futureNYCSubway v4

futureNYCSubway v4

futureNYCSubway v4. Click to download large PDF version.

Two years ago I released an update for my futureNYCSubway series. Version 2 sought to create an updated and more realistic vision from that of the first FNYCS. Version 3 came soon after as a stripped down, budget conscience concept. Since then as I have spoken to more people about my ideas and as ridership on the MTA has hit all time highs I began to see the need for a new plan. As has been widely reported (and obvious to anyone who rides the subway) the ridership numbers throughout the system are up and especially along the L and M trains through Williamsburg and Bushwick as gentrification there continues at a breakneck pace. The MTA released its new 5 year budget and is $15 billion short. This includes money for Phase 2 of the 2nd Ave Subway which would continue the line (under construction currently) to 125th St. Maybe de Blasio, continuing with his support of rezoning East New York, Brooklyn for more affordable housing, has proposed building the Utica Ave Subway, a subway which predates the 2nd Ave Subway and one which has been proposed in various forms many times over the last 100 years. A think tank called ReThinkNYC led by Jim Venturi has released a far reaching plan which would greatly expand LaGuardia Airport and involve new subway lines to the Bronx and a massive new train terminal to connect the region to the new LaGuardia.

This has led me to rethink what I had proposed in the last version of the FNYCS. Much of the previous plans were built off of ideas that came from another era in New York’s history. The 2nd Ave Subway, as it is being built today, was designed at a time when subway ridership was stagnant and urban growth, especially in the Bronx, was small at best. Today the Bronx is seeing a population resurgence so constructing the 2nd Ave Subway with no express tracks seems short sighted. Growth in northern Brooklyn, an area which faced similar large scale depopulation in the 1970s as the Bronx, has not only recovered from the recession but continues at a pace which has seen subway stations ridership throughout Bushwick increase by double digits. New commuting patters from western Queens and an increase in reverse or off peak commuting means that a totally Manhattan-centric subway system should be rethought. A great inspiration for some of the new routes came from a New Yorker article looking at under the radar dollar van routes. Cost still remains the biggest hurdle for subway expansion so new routes need to be considered that take advantage of existing rights-of-way or reconfiguring existing lines for better service. Still, in many areas new tunnels are the only option. Intra-city commuter rail, which in European cities like Berlin, Paris, and London is integrated with subway service, is a flexible transit concept that could better serve the outer boroughs than fixed subway lines.

2nd Ave Subway

2nd Ave Subway with proposed outer borough corridors.  Via Streetsblog

2nd Ave Subway with proposed outer borough corridors. Via Streetsblog


As I mentioned above the 2nd Ave Subway is currently being built as a 2 track subway from 63rd St to 96th St in Manhattan. Phase 2 would extend the line north to 125th St and Park Ave with a tail track under 2nd Ave for storage and future expansion. Phase 2 is up in the air until funding can be found but it is worth noting that much of the actual tunnels in Phase 2 were built in the 1970s but mothballed when the economic crisis hit the city. No tracks or stations were built but just having the tunnels themselves there will save time and money. But because the line is still only 2 tracks this limits how much service the 2nd Ave Subway can provide. Early plans called for express tracks which would spread new service throughout the Bronx. 2 tracks limits the tunnels to only two or three train services.

2nd Ave Subway Lines to Dyre Ave and Cross Harlem
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2nd Ave Subway Lines to Dyre Ave and Cross Harlem

Dyre Ave

The most important extension and the one which would have the biggest impact is connecting the Dyre Ave Line (the 5 train today) to the 2nd Ave Subway via the existing ROW along side the Metro-North/Northeastern Corridor tracks from 180th St in Parkchester, Bronx, through Port Morris and south of Bruckner Blvd. Connecting the Dyre Ave Line to the 2nd Ave Subway is an idea which goes back to the 1920s and one which is been proposed in one form or another since.

Cross-Harlem

The other important 2nd Ave Subway branch would be a Cross-Harlem extension under 125th St to Broadway. Currently the only way to get crosstown via subway is in Midtown or 14th St where the subways are the most congested. A Cross-Harlem Line would balance the loads in Midtown and connect all of Harlem. Further expanding it across the East River to Astoria and LaGuardia Airport would create a triboro subway link which would allow for commuters to easily move between Queens, upper Manhattan, and the Bronx without a trip through Midtown (for more see South Bronx Airport Center below).

Phase 3

1970s Track Map for 2nd Ave Subway. via nycsubway.org
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1970s Track Map for 2nd Ave Subway. via nycsubway.org

Phase 3 of the 2nd Ave Subway is still designed as a 2 track line but since we may be a generation away from even seeing a shovel in the ground for Phase 3 it is worth reconsidering the need for 4 tracks. The 63rd St Tunnel to Queens was designed with a connection to the 2nd Ave Subway so trains could run express to Forest Hills and beyond. Given the growth in ridership on subways in central Queens it will be important to get the most out of the 2nd Ave Subway where it connects to Queens. 4 tracks from 63rd St to Houston St would allow additional trains split between Queens and the Upper East Side so that more branches are possible in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.

Phase 4

Phase 4 of the 2nd Ave Subway is planned as a 2 track line south of Houston St to a terminal at Wall St-Hanover Sq. A track map I found from the 1970s shows a bi-level terminal, though by the time these plans were updated in the late 1990s I’m sure this has been reduced to a single level terminal for budget consideration. It’s worth noting that while the IND 6th Ave Subway was built with space for the 2nd Ave Subway and the Chrystie St Connection was built to allow for integration of the 2nd Ave Subway at Grand St station, neither connections are being considered for the current 2nd Ave Subway plans.

In version 3 of the FNYCS I proposed taking the BMT Centre St Subway (J/Z trains between Broad St and Delancey/Essexs Sts) and rebuilding the line as the southern section of the 2nd Ave Subway so that 2nd Ave trains could use existing tunnels to connect to Brooklyn. While this seemed like a better use of funds than building a brand new tunnel through the Financial District and possibly a new tunnel under the East River to downtown Brooklyn, I was swayed by an argument I read on the nyctransitforums.com which pointed out that 1) the subway under Delancey St would have to be rebuilt due to the geometry needed for the subway tunnel curves 2) this would require demolishing the Bowery station and possibly the Essex St station platforms on the J/Z line 3) that the stations along the line can only hold 8 car trains where IND stations (and new 2nd Ave stations) are built for 10 car trains and 4) the lines in Brooklyn which connect to the Centre St subway are already at capacity. This means the actual cost of converting the Centre St Subway and finding space for all the displaced trains in Brooklyn would most likely negate any savings projected verses building a new subway which would also serve a new area of the city.

