Co-op City Can Have A Subway!

The following is a guest article by John Rozankowski, PhD

One of the most glaring transit deserts in the Bronx is Co-op City.  This development with some 44,000 residents, as well as the northeast Bronx, is in dire need of a new subway line.  And it can become a reality if the abandoned trackways of the Bronx Amtrak line are put to use.

The Amtrak line which runs the entire length of eastern Bronx is wide enough to accommodate both the Amtrak and the proposed Metro North Connecticut railroads on one set of tracks, and a new subway on a separate set of tracks.  This is critical since federal regulations prohibit commuter rail and subways to run on the same tracks.

The Amtrak line has been in the news recently with the proposal to build four Metro North stations at Hunt’s Point, Parkchester, the Municipal Hospital Complex and Co-op City.  At a City Council Transportation hearing of 6/19/12, William Wheeler of the MTA categorically stated:  Building the Metro North stations is absolutely dependent upon the completion of East Side Access, now targeted for 2023.  Even if Governor Cuomo gets some funding for this project, work on it won’t take place any time soon.

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The Bronx can take advantage of this delay since the proposed design of the new Metro North stations would block any subway line from also using the Amtrak track-bed.  Why should north east Bronx riders settle only for Metro North when they can have both the commuter rail and a new subway?

Two Subway Lines for Co-op City and the Northeast Bronx

Two separate subway lines could run via Amtrak through the northeast Bronx to Co-op City: an extension of the Triborough RX and the 2nd Avenue subway:

The Triborough RX is a subway proposed by the Regional Planning Association (RPA).  It would link abandoned railroads in Brooklyn and merge with the Amtrak line in northwestern Queens.  There is already a bridge over Hell Gate with four tracks: 2 are used by Amtrak and the other two would be used by the new subway.  The RPA has suggested running this line to Yankee Stadium.  Without eliminating this option, trains on the Triborough RX could also continue along Amtrak to Co-op City.

The second subway is the 2nd Avenue subway.   Here is a way for this new subway to serve the Bronx very effectively without having to dig new tunnels. This proposal is not unprecedented.  The RPA proposed using the northern portion of Amtrak for its Metrolink proposal which included tunneling into Co-op City to create three additional stations there.

In the 1970’s, the MTA wanted to use the southern portion of the Amtrak for the 2nd Avenue subway to 174th Street after which it would link with the Dyre Avenue line at East 180th Street.  It’s unfortunate that the agency tore down the connection between the two lines in 2003.  There is no reason, however, why the entire Amtrak line cannot be used.  Except for the Co-op City segment, there would be no tunneling and a great deal of money would be saved by building a dedicated subway bridge instead of tunneling under the Harlem River.

Obstacle to the Northeast Bronx Subway

Currently, the MTA is working on Phase I of the 2nd Avenue subway from 63rd Street to 96th Street.  Next up is Phase II from 96th Street to 125th Street and here the proposed MTA plan creates an obstacle for a Co-op City bound 2nd Avenue subway.   In sharp contrast to all previous 2nd Avenue subway proposals, which had the line going to the Bronx, this plan turns the line west on 125th Street with the station on an east-west axis to facilitate transfers from Metro North and the Lexington Avenue line.

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It must be added that this extension is extremely expensive.  The Phase II tunnels from 110th to 120th Streets were built in the 1970’s and are shallow.  The western extension, however, would have to go under the Lexington Avenue line, which has two levels.  This means deep tunnel boring with a super-expensive cavern station accessible only by very long escalators.

In a recent article on this blog, Richard Garey proposed extending the Manhattan-marooned #3 train into the Bronx.  At the turn of the 20th century, IRT planners can be forgiven for not envisioning the explosive population growth in the Bronx and terminating this line in Harlem.  Because of it, the #3 trains are useless to the Bronx.1   It’s therefore shocking that the MTA’s Phase II plan creates a similar “dead-end” for the 2nd Avenue subway at 125th Street.  It would prevent 15 Q trains, planned to run on the line, from ever reaching the Bronx and would condemn them to permanent “one-way loads.”

There is no sound reason for turning the 2nd Avenue subway west on 125th Street:

Metro North riders would not transfer to the 2nd Avenue subway even though the fare might be cheaper than continuing straight to Grand Central.  The demise of the NY, Boston and Westchester Railroad demonstrates this point convincingly.2

—Metro North as well as #4 and #5 riders would not transfer to the 2nd Avenue subway to get to Times Square.  It will remain faster and easier to stay on their trains and transfer at 59th Street or Grand Central to the appropriate trains.  Riders don’t have time for long escalator rides or taking a cruise through the Upper East Side.

—The same riders would not transfer to the 2nd Avenue subway to get to the developing Far West Side.  Transferring to the 2nd Avenue subway would require another transfer to the #7 at Times Square.

