Sunday, September 13, 2015

It's a grand day for a subway-line opening -- but then, after two years of waiting, what day wouldn't be?


by Ken

After all the delays (about two years' worth), not to mention all the cost (the price tag we're hearing is "nearly $2.4 billion"), it's hard to believe that the day is finally here: the opening of the extension of the No. 7 line west and south from Times Square to 11th Avenue and 34th Street (last noted here). There's a  celebration of the opening of the new Hudson Park, built in the area of the new western terminus of the No. 7, sponsored by the HY/HK (Hudson Yards/Hell's Kitchen) Alliance, scheduled to begin today at 11:30 -- timed to coincide with the ribbon-cutting for the start  of service on the new extended route. (Note: This "Hudson Park," which I confess I'd never heard of, has nothing to do with Hudson River Park, which is actually, you know, by the Hudson River.)

Two points here, concerning things we don't have and don't do much here in the Big Apple:

(1) We don't have many Manhattan crosstown subway routes.

(2) We don't build many new subway routes -- in fact, hardly any.

What's so important about this extension is that it opens up the last major area of Manhattan still available for really large-scale development: the Far West Side, including Hudson Yards. That's the reason our former mayor, Mayor Mike, came to push pretty hard on the construction. From what I've heard -- and bear in mind that I don't have terribly inside sources -- Mayor Mike made the lives of many people at the MTA (the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which includes New York City Transit (NYCT) as an operating division and which also has divisions responsible for new construction, a living hell, badgering them about the completion date for the No. 7 extension, even though the mayor has not only no authority over, but really no input into, the operations of the MTA.

From this you might think, whatta guy that Mayor Mike was, caring about the little people whose lives depend on mass transit. And you would be mostly wrong. While my particular subway commute spares me the worst horrors of the subway system at rush hour, when I am exposed to them, my observation is that riding conditions are basically bestial. In fact, I don't remember rush-hour commuting ever being this crowded or unreliable; if not for the undeniable change that the subways are now all air-conditioned, I would say that at least at rush hour, I've never experienced more brutal conditions. And on this count, even the air conditioning is a mixed blessing, because it pumps so much heat into the subway tunnels that underground stations have gone from hot to infernal. What's more, I'm becoming aware that nobody in the upper echelons of the MTA or NYCT gives a damn about either crowding conditions or on-time performance.

As far as I'm aware, Mayor Mike never lifted a finger on these fundamental quality-of-life issues for subway-commuting New Yorkers. No, it's just the transit routes that seemed to interest him. Once the No. 7 extension is up and running, it will be theoretically possible for employees to commute to and from the vast new commercial and residential developments to be built in the next decade or two. How bearable that commute is was never, as far as I'm aware, a concern of Mayor Mike's.

Just as is the case with the vastly larger project the MTA is currently involved in, what's known as East Side Access, the building of, in effect, another whole station below Grand Central Terminal to bring Manhattan-bound Long Island Rail Road trains, which heretofore have all come into Penn Station on the West Side, into GCT on the East Side. This dovetails with one of Mayor Mike's last and most grandiose projects: the rezoning and ultimate redevelopment of Midtown East, replacing who knows how many existing buildings with vastly taller ones once the "upgraded" zoning is in place.

Officially, Mayor Mike didn't get the new zoning through by the time he left City Hall, but it seems almost certain that among the apparently sizable network of to-be-instituted zoning and other changes he left behind, to kick in at intervals known only to the parties who were party to the plotting, the radical transformation of Midtown East is just a matter of time. That's what East Side Access is about. Not to make life easier for Long Islanders who work on the East Side, but to make it possible to bring in whole new quantities of workers to fill the new commercial and residential supertowers that will be springing up. Whether those new East Side commuters will actually be able to make their commute without a fair amount of pain wasn't a concern of Mayor Mike, and apparently is assumed not to be a concern of those employers who will be employing the new employees -- acually making the commute will be the employees' lookout.

