Even with the completion of the Queens extension projects, there would still be several deficiencies with Queens’s subway network.
1. Poor connections to areas north of Midtown
Even after the completion of the other subway extensions and the Queens Blvd Bypass, the majority of riders heading to areas north of 59th St in Manhattan or the Bronx will be forced to divert into Midtown and utilize the congested transfers in the area. If one doesn’t want to divert into Midtown, there are only three bus routes that go from Queens to areas north of 59th St – the M60 from LGA to 125th St, the Q44 from the Bronx Zoo to Jamaica via Flushing, and the Q50 from Flushing to Co-op City. Two out of these routes have experienced increases in bus ridership over the years, and the M60′s ridership decreased more slowly than other routes during 2011 (-2.1% vs a systemwide -4.5% for 2010-2011.) This demonstrates a clear demand for transit service that heads to areas north of 59th St while avoiding Midtown.
2. Poor transit connections to LGA and Western Queens
Currently, a tangled mess of local buses connect LGA and Western Queens to Harlem, the N, the 7, and Flushing. These local buses are the only transit connection that these areas have to the rest of the city – this results in over 85% of airport-bound travelers traveling by automobile, compared to only 75% of JFK bound travelers. Due to the area’s traffic congestion, this can also result in longer trip times to LGA than to JFK – from Penn to JFK a transit journey can take as little as 35 minutes, while a taxi ride from LGA to Midtown can take upwards of an hour in adverse traffic conditions. Commuters are also forced to take local bus routes that wind through residential streets to get to the subway, and some bus routes in the area run infrequently. Consequently, people bound for these areas face long journey times.
3. Poor “crosstown” connections across Queens
Jamaica and Flushing are the borough’s two big transit hubs, yet travel between them is slow. Buses traveling on corridors between the two hubs (Q20/44, Q25/34, Q65) funnel 70K riders a day into Flushing and Jamaica, yet take at least 40 minutes to make the trip, at a crawling speed of 7.0 mph. In contrast, however, travel by subway out to Jackson Heights and changing trains is faster – trip time using the 7 and QBL expresses is only 30 minutes. SBS is not a feasible solution, either – the most congested areas on these routes (Downtown Flushing and Jamaica) also have little or no room for bus lanes.
In addition, current transit expansion plans have an additional deficiency:
4. Lack of a 125th St crosstown
Currently, buses on the 125th St corridor carry 32K riders a day – if this were carried by a single bus route, it would be the 8th busiest bus route in the city, which is even more impressive considering the corridor’s total length of only 1.6 miles. M60 SBS and traffic signal priority are expected to alleviate some congestion in the corridor, but the area is rife with double-parking and tour bus congestion, which causes bus bunching and slower service – service on the corridor runs at an average speed of 2.7mph during the PM peak hour. SBS and signal priority are planned to help ease congestion, but the street is saturated with traffic and is hazardous for pedestrians as it is.
SBS is being used as a “band-aid” solution, but in the long term, it would only provide temporary relief. Thus, under Tomorrow’s Subway, a new trunk subway line would be created to solve all of these problems.
A two-track line would start from 125th St and Broadway and follow 125th St to Randall’s Island, where it would turn south before turning east onto Ditmars Blvd. 31st St would be a three-tracked station, and the line would continue with three-tracks down Ditmars Blvd and Astoria Blvd, stopping at 82nd St-LaGuardia, before going down Astoria Blvd to Northern Blvd and turning southward onto Main St, ending at a terminal station at the intersection of Kissena Blvd and Main St, with connections to the Main St-Flushing station(s) in use at the time. A transit hub would be built at 82nd St-LaGuardia, with shuttle buses heading towards the Marine Air Terminal, and to the other three terminals. Long-term, the Port Authority could build an AirTrain LaGuardia connection between the station and the terminals, but this was not included in the plan due to the PA’s long-term plans to drastically reconfigure the terminal layout at LGA. A spur line would be built to College Point, where a yard would be built at the former Flushing Airport site, and the spur would have connections to the Corona Line (if built), and the 7. Provisioning would be provided for shuttle stops along the spur, should the demand and money be warranted.
This segment would be the Elmhurst Line, and would initially run four-car or five-car trains, with provision to easily expand to eight-car or ten-car trains. This would give Western Queens residents and LGA travelers much easier Manhattan access, provide a relief valve for the Flushing Line, and would obviate the need for Astoria, Elmhurst, and Flushing residents to go through congested transfer points in Midtown to get to their destinations. In addition, this would provide easy crosstown access for uptown Manhattan, and to a lesser extent, residents of the Bronx – transferring to and between all lines in going to the Bronx would be significantly easier, especially those bound for destinations in Queens north of the Queens Boulevard Line.
The second phase of this trunk line would be known as the Kissena Line, heading down Kissena Blvd and Parsons Blvd before terminating at Parsons/Archer on the E, J, and Z. This would be a two-track segment, with transfers available at Kissena Blvd-Horace Harding on the M, and Parsons Blvd-Hillside Ave on the F. This routing was chosen due to it being the most central of the three corridors connecting the two hubs, and because it is the only route that does not run along a park for a significant portion of its length. In addition, Kissena is only half a mile from both Main St and 164th St at the widest points between the three, so any major destinations on either Main St or on 164th St are only a 10-15 minute walk away. Kissena Blvd and Parsons Blvd also have four large sources of transit demand on its route – the giant cluster of towers around Kissena Blvd in Flushing, Queens College, an express station on the F line (Hillside/Parsons), and a future transfer complex (Parsons/Archer). In addition, a track connection could be built between the line and the Liberty Av Extension, allowing A trains to potentially run from Downtown Brooklyn to Flushing.
Such a line would provide numerous mobility benefits for the region, with faster access between the Bronx, Uptown Manhattan, Astoria, Elmhurst, Flushing, Fresh Meadows, and Jamaica. It would be quite costly to implement – at $500M/mile, it would all cost about $7B. (While this is considered expensive for other countries, this is quite low by US standards – LA is building an extension at $700M/mile through tar sands, and SAS costs a whopping $2B/mile, but is probably an outlier, albeit an overdesigned, unnecessarily expensive outlier.) However, the mobility benefits such a line would provide make it deserved of serious consideration in long-term planning. As Daniel Burnham once said, “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized.”