Quick Note: the LaGuardia Transit Connector

It’s amazing how much good can happen when an obstacle like Andrew Cuomo is removed. In lieu of his backward air train proposal, hated by just about everyone not on his payroll, Governor Kathy Hochul is moving forward on a better set of alternatives for a mass transit connection to LaGuardia. It’s interesting to see what the process is looking at but also what it isn’t; so far this looks better than the alternatives analysis for Interborough Express (ex-Triboro).

So far I have not seen analysis, only drawings of 14 alternatives. As with the IBX study, the LGA plan distinguishes different modes of public transit – there are bus, light rail, subway, and even ferry options. But it doesn’t stop there. It looks at multiple alignments: the scope is how to connect LGA to the rest of the city the best, and this can be done from a number of different directions – even a backward train (as light rail) along an alignment similar to Cuomo’s is present, and will likely not advance further because of its circuitous route.

Among the 14 alternatives, I think the obviously best one is a subway extension (slide 12 above); another subway option, a branch following the Grand Central Parkway (slide 11), is inferior because of branching splits frequencies and ridership at the cut off Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard station is high. A subway extension promises a connection in around 30 minutes to Times Square, every 5 minutes all day, with good connections to other destinations via the transfers at Queensboro Plaza and in Midtown.

The one thing that I’m sad the analysis hasn’t looked at is intermediate stations. It’s around 4.5 km from Ditmars to the main LGA terminal along the proposed alignment, passing through redevelopable industrial land and through residential land in Astoria Heights awkwardly tucked between airport grounds and Astoria proper. The same quality of service that the airport could get, these neighborhoods could get as well, except a hair faster because they’re closer.

Extending the Astoria Line is especially useful since it is short and not especially crowded until it hits Queensboro Plaza and inherits the crowding of the 7 train and its riders. In the context of deinterlining the subway, this is especially valuable: right now 60th Street Tunnel carries the N and W from Astoria but also the R from Queens Boulevard, and under deinterlining the tunnel would carry only Astoria riders, and so to match the high demand to 60th Street it’s valuable to create as much ridership as possible on the Astoria Line past Queensboro Plaza.

I hope that the alternatives analysis considers multiple stopping patterns in the future – that is, not just a nonstop route from Ditmars to the airport, but also an option with intermediate stations. (This does not mean local and express trains – either all trains should run locals, or all should run nonstop.) The cost of those stations is not high as it’s an elevated line, and the stop penalty on the subway is less than a minute since the top speed is so low (it looks like 45 seconds in practice comparing local and express trains on the same line).

42 comments

  1. Joe Wong

    I’m giving you a two – thumbs-up on this one. Instead Washington DC is wasting more money in the Ukraine instead of doing something beneficial for this city, country & airport instead. Just follow the money into Kiev instead of the BMT Astoria Line and the much need extension into LGA from Ditmars Blvd.

    • Phake Nick

      What Washington DC funding in Ukraine are trivial, and especially so compared to what might come in the future if Russia succeed.

  2. adirondacker12800

    R from Queens Boulevard, and under deinterlining the tunnel would carry only Astoria riders, and so to match the high demand to 60th Street it’s valuable to create as much ridership as possible on the Astoria Line past Queensboro Plaza.
    What’s going to replace R train service on Queens Blvd? The G train could but that means all the former R train riders will be attempting to get on E, F or M trains.

    • Joe Wong

      The (R) for rancid, rarely, or rotten has horrible service, and probably would not be missed by the Queens Blvd IND line riders anyway. The (R) train with its one hour and 36 minutes all local running time has destroyed this line big time since its always delayed.

    • marvin gruza

      How about a two stop station line via the 63rd Street tunnel 2nd Ave turn out with stops at 42nd Street and 2nd and 34th and 2nd.
      Given that you looking at about 12 tph you do not need fancy trackwork at the terminal (which in another lifetime would be extended) and Queens Blvd gets real east side access without switching trains.