(One thing that I can't stop thinking about is all the escalator technology that's going to have to work better than escalators have ever worked in the NYC subways. Remember that the new "station" is taking shape underneath the current rail and subway lines coming into Grand Central. I don't have the numbers handy, but we're talking about commuter platforms at staggering depths, and hordes of commuters who will have to be transported from those depths to street level and vice versa, when NYCT escalators are already breaking down at alarming rates, and current escalator technology seems terrible to the point of incapacitated when it comes to repair.)


As for building new subway lines, it's something we hardly even attempt anymore. It's expensive, and disruptive. Of course the same was true of many of our subway lines when they were built. But as the city has become more built up, it has gotten that much more expensive and disruptive. Still and all, the fact remains that since the city's third subway system, following the private IRT and BMT, the city-built IND was built, mostly in the 1930s, with all kinds of future expansion possibilities built into the planning and construction for the next "phase," new line construction has been mostly limited to occasional patch-type connections and modest extensions -- like the No. 7 expansion.

Even the No. 7 expansion has been botched in at least one important way. When I say that the line has been extended from Times Square, at Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street, to 11th Avenue and 34th Street, that's all we will have to show for it: one additional stop. On all the existing north-south subway lines, there are stations at 33rd or 34th and 42nd Streets. On the "new" No. 7 line, considering the distance from Seventh to 11th Avenue -- and remember that those "avenue" blocks are about 2½ times as long as "street" blocks -- clearly should have called for an intermediate station, presumably at 41st Street and Tenth Avenue, before the line makes its southward turn. But all the parties involved in the planning played "financing chicken," and in the end nobody blinked and came up with a financing plan.

No doubt eventually a station will be added, at huge cost and with limited flexibility -- it's hard to imagine how a new station could be inserted allowing for transfers between directions. However, the Far West of 42nd Street has already been mostly developed, and so adding that station at 42nd Street and Tenth Avenue would only have improved access for people already living or working there, and nobody cares about them. In the World As Seen by Mayor Mike and his kind, it's only the developers of the new projects whose interests need to be served.

Speaking of missed, or at least deferred, opportunities, although the new tunnel extends south well below 34th Street, there are no present plans to even think about extending 11th Avenue subway service below 34th Street. At present there isn't any subway service west of Eighth Avenue. But that sort of extension would only be of interest to subway riders, not to big-time real-estate developers. So don't hold your breath.


That's right, the website is Talk about a mouthful! (Click to enlarge the above page, which you can find here.)

I got this clever idea. At least I thought it was clever. Now I have to be in Astoria, Queens, in time for a 2pm 40th-anniversary screening of Cooley High at the Museum of the Moving Image, with director Michael Schultz on hand for a conversation afterward. (The museum has scheduled a whole little series with him, with conversations on several subjects that will include his take as one of the pioneering African-American directors to establish a sort of Hollywood franchise of his own.) I have a little extra time because I already have my ticket, which I was able to pick up Friday night when I got my ticket for that night's screening of Spike Lee's 25th Hour, in the museum's See It Big! New York in Film series. So I won't have to wait in line to pick up my ticket for Cooley High.

So I got this idea that I could go to the park-opening festivities today, and then take advantage of none other than the newly extended No. 7 service to get me to the museum! It's a little tricky, because on weekends the trip normally requires not one but two train changes, and with trains on sparser Sunday schedules. And, most important, I didn't know when exactly regular service on the "new" No. 7 will begin.

In the most hopeful scenario, I was imagining taking the extended No. 7 to get to the area, since otherwise it's quite a schlepp out there. Alas, that's not to be, it appears, as I learned via this pass-along from AM New York via Justin Ferate's mailing list:
New No. 7 Subway Station to Open Sunday on the Far West Side of Manhattan

AMNY | September 10, 2015

Aerial view of the new 7 train station at West 34th Street and 11th Avenue. (Credit: MTA) [Click to enlarge.]

Residents and businesses on Manhattan's far west side will finally see the light at the end of the tunnel on Sunday, with a new subway station opening that will serve as many as 35,000 riders during rush-hour following almost eight years of construction.

