Reporters in trench coats and fedora hats and photographers with giant flash bulbs surrounded Mayor Fiorello La Guardia underground on the evening of Saturday, Dec. 14, 1940. Standing at the brand new Herald Square subway station, the Mayor said snipped a ribbon at 11:47 p.m. and said, “As Mayor of New York, I now formally open the Sixth Avenue subway and dedicate it to public use.”
That day, the local tracks that run from Columbus Circle to West 4th Street opened to the headline above, and they’ve been packed ever since. In the 65 years since, there have been a few improvements to the subway system. The trains extended to the Rockaway Peninsula in 1956. The express service between Herald Square and West 4th Street opened in 1968. Most recently, the 63rd Street Tunnel was connected to the Queens Boulevard Line, allowing the MTA to create the V train in 2001. But there hasn’t been a major subway construction project in the region despite decades of enormous investment in highways, roads and parking lots.
Now after a number of false starts, the stars are finally aligned for construction to begin on the Second Avenue Subway. The planners and politicians behind the project have arrived at a very sensible construction timetable that allows work to begin in individually financed phases that proceed in a logical order. The Federal Transit Administration is ready to invest $1.3 billion in the project.
All we need to do is to vote YES on Tuesday on Proposition 2, the Transportation Bond Act. A similar bond authorization was narrowly defeated at the polls in 2000. Construction of the Second Avenue Subway might have started had it not been for that. The current proposal would approve a bond authorization that will send $450 million to the project and, according to the MTA, allow construction to begin on the first phase, which includes three stations, at 72nd, 86th and 96th Streets. Construction of a new subway line for the first time in 65 years. Wow. That would be the surest sign that the city’s health is finally restored.
Beyond the psychological boost, what would the Second Avenue Subway do? It would relieve congestion on the overflowing, sardine-like 4, 5 and 6 trains, the busiest subway line in the nation by a significant margin. By doing so, it would allow the LIRR to bring trains into Grand Central Terminal with greater confidence that the 4, 5 and 6 could handle all the new people. It would make up for the mid-20th century destruction of the Second Avenue Elevated and the Third Avenue Elevated, which were demolished with the promise that underground service was on the way. It would make urban communities from East Harlem to the Financial District more attractive to live in, and thus discourage the sprawling of the region. It would take innumerable cars off the streets as people opted for easier transit. It would allow for the New York City economy to weather any potential high gasoline prices. It would make destinations on the far east side easier to reach, since there is no north-south subway service east of Third Avenue anywhere in Manhattan.
The reasons to be cautious about taking on more debt are of course sobering and deserving of serious attention. Many people ande governments are in over their head on the debt thing. But look at the Second Avenue subway. Is there any chance this thing won’t be filled from the day it opens? Manhattan’s existing subway tunnels were largely opened between 1904 and 1940. They are ancient. But they’re absolutely packed to the maximum capacity 65 to 101 years after opening. It’s a good investment sure not to go unused.
Need another reason to vote for the bond authorization? How about some words from The New York Times, Hillary Clinton, Governor Pataki, Scott Stringer, Transportation Alternatives, the Straphangers Campaign, Vote Yes NY, Joseph Dolman at Newsday or Jeremy Soffin of the Regional Plan Association at the Gotham Gazette, and Elliot G. Sander of the Rudin Center.
If this is successful, one day, our subway map could look like this:
- Yes on Transit Bonds [NYT, 2nd item]
- The Second Avenue Subway [nycsubway.org]
- Second Ave. Subway Pressure Mounts on Pataki [S&F]
- Transportation Bond Act [MTA]
- Vote YES on 2 for Better Transportation [Straphangers]
- On November 8, Vote Yes! for Proposition Two, The Transportation Bond Act [Transportation Alternatives]
- The Transportation Bond Act: Vote Yes [Jeremy Soffin at Gotham Gazette]
- Vote Yes NY
- Governor Pataki Announces His Support for $2.9 Billion “Rebuild and Renew New York” Transportation Bond Act [Governor Pataki]
- Transit referendum — good for Downtown and beyond [Scott Stringer at Downtown Express]
- Vote Yes on NY Prop 2 [RPA: Spotlight on the Region, Oct. 20, 2005]
- Transportation bond act is good move [Joseph Dolman at Newsday]
- The Bond Act [PDF: Elliot G. Sander in the New York Transportation Journal]
- Hil joins chorus to pass bond act [NYDN]