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“The Ridgewood Rant”: Suggestions for better transit

May 1, 2012

Near the very geographical center of the city, the entire Ridgewood-Bushwick-Maspeth-Glendale area flanking Queens and Brooklyn is one of the most isolated areas in the city; much like an outskirt! Think of the NYC Subway system as shaped like a giant “K”. You have lines running straight north-south, from the northwest Bronx, to Coney Island Brooklyn. Then, you have branches going off into Queens, and southestern Brooklyn, and southeastern Bronx. You can get on any train on these lines, and it will take you at least through the city’s Central Business Districts in Midtown Manhattan. Some will take you downtown, too.
But inbetween the upper and lower legs of this K, straight out to the right, is a “factory/cemetary belt” that lied between the original city of Brooklyn, and the towns of Queens. So this area has always been light on transportation. We have the L train that cuts through this area, but it deads end in an area between midtown and downtown Manhattan. To get to those areas, you have to transfer to one of the uptown-downtown “mainline” trunks. Some of these transfers are simple, but others are more of a nuisance, including either long passages (which I had to to get to my jobs working the 7th Avenue line) or multiple stairs. Also, while trains may be held for across the platform connections, they are not held for lines on another level. The other line that serves the area is the J and especially the M. But these go downtown only. We used to have the Myrtle Avenue el that ran all the way to downtown Brooklyn, but they discontinued it mainly for a MetroTech project that would not even begin to be built for decades afterward. So to get downtown, it was incredibly slow buses down narrow streets. The traffic lights all favor the intersecting north-south streets through Bushwick and Bedford Stuyvesant, making traffic ever slower, even on Myrtle Ave itself, and even if you are in a car! You eventually had the addition of weekend express service on the A, but of course you still had to use the L to get to it. Buses connecting Ridgewood with other Queens neighborhoods such as Long Island City, Elmhurst and Flushing or Jamaica are very long and winding, and some of them very infrequent. Other close and busy areas such as Jackson Heights and Forest Hills/Kew Gardens, we are virtually cut off from! (when taking into consideration number of transfers, waiting time, etc). This practically wrecked my courtship, as I spent all day, an hour and a half each way traveling the relatively short distance from Roosevelt Island (in the river between Manhattan and Queens) where I was still living with my parents, to Ridgewood. By either bus, or by train through Manhattan (when the B was still the weekend 63rd St line, requiring three trains to get to the L and four to get to the M which is only a shuttle to Bushwick off hours), it would take an hour and a half. (It has gotten a little better to Roosevelt Island with the local F running there now. But I don’t travel between the two places regularly anymore). Now, living over here, and reporting to Subway terminals or yards in various parts of the city, it is still often difficult. My wife and I stopped going to places in Queens, because she really can’t stand all of that hassle. And if you don’t live close to the L, which is slightly faster than the M, that is another transfer from the M or a bus. It is a tough decision for me looking to move. The closer to the L the junkier looking it is. The nicer it gets, the further from the L you are. Some others from around here on Sub Chat and other boards also testify as to how difficult it is.

So over the years, I came up with some suggestions to improve access. Part of the problem was that western Queens was served by mostly private bus carriers, subsidized by the city DOT. These have now been taken over by MTA, with some small improvements made. Rumors of an “18 month waiting period” following the takeover of the last company; after which more major changed could be made, floated around. This would have been around late 2007. Smaller changes continue to be made, but I’m hoping larger changes I have sent in will be considered. The major ones:

Q38, which begins and ends a few blocks apart in Rego Park, but loops over to the Metropolitan Avenue M station and back. A nice shortcut through Middle Village, but requires either the train, or bus transfer to get the rest of the way to Ridgewood. So the northern half, which goes straight across Eliot Avenue (a 20 minute ride from Metropolitan) would be discontinued. It would now end at a loop Mt. Olivet Crescent, Eliot, Fresh Pond and Metropolitan, (to serve those on this side of the cemetery who would be more likely to need access to the Metropolitan station than those further out on Eliot. Those on the other side of the cemetery would still have the Q67 or whatever might replace it on 69th St.) This would be replaced by either the Q58, rerouted off of the busy Grand Avenue and replaced by something else, or another line, perhaps an extended Q88, which goes along the LIE from the east, to Queens Blvd. The 58 is an incredibly long winding route, on traffic packed Grand Avenue and the meandering Corona Avenue, and often suffers from large gaps due to bunching (because of all the riders). Riding one end to the other from Flushing to Ridgewood feels like getting off a Greyhound from another state! This should either be straightened (and let the Grand Ave. riders have their own route), or at least give us another line across Eliot to Queens Blvd. where the mall is. Exending the 88 might also lure some riders away from the busy Queens Blv. subway to the less used M!

