New vanmaps for sale!

It’s been almost 5 years since I developed the original vanmaps, the New York City Subway Infographic Posters, and I am very proud to announce an expansion!

All new posters for Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, PATH, and Washington DC. A new stripped down design. New sizes (18″x24″ and 24″x36″)

As always these posters feature bright colors with minimalist designed maps of the geographically accurate line with statistics. Added to the design is a minimap showing the line in context of their entire system.

Boston MBTA

Boston MBTA

Chicago CTA

Chicago CTA

PATH

PATH

San Francisco BART

San Francisco BART

Washington WMATA

Washington WMATA

Posters are printed on 100# glossy paper and made in the USA! 18″x24″ for $25, 24″x36″ for $35

The L Train Shutdown: Connecting the G and J/M/Z

New transfer between E/M/G subway and 7 elevated trains at Court Sq. A new station at Union Ave/Broadway on the J/M/Z would allow a free physical transfer between the two lines.

Should anyone at this point (especially readers of this website) not be aware that the MTA is soon facing their own Gordian Knot: the shutdown and rehabilitation of the Canarsie Tubes, the tunnels that carry the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Much has been written and yelled about this project and I must fault the MTA for truly dropping the ball when it comes to handling the PR. The MTA is in a no-win situation. After a decade of unprecedented growth the L train went from a backwater train running through a no-mans-land to becoming the pivotal artery feeding one of the hottest real estate markets in the nation. Mother nature has a way of periodically reminding us that she is, ultimately, in charge and in 2012 Hurricane Sandy battered the city flooding all river tunnels south of 53rd St. The MTA had the difficult job of having to rebuild the tunnels lest the intense corrosion from salt water eat away at everything metal and cripple the subway further. The MTA had more flexibility when it closed down other tunnels (the R was shut down for good for 14 months but due to redundancies the impact was minimal) but they left the L for last because they knew they had no good options.

While some have pointed out that there were in fact two other tunnels planned between Manhattan and Williamsburg it doesn’t really help anything today. The L Train Coalition was recently quoted in a town hall meeting as asking why the MTA does not consider building a new tunnel first and repairing the Canarsie Tubes once the new tunnel is open. I don’t want to sound hypocritical since this basic idea is the basis for quite a number of futureNYCSubway posts on this very site but the reality is that the Federal government is willing to foot the bill for restoration and clean up, not a brand new project. The same thing is going on across town between New York and New Jersey with Amtrak’s North River Tunnel to Penn Station. A new tunnel takes time to plan and the MTA ballparked the cost around $4.5b (which given the length and new stations seems to line up with current 2nd Ave Subway costs). So while long term a new tunnel will be needed it won’t really help us now.

G Train transfer points; No transfer at J/M/Z
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G Train transfer points; No transfer at J/M/Z

There is a cheaper alternative and one which the MTA hasn’t seemed too keen on in the past which is to build a physical connection between the G train and the elevated J/M/Z. The Broadway station on the Crosstown Line was once planned to be a critical hub where the aforementioned unbuilt East River tunnels would meet and fan out into Brooklyn and Queens. It would have revolutionized travel for anyone living in Williamsburg and Bed Stuy where riders today only have the L train at Metropolitan-Lorimer as a transfer to reach Manhattan (overlooking the much further out Court Sq in Long Island City or Hoyt-Schermerhorn in downtown Brooklyn). Because the Crosstown Line was built by the city and the new (unbuilt) Williamsburg lines were meant to replace the elevated Jamaica Line (J/M/Z) no direct transfer was ever established even though the demand remains.

Over the last decade, to their credit, the MTA has undergone rather large scale station expansions at key transfer station where transfers, because of the competing companies, were never offered. These include Bleecker St-Broadway-Lafayette where once only the downtown 6 offered a transfer to the B/D/F/M, Jay St-MetroTech where the R passed over the A/C/F but never transferred, and Court Sq where the E/M, G, and 7 trains meet. The Court Sq transfer was partially built by CitiGroup when their LIC headquarters went up in the early 90s. The MTA even offers an out of system transfer between 59th St-Lexington Ave and Lexington Ave-63rd St which due to the technical limitations of the MetroCard means the MTA loses money (since you can’t prove you made the transfer the fare is waved).

Map showing Williamsburg stations with ridership statistics.  Source: MTA.
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Map showing Williamsburg stations with ridership statistics. Source: MTA.

When offered the chance to build either type of transfer at Broadway/Union Ave the MTA balked. By the numbers you can see why: Hewes St only saw 903,000 riders in 2014, Broadway saw 1.1m, and Lorimer (J/M/Z) saw 1.5m. Compare this with Court Sq which saw 6.7m, Jay St-MetroTech which saw 12.2m, and Bleecker St-Broadway-Lafayette which saw 12.9m. Furthermore the physical connections at these new transfer stations was minimal since each platforms crossed relatively close to one another. Hewes St station is about 750ft from the Broadway station and would involve a large new structure to connect the underground mezzanine to the elevated station (see the picture at the top of the post which shows the new structure at Court Sq). Given the expensive engineering to connect the two stations it’s no wonder the MTA passed.

But that was a decade ago and many things have changed. Even without the L train closure ridership along the G has exploded in this area; Broadway has seen a 4.9% increase in ridership between 2013 and 2014, Flushing Ave 10.9%, and Myrtle-Willoughby a 9.1% increase. Ridership on the J/M/Z between Marcy Ave and Myrtle Ave, meanwhile, has held steady or even dropped slightly meaning that there is excess capacity which could be used to relieve the L train. Metropolitan Ave-Lorimer St station, the only G transfer station saw 5m riders coming through the turnstiles in 2014 but this doesn’t account for transfers between the L and G. Anyone who rides here knows that a substantial proportion of traffic at Metropolitan Ave is transfers (the MTA does not track transfers so there are no hard numbers available). The need may not have been there a decade ago but it’s plain to see today.

New underground mezzanine connecting Broadway to Hewes St station or a new Union Ave station.
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New underground mezzanine connecting Broadway to Hewes St station or a new Union Ave station.

It’s time for the MTA to revisit a connection between the G and J/M/Z. The MTA balks at out-of-system transfers due to lost revenue and I would have to agree with them here since the new riders such a transfer would attract would be too much for the MTA to cover by an out-of-system transfer. What I want to see is a brand new elevated station at Union Ave, fully ADA compliant (which would make it only the second elevated J station which would be compliant after Marcy Ave!), and have a direct transfer to the Broadway station below via stairs, escalator, and elevator. The new station would replace both Hewes St and Lorimer St elevated stations as the station spacing is relatively close for modern subways and the ridership levels too low to justify 2 or 3 stations. The new Union Ave station would be .4m from Marcy Ave and .5m from Flushing Ave, the same distances between many of the G train stations in the area.

