The last four posts have all been about the history of subway expansion in New York City. The remaining posts will focus on the future of subway expansion as I envision it. Many of the expansion plans I have incorporated into this expansion, not just an expanded Second Ave subway but system wide, have been based on many historical plans for expansion, hence all the history. Some of my plans are new, especially plans for Queens which developed after World War II and around the car rather than mass transit. When I’ve show my final map to friends they found it hard to visualize the changes I’ve made which is why I am going to go through each expansion plan and describe what’s new, what some alternatives are, and how it fits into the system today and the system of my dreams.
The map to the right is from the MTAs website showing the current phased plan for 2nd Ave subway construction. The red section is currently under construction containing stations at 72nd, 86th, and 96th streets. The blue section above that is Phase 2 running north to 125th St where provisions would be made for further extension under 125th St and north into the Bronx. Stations here are placed at 106th, 116th, and 125th streets (the dashed section of the map indicated sections of tunnel already constructed from the 1970s.) Phase 3 is the yellow section running south from 63rd St to Houston St. Stations are planned at 55th, 42nd, 34th, 23rd, 14th, and Houston streets. The final phase is the green section running from Houston St under south to Hanover Sq in the Financial District. Stations are planned at Grand (which is already there), Chatham Sq, Seaport (at about Fulton and Pearl Sts), and Hanover Sq. The current plan is a stripped down version of the 1968 plan which itself is a stripped down version of the original plan. As built the 2nd Ave subway will be only two tracks running from 125th St to Hanover Sq with only one local train, the T, from Hanover Sq to 63rd st and two local trains, the T and the Q, up to 125th St. Construction on Phase 1 has been pushed back to 2016. After that there are no solid plans for the other phases.
I advocate that the only way for the 2nd Ave subway to really put a dent into curbing congestion along the east side of Manhattan AND to allow for expanded service into the other boroughs that a second set of tracks be constructed for express service from 125th St to Houston St. Given that the majority of this route has not been constructed it would still be possible to build at a lower cost than building a second set of tracks below the tracks being constructed now. The MTA already shaved down the 72nd St station from 3 tracks to 2 (a third track would have aided in trains switching from the 2nd Ave subway into the 63rd St subway). At the very least they could design the new line to allow for future expansion to 4 tracks (as they did when building the 6th Ave line whose express tracks weren’t built for another 20 years after the local tracks.)
As it is designed now the 2nd Ave subway will only carry 2 local trains from 125th St to 63rd St. Below at 63rd St there will be a connection to the Queens Blvd line (F train) and though no plans have been released to indicate what kind of service will run here this means that potentially there will also be two local trains running from 63rd St to Hanover Sq. An express track would only be necessary when service is extended north into the Bronx but not allowing for an express track will only make that future expansion all the more expensive.
In addition to not having an express track, the stations along the line are spaced further apart than many of the other subways in Manhattan. For instance on the Lexington Ave line there are stations at 59th, 68th, 77th, and 86th streets while on the 2nd Ave line stations are further apart, at 55th, 72nd, and 86th streets. Further south there is no station at St Marks between 14th St and Houston St. St Marks is THE main street of the East Village and a major area of nightlife activity. Omitting a station here is a terrible idea. The reasons for spacing stations so far apart is due to the lack of express service; making local service faster (from fewer stations) is a cheaper alternative but one that ends up hurting the East Side. I advocate for adding two stations and relocating a third; move 55th St to 57th St and add an additional station at 50th or 49th St in Turtle Bay and add a station at St Marks.
