Later this week, when I head off to France for my honeymoon, I’ll have a second opportunity in as many months to walk through one of the Archer Ave. Line stations in Jamaica. The E train will take me from Midtown Manhattan to Sutphin Boulevard on a schleppy ride that woulda-coudla-shoulda been faster had the Super Express plan every materialized, and I’ll head off to the AirTrain by strolling through a station that opened in late 1988 but somehow, less than three decades later, looks post-Apocalyptic. Somehow, we’re okay with ushering tourists into the New York City Subway by showcasing a station with water-stained walls, visibly dusty ceiling panels and inadequate exits.
In one sense, the Archer Ave. subway lines is a quirk of history. It was designed to be part of a large-scale ambitious late-1960s system expansion that the city still badly needs. Very few pieces of that plan survived, and the Archer Ave. subway line was one of them — mostly due to the fact that Jamaica residents wanted to get rid of the elevated lines running through their neighborhood. Thus, the then-newly born MTA prioritized Archer Ave., and what opened in 1988 is a sign of the agency’s struggles to build anything on time, on budget and with any sense of aesthetics.
In another sense, though, the Archer Ave. line is a clear sign that history is repeating. By delving into the archives of news coverage surrounding this subway line, we see some very clear patterns emerge. On October 23, 1973, work began on the Archer Ave. line — a three-stop extension of preexisting subway lines — and the MTA expected work to be completed by 1980 or 1981. Initially, the agency held firm on that 1980 projected revenue service date, but by the late 1970s, the date kept slipping. First, the MTA expected to open the line in 1983, and then, as the city struggled with its finances throughout the mid-to-late 1970s, the agency had to push back the opening date to 1985 or 1986.
By the mid-1980s, the MTA and the feds were at odds over construction progress and quality. The federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration temporarily cut off MTA funding for both the 63rd St. tunnel and Archer Ave. extension over concerns related to leakage — a common theme in recent years — and concrete delivery issues. By then, it was clear that the opening for these new projects would be delayed again.
Eventually, the Archer Ave. line opened in late 1988, and no one was impressed. News coverage focused on how Archer Ave. was a tiny part of a larger, unfulfilled plan and one that didn’t solve the region’s transportation issues as it went nowhere. The Times editorial board thought the MTA had overplayed its announcements of new service, and residents told the agency to stop tooting its own horn. Today, these stations are hardly crown jewels of the subway system.
But what can we learn from Archer Ave.? Obviously, the need to invest system-wide in expansion and not just in piece-meal projects should be lesson number one. But lesson number two is that the system should not be starved of money for expansion simply because a project doesn’t open on time. We can look bad and sigh at this history, but when I ride the E to the AirTrain on Wednesday, I won’t really care that Sutphin Boulevard opened in 1988 instead of 1981. That’s ancient history to me and millions of New Yorkers who can enjoy the benefits, albeit limited, of construction from decades past.
All of which is a 600-word parable to get us to today. At both Second Ave. and Hudson Yards, the MTA is struggling to meet deadlines. The 7 line extension is likely to open 20-22 months late, and the MTA is working furiously to fulfill a promise to open Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway by the end of 2016, already years late. Politicians are starting to notice as the delays garner more headlines and lead to grumpy constituents, but their responses are more worrisome than anything else.
While speaking of the Second Ave. Subway last week, Councilman Ben Kallos had words about the neighborhood. “The businesses simply can’t survive, our constituents can’t survive an entire decade of construction,” he said. He’s not wrong, but the unsaid “or else” is more concerning. If no one can survive long construction projects, then any other future subway expansion is doomed. The MTA can’t use cut-and-cover construction so capital expansion efforts will require years of work. The 8 or 10 years on the East Side is less than the 15 it took to build Archer Avenue, and that just might be part of the cost of an expanded subway system.
