Home View from Underground Transit Fantasyland: Improving service across NYC

Transit Fantasyland: Improving service across NYC

by Benjamin Kabak

Across New York City, various neighborhoods are noticeably lacking subway service. Stretches of Brooklyn and Queens far from Manhattan suffer from a lack of direct transit access while cross-Bronx service is non-existent and even Alphabet City, a locus of growth and gentrification, is a long hike from the nearest subway. As it takes far too many years and far too many dollars, the options for system expansion are limited, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.

Back in October 2008, after a pair of development conferences with planning experts from across the New York Metropolitan Area, the Regional Plan Association put forward a report entitled “Tomorrow’s Transit: New Mobility for the Region’s Core.” It highlighted numerous ongoing projects including the Second Ave. Subway, East Side Access, the 7 Line extension and our dearly departed ARC Tunnel, but its more intriguing sections propose subway extensions that expand service beyond the current capital campaign. Just imagine if money were no issue.

We start in Manhattan where the Second Ave. Subway dominates the day. Much of the RPA’s document focused around making use of a new Manhattan trunk line. Instead of terminating at East. 125th St. and Lexington, as current SAS plans propose, the RAP’s Second Ave. Subway would run west to intersect with the various subway lines along 125th St., terminating at the 1 stop along Broadway. That’s a common-sense proposal though that could happen if New York every found the money to do so.

In the southern reaches of Manhattan, the RPA’s plan involves some additions near 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 thrust of “Tomorrow’s Transit.” Also for Alphabet City, the RPA proposed dropping a staircase at Ave. A and 14th St. to provide for access to the First Ave. L stop. I’ve been told in the past that the tunnel depth and underground space limitations preclude that plan, but it’s one that has long been an obvious exit point.

Further uptown, the RPA wants to explore extending the 7 line extension further south with a possible connection to the Canarsie Line. In Midtown, transit can be improved by adding light rail to Broadway. Remember: We’re living in Transit Fantasyland here.

In the Bronx, let’s send the Second Ave. Subway everywhere. The cost-prohibitive 3rd Ave. extension is designed to better server areas without very much subway service while the Metrolink Extension would use the Amtrak right-of-way to serve Co-Op City. The 3rd Ave. extension would replace the lost El train and connect across the Bronx to the 207th St. terminal area in Upper Manhattan. If anything, this routing is a bit haphazard and would raise capacity issues in Manhattan.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn suffers from the opposite problem: It’s proposed extension don’t do enough. In the southeast corner of the county of Kings, the RPA would advocate building out two stops along Nostrand Ave. and constructing the long-awaited Utica Ave. line. I recently explored the tortured history of these subway expansion plans, and I’d want to see something even more ambitious. Shoot for the ocean or at very last, Sheepshead Bay and Marine Park.

Again, the Second Ave. Subway enters the picture as well. Once East Side Access is complete, the RPA would convert the LIRR’s Atlantic Branch into a rapid transit line via the Second Ave. Subway. Say good bye to the Transit Museum as this plan would reactivate Court St. and the outer platforms at Hoyt-Schermerhorn. On another note, the one-stop spur on the L to Starrett City seems to be more trouble than it’s worth, and the super express J service has been debunked elsewhere.

And finally, Queens. The RPA would spur off the Queens Boulevard past Rego Park along Jewel Ave. to better serve the Kew Gardens area. Similarly, the Queens Bypass straight to Forest Hills would alleviate a lot of crowding along that Queens Boulevard line. The southeastern Queens extension would be a huge boon for that area as well.

Ultimately, these plans are nearly as ambitious as the old Second System proposals, and unfortunately, they’re just as likely to see the light of the day. While the RPA rates projects as long- vs. short-term and high vs. low capital on a spending scale, these exist only on paper for a time when money is abundant. If we could expand the system willy nilly without concerns for cost, this isn’t a bad blueprint for it, but as we look at “Tomorrow’s Transit” two years later, only the BRT aspects are finally come online. Fifty years from now, will New York City still be recycling the same old subway expansion plans?

For more on the RPA’s “Tomorrow’s Transit” plan, check out the report right here as a PDF.

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Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 1:18 am

I’m really unimpressed. This plan is a hodgepodge of currently supported suboptimal ideas (34th Street BRT) and random line-drawing. Nobody needs a Queens Super-Express; the interstation on the E between Queens Plaza and Forest Hills is higher than that on express systems abroad like the Paris RER. The Jewel Avenue extension is pointless; better would be to make use of that fantasy four-track Second Avenue Subway and link up with a new trunk line in Queens under Northern, using the 63rd Street Tunnel.

Missing are many actually useful extensions, like Triboro RX and a 125th Street crosstown, or converting the commuter railroads to rapid transit on the model of any S-Bahn or the RER or the more ambitious 1980s-era SEPTA plans.

