The subway expansion that never came to beBy
The city never received the subway upgrades in wanted in the late 1960s. (Click to enlarge.)
Every rail fan has their own pet project for a better New York City subway system, and everyone likes to dream a day in which that system is a reality. Recently, the topic du jour has focused around ways to connect the outer boroughs while avoiding Manhattan and ways to extend current lines past their outer terminals into under-served neighborhoods.
In recent months, foremost among those dreamers has been the MTA. Before the economy had completely collapsed underneath us, Elliot “Lee” Sander, CEO and Executive Director of the MTA, had unveiled an ambitious expansion plan during his State of the MTA speech. The plan focused around the Regional Plan Association’s circumferental subway route. This line, using a mix of MTA rights of way and pre-existing tracks would connect to 19 subway lines and three boroughs while avoiding Manhattan.
At the time, I expressed my support, in theory, for the idea while recognizing that the perfect storm of money and political circumstances would have to align for this pipe dream to approach reality, and I left it at that. Last week, Cap’n Transit opined on the state of Brooklyn-Queens subway connectors and briefly mentioned the RPA’s plan as an outgrowth of some long lost subway expansion plans from the 1960s.
So, a-diggin’ we shall go. The year was 1968, and Mayor Lindsay’s New York was a sitting on the rise. The financial crises of the 1970s, from which it would take the city a good twenty years to recover, were nowhere in sight, and expansion was all the rage. Among the city improvement plans was an ambitions, $2-billion MTA expansion plan for the New York City subway system. These plans, developed prior to the MTA’s takeover of the subways on March 1, 1968, called for an expansion of about 40 route miles or what was then 20 percent of the subway system.
As Richard Witkin of The Times reported then, we would have seen a great number of expansion plans come to fruition including:
- A new Queens line through the planned 63rd St. tunnel that would shadow the LIRR to Jamaica and then veer south to the LIRR main line to the city limits.
- Subway service out to Douglaston via the 63rd St. tunnel.
- A Bronx line from the Harlem River to Dyre Ave. via the New York, Westchester and Boston Railroad tracks…
- …and a Second Ave. Subway from south of Wall St. north to this new Bronx line.
- An extension of the Nostrand Ave. line out to Mill Basin, an area still in need of subway service today.
- A subway spur from the Atlantic branch of the LIRR to John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Over the next few years, subway advocates would continue to >trumpet these plans and talk as though they were just around the corner. Two years after this grand unveiling, John J. Gilhooley, a former Transit Authority worker, wrote at length about the MTA’s plans with little doubt as to their feasibility.
As time wore on, the plans changed to become even grander. As proposed maps from the time show, the outer boroughs would see more connections and a far-flung system while Manhattan would see train service to the far West Side, a Second Ave. line and an innovative subway running from 1st Ave. and Houston St. to 1st Ave. and 14th St. via Ave C.
But dreams do not become a reality. The Second Ave. Subway in the 1970s came to crashing halt when the city’s economy did the same. The 63rd St. Tunnel didn’t open until 1989, and the plans to extend the subway to JFK morphed into an airtrain that started service in 2003. We’re still talking about extending the subways westward and that good ol’ Second Ave. Subway.
It sure is fun to dream, eh?