This plan isn’t without it’s own issues. Building a new mezzanine to connect to Hewes St might be cheaper but would offer a less friendly transfer and require two sets of elevators along with the neew to demolish a nearby building in order to build the connection. A new elevated station could face resistance for casting shadows on the street but it should be noted that the area surrounding this intersection is mostly one story commercial buildings and a police station so the impact would be low. Removal of existing stations will always face resistance from a small percentage of riders who live closest to them and this has been used in the past to oppose station closures. With recent delays in the opening of the 7 train extension and doubts about whether the MTA can deliver the first phase of 2nd Ave by their own December 2016 deadline there are some very real doubts that the MTA could pull this off on time and on budget. These seem like small issues compared with the larger problem of shutting down the L train. What I’m proposing won’t just alleviate the impact of years without the L but it will also set the stage for better transit in all of north Brooklyn. With no transfer the J/Z is a glorified shuttle between Broadway Junction and Chambers St. The M has seen a huge uptick in ridership since being rerouted along 6th Ave. A transfer to the greater subway network in Brooklyn would revolutionize how people get around north Brooklyn and have an immediate impact on reducing congestion at Bedford Ave and Lorimer St. How many L train riders, if given the option, would take a train that bypasses that mess?

MTA Subway Map with new Union Ave station complex.
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MTA Subway Map with new Union Ave station complex.

A new station and transfer would be expensive, probably in the mid tens-of-millions of dollars, or the new mezzanine would be more disruptive to construct. But the investment would have wide reaching effects. A single infill station could be built and running by the time the MTA says it needs to shut down the L, 2018. I urge the MTA, local advocates, and politicians to seriously examine this new station.

futureNYCSubway 2016

futureNYCSubway 2016 map.  Click for large scale PDF version (1mb)

futureNYCSubway 2016 map. Click for large scale PDF version (1mb)

As the major subway expansion projects of the last 15 years begin to open and the big issue everyone is talking about is cost. The top 3 most expensive transit projects in the world (cost per mile) are all in NYC; East Side Access, 2nd Ave Subway, and the 7 Line extension. Furthermore the Calatrava PATH station at the World Trade Center is likely to be the most expensive subway station ever built. There is much I don’t know about the internal workings of the MTA and I would love to have someone at the state run a total audit of the MTA to find the fat that could be cut; at this point I’m willing to bet the cost problem is across the board and there will not be one magic solution to fixing it. Governor Cuomo famously forced the MTA to scale back their 2015-2019 budget as a way to curtail waist. The issue now is that he still hates the MTA and refuses to fund them even after they were able to cut billions out. If only he was serious about reforming the MTA rather than using it as a punching bag. He recent wide ranging transportation proposals seem to be directed only at subruban commuters with improvements to the LIRR, Penn Station, and a study to look at a new Long Island Sound crossing… all things that weren’t really a priority before he decided to champion them.

With this in mind I sought to plan out a system expansion which would be as cost effective as possible by addressing current service bottlenecks, train car issues, current ridership and population growth. The Queens Blvd Line is currently slated to undergo conversion to CBTC, a new signal system which will allow up to 40 trains per hour to run (current signals allow up to 30tph but do to a variety of factors this is rarely possible). CBTC is the only way that the G train can be extended back to Forest Hills or, once the 2nd Ave Subway is opened below 63rd St, 2nd Ave trains can run along Queens Blvd. CBTC will take many years to be fully installed on every subway line so focusing on the Queens Blvd Line is a good start but the full impact of the improved service will take time to be felt.

Other proposals deal with small projects with large consequences. Since the IRT opened it has been known that many of the junctions between lines, specifically the Rodgers Ave Junction at Eastern Parkway and Nostrand Ave and the Lexington Ave-149th St Junction on the 5 Line, are bottlenecks which have a serious impact of service. There have been proposals for decades to rebuild these junctions but nothing has ever been done. The Rodgers Ave Junction in particular has been a major road block to the Utica Ave Subway as it would seriously limit trains to Utica Ave and New Lots.

First Stage Expansions

2nd Ave Subway

My most recent concept for the 2nd Ave Subway deals with trunk pairing. Trunk pairing is how each of the three companies which built the NYC Subway designed their systems. The idea is simple: built two trunk lines that run through Manhattan which branch off in the outer boroughs. The branches then merge so that, for instance, riders in the Bronx can at a single station have access to trains that run down either the west or east sides of Manhattan (this was more the case when the 9th Ave elevated line still connected to the 4 train). The IND and IRT were designed this way (more so the IND which learned from the mistakes of the IRT and BMT). The BMT however was focused more on lower Manhattan and designed a system where trains would come in from all over Brooklyn and loop back over the bridges and through the Montague St Tunnel. It worked for a while until the heart of the central business district moved up to midtown. This is why there is so much abandoned subway infrastructure on the Broadway (N/Q/R) and Jamaica Lines (J/Z). This was addressed in 1968 with the Chrystie St Connection which connected the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges to the 6th Ave Line (today’s B/D/M trains), rerouting lines through midtown which previously only went downtown. The Broadway Line is now paired with the 6th Ave Line which due to them being a block apart in many places isn’t the most efficient pairing.

Map detail showing 2nd Ave-Broadway Line train pairing in midtown offering Queens riders east or west side trains from a single station.
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Map detail showing 2nd Ave-Broadway Line train pairing in midtown offering Queens riders east or west side trains from a single station.

Pairing the Broadway Line with the new 2nd Ave Line would give riders a new one seat option to get to either the west or east sides of Manhattan (or rather central Manhattan and the east side). This would immediately have a major positive impact on transfers at congested midtown stations like 59th/Lexington Ave and 53rd/Lexington Ave. The Queens Blvd Line has two local service, the R and M, but would be much more effective if it was the R and a 2nd Ave train (a restored V train). The M then could then be used as additional express service past Forest Hills. With the addition of express tracks another pairing could be possible by building a new connection between the 2nd Ave Subway and the 60th St tunnel which carries the N to Astoria. The Astoria Line historically had a direct connection to the now demolished 2nd Ave Elevated line and restoring this connection would address many of the transfers at 59th St/Lexington Ave.

Map detail showing 2nd Ave Subway Phase 4 via Park Row and Nassau St or via Centre St (dashed).
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Map detail showing 2nd Ave Subway Phase 4 via Park Row and Nassau St or via Centre St (dashed).

At the southern end of the line the 2nd Ave Subway would be connected to the Manhattan Bridge and the Montague St Tunnel via the Nassau St Subway. Planners as far back as the 1940s have seen connecting the 2nd Ave Subway to the Centre St Subway (J/Z trains) at Delancey St as a way to utilize these under used tracks. I’ve been told, but do not have the engineering documents to prove it, that the geometry of such a connection would be unfeasible or at least far from ideal. The sharp S-curve required to get from Chrystie St to Centre St would slow down trains so much and cause extreme wear and tear. The alternative I’m proposing would extend the 2nd Ave Subway from Grand St to Chatham Sq and them down Park Row (which is now an NYPD no-mans-land) to Nassau St where it would merge with the Nassau St Subway just south of Chambers St station and then on to the Montague Tunnel. This connection would be a much cheaper alternative than building a new 2nd Ave terminal under Water St by using the existing terminal tracks past Broad St and it would allow direct transfers to other lines at Fulton St where the current plan for Phase 4 of the 2nd Ave Subway offers no transfers. The connection between the Centre St Subway and Nassau St Subway at Chambers St would most likely be severed, though it may be possible to keep a single non revenue track connection for work trains.

