Home Second Avenue Subway A Second Ave. Subway once bound for Avenue A

A Second Ave. Subway once bound for Avenue A

by Benjamin Kabak

Even as Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway moves forward, the Holy Grail of New York City subway expansion plans is still inspiring those who dream of a better mass transit system for the city. Over at his excellent site vanshnookenraggen, Andrew Lynch recently unveiled his incredibly fascinating and thorough examination of the Second Ave. Subway future. I’m working with Andrew to bring parts of his series to Second Ave. Sagas, but in the meantime, his post has me taking a trip back through New York City subway planning history.

The date in 1969, two years after the Chrystie St. Cut opened, and New York City is eying another round of subway expansion. The Board of Estimate and the New York City Transit Authority are working, often at odds with each other, to develop plans for the Second Ave. Subway, forty years after the initial IND Second System fell victim to the Great Depression. The debate over the route would expose the demands of a Board trying to respond to constituent demands and a Transit Authority attempting to make the most out of its service offerings.

The newly-formed MTA’s plan for Second Ave. was a simply one. As the current plans propose, the new subway line would have headed straight down Second Ave. and south of Houston St., would have followed, in the words of Emanuel Perlmutter, “Chrystie Street, the Bowery, St. James Place, Pearl and Water Streets to a Broad Street terminus.” This route would have maximized connections with out lines as well because plans called for transfers between the SAS and the F at 2nd Ave. and the D at Grand St. The MTA alleged that 25,000 riders from the Bronx and 30,000 from Brooklyn would have taken advantage of these transfers, and from a planning perspective, the MTA would have achieved its goal of offering comprehensive service.

The politicians though did not like it one bit. Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton called it a “snobway thruway.” This train, he alleged, skirted the city’s poorer neighborhoods – called slums by reporters and politicians – and it did not provide ready transit access to those who lived in Alphabet City. Instead, in the days before the MetroCard, thousands of less well-off New Yorkers would have to continue paying double fares to take the bus from the far reaches of the East Village to the subway on Second Ave.

And so throwing money to the wind, the Board of Estimate pushed what they thought to be a better solution. Will Lisner of The Times described the change as thus: “The amended route would leave Second Avenue at 17th Street and bend east to Stuyvesant Square (near Stuyvesant Town), under 15th, 14th and 13th Streets to Avenue A, south to Essex Street along East Broadway and across Chatham Square.” This Ave. A would cost an additional $57 million, and although the Board of Estimate believed it would service 20,000 additional passengers, the MTA claimed just 3000 more riders would enter at Ave. A than if the subway were to stay on Second Ave. Furthermore, the IND transfers would be lost as well.

Eventually, after much political wrangling, the Board of Estimate and the MTA agreed to a proposal so expansive it could never see the light of the day. At a cost of $55 million more, the Second Ave. Subway would have the best of both worlds: The train would head south via Second Ave. and also include a loop to Ave. C between 14th and Houston Sts. As some transit planners called the loop a “gimmick” to save “a few blocks walk,” others hailed it as a compromise that would placate both the Board and the MTA.

Yet, by the 1974, it was not to be. Spiraling costs shelved the Second Ave. Subway to at least 1986, and today, as I wrote in September, that tea-cup shaped Alphabet City loop, while the darling of subway dreamers, just isn’t meant to be.

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Alon Levy April 12, 2010 - 4:12 am

I started reading those proposals on Andrew Lynch’s blog. Most of them are good, but there are 2-3 consistent issues with them:

1. There’s too much splitting. For example, the E extension to Cambria Heights leaves Jamaica Center on a stub, which would force reduced frequencies to both Jamaica Center and Cambria Heights. A better extension would leave east of Jamaica Center, using the Montauk Line ROW or Springfield. Similarly, the three-way 125th Street/Coop City/3rd Avenue split at the northern end of SAS would reduce service levels to each branch.

2. Many of the proposed extensions of SAS duplicate existing service instead of providing new service. 3rd Avenue Subway in the Bronx is a good idea, but the Bronx needs extra east-west service; aside from 3rd/Park, the only pressing north-south service need in the Bronx is University. Similarly, the Queens extension just adds more trains to the overburdened QB line; it might be better to build a line, leaving the F west of its junction with the E, going under Northern, serving densely populated North Corona and East Elmhurst.

2.5. The proposal hinges too much on SAS. Some other good extensions, namely the 6 to Coop City and the E to Cambria Heights, turn into branches of SAS.

Benjamin Kabak April 12, 2010 - 10:14 am

Well, that piece I linked to is focused on the SAS only. The future installations will examine expansion plans that aren’t explicitly linked to the Second Ave. Subway. That said, the SAS was a major centerpiece of the IND Second System and would have spurred a few extensions out of that trunk line had it been built out as planned.

Alon Levy April 12, 2010 - 6:05 pm

I know it’s just the SAS portion – I’m just saying, some of those extensions would work better hooked to the existing lines.

stan April 12, 2010 - 7:51 am

vanshnookenraggen is quite interesting, aside from it’s user-hating left-to-right layout

Marc Shepherd April 12, 2010 - 10:21 am

I agree with Alon Levy: there is a distinct lack of practicality in these proposals. Has this guy every built a railroad, or is he just drawing lines on a map?

Benjamin Kabak April 12, 2010 - 10:23 am

All of the proposals have been debated or considered at one point or another over the 80-year history of the Second Ave. Subway. It’s not that far-fetched to consider them again.

