Home Queens A postmortem (for now) on Cuomo’s LaGuardia AirTrain plan

A postmortem (for now) on Cuomo’s LaGuardia AirTrain plan

by Benjamin Kabak
Gov. Cuomo announced a Laguardia Airtrain via Willets Point and the Grand Central Parkway.

A nice idea, but is Cuomo’s LaGuardia AirTrain the right one?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to shut the subway system on Monday night wasn’t the most surprising transit development coming from the governor’s office this past week. Prior to this week’s snow brouhaha, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s other idea — an AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport — dominated the transit press coverage. As you’ll recall, seemingly out of nowhere, Cuomo announced a plan to build an AirTrain for $450 million from Willets Point to LaGuardia via the Grand Central Parkway. In theory, improving rail access to LaGuardia is a great idea that needs a champion; in practice, Cuomo’s idea isn’t one we should rush to embrace by any means.

When I had a chance to delve into Cuomo’s proposal last week, I wasn’t too impressed. He picked the worst choice out of three or four possible routings, and the money seemed optimistically low. Since then, I’ve learned that, much like Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s idea to send the 7 to Secaucus, the Govornor’s AirTrain proposal doesn’t have much backing it. The cost estimates can’t be traced to any recent (or, for that matter, old) study, and it’s not clear from those at the MTA how or why the governor chose this plan or why the Port Authority is not involved as it was with the JFK AirTrain.

I’m not alone in casting a skeptical eye toward Cuomo’s plan, and as part of today’s postmortem — likely not to be the final word on this idea — I’d like to look at three other takes. The first comes to us from Yonah Freemark who dusted off The Transport Politic to share his thoughts on the proposal. Freemark’s headline sums it up: The LaGuardia AirTrain “will save almost no one any time.” He writes:

Governor Cuomo’s project would not have any of the negative community effects the proposal from fifteen years ago had. Its elevated tracks would be hidden behind a much more noisy and already-existing highway. Moreover, its terminus station at Mets-Willets Point would be surrounded by parking lots and sports facilities. These attempts to shape a project that does nothing to disturb existing communities, however, has produced a proposal that would be worthless in terms of time savings for people traveling from the airport in almost all directions…

Transit travel times from LaGuardia to destinations throughout New York City — from Grand Central in Midtown Manhattan to Borough Hall in downtown Brooklyn to Jamaica in central Queens to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx — would be longer for passengers using the AirTrain than for passengers using existing transit services already offered by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. This finding suggests that for most people in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island, AirTrain services will not be beneficial from a time perspective.

Given the fact that the AirTrain services would likely be automated, therefore reducing labor costs, it may be reasonable to assume that existing transit services to the airport would be eliminated to save costs. In other words, people may be forced to switch into the new, slower rail option.

That, alone, should be enough to doom the project, and based on Freemark’s study, both an AirTrain from Jackson Heights or a direct extension of the N train from Astoria would be the preferred build as both have essentially equal travel times from popular destinations. As Freemark states, “It’s hard to imagine how the state can justify spending half a billion dollars on a transit project that will increase travel times for most people.”

Over the weekend, Nate Silver offered his analysis of public transit options for airport travel. Picking up on my piece and Freemark’s analysis, Silver determines, unsurprisingly, that transit options to U.S. airports are by and large terrible. Even with the AirTrain, most travelers would be far better off taking a cab from LaGuardia to popular destinations factoring travel times and cab fares in a cost-benefit analysis. A viable proposal would seek to flip that result.

Finally, I urge you to read Alon Levy’s analysis of the political theory behind Cuomo’s decision. Levy brings up the idea that, by starting the debate with the Willets Point plan, he has framed it in such a way that he wins. Cuomo’s approach to transit planning is a top-down one that omits community feedback and benefits a very specific constituency — airport travelers. With no stops in populated neighborhoods that need transit access, Cuomo can allege to stifle NIMBYism without actually offering anything useful.

Levy, in fact, thinks we should ignore Cuomo’s plan altogether. He writes, “In such a climate, as soon as we talk about tweaks to Cuomo’s plan, Cuomo’s already won; whatever happens, he will reap the credit, and use it to buy political capital to keep building unnecessary megaprojects. Even trying to make the best of a bad situation by making the airport connector better is of little use, since Cuomo will support the plan that maximizes his political capital and not the one that maximizes transit usage even within such constraints as “must serve LaGuardia.'”

I believe Alon has a very good point, but I’m trying hard, and usually failing, to be less cynical about this plan. LaGuardia access seems to have a champion even if we don’t know what his true motives or underlying rationale are. The key though is opportunity. If New York sees through Cuomo’s plan, we’ve built something, but is that something good or even good enough? We have to remember that we have only one chance. Once the first dollar is allocated and the first pylon is sunk, New York will stuck with whatever Cuomo has decided. Based on the current proposal with its circular routing, slow travel times, and mysterious budget, that’s a scary thought for our future.

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Andrew January 29, 2015 - 12:34 am

I agree largely, though not entirely, with Levy.

There’s a natural assumption here that Cuomo’s goal is to improve access to LaGuardia. It isn’t. As a transit line serving LaGuardia, Cuomo’s plan is obviously deeply flawed. It’s so obvious that even Cuomo would have noticed if he had been thinking about transit service to LaGuardia.

This isn’t about LaGuardia. It’s about Willets Point.


Debating where exactly this AirTrain should go instead of Willets Point misses the point entirely. Anything that doesn’t go to Willets Point is automatically off the table.

Instead of asking where this AirTrain should go, we should be asking how this $450 million (ha!) should be spent instead. There’s no shortage of transportation projects that could desperately use the cash. For instance, maybe he could use it to help plug the gaping hole in the MTA’s new Capital Plan.

Rob January 29, 2015 - 11:45 am

So the connection to Willets Point is about Cuomo supporting Sterling Equities? Is there a campaign funding connection?

SEAN January 29, 2015 - 7:41 pm

Is there a campaign funding connection? I think the answer is self evident

Dan January 30, 2015 - 5:13 pm

But is it actually going to serve Willets Point other than in terms of people coming straight from the airport (which I doubt would be very many)? You already have the train/subway station there and as far as we know, this AirTrain would make no stops in between.

BronxSteve February 2, 2015 - 3:23 pm

It would benefit W.Point because the existence of the AirTrain would require LIRR to serve their station there with regular service (now it only is used for sports events) and probably even have fairly frequent service (half-hourly).

John-2 January 29, 2015 - 12:38 am

Cuomo’s plan is basically the path of least resistance. But it does contain the reality that any AirTrain to Astoria or Jackson Heights has to run down the Grand Central Parkway and/or the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, because trying to run an elevated line through any other area is NIMBY nightmare just waiting to happen. Even the route to Astoria would face a fight to go to the Ditmars Blvd. station instead of Astoria Blvd. — let alone the problems with getting past the Hell’s Gate viaduct — while potential NIMBY fights in the Roosevelt Avenue area could end up leaving the AirTrain terminus at the 7 train’s 69th Street stop, instead of the far more useful 74th-Broadway station.

Cuomo’s propsal may be the least useful of the three, but at least you can see why it was chosen, and that’s to have a project that the governor might be able to both start and finish while in office, as opposed to one he starts and the next governor or the one after that gets to do the ribbon cutting on. For a governor who wants to take credit for everything good the MTA does while escaping any blame for it’s problems, ruffling as few neighborhood feathers as possible is the deciding factor in the route.

Andrew January 29, 2015 - 1:02 am

The path of last resistance is to not build anything at all. Which, given the options on the table, is the appropriate path.

Ray January 29, 2015 - 7:59 am

I’m surprised by the whipping Cuomo gets on this blog. I moved to New York from California eight years ago where we were lucky to get a rapid bus project discussed at the county level. While I know he has his faults, I am thrilled to have a governor who wants to engage on infrastructure: Tappan Zee, airport redevelopment, rail access, Penn Station redevelopment, Metro North west side access, new subway cars, keeping the second ave project funded. Perhaps he’ll turn out to be a fair weather friend of mobility in the end, I don’t know. I suppose we can judge him by his record when he’s done. Yet for now, I will support the governor who is willing to make an effort.

VLM January 29, 2015 - 8:16 am

Cuomo deserves this because planning without regard for utility or use is worse than no-build. His Tappan Zee Bridge didn’t allow for adequate transit, and the funding is a disaster. The LGA AirTrain plan is, as Ben and numerous others have noted, a worse option than the alternatives. Metro-North’s Penn Station Access is a good project, but one that’s been in the planning stages long before Cuomo was governor. He doesn’t deserve and shouldn’t take credit for it.

