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WNYC Keeping the Dream of Subway Expansion Alive

Image courtesy of WNYC

WNYC has put up a great piece on some of the unfinished portions of the New York City subway. The map above gives approximations of where some line expansions would have gone. 

The Google Map below gives a better scale of where the lines would have run.


“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.



“Ninth Avenue Subway” (Route #2 from 1905)

The next route William Barclay Parsons, Chief Engineer of the Rapid Transit Commission laid out while the IRT was being constructed was one that would weave through northern Manhattan, run down 9th Avenue, then veer west right up against the waterfront along West Street. Like the First Avenue Subway (Route #1), the Rapid Transit Commission and Public Service Commission did not consider it a priority (most likely because of the existing 9th Avenue elevated) and kept the plans on the back burner. The IND however would give life to certain stretches of it. Read more after the jump.


This line was most likely intended to replace the 9th Avenue Elevated whose alignment Route #2 mimics from 110th Street to Gansevoort Street. Route #2 is indicated in red and the 9th Ave el is in blue.

In upper Manhattan, the IND’s route seems to cover more territory, but the hilly topography of upper Manhattan is such, that a walk up a block could feel like a mile. (Or at least that’s the impression I get whenever I go up there.) If anyone from the neighborhood can say that Parson’s plan is better than the IND’s plan, then by all means expound.

The Route #2 would be mimicked by the IND from 173rd Street to 124th Street. From there it runs diagonally under Morningside Park to Columbus/9th Avenue where it would run under or entirely replace the 9th Ave El.

At Gansevoort Street, Route #2 takes a radical departure and runs beneath West Street, right up against Hudson River shore. Perhaps it was intended to serve New Jersey ferry commuters and longshoremen working the docks.

Finally, it turns east into Battery Place where it seems to meet with the terminal of the First Avenue Subway (Route #1). It’s interesting to imagine perhaps a through terminal where trains could run back and forth from 9th to 1st Avenues.



“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.



“1905 Route #9: Brooklyn & Manhattan Loop Line – Trackage” on the mend

It’s a complicated setup that the esteemed Mr. Parsons and company had drawn up in 1905. While initially I had just laid out the route after eye-balling the line drawing map that came with it, I had always intended to assign the text of each description to it’s appropriate section. Which given Google Maps’ constraints would involve recreating each line. Promise to have the route up and ready as soon as possible. And later on, an amalgam of all of the planned routes of 1905 into one map.



G Train as it could have been

In honor of the permanent change in the routing of the G train, I present to you the B’klyn–Queens Crosstown as it could have been: