Sunday, January 08, 2017

Transit Watch: "The Second Avenue Subway is open for service!" (more or less -- give or take)


In related news: NYS Gov. Andrew M. 
Cuomo eats dirt (pass it on)

By the Numbers

Workers excavated 583,600 cubic yards of rock & 460,300 cubic yards of soil (more than half the Empire State Building by volume)
Cubic yards of concrete used in construction: 261,038
Pounds of rebar used in construction: 48.9 million
Pounds of structural steel used in construction: 40.7 million
The new line features 35 new escalators, 12 new elevators, and 22 new stairways
The new line features 200,000 square feet of floor tiles, 130,000 square feet of ceiling tiles, and 692,000 square feet of wall tiles
Number of doors: 1,014
Number of light fixtures: 10,264
Number of floor drains: 712
Number of plumbing and bathroom fixtures: 264
-- from "Second Avenue Subway Opens," on the
website of the Metropolitan Transit Authoritay (MTA)

"The Second Avenue Subway is open for service!"
-- the first paragraph of the above-linked MTA Web article

by Ken

The sentence I've quoted above from the official MTA chronicle of the opening of the Second Avenue subway is not only the entire first paragraph from the article, but also answers the question: How far into the official MTA chronicle of the opening of the Second Avenue subway would one have to go before encountering the name of Gov. Andrew M Cuomo, to whom (at present) the MTA -- nominally an "independent" public agency -- ultimately answers?

Because at this point, the article becomes about, well, pretty much about Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who apparently built the Second Avenue subway, very likely on evenings and weekends while he pursued various other day jobs during the period of construction.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo celebrated the on-time arrival of the Second Avenue Subway – the system’s first major expansion in more than 50 years – with the line’s inaugural ride on New Year's Eve. The new line’s first ride and celebratory party were cohosted by MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast and attended by Second Avenue Subway and MTA workers, local community members, dignitaries, local elected officials and members of President Obama’s Cabinet. Attendees rode to each of the new stations and will ring in the New Year with a celebratory countdown and toast at the 72nd Street station.

"After nearly a century, the Second Avenue Subway is no longer a dream that only a few still believe is possible. Thanks to the dedication and tireless efforts of thousands of great New Yorkers, the stations are open, the trains are running and it is spectacular," said Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. "With this achievement, we have recaptured the bold ambition that made the Empire State so great, proving that government can still accomplish big things for the people it serves. New Year's Eve is all about starting anew and I am proud to ring in the New Year on the Second Avenue Subway and welcome a new era in New York where there is no challenge too great, no project too grand, and all is possible once again."
And so, if you get your information primarily from official sources, you learn that the real story last Sunday was the assemblage of, um, dignitaries who made themselves available for photo-opping and gladhanding on the opening day of the Second Avenue subway.

By comparison, let's see how far you could go into some other venue's account of the big day. How about, say, CBS News's online piece "NYC welcomes Second Avenue subway" (with a slide show of 36 photos)? Let's try it.
A New York City subway line, first imagined nearly a century ago, is finally rolling. The long-awaited Second Avenue subway opened to the public on Sunday. The multi-billion-dollar project is expected to help hundreds of thousands of daily commuters travel faster across the congested city.

Planning for the Second Avenue subway began back in 1929, but hurdles -- including the Great Depression and the city’s financial crises -- derailed the project.

Now that it’s finally open, 200,000 daily riders are expected to use the new line that the MTA says will cut 10 minutes or more out of people’s travel time.

A stretch of New York’s City’s Second Avenue line opened to the public January 1, exciting not just New Yorkers like Fidel Molina (“After so many years of just closures and delays, we get to finally be here!”), but people from across the country. Raphel Sicinski drove more than nine hours from Virginia for the 10-minute ride.

“I’ve always had a love and passion for trains, and this is something I could not miss,” Sicinski told CBS News.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who pushed for the end-of-the-year deadline, was on hand for the grand opening.

Oh wow! So there was more to the story than the governor being, you know, on hand for the grand opening! Who would have guessed?


Well, of course I rode the newly opened segment of the Q train last Sunday, opening day. There were lots of thrill-seeking subway aficionados in evidence, on the platforms and the trains themselves, and also a goodly number of way-east Upper East Siders simply trying out their new transportation medium. A new subway map featuring the newly expanded-up-Second-Avenue Q line was being handed out. My goodness gracious, it was exciting. (That's what I said to the New York City Transit employee who handed me my copy of the new map. "Exciting!" I exclaimed. I like to think that my excitement was visible, and audible.)

