After over 85 years of planning, proposing, building, halting and starting over again, the Second Ave. Subway will make its long-awaited public debut on January 1, 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday. As New York’s chief executive has made opening the line by the December 2016 deadline the MTA imposed upon itself in 2009 a major goal, he will lead a ceremonial ride on New Year’s Eve with revenue service starting at noon on New Year’s Day. Yet, as this oft-cursed project can’t simply open without a hitch, the Second Ave. Subway — a northern four-stop extension of the Q — will run only from 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. until 24-7 service begins on Monday, January 9.
“New Yorkers have waited nearly a century to see the promise of the Second Avenue Subway realized, and after unrelenting dedication from thousands of hardworking men and women, the wait is over and the subway will open on December 31,” the governor said in a statement. “The on-time completion of this major, transformative project reaffirms confidence in government competence, increasing capacity on the nation’s busiest subway system, and delivering a new, vital transportation artery to millions of New Yorkers.”
Of course, “on-time completion” is relative. The subway was originally supposed to open in the mid-1930s, and the current project was originally projected to open in late 2012. Phase 1 is also only just a part of an aspirational subway line. Using older tunnels, the Q train will head north from its current terminus at 57th St./7th Ave. with a stop at 63rd St./Lexington (and a transfer to the F) before heading up Second Ave. with stops at 72nd St., 86th St. and 96th St. This isn’t quite yet the T train as that new line won’t arrive until Phase 3, a far-away plan to dig south of 63rd St. underneath 2nd Ave.
Yet, for everything this new extension isn’t, it deserves to be celebrated. It’s (hopefully) the start of an effort to right a mobility wrong that has plagued the East Side since the elevated closed in the 1940s and 1950s and brings much-needed relief to the Lexington Ave. line. MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast said, “The Second Avenue Subway is the most significant addition to our system in 50 years and will serve more riders on opening day than Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Boston transit systems combined,” MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast said.
I’m curious to see how this new line works out. It’s bound to be a success, and I see no reason to doubt the MTA’s ridership projections. Yet, a level of mystery surrounds the project. Many New Yorkers who are only casual observers of subway news will be surprised to hear that the T isn’t debuting and that the new extension is only three stops along the Upper East Side. Others will be dismayed to find six- or eight-minute peak-hour headways, by far the longest of any Manhattan trunk line, and stations far deeper underground than New Yorkers are accustomed to. Plus, it is likely to be another decade before Phase 2 — another three stops further north through East Harlem — sees the light of day as construction work isn’t expected to begin on this part until late 2019.
Already, the stations are earning praise for their art installation, and the Governor and his team have been pushing that element of the project as a way to draw attention to something new. After all, even though only only a fraction of the MTA’s construction budgets goes to Arts and Design, a fraction of $4.5 billion is still $4.5 million, a substantial sum for the blank canvas of three new stations and a fourth undergoing complete renovations. Photo recreations, massive mosaics and images of the old 2nd and 3rd Ave. elevated lines will dominate the lengthy mezzanine spaces at these new stations, and an early preview of the art is available here.
So after years and decades and stops and starts and New Yorkers who still won’t believe it until they ride the subway, the Second Ave. Subway will open in 11 days with the public invited for rides in 12. And after ten years of running this site, I won’t be in the city for the opening. I’m spending New Year’s Eve in Paris, and it seems only fitting somehow that the subway will open when I’m out of town. There’s always, if the stars align, Phase Two.
““The Second Avenue Subway is the most significant addition to our system in 50 years and will serve more riders on opening day than Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Boston transit systems combined,” MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast said.”
Wait, what? According to the latest APTA report, Chicago L has 786 000, Washington Metro 868 000 and Boston MBTA (counting only Blue, Red and Orange lines)577 000 weekday riders (unlinked trips). Phase I of SAS is supposed to have about 200 000 (I presume weekday) riders. That’s not even close to any one of them alone.
