Home 7 Line Extension Fact-checking Bloomberg on the 7 line extension

Fact-checking Bloomberg on the 7 line extension

by Benjamin Kabak

As the city gears up to vote in next week’s mayoral election, Michael Bloomberg has hit the campaign trail hard. He’s spending his billions and touting his record in search of a third term made possible, of course, by some underhanded term limit dealings.

On Monday, Bloomberg’s five-borough tour took him to NYU where he delivered a speech envisioning 2013, the supposed end of what would be his then-12-year turn as head of the city. During the speech, he spoke briefly about the 7 line extension, a subway line to nowhere and Bloomberg’s favorite MTA pet project. His excerpt on this city-funded extension was brief:

And Queens residents who work at the Javits Center, or elsewhere on the Far West Side, will begin riding the Number 7 Train past Times Square to 11th Avenue and down to 34th Street.

It’s the first new subway track the City has built in more than four decades – and we’re on schedule to complete it on time and on budget in 2013.

With an assist from the history of the New York City subway system and the Citizens Budget Commission, let’s fact-check the mayor. We start with a history lesson. Although the 7 line extension may be the first Manhattan-based subway expansion in decades, another line in Queens is less than four decades old. In 1975, the city began work on the Archer Ave. extension, a remnant of the Second System. Although work was slowed due to a lack of funds, that line opened in 1988.

Technically, the mayor is correct in saying that the 7 line extension is the first new subway track the City has built in more than four decades, but the 7 line isn’t the first new subway extension in that time. In 1988, the Archer Ave. Line, a remnant of the famous Second System, opened, and work on that subway extension had started in the 1970s and continued through the 1980s. The line itself opened in 1988.

One year later, the MTA completed work on a Tunnel to Nowhere. In 1989, the 63rd St. tunnel opened. At the time, it connected the East Side with, well, nowhere. The 6th Ave. line extended north past 57th St. to 63rd St. and Lexington and then under the East River with a stop at Roosevelt Island and then a terminus at 21st St./Queensbridge. Until 2001, when a connector to the IND Queens Boulevard line finally opened, this stump sat but 1500 feet away from the bustling Queens plaza. All of those projects have happened in the time during which Bloomberg claimed the city did not construct any new subway tracks.

And now we turn to the CBC’s report on the state of MTA construction. The report devotes three paragraphs to the 7 line extension, and it reminds us that the tunnel was to be completed in September 2012 with the new station operational by June 2013. Although the tunnel should still be finished by September 2012, the MTA estimates an on-time completion date for the entire project of November 2014.

Furthermore, the city reneged on its promise to fund a station — or even a shell of a station — at 41st and 10th Ave. As it stands, the 7 line extension will run from Times Square, through a neighborhood badly in need of a train stop to 34th St. and 11th Ave. to find only a run-down convention center and a train yard that may one day be developed into a mixed-use property. It truly is the new Subway to Nowhere.

Bloomberg can tout his transit record all he wants. When the best part of his opponent Bill Thompson’s transit plan is a promise to “object when when the MTA tries to cut service,” it’s clear that Bloomberg is running against someone unprepared for the job. But that doesn’t mean we should give our incumbent a free pass. The 7 line extension is not the only new subway in four decades; it isn’t on time; and it isn’t as originally promised. It’s arguably a bad use of money, and it will result in a subway line with few passengers that won’t alleviate overcrowding at a time when trains stuffed to the gills dominate the system.

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Transit Wisdom October 28, 2009 - 2:46 am

We have to agree with you that the fact that the station at 41st and 10th wasn’t built makes the project seem useless.

But, the track will extend nearly to 23rd for layup, if we read correctly, which, if they can budget later to add a 23rd street station, would serve the Chelsea Pier area.

Beyond that, there is more they could do, of course. Think of it the way the 21st Queensbridge link came in. If they can connect it to something.

The point is that this extension doesn’t benefit anyone who lives along its route.

