Archive for Second Avenue Subway

Progress at Second Avenue Subway’s 86th St.caverns as of July 17, 2014. Photo: MTA Capital Construction / Rehema Trimiew

As the MTA gears up to release its proposal for its next five-year capital plan within the next few weeks, agency CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast went to Albany to preview the package. We learned that funding for Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway will be included in the request, and a variety of other plans that I’ve discussed over the eight years of this site’s life will slowly come to fruition. Still, funding questions remain, and Prendergast challenged Albany to do something about it.

Earlier on Thursday, I noted that Prendergast had requested $1.5 billion for Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway. Phase 2 includes stations at 106th and 116th and Second Ave. and one at 125th St. and Lexington. The subway will use a mix of preexisting and new-build tunnels. As far as the money goes, the MTA’s plan for the next few years involves wrapping up Phase 1, refreshing the environmental impact study and working out designs for Phase 2, and beginning construction toward the end of the five-year period. I assume then that additional funding will come from the feds and from the next five-year plan that covers the years 2020-2024.

Even with a slower timeline — the full four-phase SAS was originally to be finished by 2020 — Phase 2 is the key to this project’s future. It connects with the Lexington Ave. line and Metro-North at 125th St. and provides the option for westward extensions to Manhattanville and northward to the Bronx. It provides the entire East Side will easier service to Times Square and Herald Square and will relieve crowding on the 4, 5 and 6. It can’t come soon enough.

But what else awaits? Pete Donohue provides the details. In addition to much-discussed safety enhancements for the MTA’s commuter rails, Donohue noted the following:

Prendergast said the plan, which isn’t finalized, would likely include approximately $20 billion for so-called “state of good repair” maintenance projects, like replacing tracks, signals and older subway trains. It is also projected to feature $5 billion for expansion projects, like the Second Ave. subway and the Long Island Rail Road link to Grand Central Terminal that is now being built. Further, Prendergast anticipated the plan would provide anywhere from $2 billion to $5 billion for rider enhancements, including countdown clocks on lettered subway lines and a swipe-less replacement of the MetroCard fare-payment system.

But what of the money? Prendergast and other MTA officials discussed this funding gap as well. The agency wants at least $27 billion, and although Albany could permit the MTA to issue more debt, sending the agency further into the red won’t help improve operations or financial security. “We can’t keep adding to our debt load. [It is] a formula for failure,” Prendergast noted. “The bottom line is, the capital program needs an infusion of new, sustainable funding, and we need your support in that regard.”

How that support manifests itself is up for debate. I’ve been expecting a tolling/congestion pricing plan to make a comeback simply because the state has few other avenues for revenue that could be directly tied into transit improvements while improving traffic flow throughout heavily congested areas of the city. MTA officials have also discussed contributions from the real estate interests that have piled up dollars throughout the city, and the MTA Reinvention Commission is, hopefully, looking at the issue as well.

The funding will remain a concern throughout the next few months, but I’m relieved to see the MTA focusing on moving the ball forward. They have momentum as new projects come online over the next few months and years and should maintain and build on that expertise. SAS Phase 2 is a must-have, and the sooner it starts the better. How we opt to pay for it will be very telling indeed.

For the last few years, there’s been an ongoing “will they or won’t they” watch concerning future phases of the Second Ave. Subway. With Phase 1 funded and set to open at the end of 2016, the MTA could have been preparing to get started on Phase 2 — the northern extension to 125th St. — but with finances shaky and labor contracts outstanding, the agency had kept its plans close to the vest. Well, the future for the Second Ave. Subway is no longer a secret as MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast stated today that substantial funding for Phase 2 will be included in the 2015-2019 five-year capital plan.

While fielding questions during an Assembly hearing, Prendergast announced that the MTA will ask for $1.5 billion for Phase 2 construction. This total is approximately one-third the estimated cost, and the expectation is that the feds will kick in additional money with the rest to be determined. Phase 2 is a key part of this project as it connects the northern extension of the Q train to the Lexington Ave. line and Metro-North station at 125th St. and can help alleviate a lot of the pressure on the 4, 5 and 6 trains. I’ll have more on this later, but this is a welcome development and very, very good news.

