Home 7 Line Extension How the Olympics ruined the 7 line extension

How the Olympics ruined the 7 line extension

by Benjamin Kabak

With the winter games unfolding in Vancouver this weekend, I keep thinking about how, had the Mayor’s bid in 2005 to secure the Summer Olympics for New York City been successful, the next great gathering of international athletes would have been ours. And then I start thinking about how the 7 line project — one now destined to serve residents of a real estate complex not yet built or even paid for — got its start in Bloomberg’s desires to see the Olympics come to New York. It was that same desire and the subsequent loss of the games to London that has led to the downfall of the station at 41st and 10th Ave.

We know the project’s recently history fairly well. The project’s design phase started in 2002 when Bloomberg launched his plan to develop Manhattan’s last great frontier, the Hudson Yards land. At the time, the Mayor hoped to lure the Jets from New Jersey with a stadium that would also serve as the home for the 2012 Summer Olympics. In June 2005, amidst massive public protest, the state legislature failed to guarantee financing for the stadium, and a few months later, the IOC, citing that failure, awarded the Olympics to London.

Still, the 7 line extension did not die with the Olympics. Originally, the project’s timetable was an aggressive one. Project Design Completion was due to be wrapped up by December 2006 with construction beginning that year and revenue service in time for the Olympics in 2012. Today, the MTA still lists TBD as the Project Design Completion date. Construction started on December 15, 2007, over a year later than originally anticipated, and revenue service is right now scheduled to start during December of 2013. The MTA will miss those Summer Olympics by a good 17 months.

Over the course of project’s history, the City and MTA have fought over nearly every aspect of it. The City, the primary funding partner for this extension, refused to fund cost overruns and an expensive station stop at 41st and 10th Ave. The MTA has had trouble securing a deal for the land rights to the Hudson Yards area, and the current $1 billion offer from Related is on borrowed time, already one month past the anticipated closing date.

What though would have happened if the Olympics had come to New York? For that, we hit the maps. Take a look at the map below. It is an excerpt from a special map the MTA printed in 2005 showing the potential locations for all of the Olympics events. (To view the map in full, click here.)

Any Olympics plan for the city included heavy usage of the Far West Side. The Javits Center would have hosted six key events, including weightlifting, fencing, wrestling and table tennis, and the planned West Side stadium would have featured some track-and-field contests and the soccer matches. To ensure capacity for those events, the city would have needed a subway stop at 34th St. and 11th Ave. and probably would have paid to build the one at 41st and 10th as well. Instead, the costs skyrocketed, and we’re left with REBNY’s protests, years too late.

So far, progress along the 7 line remains on target. According to the latest update from Capital Construction, the tunnel boring machines have excavated nearly 40 percent of the planned 9500 feet. The two TBMs are mining north of the 34th St. station cavern, and northernmost machine has passed under all three Lincoln Tunnel tubes, the more delicate part of the drilling. By the end of next month, we’ll have an update on the projects budget and timeline.

Meanwhile, we can remember when the Olympics nearly came to New York. Enthusiasm amongst city residents was decidedly mixed, but the subways would have benefited once the athletes all went home.

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West Sider February 25, 2010 - 6:12 am

Are you being paid by Dan Doctoroff? Go back and get your details right. Better yet, stick to Second Ave.

Benjamin Kabak February 25, 2010 - 10:17 am

Instead of being a nasty anonymous troll, why don’t you point out where I got the details wrong? I’ve never been on the city’s side of the stadium, the Olympics bid of the way they’ve handled funding the 7 line extension. But I wouldn’t expect a first-time commenter looking to leave some snarky-zingy comment to bother to read through the archives here.

AK February 25, 2010 - 10:25 am

+1 Ben. West Sider, we love a good debate here. Give us your perspective and lets have at it! 🙂

AlexB February 25, 2010 - 10:45 am

This isn’t Curbed, keep it polite.

Scott E February 25, 2010 - 8:17 am

If the Olympics were to come in 2012, it could have gone two ways. Either we saw some massive infrastructure improvement (relatives of mine in Salt Lake City were proud to show off their shiny new light-rail, courtesy of the Olympics).

