Jun
22

Discussion: Rethinking a Second System

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Thirty five years ago, Washington DC’s Metro opened. It’s hard to believe the system is still so new, but basically, in New York terms, the Nation’s Capitol is where our system was in 1939. Of course, by the time 1939 had rolled around, New York had added on part of a Second System and had an ambitious plan for a huge expansion plan. Now it’s DC’s turn.

In an excellent piece for Greater Greater Washington, Matt Johnson highlighted a series of plans under discussion by WMATA planners that could be incorporated into a Metro Second System. These include a circumferential route, spurs off of the blue, yellow and red lines that would better cover Washington DC proper and a variety of better connections into the suburbs. Even if just some of these plans are realized over the next few decades, DC will be far better off for it.

While I’m giving Matt’s piece short shrift, I wanted to pose a discussion question: If New York could start all over again with its Second System plans, where should they build a subway in currently underserved areas? We talked earlier this week about a rail connection to LaGuardia, and the Utica Ave./South 4th St. line remains a great unrealized part of subway history. Would a Triboro RX circumferential line remain a priority? Better expansion past Jamaica in Queens? Crosstown connections from Upper Manhattan into the Bronx? New York hasn’t seen significant subway expansion since the 1930s, and I envy DC the opportunity to grow its system over the coming decades.



Categories : Asides, WMATA

52 Responses to “Discussion: Rethinking a Second System”

  1. AlexB says:

    Are you asking how New York should have designed the IND, the unbuilt second system of the IND or everything after the original subway line?

    For the IND,
    - I definitely think putting what’s now the ACE and BDFM on 9th and 5th avenues respectively would have been a much better use of infrastructure. This 5th Ave line should have been the one to continue downtown (via Thompson and Church) and the 9th Ave line should have been the one to cut over to Brooklyn (via Hudson, Bleecker, 1st and Houston. With the 2/3 running so quickly to downtown along the west side, we didn’t need duplicative express routes 1 block apart. Having a fast midtown-downtown connection right in the middle of the island would have made more sense.
    - Making the 53rd St tunnel 4 tracks under the East River would have made more sense and been more useful than every building the 63rd St tunnel. It also should have run under 50th instead of 53rd, and included a stop at 1st/2nd Aves.
    - The line under Schermerhorn in Brooklyn should have deep gone under the 2345 under Fulton St, with a stop at Flatbush and a transfer to the BMT at DeKalb and to the IRT at Nevins. This may not have been possible with the technology they had at the time, but it would have made travel within Brooklyn much easier. A Livingston St route might have worked too, and would not have had to been built under another tunnel.
    - There should have been eastern Queens extensions of what’s now the F, a line under Utica Ave in Brooklyn and a line under 2nd Ave in Manhattan, continuing to 3rd Ave in the Bronx. They’d already planned for these but were shut down by the depression, so this criticism may not really be applicable.
    - The IND has 8 tracks in midtown, but only 4 tracks that extend to Brooklyn, leaving unused capacity that was expensive and effectively wasted. There should have been more tunnels built to Brooklyn or New Jersey, or they should have assumed the eventual takeover of the JMZ line and full integration with the now 9th Ave route (ACE) and a future spur off from the line to Utica. This would have made the overbuilt S 4th Station unnecessary.
    - The Grand Concourse line in the Bronx should not have been so close to the Jerome line (perhaps 3rd Ave would have been better), and it should have been 4 tracks so at least one part of the Bronx could have had all day bidirectional express service.

    • Eric says:

      If we’re opening the IND can of worms, then the IND should basically be totally rethought.

      • John-2 says:

        True — except for the Queens Boulvard extension, no IND line extended the city’s mass transit footprint the way the IRT and BMT subway and elevated lines did; they only shadowed existing lines or replaced them completely, as with the Fulton Street el and the capture of the Culver el in Brooklyn.

