A history of future subway systemsBy
As Christine Quinn’s staff members taught us during this year’s mayoral race, it’s really easy to draw some lines on a map and call it a transit route. That’s what she did with her zany Triboro RX Select Bus Service proposal, and in doing so, she joined the legions of online denizens with access to a subway map and an illustrator application who love to create fantasy subway maps.
The idea behind a fantasy map is pretty self-explanatory. What would the subway look like if money were no obstacle? How would routing be enhanced and improved? How can we connect disconnected parts of the city? The best ones — you can find them buried in the archives on SubChat or the NYC Transit Forums — feature realistic routing and lead to that “ah ha!” moment when it becomes clear how much better the subways can be.
The most comprehensive set of fantasy maps belongs to Andrew Lynch, better known as the creator of Vanshnookenraggen. A few years ago, he put together an insanely well researched and thorough 11-part series on the history of the subway system that wasn’t. Start with the introduction and read about the IND Second System, ambitious plans for the Second Ave. Subway, Hudson River crossings and the Triboro RX line, among others. It re-imagines the regional transportation network in ways few politicians seem willing or able to do so.
Earlier this week, Lynch released a revised version of his future subway system. The post comes complete with a PDF version of his Vignelli-inspired subway diagram and a length explanation of the various new routes. It’s a sight to behold, and although I’m not convinced every route is a worthwhile, efficient or necessary one, the vast majority of them are. A system such as Lynch’s would lead to a very different New York indeed.
Basing his new future system, in part, on the MTA’s next twenty years document, Lynch introduces it: “The first FNYCS plan was what could be possible with money as no issue. Back in the real world where it is basically the only issue I realized I needed to distill out more realistic ideas that could use existing infrastructure better and develop lines that served the growing areas of the city while better connecting the outer boroughs. As traffic to the CBDs of Manhattan plateaus and a ring of neighborhoods along the East River waterfront develop from Long Island City, Williamsburg, and to Downtown Brooklyn I realized that inter-outerboro service needed to be looked at closer.”
So what does Lynch propose? He calls for a Second Ave. Subway with three lines at parts. Such a plan involves four-tracking Phases 3 and 4, sending the T to the Bronx, the revived V train to Brooklyn via South 4th St. and Utica Ave. and a new Y train through Bushwick to Jackson Heights. In the Bronx, the D train shoots east across the borough to Co-Op City while in Queens various trains go to La Guardia Airport, College Point, Kissena and Cunningham Parks and Murray Hill. In Brooklyn, the Franklin Ave. Shuttle is extended to meet up with the G train while the N heads west to Staten Island. In Manhattan, the L heads north up 10th Ave. and then east across 86th St.
We could debate the ins and outs of Lynch’s routings for ages. There is, for instance, no Triboro RX and I’m not sure how useful the Y line or his massive L train extension would be though I do love a crosstown subway running via 86th St. By and large though, these routes adhere to a few maxims of subway planning: They exist in conjunction with the street grid and, absent a sharp curve from the 7 line toward La Guardia, they don’t feature too many curves that would slow down the trains.
Of course, a subway system that looks like this would have required foresight years ago and tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars today. Still, we can’t just shrug it off as fantasy. Rather, it’s part of something New York should aspire to. We should have politicians discussing ways to build out subway lines quicker and cheaper than the Second Ave. Subway. We should embrace the idea of future subway systems and hope that we live to see but a sliver of these routes become a reality.