Home Queens Thoughts on Cuomo’s Laguardia AirTrain vaporware

Thoughts on Cuomo’s Laguardia AirTrain vaporware

by Benjamin Kabak

Gov. Cuomo says the Willets Point AirTrain is still a part of the Laguardia overhaul, but should it be? (Via Gov. Cuomo)

Tuesday dawned with some odd news: An unsigned New York 1 reported alleged that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was gathering officials and dignitaries in Queens to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Laguardia AirTrain. This did not make sense. The AirTrain plan is still half-formed with no firm cost estimate or any sort of plan. Cuomo wants to build a leg from the Willets Point subway/LIRR stop to Laguardia via the Grand Central Parkway because there are no NIMBYs to upset, but that’s about all we know.

As the day unfolded, I wondered what was happening. Cuomo has been known to push through projects without clarity regarding funding sources (hello, New New York Bridge), but even the AirTrain would require some sort of environmental impact study. And so as the press event unfolded, it became clear that it wasn’t about the AirTrain and rather about Cuomo’s $4 billion public-private partnership that will fund the Laguardia rebuild. The AirTrain is still simply in the works, but how firm those plans are remains to be seen.

The plans involve a new Terminal B and Central Hall that should mesh with Delta’s own proposal to renovate its terminal. It’s being funded through private investment (though Cuomo’s statements made it sound like he called in a favor for some federal dollars too), and the project should wrap by 2021, just shy of the end of Cuomo’s potential third term. During the press conference, Cuomo briefly touched upon the idea of an AirTrain. He also claimed it would provide a ride to Penn Station and claimed that East Side Access would connect Penn Station and Grand Central. It was not a banner presser for Cuomo and transit. In the press release, the word “AirTrain” appears exactly once in a quote attributed to State Senator Jose Peralta.

All of this leads me to a question: Is the Laguardia AirTrain proposal real or is it simply vaporware from a governor looking to be viewed as “strong on infrastructure” so that he can position himself for a run at the White House in four or eight years? It is of course far too early to judge, but while the Laguardia overhaul is moving forward, the AirTrain is heading for purgatory.

For now, the only money allocated to the project is a $78 million item in the MTA’s approved capital plan for “replacement and upgrade” of the Willets Point LIRR station. The project will support full-time service for a “large volumes of railroad customers” with “seamless, direct access” to the AirTrain. The LIRR is to perform the preliminary design and environmental review work before transferring the AirTrain project and oversight of the Mets-Willets Transit Hub to the Port Authority for the procurement and construction phases.

The Q70 will be rebranded the Laguardia Link come the fall. (Via Gov. Cuomo)

So where does that leave us? I’ve written extensively about how the no-build option is likely better than the Willets Point routing for a Laguardia AirTrain and how the time is ripe for an N train extension to Laguardia rather than a Willets Point AirTrain. Yet, Cuomo has an idea for this project stuck in his head, and he has shown a willingness to push through this type of work. It may be right to call it vaporware simply because Cuomo is behind it, but for now, it looks awfully akin to transit vaporware.

As now, the LIRR expects to spend the money for the Willets Point work in 2017 and 2018. So it’s likely to be a few years before we even know what the EIS assessment for this LGA AirTrain concludes. For now, then, the best and only transit upgrades that will accompany the new Laguardia is a rebranding of the Q70 as the Laguardia Link complete with pre-board fare payment. It’s a step in the right direction and one that can be implemented in a few months. It’s not a substitute for a real effort to improve transit to the airport, but then again, neither is the Willets Point AirTrain, whenever it rolls around.

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wiseinfrastructure June 15, 2016 - 1:00 am

the jamaica airtrain has proven successful
the jamaica station rebuild has been worth the money
…………..is a LGA to citified connection worth the money?
…………..is this an installment in link to Jamaica/JFK as planned long ago?
…………..will this be part of a bronx/lga/flushing/jamaica/jfk rail line?
…………..what is the trade-off to travelers of 12 connecting trains per hour (once every 5 minutes) to the #7 and ESA LIRR to both Grand Cental/Penn Station
Are the Citifield parking lots the real parking lots for new LGA with the new train serving as a shuttle
……………Can LGA handle more passenger as link would produce?
……………Can the MTA capitalize on such a link by:
*locating car rentals serving both LGA and JFK
*having a convention center
*having hotels serving both airports and midtown/the tennis center

can flushing (queens china town) be made a destination

>>>>>>>>>>>>lga>citifield can either be another expensive political grab or the first step in a long term project than can bear massive fruit

the question is whether to fight this first installment or fight to make this installment a success via the future pieces.

