Home Second Avenue Subway GUYS, the Second Ave. Subway is really far underground, and The Times is ON IT

GUYS, the Second Ave. Subway is really far underground, and The Times is ON IT

by Benjamin Kabak

Who needs subway ventilation grates when we’ve got this to look forward to instead?

One of the dirty little not-so-secrets about the latest round of MTA construction concerns just how far underground everything is. East Side Access checks in at a depth of 180 feet; the 7 line extension will be around 80 feet deep; and the Second Ave. Subway stations around the same. As a comparison, some of the original IRT stops were a flight of stairs below the surface.

As a practical and operation matter, these depths mean lots and lots of escalators. The MTA will install fancy escalators at the end of the 7 line that are at an incline. They’ll install 47 escalators to deliver folks from the absurdly deep East Side Access cavern with travel times long enough to catch up on sleep, eat lunch or read a book. The Second Ave. Subway will also have escalators but clearly not to the same extent as the deepest of the deep.

New Yorkers aren’t used to these escalators in the same way as, say, subway riders in Washington and underground riders in London are. Our system is close to the surface with stays. Much of the system predates escalators, and at those stations that have them, constant maintenance problems seem to crop up. And anyway aren’t we all too impatient for a slow-moving staircase?

These deep stations will be a bit a shock to the system for those of us used to sub-surface transit being only a flight or two downstairs. Even the four-level descent to the 6th Ave. line at West 4th St. will seem a bit tame by comparison, and so instead of covering the why — why are we building such deep subways anyway? — The Times has taken human interest transit stories to a new level. These new subway stations will have no grates, Sam Roberts has discovered.

For nearly 110 years, since the advent of underground trains in New York City, the metal sidewalk grates have been about much more than mundane natural ventilation for miles of subterranean subway tunnels. They have become urban artifacts, all 39,000 of them. They are the bane of women in high heels; a place for flicking cigarette butts, for expectorating chewing gum or for dropping valuables; a source of warmth to ward off a stiff winter’s wind; and a frightening opening to detour around.

But when the first phase of the Second Avenue subway makes its debut in 2016 — the first major expansion of the system in over half a century — these familiar, if unappealing, pieces of the city’s streetscape will be missing. Instead of flowing naturally from sidewalk grates, air will be pumped in and out of mechanical ventilating towers near every air-conditioned station, said Michael Horodniceanu, the president of capital construction for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “No more heel problems,” Dr. Horodniceanu said.

In addition to breaking heels, grates are for … avoiding, because they emit the unmistakably dank smell of the city’s underbelly or because they may seem more rickety than a cracked concrete sidewalk. They give way on the rarest of occasions, especially ones in the road that are rattled by heavy vehicles. In 1988, a woman getting out of a taxicab in Brooklyn fell through a grate to the tracks 50 feet below; officials said the grate had been weakened by cars driving over it during road repairs.

It’s truly hard to grow nostalgic over subway grates, but somehow, Roberts has accomplished just that. And yet, he doesn’t explore why the subways will be so deep as to make grates completely useless and completely necessary. But we should know, why? It’s because the MTA is constructing deep-bore subways so as not to risk the ire of a cut-and-cover NIMBYism. Much as how an elevated line will not see the light of day despite advances in engineering reducing the noise and blight, cut and cover and the disruptions it brings will never return to New York.

In exchange, we have billion-dollar station caverns and tunnel boring machines that chew through Manhattan schist. We have massive ventilation structures that will likely be architectural eyesores above street level as well, but hey, at least your keys and Marilyn Monroe’s dress are safe. That’s what counts, right?

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Justin Samuels October 1, 2013 - 12:58 am

We actually do have a new elevated train in the city. The Airtrain to JFK from Both Howard Beach and Jamaica. So new elevated lines are possible in the outer boroughs, especially if you use Expressway right of ways.