- Ave C Spur
The first extension alternative is one proposed by the TransportPolitic which would serve one of the few areas of Manhattan that would still not have rapid transit even after the 2nd Ave subway is completed. On the east side of Manhattan there is a large bulge south of 23rd street; the Lower East Side, East Village, and Alphabet City (so named because of the Avenues A, B, C, and D). Because of this bulge east side residents have to walk the furthest of all Manhattanites to reach subways. The area is bordered on the north, south, and west by ample subway service but the heart of the area, home to some of the poorest residents in the borough, is still a very long walk away. This proposal creates a spur line that branches off the 2nd Ave trunk line at 14th St and then heads south along Ave B or Ave C. In the TransportPolitic plan there would be stops at Tompkins Sq and Delancey (under the Williamsburg Bridge) and connections to the L and F trains at 14th St and East Broadway, respectively. This plan is not without precedent as the former 2nd Ave elevated line, which ran up 2nd Ave until 1940, actually made a similar jog in its route when at 23rd St it would turn off 2nd Ave and move over to 1st Ave to better serve the very dense Lower East Side.
- 8th Ave Subway Connection
One of the original proposals for the 2nd Ave subway back in the 1920s was, when reaching downtown, to have the line loop back north via a connection with the 8th Ave subway. A second proposal from that time had a spur of the 8th Ave subway branch off at Worth St that would travel up East Broadway and into Williamsburg. As a hybrid of these two proposals, the Ave C alignment would run under East Broadway and continue along Park Row and Chambers St where it would connect with the 8th Ave subway. This connects express service from the Lower East Side to downtown and express service on the West Side, acting as a default cross town connection. This would better connect the Lower East Side to virtually every other part of Manhattan as well as lines into Brooklyn. The 8th Ave local (E) already terminates at World Trade Center and could easily be routed back north as a second 2nd Ave local service to 63rd St, creating in a way a starting at Queens Plaza, running along the West Side to downtown, then returning to Queens via the 2nd Ave subway.
- Williamsburg Bridge Connection
Taking a proposal from the 1950s, this would effectively terminate the 2nd Ave subway at Houston St (where Phase 3 is planned to end anyway) and connect it directly to existing subway tracks to Williamsburg via the Chystie St Cut. In this proposal service would replace the M train to Metropolitan Ave-Middle Village but service could also be extended to Broadway Junction, Canarsie, or Jamaica.
- Manhattan Bridge Connection
Ending the 2nd Ave subway at Houston St would also allow connection to the Manhattan Bridge via Grand St. When Grand St station was constructed it was designed to allow future 2nd Ave service to be built around it (by this I mean the walls on each platform would be demolished and an outside set of tracks from the 2nd Ave subway would surround the station creating two island platforms.) As service along 2nd Ave in the Upper East Side will be provided by the Q train, which runs over the Manhattan Bridge, it is possible to continue the 2nd Ave service along the Brighton Beach line (todays B train) or even along the 4th Ave subway in Brooklyn out to Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, or Coney Island. These two connections would be a good alternative if construction costs rise so much that Phase 4 of the 2nd Ave subway is postponed.
- Broad St Connection
One proposal looked at for Phase 4 of the 2nd Ave subway was to connect it directly to the Centre/Broad St subways (J/Z). The proposal looked at had the connection made at Delancey St which may necessitate the destruction of the Bowery station (or the destruction of the half of the station which is currently unused). The reason that such a connection was weighed is that there is a second set of tracks along this section of subway which have been unused since the completion of the Chystie St Cut. These tracks once connected Chambers St with the Manhattan Bridge. This proposal slightly alters this route by making the connection further south, after Grand St, to the unused tracks that run from the Bowery under Canal St to Centre St (click here to see a tack map of the area showing the unused tracks I am referring to). Service to Williamsburg would terminate at Chambers St and the 2nd Ave line would continue through Broad St to Whitehall-South Ferry and on into Brooklyn where it could easily pick up service out to Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Coney Island, or Brighton Beach.
