By Carter B. Horsley
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is
about to decide on a plan for the Second Avenue Subway, a proposal
first considered more than three-quarters of a century ago.
There are basically two proposals before the
authority. One would run from 125th Street to 63rd Street. The
other would run from 125th Street to the financial district in
Lower Manhattan. Both would cost billions of dollars and both
are still not long enough. Its critics have aptly called the MTA
The MTA has been reported as favoring the former,
but many planners and the Borough President of Manhattan, Virginia
Fields, support the latter, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver,
whose district includes the Lower East Side, has declared he will
veto the short plan.
Both plans are dramatically scaled back versions
of much earlier proposals that would have extended the line into
the Bronx and Brooklyn and also would have created a 34th Street
Construction on the Second Avenue Subway actually
started in the early 1970s, but was aborted because of the
citys fiscal crisis in the mid-1970s. Several small
sections of the subway were actually built in East Harlem.
Subways are expensive and their construction
projects are extremely disruptive to traffic and to their neighborhoods
peace and quiet.
They are, however, also vital to the citys
well-being, shuttling millions of passengers a day at quite remarkable
speeds and significantly abating the citys horrendous street
The M.T.A. is completing a 15-year, $25-billion,
capital improvement program that has enhanced the subway system
with many new cars and some nicely refurbished stations. The state
of the system, as a result, is vastly improved. The screeching
and deafening subways that were covered with graffiti are now
generally clean on the outside and much quieter. Some stations,
especially on the Broadway line, have been very handsomely redone
with new tile work and some art works.
The Second Avenue Subway proposal is not the
only important new transit initiative now under consideration.
The "Train-To-The-Plane" plan is also being debated.
Of the two proposals, the train to the airport plan, which involves
the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is more important
to the city and like the Second Avenue Subway proposal the cheaper
and less efficient plans are currently the most favored, sadly.
The airport plan still requires passengers
to make two connections to get to JFK International Airport and
does not provide access to LaGuardia Airport. It is completely
inadequate and the difficulties of getting to and from JFK remain
an inexcusable nightmare for this major entry point that will
not be substantially alleviated by this piece-meal proposal.
The same can be said of the Second Avenue Subway
plan although certainly it will help many residents of the Upper
East Side and relieve some of the overcrowded conditions on the
Lexington Avenue line. Plans by the M.T.A. are also moving ahead
for a much-needed Long Island Rail Road link between Penn Station,
itself in a major state of flux, and Grand Central Terminal. This
important link is estimated to cost about $1.6 billion and is
likely to significantly increase traffic to and from Grand Central.
Opponents of the current Second Avenue Subway
argue that it should extend down to the financial district and
the South Street Seaport. They are right. Lower Manhattan still
has not fully recovered from the suburban and corporate exodus
that began in the 1950s although a renaissance began about
a decade ago with the emergence of the spectacular developments
at Battery Park City and the flourishing of older neighborhoods
such as SoHo and TriBeCa. Lower Manhattan is much, much more exciting
than it was when the Second Avenue Subway was aborted in the early
1970s and clearly Lower Manhattan and Midtown South are
very vibrant and the sites of considerable development to come,
all of which could use better transit access.
The city is an historic economic peak. Historically,
the city's subways have pioneered significant new real estate
development and certainly a new line could focus attention again
on the Lower East Side and East Harlem and parts of the Bronx
If the city is great, it must be capable of
undertaking great things. It did that when it built its subway
system. For almost half a century, the Federal Government, and
the states, have favored suburban highways over inner city infrastructure
despite the known environmental problems of sprawl and air pollution
The city, of course, is not stagnating and
a pint-size, patch-work approach to the Second Avenue Subway will
still be some improvement and hopefully can be designed so that
it can be greatly expanded.
Such a short-sighted approach, however, especially
one that initially primarily helps only residents of the city's
richest district, is not in the best interests of the city and
its residents. The city's political leadership, starting at the
Mayor's Office, should adopt a long-range transportation plan
that will result in a more efficient, more wonderful, more convenient
city for its residents and its visitors. Such a plan should not
be limited by political term horizons, nor the boundaries of the
Second Avenue Subway. The subway should help the residents of
The Bronx and Brooklyn as well as Manhattan. With a northern terminus
at Co-op City and a southern terminus at the South Street Seaport
and links to Brooklyn and new shuttles across 34th Street and
42nd Street and to the city's airports, New York would be a better
Such gigantic public works projects generally
cost way more than public officials indicate, but these transit
projects eventually produce income directly and indirectly when
they are completed, to say nothing of the jobs they generate during
the long construction period.
There is still time to argue forcefully and
to campaign for a great Second Avenue Subway that brings new life
to many long ignored. The full plan should be adopted even if
it has to be phased. Do the right thing, now. It will only be
more difficult later.