Because of this I’ve updated my Phase 4 plans to fit more in line with those of the 1970s plan with a bi-level terminal. The upper level would be used for terminating trains while the lower level would continue to Brooklyn. It may still be possible to connect to the Montague St Tunnel at Broad St (used today by N and R trains) but again the geometry of the tunnel connection might be too tight. This is something that needs to be looked at by an engineer which is why I’ve elected to run the 2nd Ave Subway to Brooklyn via a new tunnel between Coenties Slip/NY Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza and Pierrepont St at which point the tunnel would veer south to link up with the existing Court St station that is currently the home of the NY Transit Museum. This would connect the 2nd Ave Subway to the only Brooklyn subway that is running under capacity, the IND Fulton St Subway (A/C trains).

Brooklyn Service

2nd Ave Subway Lines with Brooklyn Connections
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2nd Ave Subway Lines with Brooklyn Connections

Capacity is a major problem with extending the 2nd Ave Subway into Brooklyn. DeKalb Station is a junction point between all the BMT trains in Brooklyn and one which can not handle additional traffic between trains running to Bay Ridge, Coney Island, and Brighton Beach. The only subway with extra capacity is the IND Fulton St Subway as only two trains run along it (and at night only the A runs). Furthermore with gentrification sweeping through Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant the need for more service along Fulton St will have only grown by the time the 2nd Ave Subway makes it to Phase 4. But having 2nd Ave trains running along Fulton St is only half of the equation. When the East Side Access project, set to open in late 2022, is up and running the MTA will no longer need to run Long Island Railroad trains to Atlantic Terminal. The current plan is to run a shuttle service form Atlantic Terminal to Jamaica but utilizing the Atlantic Ave ROW for an actual subway line is far more preferable.

In 2008 then MTA Chairman Elliott Sander made the case for expanding the 2nd Ave Subway into the outer boroughs and one such route was via the Atlantic Ave Branch. While this may seem like a good way to use the soon to be abandoned ROW there is one major hurdle: Atlantic Terminal itself. Right now at the intersection of Atlantic Ave and Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn runs two 4 track subways (2,3,4,5,N,R, D trains), one 2 track subway(B,Q trains), and an existing commuter rail terminal. If the 2nd Ave Subway is to be extended under Atlantic Ave to use the existing ROW it must first bury deep under Atlantic Terminal via a very expensive station which would need to support the existing infrastructure above. Then it must run to Jamaica making only a few stops at existing stations, or better yet at new stations along the line which are only two short blocks from stations along the existing IND Fulton St Subway. Yet again using an existing ROW doesn’t match up to the costs of upgrading it. Using the existing capacity along Fulton St is the cheapest option that offers the most service.

But that doesn’t mean the entire ROW should be abandoned. Running through East NY and Woodhaven, Queens the Atlantic Ave Branch runs through an area which isn’t as well served by existing express subways. The J/Z from Broadway Junction/East NY to Jamaica has no express track and runs a skip stop service at rush hour. The A/C trains running under Pitkin Ave are a half mile south of Atlantic Ave and run out to the Rockaways but not Jamaica. This means there is potential to run 2nd Ave trains along the stretch of Atlantic Ave from Broadway Junction to Jamaica. Where the IND Fulton St Subway curves south under Pennsylvania Ave two tracks would branch off of the local tracks and connect to the Atlantic Ave Branch. I would recommend as few infill stations as possible so that trains can act as an express line from Broadway Junction to Jamaica as the J/Z and A/C trains can cover existing local trips. New stations would be at Crescent St and Woodhaven Blvd. As there is capacity for two 2nd Ave services running along Fulton St one service can run to Jamaica (Archer Ave subway) and the other run out to Rockaway Park via a reopened Rockaway Branch Line (which would also connect to the IND Queens Blvd Subway). Woodhaven Blvd station would also act as a late night terminal for Rockaway Park trains, a service which would be a big improvement over the existing shuttle from Rockaway Park to Broad Channel.

2nd Ave Subway Lines around Broadway Junction showing new connection to Atlantic Ave Branch and East NY terminal.
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2nd Ave Subway Lines around Broadway Junction showing new connection to Atlantic Ave Branch and East NY terminal.

While this would be the main focus of 2nd Ave trains in Brooklyn having 4 tracks in Manhattan along 2nd Ave would mean that two additional trains could run which would best be used to utilize the Chrystie St Connection with one train running across the Williamsburg Bridge to Atlantic Ave-East NY (a service which once ran as the K train after the Chrystie St Connection opened) and another replacing the B train to Brighton Beach (more about the rerouted B train in the next section). Running 2nd Ave trains over the Williamsburg Bridge would help balance the load of new commuters from Bushwick and Bed-Stuy which currently use the L or M to get to Midtown or take the J and transfer. The J train and the BMT Centre St Subway in general suffer from being built when more people from northern Brooklyn were headed to lower Manhattan and the Financial District. Today commuting patterns have changed but the high cost of new infrastructure has hampered the ability to make needed service changes. Routing a branch of the 2nd Ave Subway along Broadway in Brooklyn would give commuters a quicker one seat ride to Midtown while still preserving the one seat ride to lower Manhattan.

Queens Service

2nd Ave Subway Lines through Queens including Superexpress, Long Island Expressway, LaGuardia, and Southeastern Queens Lines.
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2nd Ave Subway Lines through Queens including Superexpress, Long Island Expressway, LaGuardia, and Southeastern Queens Lines.

