Better Buses, Commentary, Queens

From Bus to Subway in Kew Gardens

On Tuesday night, June 2, I will be attending the first Queens Bus Rapid Transit workshop in Jackson Heights. Here’s a proposal I will be bringing with me.

“Bus rapid transit” is no more than the sum of its parts, and many elements of it can be used by themselves to produce a significant improvement in transportation quality. One such element is enclosed stations with pre-boarding fare control. The Union Turnpike station is ideally suited to this, because most of the facilities already exist. The subway station has the usual fare control system with turnstiles and high-wheel gates. It also has an enclosed connection to a roadway.

Just north of Kew Gardens, an eight-lane highway passes under Queens Boulevard. The middle four lanes are the Jackie Robinson Parkway headed for East New York. The lanes on either side carry through traffic on Union Turnpike. On either side of those lanes are two more with traffic turning onto Queens Boulevard.


The Union Turnpike-Kew Gardens subway station is a major station in central Queens. It’s one of the several points where subway riders from Manhattan and western Queens can transfer to the bus network that is the only transit for much of eastern Queens. The Q46 goes east on Union Turnpike from here, the Q74 goes north on Main Street, the Q10 goes south to Kennedy Airport and the Q37 south to Ozone Park.

Bus routes that feed the Union Turnpike station

The subway-bus transfers are often slow and clumsy because the buses take circuitous routes to turn around. For example, the Q46 terminates on the north side of Queens Boulevard, then has to go two blocks west, make a U-turn, go back east and then take a big left onto Union Turnpike.

Even to get to the bus stops, subway passengers have to climb three flights of stairs. For some of the more popular buses, the stairs are not wide enough to handle peak demand, and there is conflict between passengers going down and passengers going up.

Meanwhile, people who live in Glendale don’t have any subway or train service, and limited bus service to connect them to the subway. Getting from Kew Gardens Hills to Kew Gardens requires a long walk, a long ride or two bus transfers. These are two of the Underserved Areas identified in the NYC DOT Phase II report (PDF).

Improving these transfers could trim five to ten minutes off of each bus rider’s commute, which would be a huge boost to transit in central Queens. Here’s one way to do it: right now the buses all go up to Queens Boulevard, turn and stop at the subway stairs. Passengers bound for the subway go up to go down. But if the buses continued on through the tunnel they’d be at the mezzanine level of the subway station.


How would the passengers get into the station? Well in fact, that mezzanine used to be open to Union Turnpike for many years, with just a guardrail separating people from cars. It was not very pleasant walking next to the noisy, smelly, speeding traffic. In a recent renovation the MTA installed glass bricks that make the station much nicer; you can see the road through them.


Now imagine that the glass bricks, fence and guardrail are gone, and there are bus stops there. You’re riding in on the Q46, and instead of going up to Queens Boulevard it goes through the tunnel and stops. You get off, go down one flight of stairs, and get on your train. If you’re coming from the train, you go up one flight of stairs and get on your bus. No turnstiles, no dipping Metrocards, no waiting for everyone else to dip their Metrocard, and much less crowding on narrow stairs.

To do this, the MTA would have to reconfigure the routes, which could allow for better connections between neighborhoods. The Q74 and Q46 could turn around at Park Lane, but they could also continue on to Metropolitan Avenue, Woodhaven Boulevard or Myrtle Avenue in Glendale. The Q10 and Q37 could turn at the 141st Street loop, but they could continue along the Grand Central Parkway service road to Main Street, Parsons Boulevard, 164th Street or even Utopia Parkway, connecting with the Q25, Q34, Q44 or Q65.


