The futureNYCSubway: the vanshnookenraggen plan
In the drop down menu at the top of this site there is a new link for the futureNYCSubway series. When you click on it you will be brought to a giant map of New York City with the current subway and proposed extensions. Everything which is on that map I’ve explained in previous posts and I hope to soon ad a feature where you can click on the map to visit a description of the line I propose.
I started doing research for this series about 5 years ago after completing my futureMBTA project. I made a few maps but I soon realized just how ambitious it would be to come up with a plan since New York’s subway system is so impressive and has such a byzantine history.
Many people, when I’ve shown them my ideas, usually express similar feelings: this is great but this will never happen. I don’t make plans with the idea that this is something that will happen, more that these are ideas that could, maybe even should happen, but ultimately these are ideas to inspire others of what might actually be possible. Of course there are so many factors which contribute to a project of this size, one look at the history of the Second Ave Subway tells the tale perfectly.
Too many people see these plans in the present context of the way things work in New York (city and state) and how the MTA runs the system. The MTA is a man made structure and is imperfect. This should not dissuade others from trying to push for something better. If subway expansion can not happen in the current political climate then how do we create a climate in which such expansion could be feasible?
Another perceived issue which comes up to thwart expansion is the seemingly immovable object known as the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). While it is true that much of the current system was built when the city was still farmland, this doesn’t mean that it is now impossible to build a subway. New highways in cities are much more disruptive than a subway or even a light rail line. While no one can deny that construction is a nuisance, it is a small inconvenience in the big picture (and these inconveniences can be mitigated with diligent public outreach).
My modus operendi for all subway expansion plans I have laid out in this plan is real estate development. Remember, while the subways were built to address crowding on the former elevated and streetcar lines in the city, the main goal was to open up new areas of the city for development. Much of the land which was opened up was owned by the very companies which were building the lines as a way of making once cheap, undesirable land closer to the city (commuting time), thus increasing the land’s value. The problem today is that there are no longer vast tracts of farm land open for development inside the reach of subways.
But, while we can no longer keep going out, we can keep going up. In the last decade New York City has seen an increase in population such that the city now has a higher population than ever before; this is something no other post-industrial city which saw massive population drain after World War II can say. Planners expect an increase in population of a million people in the next 20 years. Even with this current economic slump these numbers seem plausible. While the mayor has spent millions on making the city more livable, he has only laid a small foundation when it comes to preparing the city’s transportation infrastructure for 1 million new residents.
This isn’t to say Mayor Bloomberg hasn’t done anything, in fact he has one of the most impressive records in terms of transportation improvements in generations. The Second Ave Subway, the 7 Line Extension, the East Side Access project, and the new Hudson River rail tunnel are quite a staggering list of projects to start in 8 years and he is to be commended. But a closer look at these projects reveals a lack of foresight in these projects which may leave the transportation infrastructure bottlenecked in the not too distant future.
The 7 Line Extension does not contain space for a station at 41st St and 10th Ave, an area of the city which has seen extreme gentrification and massive new residential towers grow in the last decade. The Second Ave Subway is not being built with space for an express track system which, if it is ever fully built out, will leave the East Side of Manhattan (and presumably parts of the South Bronx) with less than adequate coverage (to compensate for the all-local subway planners have spaced stations further apart, creating a lose-lose situation for people living on the east side of Manhattan.)
What impressed me when I first read about the IND Second System (even the first system, too) was how ambitious and far-sighted it was. Money wasn’t as much of a factor in the design because it was more important to serve as much of the city as possible (which isn’t to say money was no factor at all; in fact the stark modernist stations with little decoration was the city’s way of cutting cost). Today subway plans are continually cut back or castrated due to cost to the point where they can cause overcrowding problems on trains or, conversely, stunt growth in areas where stations were cut for budgetary reasons. The Second Ave Subway is a perfect example of this lack of foresight.
Many words have been written over the last decade about the lack of ambitious, large scale transportation plans. We look to the other side of the world and see how China is building whole subway and train systems from scratch in the time it takes for out paperwork to get through the labyrinth of our bureaucracy. This, or course, is due mostly to the fact that after World War II cities let the bulldozers loose for one large, often Federally funded, project after another in the name of progress. These projects, housing projects, highways, and everything else under the banner of Urban Renewal, shocked the populous who rightfully fought back. But now we see that swinging the pendulum to the other side, away from centralized large scale developments, can create a quagmire in which nothing can get done, even projects with widespread support. The irony is that many of the protesters who fought against Robert Moses and the highway builders wanted more mass transit, but the outcome of this fight was that the very powers which were needed to build more mass transit have been retarded.
Unfortunately I am not here to try and fix these problems. In fact I don’t think I should, as an individual, try. The political system we have is by nature a bottom-up one (as opposed to China’s top-down). I truly feel that the bottom up approach is, ultimately, the better one. The problem is that it takes a long time for change to occur as it takes a long time for a seed to grow into a tree. Changing society to the point where large mass transit projects like the ones I’ve looked at throughout this series are possible will take a generation or two. That may even be a good thing since by then the growth and traffic (as well as other unforeseen problems) will probably reach a tipping point where new subway expansion becomes the only option. The worry is that by that time we don’t know if the power and resources will be available to save us.