MTA Plan of Action from 1968
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MTA Plan of Action from 1968 showing the Superexpress and LIE Subways

With 4 tracks along 2nd Ave two trains could be routed through the 63rd St tunnel to the proposed Superexpress Subway out to Forest Hills. Plans in the 1960s and 1970s also called for a branch off the Superexpress to run along the Long Island Expressway and I’ve incorporated this into the plan. As Robert Moses, who build the LIE, had little love of public transportation he left no room along his highways for future subway lines (as Chicago did with the Blue and Red Lines). This requires a subway along the frontage roads of the LIE (this was also how the Queens Blvd-Archer Ave Subway was built along side of the Van Wyck Expressway). The silver lining is that there are possibly fewer utilities to relocate along these frontage roads and constructing a tunnel along the highway will have less of a negative impact along the surrounding neighborhoods. The Archer Ave Subway through Jamaica Center was built to interface with the Superexpress Subway and future extensions were planned to Hollis, Queens and southeast along the LIRR Far Rockaway Branch to Laurelton. These extensions would be possible with a 2nd Ave-Superexpress Subway as existing lines don’t have the capacity for such extensions. Using the Atlantic Ave Branch the 2nd Ave trains would act as express lines to both downtown Brooklyn, lower Manhattan, and Midtown. Lastly, building the Superexpress means that G trains can be extended from Court Sq through Queens Plaza and terminate using tracks along the Superexpress line. Terminating G trains at Court Sq requires a labyrinthine transfer via two or more trains to continue into Queens so having the ability to run G trains through Queens Plaza station would ease transfers. This cannot be done presently due to the track layout north of Queens Plaza station but building the Superexpress line with an additional track connection to the IND Queens Blvd Subway would allow for such an extension of the G.

Track Map for proposed Superexpress Subway from Queens Plaza to Forest Hills.
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Track Map for proposed Superexpress Subway from Queens Plaza to Forest Hills.

Queens Plaza Track Map: Current Layout and Proposed
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Queens Plaza Track Map: Current Layout and Proposed

Southeastern Queens presents a transit problem when it comes to subways. The land has a high water table so tunnels are prone to flooding. Unlike in south Brooklyn there are no old railroads that could be converted into subway service and no ROWs were left for transit (the N, D, F, and Q trains all run along former steam railroad lines converted to subways by the 1920s); even highways were not built through southeast Queens but rather run on the periphery. The area is a largely residential and in dire need of better transit. Because of the distance from Manhattan any subway would need to run express through Brooklyn or Queens to keep commuting times low. While the LIRR does run through the area the higher fare costs and inflexible service patters dissuade many riders. The best option would be to extend subways along existing LIRR ROWs with as little tunneling as possible. The Southeast Line, as described above, would extend the Archer Ave Subway along the LIRR Far Rockaway Branch to Rosedale, totally converting the branch from LIRR to subway operations, and running it along the Superexpress Line. The second line would extend the Atlantic Ave Branch using the Archer Ave Subway to Hillside-177 St and then along the West Hempstead Branch until Linden Blvd where the line would tunnel just over a mile to Springfield Blvd. Additionally service on the J train would be extended to Hollis. New Select Bus Service routes could fill in the gaps so commuting from the edge of Queens can be as quick and seamless as possible.

New and Extended subway lines in Jamaica, Queens.
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New and Extended subway lines in Jamaica, Queens.

Grand St Subway and Bushwick Express

1929_IND_Second_System
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1929 IND Second System showing South 4th St and Utica Ave subways.

After the 2nd Ave Subway the next area facing a congestion crisis is Williamsburg. Looking at a map of New York City you can see certain transit nodes where all lines from a borough intersect before entering Manhattan; Long Island City in Queens, downtown Brooklyn, and the area around 149th St in the Bronx. This was designed for flexibility in routing trains and so that riders could easily transfer to different lines outside of busy Midtown and Downtown transfer stations. In the 1930s Williamsburg was slated to be the 4th major transfer node so that riders from outer Brooklyn and southern Queens could bypass downtown Brooklyn and lower Manhattan. Plans were drawn up for the South 4th St Subway along with a 4 track Utica Ave and 4 track Myrtle Ave Subways. Collectively, along with the 2nd Ave Subway and other lesser extensions, this was known as the IND Second System. While provisions along the first phase of the IND were built for future expansion the Great Depression and high costs of the newly built IND lines killed this far reaching second phase. Then as northern and central Brooklyn began to depopulate in from the 1960s on the need for such an expansive subway vanished. What planners didn’t foresee was the transformation which Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Bed-Stuy have undergone since the 1990s and will continue to go through for the foreseeable future. Had the IND Utica Ave and IND Myrtle Ave Subways been built the L train today would not be so crowded for sure.

But that does not mean that we should dust off plans from 80 years ago as the growth throughout northern Brooklyn has not grown along the routes of these never built subways. The needs of today are based on what is here: the L, G, M, and J/Z trains all saw substantial ridership growth in the last decade and will continue to see growth as more people are pushed east by gentrification. In previous plans I tried to find a solution which would strike a balance between building subways to respond to current and future demand while taking into consideration the high costs of building what is essentially a totally new subway; the current subways in northern Brooklyn are only 2 or 3 tracks and cannot easily take on new extensions or express service. Furthermore the design flaws of the existing transfers limits the effectiveness of these subways.

Even with new 2nd Ave service on the BMT Jamaica Line through Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy a new tunnel further north will be needed to address the L train congestion. This new tunnel would run from the IND 6th Ave Subway at 2nd Ave under the East River to Grand St and Union Ave in Williamsburg. Here the line would split with one branch headed east under Grand St and making a long curve southeast to Flushing Ave where it would run parallel to the existing L train. The other branch would turn south and merge with the IND Crosstown Line between Metropolitan Ave and Broadway stations.

Grand St Subway with Bushwick Express and Brighton Beach via Crosstown and Franklin Av Lines
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Grand St Subway with Bushwick Express and Brighton Beach via Crosstown and Franklin Av Lines

This first branch would be the Bushwick Express and act as an express counterpart to the L train through Bushwick. There would be stations at Grand, Jefferson, and Myrtle-Wyckoff. The new subway would require a deep bore tunnel under the English Kills section of Newtown Creek and then run along the ROW of the old Evergreen Branch RR. Because the Evergreen Branch was abandoned in the 1920s much of the ROW has been built up. However if you tour the ROW you will notice that much of what has been built is small garages/factories or parking lots. Only a few residential buildings are there and any displacement could easily be offset by air rights construction after the subway is built or offsite development. The new subway would continue southeast until after Halsey St where it would veer northeast to run along the ROW of the NY Connecting RR, the rail line that runs from Bay Ridge through Queens and over the Hell Gate Bridge. The subway would run along the existing track or below if the ROW needed to be rebuilt for passenger service (see IntraCity Rail below) and run through Middle Village to 57th Ave where it would run along the LIE to connect with the Superexpress-LIE branch I described above. As a further connection the line would then branch off the LIE under the interchange between the Van Wyck and Long Island Expressways headed north under the expressway to a new terminal at Flushing-Main St. The new line would connect the major nodes of central Queens, Queens Center Mall and Flushing, with northern Brooklyn and lower Manhattan and act as a collector for riders coming from central and eastern Queens to bypass Long Island City and Midtown.