The roadway under Queens Boulevard would also have to be reconfigured. The approach to the bus stops would have to be restricted to buses only, to prevent private vehicles from beating the fare by dropping off passengers inside the fare control zone. This would also prevent through traffic from being blocked by stopped buses. I don’t know how much space there is under there for bus stops, so it may require devoting all four lanes of what’s currently considered Union Turnpike to buses and requiring cars to use the four middle lanes. However, it might only require one lane in each direction, in which case the barriers could be moved so that all car traffic has three lanes available to it.

grvsmth (Author)


  1. paco

    that would be a direct connection, but aren’t buses simply too big there. the tunnel is part of the jackie robinson parkway… and parkways have much shorter clearances than expressways. A bus would get stuck, and I recall once seeing a truck get stuck, have to deflate its tires and get dragged, causing hours of traffic delays. if the road were rebuilt above it may be more feasible, but that does sound like a tremendously costly project that may help connect buses to the subway but would love the ease of bus to bus transfers. And the older people taking the buses rely on not having to trek up and down painful stairs.

  2. grvsmth

    Good point, Paco! I did check the clearances; Google Street View shows a sign saying that the clearance is 12′ 10″ in the outer lanes. I’m pretty sure that even the natural gas buses are less than twelve feet high.,-73.830357&spn=0,359.890137&z=14&layer=c&cbll=40.714499,-73.830461&panoid=am_y8nYeox-bshGtW1SjKw&cbp=12,268.35,,0,2.61

    I’m very concerned about the needs of older and disabled people; my father was unable to climb stairs for years. However, there has been an elevator at the station for almost a year now.

    The current setup isn’t all that friendly to the mobility impaired: the various bus stops are scattered over a three-block area on both sides of the Boulevard. If all the buses but the Q60 stopped in the tunnel, then it would make it much easier to transfer from a westbound Q46 to a southbound Q10, for example.

  3. grvsmth

    On the Google Group for Transportation Alternatives’ Queens Committee, Scott Wolpow writes, “The bus used to stop there years ago, as did cars and Taxis.” Apparently there were turnstiles, since there was no free bus-subway transfer at the time. If anyone has more information about which buses stopped there, and when they eliminated this access, please leave a comment or contact me.

  4. Steve Scofield

    One real and legitimate objection will come from all the businesses on Queens Blvd
    and Kew Gardens Road that are utilized by riders making the transfer. I would rather see the current stop locations
    improved (curb cuts, shelters, benches,
    etc) and keep people on the street and not hurt small businesses. On-street intermodal nodes frequenly organically turn into
    lively ped-oriented commercial areas, and with a little help and good design, they
    can be fairly a relatively in a

  5. Joby Jacob

    This is a great idea! Obviously it would involve an infrastructure investment by both DOT and MTA. However, the bang for the buck would be quite high. Eliminating turns onto Queens Blvd and the crossings would indubitably shave time off the commute, speeding both bus service and probably improving traffic patterns for drivers as well. While businesses in front of the bus stop might be affected, thats generally the case with any change in bus routes or stops.
    What was the MTA brass’ reaction to your proposal at the meeting? Did you get a feel that they were positive or will they just pigeon hole your idea?

  6. John Truglio

    It sounds like a plan but so was the interoborough parkway and it cut the negiborhood in two. How about extending a pedestrian tunnel to union turnpike east
    along the side of borough hall. before the parking lot. As it is the buses and cabs make walking around unsafe. The Jackie Robinso and union turnpike need to be re-designed. remember the roadway was to promote the auto. Not pedestrian safty. i in the negiborhood for fifteen years and the last thing forest hills/Kew Gardens needs is more congestion.

  7. grvsmth

    Thanks for all the comments! Steve, as a small business owner myself, I think this is one area where we need to prioritize the transit system over profits. People will still need to buy things, for major purposes they’ll continue to go upstairs. For minor purchases, they’ll probably do it when they get off the bus or subway. This would create enough traffic to justify opening (or re-opening) a newsstand on the mezzanine, and possibly other businesses. Owners of businesses upstairs could be given priority for these concessions.

    Joby, I didn’t get to talk with the MTA, but I did mention it to DOT Queens Commissioner McCarthy; I described her reaction in the next blog post.

    John, you agree that it was a mistake to promote the auto and not pedestrian safety, right? I think this is a better plan than the Interboro.

  8. JS

    If I remember correctly, car access was eliminated during mid-80’s. When I moved to the area in the early 80’s, busses did not stop there.

  9. grvsmth

    Thanks, JS!

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