Subway construction on the East Side kicks up a storm.

Dust Devils from the Underground


Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood

Daniel Burnham (1846-1912)

“Ditching” the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway

So Gothamist and The Brooklyn Paper posted plans of covering the open cuts of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway with parks, gardens, or high-tech trellises.

Image courtesy of The Brooklyn Paper Image courtesy of The Brooklyn Paper Image courtesy of The Brooklyn Paper

A thorough history of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway can be found at

But to illustrate the devastation wrought by the construction of this road, I’ve posted the images below showing this particular stretch of Brooklyn in 1924, 1951, and 2008.




Articulating the Need to Move Between Subway Cars

So Ben at Second Avenue Sagas posted on the MTA’s ban on riders moving between subway cars.

Does the MTA’s ban on inter-car travel make sense? Five years ago, MTA Board member Barry Feinstein defended the rule. “It’s dangerous. It’s not smart, and you shouldn’t do it,” he said. The number of people who get a ticket though far outweigh the one or two a year who suffer injury while switching cars.

The reasons for moving between subway cars are legion. Take Nora Hsu’s story for example.

NY Post: Chad Rachman

An officer on patrol on the platform spotted her crossing and ordered her off the train.
“I told the cop, ‘Cut me some slack. I’m 32 weeks pregnant, and I’m just trying to get home,’ ” she recalled for The Post. “I was out of breath.”
But the officer said, “It doesn’t matter,” and wrote the ticket.

That got me wondering about articulated subway cars. That is to say, train cars that allow riders to go between them without ever physically stepping outside the train. And this led me to a post by Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic.

Though an MTA Metro-North Railroad spokesman told me that articulation would reduce seating and probably not meet FRA structural requirements, there are no such limitations for the city’s subway system according to Mr. Anyansi, and in fact, the city once had articulated cars in operation.

Such as the D-type Triplex:

Here we see the articulated joint between the two cars. A feature I hope to see in any future NYC subway rolling stock. A feature that Nora Hsu would’ve greatly appreciated.

The New Tappan Zee Bridge, Now With Rail

Officials from NYSDOT, the MTA, and New York State Thruway Authority have announced that the Tappan Zee Bridge/Interstate 287 Corridor Project has narrowed the designs for a new bridge from six to the two that are rendered below.

Interestingly, there appears to be images of other plans or different sections of the two preferred plans on Nyack-Piermont Patch:

According to

A new span to replace the soon-to-be 55-year-old Tappan Zee Bridge is just one part of the $16 billion project. It also would add bus rapid transit from Suffern to Port Chester along 30 miles of Interstate 287 and would call for the construction of a new passenger rail line across Rockland, over the new bridge and into Westchester onto Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson Line, ending at Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.

The issue of how it will all be paid was addressed in Nyack News & Views:

NYDOT’s Phil Ferguson told the legislators he’s sticking with the project’s original $16 billion estimate — for now. But he cautions that the longer it takes to start the project the more it will cost. Ferguson says it’s important to position the project for future federal dollars like the proposed National Infrastructure Bank and look at value engineering to try to reduce costs.

There was also the reality check about pleasing all the people all the time:

Project Director Michael Anderson says that when the ribbon is cut for a new Tappan Zee Bridge sometime in the next ten years, the eight planned lanes won’t have enough capacity to support all of the cars, trucks and buses that want to cross the Hudson. But even if more lanes are added traffic would still be constrained by the roadways that feed the bridge. That’s why about half of the $16 billion planners are asking for the Tappan Zee Bridge/I-287 Corridor Project will be used to expand intra-county, inter-county and NYC-bound transit options. “We can’t build our way out of congestion,” he says.

It’s not just the bottlenecks at feeder roads that will constrain traffic. It’s the general principle of “traffic generation” that Robert Caro addressed in his biography of Robert Moses, “The Power Broker”. Basically the theory postulates that the number of cars on the road is not a static number. When you add an extra lane, an extra bridge, and/or extra tunnel, it’s just an invitation for even more drivers to use it. Nature abhors a vacuum.

All in all the plan is a refreshing return of the days when infrastructure was built to serve all forms of transportation. Robert Moses might be screaming curses, but Gustav Lindenthal might be wiping a tear of catharsis. Plan 5 is better because the lower level of the south span could double the number of trains in the future. Freight rail perhaps.

“Third Avenue Subway” (Route #3 from 1905)

Supplementing the First Avenue Subway (Route #1) and—one would assume—eliminating the need for a 3rd Avenue Elevated, William Barclay Parsons designed a four-track subway to run under 3rd Avenue and Bowery. It’s complicated set of tracks in the Bronx belie an ambition of the original transit planners; to have the city’s subways operated by private railroad companies such as the New York Central Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad. In Midtown, there’s also an interesting crosstown connection along 35th and 36th Streets.

Here is a comparison of the 3rd Ave and 2nd Ave Elevateds with the Subway. The 3rd Ave and 2nd Ave Els are in blue and Route #3 is in red. Much of 3rd Avenue shows up as purple.