As for the deep bore construction, the utility relocation efforts damaged 4 buildings. Imagine how many other buildings could potentially be damaged if they were using cut and cover in such a densely built area? All and all, deep boring is probably safer in Manhattan these days.

Bolwerk October 1, 2013 - 7:53 am

We can presumably build elevateds in the wilderness too, but the problem with highways and wildernesses is the same: lack of riders.

Re a few more damaged buildings: it’s worth it if it saves a few billion dollars. There is no reason we would need to damage more buildings than we did in 1904.

Jeff October 1, 2013 - 9:49 am

Cut and cover saves nothing in dollar amounts. There’s a reason why tunnel boring is so common in modern tunnel construction and its because it basically automates a lot of the process.

With the amount of existing utilities under Manhattan, cut-and-cover is essentially cost and time prohibitive for a full subway line due to the amount of labor required, all the utility coordination/relocations, and shoring up building foundations you need to do.

Bolwerk October 1, 2013 - 9:59 am

More likely the reason boring is so popular is it doesn’t save. The boring takes longer and keeps employees longer, while hardly eliminating the need for foundation work or utility relocation. Construction surely unions love that, the TA is rather indifferent, politicians get to say they accomplished something, and bondholders get to buy bonds.

The losers are the riders, who get a crappier commute, but what do they matter?

Jeff October 1, 2013 - 11:55 am

Seriously, is it that hard to wait 2 more minutes on an escalator?

You underestimate the amount of utilities that have entered our streets in the last 100 years. Its true that they’ve had to relocate some utilities due to TBM. But that’s a miniscule FRACTION of the amount they would need to relocate in cut and cover.

And I’m sure the MTA would LOVE to risk additional liability and litigation costs from potential structural failures in the name of cost-cutting.

What you are proposing is completely impractical this day and age. Plain and simple.

Bolwerk October 1, 2013 - 12:58 pm

A lot of that reeks of the same kind of odious argument the TWU makes when it says trains should be slowed down for everyone’s safety. Additional liability? Huh? If anything, cut and cover is safer. Yes, I get that people’s time isn’t important, but two minutes out of tens of thousands of people’s days is a lot of time that could be used productively. At more than 100′ with crowding, that two minutes probably can be more like 10 minutes.

And, no, I’m not underestimating anything. There are utilities and there is other transport infrastructure, for the most part we know what and where it is, and we can presumably go around it at least sometimes. Ditto building foundations. We know when we absolutely need to bore and when we don’t.

Henry October 1, 2013 - 4:37 pm

It’d be very interesting to see what the tunneling costs of other transit projects would be – most New York area costs are station related, so it’s not like all of that is due to cut and cover vs deep bore (we’d still be cutting open giant caverns anyways).

Jeff October 1, 2013 - 9:41 am

Using a TBM is also much less labor intensive than mining or cut and cover construction, so with labor costs as high as they are in modern days there are possible financial benefits too (though deep cavern stations tend to add back cost)

Bolwerk October 1, 2013 - 10:09 am

A two-bit construction company can dig a trench in a matter of hours. Boring takes years to finish, and far fewer construction firms have the expertise to operate a TBM. Even if construction crew sizes can be reduced, which is probably true outside of New York, it still takes much longer and costs more.

BoerumHillScott October 1, 2013 - 11:21 am

Any company can dig a trench right through power lines, dozens of communications cables, steam lines, gas lines, water lines, and sewer lines in a matter of hours.
Doing it without disrupting everything takes considerably longer.

The nature of what is under city streets has changed in the last 100 years.

Almost no one in the world is doing cut and cover between stations.

Bolwerk October 1, 2013 - 1:09 pm

Except much, probably most, of that infrastructure was there by the 1930s, when we were still doing cut and cover.

The major difference nowadays is not wanting to disrupt NIMBYs or Jeff while he’s yelling “tough luck!” at poor people from his Hummer.

BoerumBum October 1, 2013 - 2:32 pm
Bolwerk October 1, 2013 - 3:36 pm

Cute, but proves nothing. There aren’t the same kind of spectacular pictures for rather obvious reasons, but casualties are practically a given in deep boring and mining. At least the latter often necessitate using explosives in a confined space.

