For those who frequently travel by air and other forms of public transit, a major inconvenience can be the “second” trips between one’s home and departure airport and one’s arrival airport and ultimate destination. In many areas, the only options are driving and paying exorbitant parking fees at the airport, expensive and often unreliable taxis and renting a car, which may not be appropriate when one’s ultimate destination is a city center with limited or prohibitively expensive parking. All the auto-based options also subject the user to getting stuck in traffic and risking missing a plane that won’t wait or an important meeting at the ultimate destination. Many cities provide an answer to this problem with direct transit links to their major commercial airports. Traveling to cities like Boston, Chicago and Atlanta is a pleasure due to the existence of inexpensive, direct rapid transit service between the airport and downtown. I’ve written about the direct bus service between the airport and downtown in New Orleans (not as good as rail transit, but a viable option for smaller metro areas). I’ve also written about CDTA’s virtual failure to provide such service in our area, though I think there could be a demand for it, especially if routed via Wolf Road and the Bus Plus route to downtown Albany, perhaps extending across the river to the Amtrak station.
In planning an international trip from which J. F. Kennedy airport in New York City is my air departure point, I was reminded of New York’s utter failure in this important area. After alighting from Amtrak in New York’s Penn Station, I would expect the greatest city in the world to offer a direct rail connection from that transit hub to the airport that is that city’s international gateway. Instead, what I get is the option of schlepping to either the Long Island Railroad (quicker but more expensive) or the subway, from which I need to change to another train to get to the airport.
What’s the big deal, you may ask? The web sites I’ve consulted do not indicate whether the change of trains in Jamaica (assuming the Long Island Railroad option, which I plan to use) is across the platform or requires climbing stairs (with the luggage for an international trip), which would preclude all but the physically robust from using it (I assume the subway option does involve stairs, which is why I’m springing for the LIRR). Another change of conveyance also offers the traveler (especially if not proficient in English) another chance to get on the wrong train, and it offers another chance for a missed connection due to bad weather or mechanical breakdown.
Flying to JFK (and having to get from one terminal to another) is cost-prohibitive. Taxis and buses are subject to getting stuck in traffic, a risk I cannot take due to my schedule. For me, the two-train option is the only practical one, though far less desirable than a one-train option would be. I will hope for the best, and upon my return write a post about how it works out.
Obviously, it is difficult if not impossible to overlay new transit lines in a fully-developed environment such as New York, and the visionaries who planned its airports did not consider direct rail links necessary.* Nonetheless, I find in difficult to believe that the greatest city in the world cannot have found a way (with its various transit partners) to provide a direct rail link between JFK (and its other airports) and midtown Manhattan, even it the route it follows is not the shortest. If it really is impossible, how about a system of HOV lanes on the highways linking the airports with midtown so that bus service can operate with less likelihood of traffic delay?
*Update (10/9/12)– my recent re-reading of Caro’s biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, reveals that one of Moses’s staff members suggested reserving land in the median of the Van Wyck Expressway, when it was being constructed to serve the airport, for future transit use. Moses, a strong opponent of public transit, vetoed the suggestion.