Talk of rail service to New York’s LaGuardia Airport has surfaced once again. This time it is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo making the suggestion and, as expected, there is plenty of buzz in the air. LaGuardia is one of only a few major US airports without a rail mass transit option in a city where there is otherwise rail service available. So, surely a proposal to get rail access to the airport is a win, right?? Unfortunately in this case the answer appears to be a no.
Hello, AirTrain LaGuardia
Cuomo is proposing an AirTrain LaGuardia be built, similar to how both JFK and Newark airports are connected to the rail networks. For LaGuardia the AirTrain would run along the Grand Central Parkway to Willets Point in Queens where it would connect to the NYC Subway’s 7 train or the Long Island Rail Road. Building it along the existing highway and through mostly industrial areas should help reduce objections from local citizens and keep costs down. It will also result in a system which is less convenient than what is available today for the majority of LaGuardia’s users. And it still doesn’t solve the issue of providing a single seat ride from Manhattan to LaGuardia.
For subway connections Willets Point offers access to only the 7 train. And it is sever stops when running express (morning rush hour peak only) from there to Manhattan; it is 17 stops on the local. Compare that to the current options from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue where there are five train lines to choose from, including the E train which is only 3 stops from Manhattan and already carrying airport passengers to JFK as well. Yes, it means taking a bus from the subway to the airport terminal, but that is likely a better option than what Cuomo’s AirTrain LaGuardia proposal offers.
The (relatively) new Q70 Limited bus service runs essentially non-stop between the subway and airport terminals. The ride is generally about 10 minutes and avoids the surface streets of Queens. Yes, it must contend with traffic but even in those situations the total ride time remains quite reasonable. And saving 5 minutes by riding an AirTrain versus a bus doesn’t do much good for all the passengers who must add a transfer to the train portion of their trip or ride 5-10 minutes further on the subway to get to the AirTrain connection.
Willits Point offers up connections to the Long Island Rail Road in addition to just the NYC Subway system. And that’s great until one realizes that the LIRR spur being connected is on the Port Washington Line of the LIRR which serves only a tiny fraction of Long Island. And if the goal is faster access into Manhattan and Penn Station then the Willets Point station also fails compared to today’s options with much lower frequencies and, even if you catch the right train timing, almost no time savings over the Subway options. And the Q70 does connect to Woodside, a LIRR station with access to all of the lines, not just the Port Washington Line.
Switching between a bus and a train is far from ideal. But the AirTrain proposal replaces that with a switch from a train to a train. And this particular AirTrain proposal involves a less convenient transfer point which will make the ride more difficult for the very passengers it claims to be helping, those who want better mass transit at LaGuardia. The political will to establish single-seat service from the airport to Manhattan likely does not exists. After 15 years living here I’ve mostly resigned myself to that. But building a new, half billion dollar system which makes connections worse for travelers seems to be the ultimate boondoggle. It is a plan which should be killed quickly and completely.
Sorry, Mr. Cuomo: Time to go back to the drawing board on this one.
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