Map: No subways for western Manhattan


The Eighth Avenue FASTRACK removes subway service from western Manhattan.

While I’ve mostly viewed the MTA’s FASTRACK program as a necessary evil, next week’s treatment along the 8th Ave. line allows us a glimpse at an interesting “what if” in New York City subway history. What if the city hadn’t built the 8th Ave. tunnels during its subway-building phase?

The 8th Ave. line was one of the main drivers behind Mayor Hylan’s plan to build an independent subway system, and after a groundbreaking in 1925, it opened in 1932. It was the first city-owned route, and the A train, made famous by Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington, has served Harlem and beyond since then. These days, the Eighth Avenue route is one of the longest in the city, running from the Far Rockaways to Inwood. Next week, it will detour.

As part of the FASTRACK maintenance plan that shuts down service on one line during the week from 10-5 p.m., the MTA will tackle that 8th Ave. line beginning on Monday. The C train will shutdown at around 10 p.m. while the A will run along the D and F lines from Columbus Circle to Jay St. It will make local stops as the E does as well along the 6th Ave. line with a southern terminus at 2nd Ave. Once upon a time, IND trains via the 53rd St. tunnel ran either to the Hudson Terminal or 2nd Ave., and that is essentially what the E is doing again.

As FASTRACK goes, this is a relatively easy service change. The 6th Ave. line will be rife with trains, but there will be subway service south of 42nd St. and west of 7th Ave. during the overnights next weekend. It leaves a wide stretch of Manhattan very, very empty, and that’s not something we’re used to seeing. The walk from Hell’s Kitchen or Chelsea to the subway will seem even longer for a few nights.

Meanwhile, future plans for FASTRACK are taking shape. As Pete Donohue reported in Wednesday’s Daily News, the MTA is eying a northern expansion of FASTRACK for 2013. Once the midtown-to-Brooklyn work is completed this year, the authority will look to shutdown service from midtown to 125th St. This is, of course, a tougher routing as the IND routes specifically do not allow for any re-routing, and the West Side IRT isn’t particularly near any other line north of Columbus Circle. Those will be a more onerous set of service changes.

Still, Transit officials say they will charge full steam ahead next year. “The plan is to use 2012 as a period to learn what went right, what went wrong and what we have to improve, and use that as a base when expanding to northern Manhattan and the outer boroughs,” Transit President Tom Prendergast said to The News.

During FASTRACK fourth year, in 2015, the agency hopes to bring it to the Outer Boroughs. As far as I can tell, FASTRACK in the Outer Boroughs will be particular difficult to implement because the authority will have to do away with the notion of alternate service. There is no alternate service for, say, the 4th Ave. line, New Lots-bound trains or folks traveling along the Queens Boulevard line. While these areas are in need of the most work, they also have the least amount of system redundancies. The work must go on, but we don’t have to like it.

On that note, expect a lighter schedule for the rest of the week. I’m out of the city and down in Philly for a few days, but I’ll check back in if any big subway news happens.

Categories : MTA Construction

40 Responses to “Map: No subways for western Manhattan”

  1. Alon Levy says:

    I sometimes feel like the only person who thinks the IND made subway service in the city worse. There already was an el down 9th Avenue and another down 6th. The only lines the IND built that added new service where needed rather than duplicating existing lines were the Crosstown Line and the QB Line, and of those the Crosstown Line failed to connect to the most important transfer points at both ends (QBP, Atlantic/Pacific) because of the stupid hatred for the IRT and BMT. How much better would the system have been if instead of this, they’d built the Crosstown Line better, and had the QB Line run into Manhattan on a fully four-tracked alignment and gone along 50th to connect to the north-south lines?

    • John-2 says:

      I would have just settled for, instead of Eighth and Sixth Avenue service, Eighth and Second Avenue lines as part of the original IND to serve both sides of Manhattan (given all the lines it had to run around, over and/or under, the three-mile long Sixth Avenue line was a huge waste of $$$ compared to the benefits a six-mile long Second Avenue routing would have offered for probably about the same cost. But a Second Avenue line would have taken little traffic away from Mayor Hylan’s hated BMT Broadway line, and that was part of the goal).