Joe Steindam June 15, 2016 - 6:45 am

Point of clarification on this point: “can flushing (queens china town) be made a destination”

Are you asking whether Flushing can be a stop on the LGA AirTrain, or whether Flushing can be made into a destination, as in a major activity center in the city, or a tourist destination.

I would argue that, as the site of the 12th busiest subway station in NYC, the busiest outside Manhattan, and one of the largest bus terminals, it’s already a major destination. True, it’s economic activity is specific to a large community, but it’s already very economically vibrant, already receiving increased density, and is already overburdening the existing infrastructure. Flushing is already a destination, and many people from NYC and beyond visit it regularly.

Alon Levy June 15, 2016 - 7:08 am

No. A fixed link going from LGA east can never be a fruit-bearing long-term project, unless all of Manhattan is destroyed in a nuclear bombing. Judging by the second map here, more people traveling through LGA originate in Manhattan than in the rest of the city combined. Airport workers are most likely to live in the neighborhoods immediately to the south of LGA, e.g. Jackson Heights, and not in Flushing.

Spuds June 15, 2016 - 2:21 am

Well you guys downstate voted him back in. Now we ALL have to deal with this boondoggle. Astorino would never promote this.

SEAN June 15, 2016 - 9:32 am

Are you sure about that? As I recall Astorino wasted a great deal of time & money on the Playland privatization, the bidding out on Bee-Line operating contracts ala NICE & fighting the afordable housing settlement in court witch resulted in Westchester losing substantial $$$. And all Astorino can say was I stuck it to the man.

Josh June 15, 2016 - 10:51 am

Right, but he wouldn’t have wasted money on THIS boondoggle.

Spuds June 15, 2016 - 11:01 am

Wasn’t the housing issue started under the Soano administration?

Spuds June 15, 2016 - 11:02 am


SEAN June 15, 2016 - 11:53 am

Yes, but Astorino no matter what he said was going to tell the feds to stick it & then say – see the feds are evil bastards & I was the one to save Westchester from them.

Spuds June 15, 2016 - 5:13 pm

You have to admit that there are some questionable laws and regulations coming from the feds in a number of programs and agencies that make little or no sense. Anyway, we are talking transport, not housing. I guess someone had a sale on some gold/silver spray paint for some hard hats (not even ANSI certified) and shovels.

SEAN June 15, 2016 - 8:35 pm

The point was the views of Astorino outside the lower Hudson Valley by votors didn’t jive with reality. The housing policy I noted above was just a single example of that.

To apply this to transit, we need to take a quick gander at what has been happening to NICE since it was privatized a few years ago by Ed Mangano. As a semi-regular rider, I can tell you first hand that the route network has been decimated. Last year eleven routes were eliminated & others had service alterations &or reductions. It would make me wonder what Astorino would do for public transit on the state level since he didn’t make any great strides on improving Bee-Line witch is similar to NICE in several ways, but at least Bee-Line hasn’t suffered the same fait.

Nathanael June 18, 2016 - 2:13 am

Hey, I voted for Zephyr Teachout. And you should have too!

hU0N June 15, 2016 - 3:55 am

following on from the point wiseinfrastructure made.

How would you feel about an airtrain from LGA via Willets Point, Van Wyck, Jamaica to JFK? How about if it was integrated into Metrocard and included a few intermediate stops around say, South Jamaica, Briarwood (for connection to E and F) and somewhere east of Flushing Meadow?

It doesn’t make it a great way to get to LGA, but would it be worth building if it also provided subway like crosstown service that stitched together the A, E, F, J, Z and 7?

pt_inwood June 15, 2016 - 6:16 am

The airtrain should be limited to a circulator connecting all terminals at LaGuardia to a terminal for an N train extension.
The N train passes through the heart of midtown Manhattan, placing the line within reasonable walking distance to dozens of hotels.
Additionally, passengers could transfer to/from the N train from multiple subway lines at multiple stations along its route, further increasing the value of the extension:
Queensboro Plaza: 7
59/Lex: R, 4, 5, 6
42/Times Square: A,C, E, 1, 2, 3, Grand Central Shuttle
34/Herald Square: Q, R, B, D, F, M
14/Union Square: L, 4, 5, 6
Cuomo seems bound & determined to ram the airtrain through, despite its limited usefulness. It will probably take a person the stature of a Richard Ravitch to convince him to pursue the N train extension in lieu of the airtrain.