Map detail showing 2nd Ave-Broadway train pairing through DeKalb station.  Train pairing allows for maximum rerouteing flexibility.

Map detail showing 2nd Ave-Broadway train pairing through DeKalb station. Train pairing allows for maximum rerouteing flexibility.

At Houston St the 6th Ave Express trains, which currently run over the Manhattan Bridge, would instead be extended to Williamsburg via a new tunnel to South 4th St for a new line covered below. This frees up space on the Manhattan Bridge for 2nd Ave trains so at DeKalb Ave each Broadway-2nd Ave train pairing would meet and run off to their respectful branches: N/R trains along 4th Ave would be joined by 2nd Ave local and express trains taking over from the D on the West End Line (with peak direction express) while the Q and T run local-express to Brighton Beach.

Map detail showing Astoria Line extension to LaGuardia Airport with new train yard allowing R trains to run exclusively on the Broadway local tracks.
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Map detail showing Astoria Line extension to LaGuardia Airport with new train yard allowing R trains to run exclusively on the Broadway local tracks.

The final part of the plan is seemingly unrelated to the 2nd Ave Subway at all but would have huge consequences in terms of efficiency. Historically the R ran from Bay Ridge to Astoria along the Broadway local tracks while the N ran express and connected to the Queens Blvd Line. This was reversed because the R had no direct access to a train yard (which meant that if a train needed to go out of service or more trains added to make up for a disruption the R trains needed to make long runs along other lines to reach their lines). Extending the Astoria Line to LaGuardia Airport would mean that a new yard could be built north of 20th Ave on land owned by ConEd which is currently fallow. This new yard would allow R trains to return to the Astoria Line. Why is this preferred? This means the R train would run exclusively on the local tracks while the N would share the express with the Q but never have to merge with local tracks along Broadway (this merging causes delays and caps the capacity of the Broadway Line). The N would return to Queens Blvd via the 63rd St tunnel and Astoria and Bay Ridge riders would now be able to see increased and more reliable service on the R train. Riders on the Lexington Ave Line would need to adjust their commute as 59th/Lexington Ave would only allow a transfer to the Astoria Line so all Queens Blvd bound riders would need to transfer at 51st/Lexington Ave. Additionally any Queens Blvd bound rider could also take the 2nd Ave Line instead of the Lexington Ave Line and transfer across the platform at 63rd/Lexington Ave. Segregating transfers would have an overall benefit to service and congestion throughout midtown. Having an Astoria-2nd Ave branch would also remove the need for many transfers at 59th St/Lexington Ave to further reduce congestion.

With funding for Phase 2 of the 2nd Ave Subway cut from the still unfunded MTA 2015-2019 budget it seems almost futile to talk about the future of the project. As with all my past designs looking past Phase 2 would extend a branch west under 125th St to Broadway and a branch north to replace the 5 train to Dyre Ave. The city, in using designs for the 2nd Ave Subway which date to the 1970s, has permanently stunted service to the Bronx on the east side of Manhattan. Only two service can run along 2nd Ave, both local, which means that expanding subway service to under served areas like 3rd Ave or Throgs Neck is virtually impossible. 2016 is not 1971 and it is imperative that the sections south of 63rd St are built as a 4 track trunk line. The additional track will be under used for the foreseeable future but it is important to have it when future demand can fill the void; if the tracks of the 2nd Ave Line are designed properly then it would even be possible to terminate trains from Brooklyn in midtown. 4 tracks south of 63rd St to Grand St would allow better utilization of the East River tunnels between Manhattan and Queens which are already at capacity.

IRT Junction Rehabilitation and the Utica Ave Subway

Since the day it opened the IRT has had capacity and congestion issues. Being the first subway in New York it was designed conservatively to save money and much of these design choices still haunt the system today (you will notice narrower cars on the numbered lines for instance). While the A Division (as the IRT is known internally) was the first to see countdown clocks and CBTC (or whatever similar system the MTA ended up installing) to help with congestion there are some physical limitations which effect capacity. There are two major junctions on the IRT where the 2 and 5 trains merge and their issues have been know about since the beginning. The Rogers Ave Junction in Brooklyn where the Nostrand Ave Subway merges with the Eastern Parkway Subway requires local trains to cross in front of express trains. This limits capacity on the New Lots Line (3 train) and in doing so also makes any extension for the Utica Ave Subway impractical. In the Bronx where the 2 and 5 merge again at 149th St there is an extremely sharp S-curve connecting the Lexington Ave Line with the White Plains Rd Line. This was done to eliminate the need for transfers from the 2 to the 4/5 and this service is immensely popular.

Map detail showing rebuilt Rogers Ave Junction (which would require the demolition of Presidents St station) and Utica Ave service.
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Map detail showing rebuilt Rogers Ave Junction (which would require the demolition of Presidents St station) and Utica Ave service.

Because both junctions directly impact the entire A Division any delay at either one backs up the entire system. This is why train pairing is so important to the IRT and why the 2/5 runs together in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Reconfiguring these junctions would not only speed up service on the entire system but also enable more trains to run at higher speeds as well as open the door for the Utica Ave Subway.

Map detail showing Utica Ave Line and Nostrand Ave Line Extension.
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Map detail showing Utica Ave Line and Nostrand Ave Line Extension.

The Utica Ave Subway in this plan would extend the 3 train south to Kings Plaza. In all of my earlier plans I had extended the 4 train down Utica Ave but a closer inspection of how the tracks are aligned at the Utica Ave station shows that it would be much simpler to extend the local tracks south; the 4 express train would take over to New Lots Ave, which should also be extended south through the existing train yards to Spring Creek-Flatlands Ave to support the Spring Creek redevelopment. The Utica Ave Line would run in a tunnel until Rutland Rd where it would ascend and run on an elevated viaduct south to Kings Plaza. The viaduct would run along private land to be taken by eminent domain and designed so that future private development could be built around it. This is the only economical way to build the line and one that would use direct land resale to offset costs.

Map detail showing rebuilt 149th St Junction and new 145 St station.
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Map detail showing rebuilt 149th St Junction and new 145 St station.

At 145th St in Harlem the 2 train peels off into the Bronx while the 3 terminates at 148th St. The 145th St station, due to the junction with the 2 train, could not be extended to fit longer train sets. At Grand Concourse the 5 merges with the 2 on a tight S-curve. A new alignment would remedy both bottlenecks. Beginning at 138th St at Lenox Ave the tracks of the 2/3 would drop down and run to a new station built below the current 145th St station which would be large enough for a full train set (The current station would still exist but only be used to connect trains to the 148th St Yards and the 148th St terminal would be closed to passengers except for the odd shuttle service). The new tunnel would swing under the Harlem River to 150th St where it would split with the 2 train connecting to the existing 149th-Grand Concourse station and the 3 train swinging up to merge with the 4 train under Franz Sigel Park. The 5 train merge would be rebuilt so it would occur between Grand Concourse and 3rd Ave stations so that the curve of the tunnel would allow for much faster/smoother merges. Service on the White Plains Rd Line (2/5 trains) would be sped up and the 3 train would allow for double the service on the Jerome Ave Line (4 train) up to Bedford Park Blvd-Lehman College where the 3 would terminate (the junction between the main line and yard tracks would also have to be rebuilt to eliminate grade crossings). Furthermore between 161st-Yankee Stadium and 167th St the track bed of the line expands where the 9th Ave elevated line once merged. This extra space would then be used for layup tracks so that 3 trains could terminate late night at Yankee Stadium. This 3/4 train pairing would mimic the 2/5 pairing and allow for service adjustments on the fly.

