from the archives

A History of Waiting for the Second Avenue Subway

“Second Avenue Subway: Bumpy Road Ahead,” by Richard Cohen, from the February 8, 1971 issue of New York magazine.

The new subway is scheduled to open on December 31. Here, a sampling from 40 years of speculation about its arrival in the pages of New York.

“The projected Second Avenue subway will be a major benefit, and … will greatly relieve overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue and Queens express lines … On the Lexington Avenue express, it has been estimated, the number of people in cars during rush hour should fall from 170 to 120. That will still be a lot of people, but while there will be standees, at least they will have elbow room to read a paper.”
“A Realistic Master Plan for the Here and Now,” December 1, 1969

“The approaching political donny­brook will center around the place­ment of the Second Avenue subway stations in Manhattan; the width of the tunnel under the Avenue; and the construction method to be used — open ­cut-and-cover or deep-rock tunneling … The parties to the dispute are many — discontented residents of the Bronx and Queens clamoring for more municipal services; the half-million wealthy, articulate Upper East Siders, accustomed to giving orders to the bureaucrats; the feisty ethnic communities north of 96th Street and south of 14th Street; the potent business and financial communities south of Canal Street; the technical elitists with their scarcely hidden disdain for the people who run the MTA; and, finally, City Hall and the Board of Estimate.

“All that? All that surging of adrenals? All that money ($347 million for the Second Avenue subway)? That impressive array of power? A political morality play over a couple of subway stops in Manhattan? More or less, yes … The contending forces are squaring off for the last battle of the Second Avenue subway.”
“Second Avenue Subway: Bumpy Road Ahead,” by Richard Cohen, February 8, 1971

“True, we have put a shovel in the ground for the Second Avenue subway after talking about it for 54 years and, more than twenty years ago, voting $500 million to build it. But that is comfort of a very remote kind. It will be at least the year 2000 before that subway is fully operational, if then … Besides, with current use of our existing system down some 40 percent from its 1947 peak, how do we know that people will use the Second Avenue subway in numbers large enough to justify its cost?”
“A Fare Question,” by Theodore Kheel, April 23, 1973

“Second Avenue subway, first proposed 50 years ago, is finally a-building both uptown and downtown … The subway will cost $1.3 billion, with the federal government footing roughly 80 per cent of the bill.”
“Works in Progress,” April 8, 1974

“So far, the project has cost the city $61.1 million and is still unfinished. While parts of three sections have been completed, the bulk of the work now being done involves shutting down these three sections until the city allocates more funds. It’s anybody’s guess when that might be.”
“The Year of the Apple: Believe It or Not,” December 26, 1977

“There’s no doubt that the prospect of hosting an Olympics … would move repaving projects along more quickly. They might finally finish that Second Avenue subway tunnel.”
“The Olympic Pipe Dream,” by Michael Tomasky, August 12, 1996

“Glimpsed fleetingly only to disappear again for decades, the Second Avenue subway has long seemed to be New York City’s version of the Loch Ness monster … The project is suddenly enjoying a perfect storm of favorable circumstances … Some of the money is already secured: The MTA has a quarter of the $4 billion or so it needs to launch the first leg … and many believe the federal government will soon commit to paying at least a third of the first portion’s price tag. Finally, a big political obstacle has been removed: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose district is on the Lower East Side, is telling colleagues that he’s ready to support the plan even if the MTA decides to begin uptown. ‘I am flexible on doing stages as long as there’s the understanding that we’ll ultimately do a full build,’ he says.”
“The Line That Time Forgot,” by Greg Sargent, April 5, 2004

“Opening day has already been pushed back from 2015 to 2017. The budget (about a third from the Feds, the rest from the state) has edged up to $4.4 billion, and just last week the MTA announced yet another shortfall. In the seventies, we actually did quit midway, after three bits of tunnel were built for this line. But this time, even when the economy cratered, we kept at it — armed with bond issues, dynamite, and our abiding optimism.”
“Reasons to Love New York: No. 43. Because We Keep Digging,” by Christopher Bonanos, December 21–28, 2009

*This article appears in the December 12, 2016, issue of New York Magazine.

A History of Waiting for the Second Avenue Subway