Toward a Car-Optional Airport
Toward a Car-Optional Airport
LaGuardia Airport could one day be the most rail-connected airport in the world. ReThink Studio has put forth a proposal to replace the antiquated airport with a larger and more efficient LGA. The new LGA will connect passengers with international destinations, have fewer delays, and be fully-integrated with an intermodal transportation hub in Port Morris, the Bronx. At Port Morris, passengers will be able to transfer between the LGA air-train, Amtrak, commuter rail, the New York City Subway, as well as local and regional bus routes.
Defining the Problem
LaGuardia is the smallest of the tri-state area’s three airports and very difficult to get to via mass transit. Its short runways cause safety problems and frequent delays and limit its destinations, and it is in a flood zone.
LaGuardia is located in Zone A, NYC’s highest risk flood zone categorization. Not only does flooding prolong delays at the airport, but present plans to expand LaGuardia fail to adequately address LaGuardia’s susceptibility to flooding due to rising tides.
Cuomo’s plan to overhaul LaGuardia’s passenger facilities will hardly make the airport more efficient if the runways are still dangerously short, prone to flooding, and are not expanded to handle international flights. Giving LaGuardia’s terminals a face-lift is a given, but it’s also a short-sighted plan that offers no solution to LGA’s underlying problems.
LaGuardia is the smallest of NYC’s three airports. It has two 7,000 foot runways. Newark and JFK have runways that are over 10,000 feet. Shorter runways are less safe, as exemplified by Delta’s recent accident at LGA (see image on right).
Short runways are also responsible for the many weather-related delays at LGA. As soon as it begins to rain, the airport can only support a single flight every five minutes. Delays often ripple throughout the national air traffic system. This also has a negative environmental impact; as planes need to spend more time circling around the airport until it is safe to land. In addition to air pollution, circling increases noise pollution for nearby residents.
LGA’s short runways are the reason that larger twin aisle jets (e.g. 777) can’t fly to La Guardia because larger planes require runway lengths greater than 7,000 feet long. Therefore, LaGuardia is incapable of handling many international flights.
Presently, LGA is only accessible by car, taxi and bus. There are many proposals for extending commuter rail and subway lines to LGA, however, none of the proposals create a LGA connection that is faster than taking a taxi.
As the smallest of the three airports serving New York City, LaGuardia often cannot efficiently handle the amount of daily passengers that currently use the airport, especially when there are flight delays. Furthermore, LaGuardia’s inability to handle many international flights (because of short runways), the airport cannot currently help to relieve congestion at JFK and EWR.
LaGuardia’s problems can be solved by expanding the airport onto Rikers Island and adding a new terminal across the East River in Port Morris, the Bronx. By adding this infrastructure and increasing airport capacity, we would gain a significant opportunity to expand New York City’s economy beyond Manhattan.
LaGuardia Airport was built on landfill, also known as “reclamation.” The picture from 1924 shows the area that is now the airport as simply a point. By 1951, most of the infrastructure was subsequently filled in. The aerials from 1996 and 2012 show the extended concrete runways resting on pylons over the water. The distance between the north-south runway and Rikers Island is roughly 200 feet.
By expanding LGA to Rikers Island, runways can be elevated to become more resilient to flooding. Expanding the airport is made possible by first creating an alternative airport infrastructure (terminals in the Bronx and gates/runways on Rikers Island) and then, in phase two, raising the grade of the existing LGA. When seen from this perspective, other plans to rebuild the existing terminals at LGA appear to be short-sighted.
The ReThinkLGA proposal will extend LaGuardia’s east-west runway to 10,250′ and add a second 11,000′ east-west runway. Further, the plan will add another 7,000′ north-south runway. Because the configuration of the runways will be the same, flight paths will not need to be significantly altered to accommodate ReThinkLGA improvements.
Presently, LGA has 76 gates that mainly serve smaller aircraft. The new LGA will support up to 150 gates, spread out over six concourses (including the existing Main Terminal in Queens), all connected via a new underground airtrain. The new gates will be able to serve larger, twin aisle planes that will fly to and from many international locations.
Because of the proximity to the Northeast Corridor in Port Morris, the Bronx, LaGuardia is the region’s most fruitful airport for expansion. An expanded LGA would offer a single seat ride to the airport for millions of commuters in the region.
The airport rail station would be served by every Amtrak, NJ Transit and Metro-North line in the region. Long Island Railroad passengers would get to LGA through a quick and easy transfer at the Sunnyside Queens in Queens.
