New York

The futureNYCSubway: Expanding the Crosstown Line

The problem with the G train

gMany words have been written about the G train, how it doesn’t go to Manhattan, how it doesn’t run frequently enough, how it runs with fewer cars that don’t span the long platforms so you have to run to catch it. Many people who live and work along the G train both loath and need the train at the same time. For all of its faults its still better than no train at all; it may take a while but you can transfer to another line at some point.

A map showing proposed elevated crosstown route through Brooklyn using the Franklin Ave Line.  Selection from a map issued by the Chamber of Commerce of the Borough of Queens. 1915

Maps showing proposed elevated crosstown route through Brooklyn using the Franklin Ave Line. Selection from a map issued by the Chamber of Commerce of the Borough of Queens. 1915

The problem with the G train is that it’s a compromise: when subways through Brooklyn and Queens were first being proposed a much more robust and interconnected subway was envisioned. As money and politics favored subways through Manhattan and into parts of Brooklyn the plans for a line connecting Queens and Brooklyn were whittled down from a network of loop-line subways that would have run into Manhattan to an elevated line running from Queens Plaza to Coney Island. This too was eventually rejected as Brooklyn residents wanted no new elevated tracks built.

What was eventually built, what we are left with today, is a collage of four different subway plans combined together, each with their own merits but together they don’t quite create a successful whole. Originally the G train ran from Smith-9th St in Red Hook to Forest Hills-71st Av. Even this was an odd routing as it meant that riders along the IND Queens Boulevard Line would always have to transfer from the local G train to an express E or F train if they wanted to get to Manhattan and riders along the IND South Brooklyn and BMT Culver Lines (today’s F train south of Jay St-MetroTech) would rather wait for a G train to pass to hop on a train to Manhattan.

The only sections that ran through new territory, those that ran through Bedford-Stuyvesant, Williamsburg and Greenpoint still required passengers to transfer to get to Manhattan. When first proposed a subway under Lafayette Ave in Brooklyn was meant to run into Manhattan but expansion plans were thwarted by the mayor who wanted, and eventually built, his own city-run subway (the Independent or IND). What is ever stranger is that no direct connection was built at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station meaning that trains from Manhattan could never connect to the Crosstown Line’s tracks. This at least would have allowed a direct Manhattan-Lafayette Ave train service to run. The section of subway running north-south through Greenpoint and Williamsburg had originally been proposed to continue south all the way to Coney Island and north to the Queensboro Plaza station. The Franklin Ave Shuttle would have been taken over which would have provided a rapid transit link to Long Island City from anywhere in central Brooklyn. A direct connection to the Queensboro Plaza station could have provided for a crosstown line that could have terminated in midtown and thus removed the need for a final transfer.

Had any one of these different sections been designed to maximum potential it is conceivable that any crosstown service could have been a backup along routes that all ran into Manhattan. Oddly enough, much of the reason for the round about routing of the G train was due to Brooklyn boosters who convinced the powers that be that there would be a high demand for commuters between Queens and Brooklyn. This never materialized which led the city to eventually reroute more Queens Boulevard trains into Manhattan and sever the link that the G train offered between Queens and Brooklyn. Today the G train terminates at Court Sq where an oddly laid out transfer is required to get anywhere (a moving sidewalk gets you a block away to the 23rd St platforms of the E and M while a newly constructed headhouse allows a transfer to the 7 train. Had planners had more foresight the IND Queens Plaza station could have been designed to act as a terminal for crosstown trains but because it wasn’t the G train is left cut off from any convenient means of transfer.


The MTA is well aware of the problems with the G train and given the growth over the last decade and the slim budget they have for new projects it must be noted that steps have been taken to make it better. Service has been extended south to Church St so that transfers can be made to the R train at 4th Av-9th St, the new headhouse and transfer at Court Sq was built so that an easier connection could be made to trains in Long Island City, and starting this week the MTA has increased service 25% at rush hour. All great first steps but I want to look further to see what can be done to transform the Crosstown Line. Development along the Crosstown corridor from Park Slope to Long Island City has been booming and even with a lull from the recession development seems to going faster than ever. More service will be needed and new connections made to ensure efficient use of the subways we have.

Queens Plaza Station

Queens Plaza Track Map: Current Layout and Proposed

Queens Plaza Track Map: Current Layout and Proposed. Not to scale.

As I noted above the Queens Plaza station was never designed to be a terminal for Brooklyn-Queens crosstown trains. It was, in fact, designed to be a terminal for Queens Boulevard local trains with the idea that local trains would act as a feeder for the express trains and anyone looking to continue to Manhattan would transfer at Queens Plaza to the express trains to midtown. Commuter patterns turned out to prefer direct, one-seat rides rather than transfers even if this meant longer travel times and the crosstown-as-local service was supplanted by a direct connection to Manhattan via the BMT Broadway Line (today’s R train). This connection by itself was an improvement as riders now had three trains to Manhattan and one to Brooklyn. When the 63rd St tunnel was connected to the Queens Boulevard Line (F train) in 2001 service became complicated. The new connection meant that a fifth train (M train) was added to an already contested subway that provided additional local service to Manhattan. As the G train had the lowest ridership of the Queens Boulevard lines and was soon cut back to late night and weekend service. With budget cuts the line was cut back even further to the current terminal at Court Sq.

The Court Sq terminal is a problem because it leaves riders just short of the major transfer station and Queens Plaza. The MTA decided it was a better use of funds to construct an elaborate mega-station connecting the 23rd-Ely Av station of the E and M trains and the 45 Rd-Courthouse Sq station of the 7 train. While these stations are within a block of each other this still requires an inconvenient transfer. Terminating the G train at Queens Plaza would be preferred but due to the track layout doing so would back up service throughout the system as trains from the IND 8th Ave, 6th Ave, and BMT Broadway lines converge here (G trains would have to turn around by crossing ever set of tracks while all other trains waited).

A solution lies in the connection that caused this problem in the first place: the 63rd St tunnel connection to the Queens Boulevard subway between Queens Plaza and 36th St. When originally conceived the 63rd St tunnel was supposed to connect to a new subway running along the Long Island Railroad Main Line to Forest Hills to act as a superexpress line. Funding dried up after the tunnel under the East River was built which left the subway ending randomly at 21st Av in Long Island City. A connection was made to the Queens Boulevard Line cutting off the G train after Queens Plaza. What could be done is expanding the junction where the 63rd St tunnel meets the Queens Boulevard Line to allow for the local tracks off of Queens Plaza station to diverge and turn east to a new track yard with a connection to the 63rd St tunnel (see diagram above). This, combined with switching the F and M train routing, would allow space for crosstown trains to terminate at Queens Plaza while allowing local Queens Boulevard service to run to Manhattan either via 63rd St or the 60th St BMT Broadway Line tunnel. Riders would still have all options when commuting between Queens and Manhattan while on weekends (when the M train isn’t running) the F would be routed through the 63rd St tunnel as it is today. Additionally the new yard would be the connection needed to build the superexpress line out to Forest Hills if so needed.

Brighton Beach Branch

kI’ve outlined this plan before, first in my Franklin Ave Shuttle post and then when I added it to my futureNYCSubway v2 and v3. The idea isn’t a new one, to use the vestigial Franklin Ave Shuttle to connect with the Crosstown Line and create a Queens to Coney Island subway. This was proposed a century ago when the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Co was expanding via the Dual Contracts. The plan was for an elevated line to slice a north-south path through Brooklyn and terminate at Queensboro Plaza. Local opposition killed the elevated idea and Mayor Hylan cut off the southern section when he had the IND build the Crosstown Line as it is today (I also speculate that the proposed Stuyvesant Ave/Utica Ave subway was meant to serve a similar purpose while depriving the BMT of passengers).

Franklin Ave Shuttle Extension

Franklin Ave Shuttle Extension from Fulton St to Lafayette Ave.

What would make a connection feasible is that between Classon Ave and Bedford-Nostrand Ave stations is space for a third track which was built at Bedford-Nostrand with a two track layup east of the station. In practice this third track is used for short turning trains while maintenance is done so that half the line can continue to operate (if only the L train was so lucky to have a third track!). Most transit historians will tell you that this third track was also built to allow for an extension of the subway under Lafayette Ave into Bushwick, something that was discussed in the IND Second System plan. While this is certainly a worthy expansion idea I feel that a much more useful plan would be to extend the third track west and then south under Franklin Ave to connect with the Franklin Ave Shuttle and then the main BMT Brighton Beach Line.

Areas of Brooklyn with no access to the IND Crosstown Line.

Areas of Brooklyn with no access to the IND Crosstown Line.

Such a connection would immediately address two problems with Brooklyn based transit: first it would give commuters from southern Brooklyn a much faster and less congested service to northern Brooklyn, Queens, and into Midtown by bypassing downtown Brooklyn and lower Manhattan (a Select Bus Service has recently been introduced along the Bedford/Nostrand Ave corridor from Sheepshead Bay to Williamsburg which illustrates the need for such an alignment), and second it would allow any commuter coming from eastern and southeastern Brooklyn a subway connection to northern Brooklyn (by which I mean if you are coming from East New York on the 3 train you can’t transfer anywhere to get to northern Brooklyn or LIC). As illustrated by the map to the left you can see that this is a large area of Brooklyn that cannot use the Crosstown Line. Even riders on the IND Fulton St Line have to first head into downtown Brooklyn before transferring to the IND Crosstown Line. A connection via the Franklin Ave Shuttle would literally open up new areas of Brooklyn to a quicker commute to Queens and reduce congestion in downtown Brooklyn and lower Manhattan.