Justin Samuels December 7, 2010 - 2:57 am

I’m also unimpressed. What would really be useful is the merging of the Airtrain with the LIRR (so one could get a one set train ride to Manhattan). And an extension of the N to LaGuardia. These are plans that could stand a shot at getting the funding to be completed, the others would be DOA if someone tried to present them to Albany or Washington.

Bolwerk December 7, 2010 - 9:49 am

If that’s possible, AirTrain should be rolled into the IND. What the hell were they thinking?

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 12:28 pm

The AirTrain uses an incompatible technology. It’s a proprietary intermediate-capacity technology developed by Bombardier that’s compatible with nothing else. Thus the costs of reconstructing the infrastructure for LIRR service could be substantial.

Bolwerk December 7, 2010 - 12:55 pm

In the early-to-mid-2000s, there was talk of adapting it to use either an IND tunnel or a new LIRR tunnel. So it’s probably in the possible-but-not-cost-effective category.

(Isn’t it the same technology used by Vancouver SkyTrain?)

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 2:40 pm

It’s the same technology used by the first two lines of Skytrain, yeah. For the third line, Translink got pissed and chose a more conventional automated metro system and bought trains from Rotem.

Jonathan April 4, 2012 - 10:03 pm

Not exactly. When they planned the Canada Line, it was to be a complete design-build-operate contract with a private consortium. Each consortium was to provide its own vehicle technology, and the one that included Bombardier didn’t win. It was controversial since the evaluation of the bids was not allowed to take into account the benefits of vehicles that are compatible with the existing system.

AlexB December 7, 2010 - 8:04 pm

i don’t think it’s completely incompatible.

Ben December 8, 2010 - 2:03 pm

In that it’s standard-gauge rail and I believe standard commuter-rail/BMT loading-gauge cars, and also in that the MTA spent more than 10 minutes considering connecting it directly to the Atlantic Branch LIRR with a flyover at Jamaica, it’s pretty clearly not completely incompatible (I think it uses standard subway/LIRR third rail, too). The drive train is magnetic induction rather than powered wheel trucks, though, so a fourth rail would need to be added to any connected-up tracks. Probably not all that expensive, but hardly free.

Carl December 7, 2010 - 12:43 pm

A better idea for a one seat ride to JFK Airport is for the MTA-LIRR to reactivate the abandoned LIRR Rockaway Line. The Line can travel though the communuites of Rego Park, Woodhaven/Richmond Hill and Ozone Park. A new spur could be built south of the Aqueduct Station and connect directly into JFK Airport. Check out our group’s website.

Andrew December 7, 2010 - 6:30 am

A 125th Street crosstown is included (it’s one of the few elements I agree with).

The point of a Queens super-express is the additional east-west capacity through Queens. A new line under Northern, as you propose, would be far more expensive and probably less useful.

Bolwerk December 7, 2010 - 9:52 am

A super-express that relieves Queens Boulevard might have merit, particularly if more capacity is ever added in far eastern Queens.

I’m not sure what to say about Northern. It probably made a lot of sense back in the days IND2.0 was proposed, but these days it seems to be a giant boulevard of strip malls.

rlb December 7, 2010 - 11:02 am

Walk past 80th going east and Northern Blvd becomes a real neighborhood again.

Christopher December 7, 2010 - 11:21 am

Subway service would do a lot to maximize re-development along Northern Blvd. That’s land that’s underutilized and car dependent right in the core of the city. Improved transit would allow the kind of internal smart growth that Queens needs.

Bolwerk December 7, 2010 - 11:48 am

Yep, it’s not a bad idea.

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 2:15 pm

Not only that, but also the areas along Northern are quite dense. The CB of East Elmhurst, North Corona, and Jackson Heights was nearly as dense as Harlem in 2000, and growing at an explosive rate (30% over the decade).

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 11:57 am

Ugh, didn’t see the 125th line on the map.

A Queens super-express as proposed wouldn’t relieve the bottlenecked river crossings. The cheapest way to do that would be to use SAS to make the 63rd Street Tunnel more useful, and if they want to build an extra trunk line in Queens, they might as well build it under Northern.

Rolando P. December 7, 2010 - 2:19 pm

While talking about a fantasy utopia in which the Second Ave line runs down 125th Street, why not connect to the second and fifth IND tracks (http://images.nycsubway.org/trackmap/pm_west.png) under St. Nicholas Avenue between 125th Street and 145th Street rather than extending all the way to Broadway? This would enable the MTA to have service to terminate at 168th Street (connecting to the A, C, and 1), terminate at 207th Street, run service up Grand Concourse, or turnaround at 145 Street.

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 2:38 pm

The connection to the 1 is more important than the one-seat ride to Washington Heights.

Rolando P. December 7, 2010 - 2:47 pm

There’s already a connection between the IRT and IND at 168th Street. Not good enough?

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 2:55 pm

Not if you’re traveling between East Harlem and the Upper West Side, or between Morningside Heights or Hamilton Heights and the Upper East Side.

Rolando P. December 7, 2010 - 3:01 pm

Reasonable counter-examples… What of the systemic benefits of integrating the Second Ave line into the rest of the IND system?

