The centerpiece of Governor Cuomo’s second-term transportation agenda for New York City isn’t closing the $15 billion gap in the MTA capital program or taking serious steps to relieve the city from suffocating traffic. Instead, Cuomo’s big idea is a new rail link to LaGuardia Airport.
The idea captivated the Times and distracted from the meat of Cuomo’s proposals, which mostly involve subsidizing highways and bridges so Thruway tolls don’t go up. But it won’t make it any faster to get to LaGuardia without driving, writes Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic.
As difficult as it can be to get to LaGuardia now, Freemark says Cuomo’s AirTrain proposal — which would run along public rights-of-way between the airport and the 7 train at Willets Point — would have longer travel times than existing transit routes from most parts of the city. “As proposed, the project would do next to nothing to improve access to the airport,” he writes.
Freemark’s analysis, which he summarized in the above chart, finds that the Cuomo AirTrain would offer no improvement over current transit service for travelers heading from the airport to Grand Central, Penn Station (except via the LIRR on Mets game days, when trip times would be slightly faster than today), the World Trade Center, Borough Hall/Jay Street, and Jamaica. Travel times to the South Bronx (Yankee Stadium) would be nearly twice as long as existing options. If you happen to live in the immediate vicinity of the proposed Willets Point AirTrain connection, then you might save some time.
The truth is that the City and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have significantly improved bus service to LaGuardia over the past few years, introducing an improved limited-stop service from Woodside and Jackson Heights in 2013 and an improved M60 bus from Manhattan in 2014. These services are still slower than they ought to be, but, when combined with the subways they link to, they’re faster than the AirTrain would be, primarily because Mets-Willets point is not only too far east from the center of the region’s population but also because it is not a major interchange point.
Even if a LaGuardia AirTrain did improve airport access, Freemark argues that it shouldn’t take precedence over under-construction rail projects like the Second Avenue Subway, or unrealized proposals like the Nostrand subway spur and the Triboro-Rx, which would serve many more people but have limited appeal to “the economic and social elite.”
“The fact is that the governor of New York State, like most people in elected office, doesn’t take transit much,” Freemark writes, “and can only envision taking a train in one circumstance: When traveling to and from the airport.”