Home 7 Line Extension The parable of the 7 line extension

The parable of the 7 line extension

by Benjamin Kabak

The 7 Line extension — that glorious city-funded boondoggle of a subway extension — reached a milestone this past week. After a few months of drilling, the second of the project’s two tunnel boring machines broke through the southern wall of the 34th St. station cavern. The two TBMs have finished digging out a combined 2900 feet of track from 26th St. on north that will be used for storage, and Phase I is now complete. The project remains on target for its December 2013 opening.

“It’s been a half century since City government expanded its subway system, but that drought will soon be at an end,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “Too often, government falls victim to the temptation to abandon long-term infrastructure projects amidst short-term downturns, and that’s why big things never get done. The redevelopment of the Hudson Yards has been talked about for decades, but with the expansion of the number 7 line, its potential will finally be realized.”

“This week’s milestone is a clear indicator that the MTA is delivering on a major expansion project that will increase capacity within our transit system and generate economic growth in a vastly underserved area,” MTA Chairman and CEO Jay H. Walder said. “Much like our joint efforts to improve bus service throughout the city, this partnership between the city and MTA will benefit New Yorkers for generations to come.”

The press-release back-slapping by the MTA heads and various city leaders continued as you would expect. For those so inspired, read it here. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and House Rep. Jerrold Nadler all added their praise for the project. The 800-pound gorilla in the room, though, was completely ignored.

“Today’s announcement of the completion of the first phase of the Number 7 Line extension is a major milestone in the expansion of New York’s aged infrastructure,” Nadler said. “For too long we have not made the necessary investments to update our transportation network. This project, which will open the economic potential of the Far West Side, is one of many such projects we need to do to prepare New York for continued growth. I look forward to the successful completion of this project and future investments in our infrastructure.”

Left unsaid were qualms about present investment levels in our infrastructure. In a way, the 7 line extension and this moment in the sun for the project represent the perfect complement to the wall-to-wall coverage of of the MTA’s budget crisis. Here is a project in which the city has given $2.1 billion to transit, and yet it is one of the most flawed expansion projects under construction. Despite the Council’s approving a rezoning measure for the Far West Side yesterday, there has been no progress on the Hudson Yards development.

Meanwhile, the City was hesitant to cover cost overruns on the project and shelved even just a $500 million shell for a badly-needed station at 41st and 10th Ave. Why? Because real estate developers looking for handouts and bonuses to increase their land value wouldn’t have benefited nearly as much as Related, the company in charge of constructing something at Hudson Yards, will when the 7 line opens ahead of their development.

Call me a cynic, but there’s something wrong about the city’s funding priorities when it comes to mass transit. Bloomberg is happy to pay for an extension that will benefit his real estate friends, but when it comes to contributing to operating expenses and ensuring that the economic driver of the city can continue to offer adequate service levels, he and his third-term administration are nowhere to be found.

One day, the 7 line extension to nowhere will open, and one day, it might actually be an extension to somewhere. For now, though, the TBMs trundle forward with 42nd St. in their sights. Hopefully, the MTA will be able to pay for the extra operating costs this new line will incur when it opens in four years. Don’t expect the city to help out.

After the jump, some TBM pictures. Click to enlarge. The video above is courtesy of Mayor Bloomberg’s YouTube channel.


A sheer bedrock wall is all that stands between the tunnel boring machine and the 34th St. station cavern.


A worker hoses down the spot through which the TBM will enter the cavern.


In a shot reminiscent of the Sentinels from The Matrix, the TBM begins to break through the cavern wall.


The crew will now have to drag the TBM through the cavern so it can begin the more difficult route north to 42nd St. Along the way, the tunnel will pass under the 8th Avenue Subway, Amtrak/NJ TRANSIT tunnels, tunnels to the former New York Central Line, the Lincoln Tunnel and the Port Authority Bus Terminal and ramps. The TBM is expected to reach the current 7 line tracks by the spring.