Justin Samuels January 29, 2015 - 8:39 pm

If people on here can do better than Cuomo they are more than free to run for office themselves.

At a certain point being critical of everything the governor does when you yourself cannot get elected to office is just plain meaningless.

LGA-Airtrain is not worse than the alternatives, considering that residents in Astoria and Jackson Heights will not allow elevated trains to cross those neighborhoods to the Astoria and Queens Blvd lines.

The people on this forum can be train fantatics to the point where they can’t see anything but their wildest transit expansions (like the Utica Avenue line which is in absolutely no danger of manifesting this century).

Henry January 29, 2015 - 10:49 pm

So criticism of spending a half billion dollars when the MTA is fifteen billion in the hole is unwarranted unless we have political aspirations? Mobility wise, it’s the worst of all options, and in the grander financial context of no or shaky funding for Gateway, the Capital Plan, the Tappan Zee, and other projects, this is just downright reckless.

Alon Levy January 30, 2015 - 3:31 am

None of us is the son or daughter of a governor. Some of us aren’t even enfranchised in New York, but even the eligible voters here don’t have the right pedigree. Why don’t you ask people why they don’t become English kings and queens?

LGA-AirTrain is worse than No Build, and contrary to the perception among the authoritarians of neighborhood residents as irredeemable NIMBYs, the plan that the Astoria NIMBYs opposed wouldn’t have given them any extra stop. What would they have gotten from the whole thing? Access to LGA? They don’t fly that often to care.

As for Utica, why is this so wild? In the postwar decades, it was supposed to be built right after SAS. In the 1970s, the plan was to have it open by 1992. What’s wild is that the local elites decided that area is no longer worth their attention and directed billions of dollars into airport connectors and the 7 extension.

Joey K January 29, 2015 - 9:23 am

You mention all of these projects as if Cuomo has either led the way with them or seen them through to the benefit of transit advocates. The Tappan Zee Bridge replacement was a very long coming, and Cuomo shelved any transit from being built without as much as a reasonable explanation. Airport redevelopment hasn’t happened yet, it’s just been talked about. And before his LaGuardia airport design competition was even finished (the deadline is at the end of this week), he announces this doomed AirTrain plan. It shows how “open” his contest really was. Penn Station redevelopment has gone nowhere, although there should be much more consideration into renovation as opposed to the RPA’s carte blanch move and rebuild plan. I’m not sure Cuomo understands the intricacies of the Penn situation. Metro North Penn access has also been on the table for years before Cuomo took office. He’ll end up taking credit for it if it ever gets going, but it’s still unclear how Penn Station is supposed to absorb more trains and more passengers considering it can’t deal with the ones it already has, especially considering East Side Access is still at least 6 years away from completion.

I don’t think Cuomo has a clue when it comes to transit or really any large scale urban planning. Do you remember his wacky plan to build the country’s largest convention center at the Aqueduct Raceway? What a joke…

Bolwerk January 29, 2015 - 10:12 am

You can’t just build infrastructure for infrastructure’s sake. Nearly every project you list is of spurious value for mobility or has little to do with Cuomo.

SEAN January 29, 2015 - 11:18 am


What you describe is what the Chinese do when they build enormous infrastructure projects.

Henry January 29, 2015 - 10:51 pm

The Chinese projects suffer from problems as well that don’t get covered in English-speaking media particularly often, and keep in mind that China is a developing country experiencing and predicting the largest urban migrations in human history, so there’s a reason it happens.

Spendmor Wastemor January 29, 2015 - 12:28 pm

You’re pretty green.

This ain’t California. In NYC, transit is not an optional goodie bequeathed by generous pols, it’s the only way to sustain the economy of NYC. The physical layout and density of the city make it impossible for half, nevermind all, of the working population to drive to work.

Princess Andrew doesn’t quite understand that, any more than he understood that the subway was put underground in no small part for the purpose of avoiding shutdowns due to snow.

adirondacker12800 January 29, 2015 - 1:39 pm

and when there is going to be 30 inches of snow on the ground you should stay put until the snowplows get through to you. Unless you work for something in the chain of events that happens after a call to 911 there are contingency plans to get you to work and keep you there if need be.

Tower18 January 29, 2015 - 1:48 pm

Do you have “blah blah unless you work in 911 blah blah stay home blah blah trip and fall in the snow blah blah first responders” on your clipboard ready to paste at a moments notice?

By your posting history, you seem to be a retiree that lives in the mountains. That’s great that you prefer to bundle up and stay indoors, and no surprise given your location and assumed age. But mind your own Adirondack business and stay upstate.

Bolwerk January 29, 2015 - 4:43 pm

He’s a Turing bot programmed for non-sequiturs like:

• “hurr not everything is about shuttling people 2 Manhattan”

• “billions of dollars”

• [insert some insinuation about how you’re too young to remember some common event]

adirondacker12800 January 29, 2015 - 9:08 pm

The governor and the mayor decided that it would be unwise for anyone not involved in providing emergency services to be moving about and exercised their powers to close down most of the state with the advice of people who have more information than you get by listening to the weather report and looking out your window. It’s too bad you are too stupid to understand that. I’m gonna go clean up the kitchen because life is too short to explain things to assholes and idiots and taking the garbage out is more interesting than trying to figure out which of the two either of you are.

Benjamin Kabak January 29, 2015 - 11:09 pm

Enough. This isn’t a thread about the snow. Keep the comments on topic.

Ray February 3, 2015 - 7:27 am

Naturally, I don’t accept the “green” label. You don’t know me and I’d ask for the maturity and courtesy of keeping things factual rather than personal.

None the less, thanks for info on why the subway was put underground. I had no idea it was blizzard related. Interesting.

I raised my California experience because I think it is quite relevant. After the initial red-line debacle, which was hugely over budget despite decades of careful planning and ended with the Federal Government intervening to stop construction of the subway, at our own congressional delegation’s prompting. (Over some say NIMBY trumped up concerns about methane). The transit dialogue abruptly went silent – in fact any proposal was DOA. For years. Yes, eventually we built light rail lines, some now quite successful. Still it was political suicide to bring up infrastructure development in downtown LA or Sacramento. This in a booming state of 33 million people.

It took a decade to regain the momentum, all that time wasted. Now there is a lot of catch up going on.

I get all your points. The projects listed are not Andrew’s ideas. Nor are they his to bequeath to us. I understand democratic ideals. Yet for me, we have leaders in our democracy. And my comment was all about leadership. I expect Governors to put themselves out there. Sometimes they are right and surely sometimes they are wrong.

I don’t agree with everything the man says. I agree with some. Many here don’t seem to agree with anything. That’s unnatural, that’s not honest, that in my mind betrays some bias. So those complaining 100% about Andrew Cuomo’s engagement on these issues either have a political agenda (R) or are stereotypical whiners. I hope that wasn’t too personal.

Alon Levy February 3, 2015 - 9:01 am

It’s not about greenness. It’s about the fact that of the projects you mention, the only one that Cuomo is definitively advancing, the Tappan Zee Bridge, is a road widening. SAS was fully funded before he came along, and the only project on your list with positive transportation value, Metro-North’s Penn Station Access, predates him in concept as well. Against that, Cuomo a) is spending billions on a highway bridge on which he killed any rail option, b) vetoed the MTA lockbox bill, c) killed a high-speed rail study, and d) appointed a hack to co-lead Port Authority. He doesn’t care about public transit. Never has. And now there’s the arbitrary shutdown for the blizzard.

AG February 3, 2015 - 10:05 am

Well said… If persons deported themselves as you describe… The blogs we use would be much better off – not to mention our actual civic workings.

Brian Van January 29, 2015 - 9:47 am

My mindset on this is that it’ll never get built – that it won’t even get past the capital allocation phase – and that the mere existence of this idea is just a stalling tactic to benefit the Port Authority in regards to scrutiny on investment and modernization.

In other words, while the idea at face value might inspire cynicism, a good rule with Cuomo is that we can never be cynical enough.

