Lhota: Let’s send the 7 to Chelsea

By · Published in 2012

Joe Lhota would one day like to see the 7 line head south past 26th Street. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

As the MTA nears the 20 (or perhaps 24-month) countdown to mark the days until the 7 line extension is put into revenue service, the future of the agency’s megaprojects continues to make headlines. Once the extension to the Hudson Yards area wraps, the Second Ave. Subway will surve as the MTA’s only subway expansion project, and many in 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 Nations, but what of the current MTA head?

During Friday’s Regional Assembly hosted the Regional Plan Associate, MTA Chairman and CEO Joe Lhota, the person whose voice may count the most over the next few years, spoke about his dreams for the 7 train. Specifically, he wants to send it south to Chelsea. “As far as big projects are concerned, I can actually see the extension of the No. 7 train to other parts of New York City’s west side,” he said. The 7 could “go all the way down to 23rd Street, and the West Side Highway, so we can incorporate that portion of the west side that’s not receiving a whole lot of coverage.”

Transportation Nation’s Jim O’Grady was on hand at the Regional Assembly, and he had more from Lhota:

Lhota told planners…that the first project on his “wish list” is extending the Number 7 subway train down 11th Avenue to 23rd Street. “It’s something that I think would make sense because if you look at the demographics of the West Side, we shouldn’t just make one stop,” he told reporters after taking part in a workshop at the Regional Plan Association’s annual assembly, which was held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Lhota said, “It’s important to have plans, to have a wish list.” But he cautioned there was no active push to send the 7 train from Times Square past its planned terminus at W 34th Street. “I’m not sure it can be done,” he said. “I’m not sure about how close you can get to the Hudson River.”

Lhota’s reference to the Hudson River concerns the technical side of any southern expansion. Because the new terminal with the tail tracks extending south to the low 20s is so close to the West Side, future tunneling would have to cut east. It’s not technically impossible to envision a connection to 14th Street, and furthermore, with the way the tail tracks are built out now, the MTA could add a stop without much more tunneling. A stop in the 20s underneath 11th Ave., however, would destroy the capacity and storage needs the trail tracks address.

On another level, though, Lhota’s discussion seems to be missing something, and that’s something that’s been largely swept under the rug over the past few years. If the MTA wants to add another stop to what has become a one-station extension of the 7 train, the logical spot can be found in the original plans. Before the 7 heads further south or curves around through Chelsea or goes anywhere else, the authority should figure out a way to build the long lost station at 10th Ave. and 41st St.

Ever since the city failed to pony up the dough for the station and both parties agreed to axe it, the station has disappeared from the discussion. It’s out of sight, out of mind. Yet, its absence will be felt for years in the rapidly growing area in the 40s west of 9th Ave. With high rises, a boat terminal and nightlife destinations, that area was primed for a subway stop, and the planned one never materialized. Provisioning for the station is in place, but the money isn’t. We may never see that station, but we should see it before we see a stop further south.

Of course, this entire discussion may be for naught as MTA officials stressed that Lhota wants to get the MTA’s financial house of cards in order first. The 7 extension, Lhota said, “may not necessarily be in the very next capital plan,” and Adam Lisberg, chief MTA spokesperson, called it a “very long term” plan in a note to Capital New York. We have to start thinking toward the future somewhere though, and 41st and 10th should get the attention it deserves.

Categories : 7 Line Extension

36 Responses to “Lhota: Let’s send the 7 to Chelsea”

  1. Christopher says:

    I didn’t chime in on Ward’s comments about the need for a transit focused Mayor but this sort of comes up here too. In my view, the Mayor controls land us and taxation this how the city can and should take a more pro-transit roll. This is partly how mayors in other cities have dealt with transit systems outside their direct control (which often all of them). The station could be built tomorrow with the write kind of tax financing for it. Transit oriented development tied into revenue generation to specifically fund transit is something the mayor can and should be doing. This has been the secret of transit expansion projects in other cities. It certainly can be here. Not to high jack the thread but I wonder too if the Mayor couldn’t create a light rail system like DC is as an alternate to WMATA.