        If nothing else, the Sixth Avenue subway and it’s hyper-expensive stretch from 9th to 34th streets should have been put on the back burner as a Second System project, and the IND should have gone with a full-borough length Second Avenue Subway in the 1930s. That would have put one new line on the east and west sides of Manhattan, and at least solved some of the crowding problems on the Lex, once the Second and Third Avenue els were demolished.

        • Alon Levy says:

          The Crosstown Line would’ve added a lot of mobility if only it had connected to QBP and Atlantic/Pacific.

          • The thing about the IND is that it was never about subway expansion, it was initially about competition and take-over, and literally tearing down IRT/BMT El’s (see 6th Avenue, Fulton Street, Grand Concourse, Crosstown ending at the Culver Line, etc).

            Queens Blvd and the Crosstown Line are probably the only current IND lines that served under-served areas, with the exception of Jackson Heights.

            • Bolwerk says:

              At least on the west side, it arguably added net capacity.

              Well, that sure didn’t work out on the east side!

              • John-2 says:

                Considering Mayor Hylan’s dislike for the BMT, an east side IND line would have not served the purpose of offering a city-owned competitor to the BMT’s Broadway line one block away from 23rd to 59th streets. That was the main purpose of the Sixth Avenue line (along with also stealing some traffic from the IRT’s new lower Seventh Avenue line and ripping the heart out of its el service, though a Second Avenue subway would have done that job just as efficiently). New York’s still paying the price for the mostly-redundant plans Hylan and his city engineers came up with 90 years ago.

            • Alexander says:

              That last part really is true. Believe me, I know: During the winter we just had, express service to Jamaica between Forest Hills and Jackson Heights (or even Queens Plaza) was canceled several times, which caused chaos in both directions. Queens would not be able to survive without the Queens Blvd. line.

        • AlexB says:

          The hyper expensive stretch you are talking about was built later, in preparation for using the Chrystie St Connection.

          • John-2 says:

            The cost of just tunneling the current local tracks next to the existing PATH tubes, and also threading the needle between PATH, the BMT and the LIRR tunnels at Herald Square really put the kibosh on any major new Manhattan construction even as early as 1940, before World War II became a factor. The city could have gotten far more bang for their 1930s transit buck by building over on Second Avenue, but by then they were committed to Hylan’s original plan, and the Rockefeller real estate interests in midtown also put pressure on LaGuardia to complete the Sixth Avenue line and tear down the el.

            It wasn’t that Manhattan did need a fifth trunk line through midtown. It just didn’t need one there as much as it did one over on the East Side.

  2. Alex C says:

    1) Complete 2 Ave subway, including 1930′s plan to go into southeast Bronx and connecting down to Court St. IND Fulton station. Not sure where to move the transit museum though.
    2) South 4 St. subway. Wikipedia it for reference, folks, too much to post here. Utica Avenue line at least to Kings Highway.
    3) Extend F in Queens to Springfield Boulevard/Braddock Avenue. Hillside Avenue widens at that point with a huge plaza media, a *perfect* area for a suburban subway station.
    4) Extend Archer Avenue subway to 168 St, with a proper terminal.
    5) Extend Nostrand IRT to at least Kings Highway if not all the way to Voorhees Avenue.
    6) N/Q to LaGuardia.

    • al says:

      Re 1:

      Including BMT and IND cars along with IRT stock would require a station like the lower level of the 9th Ave stop in Bklyn. A rehabbed Myrtle ave upper level might do.

    • BrooklynBus says:

      The lower half of the Second Avenue subway will never be completed because there will never be money for it or any other subways. Why do you think the MTA picked Second Avenue for SBS? So in a few years they can cite all sorts of statistics to show how great its working and that the subway is no longer needed below 63rd Street. Of course all the statistics will be misleading and inaccurate. They will show what they want to show.

      The Number 7 extension is totally unnecessary. Much more could have been accomplished at a fraction of the cost by extending the 14th Street line up the High Line as far as 72nd Street.

      Also, why should East Side Access be taking forever? It’s been going on since the 1960s and I’ve never heard a scheduled completion date. Is everything they are planning really necessary? Couldn’t a more modest plan accomplish the same purpose for less money and in a quicker time frame with some of the money diverted to completing Second Avenue?