I feel a little remiss in waiting a whole week to share this excitement, except for two things:

(1) Compared with the delays New Yorkers have endured waiting for the Second Avenue subway -- any sort of Second Avenue subway (we'll talk about this more below) -- a week's delay is like the blink of an eye.

(2) Proceeding from the above, I'm not sure that non-New Yorkers can appreciate what a deep-rooted issue the Second Avenue subway has become. As I was riding the new line extension up and down Second Avenue, I couldn't help thinking of my late stepfather, a lifetime NYC resident, who could always be counted on, anytime the subject of the Second Avenue subway was mentioned, to recall the time the plans for it were finalized, the money was actually appropriated, and the net thing New Yorkers noticed as that the money was gone and no subway line had been built. The best information I've heard is that yes indeed, this really happened, but the money got spent on, you know, other stuff.


Imagine for a moment that the year is 1948.

In the New York Transit Museum, among the museum's much-loved collection of historic subway cars, there is a car, one of only two surviving ones (at least that's my recollection from a Transit Museum tour; oh sure, I could research it, but wouldn't that take the fun out of it? besides, aren't impressions more important than facts?) from a 10-car subway train built in 1948 that was known at the time as the Million-Dollar Train, because each of those 10 cars cost $100K (in 1948 dollars, of course). It was a prototype train, and incorporated a host of new design features, a number of which found their way, in one form or another, into subsequent new-car designs.

Because, you see, there was, as it turned out, no need to build more of these particular cars, because the use for which they were intended never materialized. If all had gone according to plane, they would have ridden the very stretch of track where the survivor car now resides, the stretch of track now occupied by the Transit Museum itself. It's the long-closed IND Court Street station, one of the NYC subway system's more curious stations. It's just one stop to the west of the six-track Hoyt-Schermerhorn station, which was clearly intended to be a significant subway hub, but never became quite that hub; only four of those six tracks are actually in use.

The other tracks were used for a brief while for a shuttle train that merely traversed the one-station expanse between the two stations. And that was the only train "line" that ever ran in the Court Street station. When the "line" and the station itself were finally shut down, for obvious reasons of uneconomic lack of use, they were hardly missed.

This wasn't, however, what the station and that stretch of track were built for. The original idea was that the track would be extended west toward the East River, and then through a new tunnel under the river to Manhattan, ultimately to connect to . . . the to-be-built Second Avenue subway, which would (finally!) replace the torn-down Second and Third Avenue elevated lines. Oh, the exact route on Second Avenue was a matter of much heated discussion, with various plans being proposed -- and even accepted on the several occasions when actual construction was actually threatened, and even in several segments initiated. But the Million-Dollar Train would never be needed.

Now, one thing that the various earlier versions of the Second Avenue subway had in common was that they actually some version of "the Second Avenue subway," which is to say that they would actually have run up and down Second Avenue -- and not just the small segment from the mid-60s up to 96th Street whose construction has caused such havoc in the lives of local residents and merchants these last however-many years during the actual construction of what so far is merely an extension of the Q train northward, through the rebuilt Lexington Ave-63rd St station on up through the brand-new 72nd, 86th, and 96th St stations. Never mind that the letter "T" has long since been assigned to a Second Avenue subway (and "T"-train-themed merchandise has been available for purchase for years). Someday maybe there will be a T train, but I'm pretty sure I won't be around to see it.


This much of the Second Avenue subway has cost, as the CBS News account puts it, "a staggering $4.5 billion." But bear in mind that what's running now, as of last Sunday, isn't "the" Second Avenue subway; it's maybe "a" Second Avenue subway. What has been built is merely "Phase 1" of any sort of, er, actual (for want of a better word) Second Avenue subway.

Yes, here it is -- the Second Avenue subway as it exists in 2017, a northward extension of the Q line from Seventh Ave. and 57th St. up Second Ave. to 96th St.