    Anyway, yes the station at 41st should be built, but I don’t necessarily think that it should HAVE to be paid for by the MTA.

  2. Frank B says:

    I believe you mean “United NATIONS”, not United States.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    Well, Lhota is certainly right that the extension should have more than one station…

  4. Larry Littlefield says:

    The top priority should be the extension of the Second Avenue Subway to 125th and Lexington, where a connection could be made to the 4/5/6.

    The reasons? Redundancy. In a number of perfectly plausible scenarios, the MTA will be going to deferred maintenance on a large scale. At least with the SAS going to 125th, there would be two lines on the East Side in case one had to be shut down for a long period of time.

    And maintenance. You’d want that alternative when the signals need to be replaced on the Lex south of 125th.

    • AG says:

      Actually – second avenue line should go farther and directly into the Bronx. There is a gap in the Port Morris section. It’s actually pretty ridiculous that a person has to leave the Bronx and go to 125th street to transfer from the 5 to the 6.

  5. J B says:

    Lhota doesn’t offer a very good reason to extend the 7, as opposed to any of the other possible extensions the MTA could prioritize. “Poor coverage” isn’t a good reason, there are plenty of other neighborhoods with poor coverage, and anyway just because a neighborhood has poor coverage doesn’t mean it should get a subway line. Rather than just building whatever X politician feels like should be built, they should have an objective system to determine which extensions are most worthwhile, taking into account expected ridership and cost.

    • Marc Shepherd says:

      Subway extensions are always political, and have always been. Get over it.

      Having said that, I strongly suspect that Lhota has a bit more thought behind his comment, than merely, “It’s a poor coverage area.” After all, if you extended just about any line beyond its current terminus, you’d be in a poor coverage area, and Lhota clearly knows this.

      He also conceded that that there’s been no detailed study yet. But intuitively, it does make sense that there is probably nowhere that a single-station extension could have as much bang for the buck, as extending the #7 south to Chelsea.

      • J B says:

        “It’s always been that way” is no reason not to complain. I’m not going to stop complaining about government corruption, abuse of power, racism and so on just because those things have always been present in the US, and I see no reason transit should be any different.
        I’d assume Lhota’s thinking about taking advantage of the fact that the 7 tunnel extends pretty far south, but even if that would make this extension significantly cheaper it should still probably only be done after the 10th avenue station is built, which would require no further tunneling. In fact you could also say the same about the Triboro RX- relatively little tunneling for that either, but Lhota hasn’t indicated interest.

        • Marc Shepherd says:

          It is not an “abuse of power” or “corruption” for politicians to do political things. That is what they are supposed to do.

          It is true that the Triboro RX requires relatively little tunneling; but overall, it is a rather expensive and extremely complex project, because it requires work in so many places. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be done, but one ought to be realistic about what it entails.

          I do agree with you and Ben that the Tenth Avenue station is more worthy than a further extension south. I am not sure if Lhota was disagreeing with that. I think he was saying that a #7 extension south was the most worthwhile extension that hasn’t been deeply studied yet, as opposed to the Tenth Avenue station and SAS, which are already well understood.

          • J B says:

            Fair enough point, I’d agree it should be studied. It just seems to me that when extensions are proposed in New York potential ridership and cost/ rider ratios are rarely mentioned.
            I didn’t mean to say Lhota’s proposal is some sort of abuse of power, simply that I think it’s reasonable to advocate for transit planning to be less political, just as it’s reasonable to advocate that government in general be more efficient and work for the common interest.

          • Alon Levy says:

            “Work in so many places” describes your run-of-the-mill low-cost light rail line.

            • al says:

              Its more likely a DMU or EMU heavy rail. Time segregation might allow for light rail, but if they start cranking more car floats across the harbor, that will change.