Shabazz October 28, 2009 - 4:48 am


You come down really hard on the Bloomberg administration

As much as I think that an extension should have included another stop on 41st and 10th, the city’s perspective wasn’t as much about building a subway line to service existing areas, but encouraging development of an area by removing one of the biggest roadblocks, the lack of transportation. The city has long wanted to develop a viable west side commercial (if not mixed use, high density district), but the lack of a subway (the NYC lifeblood) has served as a major hinderance… it would be sheer lunacy to expect a high-rise to go up without a clear subway stop in the area.

I mean, have you ever been to the Javits cntr, its a hike…

The notion that this is a “subway to nowhere” doesn’t quite ring true with me. In fact, I think its rather cyclical. The Far West Side is the closest thing Manhattan has to a no man’s land. One of the contributing factors to its state of “ruin” is its lack of a clear subway connection. Infrastructure development isn’t only about servicing current needs, it’s also about anticipating and cultivating future growth. So to say that the 7 train extension is a “subway to nowhere” is a bit facetious in that regard.

Many of NYC original subway lines were built to “nowhere”. Queens was relatively unpopulated when the IRT Flusing line was built, as were large portions of the Bronx. If we were to only build subway lines where there was a clear and *current* demand for them, then NYC wouldn’t be the city it was today.

Benjamin Kabak October 28, 2009 - 8:07 am

I’m coming down hard on Bloomberg here because the simple fact is that at a time when the city has real transportation needs, Bloomberg is sinking billions of dollars into something that hardly benefits anyone and doesn’t address current needs. I appreciate his stance on the MTA and the fact that he’s made better transit a centerpiece of his platform. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking the 7 line extension is a good use of taxpayer money. It’s not. Until there are firm plans to build something at Hudson Yards and a timeline for any of it to open, it’s a Subway to Nowhere.

It would benenfit far more people if Bloomberg were to take this money and contribute it toward Phase II of the SAS. Or else fund a complete city-wide rollout of true bus rapid transit with dedicated lanes. It’s more than enough money for that.

Adam October 28, 2009 - 6:10 pm

How about a line using the old NYCRR/LIRR Bay Ridge Branch from Bay Ridge to Jackson Heights?

Alon Levy October 29, 2009 - 1:20 am

That would be good. However, the Bloomberg administration has shown no desire to invest in ungentrified Outer Borough neighborhoods.

AK October 28, 2009 - 9:25 am

“It would be sheer lunacy to expect a high-rise to go up without a clear subway stop in the area”

Apparently you haven’t been to the Far West Side recently, where tons of super-high rise apartment complexes have opened in recent years (Atelier and Silver Towers being two of the prime examples). Of course, part of the development in that neighborhood was spurred by (a) the real estate boom, but, more importantly for this argument, (b) by the promise of a station at 41st and 10th. Given the significant investment losses that accompany the slashing of that station, the generally difficult credit environment, and the potential glut of office space in the City once the new WTC is completed around 2014, I have difficulty figuring out what the impetus is going to be for growth in and around Javits over the next two decades. Maybe this is a porject for 2040– I’d be OK with that, but let’s not expect any signficant development in the neighborhood for MANY years, regardless of whether the 7 extension is completed on schedule.

Andrew October 28, 2009 - 6:26 am

I think his point is that this is the first new subway track that the CITY itself has funded – rather than the MTA – in more than four decades. Because the new track to the new South Ferry terminal was installed, what, about a year ago?

I don’t think the Archer Avenue line had anything to do with the IND Second System, which dates back to 1929 at wasn’t really relevant anymore. (I don’t see anything on Archer Avenue here – although there is a branch down the Van Wyck, which was already accommodated in the original construction of the line.) It came out of the 1968 MTA Plan for Action.

As for Shabazz’s point, he’s correct. Not that I’m excusing it – the lack of a 10th Avenue station is ludicrous – but the City’s goal was to spur new development, and the area around 10th Avenue is already developed. At the very least, though, I think the City should fund a station shell at 10th Avenue so that the MTA can come back at a later date and add a station without shutting the line and spending a fortune moving the tracks.

Building 11 October 28, 2009 - 8:48 am

The Archer Avenue line made use of track ramps that were built into the Queens Boulevard line for the Van Wyck Boulevard line. As you amy be aware, there are little bits and pieces built into the the lines that were part of the first phase of the IND to accomodate connections with the second phase (no one said “Second System” in 1929; it’s a railfan expression).

