Home View from Underground 2013: Second Ave. Sagas’ Year in Transit

2013: Second Ave. Sagas’ Year in Transit

by Benjamin Kabak

As 2013 — and our $245 pre-tax commuter benefits — draws to a close, let’s take a look back at the year that was. We had no major disasters, and after a spate of what one might call concern-trolling by the media, subway deaths showed no statistically significant increases over previous years. The TWU certainly tried to exploit the issue.

What 2013 had though was, as always, both good and bad. The MTA received yet another new CEO/Chairman as Tom Prendergast was nominated and approved for the job. Some capital projects moved closer to completion while the new South Ferry station seemed to languish in limbo while the MTA tried to move forward with a rebuild. The fares went up in March, but favorable economic conditions allowed the MTA to announce increased service for 2014 (including weekend M service. Further, the MTA announced smaller fare hikes for 2015 and 2017 though I worried if the announcements were premature.

But those weren’t the top stories that you read here in 2013. Instead, future planning and spending priorities took center stage. As has become an annual tradition, let’s run down the top ten most popular posts I published this year as our Transit Year in Review.

10. April 18: What about a subway for Staten Island?
With Mayor Bloomberg agitating on and off for an extension of the 7 line to Secaucus — a plan I expect will die with his mayoralty in 14 hours — Staten Island politicians started raising a ruckus. In April, State Senator Diane Savino, echoing arguments from the early half of the 20th century, vowed to block any New Jersey subway extension that came to Albany for a funding request prior to a Staten Island subway. We explored the isolated borough’s need for a better transit connection. Unfortunately, neither a tunnel through the harbor nor a rail line to Bayonne is likely to see the light of day any time soon.

9. January 23: Link the R to JFK via the Rockaway Beach Branch
I spent a lot of time both on these pages and on Twitter arguing over the future of the Rockaway Beach Branch. A select few in Queens want to turn it into a High Line-esque park while many transit advocates want the ROW preserved for rail or reactivated. In January, Capt. Subway presented his assessment of the line’s future and explored how the R could run to JFK Airport while adding subway service to areas in Queens that need it. We’ll hear more about QueensWay next year as various studies come due.

8. May 30: From four architects, four ideas for Penn Station’s future
Madison Square Garden received its 10-year occupancy permit from the City Council earlier this year with a firm warning that everyone needs to work together to solve the Penn Station problem. In May, we saw what could be termed architectural rendering porn as four high-profile shops released their dreams for Penn Station. None of these are likely to see the light of day, but something must be done about Penn Station. Our incoming mayor should show some leadership on this project.

7. January 17: A look inside South Ferry, three months later
Shortly after Sandy, I took a tour of the new South Ferry station. As the pictures show, it did not look good. The MTA is hoping to reopen the station, with improvements and hardening, by mid-2016.

6. July 23: As Triboro RX looms, a mayoral race on ferries emerges
For transit advocates, the race to replace Bloomberg this year was underwhelming and uninspiring. Christine Quinn talked about a cockamamie bus route for the Triboro RX routing while everyone wanted to add ferry service. Mayor de Blasio will have the opportunity to speed up and expand Select Bus Service implementation. Let’s see if he leaps at the chance.

5. June 11: Revisiting a subway connection for Staten Island
During the GOP Mayoral primaries, Joe Lhota spoke on the desire to bring the subway to Staten Island via a tunnel under the Narrows. This is an idea as old as plans for the Second Ave. Subway, but I am skeptical it’s the right one for Staten Island. In June, we explored why.

4. February 13: WTC PATH hub delayed another 18 months
The mess that is the $4 billion Calatrava PATH Hub seemed to grow even messier in February as a Port Authority exec let slip word that completion of the project would be pushed back 18 months. The Port Authority later disputed the project, reasserting a 2015 completion date, but for a subway stop that was supposed to cost $2.3 billion and open last year, the PA’s assertion seemed to miss the point. Meanwhile, Santiago Calatrava’s hometown has filed suit against the architect as one of his creations is falling apart after just eight years. How comforting.

3. June 24: Photos: The latest from inside the 7 line extension
The MTA offered up a comprehensive photoset of scenes from inside the 7 line extension with 12 months remaining on the project. It’s always fun to live vicariously through photographs of subway construction. For some recent shots, check out my photos from the Mayor’s inaugural ride into the 34th St. station.

2. August 30: A history of future subway systems
What if money were no obstacle? What if all of the proposed subway lines from New York City’s past were to become a reality? We explored the idea with an accompanying map over the summer. In a similar vein, check out Joe Raskin’s new book called The Routes Not Taken. It tracks the history of proposed and never-built subway lines. I’ll have a review in early January once I finish it.

1. November 8: This is why we can’t have (more) nice things
The most popular post of the year was a rant on the PATH Hub’s $250 million hallway connecting the train station with the Brookfield Place complex. It was and remains a patently absurd price to pay for an underground walkway and remains emblematic of the reasons why transit expansion faces so many obstacles in New York City.