I would look to 2019 at this point (or possibly 2017 if the next president is Democratic and Cuomo manages to successfully implant himself in an exec administration role) and focus on long-range advocacy and coalition-building in order to win a better plan than this one. At that point you won’t have to worry about this plan having been established in any way, it’ll be a quirky historical tidbit like Westway (and, probably, QueensWay)

JJ January 29, 2015 - 9:49 am

I think part of the discussion being ignored is the reliability factor. Which is perceived to be more reliable: Subway to People Mover or Bus in Traffic? Time is of course a factor for many people, but so is predictability, especially when dealing with air travel.

The decisions cannot be only about time savings. If that were the case, many transit projects would never be implemented. Also, don’t forget the economic development aspect – the connection to the proposed convention center area.

Economic development is a factor that plays into transit planning, especially when pursuing Federal dollars. (I know this isn’t using Federal funds, but the approach and analysis should consider the same factors).

I will end with the general lesson for all transit planning: Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. People have been craving a rail connection to LGA. This proposal is not perfect by any means, but it is probably the only realistically viable option that will come along for a while.

BenW January 29, 2015 - 10:04 am

It won’t be using Federal funds because the feds wouldn’t touch this garbage with a ten foot pole.

The perfect can be the enemy of the good, which is something to beware of, but in this case, the perfect and the good are both the enemy of the outright terrible, which seems like an appropriate alignment of forces.

JJ January 29, 2015 - 10:56 am

Another thing to consider – if this idea is stopped by public outcry or transit bloggers who rarely operate in the real world – it will be a very long time before another idea, and more importantly, funding comes along.

If the $450M goes away from this project, who knows where it will end up? Then folks can continue to complain for another 30+ years that there is no rail connection to LGA.

PS Feds do sometimes fund projects that most wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole – politics many times trumps best practices.

Eric F January 29, 2015 - 11:03 am

No other LGA access plan has been on the board in years, so that sounds right to me.

The $450 million figure is just nonsense on stilts, however.

Bolwerk January 29, 2015 - 12:50 pm

It’s nonsensically high. It’s almost twice what the JFK AirTrain cost per-mile, for a simpler project.

Justin Samuels January 29, 2015 - 8:42 pm

Well, it being twice a high is not coming out of your pocket.

It’s coming out of 5 billion dollars that the state is getting in bank settlement fees.

So really, what’s the source of the whining?

Bliss January 29, 2015 - 8:55 pm

Money is all fungible. Use the money on something smarter.

Henry January 29, 2015 - 10:54 pm

It’s not ridiculous to suggest that the half billion could be spent on something more vital than a toy train to a baseball stadium and future shopping mall.

Alon Levy January 30, 2015 - 3:44 am

There was an LGA access plan less than twenty years ago. It was better than the current one. This teaches us two important lessons:

1. Politicians propose airport connectors often enough that it’s okay to pass on an imperfect project (let alone a terrible one such as Cuomo’s) to get a good one later. See also the proposals for JFK – there’s already an AirTrain, but some people propose another connection.

2. Astoria residents were offered 2 extra long blocks of el in their neighborhood in exchange for a train that would take them to the airport in less than 10 minutes, and rejected that offer. What does this say about how useful airport connectors are?

BronxSteve February 2, 2015 - 3:29 pm

“Astoria residents were offered 2 extra long blocks of el in their neighborhood in exchange for a train that would take them to the airport in less than 10 minutes, and rejected that offer. ”

Not only that, Astoria residents would have gotten express service on the Astoria line as well, as airport trains would undoubtedly have run on the express track.

lop February 2, 2015 - 4:39 pm

How often could they run an express train when they only have one express track? And would those be new trains, or would some existing trains be bypassing astoria to speed the trip for airport users?

Henry February 2, 2015 - 4:45 pm

Express service used to exist on the Astoria Line, but was cut because this mostly represented in empty express trains arriving at QBP. Express service on the Astoria Line would probably come from the weekday-only service on the line (traditionally Astoria has had a weekday-only service and a 24/7 service), which today would be the N.

adirondacker12800 February 2, 2015 - 6:21 pm

and only one station that has express platforms where they have the peak direction express tracks. Whoppppeeee!

Benjamin Kabak January 29, 2015 - 11:03 am

if this idea is stopped by public outcry or transit bloggers who rarely operate in the real world

This is an odd dig, and I’m not clear of your intention behind it. If groups operating as government watchdogs and transit advocates don’t raise questions that need answering before we go full speed ahead, what’s the point?

In this instance, perfection isn’t the enemy of good. A terrible idea from Cuomo without the rationale to support it is the enemy of good, and this is an instance where the no-build alternative is better. Spending the money subsidizing cab fares from LGA would probably be better too.

I would also be happy to run view with the view that this is a well-developed and well-thought-out plan that can realistically solve transit needs, but no one I’ve spoken with inside the MTA/PA or elsewhere in the “real world” transit space thinks Cuomo’s a good idea. I guess the engineers and transit planners aren’t operating in the real world either then?

Jason January 29, 2015 - 11:22 am

I guess political support to build something is so rare, that we must seize the opportunity no matter how bad it is!

That $450 million could be put towards something else more useful is where it can go. Such as adding to the funds needed for Gateway.

Justin Samuels January 29, 2015 - 8:47 pm

The idea won’t be stopped by public outcry as most of the public can’t pay attention to something like this. Residents in Queens won’t block it because it goes along a non residentia route.

Transit bloggers have absolutely no influence. Recent transit extensions like the 7 train to 34th and 11th and the Second Avenue Subway happened because they spur development on Manhattan’s far west side, and on the East Side. (Yorkville is gentrifying due to the phase one of the Second Avenue Subway, and now the MTA is gearing up for phase 2 as well as engineering studies for phases 3-4).

Truthfully a big part of why the Airtrain-LGA is happening it it helps the redevelopment of Corona, where Willets Point is being redevelop, Citi-Field’s parking lot will be replaced by a shopping mall and housing, and where a large convention center with new hotels is currently being built. Transit bloggers have no influence compared to all that money.

Airtrain-LGA is in no danger, so you needn’t worry about that. Oh, transit bloggers didn’t like the 7 line extension or the Fulton Street Complex, but both were built.

Maggie January 30, 2015 - 12:57 pm

I’m curious, do you work in the Cuomo administration? Not to needle you, but if “transit bloggers have absolutely no influence” (I disagree!), why comment on a transit blog?

Quirk February 1, 2015 - 3:44 pm

Agreed, what a shill.

Anyways, Yorkvile/Upper Side East Side was upzoned during the 70’s and those new buildings were going up regardless, with or without the Q line extension.

Jason January 29, 2015 - 11:11 am

For pretty much anybody on Long Island, including myself, the Q70 ltd from Woodside will still be the more reliable option. Who wants to get off the LIRR, transfer to a 7 train, and then transfer again to an AirTrain that may not even stop at all the terminals? It will be MUCH easier to simply get off the LIRR and get on a usually pretty empty Q70 ltd that stops at all terminals, and even has luggage racks.
On top of that, it will likely be quite a bit more expensive than LIRR>Bus for Long Island passengers. LIRR cost, $2.50 (or whatever the fare increase is to), and then probably yet another fare for an LGA airtrain. I’m not buying it.

Eric F January 29, 2015 - 10:05 am

The links you posted are excellent. The maps indicate the utility of the alignment to Woodside/Jackson Heights. If an interim stop could be sited in Jackson Heights, all the better. The Woodside stop would allow more frequent LIRR access from both the west side and the east side (assuming ESA is ever finished). The Willets alignment would allow for the creation of an airport park and ride at the site, using the vast parking lots around Shea, but other than that it’s a lousy choice.

Realistically, Cuomo’s alignment and cost figure were more or less “made up” and it’s hard to look at the proposal as much more than vapor. That said, if he follows through with it somehow, I’d have to give him credit for getting a rail link built when no one else had been able to.

Those who advocate the Astoria link should cast a disapproving eye on the NY Times. Giuliani advocated for that alignment early in bis mayoralty and the reflexive anti-Giuliani Times portrayed it as a wasteful sop to Queens constituents, even though there was opposition to the plan in Queens.

Bolwerk January 29, 2015 - 10:20 am

Yes, Cuomo is a thin-skinned authoritarian oaf. Yes, this AirTrain is stupid.

But I’d sort of like to see it pushed to an alternatives analysis phase. I still think the route can be passable for a one-seat trip, if such an alternative is considered. Of course, the one-seat ride alternative may be impossible. And, realistically, these plans usually get shelved after the alternatives analysis phase anyway.