John December 7, 2010 - 3:50 pm

It would allow for route detours for the A, B, C and/or D trains between Washington Heights/Concourse and midtown, if there were problems with the Eighth Avenue line between 125th Street and West Fourth.

You couldn’t get all of the lines down Second Avenue and then back to Sixth Ave. via the 63rd Street connector (and back to the Eighth Ave. line via the connector south of West Fourth), but it would allow at least a couple of the lines to make it to/from their northern terminals (and I suppose a connection to the tracks could still be made, even if the main tracks were still extended west to Broadway).

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 3:51 pm

Not all lines have to serve every place.

However, one benefit of sending the 125th Street crosstown up the IND is that it could add service to Washington Heights, where there’s a capacity problem coming from the merging and track-sharing further south. So what you’re suggesting isn’t stupid or trivially wrong.

John Paul N. December 7, 2010 - 3:54 pm

If the 125th Street transfer saves 15 minutes of commuting, it’ll be worth it. The transfer will probably be one of the deepest, though.

But in the past, I would’ve wanted to find a better way to use that 6-track area at 135th and St. Nicholas. That connection would be utilized for access to 207th Street yard, if no new train yard is built for the 125th Street crosstown.

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 7:29 pm

I agree that a connection should be built for possible diversions and non-revenue moves. On the other hand, presumably SAS would use the existing Coney Island yard.

Rolando P. December 10, 2010 - 12:11 pm

In the same vein, why build Phase IV of the SAS at all when we can connect to the Center Street tracks (http://images.nycsubway.org/tr.....hattan.png) by diverting along Worth Street after Chatham Square? This would enable connections to the 4, 5, 6, J, Z at Brooklyn Bridge–Chambers Street, a connection to the Fulton Street Transit Center, and further service to Brooklyn via the Montague Street tunnels (instead of terminating in Hanover Square).

Ideally, service could be arranged such that the T were routed over the Manhattan Bridge after Grand Street (with the B going through the Rutgers Street tunnel and becoming the Culver Express instead) and a second service south of 63rd Street providing service to downtown and Brooklyn.

Robert Siegfried January 20, 2015 - 3:44 pm

The purpose of the superexpress track is to provide addition capacity; if you have ever ridden on the E or F train during rush hour, you know that they are overcrowded and sometimes the roughly 30 trains per hour get delayed when it takes an extra 30 seconds to get passengers on board at Continental Ave or Roosevelt Avenue. Also, given the large number of people who have to continue their trip by bus (and trust me, I’ve seen the lines for the bus) on either Jewel Avenue or Union Turnpike, these extensions are not so suboptimal.

The biggest problem in New york at times is getting outer Borough residents out of their cars and onto public transit. These need to switch modes of transit multiple times makes it worth a lot to people to stay in their cars.

alexjonlin December 7, 2010 - 2:25 am

It’s true that in a lot of ways this planning doesn’t go nearly far enough, but it doesn’t sound like they put a huge amount of money into route analysis or anything. Anyways, it’s really important to have some sort of long-range plan, whether or not you think it will ever be completed. It gives you something to look forward to, and it shows the ultimate goal of each (relatively) small subway extension.

John Paul N. December 7, 2010 - 5:34 am

If each extension is of equal priority, that’s not good. Shows little guidance to politicians, who would fragment their support to their provincial area.

Bolwerk December 7, 2010 - 9:56 am

Yes. Given where we stand in late 2010, the best move is probably to finish the first stage of SAS. Flawed as that project is, it’s well on its way. But this RPA plan seems to be contingent on finishing all phases of SAS.

John Paul N. December 7, 2010 - 5:25 am

There’s probably no other place in the world where so many people fantasize about extensions of or think of entirely new mass transit systems than in New York City. Whatever the motives are — dissatisfaction with the current systems, easier, accessible and comfortable commutes, designing for transit-oriented development, reduced reliance on personal cars and highways, environmental reasons, evolving the world-class city, etc. — the imaginations of the public so often turns to New York City. To see how many people think of how the NYC region can realize a public transportation Utopia, myself included, always amazes me.

My fascination began as a child. When I cleaned out my basement recently, I found at least 10 subway maps from 1987, when I was 6 years old. (Almost all of them are torn and/or written through, so they don’t have any monetary value.) It was through nycsubway.org about 15 years ago that I saw so many enthusiasts for public transit in one place. Today I don’t visit that site regularly (the personal attacks turn me off), but I credit it as the first site that deepened my appreciation for NY’s public transportation.

While I won’t comment on this proposal (yet), except to say that I’m also unsatisfied with it, it is one of many projects for transportation proposed over the years. It is one (reputable) organization’s dream for better transit, and for that I welcome it. I don’t tire of any new extension schemes because the worth of the interesting debates that abound if proposals and discussion are serious enough is enormous. It is when we stop dreaming and stop caring that we’re in trouble. So I hope newer generations continue the ambition, even if their dreams are not likely to come true soon.