At Hudson Yards, where relatively few people have felt the direct effect of construction, Councilman Corey Johnson essentially threatened future funding. “It doesn’t inspire confidence of the city putting money into these projects if they’re not going to get done in time,” he said to NY1. Johnson’s comments underscore how politicians view capital projects not as long-term benefits but as ribbon-cutting opportunities. Here, the subtext is that if those who find funds aren’t in office to enjoy the headlines, they won’t deliver, future growth of the city be damned.
I’ve said this before, but ultimately, the opening date of these projects doesn’t matter in the long run. In the short run, the city and MTA should better respond to concerns of residents and businesses suffering from the effects of life in a 10-year construction zone. But in the long term, the city should continue to fund growth. In 28 years, much like I won’t care on Wednesday about when Archer Ave. opened in the 1980s, no one on the Upper East Side will care that the first stops under Second Ave. opened a few months or a year later than expected. Starving our future over that delay is particularly short-sighted at a time when no one is leading on transit growth.
Why don’t they use cut and cover? I’ve never gotten that. It’s relatively fast and cheap.
NIMBYs. The MTA has never mentally recovered from the epic Battle of Heckscher Playground in 1970-71. There wasn’t any problem when the Sixth Avenue extension to 57th Street was built cut-and-cover in the mid-1960s. But the combination of the Parks Department and the well-heeled and well-connected folks with media access who didn’t want to see the playground’s use interrupted for one second for construction of the 63rd Street link convinced the agency it was better to ‘go deep’ and only have to worry about disruptions around the station boxes as opposed to the length of an entire route.
(If they ever do get to Phase II of the SAS, though, cut-and-cover will get a bit of a reprieve, as the MTA will have to connect the two shallow sections of tunnel built in the 1970s. Maybe if that doesn’t turn into a huge media circus and the agency finishes Phase II faster than Phase I it might actually make them feel safe about reintroducing the process if any other future lines are built.)
You mean politicians in Harlem complaining that the UES construction used tunneling while their constituents suffered through cut-and-cover? I can see the press conference already. There is no way the MTA risks that political storm.
Stage the cut and cover.
1) Locate underground utilities with GPR and shallow acoustic computed tomography. Do test boring for soil samples.
2) Place street plate support piles on one side and then the other side of the street.
3) Demo the pavement in 8.5 ft strips using pavement cutter, hoists and flatbed trucks. Span the surface with girders and plates.
4) Underpin buildings and relocate and consolidate the utilities to conduits and tunnels.
5) Excavate and build out tunnels. Use the street plate support piles as part of tunnel.
6) Fill back in and replace the plates with concrete pavement panels with utility access plates.
The end result is a maximum displacement of 10 continuous parking spots at head of pile and surface plate emplacement and pavement demolition, and 1-2 parking spots per block afterwards.
Aside from a new subway line, the consolidated utility conduits and tunnels, with the access panels, will reduce noisy jackhammers that coincides with utility work.
I was under the impression that you merely needed to build out the stations at 105/115, and that doesn’t seem like a whole huge amount of tunneling. 8 blocks total or so.
I thought I read that mta was threatening not to use the already-built sections, so they could build deeper and spend more $.
Fails with number one. Subagencies of the MTA can’t even cooperate, you really think the MTA is gonna bother itself with ConEd – locating and relocating its infrastructure – when they can instead just ask for a few billion to avoid it?
Or at least, when they think they can ask for a few billion to avoid it. Doesn’t look like they’re getting the second phase of the World’s Most Expensive Subway anytime soon.
There are rhetorical plays to use against those kinds of arguments. It even helps that they’re true. If arguing with a Harlem pol raising that point: c&c means the end product is closer to the service, which makes it more accessible. Helps if there are elderly and disabled people in the neighborhood.
No reason to capitulate to impracticality every time.
I’m glad you mentioned that Playground affair. For a very long time, I was wondering why the MTA would waste money building so deep underground and have to build so much infrastructure around it, when it could easily build close to the surface like other lines. As an engineering student, it seemed like madness to me.