SEAN January 29, 2015 - 11:03 am

There are only two ways this project would be remotely useful NIMBY’s not withstanding. Both of them are extentions of the existing AirTrain system.

1. A line from Jamaica station.
2. A line from 74th Street/ Roosevelt Avenue Jackson Heights.

The rest of this is fantasy on steroids & everyone knows it.

lawhawk January 29, 2015 - 11:08 am

What if Cuomo’s vaporware Airtrain from Willets Point were combined with an extension through Jackson Heights to Astoria and the N? This would allow for a routing that takes into account the GCP alignment and actually connects the more useful N terminus with the airport, plus gives a 7 train connection? The connections, via the airport would be far more costly than the $450 million Cuomo pulled from thin air but it would also, given current construction methods, be palatable to the folks in Jackson Heights who had blocked the earlier Giuliani proposals since it would provide useful service to this part of Queens and serve the airport with useful transit connections that have been lacking to date.

eo January 29, 2015 - 11:23 am

You do not need AirTran to be quiet. Nobody will build steel structures for the subway anymore. An extension of the N will be as quiet as the Air Tran because it will use the same type of concrete viaducts. Most NIMBYs have no idea what the differences between concrete viaducts and the noisy ELs are.

Phantom January 29, 2015 - 1:11 pm


You raise an interesting point.

Would it be practical to retrofit concrete supports on the existing elevateds, some decades in the future, so that they are quieter?

I can’t imagine that the existing steel structures will last forever and they’ll have to do something.


But noise is only one of the problems with elevated trains. They’re usually ugly and they put the streets in shadow.

adirondacker12800 January 29, 2015 - 1:42 pm

The last time they did anything significant to an El was building the Archer Avenue subway.

Bliss January 29, 2015 - 4:45 pm
lop January 30, 2015 - 3:43 pm

Anytime before the structure’s end of life that’s a major expense that would be hard to justify.

BronxSteve February 2, 2015 - 3:33 pm

Most existing 100-year-old els have been retrofitted with new steel beams etc. ,several times and can have an indefinite life.

Bolwerk January 29, 2015 - 12:49 pm

What’s so compelling about AirTrains for LGA? JFK needed a rapid shuttle service between terminals, so it makes sense there. I agree with eo, there is little risk of noise from modern construction methods even with the subway.

A transfer at Jackson Heights or Astoria is still a transfer. One-seat rides avoid transfers for a lot of people. And since transfers once you reach the subway are built in for most users, in some ways a one-seat subway ride on the 7 might even be preferable to the Astoria option. The 7 offers transfers to every major service in the city except the L.

(I don’t know why people scoff at the $450M pricetag. It’s high, if anything, for a mile of el.)

eo January 29, 2015 - 11:20 am

You are bringing an excellent point. Is there a way for this to avoid Environmental Impact Studies and Assessments? If the answer is no, then the alternatives analysis is likely to kill this thing as proposed.

If by not using Federal money Cuomo can get around the NEPA requirements, then all bets are off…

Alon Levy January 30, 2015 - 3:47 am

Actually, a one-seat ride on the 7 is the worst possible option. Cuomo’s LGA proposal has zero transportation value; branching the 7, which would reduce frequency to Flushing, would have negative transportation value.

Bolwerk January 30, 2015 - 11:45 am

Flushing has peak service of 25 TPH or more, averaging at least a train every 2m24s. If that drops by 5, peak service to Flushing is still on 3m headways, better than probably any branch line in the city. Airport service isn’t entirely inappropriate. Flushing passengers aren’t likely to notice their average waits have increased from 72 seconds to 90 seconds.

And that’s even assuming you need to divert any trains, and can’t just add new ones to the branch without touching Flushing (thanks to CBTC).

Not saying it’s definitely feasible, but it’s worth considering.

Alon Levy January 30, 2015 - 6:29 pm

If they divert 5 trains to LaGuardia, then once every 12 minutes there would be a 5-minute gap instead of a 2.5-minute gap. That’s unacceptable given how busy Flushing is.

Likewise, if they add trains to be sent to LaGuardia, then they’d have to create space for them by creating some longer gaps in service to Flushing.

Bolwerk January 30, 2015 - 7:07 pm

5m hardly seems like an untenable gap as far as customer convenience is concerned, and if the peak load point for both 7 services is between 33rd and 61st, the 7 is leaving Flushing with some spare capacity. Okay, maybe not enough, but can that be shown?

Not saying there aren’t design reasons to avoid this idea, but I think it’s at least worth study. Maybe platform crowding at GCT or something would be dangerous if people with baggage wait for rarer airport-bound trains. This wouldn’t be a problem at a terminal like Flushing, but it bears remembering that uber-busy Times Square would no longer be a terminal at this point.

Alon Levy January 30, 2015 - 8:18 pm

It’s not an untenable gap at an average station, but at a station with Flushing’s traffic, it’s significant. Flushing has 60,000 weekday riders; the sum of the stations to the east of 74th (which is a net drain on the 7 because people transfer out to the E/F), excluding Flushing, is 88,000. So the first train after the 5-minute gap leaves Flushing almost as crowded as a regular train about to pull into 74th (60*5 vs. 148*2), which means passengers at subsequent stations take more time to get on it because there’s less space, which means bunching, which increases the gap between trains even further.

A good rule of thumb: do not split frequency just before a 60,000/day station to serve an airport extension that would be lucky to get 10,000. Move on. There are more important priorities for the city.

Bolwerk January 30, 2015 - 8:51 pm

Meh, I never said it would be my first choice, but I’d rather see a low priority implemented right rather than wrong. Unnecessary transfers are really dumb.

I’m not so sure about the gaps you describe presenting in the morning. At least in the A.M. rush, two Manhattan-bound tracks probably allow you to stagger Flushing traffic pretty evenly by increasing the proportion of express service (assuming the airport feeds local service).

Flushing-bound evening staggered express/local service could be more troubling, but even here only so much since Flushing riders probably already have a bias toward TPH-contrained express trains.

Alon Levy January 31, 2015 - 2:26 pm

The only right way to implement a subway-only LaGuardia connector is an N extension.

Anyway, re staggering, it’s not really possible, because it requires very good schedule discipline to turn a train-every-3-minutes schedule at Flushing into a train-every-2.4-minutes one at QBP. The alternative, holding trains on the tracks to ensure even spacing, lengthens the commute trip for a large number of people all in order to let some people take the train to LaGuardia, and therefore has negative transportation value again.

Bolwerk January 31, 2015 - 6:30 pm

Maybe it’s impossible. I’d still be curious to see it analyzed before dismissing it, especially if Cuomo will ram it through anyway. To some extent, trains do stagger as is.

Yes, I agree Astoria is better.

johndmuller February 3, 2015 - 7:14 pm

I believe that for this discussion it was postulated that new train runs were to be added using the magic of CBTC, thus maintaining the thru-put to/from Flushing.

I assume that nobody has a problem visualizing this working during the off-peak, as it will merely be adding new trains in between (some) existing ones – at worst making the schedule a bit irregular, but still better than before for most.

During the peak hours, there will still be the same number of trains to Flushing as before; way more than necessary in the off-peak direction. For the evening rush there will be more trains than before, but the extra trains will not be going to Flushing, so while the average time to get to Flushing should be the same as today, there would sometimes be the annoyance of having to wait a very few minutes for the next train. That is, of course, what befalls strap-hangers who live on the ends of nearly all the other lines, so welcome to the club.

For the inbound rush hour, the extra (express) track allows the Flushing schedule to be oblivious to the extra trains that will be added from the airport as they simply need to be routed on different tracks when there is an overlap. There are a dozen stops between Willets and QBPlaza during which the intervals can be synchronized. As to how they would do this weave, well how do they do it for the inbound expresses now?

The matter of whether or not the Airport service uses some of the express slots could be an interesting discussion. Since the cutoff to LGA would likely be before Willets, it would argue for the Airport trains to be locals, as they might be fairly empty otherwise (which OTOH would of course be just what the airport travelers would want).

For the record, I would also favor the Astoria line extension, or maybe an offshoot of the SAS going straight across Ditmars.

adirondacker12800 January 30, 2015 - 8:11 pm

Apparently people take buses to Flushing and helicopters back home. And once the terminal shifts to 11th and 34th they’ll walk downtown, past the station for Times Square, to get a train at the terminal instead of a train at Times Square.

