The New York City Subway's Latest Bright Idea Is Already Screwed

Photo credit: MTA
Photo credit: MTA

The New York City subway, it’s widely acknowledged, is terrible compared to what it used to be. The basics—rails, signals, the system itself—are all fundamentally broken. Nevertheless, New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo plows on with massively overdone capital projects. And his shining centerpiece is broken, too.


The problem is pretty simple, really. The west side of Manhattan is traversed by a whole bunch of subway lines, but the east side of Manhattan really only gets one. And that one (carrying the 4,5, and 6 trains) gets extremely crowded, as you can imagine. The solution should be simple then, in theory. Build another line on the east side, and make it run with a very high capacity capability.


Instead, what we’ve gotten is what’s known as the Second Avenue Subway project. Over a century after it was first planned, only three stations are built out of a planned total of 16 stations. They are massive cathedrals to public transportation, with fancy escalators and multiple levels. As you can imagine, all of that cost a lot of money for something that was supposed to fulfill a very basic need, and thus a bunch of people hate them.

But there’s a bigger problem, aside from all the wasted money. Those subway stations were built with a significant design flaw, one that will cripple the Second Avenue Subway line forever, reports the Village Voice:

The original plan for the station at 72nd Street and Second Avenue called for two “island” platforms with a track on either side and one down the middle. Once the T — the yet-to-be-launched portion of the SAS on Second Avenue south of 72nd — entered service, the center track would act as a terminus for Q trains, while T trains would use the side tracks. Passengers would have a cross-platform transfer between the Q and T in both directions, and each train would run on its own tracks with almost no overlap.

But all that changed when the MTA decided to scale back the 72nd Street station to two tracks and one platform, the way it is today. As a result, once the southern section of the Second Avenue Subway opens, the Q will likely have to run all the way up to the future terminus of the SAS at 125th Street, running an alternating schedule with the T, even though the lines will only share six stops.


That means that one train line – the Q –will quite literally be in the way of another train line, the Voice notes. The end result is a subway that is no longer just slow and crowded as a result of corruption and government inaction, but one that is now designed to be slow and crowded:

The consequences of this decision will only be felt once the T begins service after phase three of the Second Avenue Subway project is done, which is likely decades down the road. But once (if?) that happens, Barone says the T will only be able to operate every six or seven minutes at peak hours, hardly the frequency expected from a showcase capital project. For comparison, the 4/5 currently has a maximum capacity of a train approximately every two and a half minutes, and subway lines in systems with modern signaling system can operate with a train every ninety seconds.


That New York City, the United States’ largest and most prosperous city, does not have a fully-functioning transportation network seems to doom it to inevitable decline. It will be a gleaming, overbuilt and empty monument to decrepitude, much like its own subway stations.

Just go ahead and get a house in the suburbs. They have cars there.

Deputy Editor, Jalopnik. 2002 Lexus IS300 Sportcross.


We just want a staircase that goes into the ground that leads to the train station, we don’t need glass walled mini-Epcots.