Rockaway Branch Line and IND Queens Blvd Line Extensions

Having only one trunk line subway serving the heart of Queens is a major problem but even worse is that because it was designed to have branches the trunk line doesn’t run efficiently. Famously the Archer Ave Subway extension of the E train was designed to run southeast to Laurelton along the LIRR Atlantic Branch ROW and so the current terminal at Parsons Blvd was not designed to deal with current demand; at rush hour there are a number of E trains which must run out of 179th St. With the addition of the 63rd St Tunnel in 2001 there are even more branches feeding into the Queens Blvd Line which are forced to terminate at Forest Hills or in Jamaica; with two Manhattan-bound local trains terminating at Forest Hills-71st Ave there is no room to run Crosstown G trains past Court Sq. Extending existing branches and building new ones will actually improve overall service along the line but it needs to be done correctly.

Map detail showing Laurelton E train extension and Archer Ave Subway extension to Merrick Blvd.
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Map detail showing Laurelton E train extension and Archer Ave Subway extension to Merrick Blvd.

The two most important and needed extensions are the E southeast to Laurelton-Springfield Blvd along the existing LIRR ROW (the subway would actually replace the LIRR service which would be shifted east through St. Albans). This would allow for a proper terminal that would easily handle to high demand along the E line and include a new train yard/shops at a plot of land known today as Railroad Park (which was left as a space for future train storage). The second extension would be off the local track at 63rd St-Rego Park and run along the Rockaway Branch ROW to connect with the A train to the Rockaways. Currently the best set up would be for the M train to make this run but with the addition of the Queens Superexpress Line from the 63rd St Tunnel along the LIRR Main Line to Rego Park the Rockaway Line would offer both local (via Queens Blvd) and express service with trains to 6th Ave and 2nd Ave. (On the service map shown I have 6th Ave H trains running express from 63rd St to Rockaway Park and 2nd Ave V local trains terminating at Liberty Ave. Actual service would depend on demand.)

Map detail showing 2nd Ave-Queens Blvd-Rockaway Branch service and connection to Superexpress-Rockaway service.
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Map detail showing 2nd Ave-Queens Blvd-Rockaway Branch service and connection to Superexpress-Rockaway service.

These branches not only offer new service to under served areas of the city but also free up terminal space along Queens Blvd at Forest Hills and 179th St. This allows for the return of the Crosstown G train to run to Forest Hills. A future extension of the Hillside Ave Subway from 179th St to Queens Village-Springfield Blvd should also be looked at do to the high demand coming from bus transfers. Both the E train extension and the Superexpress-Rockaway Branch Line extension would be above ground along existing ROWs to reduce costs. A Hillside Ave Subway extension would be costlier because of both tunneling construction and managing the high water table in the area. It might be possible to build an elevated line but the largely residential nature of the area would discourage this.

Map detail of Hillside Ave Subway extension.
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Map detail of Hillside Ave Subway extension.

Franklin Ave Subway – K Train

Map detail of the Franklin Ave Subway connecting the Crosstown Line to the Brighton Beach Line.
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Map detail of the Franklin Ave Subway connecting the Crosstown Line to the Brighton Beach Line.

The Franklin Av Subway is a short extension of the Franklin Ave Shuttle which would connect the Brighton Beach Line (B/Q) to the Crosstown (G) at Bedford-Nostrand Avs. When the IND proposed their version of the Utica Ave Subway in 1929 it ran longer than the IRT version, the one I proposed above, and was designed as a north-south artery through Brooklyn from South 4th St to Flatbush Ave. While the need is still there for better north-south connections the costs of the full IND proposal would be prohibitive and the additional service redundant. Because of the way each line was built they are both forced to run below capacity even through there is growing demand. By utilizing excess capacity along both lines the new service offers a true north-south train service that creates a bypass around downtown Brooklyn and lower Manhattan as well as giving riders coming from southern and eastern Brooklyn a direct line up to north Brooklyn and Long Island City. Growth along the G through Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy has exploded in recent years but G train is currently capped at at most 15tph which it rarely meets due to sharing tracks with the Manhattan-bound F train. The new service (K train) would run about 10tph and G trains about 10-12tph. This would give the bulk of the Crosstown Line 20-22tph (the Lafayette Ave section parallels the Fulton St Line close enough that the capping of the G train at 10tph would not have a detrimental impact and the existing layup tracks past Bedford-Nostrand station could be used for peak short runs between Church Ave and Bedford-Nostrand). Along the Brighton Beach Line the K would run local with the Q and 2nd Ave trains (T) would run express.

Because the Crosstown Line was never designed to terminate at Court Sq all Crosstown trains would need to be run out to Forest Hills. As I outlined above with the addition of CBTC the Queens Blvd Line can handle such an extension of existing G train service. With both G and K trains now extended from Court Sq some trains would need to run express along side the E and F trains. The Crosstown K Express would terminate at Jamaica-179th St and allow for rush hour F trains to run express all the way to 179th St; local service past Forest Hills has never been popular due to riders switching to overcrowded express trains so making the extra Crosstown service express would pick any slack. Night time service would be reduced to a shuttle between Bedford-Nostrand and Prospect Park unless it proved more popular than the G train.

Map detail of Queens Plaza area showing additional Crosstown service via Franklin Ave running express to 179th St.
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Map detail of Queens Plaza area showing additional Crosstown service via Franklin Ave running express to 179th St.

Second Stage Expansions

Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line

Way back in my very first futureNYCSubway series I proposed bringing back the the gargantuan South 4th St Subway with connections to 2nd Ave, 6th Ave, and 8th Ave via Worth St, as well as branches out to central Queens, Utica Ave, and Broadway Junction. Thinking big is fun but reality has a way to raining on your parade. But the need for better transit to Williamsburg is as important as ever (how we all wish now that at least one of those IND tunnels had been built) and more importantly is cross-borough connections. Better Brooklyn-Queens and Queens-Bronx connections are needed and at the same time the East River crossings between Queens and Manhattan are reaching their capacity. With a 2nd Ave service using the 63rd St Tunnel all the tunnels above 42nd St will be maxed out. The new Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line is a staged plan which will try to address these issues and more in the most affordable way I can think of.

Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 1: New East River tunnel and South 4th St Subway.
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Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 1: New East River tunnel and South 4th St Subway.