One day I hope a computer program would be able to go through all the proposals and its reviews and news coverage over the years and see which ones people have supported or discussed the most, mostly as a guide to convince politicians.

Andrew December 7, 2010 - 6:27 am

Stretches of Brooklyn and Queens far from Manhattan suffer from a lack of direct transit access while cross-Bronx service is non-existent and even Alphabet City, a locus of growth and gentrification, is a long hike from the nearest subway.

Um. Buses aren’t transit?

I like some of these ideas, but I agree with others that they’re a hodgepodge. Why should SAS Phases III and IV have four tracks, especially when more trains will be running on Phases I and II than on III and IV? Do these people realize that their cuphandle, at least if executed as planned in the 70’s, would rob the L of service it badly needs, since the north end of the cuphandle merges into the Canarsie line? (Also, all of the cars running on the cuphandle would need CBTC equipment!)


Bolwerk December 7, 2010 - 10:01 am

The whole SAS should have been four tracks. Without that, the SAS is going to be an expensive hindrance if New York survives the zombie apocalypse relatively intact.

I would assume that making the last two phases four tracks allows a lot of complex routing from Brooklyn, most of which wouldn’t be necessary north of 63rd Street as long as The Bronx stays isolated – because most people don’t care to go beyond Midtown. Since Phases 1 and 2 are pretty well set in stone by work already done, it’s a given that four tracks would be somewhere between expensive and impossible now.

Justin Samuels December 7, 2010 - 2:40 pm

Its too expensive two drill 4 side by side tunnels. The 4 track express lines were all built back in the day when we had cut and cover subway. Had the Second Avenue Subway been built in the 1920s or 30s, we would indeed have had 4 track service, but back then part of the reason it never happened is because of the ridiculous size of the IND Second System.

Bolwerk December 7, 2010 - 8:55 pm

There’s absolutely no reason not to use cut and cover where appropriate either. It’s quite well known that the SAS is absurdly overpriced, even for a bored tunnel in an area as dense as Manhattan.

Really, two tracks is inexcusable.

Christopher December 7, 2010 - 11:24 am

Buses are a poor substitute for rail. They are slower, offer less capacity, and have higher lifetime cost. They also do nothing to spur intensification of development.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines December 7, 2010 - 8:59 am

[…] Fantasizing About Transit Expansions That Might Never Happen (2nd Ave Sagas) […]

Joe December 7, 2010 - 9:29 am

I still don’t understand the desire to convert the LIRR Atlantic Branch to a subway service. I get the desire to bring the LIRR into Lower Manhattan, and that any attempt to do so probably faded when the plans for the Fulton Transit Center and the Ground Zero rebuilding excluded those provisions. But making the Atlantic Branch into a subway would just be adding duplicate service, as the AC is on Fulton street one block away. I doubt the density is high enough anywhere in Brooklyn to justify parallel subway lines one block apart. Also, the plans keep on calling to make the Atlantic Branch a subway, but they never talk about adding stops to the Branch. I guess it’s supposed to be a superfluous express train through Brooklyn.

Researcher December 7, 2010 - 9:48 am

You have a several very large housing developments along the Atlantic line, including Rochdale Village, the second-largest co-op in the city.

Joe December 7, 2010 - 10:13 am

Indeed, the section of the Atlantic Branch in Queens (I always considered that a different branch – the Far Rockaway branch) has no other rapid transit options, and improving service there would be a boost to residents. My argument was primarily against the rationale for a subway Atlantic branch, since it offered a duplicate service through Brooklyn. Density along Atlantic Avenue is low relative to the areas surrounding Eastern Parkway or Fulton Street, where trains already run.

If improvements are made to commuter rail (not necessarily as extensive as those proposed by Alon on TheTransportPolitic) then we might make commuter rail stops inside the city a good means to get around.

Bolwerk December 7, 2010 - 9:53 am

How about solving some more fundamental problems first? Like, say, let’s get the transit agency involved in land use planning?

Eric F. December 7, 2010 - 10:00 am

As long as we’re dreaming: How about making the 7 an actual subway, instead of an elevated blight across Queens, the length of its alignment and having a four track alignment with full time express service in both directions 24 hours a day? You would make life in central Queens about 10% better by doing that. If you did that, you could extend the train to Secaucus, or Pittsburgh for that matter, and not have to worry so much about capacity issues.

Bolwerk December 7, 2010 - 10:12 am

The 7 seems to handle its current capacity quite well. I guess it looks fuglier beyond Queens Boulevard (when it turns onto Roosevelt), but no worse than any of the other elevated lines.

(For those unaware, it’s got a more elegant look before 48th Street, I guess modeled on a Roman aqueduct. You can see the transition at Google’s street view here.)

Joe December 7, 2010 - 10:24 am

If we ever had the opportunity to replace the elevated 7 with a underground 7 we would then have to address the other elevated lines across the city, especially the Astoria line.