An added benefit to a connection with the BMT Brighton Beach Line is that this additional crosstown service could run as a shuttle on nights and weekends should the traffic not warrant full service. The shuttle would go from the existing terminal at Prospect Park to Bedford-Nostrand and still provide commuters with a connection to northern Brooklyn.

Astoria Branch

Map of the IND Crosstown - BMT Astoria Line connection.

Map of the IND Crosstown – BMT Astoria Line connection.

Adding a new southern branch of the Crosstown Line would allow for an additional northern branch as well. The current Crosstown Line terminates awkwardly at Court Sq making transfers to the IND Queens Boulevard Line difficult (I outlined above how this could be improved). A new branch would split from the current line under right after the Newtown Creek tunnels and head north under Vernon Blvd (the current subway veers northeast under Jackson Ave). Two new stations would serve the quickly developing Hunters Point and LIC neighborhoods before meeting with the BMT Broadway Line 60th St tunnel under Queens Plaza North. The interchange would be tricky as this is also the spot where the R train branches off to connect with the IND Queens Boulevard Line as well as where the subway begins its ascent to the elevated Queensboro Plaza station. Crosstown trains would then be able to have a direct connection to the Queensboro Plaza station as well as add a second train to the BMT Astoria Line out to Ditmars Boulevard.

At the Astoria-Ditmars Blvd end of the line I would recommend extending the elevated subway north into the ConEd territory north of 20th Ave. Here a small storage yard could be built as there is very little room left in the city for more storage yards and any expansion of this scope would require enough new trains that a new yard would be required. Additionally a new yard would be the staging ground for the proposed N train to LaGuardia.

Triboro-125th St

Cross Harlem Line to Astoria.

Cross Harlem Line to Astoria.

The final and costliest section of the Crosstown Line expansion would be to take the above mentioned Astoria branch and extend it into Manhattan via a new East River tunnel under Randalls Island into Harlem at 125th St. At 125th St the line would then be extended west to Broadway. Such an extension would also allow for the 2nd Ave Subway to be extended west as well giving Harlem two crosstown routes.

The benefits of such a connection would be huge for commuters from Harlem and the Bronx who must head into midtown before transferring to crosstown lines to the opposite sides of Manhattan or to get into Queens. Extending the Crosstown Line through Harlem would create a bypass around midtown Manhattan and relieve much pressure on some of the busiest stations in the entire system. This connection would allow commuters a faster ride to LaGuardia Airport as they would no longer need to slog along 125th St traffic on the bus and open up a faster commute for workers in the ever growing LIC residential and commercial areas.

Extending the Crosstown Line into Manhattan would open a world of opportunities for new commuting patterns and development for the city. These expansion ideas would also relieve pressure at choke points in downtown Brooklyn and midtown Manhattan that otherwise would be very expensive and disruptive to mitigate by expanding stations in these dense areas (look at how expensive the Fulton St station expansion has been).

Lafayette Ave Subway

wThe final expansion plan would revisit one of the earliest proposed subways, one that the IND Crosstown Line co-opted, the Lafayette Ave subway. One of the first subways proposed in Brooklyn when the original 1904 subway proved successful, every subway company at the time tried to build it but the city stood in the way. When the first subway, the IRT, was extended into Brooklyn to Atlantic Ave a second level at Nevins St was partially built to allow for trains coming from lower Manhattan or across the Manhattan Bridge to connect with the subway and branch off under Lafayette Ave. When the BMT was building their subways through downtown Brooklyn space was left at DeKalb Ave to allow for a subway under Lafayette Ave. Once again it was Mayor Hylan who blocked these proposals and when the city designed the IND Crosstown Line under Lafayette Ave they purposely built it to cut off the IRT provisions (much like the urban legend of the 8th Ave-42nd St lower level station being built to block the IRT from extending the Flushing Line west).

Unfortunately the IND built the Lafayette Ave Subway in such a way that it would never enter Manhattan thus reducing its effectiveness. The IND built their system with the idea that passengers would use local subway lines in the boroughs and transfer to express trains that then entered Manhattan. They soon found this unpopular and local trains were soon routed into Manhattan when possible, though this was impossible with the Crosstown Line.

The two ways that Manhattan-bound trains could use the Lafayette Ave Subway would both require rebuilding already complex interchanges beneath downtown Brooklyn. The first would be to rebuild the IND interchange at Hoyt-Schermerhorn so that the IND Fulton St local tracks would branch off and connect with the IND Crosstown tracks before the Fulton St station. The other would be to branch off the BMT Brighton Beach tracks under Ashland Place and connect them with the IND Crosstown tracks. This second connection would prove even more challenging due to the Fulton St station at Fulton and Lafayette Ave which may have to be demolished to allow for this connection.

Lafayette Ave Subway connecting the BMT Broadway Line and the IND Crosstown Line.

Lafayette Ave Subway connecting the BMT Broadway Line and the IND Crosstown Line.

I would advocate for the first connection but it wouldn’t be so simple. Adding another local to the Cranberry St Tunnel (the tunnel that connects the IND 8th Ave and IND Fulton St lines) would cause congestion so to avoid this I would route a BMT Broadway local train via the Montague St tunnel. After Court St station a new connection would be made between the BMT and IND lines under Boerum Place. This connection would use the unused local IND tracks that lead to the New York Transit Museum which was a former IND Fulton St local station (originally planned for a local terminal like World Trade Center station on the IND 8th Ave Line). This would allow IND Fulton trains to access the BMT Broadway Line and with a connection to the IND Crosstown Line a way for Lafayette Ave trains to enter Manhattan finally. On the eastern end the Lafayette Ave Subway would be extended east into Bushwick where it could terminate or ascend to connect with the elevated BMT Myrtle Ave Line.

Going one step further a loop could then be created by connecting the IND Crosstown Line with the BMT Broadway Line in Long Island City as well by reversing the 11th St Connection, the subway which the R train uses to go from the BMT 60th St Tunnel to Queens Plaza station. Connecting the IND Crosstown Line to this so that crosstown trains could enter midtown along the BMT Broadway Line would mean that a loop line could run down Broadway and back into Brooklyn via the Crosstown Line. Such a loop would probably only be effective in the areas of Long Island City and central Brooklyn as commuters in Greenpoint and Williamsburg would still likely use the BMT Canarsie Line to access Manhattan. Still this would reduce the need for a certain percentage of transfers.

Crosstown Expansion vs Triboro Rx

A popular expansion plan that always seems to make the rounds is the Triboro Rx plan first outlined by the Regional Plan Association. The idea is to save money and expand transit into new areas by using existing freight railroad right of ways throughout Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. The idea has its merits but I’ve never been a huge fan because it doesn’t seem to connect any places that need to be connected. The idea is more to save money than to improve transportation.

I would advocate that and of the plans for the IND Crosstown Line expansion that I’ve outlined here would be a better use of funds because it would rely on not just an existing ROW but also existing subway tunnels that are running below capacity. Expanding subways into new areas is something I fully support but with the limited funds available I would argue it is much more prudent to upgrade existing infrastructure for peak efficiency. Triboro Rx is a solution looking for a problem while expanding an existing subway line like the Crosstown for better connections and better service would do much more for the city while saving money.

It is unfortunately a bit of a Catch 22 as there are many other projects that need any available moneys more than the Crosstown Line. The 2nd Ave Subway is still years away from opening Phase 1, never mind when Phased 2-4 will see the light of day. The city is growing at a pace not seen in a generation and more importantly so are the neighborhoods through which the IND Crosstown Line runs. The demand is growing and expanding service along the Crosstown Line should be a higher priority than it is so far and certainly higher than the flashy Triboro Rx line.

futureNYCSubway v3Fa

The futureNYCSubway: A Second L Train

Anyone who takes the BMT Canarsie Line (the L train to most New Yorkers) can see the effects of a decade’s worth of gentrification first hand. What was once a postindustrial backwater, bombed out from years of industrial decay and urban unrest, the norther Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick have exploded with growth over the last decade as artists, hipsters, and now YUPy families moved in in search of lower rents and more space (ironically rents are now equal to parts of Manhattan in central Williamsburg). Thousands of words have been written about this type of hyper-gentrification so it would be a waste of time for me to address the social reasons behind it. Rather this is about where we are now and were we are going.

Proposed 4 track 14th St subway connecting to other 4 track subways in northern Brooklyn.

Proposed 4 track 14th St subway connecting to other 4 track subways in northern Brooklyn. 1912.

When subway planners first proposed new subways through northern Brooklyn a century ago the city was a different place. Construction costs at the time were low compared to today and the areas around Williamsburg and Bushwick were bustling with industry and newly arrived immigrants (Bushwick was home to many German immigrants who set up a thriving beer industry before prohibition killed it off). The first subways planned along the 14th St and norther Brooklyn corridors were all 4 track lines with connections to Queens and outer Brooklyn which would loop through lower Manhattan. It was an ambitious idea but when World War 1 put a strain on resources and inflation made the cost of building a subway prohibitively higher the plans were scaled back. What started as a 4 track crosstown subway from 14th St in Manhattan to Williamsburg with branches to Bushwick, Coney Island and Utica Ave soon became a truncated 2 track line from 6th Ave to Montrose Ave with plans for an elevated line after that. Construction was further delayed when Brooklyn residents protested any new elevated subway construction causing the Bushwick section to be built as a more expensive subway.

