Idea: The L train to the United Nations

By · Published in 2012

One architect has a plan to send the L train to the United Nations. (Via nybydzine. Click to enlarge)

Via DNAInfo, here’s a fun one for a Friday afternoon: Architect David Wright, while dreaming up plans for future subway expansions, has proposed sending the L train to the United Nations via Hudson Yards. It’s an ambitious plan that carries with it numerous engineering and operational challenges along with astronomical costs, but it’s an entertain one to ponder nonetheless.

Here’s his explanation:

Suppose that L to 7 Hudson Yards Extension actually happens. The platforms are offset so the L Train could eventually extend east to Penn Station and directly connect to Grand Central Terminal.

From there, there’s a very convenient connection with the 2nd Avenue Subway and First Avenue – UN Plaza. Add in a new Herald Square L Train Station, and 3 of the busiest transit hubs become connected. There isn’t a 34th Street tunneling conflict since Penn RR lines are under 32nd & 33rd Streets.

Maybe this becomes a reversed “C” shaped SAS revised route. It would include a Harlem Crosstown extension connecting west to the 1 Train. This would greatly improve horrible bus traffic on 125th Street and provide connections with all existing subway lines across Harlem…And maybe this Crosstown L just heads north up 2nd Avenue and west across Harlem and we’re done!

A few days ago, Michael Horodniceanu, president of MTA Capital Construction, spoke vaguely of extending the 7 train if the popular will and political muscle is in place to do so. Wright’s plan, a dream more than anything else, certainly could capture public imagination. It’s thinking big, and I like thinking big.

Categories : Manhattan

70 Responses to “Idea: The L train to the United Nations”

  1. Marc Shepherd says:

    That is so NOT happening, but it’s fun to dream.

  2. Bolwerk says:

    This is another case where, even if tunneling costs were sane, there isn’t much of a point if it’s not going to leave Manhattan. Blocking off lanes or even whole streets to make a surface rail system would simply be cheaper, and would probably satisfy the demand just as well if not better.

  3. Larry Littlefield says:

    You spend $500 billion dollars and the L still doesn’t have tail tracks.

  4. ant6n says:

    Seems like connecting the L to the 7, and building a station on 2nd Avenue would accomplish the same thing, and be much cheaper.
    Of course building a station and 2nd Avenue would be an ‘interesting’ engineering challenge.

    • Marc Shepherd says:

      You can’t connect the L to the 7, because the Steinway tunnels were built to IRT train widths.

      You also can’t build a 7 train stop at Second Avenue, because at that point the line is too steeply sloped on its route down to (or up from) its river crossing.

      • Clarke says:

        Aren’t the Steinway tunnels built to streetcar width and barely fit the IRT heavy rail cars that came later?

        I think the suggestion is not to merge them, but to extend L to Hudson Yard where it would meet up with its feel crosstown buddy, the 7.

      • Jerrold says:

        Not just the Steinway Tunnels, but the ENTIRE #7 Line is IRT (as is ANY OTHER numbered line). The L is of course BMT/IND.

      • ant6n says:

        Whatever, just use the smaller loading gauge of the two.

        And building a station where it’s too steep is not _impossible_, it’s just expensive. Basically you’d have to built secondary parallel tunnels to get a straight section – that’s expensive, but still cheaper than the proposed extension.

        • Bolwerk says:

          I think the Steinway Tunnels have one of the more exceptional grades in the city. Building parallel tunnels requires even steeper approach grades from both directions – no doubt at very great expense.

          Also, by all accounts, sharing revenue service between IRT and IND/BMT lines is quite difficult and maintenance-intensive, if it’s to be done without safety issues. And converting the L to IRT standards would be a whole other can of worms.

        • M.L. says:

          Here’s an example of a possible new BART station that could be added between two existing ones in San Francisco. “The new station is planned on a 1.0 per cent grade and thus new approach tunnels are required to conform back to the existing tunnels on both the north and south ends.” See page 46 (PDF document) for profile of alternative “B”. The actual grade of the existing tunnels is 3.121%.