Franklin Ave Shuttle Extension
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Franklin Ave Shuttle Extension from Fulton St to Lafayette Ave.

The second route which would merge with the IND Crosstown Line is an attempt replicate the utility of the IND Utica Ave Subway, acting as a bypass around downtown Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, but doing so by using as much existing infrastructure as possible. In my last two FNYCS proposals I introduced the Franklin Ave connection which would create a new crosstown subway using the Brighton Beach ROW and along the old Franklin Ave Shuttle. This crosstown route would finally connect the BMT Brighton Beach Line, the IRT Eastern Parkway Line, and the IND Fulton St Line to northern Brooklyn without having to first travel all the way to Atlantic Ave and transfer. Creating a true north-south subway through central Brooklyn would respond to a demand which has required the building of two separate Select Bus Service routes, one along Bedford-Nostrand Aves and a new one proposed for Utica Ave. I noticed that a large portion of riders using the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn transfer at Lorimer St-Metropolitan Ave to grab the G train to head to Bed-Stuy. A new service which would be a one seat ride from Manhattan to Bed-Stuy along this corridor would take many riders off the L train. The need for a Utica Ave subway is still present (I address this below) so the question is whether a fully built out subway like that of the IND Second System is needed or a smaller version which connects just to the IRT Eastern Parkway Line would work. Because the need for the Utica Ave Subway is greater south of Eastern Parkway than it is between Williamsburg and Eastern Parkway (where subways already exist), this new service, which would be a rerouting of the B train along the IND Crosstown Line and new Franklin Ave Subway, would solve the problem of getting from southeastern Brooklyn to Midtown while at the same time increasing service to a growing section of the city.

Chinatown connecting van routes.  Map via the New Yorker
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Chinatown connecting van routes. Map via the New Yorker

Because this new subway would need two trains from the IND 6th Ave Line this would mean rerouting the B and M along Houston St into Williamsburg. B trains would still run to Brighton Beach using the existing capacity along the Brighton Beach Line south of Prospect Park. The existing M train, the elevated Myrtle Ave Line, would be replaced by a rerouted Z train which would return to running to Broad St and possibly Sunset Park as the M train once did. With a connection to the Bushwick Express Line at Metropolitan Ave Z trains would continue north to Corona giving central Queens a one seat ride to lower Manhattan. This is a major benefit to the Bushwick Express concept as the line wouldn’t just take pressure off of the L train but also open up service through areas of Queens not currently served or areas that only have service to Midtown. In the New Yorker article “New York’s Shadow Transit” a major under the radar commuting corridor exists between Flushing, Chinatown, and Sunset Park; the three Chinatowns of NYC. This expanded Z train would connect all three with a one seat ride.

South Bronx Airport Center

South Bronx Airport Center with Subway connections.
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South Bronx Airport Center with Subway connections.

The South Bronx Airport Center has less to do with subway expansion by itself but rather a way to incorporate subway expansion into a new urban system. In version 3 of the FNYCS I designed a subway shuttle service using the Cross-Harlem Line running through Randalls Island into Astoria and on to LaGuardia Airport. That was before I was inspired by the ReThinkNYC proposal by Jim Venturi. As part of the ReThinkNYC proposal Rikers Island will be depopulated of its infamous prison and new terminal facilities for LaGuardia Airport will be built there. Right across the East River in Port Morris, Bronx, a major rail terminal and mini-city will be built which will connect rail travelers coming from New England, Upstate NY, and New Jersey. It is a truly revolutionary proposal; an idea with a lot of broad strokes, high ideals and an unimaginable cost so I began to wonder about a stripped down version which would be more affordable.

ReThinkNYC proposal for a Port Morris-LaGuardia terminal.  futureNYCSubway proposal would use the vacant land to the west instead.
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ReThinkNYC proposal for a Port Morris-LaGuardia terminal. futureNYCSubway proposal would use the vacant land to the west instead.

The brilliance of the ReThinkNYC plan is using land in the Bronx for airport check-in facilities since there isn’t much room for expansion at the current airport. Building these new facilities where subways, intercity trains, and highways meet reduces traffic and the need for so many transfers. But instead of redeveloping all of Port Morris it would be cheaper to use the vacant land bordered by the Harlem River, Bronx Kill, and E 132nd St. This section of land also happens to be through where the 2nd Ave-Dyre Ave Line would run and a new station along the Metro-North/Northeastern Corridor tracks along the Bronx approach of the Hell Gate Bridge would form the basic transit connection. Because the area is at the beginning of the Bruckner Expressway either existing city streets could be expanded for the additional traffic or new ramps built which would serve intercity buses. The ReThinkNYC proposal is more about making the current commuter rail network, which terminates in Manhattan, into an intercity, through-running network which would offer one seat rides from New Jersey to Connecticut. I am more focused on the subway aspect and I think that an airport terminal here would work even without a radical rethinking of the regions rail system.

The first level would be train yards for the 2nd Ave Subway. Above that would be a large parking garage. The central section of the new project would be an off site (of the airport) check-in facility where bags are checked and tickets purchased. Centralizing as much of the passenger infrastructure here would reduce traffic on the RFK-Triboro Bridge or Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. Additional sections of the center would have hotels, retail, and possibly affordable housing. As the massive new development would cut off the South Bronx from the waterfront (not that it isn’t already cut off) there would be a large new pedestrian bridge over the Bronx Kill connecting Bruckner Blvd with the parks of Randalls Island.