Eric F. December 7, 2010 - 10:35 am

Yes, you’d have transfer issues with the intersecting elevated lines for sure. I’m not sure the 7 really handles its capacity well though. Unless you really enjoy standing. The 7 is a long slow trip made worse by crowding. Maybe I’m spoiled though.

Bolwerk December 7, 2010 - 11:50 am

It’s a quick trip in the peak direction at rush hour. It’s a slow reverse commute, for sure.

That said, it handles its ridership well, regardless of how quickly they move. :-p

MRB December 7, 2010 - 10:00 am

my fantasy is to extend the Shuttle from Nostrand to the G line, either at Classon or Bedford/Nostrand. That, and connections from Jay Street/Borough Hall to Borough Hall, and a walkway between Fulton Street and Lafayette Street on the G and C respectively.

Joe December 7, 2010 - 10:21 am

Why do want a connection between Fulton and Lafayette Streets when there is a direct transfer one station away at Hoyt-Schermerhorn? Just because the stations are close, a transfer isn’t necessary.

I think extending the Franklin Avenue shuttle isn’t a horrible idea, but the S runs on an elevated structure there, and that it’s only one track most of the way. Extending it further might complicate it’s operation, plus run into community opposition to an elevated running through the neighborhood.

Farro December 7, 2010 - 10:20 am

It might be nice to use the LIRR Lower Montauk tracks for a new line–They’re barely used as is (b/c there are no stations along it). Yes, the stations had extremely low ridership whne they were LIRR stations, but they also had infrequent service (and only at select times) and didn’t go to Manhattan. If you were to hook that up w/ the Second avenue line via Jackson Ave and the 63rd St tunnel, you might get decent ridership in a totally unserved area.

(Also, a lower montauk line, a tiboro RX, and the Myrtle Ave line could meet up in Middle Village to form a secondary hub in Southern Queens)

Joe December 7, 2010 - 10:34 am

I’ve thought about using the Lower Montauk tracks for subway service before. I thought that, tied into the cleanup of the Newtown creek, service there could be great opportunity for new development. The ROW does run alongside a lot of cemeteries so the there are some spots where the coverage area will suck, but it still goes through an underserved area. In my dream the subway then continued under Union Turnpike, allowing a transfer with the EF and going further into Kew Gardens and St. John’s University. But I hadn’t figured out a good way to connect the line into the existing system.

Farro December 7, 2010 - 10:37 am

I figured it would just continue to the Archer Ave line to form connections there.

St. John’s could be covered by a 7 extension

Farro December 7, 2010 - 10:43 am

However, the Archer Ave line would probably have to be extended to 179th and Hillside, since it can’t even handle the traffic it has, while 179th can handle more trains than any other terminal.

SEAN December 7, 2010 - 12:38 pm

Speaking of 179th & Hillside, an extention of the F eastward toward Nassau County could be an incredible way to revive a dorment area of Jamaica that already has a lot of transit service.

You maybe able to do the same with the E along Archer as well, however Hillside has better transit connections.

Farro December 7, 2010 - 1:06 pm

For the E, I would go w/ the original Archer Ave plan that sends it down the LIRR to Rosedale via Laurelton…

John December 7, 2010 - 1:21 pm

If they did a line paralleling Lower Montauk via the 63rd Street connector (similar to the WMATA’s Red Line in Montgomery County), they might as well add a connector for the LIRR tracks from both Penn and Grand Central to get over to the Lower Montauk, which would relieve pressure on the impending new bottleneck, between Sunnyside and the splits to Hell’s Gate and the Port Washington line east of Woodside, where track capacity is going to limit the number of trains that can be funneled into Manhattan. That would add two additional tracks inbound or outbound each day for trains headed to Jamaica, along with opening Maspeth and Middle Village to more direct midtown service than they have now with the M train.

As for the Second Avenue jug handle, I suppose having Sheldon Silver as the area’s rep means if funding is ever found for the Second Avenue extension south of 63rd, it’s going to be in the mix, though if you only have the T serving Second Avenue south of 63rd Street, a detour of almost a half-mile east to Avenue C would defeat the whole purpose of the extension, to get east side riders quickly from Lower Manhattan to midtown and the UES. (In subway fantasyland, if you did have a route coming in from 63rd Street plus the T coming from 125, you could split off one of the routes just south of 14th to serve the Lower East Side, but then tie the line into the Rutgers tunnel somewhere around East Broadway to run with the F to Brooklyn. That would both supply the coverage for the LES and at the same time create the much-sought for second line through northwest Brooklyn that would finally allow the MTA to run Culver Express Service from Jay Street to Church Avenue.)

Farro December 7, 2010 - 1:32 pm

I wasn’t thinking parallelling the lower montauk–I was thinking ON the lower montauk, though that could probably be done too…

Jonathan December 7, 2010 - 10:35 am

Don’t forget Cap’n Transit’s insight: building subway service parallel to highway improvements is a recipe for failure of the subway. In order to convert the LIRR Atlantic Branch into a successful Manhattan-bound subway, Atlantic Avenue and Eastern Parkway should be trimmed to one auto lane in each direction (buses could get their own lane, I imagine).