If he meant the whole SAS from 125th street to Hannover square, that’s 560 000 weekday riders (although who knows what the ridership will really be when phase IV opens in 2100). That makes it probably higher than Boston MBTA if we take into account that unlinked trips mean people transferring between lines are counted two or more times. Still nowhere near “all of them combined”.
It’s stupid really. That the complete SAS has ridership in the same ballpark as the next biggest subway systems in the US is astounding enough, there’s no need to resort to such utter horsesh*te.
Speaking of which: “The four stations of the first phase of SAS will serve about the same numbers of riders as the whole rapid transit system of Atlanta” There, that’s a quote that makes SAS look good and is actually grounded in reality. (Atlanta MARTA: 219 000 weekday riders) You’re welcome.
BTW, there’s “MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast said” twice in that sentence.
Prendergast’s quote is a bit different — and accurate — in the release I saw on the MTA’s site: “MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast said, “The Second Avenue Subway is the most significant addition to our system in 50 years and will significantly reduce crowding on the Lexington Avenue line which currently serves more riders than the Chicago and Washington, D.C. subway systems combined.”
It’s far more accurate, but the combined daily ridership of DC and Chicago is about 1.5 million, above the Lex Line’s 1.2 million.
Ben, have fun in Paris. And keep the site going. Hopefully the MTA will keep building even if it is too slow by other countries standards and maybe sometime in 2027-2030 you can take the inauguration ride of phase 2.
You may not be at the debut, but you’ve kept so many people informed on the saga that is Second Avenue, and I, for one, thank you for that.
Just curious Ben, are you considering rescheduling your Paris trip? It’s such a big milestone! You’ll *always* have Paris.
Thanks for chronicling the Second Ave subway and other massive, years-long, public works projects for us.
“Complete renovations” is a bit generous for what’s happening at Lex/63. The platforms have been redone but the garish orange upper part of the station, with its long escalator plunge beneath grimy crumbling tiles, is untouched — at least as of the last time I visited about a month ago. Would’ve been nice if they could’ve set aside a small portion of those billions to do a more thorough rehab of that entire complex.
This. It’s amazing how dirty those escalator banks are going down from the Lexington Avenue entrance considering the station is one of the newest in the system.
Have they stated the reason for the initial abbreviated service schedule? What work are they performing from 10pm to 6am?
Also what’s the over/under on how long until we hear the announcement: “96th Street-bound Q trains are terminating at 57th Street due to signal problems. For alternate service, transfer to the 4, 5, or 6 train at 14th Street-Union Square”?
If this comment is correct, there are going to be lots of staff on standby during revenue service because the safety systems are not ready. No sense in having all those people working overnight, so it’s better to shut down and use those hours to finish the systems.
Why is it taking so long to finish them? Couldn’t they have started working on them earlier, or is it something that you can’t do until other things are complete?
Will their completion also be delayed, pushing back 24 hour service until later? Is having dozens of people “safeguarding” the stations during operation meant as an intentional financial drain to push the completion of the safety systems to be able to send everyone home? It all sounds kind of nuts considering that we have 110 year old stations in operation 24 hours without many of those systems in place, and without even token booth attendants in some anymore.
But many of the old stations are grandfathered in to safety/ADA regulation. As Second Avenue is a new thing, they can’t just ignore those regulations.
I know that many are cynical about the expense and the delays
but DAMN we have a new subway in NYC .. it is pretty damn exciting and should be celebrated
Hopefully MTA will use this as momentum to get phase 2 (and 3) expedited
They should start lining up Phase 3 to get the funding/environmental review etc. finished and ideally get shovels in the ground before Phase 2 is open to prevent a repeat of this gap where no construction is going on.
But they really need to get construction costs under control so there’s enough money in the world to even get to Phase 3.
You might think that the new administration could be persuaded to provide significant funding for this infrastructure.
But NY State / the MTA does not deserve to get any more money from Washington unless it demonstrates, for the first time, an interest in controlling costs and meeting deadlines.
And I say this as a passionate New Yorker and mass transit advocate.
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