Home View from Underground 2015 in Review: The year Cuomo shut down the subways

2015 in Review: The year Cuomo shut down the subways

by Benjamin Kabak

The year of Andrew Cuomo started with a subway shutdown, included the Laguardia Airport, pictured here, and ended with some sort of agreement on the capital plan. (Photo via Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office)

What good is the end of the year without some sort of top ten list? It’s such deliciously snackable content that even the Straphangers are getting in on the action. The rider advocacy group named its top 10 best and worst stories of 2015. The lists included pizza rat, a fare hike, the opening of a new subway stop and whatever tenuously tentative and still-unapproved plan has been reached to fund the MTA’s gigantic capital plan. Whether those are good are bad, well, I’ll leave that up to you.

The Straphangers’ list didn’t include my top transit story of 2015 — which was Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s unprecedented decision to bar passengers from accessing the subway due to the threat of a snow storm. The trains kept running all night, devoid of passengers, and New Yorkers who had to be at their jobs — whether through economic necessity or their roles as emergency services providers — were forced to drive in potentially treacherous conditions. The storm hit to the east, and the move was first- and second-guessed to death. Hopefully we won’t see a repeat this year when and if winter’s snow arrives.

Anyway, as I’ve done in the past, let’s recap the most popular posts I’ve published this year. There is of course a bias toward the earlier half of the year, but these are a good indication of what we were talking about throughout 2015. Somehow, despite his less-than-enthusiastic embrace of transit, Gov. Cuomo sure dominates this list.

10. On Cuomo’s $4 billion overhaul for ‘un-New York’ LaGuardia and his lackluster support for transit
The Governor unveiled a $4 billion plan to cure Laguardia Airport’s ills. The plan, it seemed, stemmed from his personal experiences flying out of the decrepit airport, and it offered up a stark contrast to his unwillingness to commit state resources to the subway system. I looked at how Cuomo’s embrace of the airport plan squared with his arm’s-length treatment of other transit issues.

9. On the flawed LaGuardia AirTrain proposal and Astoria’s N train
As part of his Laguardia overhaul, Cuomo included some support — though not full funding — for a half-baked plan to build an airtrain to Laguardia. We’ll return to this plan later in this list, but in August, I looked at just how bad Cuomo’s plan really is. Ultimately, a Laguardia Airtrain via Willets Point is most likely worse than the no-build option.

8. At Cortlandt St., awaiting the final part of the post-9/11 work
It’s hard to believe the 1 train’s Cortlandt St. station has been closed since September 11, 2001, and thanks to various Lower Manhattan projects, including the endlessly delayed (but soon to open) PATH Hub, the station is still a year or two away from seeing passengers. In early 2015, the MTA assumed control of the work needed to rebuild the station, and the agency recently reiterated its belief that it will return to service in mid-2017, nearly 16 years after the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers.

7. The 7 line extension: Adding a Midtown mess to the Map
The new 7 line station at 34th St. and 11th Ave. is shiny and clean. The addition of it to the subway map was a bit of a mess. These are the important stories.

6. Out of nowhere, Cuomo announces an AirTrain to Laguardia
In late January, Gov. Cuomo caught everyone by surprised when he announced plans to build an airtrain to Laguardia via Willets Point. We don’t know when this will happen, how much it will cost or why this poor routing was chosen over better options to send, say, the N train to the airport. This plan certainly made headlines, but whether it will go anywhere remains to be seen.

5. Q Train Quandaries: Astoria and the Second Ave. Subway
We’ll know for sure in a few months, but the W train is likely to return to serve Astoria when the Q gets rerouted up Second Ave. This has been a popular topic of conversation (and countless emails to me) over the years. One way or another, Astoria won’t see a reduction in service come the opening of Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway.

4. Previewing the L train’s looming Sandy work
Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, but its effect on the subways has lingered for years. At some point soon, the MTA will have to confront the ugly truth of repairing the Canarsie Tubes, and L train riders won’t like it.

3. New 7 line stop at 34th Street definitely officially opening on Sept. 13
Nearly 21 months late and 26 years in the making, the MTA finally celebrated the opening of a new subway stop. Ridership hasn’t met projections yet, but development work is continuing at a steady clip around the Hudson Yards area.

2. Snowmageddon 2K2015: Cuomo threatens subway shutdown ahead of storm
Spoiler Alert: He delivered on this threat.

1. After Cuomo’s surprise, overnight subway service continues without passengers
The need for a subway system arose out of the 1888 blizzard, and in 2015, my most popular post concerned Gov. Cuomo’s misguided shutdown of the subway system. The trains kept running, sans passengers, in what was the oddest development in the most confounding story of the year. (I ran a postmortem at the end of January.)