As usual however, it’s the same reason so many other rail projects around the country are waylaid – politics. I never would have imagined it was over a playground, of all things.
It also shows, very disturbingly, how beholden the politicians are to a small but wealthy minority, who with the flick of a finger can frighten officials out of their wits, and hold an entire city hostage.
I think the reason is touched on in the article:
That’s talking about the disruption to businesses and residents without cut-and-cover. It would be many times worse with cut-and-cover. Storefronts, especially, have a hard time when the street shuts down to cars (and taxis and Ubers) for a years at a time, and when it’s a deeply unpleasant street to walk down for years. People shop (and eat) elsewhere and businesses close.
But you have a point on cost, and I wonder if there’s not some compromise to be reached. If the cost savings on construction are large enough, could it be cost-effective to build temporary structures to house businesses? What if the MTA tented a cut-and-cover construction site and built a temporary High-Line-style park on top, with small structures populated by local businesses? I could easily see that being much cheaper than full-on tunneling.
It does depend on how quickly it’s done. There might even be an option to create a fund for affected businesses that would still be less than tunnel boring. I believe the new Central Subway in SF is being built with cut and cover, even through some pretty congested areas. SF does exhibit what you are talking about though. If anyone here is familiar with the state of affairs in SF’s mid-market and it’s long decline, a good part of that situation was created by the construction of BART/MUNI tunnels. The financial district rebounded more quickly but I believe that was more than just land values, but how quickly the surface streets were repaired.
And how many blocks of retail are we looking at?
The route has many blocks of housing projects with no retail fronting Second Ave, and the residential buildings set well back from the pavement.
Well, at 125th the disruption to traffic will be a huge issue. Where is the train going fromthere anyway? To MetroNorth at Park Ave, and then? The original idea of pushing up to the Bronx made good sense.
Totally off topic: The Lexington subway line has 4 tracks. SAS will add two more, which means a 50% capacity increase. NYC subway ridership is currently increasing by about 2% per year, which means a 50% increase in 20 years. So quite soon, even with the SAS, the Lexington line will once again be as overcrowded as it is now.
What then? Clearly SAS should have been built with 4 tracks, but adding new tracks to an operating 2-track subway does not sound feasible. I think the only alternative is a new line elsewhere. As far as can tell, the best location is 5th Ave on the east edge of Central Park, just like the A/B/C/D run on the west edge. Since one side of 5th Ave is not built up, it would be easier to do cut-and-cover construction there. It could connect to the Broadway line, which currently has spare capacity.
I don’t think cut-and-cover would be any easier on 5th ave, home to some of the richest people in the city. Those who live in their fancy $20m apartments with central park views for 6 weeks a year would not allow it without threatening campaign money.
The Metropolitan Museum also is going down with construction of lower levels as they cant expand into the park. Perhaps light rail on the East Side and Far West with vayious cross town.
You’re comparing increase in track/train capacity with increases in ridership. A 2% annual increase in ridership is not a 2% increase in trains on the tracks. For sure if there is continued ridership growth, we’ll be in the same situation in a period of time, but it’s not quite as linear as you’ve laid out.
I’m not sure, geographically, it would make sense to build any new trunk lines on the UES. Fifth Av is no good because the people west of Park don’t really take trains. Also the Broadway Line will not have spare capacity after SAS opens, if things go according to the assumed plan: N/Q Express, R/(W) Local.
Once we reach this stage (all trunk lines at both passenger and track capacity, CBTC implemented, no further trunk lines likely to be built), the only solution to increase capacity is to spread out centers of demand. We must reduce our reliance on East Midtown as *the* business district. We must build more office space in Downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City, hell maybe even 138th/149th St in the Bronx. Perhaps also if the project to cover Sunnyside Yards goes forward, there’s another place.
The subways *will* reach a limit of how many passengers can be carried in a single direction to a single place.