"2 Brand-New Subways Planned for Brooklyn" Showing routes of the build Eastern Parkway Line and the unbuilt Utica Ave line.

“2 Brand-New Subways Planned for Brooklyn” Showing routes of the build Eastern Parkway Line and the unbuilt Utica Ave line.

BMT track map showing "14th St-Eastern Line" connecting with Canarsie Line and Liberty Ave Line.

BMT track map showing “14th St-Eastern Line” connecting with Canarsie Line and Liberty Ave Line.

We cannot fault the early subway planners for lack of foresight in building the Canarsie Line since the priority of the first subways were to ease congestion in the central business district (at the time lower Manhattan) and open up farm land in the outer boroughs for new development. The Canarsie Line originally connected to existing elevated lines in New Lots and East New York but when these elevated lines were torn down in favor of new subways these connections were lost and the line was eventually left with the L train from 14th St to Canarsie that we have today.

The Canarsie Line is the only line in the NYC Subway which runs entirely on 2 tracks and does not share its route with another line. This presents certain problems; if a train is disabled on other lines with 3 or 4 tracks trains can be rerouted around it and service continued. If an L train is disabled for some reason all trains along the line are stopped. Crowding is also a huge issue; the MTA has been installing a new computer signalling system which allows for more trains and less crowds, something which is more difficult and expensive on lines with multiple branches. As such the Canarsie Line has been a testing ground for new technologies before they are introduced throughout the rest of the system. But while better signals and more trains certainly help it is only a band aid on a larger growth problem.

Growth along the Canarsie Line has exploded over the last decade and even a lull due to the recession offered only a slight respite as projects that have laid dormant for years have been finding new funding sources and promise to transform the area to an even greater extent. Mega projects like the Domino Sugar plant redevelopment or the proposed Greenpoint Landing waterfront mini-city will bring thousands of new residents, jobs, and commuters to a subway system that is barely able to support the current demand.

In the past I’ve toyed with the idea of resurrecting the abandoned IND Second System and the South 4th Subway. There is no doubt that if this subway had been built that northern Brooklyn would easily be able to support the new growth going on today. However, since nothing was built apart from a couple of future provisions, it would be wise to find a solution that solves our current and future needs. The subway we have today is not the same as it was 80 years ago and we face different needs than what a South 4th Subway would address. The original South 4th Subway had connections to the IND 8th Ave and IND 6th Ave lines in Manhattan but it is questionable that these connections would properly serve the ridership that uses the Canarsie Line today.

A report (PDF) by the MTA looking at future needs of the system acknowledged capacity constraints between Manhattan and Williamsburg. The M train rerouted along 6th Ave has been a success but this acts more as a bypass for commuters from Bushwick around Williamsburg into Manhattan. Continued growth along the route of the L train, especially near the Jefferson Ave station, means that there still needs to be better transit along the current route of the L train through Williamsburg proper. What seems to be the most effective solution would be to build a second, parallel subway along the Canarsie route which would double capacity as well as allow for express and local service.

Phase 1

Double Deck Subway, "The Design of Subways", 1918 Source

Double Deck Subway, “The Design of Subways”, 1918 Source

The first option I considered would be a double decked subway with 2 tracks in each direction on either level. This would mean constructing a new subway directly under the existing subway from 14th St-8th Ave to the East River with a new tunnel to Williamsburg running just south of the existing tunnel. The 8th Ave, 6th Ave, Union Sq, and Bedford Ave stations are all island platforms which would mean that if a duplicate level was built below riders could catch 8th Ave bound trains on the upper level and Brooklyn bound trains on the lower level. Stations such as 3rd Ave, 1st Ave, and other Brooklyn stations with two side platforms could be converted into bi-level stations like those along the IND 8th Ave Line along Central Park West with local service on just one side (this would mean that one of the existing platforms in these stations would be abandoned and a new one built below the other operating platform.

While this is technically feasible it would require the existing subway to be supported while a cavern is dug beneath the existing tunnel structure. This is the same basic concept of how Boston built the Big Dig but on a much smaller scale. Street level disruptions due to construction would be minimized but the existing subway would have to be shut down from time to time for connections to be built. This sounds disruptive but is really no different than what riders have to deal with ever few weekends when service is shut down between 8th Ave and Bedford Ave.

The second option would be to construct a parallel subway not below the existing one but rather a block away. Conveniently much of the Canarsie Line runs along city blocks that are spaced closer together than the avenues. A parallel subway would be built from 8th Ave to the East River under 13th St in Manhattan. Platforms under 14th and 13th streets would be connected via new mezzanines as each tunnel would handle one direction of traffic. A new tunnel under the East River to North 6th St would run to Marcy Ave where it would swing under Devoe St. At Bushwick Ave the new and existing tunnels would merge so that local tracks would continue along the existing route while the new express tracks would dive below English Kills to connect with the local tracks again just west of Flushing Ave. Just southwest of Wyckoff Ave, under which the Canarsie Line runs, exists an abandoned and partially developed railroad right of way. The Evergreen Branch was opened in 1876 and once ran all the way from the East River in Greenpoint to Manhattan Beach until 1885. Freight service still ran along the line until 1960. Today the ROW has been partially built over with small buildings and parking lots. Running less than 300ft away from Wyckoff Ave this ROW would be a much cheaper alternative to building a subway under the existing subway tunnels. After the new subway is built the land could then be sold to developers to recoup the construction costs. In the outline below I also have the express tracks swinging north after Halsey St station to a terminal at Myrtle/Fresh Pond Rd which would allow for further extensions into Queens.

View Parallel L Train in a larger map

Phase 2

Each alternative has their pros and cons (cost vs disruption) but if built an expanded Canarsie Line would mean more than just an easing of congestion along 14th St, it would mean that the line could handle branches into unserved areas of Brooklyn and Queens.

Union Turnpike Subway through Utopia and Glen Oaks.

Union Turnpike Subway through Utopia and Glen Oaks.

In past futureNYCSubway posts I’ve explained my ideas for new subways into eastern Queens. The most affordable options would involve extending the existing IND Queens Blvd, Hillside Ave, Archer Ave, IRT Flushing and BMT Jamaica lines further east. Extending subways may seem like just drawing a line on a map but in reality you need to put the trains somewhere. The subways we have today do not effectively serve outer areas of Brooklyn and Queens and while extending existing lines may help it would also mean very long commutes and to these outer areas and more congested trains along existing lines. An expanded Canarsie Line would act as a trunk line for new branches without congesting existing lines.

The two branches I would advocate for would be the Union Turnpike branch out to Douglaston Parkway and a branch which runs through the Archer Ave subway and along the LIRR Main Line to Belmont Park. They would connect to the trunk of the Canarsie Line after Halsey station and run along the existing LIRR Montauwk Branch ROW through Glendale and Forest Park.

In Manhattan my proposed 10th Ave subway could be built up to 72nd St as a 4 track line with express and local service to further address growth in Hell’s Kitchen and the Hudson Yards.

Below is version 3f of the futureNYCSubway map showing the expanded Canarsie Line as well as a couple more expansion ideas I will explain in upcoming posts. Stay tuned!


futureNYCSubway v3

futureNYCSubway v3 [PDF]

futureNYCSubway v3 [PDF]

After posting the second version of my futureNYCSubway plan last week I received a lot of great feedback, especially on Second Ave Sagas. I never claimed to have all the best ideas so getting constructive criticism is fantastic. I did a quick look through my ideas verses what others proposed and I decided to do one last version which I think is actually more in keeping with the original methodology of finding a more affordable way to expand the system. I will break them down by highest priority to lowest.

High Priority

2nd Ave Subway from 125th to Houston St.

While I am still adamant that the 2nd Ave Subway should be built with an express track I’ll base my plans on the fact that Phase 3 will most likely be built with only 2 tracks. This limits the line to two branches without compromising headways. Phase 4 could be scrapped entirely and instead the 2nd Ave Subway can be integrated into the BMT Jamaica Line with one branch heading downtown via the Centre St Subway (and on into Brooklyn via the Montague St Tunnel) and the other to Brooklyn Junction via the Williamsburg Bridge. The BMT Jamaica Line is lightly used (and in fact half the subway is abandoned). The rerouting of the M train has shown what improved access to midtown Manhattan can do for ridership and I feel that a similar routing for 2nd Ave trains will increase ridership out to Broadway Junction. This new routing combined with the wave of gentrification moving east through Bushwick would mean a rapid rise in ridership along the line. 2nd Ave trains will actually terminate at Atlantic Ave on the L line using an unused connection between the BMT Jamaica and Canarsie Lines that was once in service when there were more elevated lines in Brooklyn.

On the north side of the 2nd Ave Subway someone suggested that the Q train, instead of heading west to Broadway, should in fact be routed up to Dyre Ave to take over the 5 train. This seems brilliant to me since it would provide Bronx residents a quicker one seat ride to Times Sq where a routing of the T train would still require a transfer. The T train would then extend under 125th St to Broadway as a crosstown line.