Close up map showing subway routes between Harlem and LaGuardia Airport via South Bronx Airport Center.
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Close up map showing subway routes between Harlem and LaGuardia Airport via South Bronx Airport Center.

A new subway from the Airport Center to LaGuardia via Astoria would run four services: a branch of the 2nd Ave Subway to LaGuardia, a subway shuttle from the Metro-North station at Harlem-125th St to Astoria Blvd, and a baggage transportation system so that passengers bags can be transported directly to their proper terminals (to clarify the baggage “subway” would be completely separate from the passenger subway). Once in Queens there would also be a connection to the N train, extended from Astoria-Ditmars Blvd. The number of stations would depend on the redesign of the LaGuardia Terminals. Because LaGuardia is right next to a dense urban neighborhood these stations would also be heavily used by non-airport bound commuters. The subway would then extend past LaGuardia and run along the Grand Central Parkway to Mets-Willets Point along the route proposed by Gov Andrew Cuomo for the new AirTrain. The subway would then terminate at Flushing-Main St. Anyone going to the airport can now reach it via Manhattan, the Bronx, or Queens while regular commuters from Flushing and northern Queens will use it to bypass Long Island City and Midtown while commuting to upper Manhattan and the Bronx. Building only an AirTrain, which would cost an additional fee for subway riders, would only serve the airport. Expanding the subway network through the airport along with a new connection to the Bronx has more value and thus worth the extra cost.

Utica and Nostrand Ave Extensions

Map showing proposed Utica Ave Subway and Nostrand Ave Subway Extension.
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Map showing proposed Utica Ave Subway and Nostrand Ave Subway Extension.

The need for subway service to southeastern Brooklyn got renewed interest when Mayor de Blasio recently come out in favor of building the Utica Ave Subway. No details have come forth so it may be just another fluff piece from City Hall. Regardless, a 2 track subway extending the 4 train south of Eastern Parkway is the only logical option. As I explained above building the Utica Ave Subway through Williamsburg, the IND Second System plan, would double the cost and scope of the project and have to spend too much of the construction building subways through areas that already have subways (Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Bed-Stuy). The need is greatest south of Eastern Parkway and though there are issues with capacity as the IRT Eastern Parkway branches get closer to downtown Brooklyn I think that having the Franklin Ave Subway acting as a bypass would mitigate any capacity issues.

Track Map for proposed IRT Nostrand Ave Subway extension.
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Track Map for proposed IRT Nostrand Ave Subway extension.

Additionally the Nostrand Ave Subway should be extended south to Sheepshead Bay. I have included a new skip-stop service along the line to speed travel times, though it would have to be studied to know the effectiveness of such service.

Queens Extensions

Rockaway Branch

R Train extension along the LIRR Rockaway Branch via NYObserver
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R Train extension along the LIRR Rockaway Branch via NYObserver


Reactivating the abandoned LIRR Rockaway Branch, connecting Queens Blvd trains to Howard Beach-JFK, is possibly the best transit expansion for the least amount of money the city could build. The biggest issue is the neighboring residential communities which have enjoyed a quiet existence next to the abandoned ROW for 50 years. The benefits to the city, and even to these neighbors, would outweigh the inconvenience. When the IND Queens Blvd Subway was built provisions along the tunnel were left to extend local trains south after 63 Dr-Rego Park. Further studies should be done to find the best placement for stations but the original stations at Parkside-Metropolitan Ave, Jamaica Ave, Atlantic Ave, and 103 Ave could be rebuilt. Because the only way to incorporate this new service into the Queens Blvd Subway is via a local train, most likely the R, it may be a worthwhile investment to convert Woodhaven Blvd station to an express station. Incorporating the Superexpress into the Rockaway Branch may also work but given how far off the Superexpress is from being built finding a solution via the Queens Blvd Subway is the only viable option.

Hillside Ave Extension

Track Map for proposed IND Hillside Ave Subway extension.
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Track Map for proposed IND Hillside Ave Subway extension.

Extending the Hillside Ave subway in Jamaica should be included in any long range plan. Again, extending subway tunnels may be prohibitively expensive this far out in Queens so this is would be a low priority. This is a corridor which would benefit from a Select Bus Service to determine any future needs for subway construction.

Flushing Expansion

Flushing Extensions
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Flushing Extensions

Flushing is in dire need of improved subway transportation. In proposals above I’ve outlined how the 2nd Ave Subway could be extended out this way via LaGuardia and how the Bushwick Express could give Flushing residents a one seat ride to lower Manhattan via central Queens and Williamsburg. The two most important corridors for new service are down Roosevelt Ave to Northern Blvd and north under Parsons Blvd or 149 St. The only way to do this is via tunneling. The 7 train is seeing continued growth and with the introduction of CBCT signalling it will be able to run more trains. What I’m proposing is splitting the service between a 7 train and an 8 train. Because the line only has 3 tracks express service would run at rush hour, as it does now. Two branches would fill in these corridors and sop up commuters who normally would make a transfer from bus routes at Flushing-Main St, a station never designed to handle the traffic it sees. A new terminal station for 2nd Ave and Bushwick trains would shoulder the burden and distribute commuters away from the congested Roosevelt Ave corridor through Corona and Jackson Heights.

Manhattan and Bronx Extensions

10th Ave Subway

A 2 track line, extending the L train at 14th St and 8th Ave to 72nd St and Amsterdam Ave will be required after 20 years of development throughout the west side of Manhattan overloads the 2/3 and 7 trains currently at capacity. Nothing about this has changed from version 3 except it the subway may be built with 3 tracks in sections for extra train storage.

North Riverdale 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).

IND Concourse Line Extension

Track Map for proposed IND Concourse Line extension, predating Coop City.
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Track Map for proposed IND Concourse Line extension, predating Coop City.

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.

IntraCity Rail

IntraCity Lines.
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IntraCity Lines.

I’ve written in the past how I never saw the RPA’s proposal for a circumferential transit line, dubbed Triboro RX, worth the cost. While it has high ideals the fact is the ROW doesn’t really run anywhere people need to commute to. As the original railroad lines on which it is based never saw passenger service (except in small sections like through East New York) most subways don’t stop for easy transfers. This makes the concept less than ideal.