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The plan to rezone Midtown East has returned, and so too have these renderings of Grand Central.

In the waning days of the Bloomberg Administration, the ambitious plan to rezone Midtown East died an expected death. The lame-duck mayor wanted to push through his vision for a modern, revitalized and taller Midtown, but the City Council and various stakeholders were more interested in both not rushing and waiting out the next administration. Now, the Midtown East rezoning plan is back on the table, and with it, the call for transit improvements have returned as well.

The rezoning plan itself returned on a Friday a few weeks ago with little fanfare, mostly due to the timeline. Mayor Bill de Blasio has elongated the timeline, and while some work around Grand Central can begin soon, the full rezoning effort likely won’t wrap until mid-2016. Whether it needs to take that long is a question ripe for debate, but this is certainly the polar opposite of Bloomberg’s attempt to push through rezoning in three months.

The MTA, meanwhile, wants to be front and center during the discussion, and the longer timeline should benefit them. Andy Hawkins of Crain’s New York explored the agency’s view in a piece this week. He writes:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is eyeing big changes to subway stations within the footprint of the proposed midtown east rezoning, and will need a trainload of cash to make it happen…MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast said improvements would be needed at Grand Central Terminal, including the Lexington Avenue line and the shuttle to Times Square, and the E and F train station at 53rd Street and 5th Avenue, in order to accommodate more office workers that will come after the rezoning.

At Grand Central, new staircases linking the mezzanine where the turnstiles are to the ground-level station are under consideration, as well as improved pedestrian paths and sight lines to get straphangers from the platform to the mezzanine more quickly, an MTA spokesman said. Currently the station’s signal system allows for 29 trains to pass through every hour, but because of congestion typically only 26 to 27 trains make it through. Relieving that congestion would allow 4,000 to 6,000 more passengers per hour to move through the station.

In the past, Mr. Prendergast said, the development process has forced the MTA to be reactive to new construction, making transit upgrades only after large buildings have been built. “We didn’t do as good a job—we collectively, the city and the MTA—of making sure we identified those and dealt with them,” he said. But midtown east has been different. The MTA has had “a fairly long dialogue” with the City Planning Commission and the Department of Transportation about its funding needs for the rezoning. Those needs will likely be reflected in the MTA’s next capital budget, which is due in September.

When Midtown East first entered our collective consciousness, the MTA estimated its needs at around $465 million. It will update those numbers in the fall, and odds are the price tags have increased. Some of the funding could come from the planned sale of the MTA’s headquarters at 347 Madison Ave. and the transfer of the air rights exist above that rather diminutive building.

Still missing from the MTA’s wishlist for Midtown East though are future phases of the Second Ave. Subway. It’s not the easiest sell because these phases are years away from construction, let alone completion, but it’s possible to argue that nothing is more important to a successful rezoning effort, especially east of Grand Central, than a full-length Second Ave. Subway. Despite these planned renovations along the East Side IRT, the 4, 5 and 6 can’t really handle that many more daily riders, and the Lexington Ave. line doesn’t do the same job of redistributing commuters along the East Side as the Broadway and 6th, 7th and 8th Ave. lines do through Midtown West.

I’m not going to hold my breath here. The MTA is angling for incremental improvements to existing infrastructure — which it needs — but the future for SAS seems up in the air. I’ve heard rumblings that the MTA will soon look to refresh the Environmental Impact Statement for Phase 2, but Midtown East implicates Phases 3 and 4. Will we see those in our lifetimes? Your guess is as good as mine.

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Late last week, a bunch of politicians gathered on the Upper East Side to celebrate the ongoing progress toward completion for Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway. At the time, the project was approximately 960 days away from revenue service, and after nine decades, everyone’s feeling pretty good. “For years, people have been asking me if they will live long enough to ride the 2nd Ave subway. Usually I’ve had to respond that it depends on your age,” State Senator Liz Krueger said, “but now I finally feel we can say with confidence, ‘Get ready: We will soon have a new subway to ride.’”

It would, obviously enough, be a good time to think about starting the funding push, let alone the work, for Phase II. The second part of this multi-step project is a northern extension from 96th St., through preexisting tunnel and some new stations to a connection to the 4/5/6 and Metro-North underneath 125th St. It was initially estimated to cost around the same as Phase I, as the station caverns and auxiliary structures drive the expense, and it’s a key element to the East Harlem transportation picture.