Queens Superexpress and Rockaway Branch Service

The Queens Superexpress remains a top priority due to the congestion along the Queens Boulevard Subway. I’ve simplified the design of the route in a way that accomplishes what I originally had in mind but with much less construction. Originally I had two connections, one to the 63rd St Tunnel and the other at Court Sq. This routing would have required a second Queens Plaza station. If, however, the connection at Court Sq is removed and instead moved just north of Queens Plaza you could route just as many trains but with less new construction. The F and M trains would switch so that Queens Boulevard local service (M) would split off after 36 St and use the 63rd St Tunnel to Manhattan while F trains would again use the 53rd St Tunnel. R trains coming from the 60th St Tunnel would branch off after Queens Plaza and connect to the Superexpress. This would simplify switching at Queens Plaza and free up space so that IND Crosstown G trains could again run to Forest Hills. Local riders would still get into Manhattan just as quickly as before and R train riders can transfer at Queens Plaza for the local G.

Coming off the 63rd St Tunnel 2nd Ave trains would then run express out to Howard Beach via the former LIRR Rockaway Branch and M trains would branch off at 63rd Dr and head to Howard Beach. The Woodhaven Boulevard station would be converted to an express station. R trains would connect back to the main Queens Boulevard Subway at Forest Hills and run out to Jamaica-179th as local with F trains running express.

Crosstown Line and Franklin Ave Connection

Creating a one seat ride from Brighton Beach to Queens Plaza via the IND Crosstown Line seems strange at first but doing so would create a new crosstown connection that would better serve half of the borough of Brooklyn which today has only a long bus ride available to them. Any commuter living east of Ocean Parkway has no direct access to the IND Crosstown Line and if they want to get to northern Brooklyn or Queens must make a long commute through downtown Brooklyn and lower Manhattan before changing for trains to Williamsburg or Queens. This 1.45 mile connection would shave a significant amount of time off of some commutes. The idea is not that far fetched since right now the MTA is planning a Select Bus Service for Nostrand Ave from Sheepshead Bay to Williamsburg. This bus will still have to deal with traversing almost the entire borough via street traffic. With a new crosstown connection many commuters would only have to take a short bus ride to the Brighton Beach Line. The new subway line would bypass all street traffic. With new office and residential development booming along the G train today this connection would also open up these new job centers to neighborhoods that currently have no direct access to them.

Many people have asked why I have not included the Triboro RX in my plans. Besides the point that if it was ever built it would use commuter rail technology and not subway technology, I also feel that it would cost much more than estimated and not serve the city as well as planners hope. I honestly feel that for the money the Franklin Ave Connection would be much more affordable and serve more commuters than the Triboro RX. With just one transfer you would be able to get from Long Island City to any subway line in Brooklyn using almost all existing subway lines (as a side note I would also recommend that on the BMT Jamaica Line Hewes and Lorimer St stations be truncated into a Union Ave station with free transfer to the IND Crosstown Line). That is the promise of the Triboro RX but one which would cost vastly more than the Franklin Ave Connection.

Medium Priority

Nostrand Ave and Utica Ave Lines

The biggest issue most people had with my previous plan was a lack of an IRT Nostrand Ave extension. A few people brought up the fact that the IRT in Brooklyn is still below capacity and building a Utica Ave Subway with IND specs would be overkill. I was originally against a Nostrand Ave extension due to the lack of express service but I realized that this could be overcome by implementing rush hour skip-stop service with the two trains that currently run there. The Nostrand Ave Subway could be extended south to Avenue Z with 5 new stations and skip-stop service would half the amount of time it would take to get to Eastern Parkway.

A Utica Ave line as well would best be served by IRT as well since new stations could be planned further apart. Additionally I still feel that the Utica Ave Subway can be built as an elevated line running through custom built buildings like a modern day High Line rather than elevated above the street to both save on construction costs and create a new source of income. The trains would run through the second story of these block long buildings with commercial space on the ground floor. As demand grows new buildings can be constructed above the tracks.

10th Ave Subway

I’ve removed the 86th St Crosstown line from the 10th Ave Subway proposal but a 2 track line, extending the L train at 14th St and 8th Ave to 72nd St and Amsterdam Ave, will still be required after 20 years of development throughout the west side of Manhattan overloads the 2/3 and 7 trains currently at capacity.

Astoria Line Extension to LaGuardia

Politicians made such a stink last time it was proposed due to a short elevated track extension but their shortsightedness will only make traveling to LaGuardia a pain for years to come. The only way to build out the current system is by building elevated trains in the outer boroughs. A one stop extension of the N train to LaGuardia which would run through an industrial no-mans land will hardly affect anyone and give travelers a one seat ride from the hotels of midtown to LaGuardia Airport.

This line could then be extended east through Flushing as originally envisioned in the 1929 Second System plan. Instead of running along the LIE the elevated line would connect to the Flushing Line at Willets Point and run along the Kissena Park Corridor out to Francis Lewis Blvd along a landscaped elevated track. Rush hour trains running out to Flushing would use the express track through Astoria and the W train could be brought back as a local train to LaGuardia.

Low Priority

Queens Extensions

Extending the Hillside Ave and Archer Ave subways in Jamaica should be included in any long range plan. Any subway extension this far out would have to be at grade (along the LIRR) or elevated to make it financially viable. The Hillside Ave Subway would be extended some distance east as a 2 track subway where it meets a portal and continues out to Springfield Boulevard as a 2 track elevated line. Local service would terminate at Jamaica-179th St and express at Springfield Boulevard. The Archer Ave Subway would be built with upper level or Queens Boulevard trains running along the LIRR Atlantic Branch to Rosedale and lower level or BMT Jamaica trains running out to Belmont Park along the LIRR Main Line.

In central Queens extending the BMT Myrtle Ave Line through Middle Village to Roosevelt Ave would create a much needed interborough subway connection but one that would be lighter in use than the IND Crosstown Line. It would open up Middle Village to subway service and allow Bushwick and Bed Sty residents access to jobs in Jackson Heights and Flushing. The extension itself would run along an existing freight railroad ROW and would run below grade. This would paralell a route used by the proposed Triboro RX but only for this short distance. Trains at night and weekend would run as a shuttle service between Roosevelt Ave and Essex St in Manhattan.

IRT Flushing 7 Train Extensions

As in my previous plan the 7 train would be extended as a 2 track subway further east under Roosevelt Ave to Northern Blvd at 157th St. I’ve combined the College Point Subway with the Flushing Line as a new branch leaving the main line after Main St-Flushing. The College Point branch would run north under Linden Place to 28th Ave where it would come to the surface and run at grade to a terminal at 20th Ave. These two small branches will move bus transfers back outside the congested downtown Flushing business district as well as allow for more efficient termination of trains in Flushing. Service may be split between a 7 and 8 train or running the line as branches.

Triple Track Jamaica Line

If extending 2nd Ave trains along the BMT Jamaica Line becomes successful I can foresee the need to triple track the rest of the Jamaica elevated track between Broadway Junction and 121st St. The line was built as 2 tracks with space for a third. This would require the rebuilding of stations along the way as some stations exist within the ROW of the third track and others will need to be rebuilt to accommodate express service. This may also be built in conjunction with the extension of the Archer Ave Subway out to Belmont Park. This is a low priority but one that could be built as a cheaper alternative to extending the IND Fulton St Subway. It’s also a case of the chicken and the egg; which comes first, better transportation or growth in ridership? Extending 2nd Ave trains as a first step should be done to test if the ridership changes.

Bronx Extensions

I’ve never known why the 1 train had never been extended north to the border of Yonkers but when someone asked about Riverdale I realized that the 1 train could use an extension. I’ve also brought back the 9 train for rush hour skip-stop service since I believe that once the Hudson Yards and World Trade Center are both built and open the need for better service on the west side will warrant additional local service (9).

Extending the IND Concourse Line east to Coop City would kill two birds with one stone as it would finally bring a subway to Coop City and also create a de facto crosstown subway which would allow commuters to bypass congested parts of the Lexington Ave Subway and its Bronx branches.

Staten Island Subway

While many advocate a subway to Staten Island I feel that the best use of funds would be to restore the North Shore Branch of the Staten Island Railroad and possibly extend it to Newark with through running to Penn Station. While this trip would be a round about way to get from Staten Island to Manhattan it would be a one seat ride to midtown and acknowledge that not everyone who lives on Staten Island works in Manhattan.

If a subway is to be built I maintain that the best course of action would be to finally quadruple track the 4th Ave Subway through Bay Ridge and extend a 2 track subway to Fort Wadsworth. From here an elevated line would run out to Victory Blvd and south to the Staten Island Mall. If a subway was built along the northern alternative route, under 68th St in Bay Ridge to St George Terminal, the tunnel under the harbor would be twice as long and would require a subway through all of Staten Island (as opposed to an elevated track along a highway) and be vastly more expensive. It would also duplicate service rather than expand new service to areas not served by the SIRR.


Although this is a quick and dirty rewrite of my last plan I feel that this is probably the closest thing to what New York leaders should be aiming towards in terms of subway expansion. Obviously this is just one part to the transit network throughout the region and I have neglected to touch on commuter rail, ferry, bus, or light rail expansion. Those will be for another day. I want to thank everyone for their feedback and I look forward to hearing more after seeing this new update.