Q39 and Q67. These are the winding routes connecting the area with Long Island City. There was speculation they would be combined somehow, or one discontinued. Since the 39 is the one that comes closest to here, that is the one I suggest straightening out. The 67 could continue to focus on all the little residential pockets dotting the factory belt, and pick up some that would be abandoned by the 39 in my suggestions.

Northbound, the Q39 after Metropolitan would take a shortcut across Andrews Ave. and 59th Pl. (northbound) or 60th St. (southbound) to 59th Dr. and then Rust St. to 48th St.; then along Borden Avenue to Van Dam, where it would take Queens Blvd. to QBP, and then start and end at the Courthouse Sq. 7 station, (perhaps via 21st St.) instead of swinging by there (out of the way) enroute. The current route along Fresh Pond gets caught in traffic, and then along Greenpoint Ave. and 58th St to the BQE is very long and indirect. 48th St, segment can also be slow sometimes, and taking Thompson and swinging by Courthouse Sq. also adds more time. All of this adds up to a very long trip, for the moderate distance actually being traveled. The Q67 could pick up the Thompson/Van Dam/48Av./48St./BQE/58th St. route, and then continue, as current, beyond 58th St.

2011 update. Not only are they not even thinking of making the 39 more direct, but they’re making it more indirect, by taking it off of 58th St. in one direction, where thr street is being made one way. So now it will go up Maurice avenue, and cut across to the current route. Like it’s not long, slow and winding enough!

Then, I would create a more direct route between Ridgewood to the busy Jackson Heights, Roosevelt Avenue hub (or lat least the LIRR Woodside area). This would involve extending either the Q18 or Q45, (and straightening them out while at it). A DOT consultant had suggested extending the 18 down 69th St. to Metropolitan Ave. station to replace the 67, which they suggested reducing to rush hours only. So then I got the idea to just extend it all the way into Ridgewood, somehow. Latest plans have been to extend it to the new Atlas Park Mall (a nice grassy shopping center that looks reminds me of something you would see in Orlando’s International Drive, or California), but area residents have been opposing it. (Meanwhile, it is a different through route that does get rerouted out of the way there!)

Also, the area’s only express bus to Manhattan, QM24, takes the LIE way out to Rego Park before coming back towards Fresh Pond on Eliot Ave. This I would have leave the LIE at the Maurice Ave. exit, and take 64th St. to Flushing Avenue, and then Fresh Pond, then the rest of the route. Manhattan-bound, they would take 61st St. to Borden Ave. east to 69th, to Queens Blvd. One of the other express routes, such as the QM10 could be extended along the Eliot portion of the line to 69th St. Or, one of them could serve Eliot first, using the same exit at Maurice Avenue, and follow the QM24 to Eliot Avenue at Fresh Pond Rd. and turn East on Eliot.
Since this would draw many of the QM24 riders to the other line, the QM24 could be extended via Myrtle to the Union Tpke/Metropolitan Ave/Woodhaven loop (and maybe also the Yellowstone stretch) currently served by the QM12, giving those riders an alternative to the busy Rego Park routing.

Also, the extension of the Q55 from stopping just short of Jamaica in Richmond Hills to continuing all the way into Jamaica, or at least to the Van Wyck E station. Now, the Q54 is the lifeline to Jamaica (accessible by the M or 58, otherwise, other trains with transfers), and that too is slow with traffic during the day. Not only that, the one fast stretch, through a little cemetary (where John Gotti was buried not too long ago) they have eliminated to make it swing over to a new mall on Cooper Avenue. More turns, traffic and narrow streets! It’s just amazing how the one line that goes straight to Ridgewood cuts back, and even the other ones they make slower. It almost seems deliberate!