      There are lots of other “It would have been better if they had put it there” options for the original IND. Instead of under-running the Fulton el in Brooklyn, they could have used the express tracks on the Culver viaduct to go south of Prospect Park and then turn east, along Church Avenue/Linden Blvd. and create a new cross-Brooklyn line that would have better served the south-central portion of the borough, and left the Fulton el up for the proposed BMT Ashland Place connection. And a full-length Second Ave. line might also have allowed the IND to continue straight north into the Bronx and possibly capture the full length of the NYW&B line from the southern tip of the borough to Dyer Ave. No Concourse line under that scenario, but with the Jerome el next door, that was another IND project built more with the idea of crushing the competition than to better the city’s overall mass transit coverage.

      • John Paul N. says:

        If the engineering costs of Sixth Avenue were going to be high, wouldn’t Fifth Avenue have been a good (acceptable) alternative?

        I do find it strange that as opposed to Fulton Street, the IND did not prioritize going to Coney Island, which would have allowed the south-central alignment (and faster service from Manhattan to Coney Island, which would have been desirable anyway). But the residential fare-paying population was concentrated better along the Fulton Street area, I would imagine.

        • Anon says:

          Think about it for a minute: cut and cover down one of the most moneyed avenues in the hemisphere? The costs would have been astronomical and the opposition insurmountable.

        • John-2 says:

          Part of Hylan’s original IND plan was always to seize the Culver line from the BMT to get to Coney Island, and once you got south of Prospect Park, the city apparently was OK with continuing to use el service there. The IND project on Fulton was designed to cut the heart out of the BMT’s main el line through the downtown business district, and pretty much kill it off all the way to the major interchange at Broadway Junction.

          You can certainly argue that subways are better than els, and the 1888 blizzard and the effects on the els was the driving force towards the creation of the IRT. But whether or not the city should has sunk limited taxpayer funds into killing off el lines in less-developed parts of 1920s-30s New York definitely is something that, in hindsight, was a major mistake, but probably wasn’t seen as such then, since by the 1930s New Yorkers had gotten used to the notion that a major new subway line would be opening every few years. But once LaGuardia had achieved Hylan’s dream of a city-run subway monopoly, we all know what happened in the ensuing 72 years.

          • Christopher says:

            I thought the blizzard mostly affected the street cars not the els. The els were just seen as an impediment to development (plus everyone hated their noise and darkness.) It’s weird that Chicago which has much stronger winters would stick with els and NYC didn’t. Of course in Chicago els were prohibited from running over streets (because of trees and other permission requrements.) They could however be easily added over city right of way in alleys. And so that’s where they were put. Which also meant they never cause the problems over the streets that NYC’s did.

            • Bolwerk says:

              If I’m not mistaken, Chicago had the advantage of developing with rail, at least partly thanks to the 1871 fire. New York, Brooklyn and Manhattan at least, were more settled by the time Els started being built.

            • Steve says:

              Don’t quote me on this, but I think Chicago is all built on muck, which is terrible for subways. And I think a lot of NYC, especially Manhattan, is granite, which is a pain to dig through but doesn’t keep subsiding the way muck does.

              • Nathanael says:

                Not all of Chicago is built on loose fill, but an *awful lot of it* is, including most of the really heavily built-up areas.

                The State and Dearborn subways are a bit of a miracle, given the trashy fill they’re running through. IIRC the Loop was once a river delta.

            • Alon Levy says:

              The Loop runs over streets. Some of the lines protruding out of it don’t, though.

    • John Paul N. says:

      Every time I read the rationale for building the IND, I’m outraged. Yes, I’m grateful for the benefits it provided, but the planning for the IND would not likely fly if the mindset of 2012 (maintain and expand existing infrastructure is more beneficial than redundant/competing services) was applied to the 1920s.