The ReThinkLGA plan will create the most rail connected airport in the world, which will allow millions of air passengers to eschew short haul flights and, instead, travel via train to LGA before flying to a long-distance destination. Such intermodal connectivity will reduce air traffic in the region by shifting passengers from the most polluting form of long distance transportation (air) to the least (rail). The benefits would be felt as far away as Albany, Hartford, Springfield, Scranton, and Philadelphia. As the speed of rail transportation increases and service is restored on more regional branch lines, the benefits provided by an expanded LGA will become even more pronounced.
Conventioneers could arrive by air, train, subway, car or even ferry. The new complex would include integrated hotels, restaurants and a shopping mall. The combination of all of these amenities provides a valuable synergy not only for conventioneers, but also for air passengers in transit, people from nearby neighborhoods, and commuters as well.
In January 2012, Governor Cuomo proposed relocating the Javits Convention Center to a new 3.8M square foot facility on the site of the Aqueduct Raceway in Queens. This would have offered 3 million more square feet of exhibition space than Javits. But it was not to be. The site in Queens was considered unacceptable. Although it was close to JFK, it was close to little else and six months later the idea was scrapped.
The ReThinkNYC plan adopts Governor Cuomo’s proposal to relocate the Javits Center and builds off the idea by placing the new facility adjacent to Port Morris Station. This location is just across the river from Manhattan and would be connected to Midtown via three subway lines and several commuter rail lines. The site is also a quick drive up the FDR.
The Case for Closing Rikers and Expanding LaGuardia
The Rikers Island Jail Complex is noted for being the world’s largest penal colony. Decades after San Francisco turned Alcatraz into a museum and many other cities closed their prison islands, Rikers Island lives on, but it does so with a huge cloud. After horrific stories of abuse continually documented in the New York Times and other respected sources, Mayor De Blassio blamed the “culture” of Rikers. But is it possible to reform a culture at such an isolated institution? We don’t think so.
A few facts here are helpful. Rikers has a capacity for 15,000 prisoners. The population shifts between 12,000 and 15,000. Ten of the city’s 15 jails sit on Rikers Island; 92% of the inmates are awaiting trial, but are not able to afford bail. It costs $65,000 annually to house a person at Rikers. Much of the population is there on misdemeanor drug charges which have been recently shifted from arrest to summons. There are plans for a jail for the mentally ill outside of Rikers.
The winds are shifting toward the depopulation of Rikers, but replacing it is expensive. Some of the recently built facilities there cost billions. This was a mistake, but this is not a good reason to keep it open. Mayor De Blassio was elected with 74% of the vote based on the promise of creating a more just and equitable city. Rikers Island is the greatest symbol of inequality in New York. It is a horrific place populated by those who cannot afford to make bail.
The economic need to expand the region’s airports offers an elegant way out of this dilemma. The alternatives to expanding LGA into Rikers are very expensive, environmentally unsound and/or politically difficult. LaGuardia’s need for extended runways, the region’s need for more air capacity and LGA’s proximity to the Northeast Corridor rail line (in Port Morris, the Bronx) makes this option by far the best choice for airport expansion. Given the benefits that the airport would gain from the use of Rikers, it makes sense for the airport project to pay for the closure of Rikers and the building of replacement facilities.
As a replacement, we are proposing a series of borough-based justice centers which would include four jails (Juvenile and adult, male and female) and an attached office building, which would house court houses, offices for judges, prosecutors, public defenders and community organizations.
Removing the guards’ isolation, allowing them to go to lunch outside of the facility for example, we think will do a great deal to improve conditions inside the facility, which will in turn make it easier to attract qualified guards.
We view the community organizations as crucial to keeping the goal focused on the reduction of recidivism rather than propagating a culture of incarceration. To plan for this, we are working with the staff of the Interfaith Center of New York. Their organization manages a number of community programs to help people after they are returning from prison. Additionally, we see the movement away from incarceration towards ankle bracelet monitoring as another crucial force reducing the future jail population.
Building new jails is never popular, but the new facilities will be smaller and far more humane. Communities with new jails should be compensated through additional economic development opportunities. Funding for such development would be part of the cost of moving Rikers.
While the closure of Rikers is often seen as an appendage or a necessary pre-requesite for the rest of the ReThinkNYC plan–and it is–it is also an essential part of the purpose behind ReThinkNYC, which is to unify the city and the region–infrastructurally, socially and economically. Furthermore, closing this jail will begin to remove this horrible stain on our city.
Anna Rolf of LINK arkitektur of Stockholm is advising us on replacement proposals. Rolf brings experience designing and building humane incarceration facilities in Stockholm.