In my original futureNYCSubway plan I proposed a new trunk subway line under Northern Blvd in Queens from Long Island City to Flushing (with alternative routes along the LIRR Port Washington Branch or the Long Island Expressway) but I removed it from subsequent versions to focus more on improvements to the existing IND Queens Blvd Subway. With the 2nd Ave Subway being planned to have only 2 tracks this limits how many routes can run (2, efficiently) and thus limits one route along 2nd Ave to 125th St or the Bronx (the T train as planned) and one to Queens via the 63rd St tunnel (used by the F train currently). The Queens service train has not officially been planned even though a track connection will be built between the 2nd Ave Subway and 63rd St tunnel. One of the reasons that the MTA hasn’t brought up the 2nd Ave-Queens service (other than having no clear date or funding for construction of Phase 3 of the 2nd Ave Subway!) is that there is no place for it to go. The 63rd St tunnel was planned to connect to a superexpress subway line from LIC to Forest Hills running alongside the LIRR Main Line. At Forest Hills it would merge with the IND Queens Blvd subway to provide more express service to Jamaica and a planned but never completed subway extension to Laurelton, Queens. Due to a lack of funding this plan was dropped and the 63rd St tunnel was connected to the IND Queens Blvd Line between Queens Plaza and 36 St stations.
The big issue here is capacity and the fact that the subways in Queens and on the east side of Manhattan are all running at or above capacity. In the 1960s when many of these projects were being planned and designed the subways were already at capacity even though there was a loss of overall ridership. Planners noticed that riders would choose to stay on packed express trains even when a less crowded local train was in the station because they perceived the express as faster. The answer was to create express subways that would reach the growing neighborhoods in eastern Queens to relieve the existing subways in central and western Queens. Long Island Railroad service withing the city would be removed and replaced with these superexpress subways.
Today the subways are as congested as ever and the MTA is looking at a short term solution with Communication Based Train Control, a new signal system that is more accurate and will allow more trains to run. The MTA, having already installed this system along the L train and is in the process of installing it on the 7 train, recently announced that it will be installing CBTC on the Queens Blvd Line. Unfortunately, due to the configuration of the Queens Blvd Line, this won’t have as much of an impact of service as riders would hope. CBTC allows more trains to run along Queens Blvd but the trunk lines in Manhattan will still have the old signal system so they won’t be able to handle the new trains. This leaves the only option of restoring G train service to Forest Hills. While this will certainly help some riders it won’t do anything for the majority of riders looking to get to Manhattan.
The MTA needs to seriously look at new capacity in a bigger way then it has for the last 30 years. The last serious plan for system expansion was put out in 1968 and updated until the city hit its infamous fiscal crisis, after which the MTA decided to focus more on system restoration than expansion. While the MTA still has what the Citizens Budget Commission called a “Sisyphean” task they also have to face the fact that ridership is the highest its been since 1950, a date which sadly had more subway service than we have today (before they tore down many of the elevated subways). The CBC recommended that the MTA stop system expansion and focus on system preservation but unlike in the past where ridership was dropping the city can’t afford to cut back system expansion.
The only way to make a meaningful and substantial improvement to congestion in Queens is more subways.
Northern Boulevard Trunk Line and the 2nd Ave Subway
Looking back at plans from the 1970s the three major Queens subway proposals all expanded on the IND Queens Blvd Line, two I mentioned above and a third branch which ran along the Long Island Expressway. A subway is needed along the LIE corridor but it should take pressure off of existing subways not put more pressure on them. Looking at a population density map of Queens the densest areas are in the Jackson Heights/Corona area, downtown Flushing, central Jamaica, and along the LIE. A subway along the LIE is the most obvious answer but with the congestion along Queens Blvd a branch along the LIE would do more harm than good. A subway along the LIRR Port Washington Branch could offer a bypass but would then cut off service for riders in Nassau County. This leaves the Northern Blvd alignment as the best option as Norther Blvd is wide enough for a 4 track subway and would have an immediate impact on subway congestion at Jackson Heights for both the IND Queens Blvd Line and the IRT Flushing Line 7 train.