  5. Tom S says:

    It was already an incredible challenge to build an IND station at 34th St, where express and local tracks had to be built to weave around existing PATH and BMT tracks. Adding yet another set of tracks at 34th St would be one of the biggest and most expensive engineering projects the city has ever seen.

  6. Spiderboy says:

    I’m baffled as to why this has anything to do with the ‘L’ train. Even if it makes sense to invest in a crosstown line that goes from the far west 30’s to the east 40’s, connecting the Hudson Yards, Penn Station, Grand Central, and the U.N. along the way (a dubious cost-benefit equation in my opinion), what is gained by running the ‘L’ up 10th Avenue to connect to it? Through traffic from further east on 14th Street would be nil, as the vast majority of travelers would have an easier time going straight north on one of the many existing lines.

    Either David Wright was dropped on his head, or this is just an ill thought out idea that is being suggested simply because it is possible.

    • Bolwerk says:

      I think I agree with you, but one thing to be gained: you can make use of existing L Train storage and maintenance facilities.

    • Larry Littlefield says:

      The existing Canarsie Yard is at capacity.]

      David Wright has been strking out more since he was hit in the head, and hasn’t had as much power since moving to CitiField.

      • Bolwerk says:

        So, you can still use them. It perhaps only means only needing to add incremental storage elsewhere, rather than having entirely new shop and yard complexes.

    • Eric says:

      Yeah, I agree. If I’m going to Grand Central from the L, I’m going to transfer to the 4/5 at Union Square instead of doglegging all the way to 10th Ave, up to 34th St, up to 42nd, and then over to Park.

    • Eric says:

      Not to mention the fact that the best part about this, a one-seat ride from Penn to Grand Central, is primarily for the benefit of commuters and would be completely negated by East Side Access.

      • Farro says:

        Not completely. Travelers using the Harlem line (which cannot go to Penn Station) would still need to use it. Those who take NJ Transit or Amtrak can use it to better get into the vicinity of midtown east.

        Not to mention if most trains are going to GCT and you need to get to Penn, sometimes it will make more sense to go from GCT to Penn than wait for the next Penn train.

  7. John-2 says:

    If you’re going to come up with a ‘loop’ idea for the L, it would make more sense to send it up the west side all the way to 58st Street and then back east to hook it up via Central Park South with the 60th Street tunnel to become the second Astoria service with the N when the Q gets routed up Second Avenue via 6rd Street. That way you add service to the un-served Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, and you provide connection access from the east side and trunk lines to the Hudson Yards area via both 14th Street and 59th Street transfers.

    • Bolwerk says:

      That sounds like it would really throw a wrench into L headways.

      • John-2 says:

        You would have to probably put in a three-track platform either at Hudson Yards or Columbus Circle to short-turn some L trains to maintain headways. But it would still be easier to do than to try and run a line under Herald Square.

        • pea-jay says:

          The far west side of Manhattan could really benefit from a north-south line under 10th or 11th Ave between 14th and 60th. Add in a connection with the proposed Metro North west midtown station in upper 50s and 11th and suddenly this area would become quite accessible to many points in the city. Connecting at least half the trains with the 60th St. tubes heading out Queens would also be nice. I agree that short-turning some Ls would be necessary and that should be done at 59/CC.

    • aestrivex says:

      this is a far better idea than the OP.

  8. Eric says:

    This is a terrible idea.

  9. Alex C says:

    I have a better idea: Replace the damn Steinway tubes with BMT/IND sized new tunnels and connect the 7 extension to the L. Reconfigure the platforms on the Flushing line and extend the L there. Also expensive, but less construction in midtown Manhattan. The current Steinway tubes are more trouble than they’re worth at this point. BMT used to run on the Flushing line back in the day anyways.

    • Chris says:

      Not that it could ever happen, but that would open up the possibility of the 7 taking over the LIRR route from Flushing to Port Washington. You’d add 6 stations in Queens and 4 in Nassau County to the subway just by adding a 500 foot connector.

