By Vincent DiPietra
Vincent DiPietra is a lifelong Greenpointer currently working as a project coordinator for a building consulting firm in Manhattan. He had previously volunteered for the North Brooklyn committee of Transportation Alternatives.
If the New York City subway can be described as a family of services operating together throughout the five boroughs, then the G train would probably be described as a forgotten middle child. The only non-shuttle subway service that doesn’t serve Manhattan, the G train has a history of poor service patterns, short train lengths, deteriorating station conditions, lack of accessibility for the disabled, and service cuts by the MTA.
Recently, attempts have been made to make ridership conditions better, such as adding an additional subway car to each train set, implementing more service on the weekend, and installing elevators at Greenpoint Avenue and Metropolitan Avenue-Lorimer Street to improve accessibility for disabled residents of North Brooklyn. But there is always room for improvement, so here are five ways that G train service can be better tomorrow than it is today.
1. Complete CBTC work on the entire length of the line
In December 2022, the MTA awarded a $368 million contract to a Long Island based consortium of electric contractors called Crosstown Partners to install communications-based train control on the G train. When complete, the entire length of the line from Court Square to Church Avenue will have CBTC installed, making the G train the third subway line to have CBTC installed on its entire route, after the L and the 7 trains. The implementation of the signaling system will use the design-build process, where design and construction work are part of the same contract to reduce the risk of delay and consolidate responsibility to a single point of contact. This suggests that the project will be completed in a timely manner, but construction is expected to take at least five years. Completing CBTC installation would allow for more frequency along the line; this could mean headways less than the current peak service of 8 minutes, potentially 5 minute headways during rush hours.
2. Run trains with more subway cars
Infamously, for many years service on the G was limited to only four cars per train set. At 300 ft long, this is only half the length of other subway lines in the system which run at 600 ft long with eight car consists, such as the M and R trains. A G train pulling into a station would only take up about half the length of the platform. As a result, subway riders entering the station from one end of the platform would have to run towards the center where the first car of the train would typically be located, which locals have called doing “the G train sprint”. Older riders, disabled riders, and riders with travel luggage or strollers would more often than not have to wait for the next train, which in some cases, may be 10 or more minutes.
Starting in 2019, train consists have had an additional car tacked on, but this hasn’t completely eliminated the sprint. With the delivery of the final R179 subway cars and the eventual delivery of the R211 subway cars to other subway lines, such as the A and C trains, the fleet that will be replaced, the R160s, could have several cars added on to the existing G trains to allow the G to run full-length eight car trains that serve the entire platform. Full length trains have been proposed in the past, such as in 2018 in response to the impending L train tunnel shutdown. The plan called for decreasing headways to around 4 minutes from Court Square to Bedford-Nostrand Avenues, among other improvements to the line to accommodate riders during the shutdown. While most of the shutdown was averted by January 2019 to allow for limited L service during repair work, frequencies on the G train have increased during nights and weekends. But allowing full-length cars on the line would go a long way to address riders’ concerns with service reliability and accessibility.
3. Provide better station accessibility
As part of service improvements to the Metropolitan Avenue- Lorimer Street transfer station, elevators are being installed to address accommodations for disabled and elderly riders. Construction is expected to be done before the end of this year. Elevators have also recently been installed at Greenpoint Avenue to make the station ADA compliant, but the rest of the line does not have as much accessibility, a common trend among other subway lines in the system. The only other G train stations that currently have elevators are Hoyt-Schermerhorn St and Church Avenue, which is also the only other station on the line that is ADA compliant.
Fortunately, the MTA has recently been picking up the pace to make as many subway stations as possible fully accessible. They have awarded contracts for ADA work on the G line as part of a series of construction bundles; renovations at Metropolitan Avenue-Lorimer Street and 7th Avenue are underway as part of the first package awarded in 2020. Renovations for the G train’s platforms at Court Square are part of the second package awarded in 2021. Renovation work at Classon Avenue and making Hoyt-Schermerhorn fully ADA compliant are slated for future construction packages. With only seven stations on the line currently or in the process of being fully accessible, ADA compliant stations make up a third of the stations along the route. Funding should be committed to making at least 75% of the line fully accessible, given any limitations for some stations that would prevent elevators from being installed. Some notable stations along the line that should have ADA work prioritized include Flushing Avenue (located next to the Marcy Houses and three blocks from Woodhull Hospital), Bedford-Nostrand Avenue (station configuration can allow for elevator installation; the station itself is not far from a senior center), and Carroll St (another station located close by to a senior center, and would also connect disabled riders in Carroll Heights and Red Hook to the F train).