      Maybe there would be more money for subways if the State didn’t think it was more cost effective to purchase non-stop NYS Lottery TV commercials. Those round the clock commercials can’t be cheap. Anyone know how much is spent on them annually?

      • Jason says:

        How could you extend the 14th street line up the High Line to 72nd street? It ends at 34th (where would it go from there, 10th ave maybe?)

        • BrooklynBus says:

          I haven’t checked in a number of years, but the right-of-way was originally clear to 72nd Street. Now perhaps the remainder of the ROW was sold and structures erected, so it may not be possible. Even if it ended at 34th Street, it still would have provided access to the Javits Center, same as the 7 extension. Another lost opportunity.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            The ROW north of 34th Street is being used by Amtrak. Someday Metro North is going to being using it.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    It’s always tempting to just include everything, so if you ask people what the priorities are, there need to be some limits on how much you can include. My own wishlist comes from the following limits: the budget should be the total for the four-phase SAS plus the 7 extension, but with European construction costs. The main items, roughly in descending order of importance:

    1. SAS, with a 125th crosstown tie-in.
    2. Triboro RX.
    3. Utica to Kings Plaza – first as a connection to the 4, and then continuing north and connecting to SAS, with the platforms shaved back to let IND trains run.
    4. Nostrand to Avenue Z.
    5. Northern Avenue to Willets Point and eventually the LIRR, as a spur off the 63rd Street Tunnel and SAS; together with Utica, it’d be a third service using SAS, sharing tracks with the T but not the Q.
    6. University Avenue to Marble Hill, as a second northern extension of SAS; Third is close to Metro-North and has flatter terrain allowing for longer walks, and the parts of the West Bronx served here are very dense.
    7. LGA shuttle along Junction, intersecting the east-west lines in Queens.
    8. Light rail from Flushing to Jamaica.
    9. Outward extensions of the E to Cambria Heights, the 7 to College Point (not Bayside – the LIRR should instead be rapid transit-ified), the D to Gun Hill Road on the 2/5, the F to Winchester, and the R to Staten Island.
    10. The 7 extension to 10th Avenue (somewhat higher priority), and to Hudson Yards for political reasons alone.

    • ajedrez says:

      I just have one comment about the Nostrand Avenue Line: The wide stop spacing south of Flatbush Avenue wouldn’t be necessary if the original Nostrand Avenue Line were built with express tracks. You could have express stations at Franklin Avenue, Church Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, Kings Highway, and Avenue U, with the rest of the existing stops, as well as Avenue L/Avenue R as local stops.

  4. SEAN says:

    How about a few other ideas…

    1. Extend the 6 into the heart of Co-op City.
    2. Extend the 2 into Mount Vernon.
    3. Extend the 1 to Getty Square Yonkers with express service to cut travel time durring rush hours.
    4. Extend F & or R service to Mineola. Yeah crazy, but it could fill in transit service gaps along Hillside Avenue into Nassau County.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Oh yeah, I forgot to mention my map above extends the 6 into Coop City. I’ve thought about sending the 1 to Yonkers, and it would be good only if the Hudson Line started having real capacity problems; for the purposes of this discussion, SRO on a commuter train built for minimal standing space and maximal seating space does not count as a real capacity problem. As for the F to Mineola, they should just rapid transit-ify the LIRR Main Line (for one, no more one-way service), install better signaling, and if it’s not enough then four-track to Hicksville.

    • Bolwerk says:

      What do you think would be easier? 7 to Secaucus or 1 to Getty Square?

    • al says:

      The 2/5 need a rebuilt junction and a means of adding express service north of 180th st station north on White Plains Rd for Mount Vernon extension to work. One would also note the opposition to building elevated trains in the area. You can bury it prior to Westchester County line, and head north until it hit Metro North New Haven ROW. Options from there include east to Pelham and New Rochelle.