  10. Eric says:

    Why are we extending the L anywhere? It can barely keep up as it is.

  11. R2 says:

    It’s fun to draw lines a map. I see children doing it all the time.

  12. Al D says:

    The idea on the its surface seems so ridiculous, and yet upon closer examination really hits the high notes in terms of its stops. Imagine going from the UN to Herald Square in what, 4 minutes?!

  13. Steve S. says:

    I agree that this L proposal doesn’t make much sense as is, but it strikes me that there is certainly an unmet demand for crosstown service on the south side of Manhattan. Or, to put it another way: a 34th St. line (in whatever form) would have outsize ridership just due to the sheer volume of traffic boarding and alighting at the major 34th St. stations (Penn Station, Herald Square, etc.)

    So while the needs it would serve aren’t being solved by the L, a 34th St. tunnel would have to be considered in the long run, especially if we find ourselves in a position to entertain new routes.

    • Andrew says:

      There’s already a pair(!) of crosstown lines 7-8 blocks away.

      • Steve S. says:

        Thanks for proving my point! 7-8 blocks works out to half a mile. In the core business district, this is unacceptably far.

        • Andrew says:

          No it’s not. That’s typical spacing for crosstown bus lines, not for subway lines. There isn’t a single crosstown subway line north of 60th, but you think 34th should be a priority?

          (By the way, it’s 20 blocks to a mile in Manhattan.)

  14. John Paul N. says:

    With this plan, the L would still not have an easy connection to the 7th Avenue lines.

  15. Bill Reese says:

    Here’s a dumb idea.

    If the 7 is extended to New Jersey, extend the L to go with it.

    Extend the 7 tail tracks to 23rd street and send the L down 14th Street, stopping at 10th Avenue by the High Line. Then loop up 10th Avenue meeting with the 7 at a 2-level station at 11th Avenue and 23rd Street. One with platforms for the IRT-7 and one for the BMT-L.

    Both trains would then share a tunnel under the Hudson to a variety of points in New Jersey. It would require separate platforms for each car style, or you could just build a station with Union Square-style platforms that would extend outward to make up for the gap you’d get with an IRT car.

    If the NJ tunnel ever happens, wouldn’t it make sense to send 2 trains out there?

    • nyland8 says:

      Hmmm … worth considering. It seems like a lot of effort to spend billions on a cross-Hudson tunnel, only to have a single subway line run through it. And the “L” is the closest to avail itself of that tunnel. The trick now is to find another viable destination in New Jersey.

    • JSBertram says:

      New dual-division stations could be built similar to the Lex-63rd station, with the upper island platform for NJ-bound trains and the lower island platform for Manhattan-bound trains, but one side of the island platforms is designed for “A” Division stock, the other side for “B” Division stock, so each type of train can platform at the station.

      You would build the tunnels for the larger “B” Division stock so both types of trains can share the tracks, but you still have the complication of signaling, BIE trips &tc that are different between each division.

      • Frank B. says:

        Interesting indeed.

        Of course, the signaling problem, at least I would imagine, would be almost entirely mitigated by installing CBTC along the IRT Flushing and BMT Canarsie Lines, both of which plans have their wheels already well in motion.

        It is of note that IRT trains can run on BMT/IND trackage; they just cannot stop at BMT or IND stations due to different loading gauge.

        There would have to be two sets of platforms in Jersey, one for IRT loading gauge, and another for BMT loading gauge.

        Other than that, if we’re really going to build this ludicrous, idiotic tunnel to another state instead of helping out our own citizens in Queens and Staten Island, then we should at least go all out and run both services to Seacaucus.

        • Stevie B says:

          No need for two sets of platforms. Use two sets of track on the same railbed to account for the spacing difference. It’s ~18″, yes? The track closer to the platform is for A div trains to dock, the track farther from the platform is for B div docking and A div skipping. Of course, safety mechanisms would have to be built-in, perhaps a “stop-stick” many yards from the approaching edge of the platform that would engage the train’s brakes if it’s a B div train on the A div docking track.

