Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Mind the gap

Many of us are still smarting from Sunday's MTA fare increase that punished loyal riders affected regular users of New York's transit system (86% of all MTA riders, according to the New York Times) by increasing all discounted fares while maintaining the sacrosanct base fare of $2 per ride to reward tourists. So let me engage in a little fantasy that the MTA would actually take this extra money and put it towards infrastructure expansion, which this city's mass-transit riding population sorely needs.

An ideal mass transit system provides smooth transfers between various modes of public transportation, such as trains, boats, buses, and planes. For example, the Staten Island Ferry terminates at South Ferry, where passengers can walk down stairs and board the 1 train. In Europe, many cities have co-located the bus and train stations (and provided plentiful bicycle racks).

Here are some gaps in our city's transit system that leap immediately to mind:
  1. No direct rail link between Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal
  2. No rail service to LaGuardia airport
  3. No uptown rail connection between the east side lines (2/3/4/5/6) and the west side lines (1/A/B/C/D)
  4. No direct rail link from Manhattan to JFK (requires a transfer to the Air Train at Sutphin Blvd or Howard Beach)
  5. No rail service to the Bronx from Inwood (except to Riverdale along the 1 line)
Why is this a problem? Try getting to the following locations from Inwood:
  1. LaGuardia airport (can't be done; your best bet via mass transit is the A to 125 St, then take the M60 bus and a good book, though taking a cab here is almost worth the time saved)
  2. JFK airport (A to 42nd, E to Howard Beach, Air Train to JFK -or- A to 34th, LIRR to Howard Beach, Air Train to JFK)
  3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (A to 125, C to 81, cross-town bus to Met or hoof it across Central Park if it's a nice day and you're not in a hurry)
  4. The New York Botanical Gardens (can't be done without unreasonable contortions; take a bus or a cab)
The Inwoodist's solution involves two above-ground rail lines:
  • a northern line running across 125 St that connects the 1, A-D, 2-3, 4-6, and future 2nd Ave subway lines, then stops at Astoria, LGA, Shea Stadium, Forest Hills, Sutphin Blvd, and JFK
  • a southern line connecting Penn Station, Port Authority, Grand Central in Manhattan, then Long Island City, Middle Village, Crescent St, Euclid Ave, Howard Beach, and JFK in Queens
Above-ground rail lines are proposed to account for variations in topography (the 1 line at 125 St is elevated) and the significantly greater cost of underground tunneling as compared to light rail. In addition, the intention is for these lines to be integrated with the Air Train, such that a passenger can remain on one train all the way from, say, Penn Station to JFK. Of course, I'm neither an engineer nor geologist, but it's a start, right?

The MTA CEO has also put forth an expansion plan to be realized in 2050 (translation: don't hold your breath).

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