  6. John-2 says:

    In a perfect world without NIMBYs, Lhota could get his 23rd Street stop and solve the Hudson River problem by just ramping the line up south of there and running an elevated line down the middle of 12th Avenue/West Street all the way to the World Trade Center, using concrete supports and railbed similar to how WMATA is handling their Tyson’s Corner extension.

    That would solve the lack of nearby subway service for the far west side, but it would never happen, because when New Yorkers think of el structures, they think of at best the 1910-style Dual Contracts work and would oppose it with their every available breath. The only southern extension of the 7 that would be tenable would have to remain underground (and if you wanted to extend it south of 14th Street, the line would have to head back at least to Ninth Avenue to access Hudson Street or Greenwich Street).

    If Lhota wants to help an under-served area, building 41st and 10th or extending Second Ave three more stops north to 125th street. Way less headaches on the first option, and part of the infrastructure is already there on the second, from the abortive 1970s Second Ave. subway effort.

    • Henry says:

      Sounds like a plan, except there’s a big catch. Around Battery Park City, there are many pedestrian bridges that are a good 15-20 feet off the ground. At Chambers and West, there’s a large bridge suspended from an arch. Demolishing one of the few grade-separated crossings in that area would be a no-go, the clearance would be too low for the el to squeeze under the bridge, and no one in TriBeCa would have an elevated structure going at least six floors above the ground right next to their apartments and offices.

      Elevated rail would be technically feasible in a lot of places – West St south of Chambers would not be feasible.

      • aestrivex says:

        That bridge is connected directly to Stuyvesant High School and was built because of the concerns of having students cross a busy West St to get to the main first floor entrance. So, as you say, you could imagine the political ramifications of even threatening to take the bridge out of service for (a very friendly estimate of) three months to build an el station on top of it.

  7. pea-jay says:

    I agree about improving far westside coverage. But the real candidate for this should be the L.

    Extend the L west to 10th and bend it north. Add a station at 14th-16th with tail tracks and you can solve the 8th ave terminal capacity issue and add Chelsea coverage. PLus its ready for future expansion if the will/dollars can be found. 10th ave stops at 23, 34, 41, 57 and then for the really ambitious, a stop under 59/Columbus Circle with track connections to the 60th st tubes. Even without the 60th st connection, this would vastly improve west side coverage

    I would propose some form of Tax district and massive upzoning to pay bonds on the line and given this area is comparatively undeveloped, there’s a lot of potential growth that could help defray costs.

    At the very least a one stop L extension would be nice

  8. Stu Sutcliffe says:

    This probably won’t happen in any of our lifetimes, but why stop at 23rd Street? If the 7 is extended southward, it shout go at least as far as 14th Street, if not further.

  9. Al D says:

    Yes, let’s build out our subway system, 1 stop at a time! I guess it’s better than not building anything, but by the year 3,000, we’ll have doubled the system size (roughly 1 new stop every 2 years)! Put THAT capital plan out there…

  10. Nick Ober says:

    What is the ideal amount of space the 7 needs for tail tracks and storage? 8 blocks from 34th to 26th seems like an awful lot of room.

    • Bruce M says:

      I agree. How is it they’ve managed to run the 7 train all these years (with the shortest headways in the system) without them? The tunneling is already done–just dig out the station already which could begin at 26th Street and run down to 23rd/24th. I’m actually pleasantly surprised that Lhota even suggested it.

      • Marc Shepherd says:

        The tail tracks are needed for train storage. In order to maintain existing rush-hour headways, more trainsets will be needed, and there is currently nowhere else in the system to put them.

        • Alon Levy says:

          And therefore they decided to store them under the most expensive real estate in the city, instead of expanding Corona Yard.

          At least they’re not as obsessed with yard space as Metro-North (“we only have 67 tracks at Grand Central, we can’t share them with the LIRR”) or New Jersey Transit (12th Avenue yard raised the cost of Alt G).