          • Noah says:

            If you have two platforms it would be easier to have the lines in the future branch to different points.

            • Bill Reese says:

              The F train/ESA tunnel at 63rd Street is a bi-level tunnel, no?

              • JSBertram says:

                As I recall, the 63rd St tunnels under the East River to Queens (via Roosevelt Island) were built as four tunnels. The lower pair were for LIRR to use, the upper pair were for MTA to use.

                The MTA connected their IND 63rd St subway tunnels to these East River tunnels and was able to run trains from Manhattan to 21st-Queensbridge. It was still a few decades before the MTA was able to build the connenction further east to he IND Queens Boulevard Line.

                Meanwhile the lower pair of tunnels under the river were left unused for decades until LIRR was able to get ESA construction started. The Manhattan bored tubes from these tunnels to Grand Central have been dug out and mostly finshed, but the new LIRR terminal under GCT is still under construction. The Queens tunnels are still under construction. When everything is finished, the LIRR will have a connection from Sunnyside yard to these East River tubes.

                I also know that when the MTA built the 63rd St tunnels, they also included the 2nd Ave connections. One of these was recently ‘holed through’ by the Second Avenue Subway tunneling machine. Phase I of the new SAS will start at Lex-63rd station so when this construction is finished Q trains will run north from 57-7th via Lex-63rd and then up 2nd Ave to 96th St.

                There is another planned-for connection on the 63rd St tunnels so Queens trains could turn south down 2nd Ave (if SAS Phases III and IV ever get built)

          • Alon Levy says:

            The difference you need to account for is not the difference in width, but half the difference in width. That’s about 8″, which I believe is too small.

            The other issue is that the 7 and L are both running so many trains that they can’t share tracks without interfering with capacity.

    • Andrew says:

      Not enough capacity.

  16. Christopher says:

    Streets cars should make a comeback for Crosstown routes. Certainly far more economically and better for shorter routing anyway. Manhattan isn’t that wide to justifying going up and down to get a subway just to hop across town.

  17. nyland8 says:

    Well … the “T” train should go across 125th Street no matter what the “L” does. Below Central Park there are no less than 4 trains with cross town stops. Above Central Park … none. With the Columbia University expansion well under way, the Metro North Hudson Line planning to use the Empire Corridor into Penn Station, including adding a station at 125th Street, and the ferry excursion pier that was just built on the river at the same location, running the “T” across 125th makes all the sense in the world. There’s even a bus terminal right there already. 125th Street and Riverside then becomes an uptown transportation hub – and a long overdue one.

  18. Kevin Walsh says:

    With Southeast Brooklyn and SW and SE Queens begging for subway service, and in many cases rights of way sitting there unused, building more routes in Manhattan amounts to borough-ism.

    • nyland8 says:

      Point taken. There is “borough-ism” involved … but understandably so. The irony is that the places “begging for subway service” are begging for it to get in and out of Manhattan. So by extension, any planned improvements in the speed and efficiency with which people get around Manhattan also improves the commuting times of those in the outer boroughs “begging for subway service”.

      However Manhattan-centric plans of connecting PS, Herold Square and GCT may seem, they might still serve the greater interests of commuters from every borough.

      But unused ROWs in the outer boroughs makes no sense to me either. They can be activated at a tiny fraction of the cost of tunneling new routes. It seems like what is needed is community organizing to generate the political pressure required to activate them.

      • Frank B. says:

        I pray that one day the unused rights of way of the LIRR Rockaway Branch, LIRR Bay Ridge Branch, LIRR Laurelton Branch, LIRR Montauk Branch, and the Long Island Motor Parkway one day come to be used again.

        But I’m not going to hold my breath for community support.