—A stated MTA goal of the 2nd Avenue subway is to relieve the crush on the Lexington Avenue line.  As any regular rider knows, the biggest crush comes at 125th Street as #6 riders transfer to the #4 and #5 expresses.  If the 2nd Avenue subway ran via Amtrak to Co-op City, it would draw West Side bound riders from the #6 at each proposed station–especially at Hunt’s Point where a transfer would not involve long escalator rides.

Many Metro North riders would transfer to the 2nd Avenue subway at 125th Street in large numbers only if it went below Grand Central–especially to Downtown Manhattan.  That, however, is in the far distant future.3
The people of the northeast Bronx could have service far sooner.

The money saved by not turning the 2nd Avenue subway west and instead proceeding to the Bronx would cover the cost of a dedicated subway bridge and much of the cost to install tracks and signals on the Amtrak as well as stations that would serve both the subway and Metro North.

The Bronx Must Develop and Fight For Its Transit Needs

Overall, the problem is that no has ever defined what are the borough’s transit needs.  Today decisions such as the routing of the 2nd Avenue subway, the design of the proposed Metro North stations are made by people who don’t live in the borough, are not interested in the real needs of its people and relegate it to an afterthought.  The westward turn of the 2nd Avenue subway at 125th Street is clearly discriminatory, an insult and a crime against the Bronx.

It shouldn’t and wouldn’t be this way if the Bronx paid the attention to mass transit that it deserves.  The Bronx Borough President should set up a task force to study, investigate and to define all Bronx transit needs from new subway lines to meaningful improvements in present bus and subway service.  This task force must reach out far and wide for extensive public participation.

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In the campaign against the Shops-in-the-Armory and for the Living Wage campaign, Bronx Borough President Reuben Diaz, Jr. has bravely picked up the leadership baton.  It must be recalled that in both campaigns, he had the strong support of the people.  Likewise, in transit, a task force must define and launch a campaign for Bronx transit needs and without a doubt, Diaz will swing into action once again.




Notes

1.  On July 16, 1940, the New York City Board of Transportation tried to rectify this problem by extending the #3 to the 9th Avenue El station at West 155th Street.  The #3 would then proceed on what was called the Polo Grounds shuttle to a junction with the #4 line at 162nd St.  World War II intervened and sadly this was never done.  Today the new Yankee Stadium blocks this route.
2.  The New York, Boston & Westchester Railroad opened in 1912 with a terminal at 132nd St.  There a special station was constructed on the 3rd Avenue El to facilitate transfers to Manhattan.  Even though this was cheaper than a straight ride to Grand Central on Metro North, riders paid the higher fare on Metro North dooming the New York, Boston & Westchester railroad to bankruptcy in 1937.  Today a segment of this railroad survives as the Dyre Avenue subway. Cf. Stan Fischler, The Subway: A Trip through Time on New York’s Rapid Transit, pp. 174-182.
3.  The current Phase II MTA plan does feature a bellmouth tunnel at 125th St. pointing north to the Bronx.  With the 15 Q trains diverted west, however, this would be useless at least until completion of Phase III of the 2nd Avenue subway, which would launch the proposed T train.  If at that time, the Metro North stations are built as currently planned, a completely new and expensive tunnel would have to be dug in the Bronx.

Sources

Dana Rubenstein, “The Surprising Return of the Triboro RX,” Capital New York 5/25/12.
Steven Weber & Jeffrey Zupan, “Metrolink: New Transit for New York,” January 1999, RPA (Regional Planning Association)  http://www.rpa.org/pdf/metrolink.pdf
Mark S. Feinman, “The NYC Transit Authority in the 1970’s,” nycsubway.org: Developments 1940-Present
“New York, Westchester & Boston Railroad: #1. East 177th St. – East 180th St. Area,” nycsubway.org: Developments 1940-Present.
Richard Garey, Extend the #3 Train to the Bronx,” Welcome2theBronx.com

About John Rozankowski, PhD

Although born in Brooklyn, John Rozankowski, PhD spent most of his life in the Bronx and received his Ph.D. in history from Fordham University at Rose Hill. 

After selling his rental property, John became a community activist fighting against the new Yankee Stadium, the term limit extension, the Kingsbridge Armory Shops-in-the-Armory proposal and for Bronx Borough President Reuben Diaz’s living wage campaign.  Last year, he was a volunteer in the Letitia James for Public Advocate campaign and continues to campaign in Queens for the reactivation of the Rockaway line.

John has a very strong interest in mass transit issues especially relating to the subways and buses.  The outer boroughs have always been shafted and it’s high time that Bronxites did something about it.

In addition, he is a writer and blogger on New York City issues.”

Dr Rozankowski has lived in the Bronx for 58 years and currently resides in the Bedford Park neighborhood of the Bronx.

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