Let us pretend you are a member of an industry group that could be a fairly powerful advocate for airport accessibility. Let’s say you are hoping to improve the way New Yorkers relate to their airports. This isn’t a particularly long stretch as New York’s airports have a reputation for being inaccessible and generally awful. And now let’s say you’re focusing on getting to and from the airport. Do you advocate for something challenging but more beneficial such as, say, a rail extension or do you settle for the bus?
If you’re the Global Gateway Alliance, an organization that includes Joseph Sitt and Kathryn Wylde, apparently a bus is good enough if you’re trying to “address the major challenges facing the metropolitan region’s airports and related infrastructure that, if left unaddressed, will serve as a major impediment to the long-term growth of New York City.” Who knew a simple bus would do the trick?
Maybe I’m selling this idea short. In a letter to NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast, the Global Gateway Alliance urged the city’s transportation leaders to install a true BRT line between Ditmars Boulevard and LaGuardia Airport. It’s not a call for a subway extension, and it doesn’t involve the plans to bring BRT to Woodhaven. Rather, it’s a modest three-mile proposal, but the letter seems to create and give in to the opposition before wheels are even on the ground. Here’s an excerpt:
we believe the project should allow for the first true Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line in New
York City, linking the N line terminus at 31st Street and Ditmars Boulevard directly to LaGuardia, less than 3 miles away. The short distance between the N and the Central Terminal Building presents the opportunity for the elements of a BRT line that aren’t allowed by longer bus routes throughout the City – a dedicated lane, tickets purchased off the bus, and one or no stops along the route.
In addition, there are a number of potential route options. Ditmars Boulevard is the most direct and could increase foot traffic to and awareness of the shopping district. It may be difficult to remove parking spaces along Ditmars, however, so other alignments including down 31st Street to the Grand Central or another surface road could also be explored…
We know that an extension of the N line to LaGuardia was considered in the early 2000s. Ultimately, it was shelved due to community opposition from the disruption of constructing new elevated tracks. While an N Line extension would be a great boost to LaGuardia and mean the first one-seat ride to one of our major airports, a BRT plan is more workable right now…
We know that there may be new community issues associated with any additional mass transit plan, but we believe they can be overcome. Meeting with and including the local community in the planning process now will go a long way toward making the neighborhood a partner in this effort.
The GGA recognizes the recent moves to bolster Q70 service and install an SBS along the M60, but the organization notes that these two routes do not address the need for “direct and dedicated access” to the public transportation system from LaGuardia. Whether a BRT line from the airport to a subway terminal that’s a slow 11 stops away from Times Square qualifies is up for debate, but that’s my issue.
Rather, the GGA has the ability to impact decisions for the foreseeable future. These are powerful interests who care about mobility and have the resources to work with communities (and, if necessary, battle NIMBYs) to get good transit for everyone. They should be focusing on a faster rail link rather than a slower surface option with much less capacity. We used to think big; now we just think buses. How disappointing.