AG June 16, 2016 - 10:54 pm

That subway extension was killed before… Why do you think the community would support it now?

Kenneth Barr June 15, 2016 - 6:57 am

This ill conceived proposal has all the earmarks of Emperor Andrew the Pompous. Who in their right mind would ride out to Willets Point and pay a second fare when the Q70 Limited, soon to rebranded as the LaGuardia Link, takes people from far more convenient Woodside and the Victor Moore Terminal in Jackson Heights straight to the Central Terminal area at no additional cost to the subway patron. The EIS alone isn’t worth the cost and will, if done properly, conclude that this “project” will have serious and material impact on the environment of Flushing Bay. The airlines will howl that money is being diverted from airport improvement (not the biggest worry in the world) and very few would consider riding this pig and a poke. Since Randy Andy is calling for MTA money be put in as well, vital infrastructure work will be deferred on our ancient public transit system. The Second Avenue Subway will once again be delayed, especially the critical Phase 2 to 125th Street, essential repairs will be scrapped and for what? Cuomo and his limousine set will have one more ribbon cutting? The money would be better spent providing a dedicated bus way for the Q70 in the manner of the Silver Line in Boston.

Ryan June 15, 2016 - 7:30 am

A dedicated bus way in the manner of Boston’s Silver Bus isn’t really a good model of anything worth aspiring to.

Actually, it’s an even bigger waste and cost sink than the AirTrain would be and the fact that Cuomo is merely trying to ram through an ill-advised elevated railway instead of an expensive, slow, and unpleasant bus tunnel that gets buses off of relatively untrafficked streets but runs out just in time to routinely expose riders to the worst points of traffic is something of a small blessing.

We’re very lucky that nobody is taking cues from the Silver Lie.

Larry Littlefield June 15, 2016 - 8:06 am

Having taken the Q70, it’s very quick except for three things.

Delays getting out of Jackson Heights.

Delays moving around LaGuardia Airport.

Long waits, due to infrequent service.

A dedicated lane separated by something more firm than paint and more buses would solve two of those problems. And that lane could be used by other buses as well.

mister June 15, 2016 - 12:53 pm

Actually some kind of dedicated busway between Roosevelt Ave and the BQE, and dedicated lanes at the airport would be a half decent idea, in my opinion.

Bolwerk June 15, 2016 - 6:32 pm

Busways are almost *never* anywhere near half-decent ideas, pretty much anywhere in the first world. The only excuse for building an extensive busway in NYC is if you have a stretch of grade-separated highway you don’t need (in a sense, there’s a lot of that) and want to convert it to transit, quick and dirty.

mister June 16, 2016 - 12:59 pm

Good thing then that I didn’t propose an extensive busway then. Two short sections of busway at the beginning and end of the route would cost pennies on the dollar compared to the Airtrain proposal and make a lot more sense, considering the volume of riders here.

Bolwerk June 16, 2016 - 4:35 pm

The volume of riders isn’t going to change significantly because of a busway. But an airtrain could actually induce more users to take transit to the airport.

Larry Littlefield June 15, 2016 - 7:20 am

This only makes sense if it continues on to Jamaica and is connected to the current Airtrain, and can be used by people other than those traveling to and from the airport.

For the airport what is required is a busway so the buses don’t get stuck behind all the private vehicles.

In addition to the Q70 and other city buses, that could be used by private buses from all over the region — Westchester, Connecticut, Long Island — carrying people to the airport.

Jeff June 15, 2016 - 8:51 am

Extend this Airtrain east and connect it with De Blasio’s BQX. Both systems become much more useful in an instant.

Jeff June 15, 2016 - 8:51 am

Extend *west, obviously

SEAN June 15, 2016 - 9:39 am

What’s wrong with traveling east? Everyone needs to go east at some point in there lives – right? Not everything needs to follow Horris Greeley.


BKTrain June 15, 2016 - 10:12 am

I can’t believe this passes for urban planning in NYC. No one in their right mind is going to take the 7 train all the way to willets point to double back to LGA on an 8 dollar airtrain. No one even mentions that a bunch of trains terminate at 111 st and dont even go to Willets Point after the AM rush ends.