The real test is how to build such a network. It’s going to take a strong political force to build anything in NYC; It always has. The current lot of mayoral contenders don’t seem to have much of a plan for transit expansion. Such a vast expansion plan will take a revolutionary funding source and I wouldn’t know where to begin with devising one; Congestion pricing could work if it wasn’t politically unpopular. So we wait and the subways we have get more crowded by the day. Hopefully I can inspire someone who knows how the game works and one day these will be more than lines on a computer screen.

futureNYCSubway v2

futureNYCSubway v2 System Map | Click for PDF

futureNYCSubway v2 System Map | Click for PDF

The first futureNYCSubway was more a look at what had been proposed and various alternatives rather than a realistic plan. It was basically a thought experiment about all the different ways the system could be expanded. When I finished the project in 2010 I was pretty exhausted with the New York subway. Over the next couple of years as I explored more of the city and saw the actual needs of the system clearer I began to gradually come back the system expansion plans I developed. The first FNYCS plan was what could be possible with money as no issue. Back in the real world where it is basically the only issue I realized I needed to distill out more realistic ideas that could use existing infrastructure better and develop lines that served the growing areas of the city while better connecting the outer boroughs. As traffic to the CBDs of Manhattan plateaus and a ring of neighborhoods along the East River waterfront develop from Long Island City, Williamsburg, and to Downtown Brooklyn I realized that inter-outerboro service needed to be looked at closer. Projects like the Triboro RX which have sat on the drawing boards for years are a good start but I realized that strategically extending certain lines with extra capacity could do the same job while at the same time commanding higher ridership numbers and creating one or two seat rides (with very simple transfers) to these growing new centers.

At the same time the subway now sees its highest ridership levels ever and capacity has been reached on many lines. Improved signal systems allow for more trains but this will only be a band-aid in some places like Long Island City and Williamsburg where gentrification has exploded over the last decade and will only continue to do so. The legacy of Mayor Michael Bloomberg is being debated in the waning days of his administration but the fact is that as the city becomes safer and more popular than ever there will continue to be growth.

The MTA recently put out a document outlining issues it sees coming up in the next 20 years and to no surprise the subway tunnels connecting Queens and Brooklyn to Manhattan will be maxed out. Even today at the Bedford Ave station on the BMT L line one must wait for multiple trains to pass before there is space. New lines were planned generations ago but the financial realities of an aging system with terrible funding sources gives way to little improvement where it is needed. Small actions like extending the M train from Ridgewood to midtown Manhattan have shown the value of increased transit options as the population of northern Brooklyn grows in part because of improved subway access. But how long until what these small fixes aren’t enough?

MTA Capacity Needs 2035

MTA Capacity Needs 2035 from “Looking Ahead” (PDF)

The futureNYCSubway v2 aims to take a closer look at the issues the system is facing while taking into consideration the limitations to subway expansion today.

2nd Ave Subway

2nd Ave Subway Showing 4 Track Line with Queens Tunnel Connections

2nd Ave Subway Showing 4 Track Line with Queens Tunnel Connections

As of this writing the opening of the first phase of the 2nd Ave Subway (SAS) is 3-4 years away. This segment will take the BMT Broadway Express (Q) train and run it up to 96th St at 2nd Ave. Already local politicians are starting to make noise about finding funding for the second phase which should be less expensive and less intrusive as much of the tunnels from 96th St to 125th St were dug in the 1970s and have sat vacant ever since.

The issue after Phase 2 is built is how to find funding for Phase 3 and 4 which would extend the line south from 63rd St to Hanover Sq in the Financial District, creating a new T train. Phase 3 and 4, as planned, would be almost three times as long as Phase 1, cost vastly more money and take years longer. The glaring issue that I’ve had with the SAS all along is that there is no express track. Not even a third track, like many elevated lines have, which would allow rerouting trains when the line gets backed up. If one train goes down the entire SAS is stuck.

Phase 3 is an opportunity to right this wrong by building a 4 track subway from 57th St to East Houston St. North of 57th St the line would connect to the existing SAS to 125th and to the existing 63rd St Tunnel to Queens. The additional tracks would then be connected to the 60th St Tunnel which is used by the N and R trains for local service to Astoria and Forest Hills, respectfully. Ridership along the BMT Astoria Line has increased dramatically and adding a direct connection to the SAS would take major pressure off the 59th St/Lexington Ave station on the 4/5/6 as a transfer point.  Not building an express track would mean that, when the need inevitably arises, the costs of building one after the fact would be prohibitive.  It’s going to be expensive to build Phase 3 no matter what so let’s just get it right.

At the southern end of Phase 3 the SAS would be woven into the IND 6th Ave and BMT Jamaica Lines as originally envisioned by modifying the Chrystie St Cut. SAS trains would terminate at Grand St (Phase 4 would continue south from Grand St to Hanover Sq), connect to the Williamburg Bridge at Essex/Delancey St, and head to Williamsburg via a new tunnel under the East River which would also connect to the IND 6th Ave line at 2nd Ave (a provision built for the IND Second System).

South 4th Subway

South 4th Subway

South 4th Subway

The bulk of SAS traffic coming from Brooklyn should come from northern Brooklyn as opposed to southern Brooklyn. By this I mean it would be very easy to connect the SAS to the Manhattan Bridge and divert trains from Brighton Beach or Coney Island through 2nd Ave. But this would only move existing service around and leave northern Brooklyn still choked with just the L train. Any new capacity in Manhattan should be used to address traffic coming from northern Brooklyn. It’s time to build the South 4th Subway.

A 4 track subway from East Houston St under the East River to South 4th St and Havermeyer St. At Havermeyer St the line would merge with a new connection to the tracks running over the Williamsburg Bridge via a portal built on the Brooklyn side of the bridge. A South 4th Subway would be the opportunity to relocate the elevated tracks of the BMT Jamaica Line from Marcy Ave to Lormier St. This new trunk line would run from Havermeyer St to Union Ave/Broadway Station (using the built but never used shell station) and under Sternberg Park to Boreum St. The tracks would then split with local tracks running to Bushwick Ave at Boerum St and express tracks straight under private property to Bushwick Ave at Flushing Ave. Local tracks would branch off so that 6th Ave trains can connect to the BMT Canarise Line and run to Myrtle-Wyckoff St while SAS trains connect back with the trunk line at Broadway. Just south of the intersection of Bushwick and Flushing Aves the subway would split with 3 tracks rising to the surface to connect with the existing elevated line just west of Myrtle-Broadway station and 4 tracks continuing to Stuyvesant Ave.

This complicated interchange would allow Jamaica bound trains to merge with Myrtle Ave, Utica Ave, and Canarsie bound trains and allow for simple transfers with express trains bypassing Bushwick and local trains taking pressure off of Bedford Ave. The growth of Williamsburg and Bushwick has put the L train beyond capacity. Connecting 6th Ave trains to the eastern section of the BMT Canarsie Line (serving the quickly growing stations of Morgan, Jefferson, DeKalb, and Myrtle-Wyckoff) would take the pressure off trains when they get to Lorimer and Bedford. This new service would also have a direct connection to the IND Crosstown G train and siphon off transfers at Metropolitan Av, reducing loads on the L further.

Relocating the western end of the BMT Jamaica Line would speed up service and allow for a variety of routing options as the Centre St Subway in Manhattan is lightly used. The demolition of the elevated track would raise property values in an already growing neighborhood and the new South 4th Subway would finally give the area the transit capacity to afford such growth. Already today the M train has allowed a one-seat ride from Bushwick to Midtown Manhattan. A South 4th Subway would allow for ever more growth and take pressure off of the packed L trains.

Utica Ave Subway

Utica Ave Subway

Utica Ave Subway

The original plan for the Utica Ave Subway used a four track subway out to Flatbush connecting to the IND 6th and 8th Ave Subways in Manhattan. Plans for the line have evolved over the years including the original IRT plan to extend the IRT from Utica Ave at Eastern Parkway to Kings Highway. In the outline above for the South 4th Subway I end the line at Broadway and Stuyvesant Ave as a 4 track station. From this point the line would continue south to Utica Ave as a 3 track line with rush hour express service. This 3 track subway would have SAS trains running express and 14th St-Crosstown trains, a new branch off the BMT Canarsie Line, running local.

South of Church Ave much of Utica Ave is lined with 1 or 2 story commercial buildings (“tax payers” goes back to when land speculators would buy land and put up a cheap commercial development that would cover property tax while they waited for the value of the land to increase). What I would propose as a more affordable solution is to buy up these properties and build a continuous structure from some point south of Church Ave to Flatbush Ave which would be 2 or 3 stories tall and have the trains running along the roofs while allowing for commercial development below. This way the line could be built for significantly cheaper than a subway but remove the blight that comes with traditional elevated trains. An added bonus is that the ROW then becomes an income stream with space for retail and commercial businesses.

Bronx Extensions

Bronx IND Concourse Extension and 2nd Ave Dyre Ave

Bronx IND Concourse Extension and 2nd Ave Dyre Ave

Extending the SAS into the Bronx will be limited to one train service due to the fact that the first and second phases of the SAS are being built with only 2 local tracks. Because of this limitation the most affordable option for SAS Bronx service and the one that would have the greatest impact on easing traffic on the IRT Lexington Ave Line would be to build an at-grade superexpress line from 125th St to Hunts Point along the Metro North ROW through the South Bronx and Port Morris up to the East 180th St IRT station using the abandoned platforms. The SAS service would then take over the Dyre Ave Line currently used by the 5 train as originally envisioned by transit planners when the old New York, Westchester & Boston Railroad line was added to the subway system in 1941. This would allow for transfers at 180th and Hunts Point with express service bypassing the South Bronx thus reducing the amount of commuters on the 5 and 6 trains through Lexington Ave.