Eric F. December 7, 2010 - 10:48 am

I hope you are never in an ambulance going down a one lane Atlantic Avenue.

The blue and red lines in Chicago run smack down highway medians and seem to work pretty well.

Farro December 7, 2010 - 10:56 am

I certainly don’t see why you cant’ have both…

Christopher December 7, 2010 - 11:26 am

Actually those outer stations don’t do well in Chicago. They also do nothing to encourage better neighborhood design. It’s about placemaking, urban transit helps nit together our cities, highways and rail in the middle of highways rips them apart.

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 12:11 pm

The higher-ridership segment of the Red Line is the one that’s not on a highway median; it has the highest ridership of any segment or line in Chicago.

Christopher December 7, 2010 - 3:05 pm

Well that’s not entirely surprising as it runs through the very dense, walkable neighborhoods on the North Side where the upper income residents are more likely to commute to white collar jobs in the Loop. The Red Line in the median is far away from South Side population centers which were only made less dense and people oriented by the flight and community destroying that the expressway itself encouraged.

Eric F. December 7, 2010 - 3:45 pm

And now many of those areas are gentrifying again. Is that gentrification facilitated by highway access? It strikes me that transit absolutists are way to quick to blame the car for generations of failed social policy. The same highway runs through wealthy areas ond poor areas. It’s not the road that’s the variable here.

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 3:54 pm

Actually, the highway generally doesn’t run through wealthy inner-urban neighborhoods, which have nothing like, say, the Cross-Bronx Expressway. Part of it is that Moses didn’t even try to pick a fight with neighborhoods like the Upper East Side, but another part is that neighborhoods that successfully fought off the freeways, like the Village, subsequently gentrified.

Bolwerk December 8, 2010 - 1:03 am

I think a lot of the blame for “gentrification” can be blamed on economics. Measured by the platitudes of modern economics, upscale Manhattan real estate is some of the most desirable in the world, which implies to some extent that (safer) Manhattan lifestyles are very, very desirable. By a combination of developmental, geographical, political, zoning, economic, technological, and (paradoxically) cultural factors, that kind of housing just isn’t created anymore. Of course, parts of Harlem and Williamsburg gentrified in response, since architecturally and functionally, they’re pretty close substitutes if they have similar socioeconomic and cultural actors in them.

Of course you can believe the platitudes of postwar planning if you prefer: Manhattan is only expensive because it’s so gawdawful inefficient, and there’s no way in hell anyone could possibly want to live there.

(Also, “gentrification” is a terrible term. “Bourgeoisification” is more what it should be called.)

Alon Levy December 8, 2010 - 1:27 am

Today’s gentry is the bourgeoisie. The older term is perfectly fine.

Bolwerk December 9, 2010 - 12:29 am

You may have it backwards. Today’s bourgeoisie is the former gentry.

Jonathan December 7, 2010 - 12:19 pm

Eric, presumably the ambulance could use the bus lane. Also, in the reality-based world, there’s not much reason to take an ambulance on Atlantic Ave. Interfaith is basically the only hospital on Atlantic, but it’s not a trauma center. Anyone who is coding in Central Brooklyn would go to Kings County or Brookdale, neither of which are on Atlantic.

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 12:25 pm

The EMT blog I sometimes read mentions one case in which the blogger used Atlantic to get to a patient who called 911. A car crashed into the ambulance and the ambulance toppled, nearly killing the EMTs.

Joe December 7, 2010 - 11:28 am

That’s not the real problem with the Atlantic Branch, at least in Brooklyn. The bigger problem is the 4 track Fulton Street line is one block away, Atlantic avenue is already within the coverage area of the subway.

John December 7, 2010 - 1:28 pm

A subway down the median of a highway works only in outer areas, where you create large park-rides from people coming off the highway to continue the rest of their trip into the city by rail. That’s how WAMTA set up the Orange Line along I-66 in Virginia, and how presumably they’re going to handle the outer stations along the Silver Line going to Dulles Airport and the Leesburg area via Highway 267 (Dulles Toll Road).

For stations closer to the center of the city, where people are either walking or taking buses to the subway stops, a line in the median of a highway is not very appealing or practical. Better to bury it a level or two below the highway to at least get passengers away from the exhaust fumes and the weather.

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 2:32 pm

Yes, and those suburban park-and-rides are for the most part a disaster. WMATA works because it has enough stations that aren’t like that; in the inner parts of Northern Virginia, the more urban layout of Metro spurred infill development that is now nationally renowned.

For a good example of what happens to park-and-ride, freeway median-oriented subways, look to BART. A comparison of BART and Metro is favorable to the more urban system.