Marc Shepherd April 12, 2010 - 10:55 am

The trouble is, he is not triaging them. It’s true that every one of those proposals was on the table at some point or another, but there was never a time when they all were.

AK April 12, 2010 - 11:34 am

Seconded. I loved reading through his materials, but in a “Candy Land” sort of fantasy way, not in a practical, political way.

Dave April 12, 2010 - 10:27 am

I asked vanshnookenraggen this and I’ll ask the same here, I was curious if the Bronx lines were going to be elevated like they were originally planned for the IND second system. It seems to me like it would be a lot cheaper, easier and faster to build an elevated than dig through the Bronx. The TA hasn’t really touched on the subject much. I was wondering what your thoughts were.

ferryboi April 12, 2010 - 10:29 am

Elevated trains would never pass environmental reviews in this day and age. IRT/BMT built them with impunity 90 years ago, but no neighborhood in the Bronx or any other borough would go for it today. It’s underground or at-grade only.

Dave April 12, 2010 - 10:40 am

I figured that would be the case. Well, get ready for Bronx lines to be completed sometime around 2063.

ferryboi April 12, 2010 - 1:50 pm

2063? Aren’t you the optimist! : )

Think twice April 12, 2010 - 11:11 am

Perhaps also over existing railroad ROWs and highway medians.

Who was it on this comments board who said that the LIE didn’t make building a future Horace Harding line impossible, but instead, more likely.

Alon Levy April 12, 2010 - 6:07 pm

Els could pass environmental review pretty easily. It’s the local neighborhood people who never let them go through.

Vanshnookenraggen April 12, 2010 - 12:11 pm

Hey all, I wanted to clear up a few things:

First, these maps are only maps of the different options available for service routes. @Alon, it’s funny you mention the E train, keep your eye out for future posts as I cover that.

Second, obviously this is a fantasy map, @Marc obviously I’ve never built a subway/railroad or I wouldn’t be posting these maps. The point isn’t that THIS IS WHAT WE NEED but rather to get people to think about the future possibilities.

SEAN April 12, 2010 - 2:29 pm

What about an F extention along Hillside Av toward Nassau County? The trackway is already there.

Building 11 April 12, 2010 - 10:35 pm

FYI – “Second System” is a railfan term. The lines proposed in 1929 and their succcessors were never ever referred to as such. The lines in the 1929 plan were the second phase of the Independent City-Owned Subway.

Vanshnookenraggen April 12, 2010 - 11:02 pm

Fair but it’s just easier to give it a snappy name.

Peter April 17, 2010 - 8:20 am

What a great story. If ever there was an argument for not having elected officials in charge of the subways, this is it. I write more about this ‘cuphandle’ extension here.


SAS Planning Snapshot: The RPA’s MetroLink :: Second Ave. Sagas April 20, 2010 - 1:24 am

[…] Laurelton to Gravesend via LIRR tracks, head down Second Ave. and spur off at 14th St. to Ave. C as original SAS planners had hoped. This line would then enter Brooklyn on the F and run express via the IND Culver line to Ave. […]

On the importance of station spacing :: Second Ave. Sagas December 6, 2010 - 12:01 am

[…] less convenient to have the Second Ave. Subway. In fact, for an area that once would have enjoyed a cup-handle extension of the Second Ave. Subway, the SAS will have profoundly little impact on a transit-starved area. An idealized street grid […]

Transit Fantasyland: Improving service across NYC :: Second Ave. Sagas December 7, 2010 - 12:53 am

[…] and dear to our hearts but with some odd limitations. For Alphabet City, the RPA proposed the old tea-cup handle extension of the SAS along Ave. C in order to provide “widespread benefits for lower income areas,” a main […]

down_up__left_right June 22, 2022 - 1:00 pm

Why would the the IND transfers would be lost by going down Ave A? By stopping at Delancey/Essex you would keep the direct transfer to the F and trade the B and D transfers for ones to the M, J, and Z.

Going uptown the F and the M give 5 stations to transfer to the B and D by walking to the other side of the same platform. During peak times at 1 of the 5 stations people will probably be able to do it seamlessly without losing any time

But I question the value of the B and D transfer with regards to the UWS and Bronx anyway. Are people going to or from the Bronx really going to be using that transfer? If they don’t want to walk to the 4 at the beginning of their trip they might take the D, transfer to 4, and then use that to transfer to the T to avoid spending time on the D going west and then back east and also for most locations on the T also going south to come back north.

With the UWS there’s not the west to go east time waste but there is going to be a go south to go north problem for many stations. From UWS if the goal is to get to or from 2nd Ave there’s already direct transfer to 53st and 42nd through the M and 7 so we’re just talking about UWS to between 34 st and Delancey. The current plan’s direct transfer in the LES involves going south to go north so people might instead transfer to the M headed to Queens at Rockefeller Center and then use that to transfer to the T in Midtown.

In Brooklyn the F gives a transfer to the D but not the B, but the Q has transfers to the B, which means anyone using the B already has connection to some of the areas the T runs.

So basically to bring subway access to Alphabet City it would get harder to go from the B in Brooklyn to 2nd Ave between 34th st and Houston. (The Q, M, and 7 give direct transfers to the T stations above that) But this would also unlock direct transfers to areas served by J and Z and a closer direct transfer to the Brooklyn part of the M.

Seems worth it to me to take care of a subway desert especially if the cost would actually only be $57 million in a project that costs billions.


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