Or, more likely than not, we’d see cheaper, simpler, open-air stations like the temporary PATH station built at the World Trade Center. Plus, newspapers around the world would rally around the subway’s unofficial tagline: “Please Swipe Again”.

The decision by IOC to award the games to London may have saved New York lots of embarrassment.

Russell Warshay February 25, 2010 - 8:58 am

I think that the 2012 plan was flawed in its need to build new infrastructure that was not a high priority, and that they chose the wrong site. Building over Sunnyside Yard seems like a better place to me. There is more existing infrastructure to support it, and any new infrastructure might be stuff that is already on public agendas, like a commuter rail station there.

I’d like to see New York host an Olympics someday, but only if most of the infrastructure is in place. For example, I think that Javits should be replaced by a much larger convention center over Sunnyside Yard, with a mega-hotel on top of it. There’s your Olympic Village and Broadcast Center. With a Sunnyside Station, commuter rail lines could transport athletes to most venues, and water taxis (with a shuttle from the convention center) could get them to the rest. In other words, New York would become perpetually ready for an Olympics.

AlexB February 25, 2010 - 10:48 am

I agree that Sunnyside is a more appropriate place for something like this. The only reason American cities put stadiums in the business district is to revive older downtowns. New York doesn’t need that, that’s why we put our stadiums in places like Flushing and the Meadowlands. Midtown should be for class A office space.

Think twice February 25, 2010 - 1:57 pm

I’d love to see the 2024 World’s Fair come to NYC to coincide with the city’s 400th birthday.

Jerrold February 25, 2010 - 2:51 pm

That comment reminded me of the fall of 1965, when the 1964-1965 World’s Fair was closing.

“Us kids” were all saying that the NEXT World’s Fair would be in 1989-90, because we had learned that the first one had been in 1939-40.
We were assuming that World’s Fairs were going to be held every 25 years.

Imagine if that had happened!
We would now be getting ready for the FOURTH New York World’s Fair, to be held in 2014-15.

Joe DS February 25, 2010 - 9:02 am

New Yorkers do not like to be embarrassed, especially when the world is watching. Had the Olympics been awarded to New York, I think its feasible to suggest that politicians would have worked harder to secure funding for the infrastructure investments we needed for the games. It would have forced the state government to have some sort of long term plan (sadly, at the longest the plan would have only been for 7 years), which it currently seems incapable of doing.

Yes, I did support the Olympics proposal, it was a mixed bag, but I was excited for the prospect of hosting the Olympics. Call me naive, I certainly was more so then than I am now.

Marc Shepherd February 25, 2010 - 10:46 am

This is an excellent summary, but omits a few key facts.

Dan Doctoroff always claimed that the 7 Extension would be built, regardless of whether New York won the rights to the 2010 Olympics, and regardless of whether the Jets moved to Manhattan.

He had to claim that, because nobody would approve a subway extension built solely for a 3-week event and a football team playing 8 home games a year. When both the stadium and the Olympics bid collapsed, the city was stuck with a subway project that had really lost most of its point.

I do agree with Doctoroff’s central contention that the Far West Side is under-developed, and that it would have great potential if it had the excellent transit connections the rest of Midtown has. But let’s get real: the extension wouldn’t be getting built now if there hadn’t been a pipe dream of bringing the Olympics here.

Finally: I would note that although cancellation of the stadium clearly doomed NYC’s olympic hopes, it is far from certain that we would have won, even with the stadium. I won’t bother re-hashing all of the reasons why…but the stadium was only part of it.

Al D February 25, 2010 - 11:43 am

The (apparent never to built) 10 Ave stop would have a much greater ridership than the only planned stop of the extension. There is so much more 24/7 office/residential/recreational activity there. The station needs to be built. If the same logic is followed, save $ and don’t build a few SAS stops. Who needs 23rd St anyway?

James D February 25, 2010 - 11:53 am

They should flip it and build 10th Avenue station, but only leave provision for a station on the tail tracks at 34th Street.

SEAN February 25, 2010 - 12:08 pm

Who needs 23rd St anyway? People who live around there like a family member of mine.

