Imagine if you lived in Greenpoint and could get to Times Sq on one train? Or if you lived in Bed-Stuy and didn’t have to use the L to get home?
The G train was designed to be the Brooklyn to Queens local train that would be a counterpart to the 8th Ave and 6th Ave subways in Manhattan. The thought at the time was that there would be enough ridership between downtown Brooklyn and Queens to justify having the G train be the only local train running along the Queens Blvd subway but ridership never panned out. Because the tunnels for the G train were designed so that it could ONLY run between Queens and Brooklyn the line has always acted as a circumferential commuter sifter; riders use it to transfer to Manhattan bound trains at key points. The Independent Subway had planned a massive transfer station at Union and South 4th St where riders on the G could, at one station, transfer to trains headed to 8th, 6th, and 2nd Aves. This major expansion never took place (though the shell station at Broadway still exists). Because of this passengers are limited to transferring at Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts to reach downtown Manhattan, to the L train at Metropolitan Ave to reach 14th St and then transfer again to get to Midtown, or to change at Court Sq to the 7, E and M trains to reach Midtown.
There are two things keeping the G train from running into Manhattan: First is the fact that the tracks along the Crosstown Line don’t allow the trains to enter Manhattan without some fancy and disruptive turning around; For some unknown reason the tracks at Hoyt-Schermerhorn station between the Crosstown Line and the Fulton St Line (A/C trains) don’t even have a cross-over. This would have at least allowed 8th Ave trains to run directly to Bedford-Nostrand Avs. Second is that there is no real extra capacity in Manhattan for the G train without a new subway. While the 2nd Ave subway will be adding new capacity, that is IF they build it south of 63rd St, it won’t be ideal for a G train loop since the 2nd Ave subway does not intersect most of the other Manhattan trunk lines.
If strategic connections are built then the G train could utilize existing capacity within Manhattan that would allow for riders to be better distributed off the G train and take pressure off of the two current transfer points. I’m proposing two new loop lines, the GD through Downtown and GM through Midtown. Not too long ago the NYC Subway featured trains with double letters indicating local or specific services.
Downtown Loop Subway
In 1912 the New York State Public Service Commission was tasked with finding routes for new subways throughout New York City. The need for improved transit between Brooklyn and Manhattan was apparent and the Commission looked at many different routes. Because of the way Brooklyn is laid out simple radial lines from Manhattan through Bedford-Stuyvesant would be difficult to build in a way that would be most effective serve the most number of riders. Because of this the Commission proposed a series of subway loops which would run along 14th St and Delancey St in Manhattan, run to Brooklyn via a new tunnel and the Williamsburg Bridge, and via two trunk subways run through Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Bedford-Stuyvesant before turning west to downtown Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, then head back uptown. The Interborough Rapid Transit Co. and the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Co., which were given dual contracts to build the new subways, built the parts of the plan that they saw as having the highest ridership (14th St subway and a loop via the Williamsburg Bridge) but rejected the trunk subways through Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant. When then Independent Subway was built it incorporated part of the loop idea with the Crosstown Line but as I descried above they rejected any possibility of it looping through Manhattan.
Looping the G train through lower Manhattan would have a major impact on congestion at Jay St-MetroTech, Hoyt-Schermerhorn and Lorimer St/Metropolitan Av. These two stations are the only places to transfer from lower Manhattan to the Crosstown Line. Most riders need to transfer at least twice from lines in Manhattan to get to the G train. If the G train could loop through lower Manhattan and hit stations along the 7th Ave, Lexington Ave, and Broadway subways then only a single transfer would be needed and the more options would relieve congestion at the two current choke points.
The only place for the G train to loop through lower Manhattan is along the Centre St subway used by the J/Z trains. The subway was designed at a time when lower Manhattan was a booming manufacturing district but as these jobs left and moved to Midtown ridership along the Centre St subway dropped and today there are a second set of tracks an platforms between Chambers St and Essex St that are abandoned. What would be required to allow the G train to use these tracks would be a new tunnel under the East River between the Lower East Side and Williamsburg, as well as a new connection between the DeKalb Av station in downtown Brooklyn and the Crosstown Line.
The new East River tunnel would be the most expensive aspect of the plan but with ridership along the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn at all time highs a new connection will be needed eventually. In the IND Second System plan for a subway to Utica Ave they planned a new subway from 2nd Ave/Houston St to South 4th St. This new tunnel would be an alternative version of this plan; a new subway connecting the 2nd Ave/Houston St station would run east under Houston St to Ave D (with a new station at Clinton St). At Ave D it would turn south and run through the Baruch Houses; in an odd twist of design the buildings of the Baruch Houses align so that a tunnel could be built through the project with no need for building relocation which would allow for a tunnel closer to South 4th St.
At the Delancey St/Essex St station a connection would require reconfiguring the station from 2 platforms with 3 tracks to 3 platforms with 4 tracks. The inner tracks would continue along the Williamsburg Bridge but the outer tracks (the existing northern Manhattan-bound track and the new southern Brooklyn-bound track) would tunnel under Delancey St along side of the Williamsburg Bridge and merge with the aforementioned East River tunnel. On the Brooklyn side the tunnel would run under South 4th St and up Borinquen Pl where a new junction would be built to connect with the G train. This new tunnel would also allow 6th Ave trains to run to Williamsburg and connect to a future subway to relieve the L train while it would also finally give the G train access to Manhattan.