Alon Levy October 3, 2013 - 1:48 am

Vancouver built most of the Canada Line tunnel cut-and-cover. The merchants hated it, the residents hated it, and it wasn’t even done by the city but by the PPP concessionaire, but it saved money.

Bolwerk October 3, 2013 - 5:21 pm

It can be done in short weeks-to-months-long stages, spreading the pain evenly over a long distance.

It should be like Death, neither rich nor poor escape!

Stephen Smith October 1, 2013 - 2:11 pm

You seem to be forgetting the massive station caverns necessary to get passengers down to the bored tunnels. If it were just a utility tunnel, it would be a no-brainer – go with TBMs every time, they’re super cheap. But unlike fiber optic cables or water tubes, people actually need to get in and out of the subway once every half-mile or so.

Bolwerk October 1, 2013 - 3:30 pm

In fairness, that at least seems like it can be partly alleviated by wide enough tunnels close enough to the surface.

And NYC does seem to want to overbuild stations significantly. But then, we seem to have unusually wide and long trains for a subsurface route.

Henry October 1, 2013 - 3:52 pm

You would’ve thought New York would’ve learned from the mistakes of building full-length mezzanines. It isn’t necessarily the width and length of trains, it’s the fact that we feel the need to build caverns, instead of the connected tubes and access points more common in other countries.

al October 3, 2013 - 4:25 pm

Check out the giant TBMs. It totally eliminates the need for caverns. The stations are shafts and head houses and platforms instead of a second set of tracks. TBM with 3 Moles bolted horizontally together exist. The middle bore is the platform/maintenance/equipment/emergency access space. The outer 2 are for tracks.




By the way the 14.4m (47ft) diameter hard rock TBM “Big Becky” might be available. The project was completed in March 2013.



John October 1, 2013 - 1:16 am

I suppose the escalators for the 7 entrance near Third Avenue and 42nd Street and maybe 1-2 other spots are the only things currently in operation that close to what passengers at the new stations will experience. I just hope the MTA was smart enough to put redundancy into the system when it comes to the banks of escalators, based on the WMATA experience, or sometime in the next decade we’ll start hearing about how great the older stations close to street level are, because they’re not nightmares to access when the escalators break down.

BoerumBum October 1, 2013 - 10:47 am

Given the descriptions, I’m picturing the E/M Station at Lexington/53rd

John-2 October 1, 2013 - 11:27 am

Any access point without at least three escalators and one decent-width set of stairs is just asking for trouble down the line. The MTA will no doubt make sure the mechanical parts are up and running on Day 1, but as the Bleecker-Houston transfer point escalators showed, Day 2 and beyond can be another story, and anyone who’s dealt with one of the WMATA deep tunnel stations that has even one of it’s escalators broken knows access to the deep stations becomes totally farked when the mechanical stairs fail (with the biggest problems being the long ones which are exposed to the elements at street level).

Henry October 1, 2013 - 3:53 pm

Roosevelt Island is a more apt comparison – three escalators, with stairwells alongside.

Serge October 1, 2013 - 2:44 am

Please list these measurements in metric as well. Thank you.

kevd October 3, 2013 - 1:55 pm

Oh, I found it in meters!

Bolwerk October 1, 2013 - 7:49 am

Deep bores: yet another symptom of not caring about riders, their needs, nor their time. Maybe we’ll learn from this and the next generation can start doing subway construction correctly again. Second Avenue will be forever deficient though.

John-2 October 1, 2013 - 8:22 am

If they ever build it, Phase II of SAS will have to have some cut-and-cover, if only to connect the deep bore parts at both ends to the cut-and-cover tunnels built by the MTA along upper Second Avenue 40 years ago. And if they do open it, riders will have a “contrast and compare” example between the deep bore stations at 72nd, 86th and 96th, and the shallow tunnel stations that would be installed at 106th and 116th streets (125th and Lex is a special case, since the line has to go at least four levels below the street in order to get under the IRT’s 1215th Street station — even if they had built it 40 years ago, it would have been a deep tunnel stop).