    • Alon Levy

      A train via 63rd Street, and then to replace 6th Avenue local, more service going to 8th Avenue. So either the E is local and the F is express or the reverse, and neither shares track with other services.

  3. Eric2

    Possibly the reason for no intermediate stops is that it allows the extension to be entirely funded by airport fees, not taxes.

  4. marvin gruza

    1-an astoria line extension to LGA should be designed for further extension east (an maybe south) via a super transfer to LIRR and #7 at – yes citifield -with possible destinations beyond:
    *Whitestone or Bay Terrace via an elevated over the Whitestone Expressway and maybe Cross Island
    *Douglaston via an elevated over Long Island Expressway
    *Jamaica or even south east Queens/Valley Stream via an elevated over the Van Wyck and maybe LIRR
    *JFK (yes linking the 2 airports) via Van Wyck
    All roads are wide enough for an elevated to not be intrusive.

    • Joe Wong

      Not a bad idea, if they can put their minds and soul into these concept, instead of spending trillions on losing these endless wars.

    • AJ

      Would extending the Astoria line further east/south be better than simply resuscitating the LaGuardia Airtrain idea?

      • marvin gruza

        Yes, an eastward extension is better than the conceived airtrain because:
        *those coming from manhattan would not be backtracking and would have a one seat ride
        *going east you are providing service to where none now exists

  5. Stephen Bauman

    I’m looking at the fare card data for 09/28/2019-10/04/2019.

    The number of total fares collected at the JFK AirTrain terminals at Jamaica and Howard Beach were: 195,187. However, fares are collected for both exiting and entering AirTrain. Thus, a reasonable estimate for comparing AirTrain use to existing subway station use would be half or 97,593.5 passengers for the week.

    The number of total fares collected along the Astoria Branch (39th Ave to Ditmars Blv) were: 345,890. That’s roughly 3.5 times more than those using the JFK AirTrain. According to the Port Authorities 2019 Annual traffic Report, approximately 62 Million passengers used JFK while only 31 Million used LGA. Thus, it’s reasonable to assume that any LGA Link would attact approximately half of the JFK AirTrain passenger count.

    There’s a misconception that rail links to airports would generate a huge ridership, compared to existing local stations. That’s not the case in NYC. It’s not true for the Astoria Line. Approximately, 25% of NYC residents live more than walking distance to a subway station (1/2 mile). Their needs should be addressed before spending several billion dollars to accommodate a comparatively few airplane passengers.

    • marvin gruza

      I question if your analysis of the data is valid –
      the fares paid on the jfk are a high fare that then requires transfers to get almost anywhere and is expensive. Those transfers are not even close to cross platform in Jamaica station which is not familiar to most users.
      A LGA direct subway would be a single ride into the city with transfers to other lines at stations that many are familiar with.
      Forgetting cost but considering time and predictability of the trip time, a car/taxi trip from the city to JFK is more pleasant than that train/airtrain trip, while the the opposite would be true to an LGA direct train.
      Having LGA as a stop on a line the continues east (see my other comment) would serve both LGA, users further out, and take pressure off the #7 and Queens Blvd lines.

    • Alon Levy

      Sure. But,

      1. The Astoria Line is elevated and the extension would be too, reducing costs.
      2. The extension should get intermediate stations for extra ridership in areas that are not currently served, i.e. Astoria Heights.
      3. A direct subway line from LGA to Midtown should get higher modal split than an air train.

    • adirondacker12800

      If they want to take the train to the airport they can fly in and out of JFK or Newark. A very cheap solution because it’s already built.

