In Queens, a subway too far

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The No. 7 train in Queens. Earlier plans called for it to continue to College Point and Bayside.

By Len Maniace

Last spring Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a major subway expansion in his home borough of Brooklyn and since then the Metropolitan Transportation Administration has taken up the cause with a $5 million study for a Utica Avenue subway line.

Subway-starved Queens, however, still waits relief from overflowing station platforms. Perhaps the difference is that Queens native, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is a well-noted car guy.

While grumbling about the subway is a New York tradition, Queens commuters have particular cause to complain. A glance at the subway map shows vast areas of eastern Queens unserved. Our analysis of readily available subway data goes deeper. It shows that Queens ranks last among the four boroughs served by the subway system, when population is considered. (Staten Island has no subway service, but rather gets by with a commuter rail, which does not enter Manhattan, and its famous ferry.)

The total number of subway stations in each borough provides one glimpse of transit availability around the city: Queens has 81 stations, compared to 170 in Brooklyn (the closest in size and population to Queens) and 148 in Manhattan. Only the Bronx has fewer stations, 70, but that borough has nearly 900,000 fewer people  than Queens 2.3 million and it is less than half Queen’s size. ­

Subway Service Bronx Brooklyn Manhattan Queens
By Population: stations for every 100,000 residents   5  6.5  9.2  3.5
By Area: stations for every 10 square miles 16.7 23.9 64  7.4

See chart below for additional data, including that upon which this analysis is based.

Once population is factored in, Queens has only 3.5 stations for every 100,000 people, well behind Brooklyn’s 6.5 stations per 100,000. Manhattan, the region’s employment center, easily leads the pack with 9.2 per 100,000 people. And that borough is set to get three new stations along Second Avenue this year, the first phase in New York’s first new subway line in decades.

More growth is expected in Queens, especially in Long Island City and Flushing, as well from an ambitious plan to build a massive housing complex atop the Sunnyside rail yard –  further overcrowding local subway lines, despite new technology that will permit trains to run more frequently than is now considered safe.

Growing while other boroughs were abandoned

Although all of New York’s boroughs are now growing, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan still have populations smaller than in 1950, before the great suburban migration, while Queens added 770,000 people through 2014.

As the city’s largest borough geographically, Queens fares even worse once physical size is considered. Queens has 7.4 stations for every 10 square miles, compared to Brooklyn’s 23.9 stations, Manhattan’s 64 stations, and the Bronx’s 16.7 per square mile.

Queens also ranks last or near last in the number of subway lines, major transfer stations,   and bridge and tunnel crossings into Manhattan, a critical factor that limits additional service into Manhattan, most riders’ destination.

The subway doesn’t stop here

The City University of New York was created to provide a quality, affordable education for New Yorkers – an historic commitment to forging one city in a metropolis long divided by great wealth and poverty.

Commuting inexpensively to CUNY seemed to be part of the deal. The colleges are located near subway stations so students, faculty and staff don’t need to own a car. There are two exceptions among CUNY’s dozen senior colleges, though: Queens College and the College of Staten Island, which is located in the only borough lacking subway service.

With 18,000 students in undergraduate and graduate programs, Queens College is the system’s second largest institution. A decades-old proposal would have created a spur from the Queens Boulevard line to the college.

Private colleges don’t fare better in Queens. The borough’s largest private school, St. John’s University, also lacks subway service.

There have been plenty plans to fix this transit gap through the years. Among previous
proposals, one would build a subway under Northern Boulevard from Long Island City to Flushing and then beyond to Bayside; a super-bypass line that would parallel the Queens Boulevard lines on Long Island Railroad tracks; and various spurs to go to underserved areas of eastern and southeastern Queens.

Screen shot 2016-01-22 at 3.44.15 PM

This ambitious plan for the New York City subway system showed Queens crossed by a grid of transit lines.

But times changed and those dreams never became reality. New York’s Master Builder Robert Moses guided the city away from transit and into private cars in the decades after World War II. The city’s near bankruptcy in the 1970s downsized any surviving plans.

Times are changing, again. Transit ridership is up dramatically. New York’s 1.75 billion riders in 2014 were the most since 1948. What’s more, when it comes to the environment and economic development, subways are golden. The subway system produces less carbon dioxide per passenger and moves many more people faster than gridlocked roads.

A transit resurgence in the future?

Recent plans and projects reflect transit’s growing popularity. The MTA expects this year to complete a 2-mile segment of the 8.5-mile Second Avenue line that ultimately would travel from 125 Street to Hanover Square, downtown. And in recent months, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has unveiled one ambitious transportation project after another, a grand vision for the region not seen in at least half a century.

The list includes a rail tunnel under the Hudson, expanding Penn Station, adding a third track along a key stretch of the Long Island Railroad, and rebuilding LaGuardia Airport. These projects come on top of previously announced plans to bring Long Island Railroad service directly into Grand Central Terminal and building a rail link to LaGuardia Airport from the No. 7’s Citi Field station. And then there is the previously cited $5 million MTA study for the Utica Avenue line in Brooklyn.

All told, these projects are expected to cost in the tens of billions of dollars and shape the region’s transportation future for decades to come. They won’t, however, materially improve prospects for commuting by subway in Queens. There are no new lines reaching into unserved sections of the borough and no new connections bringing a growing population of workers into Manhattan.

Bronx Brooklyn Manhattan Queens
Subway stations 70 170 148    81
Subway lines  7   18   21    12
Transfer stations  2   16   23      5
Crossings to Manhattan  4    8      4
Population       1.4 million 2.6 million 1.6 million 2.3 million
Land area, square miles  42    71   23 109

This is our first look at this issue. We welcome your ideas and participation.

I’ve provided links to the sources of the data cited in this report, but the information is not always easy to find. I soon will be posting instructions on how to find the specific data cited.

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About lenmaniace

Award-winning writer and editor who has worked as a journalist and a corporate communications professional specializing in environmental sustainability and public health policy. Experience includes successful media outreach for a Manhattan publicity firm. Board member and president of a community-based nonprofit. Founder and leader of a series of successful park, art and environmental programs in Jackson Heights, Queens, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the nation’s most diverse city. * Executive Editor at Elsevier, a leading scientific and medical publisher. * Publicist, Media Advisor, Social Media Manager (part-time) at Monteiro & Co., a book-marketing company that specializes in business management, economics and politics. * Reporter (part-time) at the New York Post, specializing in breaking news in the world’s most competitive media market. * Senior Writer and Editor at The Journal News/LoHud.com, Gannett’s daily news outlet in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties. Specialized in health policy and environmental sustainability issues * President the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, a volunteer nonprofit civic organization in Queens, N.Y. Leader of its innovative environmental sustainability programs, including the Green Agenda for Jackson Heights.
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3 Responses to In Queens, a subway too far

  1. Susan Lippman says:

    Thank you so much! I think it’s time we started a movement for expanded subway service in Queens. North Flushing and Bayside, in particular, especially need subway service. And, indeed, we would be a lot better off in so many ways with fewer cars in our city.

  2. lenmaniace says:

    Thank you. I hope to post more on transit in Queens soon.

  3. Edward Walters says:

    I t sure would be nice the have express service to Rockaway. The Q53 takes about one hour and runs fairly frequently but gets uncomfortably crowded on summer weekends. Would it be a terrible idea to refurbish the disused Rockaway LIRR line? Then NYC would have a fast direct link to JFK airport and underserved Queens communities as well as the Rockaways would have a much faster ride to Manhattan. Thanks for listening.

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