My guess is you’ll see some additional protests by area residents when the wooden street planks make their triumphant return to Manhattan, complaining that the MTA cares more about the richer residents south of 96th Street because the street excavations in certain spots north of 96th will be more expansive. But in the end, Phase II riders will get better – or at least more easily accessible — stations than the WMATA deep cavern clones Phase I SAS riders will forever have to deal with.

Bolwerk October 1, 2013 - 9:22 am

I don’t see much need to study this one. We know climbing ten flights of stairs was harder than climbing one flight of stairs, and we have plenty of deep stations to compare if we need to.

Jeff October 1, 2013 - 11:56 am

There are things known as escalators and elevators that can help with that.

And if they don’t work… Tough luck. Get on an exercise bike and get in shape.

Bolwerk October 1, 2013 - 1:07 pm

Yes, it’s tough luck that something is more expensive and less useful by design. The important part is paying someone to build/operate it, and then to continue paying ’em when they relocate to Florida. The people who depend on it should just suffer like the worthless pieces of crap they are!

Jerrold October 1, 2013 - 1:49 pm

Jeff, you must be young and strong.
But you won’t be that way forever.
Let’s see if you are still ridiculing the need for elevators and escalators a few decades from now.

BruceNY October 2, 2013 - 1:53 am

Today I took the F train to 63rd & Lex. (Lower level Queens-bound track). You have to take four separate escalator rides from platform to street level (which makes for a shorter walk when one inevitably breaks down) and I timed it from the time I stepped on to the time I stepped off at the station entrance: 3 minutes, 19 seconds (including walking from one escalator to the next). It feels interminable when you’re riding ever upwards, but it turned out to take less time then I imagined.

Alon Levy October 3, 2013 - 1:52 am

I think it always takes less time than passengers imagine – passengers perceive waiting, transferring, and access and egress time to take longer than in-motion time. The first time I used Chatelet-Les Halles, I guessed it took 15 minutes to transfer from the RER A to Metro Line 7; the second time I actually timed it and it took 8, and I didn’t walk any faster.

The issue is that passengers make decisions based on perceived time rather than actual time, so the disutility of the time it takes to ride up on the escalators is more than 3:19. If it’s equivalent to 5:45, which is in line with the MTA ridership model’s transfer and waiting penalty factor of 1.75, then it’s equivalent to lengthening a 30-minute train ride to 35:45, which is nontrivial.

Bolwerk October 3, 2013 - 5:40 pm

Pretty sure I’ve seen studies backing that up.

Still, 3m isn’t just 3m. It’s 3m on top of other minutes lost elsewhere, including walking to/from stations and normal variance in transfers. That’s ignoring extra time/burden for older people or people carrying things. It’s not just an abstraction, but real frustration, real stress, and real time out of people’s day being spent.

Every small thing we can do to save people’s time adds up, and in this case there isn’t even a negative trade-off except some entitled complainers don’t want to deign to let a subway being built inconvenience them.

Matthijs October 1, 2013 - 9:25 am

I wouldn’t say deep-bore will be worse for riders per se.

The Moscow Metro has almost only extremely deep stations, but it’s the best (and most-used) system in the world.

I think because the escalators are all built with three together (so one may break down) and they’re quite fast, it’s bearable. Then the time you lost nonetheless is made up for by extremely high frequency and high speed of the trains.

Bolwerk October 1, 2013 - 10:06 am

Longer trips to deeper stations? All things being equal, it’s worse. I don’t see how this can be debated. There are certainly good reasons to do deep bores, but pleasing NIMBYs ain’t one of them.

