrease in toll revenue.

Benjamin Kabak November 9, 2011 - 10:24 am

I should do a full post on this but the problem with the M60 as a bus to La Guardia is one of routing. It’s billed as the bus to take from Manhattan to LGA; in fact, it’s even on the subway map. Yet, it operates as a local bus route that makes far too many stops in Queens. It serves as a transit option for both airport passengers and their luggage and airport employees, and if you try to board the M60 heading toward the airport as far east as Lexingto, you often can’t get on with a suitcase. Select Bus Service is the least they could do to improve that.

Larry Littlefield November 9, 2011 - 10:56 am

I didn’t find the number of stops too great in Queens when I rode it from Ditmas, and the ride was quick along the BQE service rode.

But the bridge was jammed and the bus was late. Two arrived at the same time, and people with suitcases could barely get on either one.

Clarke November 9, 2011 - 11:35 am

And depicted as a service route on the MTA’s online Weekend “map”

Italianstallion November 14, 2011 - 7:26 pm

The M60 effectively operates as a Limited in Queens. It stops every 6 blocks or so, skipping many of the stops of the Q19 which shares most of its route.

Al D November 9, 2011 - 1:57 pm

..and that would/should have the additional effect of better xtown rides on 125.

Jerrold November 9, 2011 - 10:20 am

When one looks for some good side of Robert Moses, there WAS the World’s Fair of 1964-65. When the International Bureau of Expositions (which Moses referred to as a few people living in a dumpy apartment in Paris) refused to sanction the Fair, Moses defied them and the Fair was held anyway.
I know that it turned out to be a financial failure, but it was a huge success in all other ways.

Jon November 9, 2011 - 11:36 am

In addition, at the Fair’s end, Moses made sure the pot of money allocated to convert the site to a park *didn’t* make its way to the angry and pissed off bondholders.

Jerrold November 9, 2011 - 10:26 am

Ben, there is something I’m not sure I understand about “an aerial transit guideway”.
Does that mean a conveyance like the JFK Airtrain?
If so, is the idea that passengers would transfer at Ditmars Blvd. from the subway to the airtrain?

Benjamin Kabak November 9, 2011 - 10:29 am

I believe so. It’s a loose term that would allow for further study in an EIS. The idea is that it’s an elevated structure with rail. The final form was TBD.

Bgriff November 9, 2011 - 10:36 am

I feel like, at some point, I have heard talk of another option to extend the JFK AirTrain up from Jamaica along the Van Wyck and/or GCP to LaGuardia, and perhaps from there cut back over the GCP to create another AirTrain terminal at the N/Q station on Astoria Blvd.

If airlines in the US made any money, American and Delta could perhaps be convinced to contribute to such a plan, since it would be a big boost to connections between JFK and LGA, and both of those airlines are big at both airports. It could also reduce congestion problems at both airports since there would be less need for duplicate flights (American flying from Chicago to both JFK and LGA), and airlines could instead use larger planes at one airport or the other.

Larry Littlefield November 9, 2011 - 10:54 am

“I feel like, at some point, I have heard talk of another option to extend the JFK AirTrain up from Jamaica along the Van Wyck and/or GCP to LaGuardia, and perhaps from there cut back over the GCP to create another AirTrain terminal at the N/Q station on Astoria Blvd.”

That talk existed, and actually featured a terminal at Queens Plaza in Long Island City where riders could change to the 7/N/E/M/R. But that talk was at the Port Authority, a long time ago, before 9/11 and before the Port Authority went broke.

Chris November 10, 2011 - 10:15 am

To your last point, it might well be cheaper in the end (and a lot more efficient in terms of building better connections) simply to add a couple runways at JFK while closing LaGuardia and selling the land beneath it.

Nathanael November 11, 2011 - 3:21 pm

Surely Newark, rather than JFK, should replace the capacity from shutting down LaGuardia — better located for expansion, more flood-resistant…. or do we get back to NY vs. NJ politics again?

Eric November 12, 2011 - 1:12 pm

Air traffic is predicted to increase in the future. We can always add runways at JFK someday to meet that demand. If we close and sell LaGuardia, we can never re-convert that land back into an airport.

In any case, the value of major decisions like closing airports or adding runways in the tens of billion $$, while adding an Airtran would cost hundreds of millions – a much smaller investment and risk.

Ian Mitchell December 10, 2013 - 12:25 am

I’d really like to see Floyd Bennett Field re-opened, Teterboro’s weight limit struck down, and more done with the two far-flung airports of NYC, Stewart and MacArthur.

Up to 4 new airport options, and each is less disruptive to JFK/EWR airspace than LGA.

TEB is closer to midtown manhattan than any of the other airports (Here’s another case for better integrating the train station into the airport- esp if hudson yards extends the 7 to secaucus, that’d be an extremely valuable connection to both the subway and NJT)

I think it’d be relatively easy to get FBF connected to the subway lines either via coney island or adding a much-needed line beneath or above flatbush av, at least compared to putting an El in astoria to LGA.