That was a fullish comment!

Benjamin Kabak February 25, 2010 - 12:08 pm

It was a tongue-in-cheek satirical comment.

bob February 25, 2010 - 6:26 pm

Well let’s not forget that once the Olympics and the football stadium plans died (and I am thankful both did) the extension was tied into the Hudson Yards plans. The idea being that for such a development there had to be transit nearby. Serving the existing population, which is what the dropped station would do, isn’t a Boomberg priority.

Think twice February 25, 2010 - 1:54 pm

I personally credit the loss of the Olympics to the hubris and stubbornness of Bloomberg and the Jets when it came to the West Side Stadium. (That same overconfidence would sabotage his congestion pricing plan.) Like REBNY, they waited until last minute to see the wisdom of building by the former World’s Fair grounds in Queens, but too late.

Russell Warshay February 25, 2010 - 2:01 pm

I happen to think that building a football stadium over there is an idea with its own problems. The 7 train and the LIRR’s Port Washington branch can’t move 80,000+ people in a reasonable period of time. That’s why I think that Sunnyside Yard is the only reasonable place in NYC for a football stadium. The existing transit infrastructure is up to the task. Add the proposed Sunnyside Station, and its reasonable to build a 100,000 seat stadium without any parking.

Josh K February 25, 2010 - 2:25 pm

Does anyone know why the #7 extension isn’t continuing just a few blocks further south to connect to the L at 14th street? Aren’t the #7 and the L both built to IRT standards? The tail tracks of the #7 extension are ending at around 28th street if I remember correctly. That’s just 14 blocks to go to connect to the L. Put a station in at 23rd street and you’d have some serious transit service on the West Side. Then the L wouldn’t be so isolated any longer.

Benjamin Kabak February 25, 2010 - 2:28 pm

Some suggestions:
-Lack of foresight
-Would not serve Bloomberg’s ends

It makes fair too much sense for the 7 to somehow connect to the L, especially considering that the tail tracks for the 7 extension are extending into the West 20s.

AK February 25, 2010 - 3:17 pm

The L tracks don’t extend past 9th, let alone all the way to 11th though, right? I agree that in an ideal world, it would make sense to have a “rectangle” of service with 42 and 10, 14 and 11, 14 and 2, and 42 and 2 as its corners…

Aaron February 25, 2010 - 3:50 pm

The L was built to IRT “standards?” I’m not sure I follow you. The L isn’t an IRT line obviously, but what do you mean?

Still, I agree, the opportunity to provide far west side service all the way down is really being ignored, it’s a shame.

Jerrold February 25, 2010 - 4:49 pm

Where did you hear that the L was built to IRT standards?

The IRT, which includes the #7, is “narrow-gauge” (the tracks are closer together than standard gauge).
The BMT (which I believe includes the L) and the IND were built as a standard U.S.A. gauge railway.

That’s why the BMT and IND were united a long time ago, but it could never be possible to have an IRT train run on the BMT/IND tracks, or vice versa.

Benjamin Kabak February 25, 2010 - 4:54 pm

Just to clarify here, gauge measures the distance between wheels, and all New York City subway tracks are the same gauge. Actually car widths are smaller among the IRT rolling stock than they are the BMT/IND cars by approximately 14 inches.

Nesta February 25, 2010 - 6:07 pm

This is correct the guage is the distance between the 2 running rails and it is the same for the IRT as it for the rest of the system and the rest of the country’s railroads. I believe it is 4.5 feet across.

bob February 25, 2010 - 6:23 pm

4 feet 8 and 1/2 inches, to be exact.

Also BMT/IND equipment has the active trip arms on the opposite side from the IRT.

So no, you could never connect them into passenger service unless you converted the L to IRT. That’s a loss of capacity.

But I would like to see the 7 extended south, stations at 14 and 23,and with the development in the Meatpacking district you could extend the L out a few more blocks with another station with a transfer. Well, first I’d like to see the current 7 extension actually completed.