The only Flushing going on in this project is money down the toilet.

How about a direct rail link from GCT to to LGA via an elevated structure over St. Michael’s cemetery???

SEAN June 15, 2016 - 12:13 pm

How about a direct rail link from GCT to LGA via an elevated structure over St. Michael’s cemetery???

Only if the pope gives it his blessing.

Seriously, not a bad idea. Or another way is to branch off the LIRR Port Washington Branch if the N cant be extended from Astoria witch is DOA I think. I rather ride the LIRR then the subway in those situations & with ESA, you would have a choice between Penn or GCT.

Rob June 15, 2016 - 3:25 pm

if the N cant be extended from Astoria witch is DOA I think”

Astoria has changed and is now chockful of Millenials who love good transit. They would welcome an extended N to the airport with intermediate stations.

Keon Morris June 15, 2016 - 5:11 pm

Yes but millennials are poor and poor people have little say in these matters. The home owning, older, much wealthier NIMBYs will still shoot this down.Trust me.

j.b. diGriz June 15, 2016 - 4:28 pm

This isn’t NYC urban planning; this is Cuomo’s political career planning.

The N train should be extended north up to Con Ed property and then east to the airport. It gives a chance to expand service to that underserved area of Queens, and to dream of a single-seat/single-fare ride to Manhattan.

John-2 June 15, 2016 - 10:24 am

In a perfect world, they would branch a spur off the Astoria line at the BQE, leave the future W train to terminate at Ditmars and send the N to LaGuardia (where they could even do counter-flow express trains, sending day-trip passengers to LGA via express along 31st St in the mornings and bringing them home in the evenings, which would leave the N and W to serve all stations in peak-use direction on 31st during rush hours). But the problem is the NIMBYs have gotten so strong, odds are they wouldn’t only object to simply extending the Astoria line past Ditmars to the airport, they’d protest any spur off the line at Astoria Blvd. that followed the BQE’s right-of-way.

Cuomo’s option of Airtrain to Willet’s Point is both indirect and less useful for where a LaGuardia line’s customers are going to come from. But it falls into a similar category as the MTA’s refusal for the past 40 years to consider cut-and-cover for any new undergreound construction. Even if the costs were roughly the same as deep tunnel, the access to the street and less cumbersome station maintenance requirements make it the better option, but it’s just not worth the hassle after the NIMBY battles over the 63rd Street connection through Central Park back in the early 70s.

That sort of thinking shouldn’t be a factor in pointing Airtrain southeast instead of running a subway from the west to LaGuardia, but it is.

Alon Levy June 15, 2016 - 7:13 pm

Ew, no. The frequency split would make service to Astoria worse than it is today.

John-2 June 15, 2016 - 9:03 pm

Service to the terminal station would be halved. But since the BQE passes 31st Street at Astoria Blvd., if the N splits off from the W at that point, service to the other stations peak direction rush hour (or both directions if you had no express service), would maintain the same number of TPH as there are now.

You’d of course have the NIBMYs out who use the Ditmars station over their loss of N train service, especially if they’re headed south of 34th Street. But they’re also the same ones who have prevented the MTA from extending the el from its terminal out to LaGuardia. You’re never going to make them happy, which in large part is why the AirTrain to Willet’s Point ended up as Cuomo’s default option.

Alon Levy June 19, 2016 - 3:01 am

It’s not about NIMBYs, it’s about good service. Ditmars has the highest ridership on the line. Astoria, too would get a frequency split – the station complex would have to have separate platforms, since the current platforms are right above the parkway, and the split would have to be farther south. For people heading to the station there wouldn’t be a split (and arguably the same is true of Ditmars since it’s so close to Astoria) but for people heading from it, there would be.

What you and Cuomo call NIMBYs I call potential riders. If you want people to ride the trains, give them good service.

wiseinfrastructure June 15, 2016 - 11:31 am

As pointed out:
some #7 trains terminate in corona (possibly due to a combination of demand and the (in)ability of flushing terminal to turn around 30+ train per hour)

Have 6 trains per hour go from corona to LGA via new tracks north/west along the Grand Central Parkway

One train every 10 minutes which still leaves 24 TPH to Flushing

The direct reliable economical (even if an extra entry/exit fare is charged at LGA) to Grand Central, Times Sq etc will draw riders and will not be subject to NBYISM

Cuomo’s plan is LIRR focused as this is constituency that he caters to and is only worth it if is/will be extended to Jamaica/JFK

mister June 15, 2016 - 12:48 pm

How is this focused on the LIRR constituency? Unless you live along the PW line, this plan is just as bad for Long Islanders as it is for residents of the City not living in Flushing or points north.