I write that last bit with slight trepidation since it is important to keep in mind that every time a new transit project is proposed it’s proponents point to the terrible problems that will occur if the project is not built. All projects are cast in this light, it seems, so I don’t want this series to come off as some sort of high-minded cure for some future dystopia. Many, if not most, of the projects outlined here will never see the light of day and some probably shouldn’t. The city is ever changing and a project which looks great today might not be as beneficial in 25 years.
One last thing I need to address is that throughout this series I haven’t brought up the numbers; what will these expansion plans actually cost? I’m not an engineer and I haven’t the foggiest idea what the raw numbers would be. Much of the cost overruns from projects like the Second Ave Subway or Boston’s Big Dig came from relocating existing utilities, many of which were not on existing maps. Another major factor is that because these projects take so long to complete the cost of materials will fluctuate during construction. Inflation is another major factor, but one which needs to be taken into consideration especially when comparing a new project to a subway which was built 60 years ago. When factoring in inflation the billions it would cost to build the Second Ave Subway are not far off from original estimates from long ago.
Since I’m also not an economist I am not going to try to devise a solution to the numbers problem. Like I said, the point of this series was not to devise a plan which would get built but rather try to create a plan which would inspire those in power, those with the technical knowledge, to find solutions to the problems of building such a system. In the past we seemed to have understood how to do great things but today we can hardly balance a budget and keep roads paved. The Vanshnookenraggen Plan for the Future of the New York City Subway is a vision of what is possible when we put petty politics aside and work for the greater good.
the vanshnookenraggen plan
I’ve explained in detail all the different plans in past posts so now I want to tie them together into a comprehensive plan. If you are unfamiliar with an extension plan you can link back to the post. I have numbered the different plans in order of which ones could/should be built first.
- The Second Ave Subway
The most obvious place to start since it is currently under construction, the Second Ave Subway project is today, as it is designed, short sighted. The full subway needs to be built with an express track with connections to the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges; a 2 track subway under Water St to connect with the IND Fulton St subway in downtown Brooklyn, a connection with the IND Queens Blvd Line, and three branches in the Bronx with a third express track.
The Second Ave Subway is the most important expansion project the city could undertake. The subway is needed to relieve not only the IRT Lexington Ave Line but also relieve pressure from Queens and downtown Brooklyn. Connections to Brooklyn would allow existing trains to be diverted to Second Ave while allowing BMT Broadway and IND 6th Ave trains to run with more frequency.
As part of the Second Ave Subway the IND Fulton St Subway in southern Queens should be extended as a 4 track subway from Gates Ave under Linden Blvd to the border with Nassau County. A new connection to the Rockaways would be built and the existing elevated tracks through Ozone Park would be demolished.
Another key part of the Second Ave Subway would be a new crosstown subway under 125th St as an extension of the Q Train (which in the current plan would terminate at 125th-Lexington Ave). A 125th Crosstown Line was proposed in passing by the former CEO of the MTA as a future extension. This extension, to Broadway on the west side, has just as much potential as the rest of the Second Ave project and should be seriously considered in future plans.
- Flushing Trunk Line
The fastest growing section of New York City in the last 20 years has been northwester Queens: Astoria, Elmhurst, Corona, Jackson Heights, and Flushing. This area is home to dense immigrant neighborhoods which are more transit dependent than other groups in the city. The area has very good housing stock but is under served by just the IRT Flushing Line 7 train and the IND Queens Blvd Line which swings south after Jackson Heights.
A new subway, built with 2 local tracks at first but with provisions for a second pair of express tracks, could be one of the best mass transit investments in the nation in terms of dollars per rider. After the IRT Lexington Ave Line the lines which converge at Long Island City are the most congested in the entire system and with the continued population growth in Queens it is projected that these lines will become only more congested.
The Flushing Trunk Line should be built to provide future expansion into College Point and eastern Queens as well as a future connection to a new crosstown subway in Manhattan. As part of this project the existing IRT Flushing Line 7 Train should be extended east to Bayside, Queens.
- Bushwick Trunk Line
It is difficult to recommend the Bushwick Trunk Line as just one entity since it is really six (6!) subways in one. In any other city a proposal of this size and scope would probably be all the city would ever need in terms of subways. Even cities in China which seemingly put up new subway systems overnight would see the Bushwick Trunk Line as a challenge. I’ll break it down into how I think the line should go about being built.
- Phase 1
A 6 track “shell” subway (a subway built so that new tracks can be added later) should be built from the Williamsburg Bridge under South 4 St to Union Ave to where there is an existing shell of a station. From here the 6 track “shell” subway would be built out to Myrtle Ave. For the time being only 4 tracks would be activated, a local and an express. The existing Broadway elevated tracks would be demolished from the bridge to Myrtle Ave. After Myrtle Ave the tracks would ascend to the surface and continue along the existing tracks along Myrtle Ave and Broadway.