As part of the 2nd Ave Subway plan I outlined above I mentioned shifting the 6th Ave express trains from the Manhattan Bridge through a new East River tunnel to Williamsburg. This is Phase 1. This new 2 track tunnel will continue east under Houston St with a station between Clinton St/Ave B and Pitt St/Ave C then make a southeastern turn through the Baruch Houses along a path with will run under existing open space to where Rivington St would meet the FDR Dr. Headed under the East River to South 4th St to a station between Berry St and Bedford Av and then running to Union Ave where it will terminate using the existing South 4th St station shell at Broadway on the G.

Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 2:  Express and Local trains connecting Bushwick to Woodhaven Blvd-Queens Center.
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Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 2: Express and Local trains connecting Bushwick to Woodhaven Blvd-Queens Center.

Phase 2 extends the line from Union Ave where will split into a 2 track tunnel under Johnson Ave, which will run past Bushwick Ave (with a transfer to the Montrose Ave L train station) and then ascend and run above ground along the existing freight ROW from Morgan Ave to Flushing Ave acting as express tracks. A 4 track tunnel (space for 4 but only 2 will be built for this stage) will run from Union Ave to Myrtle Ave along Broadway. At Broadway and Myrtle a 2 track tunnel, the local tracks, will run under Myrtle Ave to a Cypress Ave where it will turn northeast under Gates Ave and then north under Forest Ave where it will run to Metropolitan Ave, turn north under 60th St and continue to Flushing Ave meeting up with the express tracks. The now 4 track subway will run northeast under Flushing Ave and Grand Ave to 57 Ave where it will continue east under the Long Island Expressway to Queens Blvd. At Queens Blvd the local tracks will terminate and provisions will be left for the express tracks to extend further east. At this point Woodhaven Blvd station will be converted into an express station. This phase will allow for the removal of the elevated Myrtle Ave Line tracks out to the existing Metropolitan Ave terminal. Non revenue tracks will connect the new subway to the existing Fresh Pond Yards.

Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 3: Express extension along Long Island Expressway to Springfield Blvd.
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Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 3: Express extension along Long Island Expressway to Springfield Blvd.

Phase 3 will extend the express tracks east along the Long Island Expressway. The most affordable solution is to run them along a concrete elevated viaduct running along the median of the highway much the same way the AirTrain runs long the Van Wyck Expressway. The line will be 2 tracks with island platform stations. The most difficult part of this stage will be placing the needed train yard/shops. While there is space inside Cunningham and Alley Pond Parks it would most likely cause a backlash against the project so it might be possible to build a yard either above or below the interchange between the Long Island and Clearview Expressways. Alternatively the yard could be placed underground around Francis Lewis Blvd where there is abundant park space that could be restored after.

The first three phases replace the existing Myrtle Ave elevated line and create a new express subway for central Queens which bypasses Long Island City and midtown Manhattan but also connects to the Queens Blvd Line should riders need to transfer. This line serves a large swath of the city far from the subway and takes pressure off of midtown transfer stations. Removing the Myrtle Ave elevated will mean that J/Z trains will no longer have to wait for M trains to switch in front of them at Myrtle Ave which will greatly speed up service.

Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 4: Broadway and Jamaica Ave Subways with expanded East NY train yards.
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Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 4: Broadway and Jamaica Ave Subways with expanded East NY train yards.

Phase 4 would radically change the Jamaica Line and is left for last as the existing elevated structure (which is already some of the oldest continually used transit infrastructure in the city) will reach the end of its useful life. The Jamaica Line is seeing spillover growth as gentrification moves east along the L train and by the time the first three stages of the B-Q Trunk is opened the demand should be in place to expand. The forth stage has three parts to be built at the same time: extending the 4 track subway from Broadway and Myrtle Aves to Broadway Junction, expanding the existing East NY Yards of the J train so it can handle longer trains, and connecting the tracks of the Williamsburg Bridge to the South 4th St Subway at Havermeyer St. The grade from the bridge to the subway will be a bit steeper than the trains on the Manhattan side of the bridge face so it is possible that the highway ramps on the bridge will have to be moved in order to fit the portal. This connection means that the elevated track from the bridge to Broadway Junction can be completely removed and that northern Brooklyn and central Queens will each have train pairs to take them either downtown to Chambers St or to midtown via 6th Ave.

Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 5: 6th Ave trains along Jamaica Line and Centre St trains along Atlantic Ave express tracks to Merrick Blvd.
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Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 5: 6th Ave trains along Jamaica Line and Centre St trains along Atlantic Ave express tracks to Merrick Blvd.

The fifth and final phase will extend the local tracks from Broadway Junction under Jamaica Ave to a new portal at Crescent St/Jamaica Ave to connect with the existing elevated tracks at Cypress Hills station. The S-curve along Crescent St is a major bottleneck on the J/Z train which necessitates slow travel and increased wear and tear on the trains. Removing this section and replacing it with a subway with only 2 stations (replacing 5 stations which are rather close together) will improve service drastically. The express tracks will be extended south to Atlantic Ave where they will run superexpress to Jamaica along the LIRR Atlantic Ave Line which is slated to be turned into a shuttle once East Side Access opens to Grand Central Terminal. The superexpress tracks will connect to the lower level of the Archer Ave Subway which itself will be extended one station to the east to Merrick Blvd where a larger terminal station will be built to handle the multiple service.

An additional part of this expansion would be to replace the elevated L train tracks over Broadway Junction and reroute the L through the existing freight tunnel which runs parallel to the L. Between the Wilson Ave and Bushwick-Aberdeen stations the L would connect to the other tunnel and bypass Bushwick-Aberdeen (which would be abandoned), a new station would be built under Broadway Junction connecting the new J station to the existing A/C station, then it would surface in the trench below the existing elevated tracks and run to New Lots Ave where it would connect back to the elevated tracks. The Atlantic Ave and Sutter Ave stations would be replaced by a single station at Pitkin Ave.

Abandoned LIRR East NY station showing the tunnel portal which runs below Broadway Junction.  This could be rehabilitated to serve L train service.
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Abandoned LIRR East NY station showing the tunnel portal which runs below Broadway Junction. This could be rehabilitated to serve L train service.

What will then exist is a brand new system which replaces the bottlenecks of the elevated Jamaica Line with a modern subway that better serves the needs of Brooklyn and Queens riders. The staged construction schedule allows for immediate relief of current congestion in Williamsburg while ridership grows further out. Riders from Jamaica will have a one seat express ride to lower Manhattan as well as a one seat ride to midtown for riders who live in Woodhaven, East New York, and Richmond Hill. Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy and Bushwick will lose their elevated trains and gain better options than only the L train. Central Queens will get an express train to lower Manhattan and a second alternative to midtown avoiding the congested LIC-Midtown tunnels. Built in stages the system can also be adjusted as new demand surfaces as once fast new inter-borough connections are opened riders will have new options about where they live and work.

PATH to Staten Island

Map detail showing Staten Island PATH branch connecting to existing PATH network.
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Map detail showing Staten Island PATH branch connecting to existing PATH network.

