Nov
08

Musings on the need for planning ahead

By · Published in 2010

Seemingly forward-looking at the time it was built, the station shell at South 4th Street now represents wasted money and opportunity. (Photo via Subway & Rail)

When the route we now know and love as the G train was completed in 1937, it was supposed to be just one part of an expansive plan to change the face of subway travel into, out of and between Brooklyn and Queens. Twenty-four years in the making, the Crosstown line, part of the Municipal Subway system, connected population centers in the city’s two most populous boroughs, and it was just a small part of the IND Second System.

As city planners constructed subway routes through Brooklyn and Queens, they provisioned other stations into their plans. Even though the funding wasn’t in place to build, say, the entire Utica Ave. subway, the Board of Transportation made sure that new stations that would eventually serve as transfer points were built as such. Thus, the IND Fulton St. stop at Utica Ave. (A/C) has a station shell that angles with Utica Ave., and the Broadway station along the G train has a six-track shell parallel to Williamsburg’s South 4 and Meserole Streets.

The IND Second System, as I explored in depth last week, never materialized, and for the better part of 73 years, the South 4th St. station has sat unused and largely forgotten. Known only to railfans and New York City historians, the station and the subway expansion plans fell to the wayside, and all that remained was a station shell, empty, abandoned and barely acknowledged by the MTA. It took, of all things, a highly illegal and dangerous street art stunt to return the South 4th St. station to the city’s consciousness.

Today, New York is engaged in its largest subway expansion effort since the IND system became a reality. Modest by the standards of the 1930s, Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway and the 7 Line Extension promise to improve access to underserved areas of Manhattan, but the provisioning isn’t nearly as robust as it once was. The Second Ave. Subway was once envisioned, unnecessarily so in the 1920s, as a six-track subway, but recent iterations have seen that total go from four to three to two. In this instance, while the Second Ave. Subway will be constructed to allow connections to the Bronx and Brooklyn, the MTA isn’t provisioning for anything along the route.

The 7 line meanwhile through a similar problem. Although tail tracks would potentially allow a southern extension or a potential connection eastward, the sticking point for this capital project has been the station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. Originally, the extension was to consist of two stops, but rising costs have slowly cut back those plans. At one point, the city proposed building a shell station — much like the South 4th St. ghost — at 41st and 10th so either it or the MTA could fund proper construction when the economy improved. The MTA rejected this plan when the city refused to foot the bill for it, and now, the last hope for this stop rests on the shoulders of a few federal official trying to find the money for it.

It is a gross oversight to skip even the provisioning for this station, and while the $800 million price tag is a legitimate concern, the city and MTA must figure out a way to include the ability to build it later. There is, though, one solution: The ARC Tunnel money is out there for the taking.

We know New York City officials are jockeying to secure their share of the $3.3 billion New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie gave up when he canceled the tunnel, and the 7 line would be the perfect destination for it. This is a capital project that needs an infusion of dollars, and the omitted station wouldn’t soak up all of the federal funds. It wouldn’t improve interstate mobility, but it would right a wrong in New York City.

In a recent short piece on the proper role of borrowing in infrastructure spending, Cap’n Transit briefly highlighted how poor spending can lead to 73-year-old station shells that go unused, but despite the labeling, the South 4th Street station doesn’t quite fit that bill. It was part of a larger plan that couldn’t get implemented because the money wasn’t there. Had the city tried to realize the IND plans after building the Broadway stop without that shell, it would have cost more and been more difficult to construct from an engineering standpoint.

Today, we’re on the verge of making a different mistake. We aren’t borrowing or finding the money to build something — a station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. — that will indeed increase revenue. The ARC money is out there, and it’s not too late to rectify this problem. But as the construction continues along the West Side, time’s a-wastin’. It will be worse to have no station at all than it is to have a 73-year-old shell just sitting there.



Categories : 7 Line Extension

29 Responses to “Musings on the need for planning ahead”

  1. John Paul N. says:

    It never ceases to amaze me the story of how the IND was born out of the politics of John Hylan’s hatred of the IRT and BRT. And AFAIK, without federal funding, no less.

    A shell on a (soon-to-be-)active line should be given priority over provisions that are like S. 4th St. and Fulton/Utica. I don’t know if I would agree to a high share of federal funding for that, though.

    If the money can be given out for non-route expansions, I would ask the feds for money to help accelerate the accessibility of more subway stations, which is itself a federal mandate.