  5. Bolwerk says:

    This question cannot be answered without asking ourselves where we want to see future development in the city. Not for nothing, but much of the Second System was visualized at a time when people used subways and streetcars to travel between boroughs as part of the daily lives. I think that’s done less nowadays. Many subways’ missions today are just getting people to Manhattan.

    The entire distance from Astoria to Red Hook seems to have a lot of potential to encourage (sustainable) jobs and entrepreneurship. Transit from and between those places is called for. Maybe a North Brooklyn/South Brooklyn/Western Queens LRT network would make more sense here for the time being though.

    Triboro RX has interesting potential to make so many more local trips possible.

    But for God’s sake, if we’re going to build more Second System we need a four-track SAS – at least below 63rd.

    (Re another discussion, South 4th Street and its six tracks seems like a great stop for a future AirTrain extension to Manhattan.)

    • Alexander says:

      The subway is only used to go to Manhattan because it was planned that way; I’m sure though, that with the recent increase in outer-borough jobs (http://queenscrap.blogspot.com.....kward.html), people will ride the subway to places other than Manhattan if future expansion is built for such.

      • Bolwerk says:

        Yes, such plans are critical for meaningful outer borough job growth. Fantasies about a big driving class aside, huge numbers of New Yorkers don’t have cars and don’t have access to jobs where trains don’t take them. Even many who do have cars don’t have reliable places to park them if they get jobs in denser parts of the outer boroughs.

        Queens Crap misses the point though. It’s not only about meeting demand that is there, it’s also about creating demand that isn’t there.

  6. Farro says:

    I actually made a map for my “Fantasy subway” expansions (place the following link into the search term in Google maps DO NOT actually click the link):
    http://maps.google.com/maps/ms.....b47ad53975

    However, what I would see as a priority:
    -Second Avenue Subway w/ express and local service, including a stub line on 125th st.
    -Revival of Third Ave. line in the Bronx
    -Extending the R to Staten Island
    -(total fantasy, but might make some sense) Addition of a “super express” line underneath the 4th Ave. stopping at 95th st and Atlantic Ave only, making all stops afterwards. Speeds up Staten Island commutes considerably.
    -Connect the A at Ozone Park to Jamaica
    -7 Extension towards Jamaica to create a Jamaica-Flushing connection (primarily to allow Flushing residents to easily use the LIRR)
    -Finish Nostrand Ave. Line

  7. pea-jay says:

    I have my own wish list/fantasy map ideas, but here are a few not posted here.

    1.Integrate PATH into NYCTA. Maybe not literally as in connect to A-division tracks but atleast integrate into fare structure.
    2. Take the 125 suggestion and extend over through randalls island to queens, running over to where it would intersect from an extension of the N to LaGuardia. Extend that line from LGA to flushing main street if possible.
    3. New rapid transit service (either subway lines or more frequent MNR/LRR service with metrocard machines and turnstiles) for these lines:
    – Hudson to Yonkers (MNR or B-div service utilizing express tracks on 2nd ave)
    – Harlem to city limits (MNR or B-div service utilizing express tracks on 2nd ave)
    – Flushing to city limits through Bayside (LIRR or 7 extension)
    – convert one of the lines out of Jamaica to subway service for the E.
    – MetroCard style rapid service for all LIRR trains between Jamaica and Penn and Jamaica and Atlantic Av. That is regular scheduled frequent service. Charge double fare but show it on the subway maps
    4. 10th Avenue Subway. Extend the L from 8av, turn it north with stops on 23,34,42,50 and 59 before terminating it under 59/CC or connecting it to the N/R tracks leading to the 60th st. tunnel.
    5. 7 extension from 11th ave back under 34th St to First Ave, then along FDR to Ave C, down through the LES, cross under the East river 2 block east of the F before connecting it into the 4/5 express tracks at Nevins and running that out to Nostrand Avenue Extension.

    Thats just some of them. Others above are great too.

  8. jim says:

    You’re misunderstanding the WMATA exercise:

    Even if just some of these plans are realized over the next few decades, DC will be far better off for it.

    No. The point of the exercise is to rule some suggestions out.