- Phase 2
Extend 4 tracks from Myrtle Ave & Broadway under Myrtle Ave out to Fresh Pond Rd in Ridgewood. For the time being only 2 tracks would be used and the existing Myrtle Ave elevated tracks would be demolished (a connection to the Fresh Pond train yards would be constructed along the existing train tracks through Fresh Pond).
- Phase 3
Construct what is known as the Utica Ave Subway. Branching off the BMT Canarsie Line a 2 track subway under Bushwick Ave would connect with the lower level of the station at Myrtle Ave & Broadway. Past Myrtle Ave a 4 track subway would turn south along Reid Ave to Fulton St and then on to Eastern Parkway.
After Eastern Parkway the subway would be extended south along Utica Ave to a point in Flatlands, Brooklyn (such as Flatbush Ave). At some point a new connection between Manhattan and Williamsburg would be needed to accommodate service along the Utica Ave Line. A subway under East Broadway or a branch off of the IND 6th Ave Line under East Houston St would travel under the East River to connect with the 6 track subway at South 4th St.
- Phase 4
Construct a branch off of the IND Crosstown Line (G Train) which would continue east along Lafayette St to Broadway where it would turn north to connect with the Myrtle Ave Subway. From Fresh Pond Rd the 4 track subway would be extended out to Queens Blvd in Kew Gardens, Queens and eventually further east along Union Turnpike. As traffic demands, the line would be extended further east to the border with Nassau County.
- Phase 5
Add a second tunnel under the East River and build out a 4 track subway under Bushwick Ave to Broadway Junction which would replace the existing Broadway elevated tracks.
- Phase 1
- Crosstown Manhattan & Trans-Hudson Lines
Currently the IRT Flushing Line (7 Train) is being extended west from Times Sq to 10th Ave and south to 34th St but like the Second Ave Subway project this extension is being built in a way which will hurt the city in the future. A station at 10th Ave was discarded due to budget cuts and is an example of the totally backwards (e.g. suburban) way that transit planners/city officials are thinking about this project. A new station is being built in an area where no development will get off the grown for years to come but a station was cut for an area with an existing commuter base and massive new developments already under construction or open.
I am placing a new crosstown subway this low on the priority list because development on the Far West Side will take so long. A new subway under 50th St from 10th Ave to Long Island City will take pressure off of existing subways in Long Island City and bring commuters directly into the midtown Central Business District. A similar line was planned in the 1960s and 70s but budget problems killed the project. Eventually this line should be connected with the BMT 14th St-Canarsie Line to create a loop through the Far West Side, but this is dependent on new traffic from developments like the Hudson Yards which are years away.
As for new subway lines crossing the Hudson River into New Jersey, these are complicated by jurisdictional problems. If these can be overcome them the best options for new trans-Hudson subway service would be along the George Washington Bridge and an extension of the IRT Flushing Line into Hoboken and Jersey City, NJ.
- Staten Island Subway
While it would be faster to build a new line either under the harbor or through Bayone, NJ, it would ultimately be cheaper to build an extension of the BMT 4th Ave Line or of the IND Culver Line. A branch of the Culver Line was proposed in the IND Second System and would be the best option in terms of cost and capacity. The Culver Line has an unused express track which could be activated so that commuters could quickly travel from Staten Island to downtown Brooklyn and midtown Manhattan. A direct route from Staten Island to downtown Manhattan would bypass a potential employment destination in downtown Brooklyn (which today is most easily reached by car). A Culver Line extension would also allow for easy transfers to 8th Ave trains at Jay St and would allow the most flexibility in terms of routing.
On Staten Island itself I would recommend building a new subway through the center of the northern side of the island. Some plans have called for converting the Staten Island Railroad to subway clearances but I feel like it (the SIRR) works fine as it is now and that a new subway, perhaps along Victory Blvd or Forest Ave. This, however, would not be needed for some time to come and a subway terminal around St. Georges Ferry Terminal would suffice until commuting patterns justify an extension.
Besides a new subway, the North Shore of the Staten Island Railroad should be reactivated, either with existing rolling stock or with light rail.
- TriboroRX and Atlantic Ave Super-Express
The Triboro Rx travels against established commuting patterns to the point where ridership would be so low that a better investment would be to build an at grade road along the line for buses and trucks. However, I have included a complete Triboro Rx in my final plans since at some time in the future such a line may be needed and so the right-of-way should be kept up since it is too invaluable as a transit corridor not to consider. Because the line cuts through so many different parts of the city it could, conceivably, be built in sections where traffic demands (such as a crosstown shuttle in the south Bronx).
The Atlantic Ave Super-Express Line would be a better project since it runs along established commuting patters but it would also cut back LIRR capacity and run parallel existing subway service. The benefit to such a line would be for better expansion of subway service into Jamaica since existing lines would make such a commute painfully long. The Atlantic Ave Super-Express would also allow for the existing elevated tracks through eastern Brooklyn to be demolished and replaced with faster service, both local and express, into the city.
- 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