BronxSteve February 2, 2015 - 5:17 pm

It was my impression that during rush hour there were several put-ins on the 7 from the yard that originate at 111th St. If so, those trains could originate at LGA without decreasing service to Main St.

threestationsquare January 30, 2015 - 1:28 pm

Cuomo’s proposal would have negative transportation value if they cut the Q70 when it opened (and they probably would, to make the ridership numbers a bit less embarrassing).

I guess the slightly good news is that the elites pushing these airport connectors think they’re too good for the subway, so if there is an attempt to build a one seat ride it will be via the LIRR rather than splitting frequency on the 7. An overpriced nonstop express via the LIRR would certainly fit the “other cities are doing it!” model.

Larry Littlefield January 29, 2015 - 11:50 am

Cuomo is reacting, in part, to reports that NY’s airports are the worst in the U.S. But this will not solve the problem.

The best airports in the U.S., the ones with all the amenities, are hub airports. O’Hare, DFW, DIA, etc. You have all kinds of amenities in these airports — because lots of passengers wait around there to change planes, and create demand. You also have lots of revenues from fees to all those planes, relative to the people actually getting on and off there.

When you show up at LaGuardia, you don’t go there to eat or shop. So places to eat or shop will remain limited.

There could be more amenities at JFK, but that was botched by having all those separate terminals. If Cuomo wanted to do something, he should find a way to do something appealing with the old TWA terminal. That project, last I heard, had gone nowhere.

Meanwhile, the bus connection to LaGuardia worked great — until I got to LaGuardia and ended up in a traffic jam. A separate busway to allow allow the buses to avoid the scrum of taxis and cars might be enough to solve the problem.

Eric F January 29, 2015 - 12:27 pm

Assuming you’re the same Larry Littelfield, I saw your letter to the Editor in the Economist a couple weeks ago. Congrats!

Larry Littlefield January 29, 2015 - 1:02 pm

Really? I do subscribe to the Economist (online) and comment there, but I’ve already forgotten anything I might have sent them.

Eric F January 29, 2015 - 3:01 pm

It was regarding rail in England. It’s online as well:


Larry Littlefield January 29, 2015 - 3:38 pm

Ah yes, that. I had just written a post about the problem of so many people in younger generations seeking to crowd into the limited number of U.S. cities.


And what to be done about it.


When I cam upon that ode the suburbs, the latest example of The Economist campaign to open the Greenbelt to development because of the housing price crisis in London. London’s problems are our problems.

So I looked into how far away other cities that have lost population are by rail, and I was stunned at the answer. I wish we had a Greenbelt and those trains.

Maggie January 30, 2015 - 12:58 pm

I saw that too – congrats Larry! Nice response to the Economist piece.

Alon Levy January 30, 2015 - 3:51 am

Eh. Trains will get you from Birmingham to London in not much more than an hour, but the fare will bleed you dry. It’s like commuting from Philly to New York on Amtrak: if you can afford it, you can afford to live on the Upper West Side and take the 1.

Larry Littlefield January 30, 2015 - 9:08 am

The idea isn’t to commute. It is to live in Birmingham, work in Birmingham, and travel to London occasionally to market your goods and services.

Alon Levy January 30, 2015 - 6:30 pm

There’s work in Birmingham?

Larry Littlefield January 31, 2015 - 11:33 am

You have to convince the people who create work, or work independently, to live there first. Presumably those just starting out, who might need someplace cheaper than London or New York.

Such people are drawn to the biggest market, because the market is the number one need of the entrepreneur or freelancer. Thus a link to that market, not for every day but at least for every now and then, is essential.

Alon Levy January 31, 2015 - 2:43 pm

Okay, so it’s down to people who have enough income to start businesses that employ other people but not enough to live in London. People with social ties to Birmingham might stay and start businesses, but people who aren’t from there have no real reason to move there. That’s why the people who created the suburbs made sure there’d be affordable commuter transportation, whether it’s a subway with a 5-cent fare, an untolled road, or whatever.

Birmingham does not have affordable commuter transportation to London. It’s also unlikely to have any such transportation in the next few decades, barring high subsidies. High-speed rail lines in Continental Europe, which are cheaper than National Rail, charge on the order of 15 US cents per kilometer, and make decent but not Earth-shattering profits. Birmingham is 180 km from London, so HSR should charge about $27 each way. Now, cheaper commuter tickets are a possibility, but then they’d have to be relative to a higher base fare. If you make generous assumptions on the monthly discount, you’re talking about $10,000 in annual commute costs.

adirondacker12800 January 31, 2015 - 6:21 pm

Which is why nobody lives in Providence because it’s not Boston and nobody lives in Boston or Philadelphia because it’s not New York. Sometimes it’s better to be a medium sized fish in a small pond than to be a itty bitty fish in a big pond.

Alon Levy January 31, 2015 - 11:39 pm

Providence has work! Not a lot of it, but it has some. There’s a reason Rhode Island has more immigrants (per capita) than Massachusetts and Connecticut. There isn’t all that much commuting between Providence and Boston. They share suburbs, but actual commuter volumes city to city are pretty low.

adirondacker12800 February 1, 2015 - 1:25 am

Someone from someplace not London who gets a good job offer in Birmingham after leaving college but none that would allow him or her to live in London without the rich network of social ties that someone from London would have may love the idea of moving to Birmingham.

There’s a lot of fish released from the college hatcheries every semester. Some of the hatchlings don’t get an offer in London or New York and settle for Providence or Vancouver or Birmingham. Or Lyon or Osaka or St. Petersburg or… Or they decide to go to college in Cleveland or Birmingham and stay after graduating. There are a few people who have decided that real estate within walking distance of 30th Street or a short ride on a bus etc. is worth the commute to the job in Manhattan. Not many of them but they exist. Like the ones who drive from Montgomery and Bucks and clog the parking lots in Trenton and Hamilton… Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton just got sucked into the NY CSA. Not because people commute to Manhattan, though a few do, but because they commute to Warren county clogging up I-78 and US 22. They aren’t commuting to metro Philadelphia as much even though Philadelphia, if they were it would have become part of Philadelphia’s CSA. Philadelphia is 30 miles closer then Manhattan.

adirondacker12800 February 1, 2015 - 1:28 am

Or Rhode Island is the place the low wage low skill jobs that used to be in Boston move to. Because Rhode Island is better able to cope with it than New Hampshire or Maine. And the immigrants are more willing to live there, compared to Maine, because there is an ethnic neighborhood they can settle in.

AG January 31, 2015 - 4:42 pm

I have family in Birmingham and they do just as you say… Just as people in Philly do in relation to NYC (a few I’ve done business with myself). I know persons on both sides of the Atlantic that do just that – but for some reason people think those things don’t exist. Strange.

g January 29, 2015 - 12:59 pm

The lack of attractive amenities at an airport has more to do with the relevant airport authority and airline’s interest in providing them. Anybody who thinks it’s not possible to have high quality amenities in stand alone terminals should visit SFO T2 or the revamped concessions at ORD T5.

The current problem at LGA is the extremely limited airside space and segmented arraignment of the CTB which will be remedied when it gets rebuilt. The PA plans for the new terminal building include extensive square footage for food/bev/retail in the connecting building and main piers.

Larry Littlefield January 29, 2015 - 1:04 pm

Didn’t they just remodel LGA, however? Within the last 20 years, and maybe within the last 15?

Reputation or no, I can’t see doing it again given all the priorities and the shortage of money.

g January 29, 2015 - 2:00 pm

IIRC, the CTB was remodeled in the late 90s or early 2000s. The remodel didn’t address the major deficiencies of the early 1960s design that make it so problematic now. I believe they are reviewing the replacement proposals currently.

Tower18 January 29, 2015 - 3:37 pm

The Central Terminal is the issue. Delta is mid-renovation on Terminal C and substantially complete with Terminal D. To a certain extent it’s lipstick on pigs, but they’re quite nice for what they are. D in particular, however, is still horribly crowded though. But there’s no amenity problem.

