Across New York City, various neighborhoods are noticeably lacking subway service. Stretches of Brooklyn and Queens far from Manhattan suffer from a lack of direct transit access while cross-Bronx service is non-existent and even Alphabet City, a locus of growth and gentrification, is a long hike from the nearest subway. As it takes far too many years and far too many dollars, the options for system expansion are limited, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.
Back in October 2008, after a pair of development conferences with planning experts from across the New York Metropolitan Area, the Regional Plan Association put forward a report entitled “Tomorrow’s Transit: New Mobility for the Region’s Core.” It highlighted numerous ongoing projects including the Second Ave. Subway, East Side Access, the 7 Line extension and our dearly departed ARC Tunnel, but its more intriguing sections propose subway extensions that expand service beyond the current capital campaign. Just imagine if money were no issue.
We start in Manhattan where the Second Ave. Subway dominates the day. Much of the RPA’s document focused around making use of a new Manhattan trunk line. Instead of terminating at East. 125th St. and Lexington, as current SAS plans propose, the RAP’s Second Ave. Subway would run west to intersect with the various subway lines along 125th St., terminating at the 1 stop along Broadway. That’s a common-sense proposal though that could happen if New York every found the money to do so.
In the southern reaches of Manhattan, the RPA’s plan involves some additions near and dear to our hearts but with some odd limitations. For Alphabet City, the RPA proposed the old tea-cup handle extension of the SAS along Ave. C in order to provide “widespread benefits for lower income areas,” a main thrust of “Tomorrow’s Transit.” Also for Alphabet City, the RPA proposed dropping a staircase at Ave. A and 14th St. to provide for access to the First Ave. L stop. I’ve been told in the past that the tunnel depth and underground space limitations preclude that plan, but it’s one that has long been an obvious exit point.
Further uptown, the RPA wants to explore extending the 7 line extension further south with a possible connection to the Canarsie Line. In Midtown, transit can be improved by adding light rail to Broadway. Remember: We’re living in Transit Fantasyland here.
In the Bronx, let’s send the Second Ave. Subway everywhere. The cost-prohibitive 3rd Ave. extension is designed to better server areas without very much subway service while the Metrolink Extension would use the Amtrak right-of-way to serve Co-Op City. The 3rd Ave. extension would replace the lost El train and connect across the Bronx to the 207th St. terminal area in Upper Manhattan. If anything, this routing is a bit haphazard and would raise capacity issues in Manhattan.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn suffers from the opposite problem: It’s proposed extension don’t do enough. In the southeast corner of the county of Kings, the RPA would advocate building out two stops along Nostrand Ave. and constructing the long-awaited Utica Ave. line. I recently explored the tortured history of these subway expansion plans, and I’d want to see something even more ambitious. Shoot for the ocean or at very last, Sheepshead Bay and Marine Park.
Again, the Second Ave. Subway enters the picture as well. Once East Side Access is complete, the RPA would convert the LIRR’s Atlantic Branch into a rapid transit line via the Second Ave. Subway. Say good bye to the Transit Museum as this plan would reactivate Court St. and the outer platforms at Hoyt-Schermerhorn. On another note, the one-stop spur on the L to Starrett City seems to be more trouble than it’s worth, and the super express J service has been debunked elsewhere.
And finally, Queens. The RPA would spur off the Queens Boulevard past Rego Park along Jewel Ave. to better serve the Kew Gardens area. Similarly, the Queens Bypass straight to Forest Hills would alleviate a lot of crowding along that Queens Boulevard line. The southeastern Queens extension would be a huge boon for that area as well.
Ultimately, these plans are nearly as ambitious as the old Second System proposals, and unfortunately, they’re just as likely to see the light of the day. While the RPA rates projects as long- vs. short-term and high vs. low capital on a spending scale, these exist only on paper for a time when money is abundant. If we could expand the system willy nilly without concerns for cost, this isn’t a bad blueprint for it, but as we look at “Tomorrow’s Transit” two years later, only the BRT aspects are finally come online. Fifty years from now, will New York City still be recycling the same old subway expansion plans?
For more on the RPA’s “Tomorrow’s Transit” plan, check out the report right here as a PDF.