Fifth Av is no good because the people west of Park don’t really take trains
Poor way to think of it. The people who clean the homes of everybody who lives west of Park all take trains. The tourists visiting all the museums on 5th Ave take trains. Wealthy areas are often more jobs-rich than you’d expect, and while the wealthy western part of the UES is full of residents who take cabs and cars everywhere, they employ a ton of people who take transit.
5th Ave is a poor subway corridor in the context of Manhattan because half of its “walkshed” is the park, where practically no one works or lives, not because it’s too wealthy.
But the other half of its walkshed is the UES. So on average, it’s a great walkshed.
On the other side of the Park, there’s CPW. One half of the walkshed is the Park, the other half is the UWS. Ridership is very low; the only station on CPW with high ridership is 59th, at the southern edge of it.
That’s what I keep telling people and it is one of the greatest gripes I have with the current iteration of SAS. They have already set in stone the creation of a subway under 1st Avenue. 5th Avenue was long ago as deemed not as important and that’s why we have a Lexington Avenue Line and a Second Avenue Line.
The Broadway Line should not be connected with anything more than what it is now. Yes it has spare capacity right now. The W route will likely return when Phase I opens becasue Astoria cannot lose its current level of service. Brooklyn needs service upgrades which I can’t see happening until the early 2020s with the introduction of the R211 cars. It was said that that order of cars would include growth cars for several routes (likely in possible option orders).
Back to SAS, the two track design also limits the amount of branching services. The curve onto 125th Street limits it more. The most sensible options should have been to run it up to The Hub to connect with the 2, 5, and 6 routes that way congestion is more likely to be relieved. By making the transfer at 125th Street, you are still requiring passengers to enter the congested section and the fact that they have already arrived into the express portion of the line means they have less of an incentive to transfer. Also, instead of having two branches in The Bronx, you are now reduced to one. With 4 tracks, you could have had 4 branches which would have solved many of The Bronx’s transit needs.
I’ve been creating plans for new subways across the city where they are needed most and will have the greatest impact. I’m still learning how to make PDF documents before I can actually begin to put them out there. This SAS is a failure in the grand scheme of this city’s development. As much as I like the current progress, I’d rather them start anew. This will eventually blow up in the city’s face and people think I don’t know what I’m talking about.
Adding to my comment, CBTC is not a good solution either. Yeah, you can add more trains, but there is an upper limit and that’s decided by terminals and how fast trains can turn back. At max, I think lines can only carry 40tph with CBTC. That’s per pair of tracks. With interlining, branch lines are still restricted to 20 trains per hour. So new trunk lines will definitely be needed.
Part of the reason the Broadway line has spare capacity is that it has a roundabout routing.
It’s incredibly useful to be able to make diagonal jogs around Manhattan and I’m thankful for it whenever I realize I can go both across-town and uptown from Union Square to Times Square, but in the grand scheme of things the most bang for your buck in transit is to use straight lines.
Now everybody on 2nd Ave on the UES will have to take a detour over to the West Side before heading back east to get back down to Union Square. Will that end up being quicker for them than walking over to Lexington to go straight down? It’s mental math we shouldn’t have to do.
IIRC the express tracks of the Broadway line were to go up 8th Ave before the IND was conceived.
SAS Phases 1 + 2 aren’t a replacement for the Lex Ave line regarding access to Union Square and Fulton St, but their purpose is to redirect riders headed for the major stops on 6th and 7th Ave. The new 63rd and Lex transfer should reduce a lot of congestion at 59th St.
Broadway is a straight line.
Yes, and if the Broadway line continued up the UWS where the 1/2/3 are, it’d be less convoluted. The subway veering back east into Queens after heading west (in the context of the Manhattan grid) is not a logical routing.
Regardless, we’re left with this legacy of 3 separate subway systems and obviously none of this will change. We just shouldn’t continue to make these poor choices.
What’s now the 1,2 and 3 were already there.
The veering is also not so great as it looks on a subway map. On a more realistic map, the excursion looks much less abrupt.