John December 7, 2010 - 4:16 pm

I wouldn’t call Vienna a failure due to the Orange Line running down the center median (or the not-quite-the-same Shady Grove off of I-370 on the Red Line that parallels the MARTA line to Fredrick), except that WMATA sadly underestimated the growth of the northern and western suburbs of Washington in Virginia and Maryland. D.C. may be a ‘northeastern’ city, but its pattern of suburban growth since 1976 has more closely mirrored that of southern and western sprawl cities like Atlanta, Dallas or Phoenix, where the car has determined growth patterns, with rail then introduced as a way to cut the traffic mess. Other cities that developed earlier, like New York, had their suburban travel patterns determined more by commuter rail during the first part of the 20th Century (though obviously the post-WW II highways also contributed to suburban sprawl away from the rail lines).

Stations near major highways in the outlying areas, if they have adequate parking, allow drivers to travel in to a certain point and then transfer to rail (strong enforcement of rush hour HOV rules, as has been the case since I-66 was completed, provided added motivation not to drive all the way into the city). It’s when you fail to either expand your parking or extend the lines as the suburbs get more congested that you run into problems, because drivers get frustrated that there’s no in-close parking and decide the extra driving is less irritating than either a long search for a space or a long walk to the station.

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 7:41 pm

When you orient a subway around park-and-rides, you’re going to get low ridership; you’d hardly get non-commuter traffic. That’s why BART is such an underperformer. The Washington Metro’s mixture of urban rail with some suburban tails with park-and-rides has worked much better, giving fast-growing Washington a transit mode share that’s in a near-tie with Chicago’s and San Francisco’s for second highest in the US. In that way, urban rail turns the suburbs into an extension of the city, instead of the opposite.

The best cases of TOD in Washington have for the most part not been at highway-median stations; they’ve been at underground stations in Northern Virginia. There are some exceptions, like Silver Spring, but Arlington and Alexandria’s TOD has been generally stronger than Maryland’s.

Best practice I know of for postwar greenfield rail construction is in Calgary, which despite being a low-density sprawlburb beats every US metro area except New York in transit mode share, and has world-class cost control. There, two of the three light rail branches run in the medians of arterial roads (one runs next to a railroad), but the city configured the bus system to feed light rail and limited park-and-ride construction, for cost reasons.

Farro December 7, 2010 - 10:06 pm

Last I checked DC’s was the second-highest in the nation?

(Though the lexington ave line still has more ridership)

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 10:10 pm

DC is second in the highest for total ridership on one network. If you look at total transit mode share, then number two is Chicago or SF (excluding Silicon Valley), with DC (excluding Baltimore) close behind.

Farro December 7, 2010 - 10:51 am

Another random idea: submerge the Brooklyn Broadway line until Myrtle Ave, connecting it w/ G at Broadway, and give it two express tracks there. Branch the Utica Ave line off the line after Myrtle Ave…

Christopher December 7, 2010 - 11:28 am

There definitely needs to be more North Brooklyn subway connections. A replacement for the lost Myrtle Avenue L. Another connection South Williamsburg and South Bushwick and Bed-Stuy.

petey December 7, 2010 - 11:25 am

jet packs. we need jet packs.

otherwise, east side access is my fantasy, and it’s becoming reality.

under no circumstances should the atlantic avenue LIRR be made a part of the subway system. but i agree with farro and joe that the montauk branch could be revived.

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 12:00 pm

While we’re on the subject of fantasy maps

Bolwerk December 7, 2010 - 1:15 pm

That just shows me a view of the USA.

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 2:33 pm

Shit. Sorry. Here is the actual map.

BrooklynBus December 7, 2010 - 12:05 pm

It’s nice to dream, but most likely there will never be money for most of these projects. But what about service gaps in our bus system which are very easy to fix and are far less costly. Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about fixing those?

Just one example, why can’t there be bus service along the length of Fort Hamilton Parkway to serve Maimonides Hospital? This has been needed for 70 years. Yet the MTA refuses to spend the few dollars it would cost to operate, never considering additional revenue a new bus line would generate. So why would they spend money to fix rail service gaps unless the interests of big real estate are involved like the #7 extension?

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 12:23 pm

The 7 extension is a Bloomberg project, not an MTA project. It’s epic enough a fail that you should assign correct blame for it.

Christopher December 7, 2010 - 3:07 pm

When it’s completed I think we’ll question that assessment. It will proved to beneficial to development in Manhattan. Just like the original 7 line through fields in Queens benefitted the growth and development of Queens. (Although in today’s parlance that would be intra-city sprawl.)

BrooklynBus December 7, 2010 - 5:21 pm

That’s the only reason it is being built so Bloomberg’s friends can make a windfall. It has nothing to do with helping the riders, although it will do that.

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 7:45 pm


At the time the 7 was built, Queens was already growing at 100% per decade. It was inevitable that it would develop. Despite the subway builders’ pretension of spurring suburban development, in reality the subway was built so slowly it barely kept up with the city’s growth.

Of all the places in New York to build a mile of subway, the 7 extension is practically the last priority.

BrooklynBus December 7, 2010 - 5:22 pm

Yes it is being built because of Bloomberg, but it is still being built by the MTA even if the City is paying for it.