Thomas Graves January 29, 2015 - 3:02 pm

The best airports in the US are a joke, and using that as a basis for comparison creates a pretty low bar. New York competes against the likes of London, Paris, Hong Kong and Frankfurt. All have not only “all the amenities”, but they have fast, reliable rail links to them from the center of their cities. LaGuardia doesn’t need bus lanes, it needs a rail link directly to the terminals. Extending the N is logical, but it will never happen. Neighborhood opposition killed off that idea 20 years ago; added to that now would be a cost running into the billions, which is what any subway expansion now costs. Cuomo’s plan may be better than nothing, but even that is unlikely to be built with ‘only’ $450M. Of course, a country that blows $110B on ‘nation-building’ in Afghanistan can’t be expected to come up with any money to improve airport access for its largest city. That would clearly be asking too much…

Alon Levy January 30, 2015 - 4:00 am

Okay, let’s compare New York with London. Heathrow T5 is an abomination and I hope that it’s destroyed in a terrorist attack, when it’s empty, so that nobody would die. It needs a people mover just to get from one end of the terminal to another. You can take the Underground in, but the airport itself is a shit show.

Or maybe Frankfurt. I don’t actually remember much of Frankfurt, because when I connected there two months ago, going from one side of the terminal to another was quick enough I didn’t actually wait too long at the airport. The main thing I remember: the immigration line took maybe 3 minutes, even for foreigners. And foreigners could get in without any fingerprinting, unlike in the World’s Beacon of Freedom(tm).

I’d rather New York learned from these experiences instead of imitating airport connector disasters all over the world.

threestationsquare January 30, 2015 - 2:42 pm

What’s so bad about LHR T5? I think my main complaint is the poor frequency on the Underground because half the trains go to T4. I don’t see any particular problem with relying on an airside people mover in a large terminal. T4 is terrible though (looping Underground access, long taxi time across the runways, very difficult to reach from the other terminals), and the walk from the Underground to T3 is a bit long.

On the subject of immigration, I’m sympathetic to your complaint, but I’ll note that I waited about half an hour just to /exit/ Schengen at DUS earlier this month. One thing the US and UK get right is only doing passport control on entry, not on exit when you necessarily have a plane to catch.

Maggie January 30, 2015 - 3:04 pm

I think the single worst thing about T5 is having to take a bus back and forth from the terminal to your plane. It’s like BAA spent millions of pounds on a gleaming hotel/upscale shopping mall, and didn’t bother to make it also comfortably function as an airport (i.e. with gates). Drives me nuts to get off a long flight and have to wait for half the plane to cram back onto a slow bus to the terminal.

threestationsquare January 30, 2015 - 3:35 pm

Ugh, they bus flights at T5? I haven’t had that experience, though I had it at the other LHR terminals before T5 opened. I thought with T5 they finally had enough gates now.

Maggie January 31, 2015 - 8:48 am

Used to at T5, but maybe it’s better now? It’s been a couple years since I was there, perhaps they’ve sorted it out. It was maddening.

I’ll throw out Zurich as another place that gets rail from the city to its airport absolutely, perfectly right. Copenhagen too.

Alon Levy January 30, 2015 - 6:39 pm

In Canada, there’s no border control at exit, either! At entry they manage not to fingerprint people.

Heathrow was an abomination pre-T5 as well, granted. Shuttle buses for connections between intra-European and intercontinental flights? You’d think the busiest airport in Europe would know better… but anyway, T5 is so big the connection times are excessive, and the internal people mover really isn’t helping. (Also, when it had just opened, my flight got held 40 minutes on the ground while they were waiting for the jetway to work properly.) Compare it with Frankfurt, which has a bigger terminal but makes it possible to walk between gates.

threestationsquare February 1, 2015 - 7:25 pm

Don’t give Harper ideas!

I haven’t used FRA very much but I don’t think transfer at AMS for example takes less time than at LHR T5. The real problem at LHR is inter-terminal transfer.

threestationsquare January 30, 2015 - 3:31 pm

LGA is a dinky little domestic airport and it seems pretty silly to be comparing it to these intercontinental hubs. People aren’t spending lots of time waiting there (less than 8% of LGA passengers are connecting) and so it doesn’t need “all the amenities” (though it still does better on this account than places like STN and LTN).

The ride from the city centre via the F and Q70 (taking about 35 minutes) is faster than what’s available at STN, LTN, CDG, ORY, and NRT, and comparable to what’s available at LHR, LGW and HKG using expensive premium express trains. (LCY and FRA do manage to have faster links.) As Yonah Freemark explained at length, it’s just not possible to do significantly better for any remotely sane cost, and Cuomo’s plan would be worse than nothing.

JJJ January 29, 2015 - 2:24 pm

Hey guys, see Cuomo isnt against transit at all! He loves transit! He wants to spend HALF A BILLION on transit! Hes always looking out for us normal people. I cant wait to vote for him!

Robert January 29, 2015 - 3:04 pm

Here’s a question: What if by building the LaGuardia AirTrain at Mets-Willets Point, it opens the possibility in the future of connecting the AirTrain along the Van Wyck Expressway down to the current JFK AirTrain Terminal in Jamaica?

Benjamin Kabak January 29, 2015 - 3:21 pm

To what end? I don’t see a huge benefit to an airport-to-airport connector without intermediate stops serving local populations. Very few travelers need to go from LGA to JFK.

Robert January 29, 2015 - 3:37 pm

I have no idea what the numbers are of people who transfer between JFK and LGA (and vice versa), but could connecting the two airports via AirTrain lead to better coordination and scheduling of flights (and perhaps fewer delays) between LGA and JFK?

For example, let’s say after a trans-Atlantic flight to JFK, a traveler hops on the AirTrain in order to catch a domestic flight from LGA to his/her destination? Thereby, the AirTrain connection makes JFK and LGA into a kinda “super-airport”?

Henry January 29, 2015 - 10:59 pm

That would be very complicated. A traveler who might not even speak English would have to land at an airport, go through customs, go through baggage claim, take the train, transfer at Jamaica to the other train, check in, go through security, and get to their gate in time. And what happens if the incoming flight is delayed?

John January 29, 2015 - 3:32 pm

I remember someone brought up this point in an earlier thread, and there really isn’t much point to connecting the two airports to each other, rather it’s about connecting the two airports to the rest of the city. Getting the AirTrain to LGA from Jamaica would be about as much or possibly more of a time waster than getting it from Mets-Willets. And, as other commenters said, what’s the point of traveling from LGA to JFK?

Larry Littlefield January 29, 2015 - 3:40 pm

There used to be lots of international travelers who flew into JFK and out of LGA. The Port Authority ran buses between the two, and trucks with baggage, on the hellish lower Van Wyck.

There are more domestic flights at JFK now, however, so that may no longer be true.

Tower18 January 29, 2015 - 3:41 pm

It would allow primarily Delta’s passengers to arrive on domestic flights to LGA and connect to international flights at JFK, and vice versa. The only public good here is it removes the airlines from being in a situation where the have to offer destinations from JFK for the sole purpose of connecting to international flights.

For instance, you’ll see a number of cities with service to JFK in the form of 1-2 flights per day, arriving JFK between 2:00 and 5:00pm, and departing JFK 3:00 to 5:00pm. These are to accommodate international connections. These 1-2 flights essentially duplicate service already provided to LGA 3-5 times daily, and if there was a connection between the two airports, the theory goes, those JFK domestic connections could be cut, with the spaces used for something more productive.

But I don’t think it’s that easy.

SEAN January 29, 2015 - 5:05 pm

Let me explain something about NYC aviation – at one time most of the domestic flights into JFK were to & from MIA, SFO, LAX, SAN, PHX, LAS, PDX, SLC & SEA since all but MIA are outside LGA’s nonstop range. Once JetBlue started flying in 2000, the dynamics changed causing duplicated services. More recently US Airways traded hubs & slots with Delta giving Delta the split operation you see today.

I’m going to refer all readers to http://www.crankyflyer.com. There you will find more information on various aviation related topics. It has similarities to this site, but it’s aviation.

adirondacker12800 January 29, 2015 - 9:00 pm

I’m not in the mood to compare the lists of Delta and Delta Connection flights that are listed on Wikipedia for LaGuardia and JFK to ferret out the cities that have service to LaGuardia that don’t have service to JFK. What are they? It’s not the job of the PA or the MTA to make it easier for Ohioans or North Carolinians to fly to Africa. Or Maine.

johndmuller February 2, 2015 - 9:12 pm

In a word, “Yes”.