In my last futureNYCSubway update I laid out a plan for using a new Cross-Harbor Tunnel to give Staten Island commuter rail access to greater New York City. With the recent plans for the new Amtrak “Gateway Tunnel” under the Hudson River to an expanded Penn Station coming in at at least $14 billion it would seem that any cross harbor tunnel, which would serve a fraction of the ridership and freight tonnage, would be of similar cost (while a large chunk of the Gateway Tunnel cost is actually for non tunnel infrastructure like expanding Penn Station any tunnel to Staten Island and New Jersey would require expensive support infrastructure as well so costs, while less than Gateway, would still be significant). Because of current bottlenecks in downtown Brooklyn any subway tunnel to Staten Island via Brooklyn (or Manhattan for that matter) would be either detrimental to current service or require expensive new tunneling before any underwater tunnel could be built.

Map detail showing new Staten Island PATH branch running to Staten Island via the recaptured Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line.
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Map detail showing new Staten Island PATH branch running to Staten Island via the recaptured Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line.

Another option which has been floated around is extending the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail from Bayonne, NJ over the Bayonne Bridge to give Islanders access to job centers in NJ and, with a transfer to PATH, midtown. This seems like more trouble than it’s worth given that any subway to Staten Island needs to offer a one seat ride to Manhattan in order to justify the expense. The HBLR is a great way to get around Hoboken, Jersey City, and Bayonne but the transfers to the PATH limit the effectiveness of the service in terms of getting cars off roads and tunnels.

This leaves the PATH train as the only service which could easily handle expansion and offers a one seat ride to both midtown and downtown Manhattan. At first glance it may seem odd that New Yorkers from Staten Island would want to travel through New Jersey to get to Manhattan but that is taking a NY/MTA-centric view of what is a regional transportation problem. Islanders travel through New Jersey regularly via the Port Authority owned Bayonne, Geothals, and Outerbridge crossings. A PATH extension would also take cars off the bridges by offering direct transit access to job centers outside of Manhattan in Jersey City and Newark (and possibly Liberty Airport should that extension ever be built). These factors give more weight to a Port Authority built project than to an MTA or NYC related extension.

The key to keeping the extension affordable is using the HBLR tracks from Communipaw station to 22nd St. The Port Authority would purchase the tracks from the HBLR; the West Side Branch would be kept in operation but the single track 8th St terminal in Bayonne would be abandoned. The stations would be expanded to fit PATH trains (with high level ADA compliant platforms and the line could either be converted to third rail power OR new dual power trains could be purchased which switch from third rail power to overhead catenary power similar to how Blue Line trains work in Boston. At the north end a new tunnel would be built connecting the PATH along Christopher Columbus Dr to Communipaw. To avoid a bottle neck at Grove St where trains switch from Hoboken/33rd St and WTC bound tracks the new connection would expand Grove St station to 4 tracks with 2 island platforms. At 22nd St in Bayonne the line would wind east and follow the freight cutoff tracks through Constable Hook where it would diver below the Kill Van Kull into a deep bored tunnel to Richmond Terrace at St. George. The SI PATH line would most likely terminate at 33rd St as the SI Ferry would still provide fast service to lower Manhattan. A PATH line to SI would also be a boon for Bayonne as a one seat ride to Manhattan would property values.

Third Stage Expansion

IRT Nostrand Ave Extension

With the construction of the Utica Ave Subway the Nostrand Ave Line (2/5 trains) would see ridership relief so an extension south is less important. The biggest issue facing the Nostrand Ave Line is capacity at Flatbush Ave-Brooklyn College as the station was not designed to be a terminal, an extension south was planned but never built. Extending the line south would address the terminal capacity issue and give residents of southeastern Brooklyn an alternative to the Brighton Beach Line. An extension south would be on the expensive side; the line would have to be in a tunnel the entire route due to the densely developed residential neighborhoods in the area and the tunnel would need to be designed to deal with the high water table in the area. The most economical extension would be to Kings Highway with a possible station at Ave K. The terminal at Kings Highway would have modern storage tracks past the station which allows for more trains per hour to be turned and run.

IND Concourse Line Extension to Coop City

Map detail showing IND Concourse Line D train extension east to Co Op City.
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Map detail showing IND Concourse Line D train extension east to Co Op City.

While the Bronx has some of the best subway coverage per borough there are still some holes that need addressing. Because the 2nd Ave Subway is not being built with an express track the options for new service in the Bronx is limited. The only line that can be realistically extended is the IND Concourse Line which was designed for an extension east after Norwood-205 St. The extension was originally rendered moot when the city bought the Dyre Ave Line from the NY, Westchester & Boston RR. The Dyre Ave Line would best be served by extending the Q up from 2nd Ave so that 5 trains no longer have to split service between it and the more heavily used White Plains Rd Line. With the opening of Co Op City there was talk of extending the 6 train from Pelham Bay Park to service the new development but I feel that extending the D train, while more expensive, would ultimately serve the Bronx better. The Bx12 Select Bus Service was the first BRT style service the MTA opened between Co Op City and Inwood-207 St and has proven a massive success. The need for better cross-Bronx service is clear however the costs associated with building any kind of cross-Bronx subway are prohibitive; an ideal cross-Bronx line would connect as many lines as possible and be best located around either 149th or 161st streets. An extension of the Concourse Line would parallel the Bx12 service from Coop City to Fordham Rd as well as connect to the Dyre Ave Q train, White Plains Rd 2/5 trains and Jerome Ave 4 train, finally connecting the A at 145th St. While not perfect it would be the most economical crosstown type subway service.

IRT Flushing Line Extension

Map detail showing extension alternatives for the IRT Flushing Line to Whitestone or College Point.
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Map detail showing extension alternatives for the IRT Flushing Line to Whitestone or College Point.

Flushing being the major transit hub that it is needs an extension of the 7 train east to reduce the bevy of bus lines that terminate in downtown Flushing. Extending the line east to Northern Blvd would probably suffice but an extension north to Whitestone should be considered. While College Point is more densely developed than Whitestone extending the 7 train north from Flushing-Main St would be complicated and expensive. The best route for the extension in terms of bus line and population density would be along Parsons Blvd but an extension further east along 154th St would better server all of Flushing. A 154th St alignment may run into more resistance from the more suburban residents of Murray Hill and Whitestone so it’s hard to say which alignment would be best. With the opening of East Side Access the Port Washington Branch LIRR which runs through Flushing will see more trains run and also trains terminating at Grand Central Terminal. Because of this and also the possible implementation of the proposed Freedom Pass (which is very much in concept phase at this point) any extension of the 7 train to Bayside, as originally proposed, would be needlessly redundant.

10th Ave L train

Far West Side development will be adequately served buy the 7 train at 34th St-Hudson Yards for some time. The issue won’t be that the 7 train can’t handle the crowds but can Times Sq and Grand Central handle the transfers. These are the most heavily used stations in the entire system and transferring at either can be intimidating and time consuming. As the Far West Side starts to build out an extension of the L train from 14th St should be considered as a second option for riders to transfer. Additionally an extension of the L, even only as far as 34th St, would allow for a new high capacity terminal to be built which would allow the L train to fully utilize CBTC which was installed but is capped due to the por layout of the current terminal at 8th Ave.