      But I don’t know if you could blame the mindset of the 1920s either. The Malbone Street wreck, the BRT bankruptcy, dissatisfaction with service in a crowded system (train lengths half of what they are today!), the requirement of service in snowy/stormy weather, the requirement of a 5-cent fare that did not match demand to supply and costs, were all detrimental to the perception of public transit. It was only because Hylan had a personal poor experience with the subway system that his actions were manifested as much as they did into such a redundant system. (Compare that to an average city politician today who has limited personal exposure to the subway system.)

      So depressing to live with Hylan’s public transit decisions, immemorialized in a boulevard in Staten Island (Where there is no subway service).

    • Bolwerk says:

      “Worse” is probably a little harsh. Who knows? At least the Ninth Ave. El was probably going to come down. Likewise Sixth, but the IND Sixth Ave. lines are a little harder to justify on cost. El hatred was the flavor of the times, but in all fairness, the Eighth Avenue Subway went places the el didn’t and never could.

    • Marc Shepherd says:

      Well, I wouldn’t say that the IND made service worse, because most people felt that subways were better than ELs. I know that rail buffs have a nostalgic affection for them, but seriously, Sixth Avenue with elevated trains would not be better than what we have today.

      Now, it certainly is true that they put some lines and stations in the wrong places. But I think the city’s #1 error was tearing down the Second Avenue El before its replacement had been built.

      • Alon Levy says:

        Sixth Avenue is better with a subway, sure. In fact, it already had a subway, one that wanted to extend a bit in order to connect to Grand Central, but was cut short.

        But all the other places in the city that could’ve gotten subways would’ve been even better off – Utica, Nostrand, Horace Harding, College Point. Building the Second System first would’ve resulted in much better service than is available today.

    • Anon256 says:

      The els were decrepit old structures that couldn’t handle the weight of modern subway cars, and only had 2-3 tracks so couldn’t provide proper express service. Basically every elevated line had the problems of today’s J train. Furthermore, every train from the Brooklyn BMT lines had to either squeeze into the Broadway subway or run to Park Row/Nassau St which was not where people were going by then. When the IND opened, its express tracks and capacity meant it could provide good through service from the outer boroughs, permitting the expansion of lines in Queens and the Chrystie St rerouting.

      The adversarial planning that led to the IND missing many opportunities for connections with the existing systems was unfortunate, but it’s not as though the els had particularly good connections with the existing subways either. There was no transfer at Myrtle and Flatbush, no transfer at 53rd and Broadway, no transfer at 104th and Columbus, and as far as I know not even a transfer at Flatbush and Fulton. And of course no transfer between IRT and BMT lines.

      Tearing down the els and replacing them with modern, capacious subways was undeniably beneficial, even if some opportunities were missed in the process. We’d have difficulty justifying the cost of such a conversion today, but I’m glad it got done in the days of cheap construction. Perhaps much the same benefits could have been achieved by rebuilding the els completely, but els really are noisy and unpleasant, and I’m not about to complain that past generations found the money to put the replacement lines underground.

      • Alon Levy says:

        Of the three most pressing connections that are missing, two involve the Crosstown Line, which didn’t exist then, and was on the drawing board in the early 1920s even before the decision for the IND was made. The original plan involved connecting it to QBP – I don’t remember if it connected to Atlantic/Pacific, though.

        Likewise, the capacity issues were not solved by any IND construction. Chrystie Street helped, but that was decades later; they could have just forgotten about replacing els with subways, built a short trunk line somewhere connecting QB with more BMT lines in Brooklyn, and call it a day. Likewise, they could’ve connected 8th Avenue to the two stub-ending tracks of the Broadway Line, as originally planned with the Morningside line.

        The J’s problem is that every dollar that could’ve gone to modernizing it has gone elsewhere, even in the modern era. It doesn’t need extra tracks; it needs strategic passing segments, and a Z that runs express with timed overtakes.

        • Anon256 says:

          There was provision in the Contract 2 IRT for a Lafayette Ave (potentially crosstown) subway; it would have connected to the lower level of Nevins St station, branching off between there and Atlantic.

  2. Alek says:

    They need to do fastrack on the broadway line and nassau street line. I was thinking id they could reroute the j on the m line in manhattan.