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mark smith December 22, 2009 - 3:48 am

I have to take issue with a couple of your comments on the #7 extension. First, the 10th avenue station, which was omitted from the project for funding reasons, would have been a redundant half-billion dollar boondoggle. Most Manhattan subway users travel north-south. The #7 line runs east-west. Therefore most users of a 10th avenue station would use the line only to travel short distances to make connections with the main north-south lines. About half of those lines pass through the Times Square station, only two blocks from 10th avenue. Do we really want to pay half a billion dollars for a station so that riders can use the #7 line to go two blocks, before changing trains? For those riders going further east, to make connections at 6th avenue or Grand Central, the 42nd street bus offers a reasonable alternative for the short distances involved.
I also think you are in error when you imply the #7 extension will increase operating costs. The extension will include tail tracks running south to 26th street for the storage of trains. The current terminus of the #7 line at Times Square has no tail tracks, necessitating additional expense for running trains into and out of Times Square before and after rush hours. The addition of tail track storage space will provide savings that should offset most if not all of any small increas in operating costs the longer #7 line requires.

Andrew December 22, 2009 - 8:00 am

It’s nice to finally seen a cogent argument against the 10th Avenue station – this is the first I’ve seen one. That said, I disagree.

Let’s start with the geography. First: east-west blocks are much longer than north-south blocks. The walk from 10th to 8th is not insignificant (it’s a lot longer than the walk from, say, 40th to 42nd). There’s only one subway line on 8th Avenue – the rest of the Times Square complex is one long block east of 8th. The walk from 10th to 7th is about half a mile – hardly undoable for most, but not short, and pretty unpleasant with all the Lincoln Tunnel traffic in the area. Of course, the walk is longer for people coming from west of 10th or from outside the 40th-42nd range.

But, more importantly, if building a station two long blocks from an existing north-south line is a “redundant half-billion dollar boondoggle,” then how is it worth $2.1 billion to build a station three long blocks from an existing north-south line?

I don’t think you’re correct regarding operating costs. The tail tracks will be long enough to hold three trains on each (six total). That’s six trains that, at the end of the AM rush, won’t have to go back to Queens, and vice versa at the beginning of the PM rush. I don’t think that’s enough to offset an additional 10 minutes or so (my guess) of additional round-trip running time on each trip, 24/7. (And if the extension is well used, it will trigger service increases to handle the increased load!)

AK December 22, 2009 - 9:48 am

A couple additional points of contention:

1. The area around 41st and 10th is packed with skyscraper apartments, meaning there is potentially huge pent-up demand for service and (just as importantly), the value of those buildings would be MUCH higher with a station, thus allowing the City to make up for the cost of the shell/station via higher real estate assessments. For instance, my friend has a place at 635 West 42nd (11th Ave.) and his apartment value took a significant hit when it was announced that the station was not going to be built.

2. The M42 is not a good alternative for anyone at anytime, essentially. See Ben’s post here: http://bkabak.wpengine.com/200.....rovements/. Moreover, the speed during morning rush going Eastbound is atrociously slow, given the exiting cars from the Lincoln Tunnel at Dyre Ave.

If MTA could really speed up the M42 I *might* agree with you, but barring that, I think a station at 41st and 10th is crucial to the future of the Far West Side and the City’s tax base.

Jerrold December 22, 2009 - 2:55 pm

The absence of an intermediate station at 10th Ave. is another one of the big mistakes made by the MTA.
The distance between Times Square and the Javits Center will be the longest gap between any two consecutive stations in the system, except where you cross a river.

Obviously, there is a limit to how much money can be expended annually on this project. The 10th Ave. station could have been included by taking more years to finish the job, at the same rate of annual spending. Even if the project were to take twice as long to complete, the benefits of having the extra station would be worth it.

Alon Levy December 22, 2009 - 7:39 pm

I’m sorry, but you’re wrong, for two reasons.

First: a station at 41st/10th would connect people to Grand Central, an important destination by itself, and would give a good two-seat ride to other East Side destinations. The lack of a station would require people to walk half a mile to Times Square for said two-seat ride.