It is then a bit concerning to hear the MTA be a bit non-committal as the deadline for funding for the next capital program looms. In the past, the agency has noted that, while the EIS will be updated, the project is still an important one, and powerful politicians have urged the MTA to keep building. Still, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendgast said this week, as amNY reports, “it’s too early to tell what will and won’t be included” in the next five-year plan.

The MTA has to shift its focus to climate change-related work to shore up the system in the event of another Sandy-type flood event, but the Second Ave. Subway is an important element of any plan to improve mobility and reduce NYC’s dependency on car travel. The MTA shouldn’t wait until 2016, when everyone is celebrating the ribbon cutting for the Second Ave. Subway, to start planning for Phases II (or III or IV). The time to act is now, and politicians and agency officials should do what they can to move this behemoth forward.

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Progress at Second Avenue Subway‘s 72nd St. cavern as of January 21, 2014. Photo: MTA Capital Construction / Rehema Trimiew

After nearly a century of waiting, after multiple starts and stops, planning sessions and economic downturns, New York City’s very own Great White Buffalo is ostensibly 34 months away from its debut. While many long-time Manhattanites won’t believe until they ride a Q train to 96th St., the Second Ave. subway is closer to a reality today than it has been at any time its long and tortured history. If all goes according to plan, revenue service will start in December of 2016, and the real estate industry is starting to notice.

In a big story in this week’s issue of Crain’s New York, Joe Anuta went in depth on the impact of the subway and the future of sales and rents along Second Avenue. Although most business owners and residents have spent the past six years complaining about the explosions and dust, the noise and equipment that subway construction had wrought, those who own in the area are starting to reap the benefits while those who rent may draw the short straw. While brokers predicting a 300 percent increase in prices, the subway is making its impact felt.

Anuta reports:

All along Second Avenue on the Upper East Side, the picture is much the same. Property sales and prices have taken off in the past six months, and several new construction projects have been unveiled. In another sign of change, prices of condos along the avenue rose in 2013 for the first time in four years.

By all accounts, the reason is simple: Seven years after construction of a new Upper East Side subway line was restarted after a long lull, a mile-and-a-half-long stretch of the Second Avenue subway, running from East 96th to East 63rd streets, will finally open in less than three years, to the great relief of residents, some of whom have to trudge nearly a mile to ride the overburdened Lexington Avenue lines. “Can I use a corny expression here?” asked Barry Schneider, co-chair of Community Board 8′s Second Avenue Subway Task Force. “We see light at the end of the tunnel.”

…The seismic shift in commuting patterns looming in the area has caught the attention of, among others, one of the city’s most prolific landlords. Extell Development Co. first began assembling a series of properties along Third Avenue between East 94th and East 95th streets a decade ago, but only last month filed for permits to potentially tear down several of the buildings to build a tower that could top 150,000 square feet. Also in January, -Manhattan-based Anbau Enterprises filed to demolish three buildings between East 88th and East 89th streets along First Avenue, where it plans to build a SHoP Architects-designed, 150,000-square-foot project it bills as “affordable luxury,” slated for completion in 2016.

This is all well and good for those who bought and held on through the Great Recession and the construction process. They’ll stand to reap millions in sales and rents as demand for the area shoots through the roof, and the real estate industry could become a major player in forcing future phases of the Second Avenue Subway. They have the most to gain from increased property values up and down Manhattan and are uniquely positioned to pressure Albany, City Hall and the MTA. (More on that in tomorrow’s podcast.)

But there’s a story in between the lines here, and it involves the renters — businesses and residents — who have stuck it out throughout the six or seven years worth of construction. They’re going to escape the construction, but will they become victims a second time when the economic activity generated by the Second Ave. Subway pushes them out? It’s still too early to tell, and life won’t be wine and roses along Second Ave. over the next 34 months. Yet, while we can begin to see what the subway will do for the area, some people will win and some will lose. That story has yet to unfold.

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Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway will open in 2016 and is already spurring on Upper East Side real estate deals.

