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The LaGuardia AirTrain, New York’s Dumbest Transit Project, Is Finally Dead

But even with a new plan possibly in place, LaGuardia remains as close and as far as ever.

Deceased. (Office of the Governor)

The Times, in its fashion, got the news right but the story wrong. The AirTrain to LaGuardia is now officially deceased, but its passing is no loss to either airport commuters or people looking to reduce congestion on the Grand Central Parkway. 

A train that went well past its destination to only have to double back, connecting to an already overburdened subway line and an LIRR stub that leads nowhere, created primarily to serve LaGuardia workers looking for a place to park their cars, was not a real plan. It was an Andrew Cuomo plan, which meant it was something that could theoretically be done through sheer will, but make very little sense (like a train station that adds zero capacity for trains). The Times pinned its death on rising costs, but that's tough to really attribute—the costs the Cuomo administration used to pitch the project were absurd lowballs and they already began adjusting the costs skyward once the federal government signed off on the project. The idea was to get shovels in the ground, and in classic NYC infrastructure fashion, let the costs balloon once there was no turning back.

But thanks to a gubernatorial changeover, the shovels never made it into the ground, and Governor Kathy Hochul called for an immediate review of the project that would have forever foreclosed on a habitable Flushing Bay waterfront (The marina is nice! Could be really nice with some love!). 

The Port Authority went back to the drawing board. Last year, they held a series of public workshops to get the community's feedback on what they should do to connect the airport to the city. At the workshop, most people were adamant that a subway connection would be the preferred option and the actual "one-seat" solution that NYC's airports currently lack. That would mean extending Astoria's N/W line, either running it along 19th Avenue in Astoria or having it branch off from the subway when it passes over the Grand Central and then somehow fly over or under the Hell Gate train trestle before landing at LaGuardia.

But a subway extension would mean billions that the MTA currently doesn't have and the agency's future capital funds are mostly committed to a Second Avenue Subway extension that almost no one is asking for. 

Picture yourself here....foreverrrr. (Hell Gate)

The crack team that the governor tapped to figure out what the hell to do also found that a subway would be the best move, but in announcing its findings on Monday, said there were "serious funding and constructability challenges," when it came to building a subway extension. No project would be able to take riders to the airport sooner than 12 to 13 years from now, and if we're being honest, that's being ambitious. Instead, the team recommended that everyone should take the bus. Thank you, crack team!

The bus has been an obvious answer for years, because it cheaply and efficiently extends a mass transit system that stops just short of the airport (and will soon possibly be even more connected by the IBX). But through sheer lack of creativity and initiative, the buses that serve LaGuardia have been subjected to the permanent crush of traffic that envelopes the Grand Central Parkway, souring transit riders on the experience, and leading to countless missed flights. The obvious answer, of course, is to just give the buses their own exclusive lane on the Grand Central, run the buses with scary frequency, and wow—it's like you built an AirTrain at a fraction of the cost. At LaGuardia itself, just convert one of the taxi lanes to one that only buses can use. Mission accomplished. 

So that's what the experts suggested, right? After years of the answer staring them right in the face, this is what they did? Ah, my friend, you forgot about New York's most precious commodity: drivers. Instead of taking away a lane from the Grand Central and BQE for a small portion of their routes, a dedicated bus lane will be foisted on the highway's shoulders, and not even for the full stretch to LaGuardia.

On top of that, the Q70 will still run along Roosevelt Avenue from 61st street to 74th street, a stretch whose pace of traffic varies from glacial to tortoise-like. And the final self-inflicted wound: There will be no dedicated bus lane for the return trip back to Woodside. That bus you desperately need to take you along its dedicated bus lane to LaGuardia? Well, it's stuck in traffic coming back from the airport.

You might have more luck with the proposed express bus from the end of the N/W lines, but that means committing to a slog along the local lines in the hope that a bus is waiting for you. And that's where trust comes in. If the MTA had shown an ability to maintain a speedy bus network with dedicated lanes, this would be a great option. Sadly, the city itself has shown very little interest in keeping these lanes clear (when they do get built), or doing anything that might perturb the commutes of car drivers to make that happen.

The cost of these traffic tweaks are apparently $500 million, to be spent on the shoulder lane and way-finding improvements at the train stations, as well as a dedicated lane entering one of LaGuardia's terminals (can't overrun costs if you already build in an insane cost estimate!). And it's unclear when the bus plan will be implemented—the Port Authority has yet to officially sign off on it. 

It really shouldn't take a team of experts a year to figure that better bus service would make a commute to LaGuardia immeasurably better. But this is progress! Maybe it will only take them six months to realize they need a dedicated bus lane both ways (and another few years to install it).

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