    What the WMATA long range planning group has done is create a baseline for 2040: the existing infrastructure with optimized operations — more trains where signaling will allow it, rebalancing interlined lines — and then quantify on that baseline various measures of effectiveness: capacity, mobility, access and automobile use. Having done that, they perturb the baseline with various suggested “improvements”, rerun their models and see what changes in the measures of effectiveness result.

    Some of the suggested improvements actually do result in better measures of effectiveness: less congestion, more mobility or access, less automobile use. But some make things worse and others, like the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all.

    Part of the point of the exercise is to no longer consider changes that will make the system worse overall.

    Presumably, the possible changes to the system that result in actual improvements will then go forward to enough engineering study to come up with a rough order of magnitude cost estimate, there’ll be some refinement of the alternatives and then the WMATA Board will be asked to decide which possible enhancements become the basis for FTA New Start applications.

    If the MTA were to do something similar, it would start by baselining the existing Subway/LIRR/MetroNorth infrastructure, assuming ESA, SAS and 7 train extensions completed, tweaking headways and modeling the result. Then looking at possible changes.

    Alon’s list of possible changes is a very good start. I’d add the MetroNorth Penn Station accesses and an upgrade (really a rebuild) of the LIRR Montauk Branch through southern Queens between Long Island City and Jamaica and connecting it through Harold into ESA.

    But the prioritization shouldn’t be made a priori. The first question to ask is what benefit actually accrues from each potential expansion. Quantified. It doesn’t matter if Triborough RX is cheap or expensive if it doesn’t actually reduce congestion, increase access or mobility or reduce automobile use. If Triborough RX has only small but positive effects, then we can ask whether it is a better use of funds than extending SAS along 125th St. (assuming that extending SAS also has positive effects).

    In many ways MTA is in a better position than WMATA to do this sort of analysis. It controls the Subway, most of the buses and the majority of commuter rail. WMATA has to make a bunch of assumptions about local jurisdictions transit (buses, light rail and streetcars) as well as their land use plans.

    • Farro says:

      Why not connect Lower Montauk to the Subway rather than the LIRR?

      • jim says:

        I don’t care. It passes through an underserved area and the RoW already exists. Since it’s currently LIRR (and I believe the summer Hamptons Express runs along it), the path of least resistance keeps it LIRR. But connecting it to the subway would be good, too.

        • al says:

          The Montauk Line through Queens (with the Bushwick spur) still have short line freight service for industrial/construction materials customers. 4 tracking or building over/under/along side it would be in order.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Harold is in Sunnyside, so connecting Montauk to it would involve either a reverse move or sharp turns, and the route would be circuitous anyway. Doing it right would involve tunneling from Montauk either to the existing East River Tunnels or to Penn Station through new tunnels (whichever is cheaper – the East River Tunnels have no capacity problem); doing it cheaply would involve constructing a covered transfer corridor from LIC to Vernon-Jackson and telling people to transfer to the 7 to Grand Central.

  9. pea-jay says:

    Hey Ben, would you willing to dedicate a blog entry in the future to show case some of your reader’s generated maps of suggested improvements to the system?

  10. Shabazz Stuart says:

    Staten Island!

    Any second system must include direct access from either Manhattan to Staten Island via a harbor tunnel, or some sort of super express via the 4th avenue line.

    A harbor tunnel would allow access to the current rail line in Staten Island as well as an additional spur or two. It would be long, but its defiantly do-able.