Fraser June 15, 2016 - 3:26 pm

The LGA Airtrain has *nothing* to do with transit and everything to do with rental cars and airport parking, which have to be moved to accommodate the shift of the terminals towards Grand Central Parkway. Any alternative plan to the Airtrain has to include a sensible relocation these critical pieces of airport infrastructure.

Fraser June 15, 2016 - 3:29 pm

Correction: just airport parking – the rental car garages are south of Grand Central Parkway in Jackson Heights.

Jeff June 15, 2016 - 10:00 pm

This was mentioned before as justification – but where would the airport parking move to near Willets Point and under whose authority? Willets Point West isn’t happening anymore and there is a zoning issue with developing there, plus the existing parking is used for sports games. If Cuomo intends to use that area for airport parking then he’s keeping it under wraps a bit too tight.

Bgriff June 15, 2016 - 4:08 pm

The “LaGuardia Link” rebranding is a great idea — the Q70 is really a solid service. Now is it too much to hope that the MTA installs kiosks to pay for it at LGA that take credit cards, rather than assuming as the current M60 SBS kiosks do that an incoming tourist somehow already has a MetroCard, or $2.75 in quarters?

wiseinfrastructure June 15, 2016 - 4:12 pm

All of the select buses stands (not just LGA) should take credit cards – the muni meters take them for 25 cents

Bolwerk June 15, 2016 - 6:44 pm

This AirTrain project blows, but I don’t think it’s the rectal explosion it’s being made out to be in the transit blogosphere. Consider:

• it’s not really any slower than the Q70 (a little perhaps, and probably that’s compensated for because it’s more overall reliable)

• it’s convenient for people carrying more baggage

• airport users don’t have the same tight schedules other transit users have – they know their flight itineraries weeks or months in advance and can adjust accordingly. They mostly want comfort, and the 7 to Willets

It’s insane we can get something better for the same price, but it’s not one of those things that is going to count as abject failure.

Alon Levy June 15, 2016 - 7:15 pm

“LGA AirTrain: only a little slower than the preexisting bus” isn’t a great slogan.

Bolwerk June 15, 2016 - 9:10 pm

It fits perfectly with American political decisionmaking.

Cuomo: probably better than the mentally ill guy
Hillary: probably better than Jeb [oops!]
de Blasio: probably better than a Republikan

Nathanael June 18, 2016 - 2:18 am

I’m pretty sure Jimmy McMillan would have been an improvement over Cuomo, even though McMillan is obviously insane and highly irresponsible.

The Republicans are not an option.

Bolwerk June 18, 2016 - 11:24 am

I meant Paladino, but touche.

mister June 16, 2016 - 1:11 pm

Yonah Freemark made the case some time ago that it will be slower than the existing bus options.

If people mostly want comfort, then there’s no reason that comfort MUST be a train: it could be buses, for a fraction of the cost. After all, people are already willing to do just that, at a premium price point.

When you can get something better for a fraction of the price, then you’re on the way to becoming an abject failure.

Bolwerk June 16, 2016 - 4:33 pm

I don’t know what makes you think buses are so much cheaper than rail, but I don’t see why price matters here. The airport user needs space for him/herself and possibly more than one bag, plus that much again for every co-traveler. You can see by the paltry ridership on LaGuardia-bound buses that most LaGuardia users are voting with their feet to avoid that bus, and many that are using the bus are probably airport workers. This is why a “premium” airport shuttle bus is sort of attractive.

When you can get something better for a fraction of the price, then you’re on the way to becoming an abject failure.

You can’t get something better for a fraction of the price, but it should be at least technically feasible to get something better for the same price: direct subway access. That is what makes this airtrain scheme so absurd, not the article of faith that it won’t get any riders.

In a way I hope it does fail to attract riders,* because if it doesn’t subway access to the airport is probably off the table forever. But unfortunately it fills a discernible need and will probably be attractive enough to count as a success.

* perhaps it would still be salvageably useful for LaGuardia-Kennedy service.