If all goes according to plan, the official opening for the Second Ave. Subway will be in 35 months. Of course, knowing the project’s multi-decade history and the MTA’s penchant for delivering on time, that date is far from set in stone, but already, the subway is affecting the Upper East Side real estate picture. If the latest news is a preview of things to come, we’ll soon see that a subway through a developed and previously up-zoned neighborhood can still drive the market.

The story that broke last week involves a property on East 66th St. near Third Ave. It is, in other words, only a few blocks away from the new entrance to the Second Ave. Subway and F train that will open at 63rd and 3rd. Adrianne Pasquarelli had the story in Crain’s New York:

The increasing popularity of northern Third Avenue has led to the sale of a building on the corner of East 66th Street. Chicago-based real estate investment firm L3 Capital recently sold a four-story, 5,300-square-foot property at 1128 Third Ave. for $9.5 million to a local investor. L3 purchased the building about three years ago for around $6 million, according to Adelaide Polsinelli, the Eastern Consolidated senior director who negotiated the sale on the firm’s behalf.

She attributes the 58% jump in price in part to the forthcoming upgrade in the neighborhood’s transit options with the arrival of the Second Avenue Subway. “There is activity percolating in the area,” said Ms. Polsinelli. “The Second Avenue Subway definitely has impacted this in a positive way.”

The history of New York is, of course, replete with examples of transit spurring on economic development and creating more desirable places to live. Without the the subways, jobs wouldn’t be as concentrated in Manhattan as they are, and the city wouldn’t be nearly as dense or as big. We’ve seen the famous photos of the subway snaking through farmland in Queens shortly after construction on the Flushing line wrapped, and we’ve seen a marked increase in development activity near the spot of the 7 line’s new 34th St. on the Far West Side.

Now, we’ve received another reminder of the power of transit. People want it, and it drives up the desirability of real estate. Plus, developers and building owners are tuned in, and as the completion of Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway inches closer, we’re likely to see buildings change hands and retail rents on the Upper East increase. It’s hard to over-stress how much more convenient everything east of 2nd Ave. will become when the subway opens.

The key going forward for New York is to capture some of that value and help turn it into additional transit upgrades. Tax financing will help offset some of the costs of the 7 line construction (though considerable tax breaks given to developers will eat into that money), and the same should be done both north for Phase 2 and south for Phases 3 and 4 of the Second Ave. Subway. Perhaps, too, such an approach could work in areas of Queens and Brooklyn that are ready and willing to embrace subway expansion.

It’s easy to lose sight of the way transit has pushed New York’s development throughout the ages, and those who forget history do not stand to gain from it. We have a modern-day reminder of the power of transit. At a time when future expansion efforts are in doubt, the city, the state and the MTA should harness that economic drive to promote further growth.

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The Second Ave. Subway took another step toward completion today — and Upper East Side residents will now get something of a reprieve — as the agency announced that all blasting for Phase 1 construction is complete. The controlled explosions began in November of 2009, and the final blast, for a future escalator at the north side of 86th St., took place at 5:21 p.m. this past Monday. “This is a significant milestone, and one which I am sure will be welcomed by all of our Second Avenue community neighbors,” Michael Horodniceanu, President of MTA Capital Construction, said.

Additionally, the heave construction for the 96th Street station cavern wrapped earlier this month. The $365 million contract award to a joint venture of E.E. Cruz and Company and Tully Construction Company Joint Venture is the third of ten to finish for the long-delayed subway line. This contract involved utility relocation, demolition of existing buildings, underpinning, slurry wall construction, station excavation, and concrete placement of the station invert slab of the main station, entrances, and ancillary facilities. Crews relocated approximately 82,000 linear feet of Con Ed cables and 4500 feet of Verizon cables and removed 440,000 tons of soil, rock and concrete debris.

The MTA says that completion of Phase 1 is still on pace for December of 2016. So we have now just three more years to go before the Second Ave. Subway becomes, in part, a reality.

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One day, this will be the northern end of the Q train at 96th Street and Second Avenue. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

When last I had the opportunity to venture underground at Second Ave., in April of 2011, the future subway looked something like this. ADI, the tunnel boring machine, had completed her runs, but with December 2016 at the time over five years away, a new subway line was only vaguely taking shape.