Honorable Mention: The MTA Board approved a new capital program but with less money for the 2nd Ave. Subway, and it caused politicians to finally focus on the 2nd Ave. Subway’s problematic timeline. We also don’t know how the capital plan will be funded (other than through additional debt.) This story remains an ongoing and important one, but it didn’t crack the top ten….We might get that Gateway Tunnel after all.

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mister December 30, 2015 - 1:36 am

Lots of articles about Cuomo’s seemingly random forays into transit. I suppose when something isn’t your strong suit it may be best to get some actual experts to inform a comprehensive policy and then make announcements.

In regards to that Canarsie Project article, something you wrote caught my eye:

“…the MTA isn’t planning on shutting down the Canarsie Tube for any long-term work. The demand for service is too great, and the parallel service is inadequate.”

I think if you dig a little deeper on this topic, you will find that the reality of what is in store for Canarsie riders is the opposite of what you have written here. The future for the riders of the 14th/Canarsie line is going to be rough…

Benjamin Kabak December 30, 2015 - 8:25 am

The plan is and always has been a series of full weekend shutdowns. Unless there’s been a shift that hasn’t been put out publicly, they’re not doing a full shutdown as they did for Montague. Are you saying there’s information the city’s transit reporters (me included) should be asking for?

James Scully December 30, 2015 - 11:17 am

Has anyone else noticed that, particularly since the Montague tube was reopened, the R service seems to have more issues and not less?

Nick Ober December 30, 2015 - 1:13 pm

I’d imagine this would come down to the fact that the R is now back to its much longer full route. It’s easy to stick to a schedule and frequency when you’re running solo on a short route. It gets a lot harder on a longer route where you have to share tracks with the N & Q in Manhattan and then the M in Queens.

Ryan December 31, 2015 - 10:08 am

If you turn the N into a Broadway Express, the R is no longer sharing track with it for the overwhelming majority of its journey through Manhattan (incidentally, this also solves your non-problem of Astoria losing its express service in 2029 or whenever the Q finally starts running up 2 Av).

You could then turn around and re-interline the N and R across the river and up to Astoria, and watch as the R snaps nicely into vacant slots in Queens that the N cedes to the Q in Manhattan. In turn, where slots aren’t available for the R in Manhattan because of the N in Queens, there’s room for a new Broadway local – and where the R’s slots have all been vacated, G service can be restored along Queens Boulevard.

Funny how that all works out, eh?

Tower18 December 31, 2015 - 11:37 pm

The funny part is if Astoria riders really prefer an “Express” service. Except for those going through to Brooklyn, the Broadway Express, as it’s practiced, only skips 28, 23, 8th, and Prince. If you’re going south of Canal, you need the local anyway. So the only riders who benefit from the full 4 skipped stops are those going to Canal *only* or those to Brooklyn.

Basically if anyone in Astoria whose destination is Manhattan above 14th st lets a Broadway Local go, and waits for the next train, they’ve already lost their time saved.

Ryan January 1, 2016 - 12:37 pm

I, indeed, specifically mentioned that it was a non-problem.

The N needing to utilize the Canal Street switch to actually exit the express tracks as it enters Manhattan is an actual problem, and a solvable problem right now. The only reason for the N to be a Broadway Local at all is because, as you mention, there’s no direct service from Astoria to those four stations if it isn’t. (Whether or not there’s a huge demand for those four stations in Astoria is another question – and because the R doesn’t go to Astoria yet and the W was axed, Astoria already doesn’t have any direct service to the probably more important local stations farther downtown.

Turning the N into a Broadway Express and re-routing the R to replace the Q in Astoria:
– Reduces the R’s overall running route into something more manageable
– Frees the R from being subject to all the problems that tend to occur on the Queens Boulevard Line
– Produces enough track slots on the Queens Boulevard Line to restore G train service to Forest Hills at all times
– Restores the single-seat ride between Astoria and Wall Street
– Trades annoying interlining of the NR on the Broadway Local tracks in Manhattan for much simpler interlining of the NR on the Astoria line

I rated these in terms of importance. The express train bias (which is a real thing), such as it is, doesn’t even rank on the list… or if it did, relative to actual problems that get solved, its importance would be somewhere






– Silences criticism of the elimination of Broadway Express service in Astoria

Brooklynite January 2, 2016 - 11:58 am

For the record, in the 80s the N and R switched northern terminals to give the R direct access to a yard. If the R were sent back to Astoria to replace the Q, Rs seeking to access a yard would have to turn into Ns at Astoria (or go OOS at 36th in Brooklyn). Totally doable, just less convenient than the current arrangement.

If we’re talking about fully de-interlining Broadway, with the N/Q going via Bridge, express, and SAS and the R/W going via Whitehall, local, and 60th, then the Astoria trains would need to either deadhead or change routes to get to a yard.

