We discussed yesterday the potential advantages of rethinking the construction phases of the Second Avenue Subway. Building a line down 125th Street first, rather than immediately thinking about continuing the subway downtown, would be a good choice. Realistically, however, the MTA is unlikely to change the order in which the line will be built, so we’re likely to see the downtown sections of the line completed before we’re even contemplating a 125th Street Line. But does the downtown extension as currently designed make sense? We think not. Instead, we’ll describe in this post why a detour off Second Avenue and into the Lower East Side makes a lot more sense than the current plans for the route.
Current Plans for the Second Avenue Subway in Downtown Manhattan
The first two phases of the subway as currently designed would act as an extension of the Broadway Q line and serve passengers on Second Avenue from 63rd Street up to 125th Street. The current plans for the third and fourth phases bring the same services down to the tip of Manhattan, with the line running roughly below Second Avenue and Chrystie Street until Chatham Square, where the line diverges east to provide a station near South Street Seaport and then finally at Hanover Square, which is about three blocks away from Battery Park.
The current plan calls for stations at 14th Street, Houston, and Grand before reaching Chatham Square. Each of those stations would be located immediately adjacent to stations serving existing lines (the L; F and V; and B and D, respectively), and two “avenue” blocks away from stations along the Lexington Avenue line. New stations along the Second Avenue Line at these three locations would provide minimal new benefits to existing riders. Here’s why:
14th Street Station: Riders here are just two blocks from the large Union Square complex, which already provides service to both West and East Midtown, Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn on the Lexington Avenue and Broadway Lines. A Second Avenue Subway would allow access to far East Side destinations, but the Lexington Lines are so close that the additional benefit is limited.
Houston Street Station: At Houston, the F and V lines already provide service to Midtown under 6th Avenue, as well as connections to Queens and Brooklyn. Importantly, riders wanting to get to the Upper East Side could easily take F trains to 63rd Street, where they would be able to transfer across the platform to uptown-bound Q trains in the first two phases of the Second Avenue Subway. Also, the Lexington Avenue Lines are very close.
Grand Street Station: Here, the B and D, also running on 6th Avenue, provide good service to Midtown, the Upper West Side, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. Riders wanting to get downtown can walk one or two blocks to the J, M, Z or Lexington Avenue Line stations.
But the most important point is this: since all three stations will be built where subway service already exists, no new areas of the city become more easily transit-accessible. And unlike our proposed 125th Street line, which also only would connect existing subway stations, the currently proposed Lower East Side route for the Second Avenue Subway doesn’t really provide better transfer opportunities, as the descriptions of the stops above demonstrate.
So, a revision is in order. The Second Avenue Subway’s downtown route should be significantly revised to provide two significant improvements: one, increasing subway access to currently transit-deprived areas of the city; and two, improving transfer opportunities for passengers who currently have trouble moving between lines.
Proposed Changes in the Subway’s Routing
As illustrated in the image above (here’s the PDF), the Second Avenue Subway would be more effective if its route were pushed down Avenues B or C in the East Village rather than if it were built as planned on Second Avenue in the Lower East Side. We propose a routing where the line diverges onto 14th Street, parallel to the existing L, before it turns off down one of the two East Village avenues. The line would then include a stop near Tompkins Park, another at Delancey Street, and a connection at East Broadway with the F line that currently stops there. It would then rejoin the existing downtown routing at Chatham Square.
Regional Plan Association has developed a similar plan in its recent report, but does not provide adequate evidence for why it is important, as we intend to do here. Second, RPA refers to the Lower East Side line as a spur, not the Second Avenue Subway’s main line.
But the MTA does not have the resources – and never will – to build a spur line. But because the stations that we propose eliminating – at Houston and Grand Street – do not serve significant employment bases, there’s little reason that the line down Second Avenue in this section of the city is absolutely necessary. In other words, people travelling from the Upper East Side will be going to workplaces downtown, not in the Lower East Side, so changing the route of the subway here will not alter their commutes. This new routing through the East Village should be the main and only line of the subway.
This proposal fulfills both criteria we set out for what would make an effective line by both serving transit-deprived areas and improving transfer opportunities for passengers attempting to move between lines.
For one, but moving the tracks two to three “avenue” blocks east, the subway serves the large, often poor and minority populations of the far east side whose apartments are simply too far from existing stations. This would be to the benefit especially of the Delancey Street Station, which would be located adjacent to the Williamsburg Bridge approach; many of the public housing units in this area are fundamentally isolated from the rest of the city and deserve greater connectivity. These people would benefit from greatly improved mobility and significantly reduced commuting time for travel up and downtown. The increasingly densely populated East Village, too, could benefit dramatically from the construction of a station at its heart, in Tompkins Square.
Why connect the line at East Broadway with the F train? Because it would allow commuters from Brooklyn travelling on the F to reach East Midtown far more easily than today. Currently, commuters on the F wishing to get to the Grand Central/United Nations area must either make the very long transfer at Bryant Park or walk from that 6th Avenue Station all the way East. There is no transfer at Broadway-Lafayette Street to the 6 train, a situation which is planned to be repaired, but which will only crowd the Lexington Lines even further. By allowing the Second Avenue Line to connect at East Broadway, commuters coming in from Brooklyn would have easy access to both the Lower East Side and East Midtown.
Along with the 125th Street Line, the Lower East Side diversion discussed here would have a positive role in improving transit for the city’s population. The currently proposed route, which does not provide any commute time improvements for inhabitants of the East Village, and which does not significantly improve transfer opportunities, simply is not an adequate choice. The MTA should seriously consider reworking its plan.