The first step in constructing a Northern Blvd subway would be expanding the 2nd Ave Subway south of 63rd St from the planned 2 tracks to 4. The 2nd Ave Subway as designed will relieve pressure on the Lexington Ave Subway, which is important, but it won’t add enough new capacity to help riders from Queens of Brooklyn. The two additional tracks would not connect to the 63rd St tunnel but would instead connect to a new 2 track tunnel located somewhere between 48th St and 57th St. A new tunnel would also allow for a future new crosstown subway in Midtown Manhattan should the need arise. Where the new East River tunnel is built will determine how it runs through Long Island City. If the tunnel is built at 48th St (in Manhattan) it should run close to Court Sq to allow for transfers to the E,M,G, and 7 trains. If the tunnel is built closer to 57th St then it should run to a point between the elevated Queensborough Plaza station and the underground Queens Plaza station to act as a new transfer between the two. Whichever alignment the new tunnel would run into the Sunnyside Yards where it would run along the LIRR/Amtrak tracks to reach Northern Blvd.
The new tunnel will be for Northern Blvd/2nd Ave express trains while Northern Blvd/2nd Ave express trains will use the 63rd St tunnel. Both tunnels would meet at a new station in Sunnyside Yards and continue as 4 tracks east under Northern Blvd. This would allow riders coming from 6th Ave or Jamaica the chance to easily transfer to the 2nd Ave Subway. Local trains would branch off in Flushing and run along the Whitestone Expressway and Cross Isle Parkway to Utopia Ave while express trains would turn south to run along the Kissena Park corridor and then along the LIE out to Douglaston. Running the new subways along existing expressways would allow them to be built for less or even built as modern elevated structures with a reduced impact on the surrounding areas.
Integrating Crosstown Lines
In a previous post I looked at different ways in which the IND Crosstown G Train could be expanded to better serve the system. As the only train that doesn’t enter Manhattan it is designed as a passenger distributor system so that a rider can transfer in Brooklyn and Queens to avoid congestion in Manhattan. This works in theory but not that well in practice. The system would work better if at each point along the line a rider had the option of taking a train to Manhattan or a crosstown train. Since the G train was designed to run along the local tracks of the IND Culver Line, which it shares with the F train, it is by default limited to 15 trains an hour (one train every 4 min tops). The NYC Subway is designed to run 30 trains per hour on one set of tracks which is why you usually only see 2 express and 2 local trains or less on lines (trains can run 3 services on one set of tracks but this causes delays). This means that the Crosstown Line could, for most of its route, handle an additional service to Manhattan if such a connection is built.
Such a connection should be built in Williamsburg. In my most recent version of the futureNYCSubway I proposed a modified South 4th St subway which would connect to the Crosstown Line and extend it south via Franklin Ave to connect with the Brighton Beach Line; sending the B via the G. This connection would use a new East River tunnel just north of the Williamsburg Bridge that on the Manhattan side would connect to the 6th Ave subway under E Houston St. 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 would give riders living along the G from Broadway station to Bedford-Nostrand station a one seat ride to Manhattan with an option for crosstown service.
Taking this idea one step further you could build a second junction to head north to allow for a new train service to run from Manhattan up through Greenpoint and into Queens. On the Manhattan side there would be a new connection to the BMT Centre St Subway, the J/Z trains under Delancey St. Such a connection would require reconfiguring the Delancey St-Essex St subway 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. This would create a new line (P train) that would be a supplemental local service from Chambers St to Flushing via the new Northern Blvd Subway that would give Greenpoint riders a one seat ride into lower Manhattan, thus taking pressure off the L trian, or allow them to easily transfer to 6th Ave trains.
This would give riders in northern/central Queens and Flushing single seat rides to Midtown or lower Manhattan while reducing pressure on existing subways. Provisions would also be built for a new crosstown subway in Midtown, possibly to connect with the L train via a 10th Ave Subway, and a new spur to LaGuardia Airport.