Fast forward to today, and while we still have 38 months to go, it’s beginning to look a lot like New York’s own underground version of the impossible dream will come true. The MTA yesterday released a brand new set of images from the construction zone, and the progress is significant. Atop this post is an image from 96th St. — nearly the same view as the one I snapped two and a half years ago — and you can now see a station platform and track bed clearly taking shape. (Here is another view.)

Things are looking a bit rougher around the edges at 86th St., but you can see waterproofing well under way and track beds taking shape. Notice the difference in design too between the Second Ave. Subway and our standard-issue early-to-mid 20th century tunnels: With two deep-bore tubes, passing trains will see each other only in stations.

For more on the world underneath the city, browse over to this Vanity Fair long read. MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu loves himself the Second Ave. Subway, but East Side Access, unsurprisingly, gets more muted praise from those involved.

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Oct
24

A T for (Phase) Two

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Over the last seven years, two questions from readers appear most often in my inbox. Once involves the Q train. What will happen, Queens residents wonder, when Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway opens and the Q heads to the Upper East Side instead of Astoria? The MTA hasn’t said yet what their plans are for the routing, but I’ve long believed that the W will return to service in some form. Astoria won’t lose train service, and we’ll probably see some trains terminate at Whitehall and some cross the Manhattan Bridge from both lines.

The second question always concerns future phases of the subway line. Now that we’re a little over three years away from the official launch of a subway line that’s been in the planning stages since the waning days of World War I, everyone wants to know what’s next. Will the MTA build out Phase 2? When will the subway reach Hanover Square and the South St. Seaport? What about extensions in the Bronx or Brooklyn or a spur across 125th St. in Manhattan?

Current MTA head Tom Prendergast said he hopes the full line is finished by 2035 — which would be close to the 100th anniversary of the start of construction — but odds are good he won’t be in the job that long. So what is next? Recently, Dana Rubinstein, Capital New York’s transit reporter, called me with exactly those queries. She was working on a longer piece about the future of the Second Ave. Subway and asked all the right questions about the project’s future. The piece hit the Internet on Wednesday evening and contains some juicy bits for those keeping a close eye on the Second Ave. sagas.

First up is a brief tidbit about the MTA’s future plans. As I’ve noted before, the next phases of the Second Ave. Subway have been noticeably absent from the agency’s latest round of planning documents. The full line gets a mention in the 20-Year Needs Assessment, but the capital planning has focused around behind-the-scenes state-of-good-repair work. Still, that doesn’t mean the MTA isn’t at least thinking about the future subway.

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg told Rubinstein that the agency will “update the environmental impact statement in order to do Phase II, because it was done years ago and we want to make sure that all of the conditions still apply.” Lisberg doesn’t know when this update will happen, but it’s something that the MTA should consider starting soon. The FEIS was published in May of 2004, and most of the work for that document had been completed over the previous five years. At least, the MTA will have to issue a Statement of No Change will supporting materials. (For what it’s worth, Lisberg also said that Phase 2 doesn’t necessarily have to come next, but considering the practical connection Phase 2 offers at 125th St. and the engineering complexities of Phases 3 and 4, I’d bet real money that Phase 2 will be next.)

Beyond that, though, there are some very practical reasons to continue construction, and these reasons cast doubt on the wisdom of the current phased approach. Rubinstein writes:

At a recent breakfast, I asked Tom Prendergast, the authority’s new chairman, whether funding for the Second Avenue Subway Phase II would be in that capital plan. “Yes, I think one of the things that we need to be able to do is for the system expansion projects, either complete them or continue on the road to completion,” he said. “If you take a look at the fact that the original bond issue for the Second Avenue Subway was 1936, you know, it would be nice to be able to get that project done within 100 years of when it was first thought of.”

…Advocates argue, optimistically, that the next phase ought to begin as soon as the first one is completed so as to avoid having to re-alienate the neighborhoods the subway will be serving. “If everyone goes home, you have to destruct the area all over again,” said [the RPA's Richard] Barone. “It takes years to start all over again.”