But looking at the line by itself might be short sighted. Cities in Europe are finding innovative ways to use their existing train lines by creating hybrid commuter rail transit systems. The S-Bahn in Berlin, the RER in Paris, and the Overground in London have all revolutionized how these commuter rail lines work. These hybrid lines also integrate with the subway as much as possible and costs are in line with subway prices rather than a destination based fare system. Transfers can be made via smart passes so station costs can be kept low.

The idea behind the IntraCity Line is that you take the existing radial commuter rail routes of the LIRR and Metro-North and connect them via existing rail ROWs that are currently lightly used for freight. The map I have designed does not provide any routes set in stone as it would take a large study to determine which routes would make the most sense. But by building new connections in Queens and the Bronx a commuter from Long Island could get to Westchester without having to change in Midtown or drive over the congested East River bridges. If the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel is finally constructed then the Staten Island RR could be extended directly to Grand Central or Penn Station. Now the three regional airports are all connected to rail lines that serve the entire region rather than only Long Island or New Jersey.

Granted the majority of trips in the New York region area headed to Manhattan. But there is still a need for trips that go to other centers, Flushing, Jamaica, the South Bronx, and Staten Island. While these are not major commercial districts like Midtown they are major sub centers within the city and connecting them to a more flexible network of trains would open up job centers outside of Manhattan. New auto bridges and highways won’t be built in New York City they way there were in the 20th Century so the only way to reduce traffic is through innovative uses of the infrastructure we have. Anyone who doesn’t commute into Manhattan needs to travel around the city and they only option for many is to drive.

The IntraCity concept won’t be cheap and may well be on the same scope, cost wise, as a fully built 2nd Ave Subway or East Side Access. But the new network would open up so much new economic growth possibilities at the same time as reducing congestion on transit lines and highways around the region that it may well be worth more to build than it would to build small, piecemeal subways and highways that only address small areas of congestion. Additionally there is climate change to consider; Hurricane Sandy showed the economic impact that blocking existing transit tunnels does to the city so having a back up route that can still connect commuters by bypassing closed tunnels can keep the city running during times of crisis.

Conclusion

As always these ideas are fun to fantasize about but what really matters is money. If you read the history of subways in New York you see the same thing over and over again; to get anything built you need a powerful politician who wants to get it done. If it wasn’t for John Hylan we wouldn’t have the A train (also the B,C,D,E,F & G trains). LaGuardia ripped the Els down but it was Robert Moses who built highways instead. Rockefeller knocked Moses out of power by creating the MTA which used the Triboro Bridge and Tunnel funds to upgrade the aging system. Michael Bloomberg wanted a subway for his real estate pals and later this year the 7 Train extension to Hudson Yards is set to open. Our current Governor is, unfortunately, no friend of transit and while Mayor Bill de Blasio has supported transit expansion he has yet to put his money where his mouth is.

The New York City Subway needs to be lead by people who don’t remember the bad days of the 1970s and 80s when ridership plummeted. New York is a different place now and this is reflected by the highest subway ridership numbers ever. We need politicians who look to the future. The city has for too long only seen the subway as something it had to patch up and keep running. There hasn’t been a serious wide ranging transportation plan for the city since 1968 and it’s time for the city to take hard look at what it will take to keep the city growing and keep it affordable.

Obviously just building subways will not be enough. In this version of the FNYCS I introduced a sketch of an idea for IntraCity rail but the truth is what is really needed is a more balanced system. Many of the lines I’ve proposed can’t even be built until other projects (2nd Ave, East Side Access) are built first so it’s worth considering adding new Select Service, BRT, routes throughout the outer boroughs to gauge the future need of many of these corridors. Ferry service too can help, though this is limited to new developments along the water. This brings up the issue of climate change and how the city and subway needs to adapt for sea level rise and future storms. Building a future transportation network which has redundancies built in and encourages new development away from low lying areas will soften the impact of future disasters.

On a really nerdy cartographic note I want to add that I think I found a good way to integrate the different subway and rail systems in the region into one map. I also added a key showing the routes of each train and how it would run, as well as a visual key for reading the map (FNYCS v1 had this but not v2 or v3). Since I last drew a FNYCS map the man who inspired this map, Massimo Vignelli, passed away and I want to thank him for his amazing work. I use his map as a tribute to him and also because it offers visual clarity which I am constantly trying to honor. It’s hard to change and expand the map so much, adding so much new information, and still keep it easy to read. The fact that he created a system that can so easily and cleanly be expanded upon speaks to his genius.

As always I welcome a constructive discussion of my ideas and if you spot any errors please let me know.

The futureNYCSubway: TriboroRX & Atlantic Ave Express

Introduction

I realize that on most of the maps I’ve made for this series there are a couple new subway lines which I’ve not described. I probably should have put this section closer to the beginning, but no matter. These two proposals, the Triboro RX Line and the Atlantic Ave Super-Express Line both come from the Regional Plan Association, the major non-profit planning organization for the New York Metropolitan area. The RPA’s plans are famous for being influential despite not being legally binding. The first RPA plan from 1929 laid out proposals for a complete rethinking of the highways in and around the metropolitan area (which were only later implemented by Robert Moses decades later). Other RPA plans have called for the redevelopment of the New Jersey waterfront, something which has been underway for the last couple decades.

TriboroRX

Triboro RX Line through southern Brooklyn from Bay Ridge to Broadway Junction.
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Triboro RX Line through southern Brooklyn from Bay Ridge to Broadway Junction.

The Triboro RX Line was proposed in the Third Regional Plan back in 1996. The idea is simple: there are many unused or under-used rail lines that cross through the outer boroughs which could be used to provide passenger rail service to undeserved areas of the city. What’s more, many of these lines link up, in a sort of rail network, so that with only marginal extra construction a new “loop” or “crosstown” subway/commuter rail line could be created. The line was called Triboro RX and began at the waterfront in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The Long Island Railroad Bay Ridge Line was once part of the rail system which brought city dwellers to Coney Island back in the late 19th and early 20th century. When many of these lines were converted to subways the Bay Ridge Line stopped carrying passengers and today only carries freight. The line makes a broad arc through southern Brooklyn from Bay Ridge to Broadway Junction, almost as if you drew it with a compass.