It’s a slight connection with the second phase plans, but it is a connection.

Alon Levy October 29, 2009 - 1:21 am

Yes, the city’s goal was to hand off property to a developer at bargain prices, rather than to improve transportation. That’s why we call it the subway to nowhere.

Scott E October 28, 2009 - 8:54 am

I don’t think you’ll find many people who think that the 10th Avenue station (or shell of a station) should not be built. To me, this seems like he’s given up on the city’s decaying infrastructure – rather than repair/revitalize it, he’ll build somewhere else. It reminds me of the time that Homer Simpson, Sanitation Commissioner, ruined Springfield, so they moved the entire town a few miles away.

I wonder, though, if New York won the bid for the 2012 Olympics, if the extension would be built on time. Would that be the kick in the pants needed to finish a capital project?

Phil October 28, 2009 - 9:13 am

The lack of a 10th Ave station or shell makes this project a failure ONLY if development on the far west side never materializes. As it stands now the plan is a failure, but who knows what happens 10-20 years down the road?

R2 October 28, 2009 - 9:33 am

The money set aside for a street between 10/11th aves (aka Bloomberg Blvd) should go towards the 41st and 10th Ave Station. Then have developers pay for anything in relation to the streetscape.

EC October 28, 2009 - 11:01 am

Be careful when using the term subway to no where. This term was used in Los Angeles a lot during the red line construction and people bought it setting back construction many many years. 10 Years later they are trying to fast track subway as much as possible.

As a transit advocate using the term “subway to nowhere” is counter productive. Was it an advised construction especially missing that station? Probably not but that doesnt mean no one will use it.

Benjamin Kabak October 28, 2009 - 11:12 am

Here’s the thing: This project is estimated to impact fewer than 3000 riders for the AM peak. A full line along Second Ave. — or even just Phases I and II — would impact nearly 5-10 times that amount and would cost only around $2 billion more than the 7 line extension. It’s just not a good use of money.

I can be a transit advocate while not supporting this plan. I don’t believe it’s a good use of resources or a good example of transit planning based on current or future needs.

KB October 28, 2009 - 11:18 am

It will be a subway to nowhere for a couple years. However, I would be highly surprised if the term still applies by 2020.

Have you ever seen those photos of the Corona (now Flushing) Line when it first opened? It was an elevated track through farmland.

Benjamin Kabak October 28, 2009 - 11:20 am

Big difference. That land was open to development. The Hudson Yards land is under contract to a company that doesn’t have the money to buy it and won’t have the money to develop it for a long time. I highly doubt much of anything is there ten or 11 years from now. Maybe I’ll be wrong, but considering the pace of work at the WTC site, I’d be surprised if I am.

Alon Levy October 29, 2009 - 1:24 am

The Corona Line was built in a rapidly expanding urban area. Queens’ population doubled once every decade when they were building the Dual Contract subways. It was reasonable to assume the farmland would soon turn into urban sprawl, which it did. Right now, when they’re calling Manhattan’s 7%-per-decade population growth a boom, such assumptions are not warranted.

Marc Shepherd October 28, 2009 - 11:48 am

My own view is somewhere between Ben’s and Mayor Bloomberg’s. I agree with the Mayor that this project will spur development, though it will probably be 2 or 3 mayors from now before we actually see it happen. The value is horribly undermined by the lack of a station at Tenth Avenue, and adding it later will a lot be more expensive.

But I agree with Ben that there are much better uses for the money. Bloomberg’s support for the project is a combination of narcissism and ass-covering. Mayors (and governors and presidents) like to build monuments. No one would give Bloomberg credit for contributing to the Second Avenue Subway, a project that has been around since before he was born. In contrast, the #7 project is unmistakeably his.

The #7 extension was hatched as part of the Olympic bid. But as no one would fund such an extravagant project for a 3-week event, he claimed (as he must) that the extension would be built regardless. So to cover his ass, he needs to get it built, even though much of the rationale has gone out the window.