      • marvin gruza

        Actually not very cheap in the long run considering total cost and wasted time since:
        *total travel times (and you can translate this in $) to those airports including average waiting time for each of the at least two trains involved is quite long
        *a train to nearby lga running every 5 minutes or less (12 tph up to 30+tph) (under nycta vs fra rules) could be cheaper when one considers all including the congestion relieved on highways leading to LGA, the related pollution, and the value to the travel and wait times

          • marvin gruza

            How things get funded should be an economic question that too of become a political one. It requires complex accounting if one wants to assign cost on a benefit basis and if not correctly done (as is often the case) results in projects that should be built not getting built and others that shouldn’t be built getting built
            who should pay? is a good question
            should it be paid strictly by the users – the problem is that others are benefitting so charging the users would make the fairs too high and would kill the project
            who else is benefitting besides those actually taking the train:
            *those not stuck in the near by highways
            *those not breathing pollution from cars or pollution from electricity to power electric cars
            *those who benefit from our city being more desirable and increasing tourism to NY including the generated employment and tax $
            This is really a good question of deciding which investments (in this case in transit) (if any) should be made –
            What will give the best bank for the buck
            One can rest assured that the politics will dictate answers contrary to economic soundness.

          • adirondacker12800

            Everybody thinks the train to the plane is a great idea. For other people. They are still going to do something involving an automobile.

    • adirondacker12800

      They keep statistics on the free passengers too. A lot of it is “to the parking lots” or “to the car rental”.

    • Eric2

      Airports are major employment centers (mostly at low salaries). Employees do not take JFK AirTrain because it’s much more expensive than buses. If JFK AirTrain had fares comparable to buses and fare-integrated, it would have a much higher ridership. A LGA subway extension would get the same high ridership.

      • adirondacker12800

        Look at the bus stops in JFK airport. Most of them don’t work in the terminals.

  6. adirondacker12800

    You have to define goals.
    If you goal is to get people to LaGuardia airport there are many options. One involving low capacity and high frequency is better than high capacity and low frequency. Everyone thought sending SEPTA to Philadelphia airport was a fabulllllllous idea. It sucks for inter-terminal trips. And doesn’t do things like go to the parking lots or car rentals. Someone somewhere has statistics for BWI. I’m sure they are disappointing. People in Philadelphia or Baltimore only have one choice.
    If your goal is to get the maximum number of airplane seats in and out of metro New York closing LaGuardia does that. And then it doesn’t need a rail option. Longer term building a high speed rail system across the Northeast and Midwest means there aren’t as many puddle jumpers flying in and out of hubs.
    ….. more than one of these threads a few people thought running Airtrain from Jamaica to LaGuardia was a great idea because then people from someplace other than metro New York could fly into one to get someplace not metro New York!!!

    • Eric2

      Close LaGuardia and it will be redeveloped at densities which require the subway to function. So building a subway to LGA is not wasted even if the airport closes.

      • adirondacker12800

        They can take the bus down to the new line on Northern Blvd or the old line a few more blocks away on Roosevelt.

    • AJ

      Running Airtrain from Jamaica to LaGuardia is still a good idea because NYC is so big 1) there are a ton of people who live in Long Island for whom it would be very useful and 2) LaGuardia and JFK are both major airports and presumably there is latent demand for transfers if there was a cheap & reliable option. It is, however, not as good as an idea as the other options because as big as Long Island is, NYC is bigger and is in the other direction.

      I could see the Airtrain project remerge with the next generation of leaders, after the subway is extended to LaGuardia, particularly if the project could be primarily funded with OPM (i.e. a Passenger Facility Charge

      • adirondacker12800

        LaGuardia and JFK are both major airports and presumably there is latent demand for transfers if there was a cheap & reliable option.
        No airline would let you schedule that.
        There is very little demand. I’m sure there are a few origin/destination pairs, for instance, the twice weekly flight to Nowhereistan, that only serves JFK for all flights from the U.S., that can only be reached through LaGuardia. The four annual passengers who want to do that can take a cab.