  3. Larry Littlefield says:

    “The 8th Ave. line was one of the main drivers behind Mayor Hylan’s plan to build an independent subway system, and after a groundbreaking in 1925, it opened in 1932.”

    Seven years to build the whole thing. And people were so outraged at the corruption and inefficiency of Tammany Hall, that the delays and waste on the IND was one of the issues when the Dems were thrown out by LaGuardia.

    • Jerrold says:

      Larry, you beat me to it! Those two lines were JUST the ones that I was going to cut-and-paste here, and then I was going to comment that efficient subway-building is now a lost art. A similar issue is when one compares the time it took to build the Empire State Building with the time it is taking to build the new 1 World Trade Center tower.

  4. Seth Rosenblum says:

    Why even run the E train if it’s just going to end at Second Avenue? Just keep the M running all night like they have the last few weekends.

  5. Subutay Musluoglu says:

    A lot of people may not know this, but an 8th Avenue Subway north of 59th Street had been planned prior to the IND. In fact, it was envisioned as an extension of the BMT Broadway Line north of 57th Street. Had it happened and gone far enough north, who knows – the BMT could have become the BMBT. If I’m not mistaken the intention was that the outer tracks – the local tracks that today go to 60th Street and Queens – were meant to go north and west. The ramps that rise up are there in the form of bellmouths, though they are somewhat hidden behind all sorts of NYCT claptrap that has accumulated over the years. It was the center tracks that were meant to go to Queens. Of course we now know the current arrangement, where the center tracks actually go to 63rd Street and hopefully to Second Avenue in our lifetimes.

    As for IND bashing, it seems to come easy for some, but I think it takes some nuanced thought to appreciate that the IND has incredible value. It’s important to try to understand the mindset of the 1920s, as John Paul put it above, and to fully grasp what it has done as for the city, as Anon 256 also sums up above.

    Personally, I see the IND as incredibly advanced for its time, learning the lessons of the IRT and BMT, and pushing the boundaries of subway engineering. The Toronto and Stockholm subways are just two examples of systems that were modeled after the IND. Some call the IND overbuilt, with which I completely disagree. Yes, I can see how in some places a full street wide, 3 block long mezzanine seems excessive, but that is through our modern lens, seeing the development patterns that actually occurred over the decades. Some places just did not get built up. It happens. You cannot blame the Board of Transportation for having a long range vision, as evident by all the bellmouths and built in expansion provisions.

    The real irony is that the IND is actually underbuilt in some cases. My favorite example is the Roosevelt Avenue Station on the Queens Boulevard Line, which actually functioned as a terminal for a few years in the early 1930s, yet was built with platforms not much wider than those at the 72nd Street Station on the IRT. Clearly a mistake, as evident by any of us who have to use it during a rush hour.

    • Alon Levy says:

      I don’t mind the bellmouths. I mind the full-length mezzanines. I mind the building a subway around and under an existing subway that could’ve been extended. I mind the poorly thought connections to lines the city wanted to take over anyway. I mind putting a subway under QB instead of an el even though the el over another part of QB is perfectly fine (okay, granted, caring about pedestrian amenities vs. overbuilt roads is a modern thing, but still). I mind building lines competing with lines that weren’t at capacity instead of extending the system to where it needed to go, QB excepted.

      • Caelestor says:

        My primary gripe with the IND is that it’s just a poorly designed system, period. Local trains not going into Manhattan? Massive interlining leading to the 8th Ave and 6th Ave tracks not used to full capacity (6th Avenue and QB are only rectified today because of the Chrystie St & 63rd St Connections). Really, the IND’s greatest contributions were the Culver Line (to redirect the BMT Culver Line and increase capacity), QB, and CPW/Concourse (section north of 168th St is useless).

        The 53rd St line also should have run under 50th St, just like the 14th St line hits nearly all the major lines it intersects.

      • Nathanael says:

        The IND’s open hostility to IRT, BMT, and H&M (now PATH) extensions was its worst aspect and left its worst legacy. Preventing PATH from extending was exceptionally bad and is practically impossible to fix now.


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