As I understand Moscow, it has deep stations for geological reasons. Not sure why it’s supposedly the best system in the world, but then I’m wary of these kinds of labels – the best system is the best considering the conditions at hand, and Second Avenue didn’t need deep boring.

Henry October 1, 2013 - 3:56 pm

It runs extremely frequently, for what it’s worth. It definitely moves the most people, however.

As per why most stations are super deep, it has at least something to do with the Cold War and the need for atomic bomb shelters.

How deep is 63rd St, anyways? Is that close enough to the ground that building a connection to it with cut and cover would’ve been feasible?

Jerrold October 1, 2013 - 4:28 pm

Let’s not forget that in order to build the 63rd St. line, they had to tunnel under BOTH levels of the Lexington IRT and all of the railroad tracks under Park Ave.

Picture the 59th St./Lexington Ave. station of the 4, 5, and 6.
The 4/5 express station was added many years after that line was built. Originally, the expresses went nonstop from Grand Central to 86th St. through that deep tunnel.

So the 63rd St. line had to go underneath ALL of those existing tunnels.

Bolwerk October 1, 2013 - 4:38 pm

Seems 63rd was designed to accommodate the SAS on top of a connection to Queens, so boring seems to make a lot of sense in this case. Wikipedia cites two NY Times articles from the past that say it was built with a mix of cut and cover and tunneling, and one of the articles imply NIMBY complaining (sounds familiar!). I’m too lazy to pull the articles on Lexis-Nexis, and the NY Times wants to charge us for them, but if anyone is curious I can do it and report back.

nytimes subscriber who gets old articles free October 1, 2013 - 6:27 pm

“This manmade cavern, blasted and excavated…”

“The next section…between Park and third avenues…vigorous complaints by residents…who object to so much ‘open-cut’ construction” – the cut and cover for this section was the subject of the court case/protests/sit-ins mentioned in the second article.

“The main delay in completing the Manhattan-Jamaica line via 63rd street will be in finishing the 5.8 mile section called the ‘superexpress’ bypass along the Long Island Railroad right of way between Sunnyside and Forest Hills in Queens.”

“The line will initially terminate at South Road in Jamaica. But the city and Transit Authority have plans to continue it southeastward to Springfield Gardens in the 1980’s.”

Fun read.

Alon Levy October 1, 2013 - 10:41 pm

It runs extremely frequently, for what it’s worth. It definitely moves the most people, however.

That’s not actually true. For a while it was the busiest if you treated Tokyo Metro and Toei as separate and didn’t count commuter rail networks. Tokyo’s two subway systems combined have way more ridership, and Seoul’s various subway networks combined have also overtaken Moscow.

tacony palmyra October 1, 2013 - 12:00 pm

The MTA’s load guidelines and safety speed limits seem to imply that it wishes to run the lowest frequency and slowest speed of trains possible so as not to over-crowd the stations and trains. “If trains aren’t crowded enough, we should be running less of them” seems to be the mentality. So I wouldn’t count of high frequencies to counteract deep-bored stations.

I live off the 4/5/6 partially because its busyness guarantees that the MTA is forced to run trains frequently. Some of those off-peak frequencies on the B-division on weekends are pretty brutal and make travel really inconvenient outside of rush hour, especially if you want to run a quick errand somewhere. You can do that on the 6 because it’s frequent and right near the surface.

People in DC don’t use the Metro to run a quick errand on the weekend. If they leave their neighborhood it’s for a big deal. I don’t want to live in DC!

BruceNY October 2, 2013 - 1:49 am

Have to agree with you regarding weekend service. Given the choice between the F at 63rd St., or the N & R at 60th St., I always choose the N/R as I can be relatively certain that the wait time will probably be less than half. The Lexington (A Division) I find can actually be rather unpredictable on weekends due to so many service changes however.

Colin October 1, 2013 - 8:25 am

This is the best headline youve ever written.

