Saturday, May 16, 2015

Norm in The Wave: On Rockaway Branch Lines and Ferries: Poor, Neglected A Train

Published Friday May 15, 2015 at

On Rockaway Branch Lines and Ferries

School Scope
By Norm Scott


Taking a break from education issues, I wanted to get something off my chest regarding reporting on transportation issues by the Rockaway press and also the politicians.

In my last conversation with Phil Goldfeder, I harangued him for talking about ferries and branch lines but ignoring discussion on improving the A train. He promised he would. I may have missed it but so far haven’t noticed.

Constant talk about getting the MTA to put millions of dollars it claims it does not have into a dream of a project to rebuild a portion of rail so people in Rockaway can get into Manhattan in 45 minutes (tops) instead of an hour (or more). The same goes for the late, lamented ferry. With the stop in Brooklyn the trip to Wall Street took 50 minutes and sometimes longer. To 34th Street, even longer. And if you wanted to go after rush hour, it was a no go. Same with late at night. Don’t get me wrong. It was a nice option and it would be good to have a ferry that runs all day and into the late evening, but without heavy subsidies from a city that looks at Rockaway as if it were in Outer Mongolia, I don’t expect much.

Howie Schwach reported with this story on his web site ( “The A train remains the major commuter mode of travel from Rockaway to Manhattan. A recent study said that Rockaway residents have second longest travel commute in the city.” Howie points out that the average time for a Rockaway commute – 46.9 minutes – is far off the reality. More like an hour or more and if you are coming from Mott Avenue or Rockaway Park and using the shuttle (a few direct A trains run to and fro during rush hour) it could take much longer if you add waiting time. The last time I took a midday subway from Rockaway Park, I waited at Broad Channel for almost a half hour for an A to come. And then there was that long slog through Brooklyn. Another mid-day trip was a bit better – the shuttle left within a few minutes and the A came within 7 minutes. Still. (I remember when Anthony Weiner was running for mayor he put an idea of a third track on the table.)

The shuttle is a real issue for people in Rockaway Park. Personally, we drive to Newkirk Plaza in Brooklyn and take the Q or B. Some people drive to Broad Channel or Howard Beach to skip the shuttle.

Last summer we took the 9:30 a.m. ferry – the last one in the morning – to 34th Street for a matinee. On the way back we decided to take an A from 42nd Street downtown to Wall Street to get the ferry. But lo and behold, after a very short wait, a rare A to Rockaway Park showed up and we decided to take it all the way back to 108th to pick up our car at the ferry dock. It took an hour. I tried to think about ways to cut some time off this trip. I was looking at the map as we headed into the area where the A splits off from Lefferts Boulevard and noticed how easy it would be for them to get the shuttle instead of us. There are only three stops between Rockaway Boulevard and Lefferts and the same three stops between Broad Channel and Rockaway Park. Given the much longer commute, why shouldn’t Rockaway Park (149th to the 80s) and include Breezy Point too – get a direct A train? To me a simple fix costing little or nothing.

Looking at the map, you can see what almost looks like a detour at Euclid Avenue as it makes a wide loop that includes six stops before looping back to Howard Beach. Draw a direct line from Euclid to Howard Beach – imagine a connection between them cutting out that loop. How much time would that save? Of course the very idea of adding a short cut between those stations looks like lunacy. But any more lunacy than the unicorn-like search for the Rockaway Branch Line?

For people at the other end of Rockaway – Mott Avenue, the commute includes six Rockaway stops, three more than those in Rockaway Park. All told, there are 23 additional stops between Broad Channel before hitting Fulton Street in Manhattan (if you’re going to Washington Heights at the other end of the A, better leave the day before). Are there ways to speed up this trip without building entire branch lines? I bet there are. That is the question I would ask our politicians and the Rockaway press to answer rather than chasing after unicorns.

Norm still avoids the shuttle but doesn’t avoid blogging at

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