Bolwerk December 7, 2010 - 1:00 pm

Because buses aren’t less costly? They’re simply available with a lower upfront cost.

Besides that, any service change the MTA makes is probably difficult to implement thanks to the rash of public hearings and institutional resistance to common sense.

John Paul N. December 7, 2010 - 4:12 pm

We both know the MTA resists experimental bus reroutings if it’s not necessitated by NYCDOT changes or if it doesn’t think it benefits passengers. Better transparency in MTA bus rerouting decisions, in favor or against, is at the top of my wishlist. I always cite SEPTA as having a good model for bus change transparency, but then again, they are required to provide its analysis to the public by law.

I rarely hear community boards and City Council members proposing bus changes. They are the people who would raise the most influential awareness.

Eric F. December 7, 2010 - 12:33 pm

Driving through Brooklyn is truly one of Dante’s circles of hell. One of my many line drawing exercises is to make Ocean Avenue a below grade parkway up to Prospect Park, and make a true greenway at ground level with some local vehicle capacity retained.

Max S. (WilletsPoint-SheaStadium) December 7, 2010 - 12:53 pm

One place I could definitely see some expansion of rail use would be adding a light rail in the center lanes of Woodhaven/Cross Bay Boulevard. Currently, the road is served by various local and limited buses (Q11, Q53, Q21, etc), and has three subway stations intersecting with the boulevard. This is also a very unsafe road with people traveling at high speeds, and would be a great candidate to become a “complete street”, with a light rail in the middle, with a bike lane next to it then three lanes in each direction. It would connect the M/R at Woodhaven Boulevard, the J/Z at Woodhaven Boulevard, and the A at Rockaway Boulevard stations and really help intra-borough transit.

Farro December 7, 2010 - 1:11 pm

Here’s my random fantasy map:

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 2:34 pm

The link just zooms to New York to me, with no map.

Farro December 7, 2010 - 9:39 pm

Strange, seems to be working for other people…

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 10:03 pm

Try to go to the map, click the link right above it that says “link” and post the URL. I think that’s the only way it works for everyone.

Farro December 7, 2010 - 10:05 pm

That’s exactly what I did, and the link works for other people. But just for the sake of tyring again…


Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 10:12 pm

Nope. The URL includes just the coordinates and zoom level, with no map ID.

Or am I being stupid and the point of your link is to show your fantasy map is empty (i.e. no new lines)?

Farro December 7, 2010 - 10:18 pm

No, you’re not. Google maps is acting up.

Try this:

Farro December 7, 2010 - 10:24 pm

It seems the only way you can access it is to right click that link, choose “copy link location” and then search for it in google maps.

Farro December 7, 2010 - 10:29 pm

Okay, now i see what’s wrong. I compiled everythign into one big map (b/c it’s huge and otherwise you have to go through pages), but it seems what hyou need to do is first see the original, then you can see it with the link to the big map.

First this one:

And if you don’t want to deal w/ pages, you can look at this one afterwards:

Alon Levy December 7, 2010 - 10:48 pm

Ah. Now I can see it.

But I don’t think it’s very good. A lot of the extensions are not even worth frequent buses. Who needs a subway under West Street, where half the station radius is wasted on fish, or a circuitous run like Lower Montauk to SAS via 63rd? And conversely, some important connections, like the 6 to Coop City and Triboro to Yankee Stadium and near the Hub, are missing.

Anon December 7, 2010 - 7:20 pm Reply
smartone December 9, 2010 - 2:42 pm

The Ave A entrance for L Train is a no brainer
why hasn’t this been built yet???

Joe Lambert January 10, 2015 - 2:58 pm

It would be more economically feasible to extend the Nostrand Avenue Line to Kings Plaza than to construct a subway line under Utica Avenue. That would however require the closing of three stations south of Church Avenue for a few years for rebuilding of the Flatbush Avenue station’s platforms.

Another much more economically feasible solution is to convert the B41 and B46 buses to Select Bus Service routes.

qolspony December 19, 2016 - 2:16 pm

Rogers connection fixed. Extend the #2 and 5 (or 3/4) to Avenue Z via Nostrand Avenue from Flatbush Avenue. 5 Underground peak express created for stops Church Avenue, Flatbush Avenue and Kings Highway.

3 (or 2) to Far Rockaway extended from Utica Avenue via Utica Avenue and Flatbush Avenue over Memorial Parkway Bridge. Stops: Winthroop Avenue, Church Avenue, Avenue D, Avenue D, Avenue H, Avenue K, Avenue N, Avenue U (Kings Plaza), Bell Harbor, Rockaway Park (taking over the IND “A” Line).

4 Peak Express to Far Rockaway Rush Hours to Far Rockaway and other times when 3 is not running.

4 to New Lots extended to Howard Beach JFK.

“A” Trancated to a newly constructed Hammels station. This will replace the Beach 90th Street Station.

This officially provides two rail routes out of the Rockaways, which is very much needed.


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