One thing that I used to wish for, but thought they could never really do; yet they have announced, is B38 Limited service! It would be hard for a bus skipping stops to pass another bus on narrow streets such as DeKalb Avenue, so I don’t know how well it will work. But it’s nice they are thinking about us. One idea I had was to run such a limited or express along Park Av (Brooklyn, that is) which is big and wide and also relatively clear. So take that all the way to Bway, then to Myrtle, and then pick up DeKalb from there. Or maybe even stay on Myrtle to Gates, and then Seneca. I’m also glad that the Catalpa branch gets the limited. It always seemed like the other branch (running away from the heart of Ridgewood, to an almost desolated area in the factory belt) got more service; whenever we would be waiting for Catalpa, and the other one shows up first; another frequent annoyance of traveling to this neighborhood. This used to be our lifeline to the rest of Brooklyn, (in our courtship and early marriage) but now I basically avoid that like the plague, for the L to the A or even the M to Manhattan (to come back into Brooklyn! That’s how ridiculous this area is!) Now let’s see if they can really make the 38 faster with this!

As for trains, the biggest hope for improvement is a long forgotten connection between the J and M’s Essex St. and 6th Avenue’s Broadway-Lafayette. This is known as the “outer Chrystie St connector” and was used by the old K train (not the late 80’s one that was a renaming of the old AA. The inner connection is the one used by B and D connecting the Manhattan Bridge to the station and including the Grand st station).
This would allow a one seat ride from Bushwick and possibly Ridgewood, to the 6th avenue trunk line and Midtown Manhattan. However, since 63rd st has been completed, eliminating the former terminals at 21st St Queensbridge or the K’s old 57th St/6th ave, there is no longer any place to terminate such a line. Other railfans and residents over here on the internet suggest combining the M with the V. But there seemed to be several problems with that. For one thing, as discussed at Car History, the M has restrictions to both the 75 foot cars, and 600 ft trains used by the V. So a V extended along the M line now would be restricted to the shorter trains with shorter cars. People argue that the V has not attracted the riders it was supposed to, and has lots of room compared to the other lines, so it could take the reduction in capacity. But Transit still hopes ridership will catch on, and I can’t see them taking a chance of ridership increasing. Plus, it would limit car assignments at the busy Jamaica Yard.

Also, the most natural place for the V to be extended to beyond the current 2nd Avenue terminal is Church Avenue in Brooklyn along the F line, which would then be allowed to run express from Jay St. To Church. (the G would also be extended there). That would be good for the F, as it is a long, winding local in Brooklyn. It would even benefit J and M riders as the V would stop at Delancey St. for the transfer to Essex, instead of us having to wait for the F.
I would only suggest implementing a V/M combo in the event of an emergency, where the Nassau St. Line past Essex street becomes impassible for some reason.

I have just thought out an idea for a V/M combo on weekends, instead. To avoid having to keep equipment for it at Jamaica, I fixed it so it could be run entirely out of the East. And in the process, eliminate duplicate shuttle and through service! It would take about 3 hours to make the entire round trip from Met to Continental, and if at let’s say, 10 minute headways, then requiring about 18 trains. Or if 12 minutes, then 15, etc. Sometime in the mornings, some through trains would start out from Met. Then, some would also start out at ENY Yard or borrow the J’s stored at Canarsie even, if necessary, run light to Myrtle middle, then go in service towards Met, and then head off to Manhattan.
Not only would this provide the necessary staging (since Fresh Pond Yd cannot hold 18 trains), but it would also provide the northound service to Met when the Manhattan bound trains are leaving and not returning yet, AND maintain the reverse “peak” shuttle, since the through trains from Manhattan to Met would not be needed earlier on. (and you wouldn’t even have the alternate shuttle and through trains you have during the brief weekday transition from shuttle to Manhattan service!)
The first train would complete its round trip, around the time the putins would cease.

Of course, the evening transition back to the shuttle would be the reverse.

In case not that much service is not needed, then there is always the possibility of using short trains. Eventually it will all be 160’s, so just cut some into the five car units and take those out. (This might also raise the question of making it OPTO, and that might be attractive to them, as it is less staff, but then that would be an awful long line for OPTO).

For evenings, I always thought it would be nice to have the midtown service as well, but the V is still running, and you have less time to stage the service like that. Plus, I’m sure they will not want to take the chance of confusing the Jamaica based equipment with the ENY based equipment if you had both services overlapping like that. (Like if there’s a delay in the last Jamaica V of R46’s, and it gets down to Bway-Laf. and Essex forgets to check, thinks it’s an ENY R160 or whatever, and then brings it into Essex).