- New East River Tunnel
Phase 4 extends the 2nd Ave subway from Houston St to Hanover Sq. The final alternative would be a new tunnel under the East River (2 tracks) which would connect the 2nd Ave subway from Hanover Sq to the Court St station (now used as the NY Transit Museum but would at this time be converted to revenue service.) Since Court St station was originally a real subway station it connects to Hoyt-Schermerhorn station along the set of tracks into the outer most platforms at Hoyt-Schermerhorn. If you go to Hoyt-Schermerhorn station you will notice a platform on each side that is closed and covered in dirt, these were for trains heading to Court St and were shut after Court St was closed (click here for a tack map showing the unused tracks and platforms). This would allow 2nd Ave service to run straight through central Brooklyn and into southern Queens, also connecting Midtown East and Downtown to JFK Airport. As proposed, the 2nd Ave subway does not make a connection to the 8th Ave line so this would allow wuick transfers to be made for commuters from central Brooklyn to the east side of Manhattan.
- 125th St Crosstown Line
The current Phase 2 of the 2nd Ave subway is planned to terminate at 125th St-Lexington Ave with connections to the 4/5/6 trains and MetroNorth. There has been speculation that this would inevitably lead to an extension of the line from Lexington Ave to Broadway under 125th St, thus creating a crosstown subway line. 125th is the main street of Harlem and as anyone who has ever tried to take a bus crosstown on 125th street can attest to it is very congested. Commuters on the west side would no longer have to take crosstown buses or travel down to 42nd St to travel to the east side. A crosstown line would also siphon off riders from the other major trunk subways (Broadway, 8th Ave, Lenox Ave, and Lexington Ave) from the Bronx over to the east side thereby reducing congestion along all of upper Manhattan. The TransportPolitic also has a good write up about advantages of a 125th St-Crosstown line and why it should have priority over a fully built 2nd Ave subway.
- 3rd Ave/MetroNorth Alignment
Manhattan was once lined north to south with elevated trains and the east side had two, the 3rd Ave el and the 2nd Ave el. At 129th street in Harlem the two lines merged and headed into the Bronx along a route between Alexander Ave and Willis Ave north to 149th St where they split, one branch heading east to West Farms (todays 2/5 trains) and another heading north to Fordham and Norwood where at Gun Hill Road the lines once again merged to finally terminate at 242st St in Wakefield. The line that headed north ran along 3rd Ave in the central Bronx, home to thriving Italian first and second generation families escaping the tenement districts along the east side of Manhattan. The 3rd Ave el in Manhattan was torn down in 1955 but the section from 149th St to Gun Hill Rd remained. From the 1960s on this section of the Bronx saw the worst of white flight and urban decay. Many of the famous sights from that time of graffiti covered elevated trains rumbling through an urban wasteland were of the 3rd Ave el. When the MTA had the subway lines renamed in 1960s the 3rd Ave el was known as the 8 train (as it was part of the IRT system). The line was eventually torn down in 1973. Since then this major section of the Bronx has had no direct subway service into Manhattan.
The 3rd Ave alignment would build a 4 track subway from the Harlem River up under 3rd Ave to 161st street in Melrose. From here the line would split; to the east are lines to Co-op City and Throgs Neck while heading north under 3rd Ave would be a three track subway to Fordham. A possibly cheaper alternative would be to run the 3rd Ave line up along the MetroNorth railroad right-of-way. This was proposed as a replacement for the 3rd Ave el back in 1968 and was one of the reasons the elevated tracks were torn down. Since the alignment is only a few blocks away from 3rd Ave this makes it a more attractive alternative but would not directly serve major retail and commercial corridors or St. Barnabas Hospital.
In addition to this alignment, the Grand Concourse line (B/D) would be extended one station further to Gun Hill Road to connect with the 3rd Ave subway and allow 2nd Ave subway trains to access the train yards on Jerome Ave to the west.
- South Bronx Bypass
I call this the South Bronx Bypass because unlike the 3rd Ave alignment which would directly serve major commercial sections of the South Bronx and connect with the 2/4/5/6 lines at major transfer stations like The Hub, the bypass would pass all of the South Bronx by traveling along a railroad right-of-way along the Bronx Kills to Port Morris, then along the New Haven/Northeast Corridor rail line through Hunts Point and on into the eastern Bronx. This would have the effect of serving undeserved areas of the Bronx with a quicker connection to Manhattan but would, as stated, bypass major commercial neighborhoods and transfer stations. While this is an attractive option due to cost, when taking into consideration the economic benefits lost by a bypass it looks much less attractive. In order for mass transit to be effective it needs to serve large centers of activity. Bypassing around the South Bronx seems like a very suburban way to plan a subway line and a suburban line in one of the most urban places in the world just won’t work.