        • al says:

          6 trains in tail tracks. During rush hr, 2 in the terminals, 3 north of 34th st and 1 spare. Which speaks nothing to increasing peak direction 7 local service during AM rush. They might end up operating with fewer spare trains on the Flushing Line during the morning or keeping 3 trains overnight at the terminals…

      • Larry Littlefield says:

        The existing Flushing line has tail tracks. You only need about 600 feet or so for the trains to be able to come into the station at speed.

  11. marvin says:

    Extend the #7 down to and through the northern PATH tubes with stops at 23rd Street, 14th Street, and Christopher Street.

    In NJ have build a short tunnel north to the Hoboken terminal with some trains turning east and terminating at the terminal and some trains turning west, bypassing the terminal and running express to the Secaucus Transfer Station and then parallel to the main line down to Newark and perhaps Newark Airport.

    From Hoboken to Secaucus 2 of the 4 NJ transit tracks should transferred to the #7. From Secaucus south, new trackage would need to be built. NJ transit could consider terminating some (mainly Northern Jersey) trains at the enhanced Secaucus transfer station.

    In exchange for sacrificing the midtown stops (including Herald Square which is but a short walk from Penn Station) you gain a stop at Times Square (with connections to everywhere) and the East Side at Grand Central (to say nothing of finally linking Queens to NJ). This is all without building a new Hudson River Tunnel.

    The longer #7 trains running at capacity on exclusive right of ways would add both desireable destinations and capacity. The path system benefits as Midtown trains would no longer cause merging delays approaching Journal Square. The Main Line benefits as many passagers would use the #7 under the hudson as opposed to comming into NY Penn Station.

  12. jim says:

    Priorities: 2nd Ave to 125th St > 41st & 10th > Triboro RX > 7 to 23rd St.

    I do wonder if the Triboro RX could be reconceived as an S-Bahn style route: running FRA-compliant EMUs wholly on mainline tracks using LIRR or Metro-North crews, but logically part of the subway system — swipe to enter. The route would then run Bay Ridge to Fresh Pond along the Lower Montauk to a new bridge over Dutch Kills through Harold into the Hell Gate Line, then the connector through the Bronx to Yankee Stadium, then pick up the Hudson Line to Spuyten Duyvil, reestablish the wye to the West Side Line and terminate at 41st and 10th.

    • al says:

      The Lower Montauk is its own project. Run trains to and from Rosedale and Queens Village/Belmont through Jamaica and Lower Montauk. Build it out with modern station spacing (~1 mile apart) and offline stations for high TPH. Build a tunnel portal east of Pulaski Bridge for tunnel connection to NY Penn under the LIRR LIC yard. With ESA done, there are slots for more Penn Station runs.

      PS The stretch from Pulaski Bridge to Grand Ave runs through industrial areas and along cemeteries. That could be built as a modern viaduct if necessary.

  13. E.S. says:

    My understanding is that in digging the 7 extension to the hudson yards, the TBM has already bored all the way through to 27th/28th Street(someone correct me if im wrong). If we just have it go another 4 blocks or so they can create a small station at 23rd street as well. I woudlnt think that the costs of building the platform and doing the digout would be incrementally that much more if the tunnels are already dug out, but with the inflated costs of doing everything in this city I’m probably wrong.

    • Alon Levy says:

      It’s a couple hundred million to build a station shell. About a billion for a station on SAS and I think also at 41st/10th. It’s really expensive to build stations this deep.

      • al says:

        They built the section from 30th st to 41st st deep to avoid the Hudson River tunnels. A 23rd st station could be relatively shallow. 14th st is a different story due to the landfill and tunnel curve easements.

        PS The launch box for the 7 extension is at 26th st. The mole drove north.

  14. Cam says:

    Man if they can’t even get the 41st and 10th Ave station together, how in the hell are they gonna extend the 7 to Chelsea? Also, why is there so much focus on the 7 and the West Side when there is a subway line on the East Side that is bursting at the seams trying to deal with the beyond crushloads that they deal with each and everyday? I think someone said that the 2nd Ave Subway needs to be the bigger focus and I agree 1000% percent. This is just the MTA being focused on the wrong thing yet again. Business as usual with this sorry-ass agency.


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