Furthermore, the original routing of the IRT also ran from Union Square to Times Square, but less directly – via Park and then 42nd. How do you like that veer?
“The Broadway Line should not be connected with anything more than what it is now. Yes it has spare capacity right now. The W route will likely return when Phase I opens becasue Astoria cannot lose its current level of service.”
The Broadway line contains two track pairs. All Astoria/R trains have to go through the 60th St tunnel, and can continue to a single Broadway track pair. The remaining track pair will eventually be half-used by the Q (which will share SAS with the T). The other half track-pair is spare capacity, which is what I suggest to use for a 5th Ave line.
Since Phase II has not been planned yet, obviously they’ll have to go through revisions. I agree Dexter, that having the SAS terminate at 125th Street may not be convenient. Maybe they’ll realize the flaw and correct it, that is once funding for Phase II becomes available.
Why bother thinking of future phases of 2nd Ave. Subway when phase 1 could open in 2017/18 and phase 2 is in ‘jeopardy’. I think its pretty clear that phase 3 and 4 were never meant to see the light of day, literally.
Even if construction started say in 5 years from now, most of 2nd Avenue would be under water….
I questioned the wisdom of creating four phases for construction since the plans were first announced, and now I truly believe it was a huge mistake. It inevitably leads to uncertainty between phases where funding is in question, works stops, only perhaps to resume again at some point, but requiring extra work and expense to do so.
Someday, hopefully, construction will head downtown below 63rd St. But a whole new launch box will have to be dug out, causing a huge mess on 2nd Ave. New TBM’s will have to be set up. Why? The tunneling was the fastest part of this project so far, and if they had only continued with it they’d already be at Water St. by now. It’s the stations that take forever to build, but at least they could have just opened one or two at a time and extend the line gradually.
Could they use one set of TBMs the whole way, or were there different types of rock that would require switching TBMs anyway?
That’s silly. It’s going to be built progressively, and the TA may as well open minimally operational segments as they become available.
That doesn’t excuse the timeframe.
The late openings don’t appear to have any long-term impact if one takes a narrow view of things, but the time taken to complete a capital project cannot really be assessed in isolation. While it is a time-worn cliche, the idea that “time is money” is central to this. The outrageous cost overruns associated with [you can fill in the blank on your own here] are inextricably tied to the additional work, and therefore the additional time, needed to complete that project.
It’s not as if the contractors just work at half speed and are paid half as much per week. That would double the time without adding to the cost. In reality, they are asked to do additional work, not anticipated in the original contracts, so there is both more time and more money needed.
The real story, then, is the cost overruns and the value that citizens receive for their money. This is why politicians have taken notice, and – in my view – that is entirely appropriate.
Because Jamaica Center was not expected to be the final terminal, the switch is in the wrong place for terminal operations, limiting the capacity of the line to 12 trains per hour.
It was supposed to be extended to Southeast Queens, but the Black politicians there killed it to keep the low-lifes out of their neighborhoods.
I wonder if the Black middle class is still as anti-city as it was? They wanted suburbs and cars like the White people, and wanted to get away from the poor Blacks still trapped in the ghetto. When you think of people moving back in to cities to live an transit and pedestrian-oriented life, you don’t think of Black people.
It is amusing to see arguments against a subway expansion because it would bring more cars??? I guess they mean they fear the neighborhood would be used as a park and ride? This is easily solvable by zoned parking, but for some reason, New York thinks that’s the worst idea ever, despite it working quite well every single place it’s implemented.
Now doesn’t that sound ridiculous? It’s essential that the subway system continues to grow to meet future demands of it’s riders. I could see several viable routes beyond the Archer Ave line.
1. 7 to Bayside
2. F & R to Nassau County border – F express & R local
3. 6 to Co-op City
Do it inspite of any & all nimbi’s.
Where does one get the information about TPH of terminals, lines and such? Is it publicly accessible?
I don’t think its public.