Phantom January 29, 2015 - 6:38 pm

I had a colleague based in Bermuda that used to travel to Chicago every month. As an American Airlines heavy hitter, he would fly Bermuda to JFK, then taxi it to LGA for the leg to Chicago every time.

adirondacker12800 January 30, 2015 - 12:09 am

Why should people in Metro New York be more than vaguely interested in people traveling from Bermuda to Chicago? Especially since he had the option to fly directly into LGA. Or ATL or BOS or BWI or CLT or DCA or DTW or EWR or IAD in addition to LGA or JFK. Is it any ground transportation company’s problem to facilitate people accruing additional frequent flyer miles?

lop January 30, 2015 - 11:14 pm

North-south travel in Queens kinda sucks. A small share of those trips involve LGA, JFK, or both. The PA plan was to only serve that small share of airport trips with a new rail line, if you got on and off away from an airport they’d charge you double. Ignoring the majority of corridor trips that don’t involve the airports made it a bad plan. That hasn’t changed over the last twenty years. The Flushing-Jamaica corridor has moderate demand. Not enough for ten car subway trains. Short light rail trains? At the north end curve west to Willets point and on to LGA? At the south end continue onto JFK? Maybe, but given other transportation priorities in the region maybe not. Looks a lot better with intermediate stops serving non airport trips than it does salivating over the handful of people who hop between airports.

Robert January 29, 2015 - 4:23 pm

If such an extension were to happen, then connecting the LGA AirTrain at the AirTrain station in Jamaica would allow non-Port Washington branch Long Islanders a more direct route to LGA than the “Z” journey via Woodside.

SEAN January 29, 2015 - 5:11 pm

Plus the Jamaica leg already exists, therefore all that is needed is the connecting leg.

adirondacker12800 January 29, 2015 - 9:03 pm

And Brooklyn and Queens passengers that live along the J/Z. Maybe even people in Lower Manhattan. And for some of the people along Queens Blvd who don’t want to negotiate the transfer in Jackson Heights.

David M January 29, 2015 - 8:44 pm

I have a serious question: why is there only a choice between extending the N train to LGA or simply having an air train from Willets Point?

I propose a better compromise: build an air train from Astoria Boulevard (2nd to last stop on the N) to LGA.

In this option, you’ll still have a connection from the N, which goes to important points in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and you’ll be able to build it over the grand central parkway, avoiding the NIMBY problem. Of course it’s not as optimal as sending the N directly, but if we’re building an air train, why not build it from a a point that makes more sense? I’m genuinely surprised no one has mentioned this in any of the comments I’ve seen.

Justin Samuels January 29, 2015 - 8:52 pm

Astoria residents shot building a train over GCP from Astoria Blvd down big time in the late 90s. It’s so bad nobody wants to touch it again, which is why Cuomo is having the Airtrain-LGA go it’s current route.

David M January 29, 2015 - 9:28 pm

I know the NIMBY’s shot down an N extension deeper into astoria, but an air train over the GCP too? I’m talking a driverless people mover from Astoria BLVD to LGA separate from the subway system that does not run on streets (ala JFK air train). Are you seriously saying there were NIMBYs opposed to building an air train over the GCP? If there were, what would be different about that than the JFK air train over the Van Wyck? Furthermore, wouldn’t the Air train from Willets point cause the exact same backlash? Both projects would be over the GCP, except connecting to the N train makes more sense than the 7.

My point is, if we’re building an air train over the GCP, why not build it in a place that makes more sense? Why are residents in the area near the GCP by the 7 much less of a obstacle than the residents near the GCP by the N?

Henry January 29, 2015 - 11:01 pm

The short answer is that there are significantly less of them. By the 7, on one side you have the bay and Corona Park. On the other, you have a few residents. In contrast, by Astoria the GCP is surrounded on both sides by housing.

Jon Y January 30, 2015 - 9:34 am

You also run into the issue of the various bridges and trestles that the airtrain would need to weave and thread through.

Eric F January 30, 2015 - 10:32 am

The Port Authority greased many neighborhoods in Queens when it built Air Train on the median of the Van Wyck. You would have thought they were building a plutonium dump or something given all the community relations hoops they jumped through.

Maggie January 30, 2015 - 1:30 pm

I think this premise is flawed. Second Avenue Sagas has posted fairly recently on why things that got shot down in the 90’s could win over the public today. Here’s a strong political counter-example: it took more than 130 years before women got the right to vote in the USA (1920). That doesn’t mean women’s suffrage was wrong every time it was proposed and shot down in the intervening years, it just means it took an embarrassing 100+ years for politicians to do the politically courageous, in hindsight obvious thing. So, in 2015, if we taxpayers are going to spend – at least! – hundreds of millions of dollars on rail to an airport, let’s do it right. It should be a no-brainer that that means a one-seat ride to the city’s CBD(s), with reasonable, limited stops en route.

On the $5 billion in bank settlement funds: these belong to the people of New York. Cuomo didn’t donate it to the state, and BNP didn’t contribute it to New York-based construction firms (which I feel you’ve implied). I could argue New York City rather than state, since BNP settled on a charge that the Fifth Avenue property was illegally purchased on behalf of Iran, and indirectly connected to the wrongful death of a New Yorker – but to my mind this is the people’s settlement.

adirondacker12800 January 30, 2015 - 2:20 pm

Why does it have to be a one seat ride and can you give everybody a one seat ride. You can’t at Newark or JFK and to a lesser degree at LaGuardia. Sending ten car trains to the airport doesn’t get people out of the shuttle buses to all the other stuff that happens at the airport besides getting very important Manhattanites and their clients to Midtown hotels. Anyway those travelers are on expense account and except maybe during rush hour will hail a cab.

Bolwerk January 30, 2015 - 3:27 pm

You can’t give everyone a one-seat ride, but more people who have a one-seat ride means fewer have a three-seat ride. The 7 Train connects to every Manhattan service, except the J/Z and L, and the G, mostly with ADA accessibility.

If your main concern is Midtown-bound execs, maybe the Astoria service is a better choice.

adirondacker12800 January 30, 2015 - 5:24 pm

It has changed since the last time I saw numbers but LaGuardia serves the Upper East Side and Midtown. Where the residents are rich enough to take a short taxi ride and the business flyers on an expense account. The people jonesin’ for a train to LaGuardia are the ones who don’t like icky buses.

Bolwerk January 30, 2015 - 6:23 pm

Um, no. Transit buses are shitty for airport service. Narrower vehicles with less space are simply not great with heavy baggage.

The practical choices are basically rail, commuter bus, private vehicle, specialized dollar van, or taxi. The cheapest for a lot of riders is probably always rail.

adirondacker12800 January 30, 2015 - 8:08 pm

I’ve never had any problem with the buses I’ve used to get to the airport, from the airport, to the hotel, from the hotel, to the car rental, from the car rental. I’ve never had the urge to use long term parking because the long term parking fees are usually higher than the cab fare so I use a cab. You want ease you use a cab. Except for that night I arrived, the end of the line for the taxis was at the bus stop and since one was sitting there waiting to depart I took the bus. Dropped me right at the taxi stand at Penn Station where there was no waiting for a taxi.

Bolwerk January 30, 2015 - 8:54 pm

Well, luckily transit doesn’t revolve around you. The system would probably close every time someone was in danger of slipping on ice. 🙁

Buses are fine for airports, but transit buses are rather constrained no matter how willing you are to use them. It doesn’t mean transit buses can’t serve airports, but they objectively aren’t a very good way to do it.

Alon Levy January 31, 2015 - 3:39 pm

Commuter buses tend to have very high floors and put the luggage racks under the floor, like Bolt. That’s kind of shitty for an airport bus that intends to make intermediate stops.

Bolwerk January 31, 2015 - 6:25 pm

AFAIK, they usually don’t make intermediate stops.

adirondacker12800 January 31, 2015 - 9:21 pm

Most of commuter buses make lots of stops out in the suburbs. The intercity buses can and usually do make intermediate stops except for the very busy routes where it make sense to fill up the bus in one big city and send it to another big city without stopping. Or do wonderful things like make you change buses in the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

Bolwerk February 1, 2015 - 10:08 am

AIUI, usually the term commuter bus is understood to the have the sort of service patterns NYC calls an express bus, maybe over longer distances. They might pick up passengers in a few places, but they usually exist for the sake of getting people to work and may not even operate at other times. In the airport context, they’d probably pick people up at a place like Times Square and bring them to the airport.

Most NJTransit buses probably tend to fall more into the transit bus category like most most NYC buses with a $2.50 fare. They make frequent stops and often run with reasonable frequency. But I guess they do tend to drop an inordinate number of people in Manhattan.

adirondacker12800 February 1, 2015 - 12:33 pm

Some of the lines from New Jersey run things that are like Greyhounds without baggage service. Some of them are city style buses that have much nicer seats like MTA express buses. Some of them behave like the local bus that happens to go all the way to the Port Authority when it gets to one end. Silly silly NJTransit and the contract operators adjusting the service to the needs of the route.