      • Bolwerk says:

        You’re probably both right. I can see where short crosstown routes in Manhattan are called for, ones that connect to outer borough ROWs. As I said before, I’m probably expressing a minority view here, but I still suspect it can do more than the SAS to relieve east side services. The other upside is such routes should have fairly easy access to the FRA railroad network, so removing tunnel debris would be fairly easy if the tunneling starts in the outer boroughs and works toward Manhattan.

        But I think things like this L idea are Manhattan-centric cruft. It would be one thing if it continued past the UN to at least service Greenpoint and maybe points beyond (up Greenpoint Ave. to meet the 7 in Sunnyside/Woodside?). For crosstown Manhattan-only routes, surface rail or even BRT should suffice. Descending multiple stories into a subway dungeon is far from quick anyway.

    • Alon Levy says:

      It depends. This L-7 idea is not useful; it’s not so much borough-ism as a cousin of what I call development-oriented transit, in which the lines are drawn based on megaproject needs rather than based on where the riders are.

      However, the existing big Manhattan project, SAS, makes sense based on ridership and service need. The Lex is either vaguely near capacity or above it, depending on what your standards are; the blocks abutting Second Avenue on the UES have the highest population density in the first world outside Hong Kong; the ridership projection per kilometer of route (not just track!) is very high, at four times the systemwide average. By all means, let’s also build a subway under Utica, and Nostrand, and Northern; but these don’t have the potential ridership that SAS does.

  19. Steve M. says:

    As long as we’re dreaming about 34th street subways, I’d connect it to the G under the East River, giving Greenpoint a direct connection to Manhattan.

  20. Farro says:

    Here’s a proposal. Cut this thing below Penn Station–that is, have a routing from Penn Station to the UN but don’t hook it up with the L. Curve the line upwards at 1st avenue and link it to the 53rd street tunnel. Combine with LIRR Rockaway branch. You have now linked 2 of the 3 main intercity/commuter hubs with each other and with NY’s principal airport in a one seat ride.

  21. geoffc says:

    What is missed in all this is that Water Tunnel #1 runs under 6th ave, deep below the current tunnels. Getting DEP permission to tunnel within 100 feet of this tunnel will not happen until Water Tunnel 3 is complete and running (what is that now? 2023?), means you would have to tunnel maybe 3-400 feet underground, which means stations would be untenable.

  22. Steve S. says:

    My take on it is that 34th St. should be considered a potential future Manhattan alignment if new Queens easements of some sort prove viable.

    As a Manhattan gateway alignment from the east, it could also veer south and serve the Village and Tribeca, terminating at the WTC.

  23. Walt Gekko says:

    This idea is ridiculous:

    A much better way to extend the (L) would be to have it head up 10th Avenue to 72nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue/Broadway to a terminal under the 1/2/3 station there. If the (7) extension eventually does include a station at 41st and 10th Avenue, this can also allow (L) riders access to the Port Authority Bus Terminal via a transfer to the (7) since that station would likely include an exit to the west end of the terminal at 9th Avenue. As I would do the stations on such an (L) extension:

    23rd Street (exits at 21st and 23rd Streets)
    33rd Street (exits at 31st and 33rd Streets, possibly with a direct underground passage to Moynihan Station)
    41st Street (exits at 41st, 42nd and 43rd Streets, transfer to 7 if 10th Avenue-41st Street station is built)
    49th-50th Streets (exits as noted)
    58th Street-Roosevelt Hospital (exits at 57th and 58th Streets)
    65th-66th Streets-Lincoln Center (exits as noted)
    72nd Street (terminal under 1/2/3 for which there would be a transfer with an additional exit at 75th Street and Amsterdam Avenue).

  24. chris says:

    This is a good idea, but why is there no station in the vicinity of 14th Street and 10th Avenue? That seems a glaring omission.

  25. Someone says:

    Why are there so many sharp curves? Wouldn’t it be easier if you built a new First Ave subway and send that up to the UN?

    Send the L to Secaucus instead.


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  2. […] New York are eying ways to keep the ball rolling. We heard one dreamer’s plan in January to send the L train to the United States, but what of the current MTA […]

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