DF October 1, 2013 - 8:31 am

You would enjoy @nytonit, a Twitter account also run by our host.

llqbtt October 1, 2013 - 9:05 am


llqbtt October 1, 2013 - 9:03 am

I read the NYT article where esle but on the train this morning of course. It struck me as odd, and it’s not a slow news day either. And now reading this article, the NYT article infers that the subway will be immediately below the surface, just like the older lines. The piece does not at all state, hint, point out whatever, that the reason is not because of the tunnel depth but simply a more ‘modern’ approach to subway construction.

The homeless lady was a trip though…

The escalator speed worries me. Our escalators are liability/risk reducingly numbingly slow. That is going to become very frustrating very quickly. That plus the failure/repair record of the escalators. In Prague, the deep subway caverns have fast moving escalators, and that’s what’s needed here.

Matthias October 1, 2013 - 10:14 am

I was going to say the same thing–deep stations don’t have to be inconvenient if the escalators are reliable and move at a reasonable speed. Compare the escalators in London with the ones in DC. London also uses one-way corridors which could help a lot here.

Eric Brasure October 1, 2013 - 12:27 pm

Yes, this. NYC subway elevators run sloooooowly compared with many other transit systems. I don’t know why, but I assume it’s a strange safety regulation quirk.

Matthias October 1, 2013 - 12:22 pm

That huge vent structure is an amazing waste of street frontage. Isn’t there a way to integrate some retail space?

SEAN October 1, 2013 - 11:01 am

I’m a little surprised that noone has mentioned just how deep the Roosevelt Island station is. It’s only access is via several escalators or large elevators.

Outside of Moscow, the deepest subway station in North America is not technicly a subway station. If you can believe it, it’s the Washington Park stop on TriMet’s MAX. The station is inside a portion of the Robertson Tunnel in the West Hills. Access is via four high speed elevators.

Jerrold October 1, 2013 - 5:53 pm

In the stuff today for Second Ave. Sagas on Facebook, somebody posted a message saying that the deepest station (in the entire Western Hemisphere!) is a station in the Washington, D.C. system.

So I wonder who’s right.

SEAN October 1, 2013 - 8:01 pm

The station you’re thinking of is Wheaton on the Red Line. It has the single longest escalator in the western hemisphere, but, Washington Park is even deeper than Wheaton.

SEAN October 1, 2013 - 8:12 pm

From http://www.nycsubway.org.

Wheaton. Wheaton station lies deep beneath Georgia Avenue, at Reedie Drive, just north of the town center. Its escalators are the longest in the system, in fact, they are the longest in the western hemisphere at 230 feet in length, they take just over four minutes to ascend. There are two individual tubes, with single side platforms (doors opening on the left), and Arch III architecture. A corridor links the two platforms in the center of the station. There is a small parking lot with 250 spaces nearby. A number of bus lines feed the station as well. Wheaton station opened September 22, 1990. (Wheaton, however, is not the deepest station in North America, that honor goes to Portland’s Washington Park station.)

Rob October 1, 2013 - 12:18 pm

Will the ventilation building not have any retail fronting the street? Even building in a few feet for a newsstand or something would have been helpful. What a dead spot for the streetscape.

Spendmore Wastemore October 1, 2013 - 5:55 pm

Odd that there’s been no mention of the security issues. It would be easy to trap people deep underground, and use the rounded tunnels/cavern roofs carved through rock to act like walls of a pipe bomb. Instead of bursting outward, the blast would reflect back in, making each blast into multiple concussions. I’ll be the escalators are not hardened against mere vandalism, never mind an attack.

Obviously, whatever measures may or may not have been taken should not be published, but there’s no sign consideration for the issue. There are plenty of people in NYC who have a general anger at “the system”, the USA and so forth, that’s recruiting ground.

Henry October 1, 2013 - 9:15 pm

This is a non-issue – bombs went off in London’s tubes, which are far older (and smaller, so the blast would be more contained), but no such collapses occurred.

Back when there was a plot to blow up the PATH under the Hudson, NYPD predicted that had the bombs gone off, it would’ve been catastrophic, but it would not lead to the situation the plotters wanted (the tubes caving in and Hudson water flooding PATH and the WTC bathtub).

