What to Know
The Fourth Regional Plan, unveiled by the Regional Plan Association, includes sweeping infrastructure recommendations for the region
The plan recommends ending overnight subway service, massive redevelopment of Penn Station, and joining the region's commuter rail systems
Previous regional plans, released in 1929, 1960 and 1996, have included recommendations that have been adopted
A new, greatly expanded Penn Station complex. Linking Metro-North, New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Railroad into one regional commuter rail system. Ending overnight subway service. Moving Madison Square Garden.
These are just some of the radical infrastructure changes recommended in the influential Regional Plan Association’s long-ranging blueprint for the future of transportation in the tri-state area, released Thursday.
The recommendations, part of a nearly 400-page document called The Fourth Regional Plan, outline potential fixes for not only the city’s transit woes but everything from coping with climate change to increasing the quality of life and economic prowess of the region as it moves into the 21st century.
And these aren’t necessarily pie-in-the-sky ideas: the Regional Plan Association’s previous three plans, released in 1929, 1960 and 1996, all included many recommendations that were later adopted by city, state and federal governments and bodies in the years that followed.
Here’s some of the biggest things to look out for in the transportation portion of the Fourth Regional Plan:
Ending overnight subway service, adding new subway lines and modernizing the mass-transit system under new management
For any New Yorker who has grabbed an early-morning train home from a late night at work or out on the town, this one could hurt: The Fourth Regional Plan calls for an end to 24-hour subway service, replacing overnight trains with bus service. The reasoning behind the move is that it would allow for longer windows to perform maintenance work needed to keep the system in good repair for daytime commutes.
The outline also calls for expansion to the subway system at large -- including an all-new “Triboro” line running from Sunset Park, cutting through the interior and east side of Brooklyn before cutting north into Queens, clipping the north edge of Astoria before cutting across Randall's Island and terminating near Pelham Bay in the Bronx. It recommends the Second Avenue Subway to be extended into the Bronx, extensions of the 2, 4, and 5 trains into southeastern Brooklyn, a R/M line spur out to Alley Pond Park in Queens, a second extension of the 7 line into the Meatpacking district and another new line that runs through northern Queens between Long Island City and flushing and College Point.
Greater urgency in signal upgrades throughout the existing subway system, according to the plan, which states “the pace at which the MTA adopts technological innovations is glacial.”
Chief among the upgrades would be system-wide communications based train control, which allows central operators to know exactly where trains are on the tracks so they can run more or less often based on need. Eventually, the plan calls for a fully automated, driverless subway system that utilizes already-planned contactless payment systems.
Quality-of-life improvements would also make the subway more pleasant, according to the plan. More of the system’s 472 stations should be accessible to riders with disabilities, the plan says, and station entrances, corridors and platforms should be redesigned or enlarged to prevent overcrowding. The plan also calls for measures to reduce the heat of stations in the summer -- including modern braking systems that create less heat, improved ventilation and even platform screen doors that would allow for stations to be climate controlled.
And, notably, the plan doesn’t want the MTA to make any of these changes: Rather, it is calling for the creation of a state-controlled corporation that would be solely focused on and funded to rebuild the subway system within the next 15 years.
In a statement Wednesday, MTA chairman Joe Lhota said “We all agree that the subways must be stabilized and modernized and advancing the conversation on how to do so is productive and worth having. While we don’t need to create a new bureaucratic structure, we agree that securing a dedicated revenue source - preferably one that also battles congestion – is essential.”
Big changes to Penn Station (Including moving MSG)
The Regional Planning Association has called for drastic changes to the region’s commuter rail system and Penn Station, the nation’s busiest train hub, in order to make it easier for people and freight to travel between New Jersey, Long Island, the Hudson Valley and Connecticut.
Most notably, the plan calls for a complete reimagining of the Penn Station train complex. Calling the current setup “congested, uninviting and dangerous,” the Regional Plan Association calls for Madison Square Garden to be moved from its perch over Penn Station’s Eighth Avenue entrance once its 10-year special permit to remain at the spot expires in 2023.
That would allow for Penn Station to create a multi-level concourse on par with Grand Central Terminal or other majestic rail stations in cities throughout the northeast. The completion of the Moynihan Station at the old Farley Post Office for Amtrak is also called for, as is a rethinking of the planned Penn Station South complex with through-running tracks to allow trains to run between Queens and New Jersey.
