Saturday, January 12, 2008

The #7 Train: Almost There

I was all ready to do a "what if?" post on the MTA's plans to mitigate the #7 train construction. But they did a lot of things right! Most important is the free LIRR service. Still, they could have done a bit better.

In case it isn't clear from what you've read, the MTA is adding switches on either side of the 74th Street station. Once this is done, if there's a situation where the trains need to avoid a local track for part of the way, they can still stop at 74th Street to allow people to change for the Queens Boulevard trains and the buses. This will be a good thing.

Because of this, however, there is going to be no express service from now until February 29, and no service at all between Woodside and Flushing on weekends from now until February 11.

The MTA is doing a lot to mitigate these weekend disruptions. There will be a shuttle bus serving all local stops between Woodside and Flushing, an express shuttle bus nonstop between 74th Street and Main Street, and an overnight express shuttle bus nonstop between Woodside and Main Street. Finally, and most importantly, Long Island Railroad trains will be free between Flushing and Penn Station during these weekends. This will accommodate a lot of people.

There are only two problems that I see with this plan: it doesn't address the loss of weekday express service, and it doesn't do anything for people going to and from Corona - including Corona Park.

Weekday express service can save people some time, but that's not its primary function. According to the schedule it saves people from Flushing Main Street about eight minutes - not a big deal. The main function of express service is to put the through passengers in one set of trains so that there's some room for us by the time the train gets to Woodside. This is no longer happening, so the morning commute is not going to be fun.

On the weekends, people going to and from Jackson Heights can take the E or F trains. People going to and from Flushing can take the railroad for free. What about people from Corona? They have to change for the shuttle that stops everywhere. Even the people who live near the mighty Junction Boulevard express station are now on a local shuttle. To make matters worse, Flushing Meadows/Corona Park is now a big hassle to get to. It's kind of cold weather for a park, but what about those of us who want to go to the Queens Museum, the New York Hall of Science, or the skating rink? We get to sit on a shuttle bus in Roosevelt Avenue traffic for however long.

What are some solutions for the express problem? First of all, LIRR tickets from Main Street to Penn Station should be at most $2, possibly free. The LIRR has room on many of those trains, and room in the schedule to run a few more trains, even if they're shuttles to Woodside or Hunters Point Avenue. Of course, that leaves our friends in Corona out in the cold again, so let's get to them.

Corona has that for-now-useless express stop at Junction Boulevard and three local stops, and they normally have a one-seat ride to Midtown. Under the current plan, they're now taking the local shuttle on weekends, and the local train on weekdays. No LIRR for them! Corona, in case you didn't know, is one of the poorer neighborhoods in Queens. It looks really bad to give them worse service than the comparatively better-off people in Flushing and Jackson Heights. So what could the MTA do for them?

The MTA could run express buses ... to where "express buses" normally go: Manhattan! They could go from the stops on Roosevelt Avenue, turn on Junction Boulevard, and take either Ditmars Boulevard or the LIE, like the almost-useless QM3 (PDF) and QM22 (PDF). They could do this on weekdays (relieving crowding on the trains) and weekends (providing a one-seat ride instead of the train to the shuttle bus).

Finally, what about those of us who live in Woodside or Sunnyside and want to go to Flushing Meadows? Couldn't the LIRR open the Shea Stadium station for weekends during this time? And what about people in Jackson Heights? Couldn't the daytime "express" shuttle buses stop at Flushing Meadows (on request, of course) as well as Main Street? Would that slow the buses down significantly? I doubt it.

What's the bottom line? It's better than the lame plan that the MTA came up with for the Smith-9th Street closure. I'm very happy about the three levels of shuttle bus and the free LIRR service. That shows that someone at the MTA cares. Now let's see them care about the people of Corona. And a few more touches to make this a truly great plan.

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