Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic explored rerouting the Second Ave. Subway last November.
When the MTA initially proposed the Second Ave. Subway, the agency had grand plans for a relatively speedy construction. Set to begin in 2007, construction on all four phases of the Second Ave. line would wrap up by 2020. As the saying goes, “The best laid subway lines…”
Now, here we sit in 2009, and no one can agree on the completion date for Phase I. The Feds say 2018; the MTA maintains 2017. No matter that date, though, no one is talking about Phases II, III and IV, and in its Twenty Year Capital Needs Assessment, the MTA offered up nothing too concrete. In fact, the rest of the SAS generated just one line in a 97-page PDF document: “Phases II – IV will generate similar benefits and must be advanced in future.”
So with plenty of years — or decades — until the Second Ave. Subway extends south of 63rd St. along the Second Ave., New Yorkers have plenty of time to lobby the MTA for changes to the proposed route. Earlier this week, Chris Z. proposed the following to me in an e-mail:
I’ve read quite a bit about the Second Avenue Subway and its planned route and stations. One thing I’ve never heard discussed is why it won’t provide better access to the Lower East Side. While residents of York Avenue will finally get the subway line they deserve, what about the residents of Avenues B, C, and D? Why is yet another transit line refusing to acknowledge the significant eastern bulge of lower Manhattan?
The Second Avenue Elevated provided a model: as it approached downtown, it turned east at 23rd Street and then followed First Avenue through what is now the East Village. Even this deviation of a single avenue-block, applied to the Second Avenue Subway, would give considerable benefit to those in Alphabet City. The sacrifice would be minimal: those that live between Broadway and Second Avenue would continue to be extremely well-served by the Broadway and Lexington Lines. (Indeed, the relative lack of north-south bus lines in this corridor is proof that they are already spoiled for choice.) It would also do no harm to the planned connections to the Canarsie Line or the Sixth Avenue Line (the Second Avenue station stretches to First Avenue, with an existing mezzanine).
I realize that this ship has long since sailed (nevermind that it will be decades before any track is laid south of 14th Street). I’m just curious if you knew if this (old) idea was ever discussed and ruled out because of logistical, political, or budgetary concerns.
Chris’ proposal is tame compared to others I’ve seen. Many New Yorkers would — as The Transport Politic proposed — swing the subway east and run it under Ave. B or C through the Lower East Side. Based on the research I’ve conducted, a confluence of circumstances make an eastward swing of the Second Ave. Subway nearly impossible.
The first issue is one of the reality above the ground. Second Ave. is a six-lane road and so is First Ave. Further east though, the avenues narrow as Aves. A, B and C are all four lanes. It would be a near impossibility to run a two-track subway line underneath well-developed four-lane avenues.
Furthermore, because the area surrounding Alphabet City and the East Village/Lower East Side are so densely developed, a loop east would have to make a series of very sharp turns on 14th St. — below the L train — and again on whichever avenue were to serve as the north/south route. The engineering would be a nightmare, and the train speeds around these curves would resemble the crawl of the R south of Canal St. Anything north of 14th St. would run into Peter Cooper Village and Stuy Town.
Meanwhile, the economics of an Alphabet City loop do not make sense. As commenter Mr. Transit noted at TTP, the one of the main goals for the SAS is to improve travel time to Lower Manhattan and relieve overcrowding. A spur would negate this goal. It would also be quite costly to tack on the extra track miles relative to the number of additional riders gained.
Finally, an environmental aspect comes into play. According to the Coastal Zone map the MTA provided in its Final Environmental Impact Statement (PDF), most of the SAS skirts Manhattan’s coastal zone. By swinging the route east, the subway tunnel would hit some environmentally sensitive areas and some areas of the island that once were water. As Michael Tenenbaum noted also at TTP, a subway that far east would involving cutting into “bedrock with significant dewatering as was done for the remediation of the Northern Manhattan stations in the mid 1970s.”
We like to dream about a Second Ave. Subway that swings through Alphabet City and better serves the Lower East Side. But due to logistics, costs and environmental factors, the Second Ave. Subway — if and when Phases II, III and IV arrive — will be but a straight line from north to south leaving Alphabet City well off the subway grid.