    • Bolwerk says:

      The IND was built partly with WPA funds, IIRC.

      The Second System, of course, fell by the wayside when the public discovered it really, really liked highways. And since the public discovered highways really, really don’t work as promised, we’ve just lost our mojo.

  2. Christopher says:

    The money was there of course in the 1940s and 1950s. It was spent slicing neighborhoods with ill-conceived expressways and planning for even more in an attempt to supplant transit and quickly populate suburban nether regions\ with the then flavor of the month: automobile infrastructure.

    • Mitch45 says:

      You refer, of course, to transit-hating Robert Moses, who never met a stretch of highway he didn’t like. There are some other ghost stations around, built but never used – City Hall lower on the Broadway BMT, Nevins Street lower on the Brooklyn IRT and the famous Roosevelt Avenue upper terminal station, which was tiled and ready for use.

      • BrooklynBus says:

        Just curious. How do you think the City and suburbs would have been different today had Robert Moses never lived? How can we even be sure that all the money or even part of it would even have gone to building mass transit? After all, the automobile movement in the rest of the country was still happening with or without Robert Moses. He was not responsible for the Interstate system, Eisenhower was.

        Moses not only stole money from transit, he also stole money from hospitals and schools to build highways, parks and housing. I would hate to see Queens today without all its highways and also without transit. Probably you would have had more boulevards today in Queens and fewer highways if not for Moses. If you think the LIE is bad today, things would even be worse if it were a boulevard instead without additional mass transit.

        Just compare getting across Brooklyn today with only the Belt Parkway and BQE to getting across Queens. It can take two hours just to cross Brooklyn by car. A bus trip from Sheepshead Bay to Borough Park for those who can’t walk the stairs to use the subway 90 minutes without any delays and by bus and train it still takes 60 minutes without delays. That’s disgraceful. By train, you can get all the way to the Bronx in that time. If you have a car living in Queens, with its highways, it is much quicker to get around than living in Brooklyn.

        Of course Moses was guilty in hindering the building of mass transit, but he gets too much of the blame. People assume mass transit just would have been perfect if he never lived, but that just isn’t the case. The man also did a lot of good, although his means of getting things done the way he wanted them done was despicable.

        • Christopher says:

          You are right of course. Moses was a symptom of a larger cultural problem. Something planners and architects began messing with much earlier — large blvds, lower density, buildings in a park, superblocks. The City Beautiful movement planned many of the first expressways. Danilel Burnham himself planned for a network of expressways in Chicago, many of them were built. (Lower Wacker Drive was hidden from view, but is one of the first urban expressways and part of the Plan for Chicago.) Our antipathy to cities, and walkable places goes back centuries. Heck even luminaries of the environmental movement of the early 20th century were behind the building the building of model suburbs — boulevard lined streets, planned communities, winding roads. The auto industry itself was a major backer of these plans as well. And helped to dismantle transit in many cities. Most notably LA.

          However and while this movement was worldwide, no country had quite the disrespect — as well as mythos of the countryside, perhaps — as the U.S. And we failed to see early that technological leadership could be advanced through transit technology. We were enthralled by Detroit and the easy money of oil exploration and failed to see the long term trends earlier. We’ve long be blinded by utopianism and get-rich quick schemes. This worked well with the optimism of the post War years.

          But as we see now, as we’ve built unsustainable and unmaintained systems while continuing to pass the financial buck, we’re in a world of hurt.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Just curious. How do you think the City and suburbs would have been different today had Robert Moses never lived? How can we even be sure that all the money or even part of it would even have gone to building mass transit? After all, the automobile movement in the rest of the country was still happening with or without Robert Moses. He was not responsible for the Interstate system, Eisenhower was.

          Tough to say, but one possibility is if Moses didn’t hit the scene the way he did, we’d have a good portion of the Second System today. And, to say the least, Eisenhower knew about Moses’ projects as much as he knew about the Autobahn.

          Moses not only stole money from transit, he also stole money from hospitals and schools to build highways, parks and housing.

          Well, he was a brilliant financier and an amazing project manager. What he perhaps lacked was foresight, hard as that is for many to admit.

          I would hate to see Queens today without all its highways and also without transit. Probably you would have had more boulevards today in Queens and fewer highways if not for Moses. If you think the LIE is bad today, things would even be worse if it were a boulevard instead without additional mass transit.