On top of that, a rebranded, improved version of the Ronkonkoma to grand central (east side access) could a comfortable, one-seat ride to manhattan, limited-stop wifi-included service specifically timed to accommodate flying into MacArthur (ISP), may need some new trackage to be ideal, or some airport re-orientation, more American Airports will need integrated train stations, so a worhtwhile investment for the future, especially given Amtrack’s long-range plans to use LIRR trackage for its original purpose- a faster route between NYC and Boston.
On top of that, I’d think it’s easier to lay new track in Islip than it is in Queens by far.

If even just one of those can happen, by all means, close down the poorly-connected eyesore that is LGA, and use the development revenues to finance making another occur.

The final, most likely airport investment to occur will be in Stewart, even though it’s not well-integrated with rail or close by any measure, it’s just that Port Authority owns it. That said, if they could find a way to re-route Metro-North and/or NJT to put a station within a new terminal (hey! a union station between the two would be a hit I’m sure, for political reasons). Moreover, it could offer a one-seat ride to Grand Central, which isn’t offered whatsoever now.

Basically, NYC has 2.5 airports with LGA as it stands. Improving the connection to ISP and Stewart to make each less than an hour from terminal to grand central would give it 4.5. If my understanding of ATC is correct, re-opening FBF, taking the weight limit off of TEB, and closing down LGA would give it 6.

It’s really about how much that land is worth to develop. I think it’s worth a pretty penny.

Different issue entirely, but…
If MTA/NTJ/PANYNJ (“The Powers that be”) would operate like Hong Kong’s profitable transit agencies do, by directly benefiting where possible from the spoils of Transit-driven-development, this could be not only a great chance to improve service for air passengers, increase on-time performance, increase capacity, and serve those who use the affected routes on a daily basis, but a good money-maker too.

Ed November 9, 2011 - 11:35 am

I’ve proposed in these comments linking LaGuardia and JFK with the AirTrain. I still think it was a good idea and am glad it was at least considered.

I’ve had no problems using the M60 getting to LaGuardia, but the first two times I tried to take it from LaGuardia, I couldn’t find where it stopped. The workers I asked at the terminal didn’t know or were unhelpful. There are some signs, which I located after looking for them after I arrived with the bus at LaGuardia. I suspect the bus link could be upgraded with better signs, more busses, and SBS. Extending the 1st and 2nd Avenue SBS routes to LaGuardia using the M60 route is also worth considering.

Eric November 9, 2011 - 12:23 pm

Back in 1999, did anyone bother to point out to the NIMBYs that 19th Avenue in Astoria is NOT residential? A short section of new elevated track running between Ditmars and 20th Avenue before running over the ConEd propery and down 19th Avenue for about 15 blocks wouldn’t have been terribly disruptive to the neighborhood.

Larry Littlefield November 9, 2011 - 12:34 pm

Doesn’t matter. It would have extended another block or two on the commercial street near houses, and that was too much for them.

Look at the hell that has been raged by some older members of the political class in Brooklyn over BICYCLES riding by their homes.

Jon November 9, 2011 - 1:24 pm

I think that was more of a manifestation of Mrs. Chuck Schumer’s professional jealously.

Al D November 9, 2011 - 2:08 pm

How DARE those bicycles want a safer, dedicated row. Let ’em take their chances in traffic moving at anywhere from 35 to 50 mph. Serves ’em right for riding on MY block!

Italianstallion November 14, 2011 - 7:29 pm

The problem wasn’t 19th Ave. It was the 2 long blocks of 31st Street from the Ditmars station to 20th Ave. Those people were absolutely apoplectic.

The solution would be to underground the line from Astoria Blvd. to 20th Ave. with a new 3-track station at Ditmars where some trains would short-turn back to Manhattan.

Al D November 9, 2011 - 2:01 pm

If you look at the Rockaway Freeway architecture, the trains are so quiet, and the viaduct is actually handsome. Some form of that would be far more desirable than a steel structure.

Geoff November 9, 2011 - 2:39 pm

I think the first thing that came to mind during the NIMBY protests against a train to LGA was that a new elevated track running two blocks further in Astoria is going to be loud and ugly.

If you take a look at the current design and construction of elevated tracks, they are vastly better than what was constructed 100 years ago. The noise generated by trains is no longer amplified by the exposed track bed, supports are spaced further apart, and they are typically more aesthetically pleasing.

It’s a shame this option is off the table – it’s quite a simple strategy to connect LGA to the subway system.

Eric November 9, 2011 - 4:28 pm

It is. I truly think the only way we’d ever get an N extension would be to have it go underground (probably after Astoria Blvd.)

jj December 4, 2011 - 12:19 pm

Many NYers would rather that everyone get along and sing kumbaya …. the problem with that is that nothing gets done . Witness Westway and countless other projects .
Without a Moses character , this city would be so much smaller and less friendly without roads and highways .
For all his mistakes , and there are many , the ideas were for the most part grand and well intentioned .
We have no Moses today , and we suffer for it every day


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