“First Avenue Subway” (Route #1 from 1905)

The first route William Barclay Parsons (Chief Engineer of the Rapid Transit Commission) laid out while the IRT was under construction would have stretched from Claremont Park in the Bronx, run southwards to 1st Avenue, make a straight shot to the Lower East Side, and then weave it’s way to the Financial District. His bosses at the Rapid Transit Commission (and it’s successor, the Public Service Commission) considered the route worthwhile, but not crucial in the near term. The plan was put on the back burner with some southern stretches being adopted into the Board of Transportation’s IND system in the 1930’s. To this day there is no other subway line to supplement the IRT East Side (the Lex) as it runs through the dense east side of Manhattan north of Houston Street. Read more after the jump.

The 1st Avenue subway may have originally been intended to replace the elevated trains that used to run above 2nd Avenue and 3rd Avenue. Here is a map highlighting the routes to each other. The 2nd and 3rd Avenue els are in blue and Route #1 is in red.

So this was “Route No. 1” according to Mr. Parsons. The four tracks under the Bronx indicate that the line could have run as a local further north.

In Manhattan, the line doesn’t veer from it’s route even as it comes close to the shore.

I had once heard that a 1st Avenue subway would be prohibitive nowadays because of it’s proximity to the UN. I would think that the UN would like to have convenient subway access.

Here Route #1 intersects with the 1st Avenue station on the Canarsie Line (L train). I had assumed that city built stations at 3rd and 1st Avenues on the Canarsie Line to serve the old elevated trains on 3rd and 1st Avenues. Now I suspect that the city—whose intentions were see the old els torn down—was actually anticipating the arrival of a subway under 3rd and 1st Avenues. I’ll discuss the 3rd Avenue Subway (Route #3) in a future post.

An interesting prelude for the future are the plans for Houston and Essex Streets. Plans that would be incorporated into the Board of Transportation’s IND system. Even Route #1’s alignment under Madison Street would be later mimicked by unfulfilled plans for an East Broadway subway.

South of that the line would service Beaver Street and possibly linked up to the Greenwich Street subway now operated by the 1 train.

The 1905 vision of Manhattan and the Bronx

Long before the IND or BMT came into the picture—indeed literally at the dawn of subway building in New York—William Barclay Parsons was already engineering the encore to his “Rapid Transit Railroad” aka the Interborough Rapid Transit system, the first leg of our Subway system. Read more after the jump.

This map is from the “Railroad Gazette, 1907” posted online courtesy of Google Books.

Here the different routes are highlighted in colors that best interpret how the lines turned out today. In light gray are the old elevated lines, the already built IRT Subway and H&M Tubes.

Though narrower in scope compared to the Turner Plan and IND Second System, this does constitute an ambitious agenda given that Contract One was under construction and therefore built with these extensions in mind. (Contract One was finalized in 1897 and Contract Two which would extend the IRT north to Van Cortlandt Park and south to the LIRR’s Atlantic Terminal was finalized in 1902). Missing from map is Brooklyn which saw an interesting and large series of “loops” (I put it in quotes because “loops” is used liberally by Parsons to describe both the small turnaround loops and massive circuitous routes).

Like the original IRT, this plans uses a lot of sharp curves and turnaround loops. There is also in significant density of parallel routes. This redundancy is often blamed on the competitive nature of the IRT and BRT/BMT, but every route was laid out by the government appointed committee without any previous bias (as far as I know) and the IRT had a monopoly on operation. The density of routes seems to me a desire on Parsons’ part to eliminate as much surface transit as possible as well as good old fashioned Capacity Planning for future demand (which the current 7 train extension and 2nd Ave Subway seems to lack..ugh). Also you’ll notice how lines in the Bronx, especially in the southwest, seem to stop dead before going any further north. They are in fact the intended connections to the existing railroad systems. Clifton Hood in his seminal work “722 Miles” described how the Rapid Transit Commission and later Public Service Commission had tried to persuade the existing private railroad companies (like the Pennsylvania RR, NY Central, B&O, et al) to add intracity transport to their intercity network. (I hope to cite examples of potential connections in future posts detailing the specific plans of Parsons’ design).

One can also see in this map the shape of things to come. You can already see the beginnings of the Dual Contracts and IND systems. I hope to post images and Google Map mashups of the specific routes of this plan in the future. Enjoy.