          Hmm. It’s quite possible we’d have less in the way of traffic congestion without all of the Moses-era highways. A street network can absorb a heavy load much better than a single artery. Also, more transit might have made fewer car trips possible.

          Just compare getting across Brooklyn today with only the Belt Parkway and BQE to getting across Queens. It can take two hours just to cross Brooklyn by car. A bus trip from Sheepshead Bay to Borough Park for those who can’t walk the stairs to use the subway 90 minutes without any delays and by bus and train it still takes 60 minutes without delays. That’s disgraceful. By train, you can get all the way to the Bronx in that time. If you have a car living in Queens, with its highways, it is much quicker to get around than living in Brooklyn.

          You may have a point, but I’ve been in some pretty awful traffic jams in Queens.

          Of course Moses was guilty in hindering the building of mass transit, but he gets too much of the blame. People assume mass transit just would have been perfect if he never lived, but that just isn’t the case. The man also did a lot of good, although his means of getting things done the way he wanted them done was despicable.

          Well, he doesn’t deserve all the blame he gets, but on balance he probably left New York in much sorrier shape than he found it – and we’re only now recovering.

          • BrooklynBus says:

            I only disagree with your last statement. I really don’t think NYC is worse off because of Moses. Of course we would have been much better off if he didn’t oppose mass transit to the extent he did like refusing to allow it in the median of the LIE or on the Verrazano Bridge.

            Although a street network may be able to absorb heavier traffic loads than a single highway, getting across a borough with only streets takes so long to make it impractical. Moses problem wasn’t so much that he lacked foresight but that his planning strategies of the 1960s remained the same as they were in the 1920s. He didn’t learn from changing times. He still believed in building highways for recreation, refusing to realize that their major purpose had changed to daily commuting and that mass transit was much more efficient in that regard. but his hatred for it was so great, he couldn’t see straight.

            • Bolwerk says:

              Moses’ housing policies were probably his biggest offense, not his highways. Vast amounts of real estate went from being places where people lived, worked, and enjoyed themselves to desolate wastelands of gangs and mistrust. It’s bad enough that a lot of tax revenue was lost on private property and retail establishments, never you mind the rest of the drawbacks.

              Well, IMHO, if we’re going to have limited access highways across NYC, the access should be limited to those willing to pay a high enough charge. Giving the space away for free or variable, indirect prices isn’t working.

              • BrooklynBus says:

                I don’t think there is any threat of more limited access highways across NYC.

                As far as Moses’ housing policy, all he was interested in was creating more light and air and removing what he perceived of as tenements. After all he was an engineer, not a social planner. He had no idea of social dynamics, or that the high rises would bring gangs. He just turned horizontal slums into vertical slums with a lot of unnecessary displacement of people, but he did create more light and air so he met that objective.

        • Alon Levy says:

          On the contrary, Moses’ role in building highways was more important than Eisenhower’s. The New Deal-era road projects that literally paved the way to the Interstate system were modeled after Moses’s expressways. FDR and many of the other people who implemented the New Deal were from New York, and were inspired by the local road projects, both within and outside Moses’s control.

          If Moses hadn’t arrived on the scene, there would still be major road building; the good roads movement predated Moses, and so did Port Authority. But it would have been much slower, and probably involved far less community destruction. The model of ramming highways down neighborhoods’ throat was invented by Moses, and so were the excessive standards forcing governments to overbuild. In the 1930s the federal standard was 36 feet of road width, not 300 as the Interstate program demanded.

          • BrooklynBus says:

            I don’t believe the interstate standards are excessive. Some of Moses’s roads such as the Belt Parkway were built with inadequate acceleration lanes and are first being upgraded now. The BQE didn’t even meet interstate standards when it was built, but was given an interstate designation anyway. It is first being brought up to interstate standards today, fifty years after he was in power.

            We would not be better off today with a Horace Harding Boulevard rather than an LIE, and no Grand Central Expressway or a surface East River Drive rather than an FDR Drive or a widened 177th Street or Tremont Avenue rather than a Cross Bronx Expressway which of course could have been built with far less disruption and displacement with some minor rerouting.

            • Alon Levy says:

              300′ ROWs in dense urban areas are excessive. You can provide the same capacity in people per hour with 30′ of grade-separated rail.