Adirondacker12800 June 16, 2016 - 4:51 pm

Something like this perhaps?


or maybe


Or not quite taxi Super Shuttle?

mister June 17, 2016 - 9:20 am

I don’t know what makes you think buses are so much cheaper than rail…

Because they don’t require construction of a brand new guideway, a massive new maintenance facility, and if it’s grade separated, new elevated structures or tunnels. It uses what’s already there.

So, to recap, the bus is faster than the train as is, and could be equipped with all of the amenities that a train has. Why, exactly, would people be attracted to a slower train instead of this bus?

To be clear, I do think either a direct train from Astoria or a shuttle to Roosevelt/Woodside would be better options than the bus.

Bolwerk June 17, 2016 - 3:47 pm

You keep ignoring that the bus doesn’t work for many people. It may not be all people, but it’s a lot of potential transit users who’d like to get the airport. Anyone coming from Manhattan using the bus could still physically use the airtrain, but many potential airtrain users can’t use the bus. I don’t know whether Yonah Freemark’s calculations were right or not, but even he found the difference to be a few minutes. I think that’s unfortunate, but not damning.

It’s also quite probable that a guideway for driverless rail is a lot cheaper than 40 or 50 years paying a small army of bus drivers and bus maintenance.

Nathanael June 18, 2016 - 2:20 am

It’s documented that people don’t like to *backtrack*. It’s a strong cognitive bias. The train heading east will be vastly underused simply because of that. Any LaGuardia Airtrain needs to head west or at least south from the airport.

Bolwerk June 18, 2016 - 11:30 am

Not sure there is much backtracking anyway. Geographically it heads more south than east as is, and it’d probably be easy enough to place it on the subway map so it lies about any diversion that does exit.

mister June 19, 2016 - 8:10 am

If they can use the Airtrain, what prevents them from using the bus?

AG June 19, 2016 - 12:28 pm

This is a train town… Buses can get stuck in traffic.

Bolwerk June 19, 2016 - 2:56 pm

The simple, immutable reality that more than a few people on a bus with any appreciable amount of baggage is going to make the service a show-stopper if it’s successful at attracting people to begin with?

Adirondacker12800 June 19, 2016 - 3:36 pm

These people seem to be making money doing it.

Adirondacker12800 says:
June 16, 2016 at 4:51 pm

Something like this perhaps?


or maybe


Or not quite taxi Super Shuttle?

Bolwerk June 19, 2016 - 4:27 pm

Note that those things are not city transit buses.

Adirondacker12800 June 19, 2016 - 5:12 pm

So? They are buses and people get on them. At premium fares.

Bolwerk June 19, 2016 - 7:54 pm

And I’m supposed to grope for a point that is somehow related to anything I said?

Adirondacker12800 June 19, 2016 - 9:11 pm

SIlly me, when you said something about attracting people to buses I went and assumed it had something to do with buses and people.

Bolwerk June 19, 2016 - 10:55 pm

I acknowledged the part airport shuttle buses play before you even mentioned it. What does it have to do with the attractiveness or viability of a transit bus? T’would seem to me that is yet another group of people whose needs are not met by airport transit buses.

Adirondacker12800 June 19, 2016 - 11:32 pm

Ah I didn’t realize that “bus” meant something with MTA logos on the side that takes Metrocard.
If people find the bus so obnoxious they can book a flight out of Newark or JFK.

Bolwerk June 20, 2016 - 9:51 am

It’s clearly what Mister was talking about.

mister June 20, 2016 - 1:20 pm

How? It’s not like the JFK Airtrain is running 4 car trains every 5 minutes to deal with the hordes of riders. An articulated bus, with boarding through multiple doors will certainly be no worse an experience, especially when it will be faster than the alternate train option being proposed here.

Bolwerk June 20, 2016 - 6:57 pm

Is it your contention that the JFK AirTrain could be bustituted too? As I remember it, that did not work well either.

The problem is buses are not very capacious. This is a technical limitation of buses. I think an LGA bus can continue to work work fine for the marginal need it serves…if, like Adirondacker apparently wants, you don’t mind transit being of marginal importance to getting people to the airport. A person with baggage can easily take up the space of three people, and even without that problem articulated buses are not as easy to board or alight from as trains.

(Note that I have plenty of criticisms of JFK AirTrain, but one thing they got right: those vehicles are spacious. They’re much wider than articulated buses, and I think even somewhat wider than A division equipment.)