- Co-op City Line
Branching off the 2nd Ave subway at 3rd Ave OR continuing north from the South Bronx Bypass, the Co-op City line would run along the right-of-way of the New Haven/Northeast Corridor rail line. This is one of the oldest railroads cutting through the Bronx and much of the eastern section of the borough developed along the railroad which once had a number of stations. Today there are no stations (plans have been floated to add MetroNorth stations at Hunts Point, Parkchester, and Co-op City) but there is ample room for a 2 track local subway service running along side. When the line reaches the Hutchinson River Parkway it would swing north and travel elevated along the New England Thruway (I-95) to Co-op City at 222nd St. Since its construction beginning in 1968, Co-op City has relied on express bus service to Manhattan. The development is cut off from the rest of the city by the Thruway and building a subway line to it would help knit it into the fabric of the city as well as finally serve areas where trains now only run through, not stop.
- Throgs Neck Line
Part of both the original IND Second System from 1929 and the updated plans a decade later was a line to Throgs Neck though Hunts Point and Unionport. The area was mostly developed after World War II and is today the poorest congressional area in the nation. Surrounded by highways and the only subway running almost a mile away, these neighborhoods are highly transit dependent but completely undeserved. Splitting off the 2nd Ave trunk line at 161st street in Melrose, the initial four track line would run due east under 163rd St before splitting at Hunts Point Ave. Originally the plan was to run the Throgs Neck line under Lafayette Ave but an alternative would be to have the line swing south a bit to directly serve Hunts Point before continuing under Lafayette Ave. The line would be 2 track, local service.
- Eastchester Line Conversion
Since the city acquired the Eastchester/Dyre Ave line (5) from the defunct New York, Westchester and Boston Railroad in 1940 there have been plans to incorporate the line into the 2nd Ave system. For many years the Eastchester line was merely a shuttle from 180th St to Dyre Ave as it awaited connections to a subway which was never built. Eventually a direct connection was created between the line and the White Plains (2/5) line for direct connection to Manhattan. When the stations were upgraded from railroad stops to subway stations they were built with temporary platform extensions to allow for IRT trains to run (IRT, numbered, trains are narrower than BMT and IND, lettered, trains). The alternative to the Co-op City line would follow the old New York, Westchester and Boston line right-of-way from where it merged with the New Haven/Northeast Corridor line at 174th St. This conversion may or may not end up being a more affordable alternative since it would disrupt service to a major section of the Bronx while conversion took place and not serve any additional areas.
An hybrid plan that would satisfy both issues of congestion and under served areas would be to build the Co-op City line along the New Haven/Northeast Corridor line but with an additional set of tracks; one set for the Co-op City line and and another set that would connect the Pelham Bay line (6 train) to 180th St station along the old New York, Westchester and Boston line right-of-way. This service would take over from the 5 train which would then permanently run at the White Plains line. The new service would be called the 8 train.
- Queens Boulevard Express
Because of the direct connection between the 2nd Ave subway and the Queens Blvd line via the 63rd St tunnel, 2nd Ave service can easily be routed along the Queens Blvd line. Currently the only train that passes through the 63rd St subway is the F train. Because of this there are two alternatives for 2nd Ave-Queens service: Queens Blvd local which would bypass Queens Plaza station making all local stops after, or Queens Blvd express service which would parallel the F train out to Jamaica, making all express stops only. Local service would mean that Queens Blvd riders would have and express and local set of trains that head into midtown via the 53rd st tunnel (E/M) and an express and local set of trains that head into the 63rd St tunnel. This would balance the headways for each tunnel. The downside to this approach is that there would be 3 local trains and headways would be cut back on all three to accommodate the additional train line. The second service option would be to have express service only. Because any 2nd Ave service would share tracks with Queens Blvd express (F train), the headways of that train could be cut back in such a way that both express trains could run at the same headways of a single line. The problem with either routing is that having 5 different train lines on 4 tracks means that some of the trains get cut back to make room. This wouldn’t be a problem if all the trains kept to the same line but then don’t. When they enter Manhattan they all switch to different subways which will affect headways there too (the ripple effect of adding a new train in one section of subway).