Spendmore Wastemore October 1, 2013 - 10:51 pm

Not worried about the tubes collapsing. I’m more concerned that i) the solid rock tunnel plus its shape would reflect the blast wave going outward back onto the patrons thus giving the attackers a free bonus hit and
ii) the escalators would be targeted, so they’d be trapped

Bolwerk October 2, 2013 - 2:17 pm

Yeah, hi, welcome to the 21st20th century. There is a mild threat of terrorism on a given day, and probably a high probability of terrorists hitting somewhere in the next decade. Science gives every one of us the means to kill lots and lots of people if we really want to. Surely precautions are in order, but nothing is 100%.

You’re still more likely to get run over by a curb jumper on a given day, and you live with it.

Alon Levy October 3, 2013 - 2:00 am

This can be improved by improving ventilation.

Also, at the risk of getting sidetracked by my usual hobbyhorse, large-diameter TBMs could help, because the tunnels would have much more area. I don’t know the physics of this but it seems to me that the blast pressure should be inversely proportional to tunnel cross-sectional area, whereas the cost of bored tunnels is in theory proportional to diameter and in practice much less than linear in diameter because large-diameter tunnels contain their own stations, saving money on cavern blasting.

Kai B October 1, 2013 - 7:21 pm

Oversights by the NYT article:

But when the first phase of the Second Avenue subway makes its debut in 2016 — the first major expansion of the system in over half a century

I guess the Queens expansions of the 1980s don’t count? The opening of at least six stations, two of them with four tracks, including a new under-river tunnel.

But when the Second Avenue subway starts rolling between East 63rd and 96th Streets, there will be no grates overhead. (The new South Ferry station, closed for post-Hurricane Sandy renovations, was the first without them, and they will be absent, too, when the shorter No. 7 line extension on the West Side of Manhattan opens next summer.)

There are plenty of stations near the East River that are already deep-bore. 53rd Street (E,M), High Street (A,C), Clark Street (3). And what about the deep stations in Washington Heights? These stations don’t have immediate ceiling grates either as far as I know. Additionally I believe the tunnels built under Central Park in the 1970s also use ventilation towers, along with 63rd/Lex, Roosevelt Island, and 21st Street – Queensbridge.

Henry October 1, 2013 - 9:16 pm

Archer Av was a replacement of the Jamaica El which existed previously, and the Queensbridge Line was seen as a failure until its connection to the QBL.

Paul October 2, 2013 - 1:30 pm

That’s because they were necessary, architecturally speaking. All the stations you mentioned (excluding Washington Heights stations) are near under-river tunnels. They need to be below ground because they are situated so close to the tunnel entrance. And because they were below ground, obviously they would need ventilation towers.

However, the point is whenever they could, the designers had the subway as close to street level as possible. This was originally so they could take advantage of natural ventilation and sunlight of the street (at least with the original IRT subway). In this and other ways, the builders designed the subway in a way that would be most practical in function.

In contrast, what the MTA is doing now is on many levels impractical. When there is no reason for doing so in terms of engineering, why are these stations being put so far under the ground to the point they need ventilation towers? It makes taking a subway more of a hassle than it needs to be, especially with the quality of MTA escalator and elevator maintenance. It’s also a waste of money and time, since a sizable part of the budget and many hours were probably spent to build towers that used to only be built near underwater tunnels, as well as stations which should be called deep-ground bunkers. It also goes against how the subway in design is supposed to blend in with the city; the way it’s done now, it feels like it imposes on the city.

Because of all of this, I agree with Mr. Kabak that this was probably due to NIMBYism of those who wish to have a subway near them while not willing to put up with temporary pain of visible construction; in other words, having your cake and eating it too. The way it was done during the building of the original subway was a fiasco, but cut-and-cover when done with more care and consideration can happen with much less disruption to normal life. However, the MTA either ignored that or didn’t care, bending over backwards and ballooning the subway budget hundredfold to have a subway that is practical only to the small but powerful voting blocs that they are trying to appease.