Adirondacker12800 June 21, 2016 - 3:15 am

Airtrain’s primary purpose isn’t to get people to Manhattan. At both Newark and JFK it was built to get the shuttle buses to the parking lots, car rentals, hotels etc out of the terminals. And the buses to the train station. You can still get a local bus at either of them and express buses to many places. Though most of the ones to places other than Manhattan are closer to shared taxi rides.
Even if we spent billions and billions of dollars to haul a train to one of the terminals we’d still need Airtrain to shuttle people between the terminals and the parking lots and car rental…. and from the train station to the terminals it doesn’t serve.

AG June 21, 2016 - 5:35 pm

On a side bar…I’d actually like to know the numbers of people who use the Airtrain from each borough. Everyone just assumes “Manhattan” for everything. I’d like to know how many people from Brooklyn and Queen take the subway to JFK. I think more Manhattan users actually use the LIRR… But again – I don’t have the numbers.

mister June 22, 2016 - 8:18 am

Incidentally, the last time I used mass transit to the airport, Airtrain from Howard Beach only ran as far as Lefferts and then I had to transfer to a bus. That was a pretty crappy arrangement because of the wasted time, and the bus did get crowded, but there was definitely room enough on the bus to accommodate the luggage. Airports all over the world use shuttle buses: private hotels and car rental/parking lots use them, airports use them as circulators, and as mentioned above, private operators get people to use them at a premium price point. If the bus isn’t long enough, give people more space along the length of the bus. That’s effectively what taxis do. At the end of the day it’s about convenience, and building an expensive fixed guideway vehicle just for the sake of being able to call it a ‘train’ seems like an extreme waste of money.

Bolwerk June 23, 2016 - 3:02 pm

Convenience and cost may be opposing forces here. Certainly the rail option on the table is more convenient for the vast majority of potential users, but the marginal cost of the additional ridership it would induce could be high. That kind of turns on ridership numbers, though I’d say a 10% capture rate would be good enough to justify it financially (that’s <9000 people, still double the Q70 total ridership). OTOH, you probably won’t double ridership on buses no matter what you do. Airport users can easily take up much more space than average transit users, so I’d be willing to say it could be forgiven if it does happen to cost somewhat more than a bus, within reason, for the added convenience/comfort/modal share.

Either way, claiming the LGA AirTrain categorically won’t get riders is sophistry. It’s not a meritorious project because a subway to the airport could achieve the same purpose at the same cost for a better user experience. This would allow a 1-transfer-or-less trip to the airport for most of the city, overcoming the the stupidest flaw of any bus or airtrain arrangement: a guaranteed transfer for virtually all potential users.

Adirondacker12800 June 23, 2016 - 3:56 pm

How many people are going to use the train if the fare is 20 bucks? To pay for hauling ten car Broadway line trains out to the airport instead of trolley cars?

Bolwerk July 11, 2016 - 10:41 am

Why set the fare to $20? Besides depreciating the infrastructure and amortizing the loan, the marginal costs of bringing a 10-car train to the airport are probably pretty close to zero.

That’s just one more reason it’s dumb not to do it right in the first place.

bigbellymon4 June 15, 2016 - 7:20 pm

Yes LaGuardia needs to be expanded and yes, it needs better transit connections, but the is a option to increase the amount of planes traffic without LaGuardia: JFK. JFK has four runways but can be expanded to 5, with the new runway placed over the Van Wyck Expressway, which will allow for four planes to land at once. Also, the Gateway National Recreation Area is deteriorating (1. Sandy 2. Marsh land is slowly being removed) and it should be used to expand the foot print of JFK. Unless it is protected by some national act, expand JFK into the Recreational Area, use each Rockaway bridge to feed into a new terminal area with runways between the terminals, and now you have solved airport traffic problems within NYC for the next few decades. Plus, LaGuardia can be closed (its runways are too short to be landing big planes, and we all should be tired of hearing planes over-shooting the runways when it rains/snows) as the two runways will be replaced with two new ones within the expanded JFK. And to create land there, use the dirt from the SAS digging to fill in the water areas for the airport. Added bonus: A train with straight access to both new terminals and bus service across both bridges (can extend the King Plz bus terminal to the plane terminal too).