When the IRT and BMT were building subways into downtown Brooklyn many were built with provisions for a connection to a subway under Lafayette Ave. Because it was the IND which finally did build a subway under Lafayette Ave, the G train, the provisions left were either destroyed or used for other connections. A G train loop coming from the Centre St subway would run down through Chambers St and Broad St where it would reenter Brooklyn via the Montague St tunnel (used by the N/R trains) and then on to DeKalb Ave. DeKalb Av station is a major junction between trains coming from the 4th Ave and Brighton Beach Lines headed to Manhattan via the Montague St tunnel and the Manhattan Bridge. Many different route configurations are possible and one which is not used today is for trains using the Montague St tunnel to connect to the Brighton Beach Line (this was used previously for M trains at one point). The two tracks that exist for this connection were actually built to connect to an elevated subway which ran down Fulton St. This connection was never built when it was decided to demolish the elevated all together and replace it with the Fulton St subway (A/C trains). It is these tracks which will be repurposed to connect the G back up with the Crosstown Line.
The only thing standing it the way of this is the Crosstown Line itself; the Fulton St station on the G train is right where any connection between DeKalb Av and the Crosstown Line would be built. Fulton St station would be demolished and a new track connection built with the Crosstown Line reusing the space of the old station. The IND, famous for overbuilding, placed the Lafayette Ave station on the C train literally one block away so Fulton St station ridership would be absorbed by the C train or at DeKalb Av.
This loop which I’ve described would allow the G train to hit every single major Manhattan trunk line in one go: riders coming from Brooklyn can get to Broadway at DeKalb Ave or transfer to 7th Ave and Lexington Ave trains at Borough Hall. Riders coming from Manhattan, especially uptown, no longer have to cram onto L trains but can transfer at Delancey St-Essex St, Canal St, Brooklyn Bridge, or Fulton St. Because the loop would use the existing capacity along the Centre St subway and share a new tunnel under the East River it would always be a piggyback service to radial lines into Manhattan. The new junction at Fulton St also means that G trains would continue to run to Church Ave and that riders in Bedford-Stuyvesant at stations with the highest ridership growth would see wait times halved as there would be twice as much service available. Extra track space and platforms as Chambers St and Bedford-Nostrand Avs allow for the loop to offer flexible service if ridership along one segment of the line is higher than the other.
While a downtown loop would be a boon for G train riders living in Bedford-Stuyvesant looking to get into Manhattan, it would leave riders from Greenpoint with virtually no improvements. The Centre St subway offers an affordable capacity for a loop but Midtown has less capacity to spare. Right now there are two trunk lines with unused capacity: the 8th Ave Line and the Broadway Line. The Broadway Line, however, will only have extra capacity for another year or so until the 2nd Ave Subway is opened when Q trains will be rerouted to 96th St/2nd Ave and, presumably, the W train will be resurrected between Astoria and lower Manhattan. This leaves the 8th Ave Line south of 53rd St with room for more service. With a new East River tunnel I outlined above a second loop from Greenpoint to 8th Ave could be designed.
At Borinquen Pl a second connection would be built between the South 4th subway and the Crosstown Line, this time headed north to Metropolitan Ave. As the line enters Long Island City the tunnel would split right before the 21 St-Van Alst station with a new connection to the 53rd St tunnel headed into Manhattan. Because the 53rd St tunnel is currently used by E and M trains some M trains would need to be rerouted through the 63rd St tunnel to the north. This would reduce service to Queens Plaza station but as M trains would continue to Forest Hills at 36th St the effect may be minimal.
Along 53rd St and south along 8th Ave there is enough capacity for this new G train loop. C or E trains may need to be routed along the express tracks but this won’t have a negative impact. Much of the ridership along 8th Ave in Midtown is local or requires a transfer at W4th St so the addition of the Crosstown Line won’t be noticed by much of the ridership there. Additionally a train that runs directly from 8th Ave to Broadway-Lafayette on Houston St will reduce the need for 8th Ave riders to transfer at W4th St. Using the local track connection between W4th and Broadway-Lafayette the loop will run to 2nd Ave where the Houston St subway will be extended as I described above to connect with the new East River tunnel.
This second loop would impact existing subways the way the lower Manhattan loop wouldn’t; the M train would be effected on both ends as it may need to be rerouted through 63rd St and south of W4th St. While M trains could then terminate at World Trade Center the 6th Ave-Myrtle Ave Line would be lost and this has seen a high growth in ridership ever since the M train was rerouted up 6th Ave in 2010. It may also be that because the Midtown Loop is much longer than the downtown one it wouldn’t offer as flexible of service; there are not easy places to terminate loop trains here as there are with the Downtown Loop. These issues could be overcome if ridership is high enough, which it might be one day as a slew of new high rise apartments are coming to the Greenpoint waterfront in the coming years.
Ideally the G train would be a piggyback service along radial lines entering into Manhattan (the way it is along the F train in in Carroll Gardens and the way it was along the IND Queens Blvd Line until service was cut back to Court Sq). The problem with reconfiguring the G train so that radial lines run along side it through Brooklyn is that then the radial lines need new subways through Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Bushwick in order for the whole system to work; that is an expense the MTA is not even willing to study at this point. By enhancing the circumferential nature of the G train by creating loops into Manhattan the city can take advantage of existing capacity by building new connections that one day could be used for radial lines into Brooklyn but will see immediate use. In fact creating more transfer points along the G train will have an immediate impact on the L train and may even reduce the need for a new subway through Bushwick until much further into the future. Because the existing G train will still run between Court Sq and Church Ave riders will see an improvement in service without changing existing patters. In fact, because the G train only runs at about 7 min headways during peak hours today adding these two loop lines will halve that so riders out in Bedford-Stuyvesant or Greenpoint could see trains coming every 4 minuets at peak times.