- Super-express Line
An alternative to balancing headways would be to revive the 1960s plan of building a super-express line parallel to the Queens Blvd line along the LIRR Main line. The advantage to such a line would be a much quicker trip for commuters coming from further out in Queens. Any expansion into eastern Queens needs to deal with the long distance from Manhattan. As it is now an express train from Forest Hills takes 40 min to get into Midtown. Imagine if you are coming from as far out as Queens Village! A super-express allows for tight headways along the local route (Queens Blvd) by providing a high-speed route bypassing all switches and stations. The early plans for a super-express line had it following the LIRR Main line into Jamaica Center but with the express track on the Queens Blvd line after Forest Hills not in use a much cheaper connection could be made at Forest Hills. 2nd Ave service would then run from Queensbridge to Forest Hills-71st St uninterrupted and on eastward to Jamaica.
- Long Island Expressway Alignment
Early plans for expanded Queens service from the 1920s and 1930s called for service along Horace Harding Blvd, a wide and important road that ran through the heart of eastern Queens. This thoroughfare was so important that decades later Robert Moses used it to construct the Long Island Expressway to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, opening up a quick automobile route from New York to Long Island. In typical Moses fashion he left no room for possible rapid transit along his highway (to the chagrin of transit planners). Still, planners thought that such a wide right-of-way would prove useful. An elevated line could be constructed along the median which would not do any more harm to the neighborhoods through which it runs (as opposed to building an elevated line along a quite residential street). Planers in the 1960s proposed several LIE subway alternatives, one connecting to the planned super-express line (unbuilt) and one connecting to the Queens Blvd line.
The AirTrain which runs from Jamaica Center to JFK Airport runs on a smaller version of an elevated structure along the median of the Van Wyck Expressway (click here for a Streetview Google Map of what this elevated train looks like). A similar arrangement could work here providing fast subway service from Manhattan to the major residential and commercial centers in central Queens. Park-and-ride facilities could also be constructed above sunken sections of the highway to allow for better integration into the mostly suburban, auto centric development of eastern Queens.
- Rockaway Cutoff Alignmnet
Subway service to the Rockaways had been a priority for the city from the early days of the Independent subway of the 1920s. Early plans called for various ways to connect the far off peninsula to the system; one connected the Rockaways via both the Queens Blvd line at Roosevelt Ave and a new trunk line through northern Brooklyn, a later plan called for express service from the Rockaways to connect to the Queens Blvd line at Forest Hills. This version would branch off from the super-express line at Rego Park and follow the abandoned right-of-way south through Forest Hills, Parkside, and Woodhaven where it would connect to the existing subway service to the Rockaways. This connection would slash the time it takes for riders to get to Midtown by bypassing downtown Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan.
- Fulton St Subway Extension
Built as the main Brooklyn trunk line as part of the IND system in the 1930s, the Fulton St subway replaced the Fulton St elevated line which ran from downtown Brooklyn to Broadway Junction. As a more affordable option to expanding subway service to southern Queens the city connected the Fulton St subway to the Liberty Ave elevated line in Ozone Park. In the 1950s the city captured the Rockaways branch right-of-way and connected it to the Fulton St subway as well. Because of these connections the A train now has three different terminals, at Lefferts Blvd, Rockaway Park, and Far Rockaway.