What makes this line so appealing is that it would connect to every subway in Brooklyn (except the Brooklyn-Queens Crosstown Line) and would act like a shuttle to bring passengers over to lines which might not connect even in downtown Brooklyn or Manhattan. The line would also bring subway access to areas of Flatlands, East Flatbush, and Canarsie which today are woefully under served.

Rendering of the Cross-Brooklyn Expressway

Rendering of the Cross-Brooklyn Expressway

An interesting side note is that this is not the first time that mass transit has been proposed for this corridor. Back in the 1960s Robert Moses wanted to use this right-of-way for a highway, the Cross-Brooklyn Expressway. To get public support for the plan the proposal called for a below grade highway with mass transit along side (see drawing at left). Above, to cover the highway, would have been a linear park system with large apartment buildings, dubbed the Linear City. While it was an interesting idea, in reality such a project would have destroyed neighborhoods, increased traffic, and dotted the landscape with offensive and inhuman towers. The park probably would have been thrown out in early plans because of cost overruns and most likely so would have the mass transit line. Because this corridor is still so important, the idea of a Cross Brooklyn Expressway is still being mulled around by transportation planners, in some cases combined with a cross harbor freight tunnel.

Triboro RX through Jackson Heights.
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Triboro RX through Jackson Heights.

After the Triboro RX whips around southern Brooklyn it comes up through Broadway Junction. At this point the line would, if built as a subway, run along the same tracks as the BMT Canarsie L Line. The Canarsie Line at this point is elevated but runs along side the Bay Ridge Line which is sunk below grade (click here to see a picture I took of this spot). Plans as far back as the 1960s called for demolishing the elevated structure and rebuilding it in the railroad trench. If the Triboro RX was built then this would be part of the plan, with the current elevated stations replaced with new below grade stations. The trench at this point could be built over with a park and/or housing, much like the original Linear City plan at a much smaller scale.

After Broadway Junction the Triboro RX would continue along the Canarsie Line until it (the Canarsie Line) turns towards Bushwick, at which point the Triboro RX would head through Ridgewood and into Middle Villege, Maspeth, and into Jackson Heights. In Jackson Heights there are two options for where the line could run; The original RPA plan just has the line continuing along the existing railroad line up into Astoria but there is a little know abandoned subway tunnel and station at the Roosevelt Ave station which could be used to more conveniently connect the Triboro RX to the Queens Blvd Line (E,F,M,R trains) and Flushing Line (7 train). The additional station was built by the IND when the Queens Blvd Line was first constructed in the 1930s. The original concept was for a subway to the Rockaways to use the station, one service would connect to the Queens Blvd Line while one service would terminate at Roosevelt Ave. (For more information check out the Roosevelt Ave page at Joseph Brennan fantastic Abandoned Stations site.)

The Triboro RX would continue along through Astoria where it would travel up to 7 stories in the air along the Hell Gate Bridge. Stations at this point would need to be engineered into the viaduct which would add to the cost but would allow for spectacular views of the city (and of course, transfers to other subway lines). On Randalls Island there could also be a station, though it would likely have the lowest ridership in the system. The island is home to concerts, ball fields, and a psychiatric center and is well served by buses but a station would do more to open the island up to people who’ve probably never thought about going there.

TrXiboro RX through the south Bronx.
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TrXiboro RX through the south Bronx.

The last section of the line enters the south Bronx through Port Morris and has two possible routes; The first, as proposed by the RPA, would utilize an abandoned freight rail tunnel which used to serve the port and warehouses. The tunnel runs under St. Mary’s Park and links up with the MetroNorth Harlem River Line at Melrose Ave. Here the Triboro RX would turn back south and head west under 161st St to Yankee Stadium. The RPA plan calls for the line to terminate at 161st/Yankee Stadium but I propose that the line link up with the IND Grand Concourse B/D Line and head into Manhattan, terminating at 145th St. This would make for fewer transfers and allow Manhattan better access to the outer boroughs (so, if a subway tunnel to Staten Island was to be constructed, this line would be the only subway route to travel through ever borough).

An alternative route would take the Triboro RX closer to Hunts Point before turning west under 163rd St. In my Second Ave Subway proposal I call for a 4 track subway under 163rd St to serve two Second Ave trains to Throgs Neck and Co-op City. If this tunnel was to be built then the Triboro RX line could share the trackage. After 3rd Ave it would continue to Yankee Stadium, thus creating a crosstown subway of sorts through the south Bronx.

Atlantic Ave Super-Express

Atlantic Ave Super-Express from Manhattan to Brooklyn.
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Atlantic Ave Super-Express from Manhattan to Brooklyn.

The Atlantic Ave Super-Express comes from a 1999 RPA proposal. The MetroLink was the RPAs concept of an integrated Second Ave Subway system which would save on construction costs by utilizing existing infrastructure, much of which I covered in my Second Ave Subway proposals. A major element to the RPA proposal was the conversion of the Long Island Railroad Atlantic Branch which runs under Atlantic Ave from Jamaica to Flatbush Ave. The RPA proposed continuing the Second Ave Subway from lower Manhattan to Atlantic Ave where the subway would run express out to Jamaica with two branches, one to Jamaica Center and another to JFK Airport. Interestingly, the RPA also proposed that these two branches terminate, in Manhattan, at Grand Central Terminal via a short spur under 42nd St.

The most important, and most expensive, part of a Super-Express subway along Atlantic Ave would be the connection to Manhattan from Brooklyn. Over the last 10 years planners and politicians have tried to find a way to connect lower Manhattan with either the Long Island Railroad or just to JFK via a subway or extension of the AirTrain. The problem has been cost; any plausible plan would be in the billions. The most recent plans floated called for extending the LIRR into Manhattan via a tunnel with a new terminal in lower Manhattan. Because of the space required such a terminal would be prohibitively expensive. If, however, the LIRR along Atlantic Ave was to be converted to subway service then it could be cheaply connected to existing service via the Manhattan Bridge (into Chambers St) or via the Nassau St subway. Alternatively, if the Second Ave Subway was finished through Water St then this tunnel could then connect to Atlantic Ave (proposed for the MetroLink).

Map of planned but unbuilt BMT system with subway connections to the Brooklyn Bridge.
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Map of planned but unbuilt BMT system with subway connections to the Brooklyn Bridge.