The success of the Select Bus Service from Inwood to Coop City in the Bronx has shown the need for improved cross-Bronx service. With this in mind the IND Concourse Line (B/D trains), which terminates at 205th-Norwood, should be extended east as originally planned under Burke Ave running to East Gun Hill Road to Coop City. This 2 track extension would finally give Coop City a subway connection and allow for transfers along the IRT White Planes Line (2/5) and the Dyre Ave Line (outlined above). Currently the 2 train is the only train that connects the eastern Bronx with the west side of Manhattan. Extending the Concourse Line east would give commuters a quicker and redundant way to reach the west Bronx and west side of Manhattan.

Queens Superexpress, Rockaway Branch and IND Queens Blvd Line Extensions

The Queens Boulevard Subway has seen the most consistent grown as a whole over the last couple decades. New immigrants have settled in central Queens and new luxury developments have sprouted in Long Island City. All of this growth has put a strain on not just one subway line but all four East River tunnels headed into midtown. This growth in western and central Queens poses a unique problem in terms of service because eastern Queens remains woefully undeserved by the subway; how can we extend service into new areas without compromising service in the east.

The first solution would be to complete the Queens Superexpress Line. The Superexpress was planned as far back as the 1950s. Between Woodside and Rego Park there exists 2 fallow track beds along the Main Line of the LIRR. By building a 2 track subway line along this route (which would require moving tracks for the LIRR Port Washington Line) the IND Queens Blvd Line suddenly goes from 4 tracks to 6. The 63rd St Tunnel was originally built for the Superexpress Line but funding ran out. The tunnel was eventually connected to the IND Queens Blvd Line instead (the F train makes this run today).  This partial solution has not helped much and one can argue that it has made things worse since now Crosstown (G) trains no longer run out to Forest Hills but instead require a long transfer at Court Sq.

Planned Queens Super-Express Line

Planned Queens Super-Express Line.

The Superexpress would have four parts to it:

  • A connection to the 53rd St Tunnel at Court Sq (with the E/M platform being converted into a 4 track station) and a connection to the 63rd St Tunnel (F train and future SAS trains).
  • A trunk line which would run along the LIRR Main Line with a station at Woodside to Forest Hills. Under Yellowstone Blvd the line would merge with the existing IND Queens Blvd Line before 71st Ave-Forest Hills Station.
  • At Rego Park the line would split with a branch running south to the Rockaways along the abandoned LIRR Rockaway Line. The Rockaway branch would also have a connection to the IND Queens Blvd Line Local tracks using the provisions built into the existing tunnels when the IND Queens Blvd Line was originally constructed. This connection would allow the reactivated Rockaway Branch to have two trains, one running local via Queens Blvd and the other running express to midtown via the Superexpress. As Rockaway Branch trains would, in this plan, use the 53rd St Tunnel the spacing of these trains could be staged so that service to Ozone Park and the Rockaways would have regular headways while not over taxing the capacity of the 53rd St Tunnel.
  • The connection at Forest Hills would allow a third express train to run east of Forest Hills to Jamaica. The original routing of the E and F trains under Hillside Ave could be restored and the Hillside Ave subway could then be extended further east as either a subway or elevated track. The Superexpress train could then be sent through the Archer Ave subway in downtown Jamaica and further extended to Rosedale along the LIRR Atlantic Branch as originally envisioned.

Another possible extension of the IND Queens Blvd Line using existing tunnels would be to extend the local train (R) from Forest Hills through the Jamaica Yards and into a new tunnel under 73rd Ave out to Francis Lewis Blvd.

Additionally, the Archer Ave Line which is used by BMT Jamaica (J/Z) trains could then be extended east to Belmont Park with similar skip-stop service.

10th Ave Subway and 86th St Crosstown Line

Midtown Manhattan showing 10th Ave Subway with 86th St Crosstown Route.

Midtown Manhattan showing 10th Ave Subway with 86th St Crosstown Route.

In the recent MTA 20 year outlook for congestion issues the IRT 7th Ave-Broadway Line between 72nd St and Penn Station is predicted to see the most congestion on the west side. As the Hudson Yards brings more and more development to the west side of Manhattan over the next 20 years the current infrastructure will become strained. The IRT Flushing 7 Train extension will help for only so long. Hells Kitchen and the Upper West Side will see a boom in commuters headed for the Hudson Yards and eventually a new subway will be needed. A 10th Ave extension of the BMT 14th St-Canarsie Line will be the best option. In the original futureNYCSubway plan I envisioned the line going up 10th Ave to some point in midtown and making its way over to Long Island City.

This new alignment adds another element to the plan.  Moving the line up to 72nd St to take traffic away from the congestion parts of the IRT 7th Ave-Broadway Line and then crossing over to the east side up at 86th St creates a crosstown line for the Upper East and West sides. From here the subway would head to Astoria and run under Broadway to Northern Boulevard.  While the subway itself would be 2 tracks, a third track at 72nd St/Broadway and 86th St/2nd Ave would allow for a crosstown shuttle service should the need arise.

Besides the benefit of a crosstown subway at 86th St the new subway to Astoria will act as a bypass for commuters around the soon to be congested areas of Long Island City and the East River tunnels at 53rd, 60th, and 63rd Streets. A transfer at Northern Boulevard station on the IND Queens Blvd Line will siphon off commuters from Corona, Forest Hills, and Jamaica and allow them a ride around midtown.

Northern Blvd Line to LaGuardia

The trunk section of the Northern Boulevard Subway will run from Broadway to 108th St as a 4 track line. At Northern Boulevard Station two sets of tracks will combine; the first from the 10th Ave-86th St Crosstown Line outlined above and the second from a new connection to the IND Crosstown Line (G) at Court Sq in Long Island City. The G train extension will have a stop at Queens Plaza, a new station built next to the existing Queens Plaza Station, and then run express to Broadway/Northern Boulevard. The 10th Ave trains will run express to Mets-Willets Point while IND Crosstown trains will run local to LaGuardia Airport.

Queens Expansion showing Northern Blvd Trunk Line to LaGuardia Airport and IRT Flushing Line Exentions

Queens Expansion showing Northern Blvd Trunk Line to LaGuardia Airport and IRT Flushing Line Exentions

Flushing Extensions

The Northern Boulevard Line will branch off at 108th St and express trains will then run up to College Point along Linden Place as mostly elevated to 20th Ave. The way the tracks are to be laid out would allow for a shuttle train to run from Mets-Willets Point to LaGuardia Airport much like the AirTrain except this would be a free transfer.

The IRT Flushing 7 Line will also see two extensions. The current terminal at Main St-Flushing was never built as a proper terminus as the line was always intended to be extended east. A subway under Roosevelt Ave to Northern Boulevard would allow the the construction of a proper terminal for trains and move bus transfers back outside of the congested central Flushing shopping district.

Using the non-revenue service tracks leading from 111th St to the train yards between Roosevelt Ave and Arthur Ashe Stadium a new branch line would be created and extended as an elevated line running through the Kissena Park Corridor to Francis Lewis Boulevard. A 2 track elevated line would have longer spacing between stations would better serve the suburban area of Queens without running above the streets creating blight. Running the line through the park would allow for landscaping that would minimize the visual and noise aspects of the line.

Brooklyn-Queens Interboro Connections and the Triboro RX

Franklin Ave Shuttle Extension

Franklin Ave Shuttle Extension from Fulton St to Lafayette Ave.

One of the major drawbacks of the subway system in New York City is that it’s Manhattan-centric. While this is based on the fact that most of the traffic is headed into and out of Manhattan there is still a need, a growing need, for better interboro connections. The Triboro Rx plan has been making the rounds lately (thanks in part to my outline of the line in the first futureNYCSubway proposal) but I do not feel that the line is worth the cost. There are two small connections which I feel would have the biggest impact for the least cost.

The main problem with the Triboro Rx Line is that it won’t be anywhere near as cheap and easy to build as people think. For one the ROW is in many places narrow and goes along the backyards of many residential communities.  Expanding the ROW would turn many neighborhoods against the plan. The rail line currently there is not a subway line but a freight line and by US law you cannot run subways on freight lines. This means that if the line was to be run as a subway it would require a complete new build from one end to the other, thus negating the affordability aspect of the plan. The other problem is that the line itself doesn’t connect any places within the city where people want to go. As such the line, if built, would end up being a commuter rail shuttle service with awkward transfers and that would never justify the costs.

The alternatives I propose are much more surgical in nature. The first would be to use the existing Franklin Ave Shuttle which connects the BMT Brighton Beach Line to the IND Fulton St Line (formerly connecting to the Fulton St elevated line and before that a steam railroad from Atlantic Ave to Brighton Beach) and rebuild the line as a subway, extending it north through Clinton Hill to Lafayette Ave and connect it to the IND Crosstown Line using the provisions for such a connection at the Bedford-Nostrand Station.

This connection may seem trivial at first but if you consider that the Crosstown Line is the only subway that runs from southern Brooklyn to norther Brooklyn. You can only transfer to this line if you are coming from southwestern Broonlyn and west of Ocean Parkway. That leaves a large section of Brooklyn, Flatbush, Sheepshead Bay, Brownsville, Crown Heights, and much of Bedford-Stuyvesant with no connection at all to the one train which runs to northern Brooklyn and Queens. Commuters are forced to take a slow bus through the entire run of Brooklyn. The connection under Franklin Ave would mean that a local train could run from Brighton Beach to Long Island City with no transfers. Passengers that would normally have to take a long bus trip from southeastern Brooklyn can now take a quick bus ride to the BMT Brighton Beach Line, or transfer from the IND Fulton St or IRT Eastern Parkway Lines, and get to northern Brooklyn and LIC in half the time. This small connection would revolutionize how people in Brooklyn could get around the city.