To better serve areas of southern Queens that have developed after World War II, the Fulton St subway should be extended from Euclid Ave along Pitkin Ave to Linden Blvd as a 4 track subway. Where the extension meets the Rockaways branch a new connection will be built so that express trains from the Fulton St subway can run to the Rockaways. The Fulton St Extension will continue east under Linden Blvd as 3 tracks for rush hour express service out to 235th St and Cross Island Parkway. The existing Liberty Ave elevated structure will then be torn down. 2nd Ave service would then run along the Fulton St subway and extension into either the Rockaways or further east to South Jamaica.
- Far Rockaway Branch Conversion
The Far Rockaway Branch of the LIRR (not to be confused with the abandoned Rockaways branch I wrote about above) has been proposed to be converted from LIRR service to subway service as far back as the 1960s. When the Archer Ave subway through Jamaica Center was being planned, planners envisioned that an affordable solution to providing southeastern Queens with subway service would be to build along LIRR right-of-ways, thereby allowing LIRR trains faster through service and providing subway service to areas that were once bypassed by LIRR trains.
Lack of funding killed this dream but it is still on the minds of many planners. Here, the Far Rockaway Branch would be converted to subway service with Queens Blvd trains connecting to the aforementioned Fulton St subway extension, thereby creating a “loop” service which would begin at Cross Island Parkway, travel along the Queens Blvd line into Manhattan, down 8th Ave, though Brooklyn along the Fulton St subway, and terminate again at Cross Island Parkway. This service could also run along the 2nd Ave and 6th Ave subways.
A converted Far Rocakway Branch would not cut off LIRR service to Far Rockaway. Not a mile to the east runs the West Heampstead Branch with only one station at St Albans. Far Rockaway trains could easily run along this track allowing for more local subway stations on the converted right-of-way. I will be coming back to this alignment in a future post.
- Hillside Ave Subway Extension
The final option for expanded 2nd Ave service would be to run the 2nd Ave-Queens Blvd Line out along Hillside Ave, currently where the F train terminates. The subway was planned to be expanded eastward as development occurred in the area after World War II but the subway only made it one more station. The area is now densely populated and home to many transit dependent commuters. A 2 track extension from 179th St along Hillside Ave to Springfield Blvd in Queens Village is one of the better plans for subway expansion. At Springfield Blvd the line could continue along Hillside Ave to the border with Nassau County or could turn south along Braddock Ave, terminating at Jamaica Ave in Bellerose.
The Second Ave subway is not just a subway built to relieve congestion along the east side of Manhattan but it is the ground work for a much bolder vision; it is a new backbone for subway service throughout New York City. A fully expanded system connecting to existing lines and new areas will reduce congestion on not only the Lexington Ave subway but many other subways that service the city. The worry is that the MTA will try and build the cheapest subway it can which would end up haunting the city for generations. The Second Ave subway system I’ve laid out here adds almost 50 miles of new subway lines to the city and could be incorporated into existing lines so that existing trains could be used for improved service elsewhere (e.g. running the 2nd Ave line to Brighton Beach would allow the B train to potential be used for express service along the Culver Line to Coney Island through Park Slope.) The reason I chose the Second Ave Subway as the launching off point for this series is not because it is the most famous of all proposed subway lines but because it is the most important. Almost every other subway expansion project I talk about would only be adding more stress to the current system without the Second Ave Subway. This subway is crucial to the continued economic development and population growth of New York City and the region. The current NYC subway is now seeing ridership levels it hasn’t seen in 60 years, except 60 years ago there was 30 miles of more track to service those riders. The subways slimmed down over the ensuing decades due to financial hardships and population loss, but the city is rebounding and a fully built Second Ave subway system will be key to this continued growth.
- IND Second System
- Post War Expansion
- The Second Ave Subway: History
- The Second Ave Subway: To The Bronx and the Nassau Line
- Brooklyn: Bushwick Trunk Line
- Manhattan: West Side and Hudson Crossings
- Queens: Flushing Trunk Line
- Staten Island: The Last Frontier
- TriboroRX and Atlantic Ave Super-Express
- Conclusion: the vanshnookenraggen plan