Service Changes

It’s hard to predict how ridership will react to all the service changes proposed but there are smaller improvements which will only be applicable if these expansion projects move forward. When 6th Ave express trains are rerouted to Williamsburg via South 4th St the need for the current 6th Ave M train will disappear. In my plan I’ve replaced the M with the H train as it would be extended to Rockaway Park, traditionally home to the H train. The H, running local along 6th Ave, is now free to provide extra service along the IND Culver Line (F/G). Local politicians have been calling for express F train service for years even though the numbers don’t justify it. Adding an extra service would allow the H train to run express or even day time local while the F runs day time express and night time local.

With the reorganization of the Broadway Line and Queens Blvd branches, Queens-bound riders on the Lexington Ave Line will have to change where they transfer. Combined with the planned growth of Midtown East it would be beneficial to build new express platforms at the 51 St station where the Lexington and the 53rd St Lines meet. Adding express platforms on the three major midtown stations on Lexington Line would reduce the need for local-express transfers at congested stations like Grand Central and 59th St. This has precedent as the express platforms at 59th/Lex were added in 1962 for this very purpose. Riders transferring to Queens-bound trains would be segregated by station: 7 train at Grand Central, E/F at 53rd St, and R at 59th St (with the free connection to 63rd St there is also the transfer to the N to Forest Hills).

The plan is not perfect for all since returning the F to the 53rd St tunnel would require a rider to transfer to the G train at Queens Plaza in order to reach any of the local stations between Queens Plaza and Roosevelt Ave. This reduction of service would be offset with the introduction of the 2nd Ave V local train which would use the 63rd St Tunnel; thus any rider coming from Midtown East could avoid the Lexington-Queens transfer all together and just take one train, the V, between work and home. Again, this kind of radical service change will cause some confusion at first but in the long run will better reduce congestion and give riders more options.

The Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line would reconfigure how the Jamaica Line serves riders by turning it into a two-service superexpress line with M trains running to Woodhaven Blvd and on to Springfield Blvd and J trains running express to Broadway Junction and then to Jamaica Center via the LIRR Atlantic Ave Line which would be converted to subway service. The 6th Ave express trains would run local with B trains running along Myrtle Ave (replacing the current M train) and the D train taking over the currently local J train along Jamaica Ave. The assumption I’m making here is that the local lines would be better served by 6th Ave service as is evidenced by the growth along the M train when it was rerouted along 6th Ave in 2010. The J/M express trains would be focused on providing high speed service to lower Manhattan from central Queens neighborhoods which currently have hour plus commutes downtown. The transfer at Union Ave/South 4th St would also give these riders a fast alternative route into midtown via 6th Ave which would further reduce crowding though Queens-Manhattan tunnels. Track connections would also allow this configuration to be reversed if local residents find J/M local service more favorable and B/D trains would run express to Queens.

The proposed Freedom Pass would be the most economical way to expand service to underserved areas of the city by giving riders a discount on LIRR and Metro North stations within the city and offering a free transfer to the bus/subway network. When the subways were being built in the early 20th century they were done so with a healthy spirit of competition with the private railroads at the time. Now that all these services are under the umbrella of the state run MTA it only makes sense to strengthen the intranetwork connections. Expanding subways along existing LIRR and Metro North right-of-ways makes sense in terms of land acquisition costs but still requires expensive new infrastructure. Already the MTA is looking at new Metro North stations along the Amtrak-Northeast Corridor through eastern Bronx. As I noted above the 2nd Ave Subway lacks an express track which limits the amount of new service it can provide to the Bronx. With the addition of new stations on the White Plains Line a Freedom Pass could offer an affordable alternative to expanding subway service. The 7 train famously was intended to be extended east to Bayside, Queens but with the Freedom Pass this extension would be useless as the Port Washington Branch LIRR would offer faster service to Grand Central and Penn Station than the 7 train.

Finally I’ve thrown in an expansion of the AirTrain which is partly based on Gov Cuomo’s plan for a new line from Willets Point to LaGuardia Airport (which I looked at a year ago). While I much prefer an extension of the Astoria Line I think a connection between the LaGuardia branch and JFK branches of the AirTrain would be an interesting way to create a cross-Queens transit line which would fill the gaps between the subways. The AirTrain, being its own system and costing an additional fee, could serve cross-Queens riders better than an extension of any subway line which would be hard to justify cost wise. Running along the Van Wyck Expressway and through Flushing Meadows Park the extension could be built for relatively cheap as it would not require expensive tunneling.

Brooklyn Trolleys Can’t Fix Williamsburg

Old Trolleycars, Red Hook

The past and future of the waterfront streetcars.

Proposed BQX Streetcar line.
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Proposed BQX Streetcar line.

The transit blogs and op-eds in New York City have been abuzz recently with Mayor de Blasio’s somewhat out-of-left-field proposal to build a $2.5B streetcar line from Astoria through Long Island City, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, the Navy Yard, downtown Brooklyn, Red Hook and Sunset Park. The idea is to connect all the new waterfront development (current and planned) with a new transit service that would fill in the gaps where the subway doesn’t stop. I was quoted in a Brooklyn Eagle piece about the proposal coming out against it but since I was asked the question before I had time to drink my morning coffee I didn’t get to expand on my thoughts.

First and foremost let no one say this isn’t an interesting idea. Small cities across the country have revitalized (i.e. gentrified) once industrial areas with new transit thereby creating vibrant new neighborhoods. The idea is also, and most importantly, a political play which most likely won’t see the light of day. The Mayor and the Governor, Andrew Cuomo, very publicly do not get along and at this point seem to only talk to one another at staged photo ops when both absolutely must be together. The Governor ultimately calls the shots when it comes to the MTA and recently those shots seem to be bullets to the back of the head. The Governor refuses to invest in the MTA even when he runs around the city touting coming improvements (which equate to lipstick on a pig). This leaves the Mayor in a pretty helpless position when it comes to transit. After Cuomo’s transportation lap around the city last month the Mayor had to save face with something, anything, of his own. In the past he has proposed building the long dormant Utica Ave Subway (which we haven’t heard anything about since) and improved ferry service. The ferry service at least seems to be gaining some steam but much like this new proposal only helps the real estate interests which are rapidly changing the face of the waterfront. Being elected as a progressive reformer improving transit seems to be something de Blasio does actually care about but one he doesn’t have much power to affect.

The devil is in the details here which officially have not been released (if they even exist in the fist place), but it’s hard to see how a streetcar along the waterfront would be better than what we have now. The streetcar proposal is not a new one, famously Bob Diamond fought the city for years trying to build a short streetcar line from downtown Brooklyn to Red Hook (the trolleys he bought, long fixtures of the Red Hook waterfront, have just recently been removed). The only way for trolleys to be better than a bus line is for the trains to run along dedicated rights-of-way. The streets along the waterfront are not large arteries which could easily accommodate transit with a road diet and many have already been made thinner with the addition of dedicated bike lanes. The Select Bus Service lines the city has been trying to expand have run into very vocal resistance (mostly in the more suburban areas of Queens) due to the removal of parking. While the new residents of the waterfront may drive much less than those in Woodhaven, Queens, there would still need to be a significant removal of both parking and bike lanes in order to make this work.