The second connection would be to extend the BMT Myrtle Ave elevated line (M) from Metropolitan Ave to Roosevelt Ave in Jackson Heights along the freight ROW through Middle Village. This connection would use the built-but-never-used terminal at Roosevelt Ave (an abandoned section of the Second System) and allow commuters from central Queens a way to bypass LIC and midtown Manhattan when traveling to norther Brooklyn, the LES, lower Manhattan or even downtown Brooklyn. As such the extension would take pressure off the East River tunnels from Queens to midtown.

Staten Island RR North Shore

N Train Extension to Staten Island

N Train Extension to Staten Island

The most obvious and affordable option for Staten Island is to reactive the North Shore Branch of the Staten Island Railroad. I outline the idea further in my original post for the futureNYCSubway.

Other options would be to extend the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail over the Bayonne Bridge to serve northwestern Staten Island. Another would be to extend reactivated North Shore trains to Newark, NJ as a way to give islanders another option to get off the island and as a way to acknowledge that many trips off Staten Island are headed to New Jersey and not into Manhattan.

When the BMT 4th Ave Subway was built there were two provisions left for a future tunnel to Staten Island. Just south of 59th St Station there is purported to be bell mouths left for a tunnel under 67th St to St George. The second provision is that while the 4th Ave Subway has only 2 tracks between 59th St and 95th St the tunnel itself was designed to be expanded to 4 tracks should the need arise. While this second option may be more disruptive to Bay Ridge I feel that an expansion of the 4th Ave Subway and extending it under the Narrows to Staten Island would be more of a benefit to Bay Ridge as this would extend express service to 86th St.

The tunnel option I prefer would run parallel to the Verrazonno-Narrows Bridge from the southern tip of Bay Ridge to Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island. The route the line would then take would run along the Staten Island Expressway in either a subway along the frontage roads or along an elevated track along the median. The line would run out to Richmond Ave where it would then swing south to terminate at the Staten Island Mall. This central routing would be better at serving the Island due to the suburban development patterns it has and would act as a de facto commuter rail line (more like Washington DC or BART in the San Francisco area).


The idea for the second version of my futureNYCSubway series was to take a more realistic look at where the subway system is today and where it should go. Obviously money is a major issue facing the system and it will take a visionary and powerful force to get even the smallest expansion built. But that isn’t impossible. These ideas that I’ve built out of past plans and by looking at current problems; some proposals I think are stronger than others: 4 track 2nd Ave Subway, Franklin Ave connection, Superexpress Lines. Others are nice to have but will take time. Northern Brooklyn continues to gentrify and even reactivating the Chrystie St Cut for 6th Ave service out to Metropolitan Ave will only go so far.

The other thing I wanted to do was to present my ideas in a much more visually relatable way. The maps I used in the first series were of my own creations but I immediately saw the downside of this. If I had used the current map and expanded out from there, as I did with my futureMBTA project, then I feel like my ideas would have spread faster as people would recognize instantly the new routes I proposed. Unfortunately the current map the MTA uses is a mess, abstracted and distorted with no order, and would have required me to redraw the entire thing anyway. The solution was to use the updated Vignelli map, the 2008 version of the historic 1972 map which was much less accessible and deemed a failure. The 2008 update is everything a transit map should be; clean, clear, easy to navigate, and downright pretty to look at. I realized that this was the only map that I could use to express my plans in a way that people would be comfortable seeing. The MTA uses the new Vignelli map for its online Weekender service updates because it is much easier to see how each line is affected by changes. With my plans I needed to show how each line could interact with the whole system and how an extension here could affect another line elsewhere. I didn’t use the map with permission from Vignelli Asc. but I do credit them. The map I’ve created is for educational purposes only and not for sale. I thank them for their brilliant work and my expansion map is a testament to their brilliant work.

futureNYCSubway v2 System Map | Click for PDF

futureNYCSubway v2 System Map | Click for PDF

The futureNYCSubway

  1. Introduction
  2. IND Second System
  3. Post War Expansion
  4. The Second Ave Subway: History
  5. The Second Ave Subway: To The Bronx and the Nassau Line
  6. Brooklyn: Bushwick Trunk Line
  7. Manhattan: West Side and Hudson Crossings
  8. Queens: Flushing Trunk Line
  9. Staten Island: The Last Frontier
  10. TriboroRX and Atlantic Ave Super-Express
  11. Conclusion: the vanshnookenraggen plan

The High Line Effect: Thoughts on Reusing Infrastructure

It amazes me that I’ve had this website, in one form or another, for 10 years now. It started out as a place where I could just keep my files online and then when I discovered my interest in the subways and abandoned infrastructure a place to show off my work (maps and photography). Even today people still seek me out for my urban exploration. The basic story is that one day while walking with a friend through the debris of the Big Dig we happened upon an old subway portal which lead down to the abandoned Haymarket Station (which was relocated in the 1970s). This sparked my interest in urban exploration and I immediately began to look for new sites.

In places like the mid-West where factories have been abandoned for generations now and there isn’t much to replace them you get some pretty spectacular exploration opportunities. But in active cities like Boston and New York (and other, but this is where I’ve been in the last decade) the once abandoned parts of the city have been rediscovered and repurposed through gentrification. Once abandoned row houses are rebuilt, theaters are reopened or turned into schools, and old warehouses are converted into lux condos. This gave urban exploration a new purpose: to beat the approaching wave of development and capture a brief moment before all was lost. That’s a little dramatic for sure since nature will reclaim everything one day. But since I’m here now I want to capture what’s left while it’s still there.

Through the Darkness

Through the Darkness

Through my travels exploring mostly abandoned infrastructure I discovered a layer of the city that has been forgotten in our mad dash to throw all of our eggs into the newest, fastest, thing. My grandparents lived next to an abandoned canal system in upstate New York which wasn’t far an abandoned railroad that lead to an abandoned bridge over said canal system. The canal was bested by the rails and the rails were bested by the highway. So when I walk the city streets I see these layers of time very clearly. And in many places they still exist.

D&H Canal Lock

D&H Canal Lock

When I moved to the Boston area as a young teenager we lived just down the street from a very active commuter bike path. I found later of the Rails-to-Trails program which would convert abandoned rail right-of-ways into paved bike and pedestrian paths. It was a beautiful ride and a very quick way through town; a bike highway in every regard (grade separated and there was even a bike shop right on the path which was like a rest stop on the highway). The path itself had been built after a failed attempt to extend the MBTA Red Line through my town in the 1980s. While I loved the path I also saw it as a double edged sword. In a crowded urban environment it is very expensive to build a brand new right-of-way. Cities expand and traffic gets worse. You can only fit so many cars on the road until you need a more efficient way of transporting people.


Old Haymarket Sq Station

Therein lies the fundamental flaw in the American business model, that new is always better. When we elected cars as kings we let the rest of our infrastructure fall apart. Today, when many have finally realized we can’t pave enough lanes to make things any better and a balanced approach is needed, we run into the problem of forgotten infrastructure. In cities all over the US there are tracks that have been ripped up and destroyed for highways that now could be used in alleviating the problems of growth. But there is a new problem: what happens when people are used to these railroads being abandoned? What happens when these abandoned spaces run up against the need for more open space in crowded urban environments?


End of the MBTA A Branch on the Green Line

When I first moved to New York City the first thing I wanted to see wasn’t the Empire State Building, Times Sq, or the Statue of Liberty; it was the High Line. Sure, I could believe abandoned buildings and tunnels are in the heart of Manhattan… but an abandoned elevated railroad? That is just nuts. But there it was. And even more incredible was the fact that while walking atop the tracks you entered into another world ABOVE the city. Walking through a tunnel under the city is an incredible experience but one where you must imagine the city above you. Here you are actually going through the city on a level with no people, through the tree tops as it were. It was quiet in a way that you can’t imagine. Then it was turned into a park, a Rails-to-Trails on a whole new level. Many people thought it was crazy, even Mayor Bloomberg who now takes credit for it was once a detractor. And I have to admit they did an amazing job at creating the High Line Park.


High Line

But then a funny thing happened: people started to look at other abandoned infrastructure and think “Hey, that could be a park too!” And worse they thought that building a High Line knock-off would have the same economic effects as the original one did in West Chelsea. Except the thing is North Philadelphia isn’t Chelsea, Manhattan. Neither is Humbolt Park in Chicago or Woodhaven in Queens or any of the other rust belt cities that saw the High Line and said I want some of that too. All the High Line did was allow the already hyper-gentrification in the West Village and Chelsea to continue west. It was fuel to the fire, not the spark itself.

High Line, New York's Elevated Garden and Walking Path

High Line, New York’s Elevated Garden and Walking Path by lensepix

So when I look at all the High Line 2.0s (HL2s) out there I want to take a deep breath for each one and make people realize that it isn’t all flowers and condos. Yes economic development is good and yes parks are good but how do you get people around? These aren’t toxic sites or landfills you are cleaning up to create a nature preserve, these are once very active and important infrastructure parts of a once larger system that still can offer their services which are desperately needed.

Why is it easier to get money to tear down a railroad and turn it into a park than it is to reactivate it and serve just as many or more people?


Needham Branch Railroad

I want to look at a couple examples around New York City which seem to be in vogue at the moment: the Low Line and the QueensWay.