Starting in the Bronx we see an interesting setup of tracks. The western branch makes a loop up and around Lincoln, Morris, and 3rd Avenues. A complicated array of spurs would have connected it to the then proposed 138th Street Line, which is now a part of today’s Pelham Line operated by the #6 train. (On a side-note, reading through the description of these spurs, written in florid late-Victorian speech, was tedious to say the least.) Since the Pelham Line was built in the Dual Contracts period, it’s within the realm of possibility that a future connection to an East Side Subway (whether along 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Avenues) was kept in mind by the builders. Over on the eastern branch, it would have run down Bruckner Boulevard then veered into the rail yards south of 132nd Street. This indicates a possible connection with the now defunct New York, Westchester & Boston Railway.*

*Fascinating thing about the NYWB. According to Clifton Hood’s “722 Miles”, they deliberately put their terminal at 132nd Street in the Bronx because it was assumed, around this time, that the 125th Street corridor would become a new central business district (CBD) just as 14th St, 23rd St, 34th St, and 42nd St would each acquire new importance as the city advanced north. This theory was based on the success of Pennsylvania Station (at 32nd Street) and Grand Central Terminal (at 42nd Street) which were both considered part of the outskirts of the young city. That is, until the city itself came northwards to their very doorsteps. This however did not happen to 125th Street, because the CBD would go no further than 59th Street; the foot of Central Park. Clifton Hood lays blame with the 1916 Zoning Laws, but perhaps the profitability of keeping the Upper East Side and Upper West Side as high-rise, residential/mixed neighborhoods stymied that northward expansion of strictly commercial space.

Route #3 crosses the Harlem River from Lincoln Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard to 3rd Avenue in Manhattan and the two 2-track branches merge into the 4-track trunk line making a straight shot down to Bowery…

…but with a very fascinating pair of spurs at 36th Street and 35th Street. They appear as hairlines on the map because they are in fact 1-track routes each. One track of rail for westbound trains along 36th Street and one track of rail for eastbound trains along 35th Street.

Here’s a little preview of Route #5 (Broadway/Lexington Avenue Subway) in the original plan this route and the aforementioned spurs of Route #3 would have shared space between Lexington and Fifth Avenues.

The ultimate destination of these two spurs would have been 7th and 8th Avenue subways. The traffic along the 34th Street nowadays would have been greatly eased if these routes were ever made.

Back on 3rd Avenue we reach 14th Street where it would conveniently transfer with the existing 3rd Avenue station on today’s Canarsie Line. I suspect that the Canarsie Line’s 3rd and 1st Avenue stations indicate an investment in the future construction of Route #1 (1st Avenue Subway) and Route #3 (3rd Avenue Subway) more so than providing a transfer for the elevated lines. These plans laid out in 1905 indicate a long-term vision of eliminating all of the els in Manhattan.

Bowery has been one of the major thoroughfares for downtown for centuries, so it would be a natural location for a subway line. However with the emphasis put on 2nd Avenue instead, it was the blocks between Chrystie and Forsythe Streets that would be razed to make way for a subway/expressway combo. More on that in a future post.

South of Chatham Square, Route #3 splits into two branches. The east branch would continue to follow the 3rd Avenue El and serve a portion of Lower Manhattan that would no longer have rapid transit service since the elevated was torn down with no replacement. The west branch is effectively the Centre Street portion of today’s BMT Jamaica Line (currently operated by J and Z trains). Between Pearl and Water Streets the two branches merge and continue down Broad Street, but then make a dramatic departure from the way the Broad Street line is now built. It veers west under South Street right along the shoreline and terminates in a hook shape under Battery Park. This terminal seems to skirt around the old South Ferry Loop and may have provided access to it’s platform.

Digital Bulletin Boards for Subways

In an effort to provide real-time information to riders, the MTA is installed large LCD monitors at Grand Central Terminal and Atlantic Terminal that display the constantly updated status of subways.

Dan Brinzac for the New York Post
Image courtesy of

MTA Chairman Jay Walder has been pushing for practical customer service in today’s digital age since his arrival at the MTA. Technologies such as digital bulletin boards and countdown clocks can be found in subways and metros around the world.

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

The news from the New York Post:

The agency plans to outfit the entire transit system — from trains to bus stops to even private businesses near bus shelters and subway entrances — with digital screens that show real-time statuses of buses and trains, as well as service announcements.

For example, the screens — a prototype of which is now being tested at Grand Central Terminal — would note delays but also offer alternate train or bus routes for commuters.

New York 1 has a video rundown of the story

A new pilot program from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will use digital screens to alert subway riders to service disruptions and alternatives before they head to their stop.

While I commend his work in bringing the New York Subway into the digital age, I feel that the recent news that cell phone and possibly wi-fi service will be made available underground, is a better return-on-investment. Everyone checks their phones for updates on the minutiae of their daily lives; status updates, restaurant reservations, tweets, baseball scores, blogfeeds, etc. and there are countless mobile phone apps and app developers who want to meet those varied demands. They compete with one another to provide a better product or service. So why not do the same with subway and bus schedules, service changes and itinerary planning. Instead of making such large capital investments in big LCD screens, installing them, wiring them, and constantly maintaining them in all 277 underground stations, why not allow that info be delivered by mobile phone service providers who can then package/customize the information to the needs of an individual rider and compete with one another to keep the product fresh and useful. Have the LCD screens in high traffic subway stations, but not necessarily everywhere. And while subways and metros around the world have these screens available in almost every station, they do so because their investment in such technology predated the arrival of mobile information technology and new media. Here’s my analogy; why wire a new, multi-story house with an expensive intercom system (à la “Home Improvement”) when the residents will most likely “ping” each other from distant rooms/floors with the cell phones they carry around with them almost always.