Second: crosstown lines are at their best when they let people maximize transfer opportunities. For example: the G, which has no good connections to non-IND lines, gets crap ridership; any other major-subway circular line, which has multiple connections to lines, gets high ridership – see Tokyo, Moscow, Paris, or London.

Based on how other subway systems look, you’d have a better case for losing the station at 34th/11th. If you want the 7 to function as an east-west line, have it continue west and give people a convenient route into Midtown from North Jersey’s urban parts.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines December 22, 2009 - 9:03 am

[…] Churns Through First Phase of 7 Line Extension; Second Ave Sagas Not […]

Scott E December 22, 2009 - 9:03 am

Has anyone said what’s going to happen with the rock that’s excavated from the tunnels (or from Second Ave, for that matter)? Excavation from the original World Trade Center was used to extend Lower Manhattan into the Hudson River, turning it into a posh Battery Park City.

Barring some environmental/ecological/river-current issues that I don’t quite understand, this can be used to create some pretty valuable waterfront real-estate next to a brand spankin’ new #7 subway terminal. Somehow, I think this potential creation of new land, and the windfall profit for the MTA from it, will be overlooked. Or perhaps shot down by environmental studies.

Boris December 22, 2009 - 12:23 pm

The fill from East Side Access is being used to landscape Brooklyn Bridge Park.

It would be good to save some fill to reinforce low-lying areas that may become victims of rising sea levels in the next couple of decades.

Artistic Panache at a Bushwick Trailer Park - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com December 22, 2009 - 1:05 pm

[…] a tunnel-boring machine completed the first part of the extension of the No. 7 subway line by breaking through the southern wall of 34th Street station cavern. [2nd Avenue […]

Marc Shepherd December 22, 2009 - 1:07 pm

Ben’s continued opposition to this project is surely, and by far, the most bizarre of his policy positions. It isn’t a boondoggle at all. It will extend transit service to a part of Manhattan that currently lacks it. By making the far west side far more valuable, it will grow the tax base in an amount that exceeds, by a wide margin, the amount invested. This has happened over and over again in transit history, and there is no reason to think this time will be any different.

One of the recurring tragedies in New York’s transit history is that people are always trying to second-guess projects that have already started. The Second Avenue Subway was cancelled several times after a considerable amount of money had already been spent on engineering and/or construction. Each time, I am sure it was because someone like Ben said, “This is a boondoggle. We have higher priorities right now.”

I do agree that the loss of the Tenth Avenue station is an error of almost tragic proportions, given the astronomical costs of adding it later unless at least the shell is built initially.

Benjamin Kabak December 22, 2009 - 1:15 pm

I think you’re right to question my continued opposition to the project. So allow me to elaborate a bit.

I’m opposed to the 7 line extension plan as it is currently conceived and funded. I certainly agree that the Far West Side needs better access to the transit, but so few people live near 34th and 11th that this one-stop extension — for $2.1 billion — is misguided at best. The city is missing an opportunity to extend service to 41st and 10th Ave. where it is far more badly needed, and they’re doing so to the detriment of everyone else and the benefit of real estate interests.

Furthermore, at a time when the city refuses to up its contributions to the MTA’s operating costs and is more willing to let transit service slip away, Bloomberg is paying $2.1 billion for a subway extension to a real estate development that has little chance of even opening before, say, Phase I of the SAS or the end of the upcoming decade.

I’m definitely in favor of transit investment in expansion, but I’d like to see it make sense. The 7 line should be built alongside Related’s development and not years or even possibly decades in advance of something that might never actually appear as planned.

Kai B December 22, 2009 - 2:39 pm

The only reason nothing happening out on Hudson Yards is the housing slump / recession. These projects take time and are an investment in the city’s future. I am sure that by 2020 we will be very happy that this project was completed.

I have to think back to this recent post:

Kid Twist December 22, 2009 - 3:34 pm

Even if the current plan falls through, the presence of transit will make it much more likely that someone else will step in and develop the yards, and that many others will develop the property on the periphery of the yards.