    Connecting Staten Island to the rest of the city via subway would be a boon for the local economy. It would be one of the fastest developing areas in the city’s history. It would literally open a massive chunk of the city to dense residential development. It’s a MUST

    • Bolwerk says:

      One word: NIMBYs

      • Shabazz Stuart says:

        Yes, but a subway would dramatically increase property values across the borough. There would be some nimby’s sure but you would have to believe that the potential benefits of a modern and fast connection to Manhattan and Brooklyn would be lucrative to say the least

    • al says:

      You could have some sort of lightweight rapid transit (rubber tire metro/tram?) that could navigate the grades on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. It would utilize the Highway ROW, with supports predominately in the current median. Add a transfer station at 5th Ave for the Sea Beach Line (and future Triboro). The curve west and north to 4th Ave trunk result in slow speeds anyway. Options to the north include a run through Downtown Bklyn to Manhattan, and a tunnel under Red Hook, Buttermilk Channel to Governor Island and WTC. A less likely option would be to continue it north over the BQE/GCP/Whitestone/Cross Island to LGA, Bx, and Northeast Queens, while using transfers to existing subways along the way to access Manhattan.

  11. JP says:

    A hypothetical waste of time. The city has grown around the transit system. If you could start over, the distribution would not be the same. If we could magically make instant changes that made life perfect, I’d wish for clean, quick and quiet before Houdini’ing new tunnels.

    • BrooklynBus says:

      The first mistake was not allowing the first subway to just go straight up Broadway as planned. Back then instead of the NIMBYs, you had the IMBYs. The east side also wanted part of the first subway so a compromise was made. It was diverted from Broadway to 4th Avenue, then shifted at Grand Central to serve the upper west side. Think how much easier it would have been if there were only one Broadway line instead of three. The 4, 5, the N, Q, R, and the 1, 2, 3.

      • Bolwerk says:

        Eh, I dunno, what is so magical about a Broadway line? It doesn’t solve the main shortcoming of the Manhattan system, which IMHO is getting from the upper west side to midtown east or the upper east side – though if you can live with going to 42nd Street or 51st Street, I don’t suppose that trip is too bad.

        Either way, below 59th Street, the BMT Broadway R service is always within a block of Broadway.

        • BrooklynBus says:

          There will always be places that will require two trains no matter what. Direct service everywhere is impossible. What I was trying to say is that there was no reason to make the system needlessly complex with three separate lines operating on different portions of Broadway. Knowing the system, it is not something we thing of that often, but put yourself in the place of a tourist and it makes it just harder to get around.

          Let’s say it were built straight up Broadway. Then perhaps the 7th Avenue line (perhaps BMT) would have gone straight up 7th Avenue from South Ferry and turned eastward as present under 60th Street. The Lexington Avenue line would have been built under Trinity Place instead of Broadway and the rest of the route north would be as existing today.

          Now let’s take your trip from the Upper West Side to Midtown East. Wouldn’t have that been easier than what we have now? You would have direct access to part of the east side with one transfer to the rest. Unless your destination is 14th Street or 42 Street, with the existing system two changes are required instead of one.

          • Alon Levy says:

            There is no way a system designed and built in the 1890s through 1910s, when all the jobs were in the Manhattan and Brooklyn cores, would have created good transfers for diagonal trips from the UWS to the UES.

          • Bolwerk says:

            Hell, there is nothing wrong with two trains. I wasn’t saying that there was – a transfer is pretty reasonable, and in some cases might do the system favors by reducing scheduling conflicts. But an imaginary Broadway line doesn’t really do any favors for crosstown trips that aren’t already done. It’s easy to get to the UWS to Lower Manhattan, always within a trivial distance from Broadway for an able-bodied person. If the current setup is a problem for tourists at all, I doubt it’s as serious as the rather confusing nature of the schedule and map in general.

            Re your last paragraph, Broadway crosses Fifth Avenue at 23rd Street. So, no, it would not have been significantly easier. As things stand now, UWSers traveling to the east side anywhere above at least 33rd Street are better off taking an IND Sixth Avenue service.

  12. dave says:

    Had the Third Ave. el not been demolished in the 70′s, I would have liked to see it directly connected to the SAS.

    • ajedrez says:

      The problem is that it was built to IRT specs (and it couldn’t handle the weight of regular subway cars: It had to use elevated cars), whereas the Second Avenue Subway will be built to IND specs.

      • C says:

        I agree. The the connection of the third avenue el to the SAS would have been ideal! Could the third ave el been modified for IND/BMT cars like the Flusing Astoria Lines were?

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