Scott E February 25, 2010 - 6:38 pm

It’s a good thing, too, that it’s the same gauge. That’s how they get trains between the 7 line to the other IRT lines. There is a crossover at Queensboro Plaza where trains can go from the 7 to the N/W. To move a train from the 7 to the 1, for instance, the trains uses this crossover and follows the N/W into Manhattan. It then reverses direction and goes into Queens on the Queens Blvd. line. It then reverses again, along the E, until it gets to the 8th Ave line. A fourth reversal brings it up to the 207th St. yard, which is shared with the 1.

I’m not making this up. Imagine what it must have taken to move all the R62As to the 7 line (replacing the redbirds), when the newer R142s came on the 2, 4, 5, and 6.

Aaron February 25, 2010 - 7:16 pm

All NYC subway lines and the SIR run the same gauge tracks, which is the distance between wheels, as Ben and others have said.

The real IRT-BMT/IND mismatch is in train size. BMT and IND trains are a bit wider than IRT trains. An IRT train can go down BMT/IND track, but the gap between the train and the platform would be dangerously large. BMT/IND trains could theoretically use IRT tracks, but would not be able to clear the platforms or tunnels due to using wider cars. IRT trains can be moved along BMT track for service reasons (as said above, moving trains between yards), and regularly are. There is no plausible way to make the L and the 7 the same line, but they could certainly meet as a transfer in Chelsea, were the funding found for those expansions.

Joe February 25, 2010 - 5:03 pm

As Aaron correctly notes, the L is not an IRT line, and a 7-L phsyical connection is not a reality. However, it would be great if future provisions carried both the 7 and the L to 23rd and the River.

The L is part of the BMT Eastern Division, which I understand means that its elevated portions have shorter stations and tighter curves that neccessitate smaller than usual Division B trains. The tunnels are still wider than IRT tunnels, especially the narrower 7 train tunnels.

Aaron February 25, 2010 - 7:16 pm

I think most people are talking about a transfer, not interlining them (or I think they are!).

Alon Levy February 26, 2010 - 1:17 am

A cross-platform transfer between the 7 and the L is feasible, on the model of Queensboro Plaza.

Jerrold February 25, 2010 - 7:01 pm

Ben, could you tell me a little more?
Is it possible that the ORIGINAL IRT, as built by August Belmont, was a narrow-gauge railway?
Is it possible that the trackage was changed later on into standared gauge?

Alon Levy February 26, 2010 - 1:23 am

The original IRT was built to the same loading gauge standards as the els (including the BMT els, which used IRT-width cars). So was PATH. The BMT decided to build trains to a wider standard, which the city then adopted for the entire Dual Contracts, and later for the IND.

The Dual Contracts-era IRT tunnels are built to BMT loading gauge – they just have the platforms closer to the rails. The Astoria Line was originally built like this; after unification the city turned it from an IRT to a BMT line and shaved back the platforms. Such a thing could not be done on the oldest sections of the IRT, because the tunnel clearances are not wide enough for BMT trains.

The issue with the Eastern Division is different. It’s built to the same loading gauge as the rest of the BMT, but has tighter curves. Its curves were built to the BMT’s 67′ cars, and cannot handle 75′ cars. In addition, its station shells are shorter, so the longest trains it permits consist of eight 60′ cars.

Jerrold February 26, 2010 - 1:07 pm

Is “loading gauge” the same thing as “gauge”, the distance between the two rails?
If not, what is it, please?

Russell Warshay February 26, 2010 - 1:33 pm

There are different types of gauges. The distance between the rails is the track gauge. Loading gauge is the “maximum width and height of railway vehicles.” The IRT used a narrower loading gauge, but the same track gauge. This is why IRT cars can run on BMT/IND lines without a problem, except for the gap at platforms.

Jerrold February 25, 2010 - 10:45 pm

OK, thanks, Ben, Scott, and Aaron!

In London, a new approach to wayfinding :: Second Ave. Sagas August 13, 2012 - 2:39 pm

[…] global competition for two weeks would bring to the city. Ultimately, the Mayor still managed to secure his 7 line extension, and the city received two new baseball stadiums, a basketball arena and potentially a new soccer […]


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