The second question which would determine how successful such a system would be how it integrates with the current transportation network. Transit does not exist in a vacuum, it requires a network for the user to derive the most benefit from it; Otherwise you’d just walk, bike, or drive. Because the streetcar would be run by the city there is no guarantee that there would be a free transfer to subway or bus lines. Much like how the PATH and MTA interact there would be a separate fare (which was how things operated when the subways were private companies competing with one another). This means the streetcar would only help people who live and work along the line. Even with new growth this would be a small fraction of overall city transit riders. New systems from the ground up have had mixed results in the US, the worst offender being the Washington DC system which was once planned as a 7.2m line but was truncated to just 2.4m when costs skyrocketed. The line began construction in 2009 and still has not opened. Even when it does it will not even run through neighborhoods it was designed to serve and unless it is connected to the Metro will turn out to be nothing more than an expensive toy.

Trolley Plaza at the Williamsburg Bridge.
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Trolley Plaza at the Williamsburg Bridge.

Ironically there were once thousands of streetcars crisscrossing Brooklyn (dodging trolleys led to the Brooklyn baseball team being named the Brooklyn Dodgers). The Williamsburg Bridge itself once had 4 streetcar tracks on it and when opened served more trains than automobiles. Times changed and the tracks were removed for more space for cars. Today the trolley terminal at Essex St is being considered for an underground park space. The streetcar that the Mayor should be talking about is one which runs over the Williamsburg Bridge to a rehabilitated terminal but given the auto traffic on the bridge today that will never happen. The need for improved transit along the waterfront is obvious and will only increase as new developments in Greenpoint and the Domino Sugar complex begin to open. New bus lines are the only affordable short term option and where possible bus lanes should be introduced.

The streetcar idea is also part of a larger problem, the lack of any centralized planning for the NYC waterfront redevelopment. The city, not wanting to waste taxpayer dollars with a planning department that actually has any power, has spent the last 15 years rezoning the waterfront so that private developers could foot the bill for new infrastructure and parks. Unlike with the extension of the 7 Line to Hudson Yards, the city was content to let Williamsburg grow on its own without working with the MTA to facilitate growth. The streetcar is a band aid on this problem as a decade of growth with no planning has led to overcrowded subways. The MTA is faced with a problem that it was never designed to deal with: ridership growth. Since its inception in 1968 the MTA has been working to stop the hemorrhaging of riders. It has pumped billions in rehabilitating a once famously dilapidated system. I get the feeling that the people who run the MTA are still living in the bad old days; this is a new era and we need new leadership.

This brings us to the news that the MTA needs to shut down the Canarsie Tubes, the tunnels that carry the L Train between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and their poor handling of community outreach. The city and MTA have made, what I consider, paltry improvements to the transit situation in northern Brooklyn given the historic growth over the last decade. Even rerouting the M train was done so not because it was a planned improvement but because of budget cuts and the removal of the V Train. While it is true the L Train was the first to undergo CBTC conversion this had more to do with the fact that it runs entirely on its own line and would not require multiple branch integration (and thus easier and cheaper to build as a pilot program). The city and the MTA have sat back and reaped the benefits of a decade of growth and been content to let riders suffer

G Train transfer points; No transfer at J/M/Z
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G Train transfer points; No transfer at J/M/Z

There were many basic, affordable improvements they could have undertaken such as adjusting the bus network and creating a free transfer between the J/M/Z at Hewes St and the G at Broadway (given the technical limitations of the MetroCard the MTA claims that it could not track who was making the transfers and it would lose money.) The MTA spend hundreds of millions of dollars building new physical transfers between Jay St-MetroTech on the A/C/F and the Lawrence St station on the R, the 6 and B/D/F/M at Bleecker St/Broadway-Lafayette, all the platforms at Court Sq, and most expensively the Fulton St complex. They didn’t see the need for building a connection between the J/M/Z and G which is the Achilles Heel of the Crosstown Line; the G train was designed as a circumferential service and only works when it connects to all radial lines. The G was designed to connect to the never built South 4th St Subway which would have replaced the elevated J/M/Z. There is not much more capacity on the L Train but there is on the J/M/Z and a free, physical transfer at Union and Broadway would make a huge dent in congestion on the L and if they had thought to build it over the last decade the debacle of the Canarsie Tube shutdown would be much more manageable.

New transfer between E/M/G subway and 7 elevated trains at Court Sq. A new station at Union Ave/Broadway on the J/M/Z would allow a free physical transfer between the two lines.

The disinvestment and poor planning in northern Brooklyn is finally coming home to roost. The MTA has known that the Canarsie Tubes would have to be shut down since Hurricane Sandy knocked them out in 2012. They waited this long because they knew it was going to be the most difficult rehabilitation to pull off and in that time they never bothered to reach out to the city or community to work on a long term plan. In all of my futureNYCSubway plans I’ve included a new tunnel between Manhattan and Williamsburg based on historical proposals. Even if the city was serious about building a new tunnel it would not be done in time to help the L Train shutdown. Running more 6th Ave trains to Williamsburg will help but because options for 6th Ave service are very limited due to existing capacity constraints. The needs of north Brooklyn and the waterfront have changed dramatically because the city pushed it along with new zoning but the lack of real investment on their part is finally coming to a head. What will happen when the new well-off residents finally demand change? The leaders we have, city, state, and MTA, haven’t just dropped the ball, they’ve kicked it into another yard and don’t want to be bothered to retrieve it. Ferries and streetcars are toys for the rich new waterfront residents compared with the real needs of commuters.

Flooded subway tunnel during Hurricane Sandy. Source: Wikipedia

When I talk to people about the L Train shutdown what I’m most shocked by is how they don’t even believe the shutdown is necessary. Every tunnel south of 53rd St has been shut down at some point for rehabilitation so those riders who question the need for this shutdown ought to put down their iPhones and pick up a newspaper. The need is real and the options are pretty bad. The MTA has done a terrible job so far when it comes to public relations. Historically we only seem to make the big, required changes when something catastrophic hits. Sandy was that wake up call and now the city needs to rethink how it approaches development, transportation, and investment.

The futureNYCSubway: Manhattan-bound G Train

Brooklyn Loop Lines
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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

Map of proposed Downtown-Crosstown Loop.
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Map of proposed Downtown-Crosstown Loop.

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.

Proposed track map showing how new Crosstown Loop Lines would connect Manhattan and Brooklyn.
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Proposed track map showing how new Crosstown Loop Lines would connect Manhattan and Brooklyn.

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.

Track map of downtown Brooklyn showing BMT and IND lines.
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Track map of downtown Brooklyn showing BMT and IND lines.

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.

Proposed new track map of downtown Brooklyn showing DeKalb-Crosstown Line connection.
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Proposed new track map of downtown Brooklyn showing DeKalb-Crosstown Line connection.

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.

Midtown Loop

Map of proposed Midtown-Crosstown Loop.
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Map of proposed Midtown-Crosstown Loop.

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.

Proposed track map showing how Crosstown Loop Lines would connect with the existing Crosstown Line in Williamsburg.
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Proposed track map showing how Crosstown Loop Lines would connect with the existing Crosstown Line in Williamsburg.

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.