It was once the policy of this city to extend transit lines into undeveloped regions to thin out crowding in the central core of the city and make it possible for developers to provide vast amounts of new housing.

It was only in recent years, when the city stopped building subways and allowed the existing ones to become crowded and slow, that people once again started jamming themselves into central districts, a condition that’s contributed to the sky-high housing costs in this town.

Alon Levy December 22, 2009 - 7:42 pm

Not a boondoggle, Marc? That extension is coming in at a little under 3 times more than the most expensive subway ever built in the Western world outside New York, on a per-km basis. And that other subway project involved 4 river crossings. If you’re willing to include Japan in your estimate, then the 7 extension is only twice as expensive as a single boondoggle in Yokohama, and a little more than 2.5 times more expensive than new construction in Tokyo.

Nathanael December 25, 2009 - 12:25 am

For about 16 billion dollars (about 5 times as much), London is getting Crossrail, which has *nine* new underground stations and, I believe, a larger tunnel diameter, and interlinks terminating rail lines on the west and east sides of the city.

Andrew Sidrane December 22, 2009 - 2:51 pm

The reason the 7 is being extended to the far west side is to provide transit access to the Javits Center. The future housing that could go up near there is a bonus. I think we can all agree that the lost station on 10th ave hurts.

Marc Shepherd December 22, 2009 - 3:44 pm

It’s a bit more complicated than that. When the extension was planned, New York City was still in the hunt for the Olympics. After the Games, the stadium would have been converted into a permanent home for the New York Jets. Yes, it was also going to provide transit access to an expanded Jacob Javits Center, which has always been something of a white elephant. But it was also envisioned (and still is) that large amounts of office and residential space would be built there.

At the time, Bloomberg said that the subway extension made sense, and would be built, even if the Olympics never came and the stadium were never built. He pretty much had to say that, because nobody would fund a $2 billion subway line for a 3-week event and a football team that plays 8 home games a year. He’s now locked into that position, even with the project cut down from two stations to one, and with none of the planned development existing only on paper.

JOE HILL December 22, 2009 - 5:52 pm




Mike Nitabach December 22, 2009 - 7:55 pm

Dunno about the merits of the project, but WOW!, those photos are amazing!

kvnbklyn December 23, 2009 - 10:49 am

I definitely have my reservations about the need for this project and the omission of the Tenth Avenue stop. But isn’t this extension being paid for by tax increment financing? If I remember correctly, the mayor is using his PILOT slush fund to pay for the work now with the idea that land owners in the area will repay the capital costs with property taxes designed to recoup the increase in value of their land. If that’s true, then I don’t think this is a case of Bloomberg handing a gift to his developer friends. His developer friends are in fact paying for this gift. Whether that actually comes to pass, though, won’t be known for many years.

Ariel December 23, 2009 - 10:08 pm

I have to say that this is one of the very few policies stances I disagree with you Ben. Sure eliminating the station at 41st and 10th hurts and the area around 34th and 11th is still undeveloped, but at least the city is building SOMETHING in a system that hasn’t been expanded in decades, and may I add with no extra capital costs to the MTA.

I’m reminded of the pictures you put up not too long ago where the 7 line was built in undeveloped farmland and soon led to a building boom. That is exactly what will happen to midtown’s west-side once this expansion is complete.

Two stations are better than one, but one station is definitely better than no expansion at all. In a system that hasn’t expanded in decades, we should be grateful.

Alon Levy December 24, 2009 - 3:45 pm

Queens was doubling its population every decade even before the 7 opened. Nothing like that is happening with Hudson Yards, which is just a developer land grab.

Building for the sake of building leads to incompetent building. It leads to the city spending $0 on important extensions like SAS, leaving the MTA on the hook for cost escalations.

Brandi December 29, 2009 - 5:15 pm

So I decided to make an online petition to restore the station at 10th & 41st. I know it probably won’t do anything but its worth a try. I had to walk all the way from 10th avenue to 8th in the snow during that blizzard and that was no fun.



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