There are other reasons to believe that starting up again, once the construction has stopped, is a good idea. “What is more of a factor is keeping the project staff in place” who have built up the necessary expertise to build a subway through a very dense part of Manhattan, according to Lisberg.

For the MTA, the phased approach has proven costly because the agency is going to have to build out another launch box and reengage tunnel boring machines. That’s the bargain they made with Sheldon Silver though to get Phase 1 started. Losing the institutional memory and the infrastructure to build a subway system would be even more costly.

In speaking with Rubinstein, I thought that a 50-50 chance of Phase 2 starting soon after Phase 1 was optimistic, and I’ll stand by that assessment. Rep. Carolyn Maloney has made some noises about continuing the project, but until the grants are in place and the studies are completed, construction will dry up when Phase 1 is finished. Will the Second Ave. Subway be anything more than a stub or can Manhattan finally, after a century, get the subway line it needs?

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Who needs subway ventilation grates when we’ve got this to look forward to instead?

One of the dirty little not-so-secrets about the latest round of MTA construction concerns just how far underground everything is. East Side Access checks in at a depth of 180 feet; the 7 line extension will be around 80 feet deep; and the Second Ave. Subway stations around the same. As a comparison, some of the original IRT stops were a flight of stairs below the surface.

As a practical and operation matter, these depths mean lots and lots of escalators. The MTA will install fancy escalators at the end of the 7 line that are at an incline. They’ll install 47 escalators to deliver folks from the absurdly deep East Side Access cavern with travel times long enough to catch up on sleep, eat lunch or read a book. The Second Ave. Subway will also have escalators but clearly not to the same extent as the deepest of the deep.

New Yorkers aren’t used to these escalators in the same way as, say, subway riders in Washington and underground riders in London are. Our system is close to the surface with stays. Much of the system predates escalators, and at those stations that have them, constant maintenance problems seem to crop up. And anyway aren’t we all too impatient for a slow-moving staircase?

These deep stations will be a bit a shock to the system for those of us used to sub-surface transit being only a flight or two downstairs. Even the four-level descent to the 6th Ave. line at West 4th St. will seem a bit tame by comparison, and so instead of covering the why — why are we building such deep subways anyway? — The Times has taken human interest transit stories to a new level. These new subway stations will have no grates, Sam Roberts has discovered.

For nearly 110 years, since the advent of underground trains in New York City, the metal sidewalk grates have been about much more than mundane natural ventilation for miles of subterranean subway tunnels. They have become urban artifacts, all 39,000 of them. They are the bane of women in high heels; a place for flicking cigarette butts, for expectorating chewing gum or for dropping valuables; a source of warmth to ward off a stiff winter’s wind; and a frightening opening to detour around.

But when the first phase of the Second Avenue subway makes its debut in 2016 — the first major expansion of the system in over half a century — these familiar, if unappealing, pieces of the city’s streetscape will be missing. Instead of flowing naturally from sidewalk grates, air will be pumped in and out of mechanical ventilating towers near every air-conditioned station, said Michael Horodniceanu, the president of capital construction for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “No more heel problems,” Dr. Horodniceanu said.

In addition to breaking heels, grates are for … avoiding, because they emit the unmistakably dank smell of the city’s underbelly or because they may seem more rickety than a cracked concrete sidewalk. They give way on the rarest of occasions, especially ones in the road that are rattled by heavy vehicles. In 1988, a woman getting out of a taxicab in Brooklyn fell through a grate to the tracks 50 feet below; officials said the grate had been weakened by cars driving over it during road repairs.

It’s truly hard to grow nostalgic over subway grates, but somehow, Roberts has accomplished just that. And yet, he doesn’t explore why the subways will be so deep as to make grates completely useless and completely necessary. But we should know, why? It’s because the MTA is constructing deep-bore subways so as not to risk the ire of a cut-and-cover NIMBYism. Much as how an elevated line will not see the light of day despite advances in engineering reducing the noise and blight, cut and cover and the disruptions it brings will never return to New York.

In exchange, we have billion-dollar station caverns and tunnel boring machines that chew through Manhattan schist. We have massive ventilation structures that will likely be architectural eyesores above street level as well, but hey, at least your keys and Marilyn Monroe’s dress are safe. That’s what counts, right?

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