Alon Levy January 2, 2016 - 6:33 pm

Painful proposal: turn the local Astoria-Broadway-tunnel trains into Ns or Ts, and run Sixth Avenue trains local to Bay Ridge.

Brooklynite January 5, 2016 - 7:30 pm

The switching that would require at Atlantic would be quite a pain in the ass.

Phantom December 30, 2015 - 5:49 pm

I take the R train every day, and think that the service is OK. Not fantastic, but a lot better than the some make it out to be.

It was worse during tunnel construction, since the Court St bound trains often had to pause until the space cleared.

And, God I don’t miss the shlep transfers to the A or 2/3 at Jay or Court.

Long live the R train.

mister December 30, 2015 - 11:33 am

Indeed you all should be.

A good starting point: Look at the duration of the contract, the amount of ductbank to be removed and replaced and the relative time it took Montague to complete this same task.

James Scully December 30, 2015 - 11:49 am

Would you unfortunately agree that when it comes to these kinds of contracts, corruption is par for the course?

Lincoln December 31, 2015 - 12:31 am

Weekend/off hour only shutdowns don’t result in the MTA requiring hundreds of additional cars to make service!

mister January 6, 2016 - 9:38 pm


Read the 2016 Budget Ben. Specifically this page, paragraph 3. If it was weekend shutdowns, there would be no plan to extend the life of the R32 fleet to accommodate additional service.

Maggie December 30, 2015 - 8:42 am

The airport rendering with one airplane, a $4 to $8 billion shimmering smudge, and a 13 to 16 lane surface highway says it all about Cuomo’s ass-backwards approach to urban transportation.

Tower18 December 30, 2015 - 1:11 pm

To be fair, it’s just the 8 lane GCP, which already exists. The rest is the airport access roads, which also already exist.

Nathanael December 30, 2015 - 11:21 am

I was reading, back in the 1990s, about what an incompetent job Andrew Cuomo had done at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Who the hell thought he should be allowed to run unopposed for the gubernatorial nomination? Any political machine worth its salt would have quietly pushed him out of the way. I guess our Democratic political machines in New York are incompetent too.

Larry Littlefield December 30, 2015 - 6:03 pm

“Who the hell thought he should be allowed to run unopposed for the gubernatorial nomination?”

Who would you have preferred instead? Skelos or Silver?

Our entire political class is that bad, Upstate, Downstate, City, Suburbs, Republican, Democrat.

Cuomo was brought back, based on his name, as the only hope for Governor. At one point Hilary Clinton was brought in from outside and elected Senator as the only hope.

Rotten from top to bottom. The good news? Two New Yorkers were running for President. The bad news? They are Trump and were Pataki.

“I guess our Democratic political machines in New York are incompetent too.”

They serve the self-interest of those on the inside at the expense of the serfs and the common future with great efficiency.

Bolwerk December 30, 2015 - 7:26 pm

I think I’d seriously prefer Silver to any of those other pricks, including Cuomo. He was greedy and corrupt, but overall far less sanctimonious.

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

– C. S. Lewis

Larry Littlefield December 30, 2015 - 8:57 pm

Silver? I’d rather have a random person off the street than any member of the state legislature in that or any other office.

Not exactly thrilled with the candidates for President, either. We have achieved the reverse of meritocracy.

Bolwerk December 31, 2015 - 12:15 am

I didn’t say I like Silver, but I prefer his greedy self-serving sort of corruption that can mostly leave my personal life alone to the more authoritarian sort offered by people like Cuomo, Skelos, Hillary, or (in even more extreme ways) pretty much any national Republikan Party member.

That’s not to say Silver couldn’t be extraordinarily damaging. But then, so can relatively non-corrupt politicians like de Blasio.

Nathanael January 1, 2016 - 8:02 am

This gets back to something I’ve said before: people will tolerate corrupt self-dealing if *the construction of the courthouse actually gets finished*.


Silver was usually on the correct side of that line. Skelos and Bruno were almost always on the wrong side and were frankly actively malicious towards upstate.

LLQBTT December 30, 2015 - 1:52 pm

I wonder if @nygovcuomo also reads obscure transit blogs because he is the headlining act here, and it is well earned. Can you make No. 1 also No. 2 as well? That’s how bad that one was.

Good show!

bigbellymon4 December 31, 2015 - 1:55 pm

Has anyone realized in Brooklyn that takes the 2,3,4 or 5 that there has been switch problems at the Manhattan-bound tracks since yesterday evening? It makes me wonder what they did overnight as the 5 is still running local from Franklin Av to Atlantic-Barclays Ctr as of posting of this comment.


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