The fancy bus to and from the airport goes to Grand Central. the PABT and Penn Station.



The bus from Grand Central has been running for decades. The bus from Penn Station and the PABT is newer and IIRC hasn’t been running for as many decades.

IIRC the bus from Grand Central originally used and may still use the B&O bus depot that took people from Grand Central to the CNJ ferry for connections to the intercity trains that departed from the CNJ terminal in Jersey City. Along with other depots in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

lop January 31, 2015 - 7:17 pm

Have you used the MTA buses with luggage racks? What’s wrong with them?

Bolwerk February 1, 2015 - 2:17 pm

Nothing is “wrong” with them, but they probably aren’t adequate to carry many people who travel like this, as many air travelers are wont to do. The overhead racks seem to accommodate a modestly large backpack. Some routes have cages that probably are enough for 2-3 large-ish pieces of luggage.

My preferred tactic when carrying large items on the bus is to try to get my luggage over the wheel compartment.

Maggie January 31, 2015 - 8:04 am

I don’t get this line of attack. Business flyers don’t like sitting in gridlocked traffic on the way to the airport any more than anybody else, and people who right now take a taxi or a bus may still prefer to hop on a quick, convenient train. Why sneer at LaGuardia users?

adirondacker12800 January 31, 2015 - 10:32 am

They get stuck in the same traffic getting to Newark and JFK. They have the option of taking the train and the still take cabs and limos. And when they are coming from someplace other than the grand and glorious Manhattan they drive their own cars. there are people who never go into Manhattan who want to use the airports.

Bolwerk January 31, 2015 - 10:48 am

Will trains ever escape the stigma of being superior goods? 🙁

AG January 31, 2015 - 4:46 pm

Those execs that don’t hire a car will use the LIRR…

adirondacker12800 January 31, 2015 - 6:23 pm

So how are they going to get from their office on 59th and Park to the LIRR? Instead of hailing a cab and sneaking across the 59th Street bridge?

lop January 31, 2015 - 7:07 pm

I thought nobody started an airport bound trip from there and that’s why locals were so upset about all the cabs that were going to flood the area when the PA’s light rail from the airports to Manhattan over the 59th st bridge was built?

AG January 31, 2015 - 10:48 pm

Well for one thing – there is something called traffic. If they time a cab to take them to GCT in a few years right on time to catch the train – they could very well reach there faster than they would taking taking that cab across the 59th street Bridge. You act as if there is no road traffic in NYC…

If you are talking about Penn – then of course someone at 59th and Park probably wouldn’t save time since he would deal with road traffic to get to 34th and 8th to then go back to where they came from… Now if it’s an exec from Time Warner or Coach or SAP when they move to Hudson Yards in a couple of years – they very well could go right to Penn and certainly beat a taxi from Hudson Yards to LGA.

You do realize people use the Acela for business Monday through Friday… A lot of these people travel to NYC for business from Boston/DC/Phily…. Guess what – they find a way to get around NYC from Penn… Some believe it or not – use the subway to reach their final leg because they know NYC street traffic is horrible. Why exactly would this be different???

adirondacker12800 February 1, 2015 - 1:02 am

as if there is never any traffic around Grand Central. And because they are going to the airport the elevator ride down to track level is somehow going to faster for them compared to regular ol’ commuters.

AG February 1, 2015 - 10:14 am

You can test it out and let us know. That’s the thing with life – people can try things out and see what works best for them. You have some people who still wouldn’t want to pay the taxi fare even though they can afford it. There are people now who can afford to use taxis to do plenty of things – but still will use the subway. Just as there are some suburban commuters who use the commuter rail lines who could afford a parking garage in Manhattan – but they rather save the money and deal with the crowded trains and finding a way to get from home to the train – etc. etc.
When you live in a crowded area like this – having options is a great thing.

adirondacker12800 February 1, 2015 - 12:51 pm

it’s been my experience that people use the fastest way to get to and fro that they are capable of using. Which is why suburban commuters drive to the park-n-ride to get on a bus or train to get to the congested city during rush hour. They’ll drive all the way in if it’s a Sunday evening.
There a have been times when my flight is delayed and I pick up my bags at the beginning of rush hour. I get on the bus to the train and take the train. It’s faster. Once was from LGA, I took the bus to Jackson Heights. took the E all the way to World Trade Center, made myself and my bags as small as possible on a rush hour PATH train and took a cab from Penn Station Newark. I had been planning on bus to the Port Authority and then a NJTransit bus to the end of my block but that would have taken longer in rush hour.

AG February 3, 2015 - 9:57 am

“it’s been my experience that people use the fastest way to get to and fro that they are capable of using.”

ok…. and using your hypothetical example – there will certainly be times where that person from 59th and Park could reach LGA via this “non-ideal proposal”…. and for less money. Traffic in NYC is terribly unpredictable during the business day. Early in the morning or times after 8PM the cab would most likely be faster.

Maggie February 1, 2015 - 12:39 pm

All I can think of now is Jonah Hill. ‘What is this, middle-earth?! Just get me to the airport.’

Maggie January 30, 2015 - 3:49 pm

If I ran the show, and the goal was to maintain LaGuardia’s competitiveness against Penn Station (for northeast corridor trips), and JFK and Newark (for flights), my starting point would be: how can we give the most travellers possible, an efficient, time-predictable, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective one-seat ride from the airport to their destination. Already, whether I’m traveling on my own dime or being fully reimbursed for business, I’d rather take Amtrak from Penn Station, or take the LIRR to the AirTrain to JFK. But that doesn’t mean riders enjoy transferring at Jamaica – they just tolerate it. Why replicate that if we can improve it?

adirondacker12800 January 30, 2015 - 5:27 pm

How do you get a train that serves many points in Manhattan all the terminals in any of the airports and also serves all the other things that go on in the airport? One of the wonderful things about Airtrain is that the shuttle buses to all the stuff that goes on at the airport aren’t in the terminals anymore.

AG January 31, 2015 - 4:47 pm

Simple answer… The money… If you recall after 9/11 $2billion was set aside (with lobbying from Charles Schumer) to get a one seat ride from JFK to Lower Manhattan. It died because that $2billion was nowhere near the full cost.

Ed Unneland February 3, 2015 - 8:38 am

How about coming down the BQE to the 65th St IND station at Broadway? It’s not everything, but it’s still a superior alignment to Willetts Point?

marv February 3, 2015 - 10:17 pm

At just 2 trains an hour (if that much) the Port Washington LIRR branch is a greatly under used resource.

This paired with the 63rd Street upper level tunnel that carries just over 50% of its capacity, leads to many great options.

Convert the PW to a Premium non FRA subway and connect it to the 63rd Street upper level and then to a 2nd Ave subway running only to 34th Street

Run 4 trains per hour JFK over a reactivated Rockaway Beach Branch along side the Main line (no tunneling for a subway connection) before joining the PW
Run 4 Trains per hour from LGA down the Grand Central then on to the PW into the city
Run 2 Trains per hour from Port Washington into the city

= 10 trains per hour easily accommodated by the 63rd Street tunnel and a temporary 34th Street terminal.

Further use of the PW could be made by running additional trains from JFK, LGA or Great Neck (Port Washington is restricted due to the one track east of Great Neck) and either terminating them west of woodside (allowing that important connection) or having them then run on the G route into Brooklyn.

Being non-FRA the cost structure will go down but a balance between fares, luxury of rolling stock, and capacity (priced to low and too many long islanders will drive to the new cheaper stations)will need to be struck. Pricing on the Woodside connection will also need to be balanced.

A track connection could also be build where the Main Line and PW meet allowing for JFK-LGA service though the route would resemble a backwards “S”.

The connections at Woodside (LIRR to Penn, Grand Central and Jamaica, and the #7) and at Queensbridge and/or Roosevelt Island to the F will be of tremendous value. The connections to subway lines is lacking. A different option could be for this line(s) to continue to run with the F line before terminating in Brooklyn. The current 6th ave connection to Queens bound 53rd Street would be taken out of revenue service with Queens Blvd locals running with the E’s down 8th Ave. M trains would from Middle Village would return to their former route downtown.


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