The No. 7 train will leave the 34th Street-Hudson Yards stop on 11th Avenue during a ceremony Sunday morning. Normal service for riders will start around 1 p.m., the MTA said.

The city-funded station cost $2.42 billion, and brings the No. 7 line 1.5 miles to the new stop near the High Line and Hudson Yards development.

The MTA predicts that it will become the busiest station in its subway system. The station will serve the new apartments, offices, shops, and restaurants in the Hudson Yards area as the only station below 59th Street in Manhattan to go west of Ninth Avenue, the MTA said.

The No. 7 connects with 18 other subway lines across its route.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg took the No. 7 train for a run from Times Square to the new stop at the end of his term in December 2013, the month it was originally set to open. However, its debut had been delayed by the MTA's struggles with installing incline elevators and safety systems.

The last subway extension was in 1989. The MTA added three new stations then to its map: 21st Street-Queensbridge, Roosevelt Island and Lexington Avenue-63rd Street.

It will serve new apartments, offices, restaurants, and stores in the Hudson Yards area on the far West Side.

"The opening of the extension is a real boon to the far West Side, and opens up many new travel options coming and going to the area," said riders' advocate and MTA board member Andrew Albert.

"This includes travelers to the Javits Center, the new offices, and apartments already open or coming to the area. It's always wonderful when New York's transit system expands."

The riders' group 7 Train Blues was glad the opening was almost here.

"We're excited to see progress and hope to have transit continue in a positive direction," said organizer Hayes Peter Mauro. "Including extensions, improvements, and proper maintenance."

One challenge has been installing the transit system's first two incline elevators. The new station is 80 feet under the ground – but still nowhere as deep as the 191st station on the 1 train, which is 180 feet down. The last extension of the subway system was in 1989. The MTA added three new stations – 21st Street-Queensbridge, Roosevelt Island, and Lexington Avenue-63rd Street.
Aha! "Normal service for riders will start around 1 p.m., the MTA said." So, ah, OK, if I could actually board a train at 1pm or even a little bit later, I could pretty likely make my connection to the E at Court Square and then one station later change for the R -- or this weekend an F, I think -- at Queens Plaza. But again, those other trains will be on Sunday schedules, and if it gets much later than that, it gets dicey.

Further consideration: If I attempt this plan, I may have to decide at what point I need to abandon it and scramble to make the trip by existing transport from the Wild, Wild West in order to be assured of on-time arrival at the museum. Right now I'm thinking that the time might actually be no later than 1pm. Or actually, really, probably earlier. After all, if "normal service for riders will start around 1 p.m.," is there any assurance that I'll be able to get on the first train? Or even the second or third? Won't there be, like, a million people gathered for the festivities determined to ride the new line, not just on the first day, but on one of the first trains? Probably not many of them will be attending the Cooley High screening, but I don't think I can count on squeezing onto a train ahead of them.

Hmmm. It's history in the making, but maybe it'll have to be made without me.

I'm thinking I don't think this is gonna happen

Not the ribbon-cutting, I mean; there's no reason why that shouldn't proceed as scheduled. I mean me being there for it. I mean, what really is the point? I can always just travel the new stretch of the No. 7 line on some coming day.

It occurs to me, though, that come that day, it will be pretty much a "hop-off, look at the new station and the new park, and hop-back-on" affair, seeing as how I don't expect to have any earthly reason to be at 11th Avenue and 34th Street anytime soon. I was there on May 26 for an Open House New York tour of the renovations to the Javits Center (when, come to think of it, I also faced the problem of having to leave early in order to get to MoMI for a screening -- of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which I made; I enjoyed the film a lot).

At the time, the street-level shell of the new subway station was certainly visible, but otherwise the area of what I gather now is "Hudson Park" was pretty much a wasteland. Even now, though, for most of us it's still a rail terminus kind of in the middle of nowhere. But then, that's how a lot of subway lines were when they were built. One of the ways New York City has grown is that if you build a subway line, they will come. The developers, that is. (Who else matters?)

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