Sure enough, the MTA version of the story of the route opening concludes -- after sections subheaded "New Q Train Service," "New Stations," "Public Art," and "By the numbers" (reproduced atop this post) -- with a section subheaded "Phase 1."
Phase 1

Phase 1 of the Second Avenue Subway includes the three new ADA-compliant stations at 96th Street, 86th Street and 72nd Street, and new entrances to the existing Lexington Av/63rd Street Station at 63rd Street and Third Avenue. It will provide service from 96th Street to 63rd Street and will serve more than 200,000 people per day, reducing overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue Line and restoring a transit link to a neighborhood that lost the Second Avenue elevated subways in 1940. The existing Q line will continue through 63rd Street all the way to Coney Island. The new stations will provide transfers to other subway and commuter rail lines. Further phases of the project will extend the line to Hanover Square in the Financial District.

As part of the Governor’s efforts to build a 21st century transportation network smarter, faster and more efficient than ever before, the state has launched a “New MTA” webpage. The webpage offers a one-stop guide to the proposals that are part of New York’s unprecedented $100 billion infrastructure plan to build a new New York.

The Second Avenue Subway expansion is part of the Governor’s sweeping statewide initiative to redevelop and rebuild New York’s aging infrastructure from the ground up. The comprehensive plan includes a new LaGuardia Airport, completely redesigned Penn Station, the LIRR 2nd and 3rd Track projects, the New New York Bridge, a major expansion of the Jacob K. Javits Center, as well as a complete overhaul and upgrades to the MTA's seven bridges and two tunnels in the metropolitan region.
I don't know about you, but I am thrilled beyond measure to rub up against the govern's vision of a 21st-century transportation network." Wow! The thing is that -- at least as far as the Second Avenue subway is concerned, which is my concern at this moment -- the governor's "sweeping statewide initiative to redevelop and rebuild New York's aging infrastructure from the ground up" doesn't seem to include Phase 2 of the Second Avenue subway, let alone Phases 3 and 4. Maybe this is because these are "building" rather than "redeveloping" or "rebuilding." But then, I note that the MTA article stops cold after this section on "Phase 1."


We already know that Phase 2 of the Second Avenue subway is supposed to extend the Phase 1 portion farther north, from 96th to 125th Street. But we also know, at least as of the last I heard, that nobody seems to know where the money is going to come from, or when. Again as of the last I heard, it wasn't included in any MTA capital budget, and without being included there, there's no way it's going to happen. It could be just coincidence, but it occurs to me that as you move north on Second Ave. from 96th Street, even with the considerable amount of gentrification that has occurred in East Harlem, you're moving into conspicuously less affluent terrain, an area where a money-finding and -distributing official like a governor (to pick a random example) might not see either a whole lot of votes to harvest or a whole lot of developers' cash dangling in front of his hypothetical eyes.

Now this means, in economic terms, that the current residents of what we might call the Far Upper East Side are in fact more in need of better public transportation. However, from the standpoint of that hypothetical money-finding and -distributing official we were just talking about, does providing those current residents with better public transportation translate readily into significant infusions of either votes or cash? Call me cynical, but I think if it did, Phase 2 would already be a done deal.

Of course if developers were already salivating over the development possibilities of that Far Upper East Side corridor with a subway extension in place, I'm guessing that that could make the money for Phase 2 much more findable. The only thing is, if and when that happens, the beneficiaries aren't likely to be the current residents so much as the more affluent new residents who will replace (or should I say displace them?

Meanwhile, if the powers that be are currently silent on Phase 2 of the Second Avenue subway, they're beyond silent on Phases 3 and 4, which would extend it south from the mid-60s, in two stages, or maybe more. I suppose Governor Cuomo has at least Phase 2 in his big-picture mixing bowl, and is busily weighing it against all the other money-sucking-up projects transportation project that he has to pick and choose among. Applying all that, you know, vision of his. I'm sure that in picking and choosing, he considers factors other than votes and potential developers' cash. It's just that where there are votes and/or developers' cash to be harvested, the considering process seems to be a whole lot smoother.

This is the 86th Street station on the Second Avenue extension. Of course I haven't looked at all the zillions of Second Avenue subway photos that have already been posted online, but of the many I did scavenge, I couldn't find a single shot that showed just the platform-level view that commuters will actually have on the three uniformly designed new stations, consisting of those infinitely running horizontal band lines. Well, I suppose we'll get used to the look.

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At 11:54 PM, Blogger opit said...

Photo ops are traditionally self congratulatory nonsense.

At 1:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it's the first major expansion in 50 years it would be interesting to know its cost especially in relation to given annual maintenance expenditures of the entire, aging, system.

John Puma


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