4. Study the feasibility of in-system transfers to other subway lines
If you look at a subway map, the G line intersects with the J/M/Z lines at Broadway, yet there is no free in-system transfer to the Hewes St station that serves J/M/Z trains. Going further south, the Fulton Street station is located about one block away from the Lafayette Street Station served by the C train. Several blocks west is the Atlantic Avenue-Barclay Center station; one of the busiest stations in the system, it is served by multiple subway lines and is a terminal for the Long Island Railroad. The case can be made to facilitate the construction of in-system transfers to these two areas.
A transfer between Broadway and Hewes St has existed before. As part of the plans for better service on the G line during the L train tunnel shutdown, a temporary free out-of-system transfer was implemented to accommodate riders from April 2019 to May 2020. This OOS transfer may come back as part of upcoming renovation work to the Williamsburg Bridge that is expected to last over the next two years, but a feasibility study should be created to investigate options into making the transfer permanent and in-system. One option could be an underground passageway under parts of S 5th St and Hewes St that rises up to an enclosed passageway similar to the one at Court Square. Hewes St between Broadway and S 5th St would be closed to vehicular traffic to allow for the construction of the structure, which has room for a stairway, two escalators, and an elevator. The Manhattan-bound platform fare control area of Hewes St would be renovated to provide this transfer. Other alternatives exist such as an underground mezzanine under New Montrose Avenue, reconstructing the entire Hewes St station further east or consolidating Hewes St and Lorimer St stations into one station directly above the Broadway station, which would make a direct in-system transfer easier .
For the Atlantic Avenue transfer to Lafayette St and Fulton St, the MTA has previously stated that a transfer there remains unlikely, citing the long walking distance and the fact that there is already a transfer available at Hoyt-Schermerhorn St to the A and C trains for G riders. While that may be true to some degree, the Atlantic Avenue station serves nine subway services and is a terminal for the Long Island Railroad. A potential in-system transfer between these three stations would allow riders to have more options for their destinations.
The transfer would have to utilize two underground passageways; one connecting Fulton St with Lafayette Avenue, and another one connecting Lafayette Avenue to the Atlantic Avenue complex. The passageway connecting Fulton St and Lafayette Avenue would run under S Portland Avenue for one block about 300 ft, while the passageway connecting Lafayette Avenue to the Atlantic Avenue complex would run south on S Portland Ave to Hanson Place, then turn west about 1000 ft to Felix St; the entrance there would be reconstructed to provide a fare control area and a proper connection between the new passageway and the one leading towards the rest of the station. While the MTA says that the walking distance between the stations is too long, for comparison, the passageway between the G train platform and the E/M train platform at Court Square is about 450 ft long. The passageway connecting the Times Square-42nd St station to the 42nd St-Port Authority Bus Terminal station is about 900 ft long. It is certainly possible to construct an underground walkway connecting two stations located several blocks from each other in a cost efficient manner.
5. Extend the G train to Forest Hills-71 Avenue
While the G train is preparing to receive CBTC, parts of the Queens Boulevard Line have CBTC already installed. The portion of the line from 50th St/8 Avenue and 47-50 St- Rockefeller Center to Kew Gardens/Union Turnpike is fully equipped with the new signaling system; a contract was rewarded in 2021 to begin implementing CBTC on the portion east of Kew Gardens/Union Turnpike. With both the Queens Boulevard and Crosstown Lines getting CBTC upgrades, it allows for more train capacity and may even allow for the return of the G train to its former northbound terminal at Forest Hills-71st Avenue. The G has not made a trip to Forest Hills since 2010 when drastic budget cuts at the MTA forced the truncation of the line to Court Square at all times; by then, G trains went to Forest Hills only during off-peak service hours, such as late nights and weekends. The train that replaced the G on Queens Boulevard in 2001, the V train, was eliminated and replaced by more service on a rerouted M train, preventing the G from returning to the line.
CBTC alone may not be the catalyst for extending the G train’s route back to Forest Hills. Either the M or the R train would have to find a new route; even with CBTC, running three local services and two express services on a four-track subway, while possible, would still be prone to bottlenecks and costly delays. One alternative is to send the M train to 96th St on the Second Avenue Line during peak times while having its normal late night and weekend patterns. This would free up space for the G train to run on the local route while also potentially allowing more capacity on the E train. R trains could be rerouted to Astoria, most likely eliminating the W train and allowing the G onto the Queens Boulevard Line. An expansion such as reactivating the Rockaway Beach Branch and connecting it to the Queens Boulevard Line would send either the M or the R down the line towards the Rockaways, freeing up space at the 71 Av terminal for G trains.
Some of the ideas presented here are more realistic than others. While the MTA may not seriously consider an in-system transfer from Atlantic Avenue to Fulton Street, they are taking steps to improve service along the entire length of the G train by making stations fully accessible and running more trains during off-peak hours. It is a step in the right direction, but there are more options that the MTA has at their disposal that, if done correctly, could help the G train go from the forgotten child of the subway system to the golden child.
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