AlexB October 28, 2009 - 12:00 pm

I think the thing to remember about this project is that it is being built to serve a future business center/convention center area, not Hells Kitchen or Chelsea, who are already relatively close (for a residential neighborhood) to the ACE. Midtown stretches from 8th Ave to 2nd/3rd Ave from 60th to 30th +/- and includes some of the most expensive real estate in the world. It is bounded on the east and west sides by sad and old developments that are not residential. Amidst these developments, we have the UN and Javits, nodes around which all sorts of things could happen. All it needs to continue its expansion is access, hence the 7 extension and the 2nd Ave line phase 3.

The genius of the 2nd Ave line is that 2nd Ave was rezoned for massive high rise condos as though there was a subway to support them. This lead to the demand for the subway now – far and away the single most ambitious and expensive project in the US. I find the pictures of the Queens subway lines in the midst of farmland to be very inspiring and indicative of a much more forward-looking government than we have now.

I feel that subways should be built to “nowhere” because it’s easier to develop “nowheres” at higher densities without the NIMBYs that would inevitably live in “somewhere”. For example, the giant towers that were proposed in the Hudson Yards project could not happen in Hells Kitchen or Chelsea (nor should they). Think of all the complaining by people along the 2nd Ave route; businesses, displaced residents, blah blah. It’s painful and expensive for all involved. Imagine how absurdly cheap it would be to build a subway in the countryside.

Everything I am saying is more of an opinion about development/ than Bloomberg. I think the 7 extension is more on track than most NY projects. The 10th Ave station really would have been useful, more so than the Javits, and I hope it comes back someday. I definitely agree with you that Bloomberg could be a lot more pro transit. In terms of the misrepresentations about the project and the history of recent subway construction, I attribute that to political maneuvering. It’s annoying there are light rail lines all over Jersey, but still nothing even seriously proposed here. He made a valiant effort with congestion pricing, but still fell short. He is more talk than action, but so far, we haven’t had a better alternative. The US, unlike China, is a place consumed with legalisms, and often fails miserably at the technocratic and infrastructural side of government. Bloomy is better than most, for which I have some comfort.

mdh October 28, 2009 - 12:45 pm

Really great points, and well presented. This extension does seem like a waste right now, but IF it spurs development in far west side then years from now we will be hailing the project as brilliant.

IF, being the key word.

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JK October 28, 2009 - 1:10 pm

The city hasn’t given up on infrastructure, it has a huge capital plan. But the transportation related billions are going to rebuilding the Harlem and East River Bridges — the Brooklyn Bridge is next in line. The big transit push is going to be BRT/ Select Bus not subways. That requires spending political capital, not fiscal capital.

Adam October 28, 2009 - 6:09 pm

BRT is probably more important in the outer boroughs than the inner ones. It shouldn’t be a replacement for subways, but poorly run buses.

kvnbklyn October 28, 2009 - 1:21 pm

I think that one issue that’s being overlooked is whether the 7 train extension will provide sufficient transit capacity to a new business center on the far west side. There are no plans to improve pedestrian circulation capacity at the Grand Central subway station. How are all these suburban commuters and city residents transferring from the 456 trains supposed to get to their jobs in new highrises on the far west side if they can’t get down the stairs to the 7 train in the first place? And what about suburban commuters coming in to the Port Authority? The current 7 train platform is closer to 7th Avenue meaning many commuters will have to walk almost two avenue blocks in the wrong direction to get to the train. A station situated along the extension with its platform between 9th and 10th Avenues could provide easier access to the back entrance to the Port Authority.

Personally, I think the extension will be severely underused on opening day, but the office development it spurs in the area will quickly overtax its capacity leading to calls for additional service. Hopefully someone will dust off the 42nd Street light rail proposal or realize that there’s already a grossly underutilized double-tracked, grade separated line through the area that with a little investment could easily be integrated into the regional rail system.

Adam October 28, 2009 - 6:08 pm

No 42nd Street Light Rail please. We need 34th Street Light Rail.

Ed October 28, 2009 - 7:33 pm

Could a train have been run along the High Line and helped spur development of the West Side?

Scott E October 28, 2009 - 10:21 pm

Every time I read about the High Line park, I ask myself that question…


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