Connect the region’s rail systems and build new routes
All those changes at Penn Station come with a purpose: to connect Metro-North, LIRR and NJ Transit into one massive rail system -- called the Trans-Regional Express or T-REX -- with subway-like service and reach over the next several decades.
To accomplish that goal, the Regional Plan Association is calling for three phases. In the first, the body calls for current plans for an additional Hudson River tunnel to be extended all the way to Sunnyside Yards in Queens with a station at Third Avenue and 31st Street, so commuters could more easily get between New Jersey and Long Island and access jobs in east midtown.
In a second and third phases, the Regional Plan Association is calling for additional tunnels into Manhattan along 57th Street and between Hoboken and Houston Street, along with a north-south “Manhattan Spine” rail line that would run from Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, through Manhattan under Third Avenue and all the way up to the Bronx, connecting there with Metro-North Lines and giving relief to the existing line on Park Avenue.
With the additional construction should come additional service, faster speeds, reduced wait times, and direct service spanning from Trenton to New Haven and Ronkonkoma to Poughkeepsie.
Overhaul the region’s bus systems and transition the roadways to pedestrians, cyclists and public transit
Above ground, there would be lots of changes aimed at increasing quality of life for pedestrians, drivers and cyclists alike. The Regional Plan Association calls for tolls for drivers heading into Manhattan below 60th Street to reduce congestion on streets outside the busiest parts of the region and variable tolling on highways based on congestion levels, as well as the elimination of traffic bottlenecks on roadways throughout the region.
On the pedestrian side, the plan calls for car-free and low-car pedestrian districts, as well as greater expansion of bike lanes, bike sharing programs, wider sidewalks and banning driving altogether in Central Park. The plan also calls for different methods of trash and recycling pickup where homeowners, landlords and businesses don’t pile up bags on the curb until garbage trucks come to collect refuse.
At the neighborhood level, the plan recommends several expressways in the city to be decked over or turned into boulevards to help revitalize communities that were blighted by rapid highway expansion in the mid-20th century.
Buses, car sharing and light rail would also be greatly expanded throughout the region under the plan. The Regional Plan Association calls for more Select Bus Service routes and the Brooklyn-Queens Connector streetcar in the city, a new bus terminal underneath the Javits Center and light rail or rapid transit bus systems between Paterson and Newark, along the I-287 corridor and between Oyster Bay and West Hempstead on Long island.
Make moving people and freight easier
Getting people and goods into and out of the region would also be faster under the Fourth Regional Plan, according to the Regional Plan Association.
John F. Kennedy and Newark Airports should both get additional runways, allowing for more flights to fly in and out of the region. At JFK, the plan calls for a express train service from Manhattan along Atlantic Avenue with at least four trains per hour. Newark, meanwhile, would get a bigger face-lift, with a new connections to the Northeast Corridor train line, PATH service and a new AirTrain system.
Amtrak lines in and out of New York City also need updates, according to the plan. The Regional Plan Association said the railroad should introduce high-speed rail service that could get travelers from DC to New York City in 90 minutes. The body also calls on Amtrak to stop using Northeast Corridor rail fares to subsidize less popular rail routes elsewhere in the country to encourage more riders to ride on the line, rather than drive or fly.
The region’s ports could also better utilize the Regional Plan Association’s proposed rail network to move freight more easily, as well. The Fourth Regional Plan calls on freight to be moved on track infrastructure for passenger lines on off-peak and overnight hours and would call for the creation of yet another underwater rail crossing under The Narrows at the mouth of the New York Harbor.
How likely is any of this to happen (and how much will it cost)?
Many of these plans, if adopted, could take decades to come to fruition, due to the gargantuan nature of the projects. The Regional Plan Association even says as much -- stating that the implementation of the so-called T-Rex commuter rail system would likely not be completed until well after 2040.
But some of the recommendations in the plan are already in the works in some fashion or another, and prior regional plans have dictated everything from the location of the George Washington Bridge and the building of the Second Avenue Subway to the revitalization of downtown Brooklyn, Stamford and Newark and development along Manhattan's west side, so many of these suggestions could be coming to the tri-state in the 21st century.
But like any massive infrastructure plan, these recommendations wouldn’t come without cost. The Fourth Regional Plan didn’t include exact figures for all of its recommendations, but most, if not all of them could cost tens of billions of dollars. Signal modernization on the subway system alone would cost about $27 billion, according to the Regional Plan Association’s estimates.
--Andrew Siff contributed to this article.