Spuds June 15, 2016 - 8:41 pm

There would be so many federal regs (and state) to be considered, your head would spin. It us bad enough that too many former wetlands have been destroyed by “progress”. Slight improvements yes, major improvements like the ones you suggested probably not.

bigbellymon4 June 16, 2016 - 12:13 am

The wetland is already destroyed. Why try to revive an area that will eventually be washed away? I don’t want to accelerate the destruction process, but it is prime area. The last RPA report on airports showed how the marshes in the Recreation Area are being washed away, meaning that it will be no longer a parkland for seagulls, birds or fish, but a wasteland. Expanding JFK into will help to restore some purpose for it.

Adirondacker12800 June 16, 2016 - 12:26 am

It’s not 1950 and we don’t fill in swamps anymore.

SEAN June 15, 2016 - 8:54 pm

FYI – JFK has a restriction of 153 total gates. If you noticed – T4, 5 & 8 have been enlarged or in process of being enlarged but as a result, T3 & 6 are gone & 2 is on it’s way & 7 may be gone in a few years depending if British Airways decides to join American in T8.

If LGA is closed – some how the JFK gate restrictions would need to be lifted.

bigbellymon4 June 16, 2016 - 12:20 am

For a big airport like JFK, the gate restriction should be lifted as it restricts economic growth for the city. And airports shouldn’t have a gate restriction. They may need a takeoff/landing limit (when more than 1 airport are too close), but in today’s world where there are more people than ever, more people flying than ever, an airport should be allowed to expand according to demand and for economic growth.

SEAN June 16, 2016 - 10:46 am

Agreed. However there needs to be one restriction & that is the number of small regional jets as they clog up NYC airspace. The one saving grace is the number of 50-seat aircraft flown for AA, UA & DL will vanish in the next few years.

Manuel June 15, 2016 - 10:08 pm

Someone explain to me why the F they can’t just extend the damn N train over the GCP just like they did with the van wyck AirTran why does everything have to be so damn difficult and costly pretty sure people would use it ALOT MORE THEN BUSES

wiseinfrastructure June 15, 2016 - 10:44 pm

As has been said before:
1- the train does not terminate at the GCP – the hot potato is what you do with that last stop and how much service it looses
2-vertical clearances would be tight near the Hellgate approach overpass and there is little room on the sides of the highway to allow surface/near surface running
3-as one approaches LGA, height become an issue due to the runway and there is little room on the side of the highway for surface tracks thus possibly requiring costly tunneling and a more expensive underground vs above ground airport station

this said – all can be over come
regarding the ditmas service, maybe devote the full 60th street tunnel to the astoria (now astoria/lga) line and have queens blvd locals access broadway via ample capacity in the 63rd street tunnel and then switching onto the 2nd Ave/Broadway tracks near the lexington ave station.

The Astoria el could then run much more service allowing it to be split between the the Ditmas and LGA terminals.

In the long run, LGA should not be a terminal as the line should continue to/as:
* an elevated line over the LIE to Eastern Queens or
* to Jamaica (and beyond?)
* to JFK via the airtrain tracks.

lawhawk June 16, 2016 - 11:29 am

Two questions/observations:

1) Regarding the new renderings that show the terminals abutting the GCP, where exactly is the newly built parking garage in all that? Looks like a completely different organization and massing from what was just built (at considerable expense at that). Am I missing something about the new rendering?

2) Extending the Airtrain from Jamaica would make some sense if you’re trying to combine/rationalize flights from both LGA and JFK since you’d be linking the two airports in the most direct fashion. Having that Airtrain from Jamaica extend to LGA and then on to Astoria would be the best of both worlds since you’d have not only direct link onto the airport from Astoria, but you’d extend the transit options along the Van Wyck/GCP corridor.

Brooklynite June 16, 2016 - 7:17 pm

IMHO it would be better to run the Airtrain from LGA west, to Astoria Blvd N train station, instead of east to the 7. It could stay over the highway* just like the JFK Airtrain, thus not (really) angering NIMBYs. It would have more consistent headways, which is good for an airport service – airports don’t need 3-minute headways during the rush, nor should a people mover have 15-20-minute intervals during evenings and nights.

The Airtrain from LGA could then be extended west and become a 125th Street crosstown, but that’s getting ahead of myself…

*Yes, there are issues with the Hell Gate underpass and near the runway. By the Hell Gate the line can pass on the outside of the expressway, with one track on each side between the bridge pillar and the service road. The service road can be moved a few feet if necessary. To avoid encroaching on airspace near the runway, the line can get to ground level just west of the 82nd St overpass and then run on ground level parallel to the expressway, with only minor road shifting required. In other words, it’s doable.


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