The Low Line Rendering via

The Low Line Rendering via

The Low Line is by far the sexiest of the HL2s out there: a subterranean park lit with futuristic fiber optic pods that transmit light from the surface to the underground. May as well be on a spaceship. The space itself was once a large trolley terminal for trolleys coming from Williamsburg. When trolleys were phased out the space was abandoned. Not only that but when ridership declined from Williamsburg to lower Manhattan on the BMT Jamaica Line half of the subway from Essex To to Chambers St was moth balled. That’s right, literally half of the subway on the J/Z line from Chambers St to Essex St is not used. Only half of the Canal and Bowery Stations are in use and while most of Chambers St is open trains only use two platforms (out of 5 but at one point 6).

The "Low Line" today. Image courtesy of Inhabitat.

The “Low Line” today. Image courtesy of Inhabitat.

So you’d think there is some extra space to use down there. But is building an expensive park the right use for it? The Lower East Side was once at the turn of the century considered the densest urban neighborhood in the world due to the slums. 100 years later after much urban renewal the area has changed dramatically. High rise housing projects have transformed a good chunk of the LES and added much needed open space but there is a catch; it isn’t “park” land. It may be a lawn but that doesn’t mean it’s a park. Much of the land that looks like park space down there is off limits and is located in the center of housing projects which may not actually be as dangerous as they look but are still perceived as places that you don’t want to hang around.

Jacob Riis houses : East Village

Jacob Riis houses : East Village by NiCoLaS OrAn

At the same time across the river Williamsburg has exploded with development. Take the L or the M train and you will see the crush of commuters in the mornings and nights. Even weekend service has had to be adjusted because so many people commute between the boroughs. And with major projects in the works like the redevelopment of the Domino Sugar plant one doesn’t have to argue too hard of the need for improved transportation. Unlike the Hudson Yards which the mayor so generously bought the IRT 7 Line extension for no one has stepped forth to suggest improved subway or other transit services for Williamsburg.

Domino Redevelopment Plan

Domino Redevelopment Plan

So with the need for more and better transit service between Manhattan and Brooklyn and the dearth of underused open space in this area of the LES it begs the question: is building a futuristic underground “park” the best use of our money? More to the point if it was built the Low Line would need to have an income stream to make it sustainable. Sure a theater or community space might bring in some dollars but nowhere near what it would take to make it last. And there are plenty of other spots throughout the LES that could be opened up for similar uses for much less (look no further than under the elevated part of the Williamsburg Bridge which is 8 city blocks of parking.

Demonstration of the Low Line's Skylight by Lizzy Zevallos / Low Line

Demonstration of the Low Line’s Skylight by Lizzy Zevallos / Low Line

The land adjacent to the proposed Low Line is now being planned for a massive urban renewal program which will add thousands of apartments, offices, retail, and community space. The new and old residents of the LES need real parks to use, not a tourist attraction. The Low Line will also be built in the only available space for improved transit service between boroughs that doesn’t involve building new tunnels under the East River. It isn’t hard to imagine that when offices open at the former Dumbo factory that many of the workers will live in the LES. The space in the old trolley terminal would be perfect for a third subway platform at the Essex St station or even more radical (but not really) would be to bring back trolleys with a new light rail system connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan once again. Building light rail would be a much cheaper alternative to expanding subway service and would work better in the outer boroughs than in congested Manhattan.

Seward Park Urban Renewal Area

Seward Park Urban Renewal Area

The QueensWay is a more typical Rails-to-Trails proposal but is along a much more crucial transportation link. Many of the traditional Rails-to-Trails are throughout suburbs and rural areas that may be already served by transit of some type. In the late 1800s the railroad boom lead to many lines over building in areas (and lead to a nasty economic collapse) so it’s a safe bet that in many places there won’t be the need for a extra railroad. But the only railroad through New York City that could directly connect both JFK Airport and the Rockaways directly to Penn Station and Midtown Manhattan? That’s important.

Artists rendering of proposed QueensWay

Artists rendering of proposed QueensWay

The LIRR Rockaway branch was built through the heart of southern Queens to speed rail travel from Long Island City to the Rockaways back when they were a huge summer destination on the scale of Coney Island or Atlantic City. When the subways were being built in the first half of the 20th century planners saw the need to capture this right-of-way and integrate it into the subway system. The IND Queens Boulevard subway has not one but two separate sections built so that any number of extensions to the Rockaways could be built. At Roosevelt Ave station there is an abandoned terminal section which even had tiles installed for a line out to the Rockaways and between 63rd Dr and 67th Ave stations there are two bell mouth portals in the walls of the tunnel to allow for connections to a line to the Rockaways.


1929 IND Second System plan for the Winfield Spur to the Rockaways.

The line itself branched off the LIRR Main Line after Rego Park and ran south through Forest Park to Woodhaven and Ozone Park where it island hopped through Jamaica Bay to the Rockaways. In 1956 the city finally converted the southern section from Ozone Park to the Rockaways to subway service, cutting off the northern section which was left to rot. At the same time Idlewild Airport was opened as well as new Robert Moses built highways to connect the airport to the city. The Rockaway branch was left to rot while the people of the Rockaways had their commutes increased as their once quick ride into midtown was increased by a more roundabout route through downtown Brooklyn and lower Manhattan.

LIRR Rockaway Branch today via Friends of the QueensWay

LIRR Rockaway Branch today via Friends of the QueensWay

Today as the population of the city and number of travelers entering New York through JFK Airport both grows the need for improved transit in the outer boroughs becomes paramount. New York has now surpassed the last population peak following World War II and shows no signs of stopping. The only answer, as it was then, is to grow in the boroughs. Land prices have increased not only in Manhattan but in the areas of Brooklyn and Queens closest to Manhattan. Middle class residents will be pushed further and further out and while some sections of the city have the transit to serve them others are being left behind due to neglect.
Right now the only way into Manhattan from southern Queens via transit is by subways which only run through Brooklyn first or by the more expensive LIRR at Jamaica. This leaves thousands of residents and travelers from JFK with a 40+ minute commute just to get to lower Manhattan, not to mention further when you consider many of these commuters would work uptown, the Bronx, or in northern Queens.

A Train tracks running above the LIRR Rockaway Branch via quiggyt4

A Train tracks running above the LIRR Rockaway Branch via quiggyt4

While one might characterize much of Woodhaven and Ozone Park as suburban compared to Manhattan they are still dense urban areas that have little park space themselves. While there are large parks such as Forest Park or Spring Creek Park those aren’t exactly a park you are going to stroll down to with your kids unless you happen to live a few blocks away. And even then there aren’t many facilities to be had when you arrive. So to say this section of the city is in need of better recreational facilities isn’t a stretch.

The QueensWay project aims to take the northern section of the Rockaway Branch from Rego Park to Ozone Park and make a High Line out of it. From Rego Park to Woodhaven the line runs through mostly wooded parks as it is so this would add a commuter trail along existing facilities. But from Woodhaven to Ozone Park the line is an elevated railroad running through the air like the High Line. There would be new open space for residents, so they claim. Like with the Low Line the QueensWay would create a “park” that isn’t really a park. The elevated line through Ozone Park is at most 60ft wide, hardly enough to have a soccer field. A trail style park like the High Line would be … not like the High Line at all since we are looking at something about twice as long and without any of the population to support it. Proponents of the QueensWay show a landscaped ribbon park with community centers and retail. As I said before Ozone Park is not Chelsea. The High Line already can’t pay for itself and it’s one of the most visited landmarks in the city. The QueensWay would end up being a fraction of any fanciful designs they are proposing out of purely sustainability factors.

Artists rendering of proposed QueensWay

Artists rendering of proposed QueensWay

And at the end of the day what would serve the city better: a park or a new transit line? The transit needs of southern Queens are obvious. A branch of the subway or even the LIRR would cut travel times dramatically and make access to JFK significantly easier for millions of travelers. Proponents of the QueensWay would argue that why should they allow a train line to be built through their backyards only to help commuters and tourists that won’t even spend money there while a park would directly serve the community?

R Train extension along the LIRR Rockaway Branch via NYObserver

R Train extension along the LIRR Rockaway Branch via NYObserver

If you built a park the city would be making the same zero sum mistakes as it’s made time and time again. A park is very hard to get rid of. A train line would open the area not just for commuters but for locals too. It would connect many of the large parks in Queens along the railroad so that parks that were once far away would now be a quick 5 minute subway ride away. Not only that but improved public transit to these undeserved sections of the city would improve air quality by reducing taxi trips out to the airport and car trips to and from the city. This would combine the need for better park access with improved transportation.

What ultimately worries me is that we are falling into the same trend of New is Always Better. We no longer invest in infrastructure in the country at the levels we desperately need. Right now we have a golden opportunity, a blessing in disguise because we’ve let these sections of infrastructure fall apart. While it would have been ideal to keep them in service we still can save them and control growth more effectively. But I worry that we are still stuck on the failed idea that one great idea can save us. People think the High Line is the silver bullet but in reality it was one part of a complex puzzle. Places that aren’t as fortunate to have the economic vitality as Manhattan still see the silver bullet as the only answer. How many forgotten civic centers or disused stadiums dot the landscape? It was Urban Renewal in the 1950s and 60s, downtown malls in the 1970s and 80s. Now it will be ripping up precious infrastructure to hopefully drive the High Line Effect.

We can’t afford to keep taking our valuables and selling them off to the highest bidder to just to get a flashy new toy every generation. That also isn’t to say there aren’t many deserving proposals out there where a new park or development would be the best way to go. We just need to know where the line is and not be pulled over to one side by smoke and mirrors (or rather, unproven economic growth and fiber optic light pods).