ReThink <span class="caps">LGA</span>

ReThinkLGA

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.

ReThinkLGA Plan

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.

ReThink Studio

ReThink Studio