The MTA wants to run 15 Es and 15 Fs on the express track, but to do it they have to run a few Es to and from 179th. It isn’t because of excess demand at 179th relative to Jamaica Center. So there is your proof.
There was a proposal to spend big bucks to move the switch years ago, but it didn’t make the cut for the last MTA Capital Plan. And I do mean the LAST one.
You can dig into the GTFS file (or just examine Google Maps transit scheduling) to see how many TPH are supposed to be running in practice.
The dirtiest subway system in the world. Let’s just celebrate how unique and special New York really is.
Have the planners ever considered building routes on top of the existing parkway routes (HHP, FDR)? It seems like construction in those places would be much more cost effective and neighborhood disruption and opposition substantially avoided). The only issue I can imagine is that those routes are farther east and west than optimal, but there is so much development slated for the west side and the lower east side it seems like it would be a tremendous help.
Of course, if Archer had opened on time, it would now be even dirtier and dumpier than it is. And if 2nd Ave had opened at that time as promised, it would look like that, too.
And by then the ‘newly born MTA’ had been around for 20 years.
Is there any system that rivals NYC in terms of dirty and uncared for? And don’t give me an excuse about crowds – Mexico and Moscow have the crowds and keep their stations looking good, decade after decade. Hell, look at Sao Paulo, the land of brutalism, and they manage to keep their bleak concrete at least looking like it is supposed to.
East Berlin was still quite gritty into the 21st century, but no idea about now.
I’m sure someone in the bowels of the MTA has looked into this, but the one thing that jumps out to me is how much leakage there is from above on rainy days, which accelerates decay and covers everything in filth, and has to be fixed anyway. If there’s no extra money, cut the station cleaning budget and put that towards rehabilitating the station overheads where it’s needed.
Leaks, although plenty, don’t explain all of the grime and peeling paint. Other than sweeping up some trash and hosing down platforms, there is no process to actually clean all the soot off of other surfaces. When exactly was it that the MTA came up with the idea to paint (on those rare occasions) all the ceilings black so as to better hide the grime?
So that’s the reason why most stations look so dark and bleak.
Sutphin looks fine when compared to most stations in the city, IMO. It’s at least brightly lit.
Maybe the MTA should look towards Berlin for inspiration. They have quite a few similarly designed stations (relatively low ceilings, columns) yet they manage to keep them looking bright. So how would the system look if it still were painted white?
The Archer Ave extension was constructed during the city’s lowpoint when crime was out of control, much of Manhattan and the outer boroughs were unsafe to walk at night, private industry was seriously fleeing the city, population was declining from most neighborhoods, and just keeping the system running was a feat. I think we can give ’em a pass. But in 2015? We should be comparing the NYC subway to peers around the world. How long does it take to build this kind of stuff today in Paris or Hong Kong or Madrid, and why? It’s too easy to pat everybody on the back ’cause we’re doing okay compared to the 70s and 80s.
I flew out of JFK recently and decided to try LIRR for a change. Yes, I had to deal with the hellhole that is Penn Station, but the arrival was vastly superior to taking the E. It was a breeze to get to the dismally slow and poorly situated Airtrain from LIRR than from below.
Best wishes for your trip and congrats on the wedding!
I love that connection. I actually don’t find Airtrain JFK slow, although it could use frequency enhancements.
I took Airtrain Newark last weekend. Now that’s slow! Not to mention the 45-plus-minute waits on the NEC on weekend evenings thanks to bunched schedules.
Wait! – Sorry that I’m late to the *news* – honeymoon??!! Big congratulations Ben – the very best to you (& have FUN on the Metro!)
The whining about retail and Second Avenue is BS. Stores open and close on major streets all the time. I’m on 2nd a lot and have not seen wholesale shutdowns. A few notable ones, like the “Pyramida” restaurant on 73rd, opened mere months before construction began and likely closed for is own reasons. Food Emporium on 86 was probably a victim of Fairway and of its own landlord’s (Yorkshire Towers) hideous and long-standing sidewalk sheds.