        • AJ

          I think you underestimate how many people live in Nowhereistan within the US and can fly direct into only one of the NYC airports, which may not be the NYC airport then serving their final destination. Or perhaps you just underestimate how much legwork people will do to save a few bucks? The online booking websites, where most cost-conscious people buy tickets, will definitely prompt a within metro transfer if it’s the cheapest option. If the transfer is reliable, I would certainly expect booking agents to present it as an option.

          There’s enough demand in Chicago to support two different private hourly shuttles, which are competing with a frequent (albeit slow) & cheap ($5) public rail option (chicago-airport-shuttle.com/between-airports.htm).

          It’s certainly no where near the demand to justify a capital project, but if JFK and LaGuardia are connected to the same hub, there will be airport ridership transferring through that hub, not just starting/ending trips there.

          • adirondacker12800

            If lot of people wanted to go to Nowhereistan it would be three flights a week. If the itty bitty airport only has service to LGA not many people want to use it either.

            I’m sure they allow Chicagoans use the shuttles.

            https://www.newarkairport.com/to-from-airport/taxi-car-and-van-service

            They let New Yorkers use the shuttles. I’ve decided to NOT use them. My flights were delayed and I used the subway to get into Manhattan. There’s step free access to PATH trains at the World Trade Center. Or was, I haven’t been there in years. I suspect there is. They spent a few billion making the stations ADA compliant along with a lot of other things.

            There are usually other options. At this moment, for dates in May, for Albany to London Heathrow, Google is suggesting changing planes in Charlotte, Washington D.C/Dulles, Newark, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit, O’Hare and I stopped looking.

  7. marvin gruza

    it is not about others taking the train-
    I live in Flushing NY
    I have and will continue to love being able to walk a block or so to Main Street select Q44 Service to Jamaica and then hopping on the airtrain for a 49 minute economy eco friendly trip to the airport without asking others for a ride. If this could be replicated for others with good bus connections to the Jamaica hub, the van wyck could be less of nightmare for those who need to use it as part of long distance travel. I wish that LGA has similar options

    • adirondacker12800

      Extending Astoria line trains to the airport doesn’t do much for you, does it? How many destinations are served by LGA that aren’t served by JFK?

      • marvin gruza

        An LGA extension doesn’t do a lot for me? – good and complex question –
        living beyond where it would travel, I would not have opportunity to use it to get to LGA (regardless of the cities service by LGA) but would benefit by having less cars on the road – this would give me faster travel time when i try to exit the island prison called Long Island (why couldn’t mozes have succeeded in his sound crossing), will give me cleaner air to breathe and will benefit the NY economy that I will benefit from.

        • adirondacker12800

          You do understand that the amount of people using it wouldn’t make much difference. And once traffic gets a scintilla better people who weren’t traveling decide to and traffic is just as bad. If your goal is to improve air quality giving them ways to move around that doesn’t involve a car would make more sense. Sending the trains across Northern Blvd for instance. Including closing LaGuardia because the itty bitty puddle jumpers going to all three airports would be replaced by bigger more efficient planes going to two.

  8. Phake Nick

    Am I the only one who think that maybe they should implement some of the buses in the alternative immediately before ultimate completion of any rail project?

    • Herbert

      I think you’re right. If there’s an easy bus based solution that isn’t currently done, do it until you can roll out a better solution…

    • Eric2

      It’s politically complicated though. Both in terms of finding the funding for it, and in terms of preserving political will for a rail solution after the bus solution exists.

  9. Herbert

    What would be the marginal cost of a wider bore TBM to allow enough space for platforms in the future without having to dig again?

    Yes you’d have to dig access shafts and what not but iirc the expensive stuff about subway stations is the space they need underground, not the access to the surface…

    • Tom M

      Huge guess on my part, but a platform probably requires doubling the diameter resulting in four times the excavation volume. May be if the tunnel is kinda short it may be cheaper vs mining a station (the expensive way to make a station box). Just digging a station box straight down from the surface is probably always the cheapest option.

  10. Pingback: How Sandbagged Costs Become Real | Pedestrian Observations

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