              Basically, every expressway in New York was built on someone’s back without compensation. The pollution killed a lot of people without the drivers ever paying, and for many routes the community disruption was inevitable. The only acceptable route for the Cross-Bronx for example was No Build. Moses chose a maximally disruptive route, but even a less disruptive route would’ve torn apart some of the South Bronx.

              • BrooklynBus says:

                You are correct only if that grade separated rail included rail freight as well as passenger freight and a new bridge or tunnel across the Hudson for the rail freight. Under that scenario, yes we would have been better off without the Cross Bronx at all. Of course mass transit provides a greater capacity than roads. That point is obvious.

                • Alon Levy says:

                  For the amount of traffic of the 1950s, it would’ve been cheapest to create an electric freight district east of the Hudson. At the time the PRR and Milwaukee still ran electric freight trains. It would’ve forced four-tracking the Hudson River tunnels much earlier, but the cost would’ve been much lower than that of Moses’ projects. The Henry Hudson Parkway cost more than the Hoover Dam, for crying out loud.

                • Bolwerk says:

                  I can’t for the life of me imagine why trucks are better off on jammed highways vs. unjammed streets with the bulk of non-freight traffic taking rail. If there was a need for a highway to bring trucks to Long Island, it should never, ever have gone through New York City, much less some of New York City’s densest neighborhoods.

                  • BrooklynBus says:

                    If there wasn’t a “jammed highway” what makes you think the streets would be “unjammed”? The trucks would just be moving even slower on “jammed streets” without rail freight.

                    Also, how do you propose to get from Long Island to New Jersey without going through NYC? You would have to build a bridge over the Sound to do that. Wait. Moses wanted to do that too.

  3. Researcher says:

    You made a very key point at the end, Ben. What the Board of Transportation did at South 4th Street and at other locations over the short run may have been a bit of a waste, but over the long run, it it was very smart.

    Look at how disruptive it was to build the connection between the Queens Boulevard and 63rd Street lines. Had work continued on the second phase of the IND (and who knew it wasn’t going to happen?), they could have built through with very little, if any, disruption of service on the Crosstown line.

  4. Justin Samuels says:

    No federal money should be spent on the 7 line extension, which isn’t going to serve that many people. Those funds should go to Phase 2 and 3 on the Second Avenue subway, which can be started if the state and city match federal funding.

    • Bolwerk says:

      How about the federal government just give us back the $18B it taxes in excess of federal spending in NYS and let us decide what to do with it?

    • Marc Shepherd says:

      Here is what you’re missing. Phases 2 and 3 of the SAS are still years away from being ready for construction. But if the Tenth Avenue station is not built now, the opportunity to ever build it might be gone for the foreseeable future.

      I would never have funded the 7 line extension, but given that it is happening regardless, we must avoid doing it in the most shortsighted way possible.

    • Alon Levy says:

      No federal money should be directed toward the Hudson Yards boondoggle and the 7-block tail tracks. However, it’s perfectly fine to put federal money into a station in Hell’s Kitchen.

  5. Al D says:

    A specific question about S.4 St. Thanks to your article, I finally connected the obvious which is S. 4 connects to Meserole at Union and voila, the precise location of the station is revealed. At that corner, 3 of the 4 sides have structures set back from the street. Only 1 side has an apartment building that abuts the street/sidewalk. At the other corners, a Walgreen’s with a city-sized parking lot in front, so the structure is well away from the corner. Diagonally across is a BP station, again city-sized, and lastly an old car wash, but that building is also set back from the intersection. So, finally, to the question. Ben and everybody. Were the newer structures set back deliberately because of the existence of this huge shell station, and that the building’s foundations had to be contructed well off the street?

  6. kvnbklyn says:

    Ben, thanks for bringing up the idea that some of the ARC money should go to the 10th Avenue station. I’ve been wondering why this wasn’t mentioned as a possibility by Gillabrand since it seems like a pressing need that isn’t getting funded (unlike the SAS and ESA which both have significant funding in place and are far enough along to almost ensure continued support). Hopefully your blog will influence those making the decision.

  7. Clarke says:

    It’s not perfect, but hasn’t the potential for a future 10th Ave station been discussed?

    • Yep. But the money that’s been put aside for that provisioning is only for a study to determine the feasibility of building it for cheaper later. As I wrote in that piece:

      The city is now applying for $3 million in federal TIGER II grants that will confirm that a redesigned station could be built after the extension is completed and if sufficient funds become available.

      The TIGER grant was indeed rewarded, but it’s still a no-build plan.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>