As part of their New Year’s extravaganze, the City Section of this Sunday’s New York Times asked 10 folks to look ahead to 2108 and predict what New York City will be like in the future. Based on an article from 1908 in which New Yorkers predicted 2008, the article featured its fair share of kitschy, flying-cars type predictions and two global warming doomsday scenarios. How creative.
What the article didn’t do — other than through the illustration that accompanied the piece — was give mention to the subway. One of the global climate change folks predicted archeological digs in what would be our flooded subway system, but other than a visual reference of a U and X train — as part of the Sixth Ave. line based on the orange — nary a word of the MTA’s future was at hand.
Well, luckily, you all have me, and I’m going to correct that oversight. So let’s delve into five things that I hope New Yorkers in 2108 can enjoy as they ride New York City’s subways. That is, if they’re still riding the subways. Maybe by then, we’ll have transporter technology. That would be the cure for the rush hour blues.
1. Technology Upgrades: Train-Arrival Boards That Work — In a way, this should have been on the list for 2008. London has it; San Francisco has it; Washington, DC, has it. But New York with one of the biggest and oldest subway systems in the world can’t seem to find a way to get train-arrival boards that work into subway stations. The test run on the L line has gone for nearly a year now, and the signs themselves have popped up in random places — Bergen St. on the Flatbush IRT local, for example — but the MTA isn’t much closer to a system-wide rollout today than they were a year ago. By 2108, I fully expect to know when the next train is coming, and here’s a hint: If I’m waiting on a downtown platform, I don’t really care when the next uptown train is coming. Just ask L riders traveling west from First Ave. about this one.
2. Service Upgrades: Second Ave. Subway — Eighty years in the making, the Second Ave. subway is no sure thing. Yes, we will be getting a Q extension up to 96th St. sometime around 2014, but beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess. The MTA has yet to secure funding for the rest of the line and than 2020 completion date could end up being rather fluid. By 2108, I hope that the Second Ave. subway would run from 125th St. down to Hanover Square and, hopefully, beyond. But as its tortured history has shown, the Second Ave. subway is never a safe bet.
3. Technology Upgrades: Automated Trains — Right now, the MTA is dealing with plans for automated subway cars. The L train test run didn’t go as smoothly as they planned, but as the technology improves and the subway systems are retrofitted with 21st Century technology, I full expect the MTA to go with automated trains. These communications-based train control systems allowed for more track volume and a more efficient level of service. Yes, by 2108, robots will, in effect, be driving our subways.
4. Service Upgrades: Airport Raillinks — Can you tell me how to get, how to get to LaGuardia Airport? Sure can. Take the subway and then a bus and hope you make it to your flight on time! While the least likely of my subway dreams, a subway connection to LaGuardia is certainly something this city in its fight to cut down on automobile traffic could use. I know some subchatters have suggested running the N/W past Astoria Boulevard to the airport, but right-of-way concerns in the densely-settled regions of Queens between the airport and Astoria present some major obstacles. With the nearest lines in Queens all elevated, construction of such a spur would be quite the battle.
5. Technology Upgrades: Wireless Service — Yet again, this one’s rather obvious as it’s in the works right now. But in 100 years, whatever wireless services people are using will be readily available in the subways. ‘Nuff said.
So that’s my list. Maybe it’s too inside-the-box. Four of these proposals are in various stages of development but all four feature significant barriers to implementation. In 100 years, the subway system should run faster, smoother and cover more ground. We should see more Brooklyn-Queens-Bronx connections that bypass Manhattan and more reliable service for the Outer Boroughs as they undergo another century of population explosion. We’ll see advances in payment technology, and two more generations of subway cars will come and go.
Make no mistake about it: If New York is still a thriving, prosperous, international city in 2108, it will have a very modernized, 200-year-old subway system.
Illustration from The New York Times by Bob Scott.