As always, thanks for reading throughout the year. Trains and buses operate on a Sunday schedule tomorrow, and so does the site. I’ll be back on Thursday. See you in 2014.

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11 comments

capt subway December 31, 2013 - 12:53 pm

Yes it’s been a checkered year for transit in the Tri-state region, with much serious $$$$ flushed down the toilet on dubious projects. And 2014 is not looking any better. Obviously Cuomo couldn’t give a s–t, and don’t expect anything from not so cleverly disguised Teabagger Gov Sandwiches. So our last hope is newly minted Mayor Blah. Will he use his office as a bully pulpit to push for full length SAS, for subway expansion in the outer boroughs, for anything other that the same old tired SBS hooey? I’m not holding my breath.

Thanks for the tip of the hat regarding the Rock Line. And as regards the same: without flogging the same dead horse, the Greenway advocates keep reiterating how dilapidated the Right-of-Way is at present and how costly it would be to put it back into working order. This is a wholly specious argument since it never really considers the cost of designing and building an entirely new line. Elsewhere? Where? The fact is, as much as revival might cost it’s probably about a tenth of entirely new construction. I mean – come on people – you’re talking about a fully grade separated ROW that was specifically designed for, and was in fact served by exactly the types of heavy rail electric MU trains (similar in size, weight to current NY subway and/or LIRR MU trains) that might once again run over the line.

Ditto the same Greenway advocates seem to be wholly ignorant, or purposefully ignore, (hoping no one will call their bluff on this one) how defunct rail line ROWs, many in comparable states of disrepair as the Rock Line, have been used around the country for new light and heavy rail transit lines. In the L.A. region alone the Metro Gold, Blue & Expo lines all run extensively over what were abandoned rail lines. The same is true of significant parts of San Diego and St Louis light rail lines, and of Hudson/Bergen light rail right across the river. The developers of all these projects saw that seriously big bucks could be saved by utilizing existing moribund rail infrastructure. MBTA Green Line extension to Somerville & Medford will used defunct rail ROW in part. Obviously using existing rail infrastructure is the way to go.

The Greenway advocates fall strangely silent when asked about such things.

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Riley January 7, 2014 - 10:26 am

Doesn’t there come a point where better subway access just leads to gentrification and the people that lived there have to end up moving?

The people you try to serve with better access end up not being able to afford to live there and benefit from this increased access.

You’ll end up having to extend the subway all the way to Troy NY to catch the people you price out of the local NYC real estate market.

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Roxie December 31, 2013 - 1:49 pm

I still feel kinda weird about extending the R to JFK. It’s already such a long, slow route without an extra 4 or 5 stops.

I guess if they had all Rs terminate at Whitehall and sent the J to Bay Ridge instead, it might be a bit more reasonable. Though that comes with its own problems, most likely.

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John-2 December 31, 2013 - 2:10 pm

When the Q starts going to 96th St., and the W is revived to replace it in the 60th Street tunnel, the MTA could simply swap northern terminals, and run the R with the N to Astoria and send the W from Whitehall to Howard Beach (though you would end up with the same no-nearby-yard-for-the-R problem the TA created in 1967 and which was resolved by sending the R to Continental).

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Epson45 January 1, 2014 - 1:57 pm

Yet with your plan, the R does not have closest yard facility. Which it will still be crappier service.

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marv December 31, 2013 - 10:58 pm

When ESA is completed then the Brooklyn LIRR becomes but a shuttle to/from jamaica. Convert that to subway with use with a tunnel into Manhattan (up 2nd avenue?!).

With Jamaica having express service, the Queens Blvd’s Express service could be split between Hillside Avenue and service down the Rockaway Beach Branch to JFK (with transfers to the Rockaways). I would send the 6th Avenue express trains on this route (as JFK riders could easily switch to the A train for downtown service) and have the both the 8th Avenue (“E”) train go to 179th/Hillside Ave along with an extension of the 6th Avenue Queens Blvd local.

The Broadway Queens Blvd local would then serve Jamaica.

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capt subway January 1, 2014 - 1:11 am

The bellmouths east (subway north) of 63rd Dr are to/from the Queens Blvd local tracks only. That is the one fly in the ointment. Rock Line to/from Queens Blvd IND is strictly a local connection. Crossover moves to/from the express tracks would make a totally unholy balls of all Queens Blvd services and, given the peak headways, would be completely unfeasible.

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Duke December 31, 2013 - 2:36 pm

Most popular stories I assume are being measured by pageviews? If not, what is it?

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Benjamin Kabak December 31, 2013 - 2:40 pm

Yes. By pageviews.

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Miles Bader January 1, 2014 - 8:51 pm

BTW what happens with stories read via the RSS feed?

I usually browse this site via feedly…sometimes I click through to read comments, other times I don’t, but I always wonder if clicking through would help the site stats for advertising etc…

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Benjamin Kabak January 1, 2014 - 11:48 pm

Those do not get captured. Clicking through always helps with ad impressions!

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