An even more radical idea would be to extend it over the Brooklyn Bridge where it would run from Chamber St, over the bridge and under Adams St to Atlantic Ave. Such a plan is not without precedent; trains ran over the bridge when it first opened and when the BMT was building their subways through lower Manhattan there was a very serious plan to build this exact connection. There was originally to be two large loops, one which ran from DeKalb St in Brooklyn, over the Manhattan Bridge to Chambers St and down through Nassau St, under the East River via the tunnel, and linking back up with DeKalb St back in Brooklyn. This loop was built. The second one, a much larger loop was not. This loop would have started out at Broadway Junction in East New York. Using the Broadway Elevated Line (J/M/Z trains), it would enter Manhattan via the Williamsburg Bridge where it would run to Chambers St via the Centre St Subway. After Chambers St it would make a sharp turn and head to Brooklyn via the Brooklyn Bridge. From here trains would make their way back to Broadway Junction via any number of the elevated lines which snaked through Bedford-Stuyvesant at the time (Myrtle Ave, Lexington Ave, or Fulton St Els). Today, however, it may seem impractical to have trains running on the Brooklyn Bridge, but in a future where gas is much more expensive it would make sense given how many more people trains can carry. (For more information and better diagrams showing this proposed connection check out the Chambers St page at Joseph Brennan fantastic Abandoned Stations site.)

On the Brooklyn side, the LIRR terminates at Flatbush Ave so a new tunnel would need to be cut from Flatbush to the East River. This would be the most expensive part (along with a new tunnel if such a plan was chosen) but one which is also not without precedent. When the LIRR was originally built it in fact ran all the way to ferries on the East River. A large ditch was cut through Brooklyn Heights but the soot and noise so disturbed the populous that the railroad was ordered to cap the trench, thus making it a tunnel (and some would argue the first subway in the world). But tunnel system was so primitive that riding through the tunnel with the soot and noise was unbearable for riders. Soon the tunnel was shut down and service cut back to an above ground terminal at Flatbush Ave. The tunnel fell into legend until it was rediscovered by Bob Diamond in 1980. Today you can even take tours of the tunnel (for more information check out the BHRA’s web site.) Of course if a subway was to be built today it would not be able to reuse such a tunnel.

The Atlantic Ave Super-Express through Broadway Junction.
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The Atlantic Ave Super-Express through Broadway Junction.

After Flatbush Ave the Super-Express Line would run down Atlantic Ave, making the existing stop at Nostrand Ave, to Broadway Junction. Here there are two options, the first is that the line could continue along Atlantic Ave out to Jamaica with no extra stops along the way, or it could link up with my previously proposed Bushwick Trunk Line. The Bushwick Trunk Line would allow trains to loop back through Chambers St like the original BMT plan, this time is extra express tracks through both Bushwick and along Atlantic Ave. On the Atlantic Ave side there would be only two tracks along Atlantic Ave from downtown Brooklyn to Broadway Junction. At Broadway Junction the Bushwick Trunk Line would connect with the Super-Express to create a 4 track subway from Broadway Junction, along Atlantic Ave in East New York, out to Jamaica. There could be three or four different train services: an all local train from Jamaica to Chambers St via Bushwick, an express train from Jamaica to Chamber St via Bushwick, an express train from Jamaica to Chambers St via Atlantic Ave, and an express loop which would run through Bushwick to Chambers St and back along Atlantic Ave.

The Atlantic Ave Super-Express lines in Jamaica.
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The Atlantic Ave Super-Express lines in Jamaica.

From Broadway Junction to Jamaica it may make sense to rebuild Atlantic Ave with 4 tracks and demolish the existing elevated structure which runs through Cypress Hills and Richmond Hill. The elevated line was supposedly built to allow for an express track but one was never added. Because of this, and due to the fact that this section of trackage is the oldest in the entire New York City Subway system, it may be a good investment to replace the elevated structure with a 4 track subway along Atlantic Ave. Though passengers would no longer have a subway so close to them, a relocation would get rid of the blight which the line brings and allow for a much quicker commute into the city. And while some people would have to walk further, moving the line south would bring subway service closer to others.

In Jamaica Center the Super-Express Line would use the Archer Ave Subway. The original plan for the Archer Ave Subway (which would have served another super-express subway through Queens) was to have two branches, one running east along the LIRR right-of-way to Queens Village, and one running southeast along the Far Rockaway branch through Laurelton and Rosedale (which would replace LIRR service with subway service). These two extensions should still be a high expansion priority regardless if the Super-Express Line is built. Due to the congestion along the LIRR it might not be feasible to use the LIRR right-of-way to Queens Village so a two track subway might be built along Hollis Ave. This would more evenly distribute subway service but would be much more expensive. Another possibility is that if the IND Fulton St Subway extension was to be built then the two subways (that and the Super-Express) could link up allowing Queens Blvd trains to reach further into southeastern Queens.

Conclusion

I left these two expansion ideas for last because, while they score points in terms of cost, they seem like scraps compared to major projects like the Second Ave Subway. A giant loop subway connecting all boroughs seems good on paper but in reality it might not have the ridership to justify the cost. A crosstown subway from Brooklyn to Queens was planned for decades before it was finally built as the G train and today the G is perhaps the most loathed line in the system; it runs very infrequently and runs only 6 or 4 car trains as opposed to the usual 10 cars. It basically acts as a glorified shuttle. If the G, which actually runs between large employment centers and through dense residential neighborhoods, can hardly work out, how is a massive system like the Triboro RX to work? But at the same time the Triboro RX would run through major areas of the city which are far from other subways and would connect to almost every other line in the system.

The Atlantic Ave Super-Express also looks good on paper but once again the benefit might not out weigh the cost. The city has been trying for the last decade to bring the LIRR into lower Manhattan (or some variation) but the cost has just been too great. Still, the existing Broadway El can only serve Brooklyn for so long before it becomes obsolete. Converting Atlantic Ave into a subway which would serve new areas of the city and connect to the existing system to save on cost may, sooner rather than later, become a high priority project.

Note: Unlike my previous posts I am not going to include another system map to show how these two projects would add to the system as a whole. In my next and final post I will explain how all the projects I discussed fit together with a giant system and geographical map.


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