It is a shame and a disgrace, and in my view a sign of decline akin to the Roman Empire, when the somewhat petty interests of a powerful few dictate what will be done on the behalf of the public good.

Henry October 2, 2013 - 1:54 pm

Phase I would have to be at least partially bored, because a connection to the deep-level 63rd St Line was part of it. If you have a TBM (and they’re very expensive to find and sink into the ground), you might as well all the way.

Paul October 2, 2013 - 10:50 pm

I have no objection to that, because in that case there is a structural reason for having it so far underground.

My issue is that for apparently no reason structurally or architecturally speaking, they have the entire line deep underground, which I said before is impractical, inconvenient and a waste of time and money.

Nyland8 October 2, 2013 - 1:04 pm

All of these issues are tradeoffs. When one is contemplating TBM vs. C&C vs. tunnel mining, there are a lot of factors to consider – “What is the deepest point I’m going to be required to go to get under already existing infrastructure?”; “What amount of surface disruption am I going to be able to get away with?”; “What is the composition of the substrate I’ll be tunneling through?”; “What will my stations and connections be required to provide?”; “What are the complications in both time and money related to rerouting utilities vs. simply going under all of them?”

TBMs work best when they’re boring through the same stuff – in this case, Manhattan schist. If your TBM is too close to the surface, then you are running through alternating pockets of overburden, loose boulders and solid rock. If you are deep enough, then you’re in bedrock for the whole journey, which simplifies things, cuts costs and reduces downtime. In the right conditions,TBM doesn’t slow things down – it speeds things up. Running deep enough also allows you the freedom to run at night, because there is no noise or vibration for people to complain about.

It’s worth remembering that, under the right set of circumstances, we are all NIMBYs. Most of us on this site may be mass-transit advocates – I know I’m one – but how many of us own properties along 2nd Ave that have been adversely affected by construction along that route? It’s easy for us to say that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – unless we just happen to be among the few.

Bolwerk October 2, 2013 - 2:12 pm

NIMBY implies a chauvinistic attitude more than opposition to projects nearby. Reasonable people can be against SAS as a project or even as a concept, but they can’t be against subways in general.

A better term for what we call NIMBYs is actually BANANA: build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone.

Nyland8 October 5, 2013 - 7:15 am

Well … the definition of NIMBY is self-explanatory. It is what it says.

I like BANANA, though. I’ll use it when it applies.

But I make a distinction between NIMBYs and OIMBYs – Only In My Back Yard-ers – for people who, using economic, provincial, engineering, and other concocted pretexts, oppose expansion projects that don’t directly benefit them. You’ll find a lot of them bubble to the surface when topics like the benefits of running a cross-town subway over to Lautenberg are debated.

“Why do we need a subway to Jersey when MY neighborhood in Queens doesn’t have one yet? W-A-A-A-A !!! (sniffle) W-A-A-A-A !!”

Henry October 5, 2013 - 1:47 pm

Queens has been paying for the operations of the MTA through dedicated taxes for the past 45 years. New Jersey has not paid a single dime.

When North Jersey votes to tax itself to fund the MTA, we’ll be more than happy to pay for a subway extension out to the burbs while the urban area is not adequately covered.

Bolwerk October 5, 2013 - 2:42 pm

He’s right though. He didn’t say anything about who should pay for it, and it should be New Jersey. But there are plenty of people who will oppose it anyway.

Still, you can’t conflate NIMBYs with people who oppose projects in their own back yards for legitimate reasons. “It’s not cost effective” is an acceptable reason to oppose something. “But it brings black people here!” is not.

TransitGuy December 24, 2013 - 11:05 pm

Could “cut and cover” work for the Rockaway Beach Branch?

Nyland8 December 25, 2013 - 2:45 am

In theory, sure. But why?


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