Sutphin Blvd is an awful first and last experience for people coming in via JFK and most of it is a matter of maintenance. Does the TA ever dust its stations? Like Sutphin, someone needs to clean up the “propeller” artwork above the IND platform at 34 St Herald Square. Back to Sutphin. The station, like Bowling Green, was built with backlit signs integrated with the light fixtures. Then someone ripped out the shades and bolted on the standard signage. Hideous. If you can’s sustain it, why build it that way?
Sadly, the thing about the retail (going out of business) is more or less true. There are two main stages – during the construction and after it.
During the construction, the retailers have to deal with a significant decrease in trade while their curb appeal and advertising is diminished and/or obscured and their customers access is at best impeded and probably worse, not to mention the possibilities of mud, fumes, noise, vermin and other unpleasantries. Some may catch a break by having a more accessible location than others on their block or by getting new business from the construction workers, but basically, times will be tough and a lot of the businesses will go down or move.
The real kicker is that after the construction, their locations will probably become much more valuable not just to them, but also to the landlords, who will be out to raise rents – probably beyond what these struggling business can afford. Only those who own their own buildings or were daring enough to sign really long term leases during the hard times have much of a chance of seeing it through to the other side – and a long term lease might end up only being only long enough to get through to the beginning of the good times if there is too much construction delay.
The post construction ambiance (and the higher rents) of the neighborhood may call for more up-scale establishments than before and some old-time customers may themselves also be priced out of the neighborhood, so certain business may no longer be viable, even if they make it through the construction. Then there will of course be new competition from Johnny-come-lately’s jumping in with newer and/or fancier places to reap the benefits without having to suffer first through the down-time.
Really, the best strategy for a businessman in one of these neighborhoods is to energize all the NIMBYs and try to kill the projects. Failing that, trly to get the government to buy you out at an exorbitant rate in the beginning and use the money to invest in another neighborhood whose subway is just finishing up construction.
There is no small amount of irony in your having to us the Archer Avenue line on your way to Paris, and its Metro. I am struck by the contrast between a system in which the operator (MTA) is obliged to provide service and one in which the operator (RATP) appears to WANT to provide service.
Everything about the Metro suggests (at least to me) that those running it are actively trying to do as much as possible (or as much as their funding permits) to make the experience a positive one in every way. Sadly, the opposite seems to be case in New York.
This comes as severe culture shock to those of us who are used to the MTA, and its ways. On our most recent visit to Paris (2012) my wife and I entered a station – more than once – only to find a train pulling out. We barely had time to grumble “oh crap, we just missed it” before another train entered. The headways seem impossibly short by New York standards, but I cannot believe that this is in any way attributable to magic. It stems – in my view – from a desire to “do it right”.
When did we lose that here?
The Archer Av Extension didn’t go far enough – the LIRR objected to the plan to extend the E train beyond Parsons Blvd onto the LIRR right of way, and MTA did not fund any further extension east along Archer Av for either the E or the J operating on the lower level. The stations themselves look nice enough (aesthetics is in the eye of the beholder) but certainly the entrances could use updating and the stations need renovating. But the benefits of Archer Av are much more than Benjamin gives credit: The line smoothly integrated the subway with LIRR services and made it possible much later to link both subway and commuter rail to the airport. The line spurred significant commercial development: Witness Jamaica Center, a shopping, business and government hub with a subway and bus terminal integrated into it. And of course a short stretch of the elevated line was replaced by underground rails. The neighborhood is stronger and safer for these developments.
We know the mistakes, but Ron Aryel was right on. Integration of Transit was Key to 1) Airport and 2) Eastern Queens/LI. One problem I did not like is they built them as 3 levels. The BMT is at the very bottom, which means it takes longer to get out of the station. Also, it isn’t as integrated with the LIRR. The best idea would have connected it to the LIRR, which a station would have been shared (offering across the platform connections).