The best solution would have come when the first section of the new Second Avenue Subway opens. It will connect with the 63rd St line, and the very next stop after the junction will be 72nd Street, which was to have an extra track in the middle. This would have been someplace a new “K” could terminate. However, it was suddenly dropped from the plans, infavor of a simple two track station with one island platform, and a simpler junction with 63rd St. So the trains would have to run all the way up to 96th or 125th, and once the line below 63rd opens, the capacity would be filled.
So for evenings in the time being, it would be better to use 2nd Av. Instead of those last Broad St. runs, they would head up there, and by the time the first one returns, it can be adjusted to fall right behind the last train from Bay Pkwy.
This would still overlap with the V, but at least it would be a separate line, and less likely to be confused with the V by Essex. (Call letters would have different line and starting terminal).

2008, they were actually proposing to extend M service to Chambers on weekends! Yet this was the first to go in the sudden turnaround budget crunch, where they proposed a buch of radical cuts, including cutting service south of Broad altogether! I would add, if nothing else, to Essex Street middle track. That would give us at least the transfer from the F. The line is finally getting some attention, as in this NYTimes article:
Luckily, they had already extended it to Broad later in the evenings, in the first round of improvements that went through before the crunch.

All of the attention in this area was going to the L, which has gained heavy ridership. (A total reversal from it being feared decades ago, as this completely desolate line). A new K might help draw many of the riders who live near both lines off of the L. What I once suggested was to connect a spur between 6th and 8th Avenues to 6th Avenue, so that trains can drop out at 6th, and then return without having to use the two track terminal at 8th Avenue. It often gets backed up there, making it hard to add more service. The idea was rejected on the basis that they did not want to have to add platform conductors at 6th Avenue to make sure no passengers are left on for the relay move. But since they are still talking about adding even more service than has already been added, that is really no reason to not take that measure to increase capacity. They could also shortline some service at Myrtle, so the additional service might not be needed past there, and the Canarsie terminal gets backed up as well. So have a ‹L› shortline from Myrtle to 6th.

News Flash! In an amazing and surprising development, MTA has actually instituted this service as part of a mass of service cuts due to the budget problems. Originally, the M would be completely eliminated, and the new V pick up the line from Essex to Metropolitan, but only on weekdays. Riders on the line, upon hearing “the M would be eliminated” finally spoke up, and to quell their fears, then renamed the entire combo line a new “orange M“, and had to print up new signs and reprogram the trains’ digital programs. (see also, Line History) I also got to work on the line three days a week, going through ‘the cut’ for the first time since the early 80’s, when D’s used to be sent there due to delays on the Manhattan Bridge.
They had been apparently considering Church Avenue for the V when the Culver (Gowanus) viaduct reconstruction is complete, and this new change might endanger that by creating a demand that was not there before. I had thought they were deliberately hiding knowledge of the connection for that reason!

Other Suggestions:
I also support the consultant’s idea of expanding the DOT style express route designations (QM, BM, BxM instead of “X” for all boroughs) to NYCT.

I also support the DOT consultant’s idea of the Q7 via Conduit to Green acres.

Many people agree that the Q60 needs articulated (60ft, bending in the middle) buses, and Limited Stop service; and the Q10 as well. (Others say the Q11).

One idea I’ve always had for my old stomping ground in Brooklyn, is to allow all the express routes to access one block of Ocean Parkway (both directions) and cut across Beverley Rd. all the way to Ocean or Flatbush Aves. (or Coney Is. Ave for the X29); instead of the slow, jammed zigzag route along McDonald Avenue, Church Avenue, Coney Is. Avenue, and the narrow, busy Cortelyou Rd. This should speed up service incredibly, as a lot of time is lost in that section. Cortelyou Rd. is narrow, and not only are both Cortelyou Rd. and Church Ave. traffic-filled commercial corridors; but they also intersect other streets at sharp angled corners (due to the north/south slant of Church Av. and Cortelyou Rd.) while Beverley cuts across due east/west. (And is close to Cortelyou at Flatbush, but far from it yet close to Church Avenue and the entrance to the expressway by the time you get to Ocean Pkwy.) Both roads have a station on the Q line, so the transfers would not be lost.

The DOT also had a bunch of tangent feeder bus lines that connected to other lines but otherwise not sharing any part of the route, yet using the same number (distinguished only with a letter at the end)! This caused me to miss my only chance to see veteran animator Chuck Jones at the Museum of Moving image. Instead of the regular Q101 which goes by there, my wife and I end up on the 101R, heading to Rikers Island prison, down a totally different street that went nowhere near the museum! We end up aborting the trip, and he was never there again, and eventually died. Beginning in 2007, the MTA began changing them, with the Q65A becoming Q64, Q9A to the Q 89; Q19A to the Q 69; Q19B to the Q 49; Q101R to the Q100 (too late for me!).

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