Brooklyn Boro

Old subway expansion plans for Brooklyn, Queens give glimpse into what might have been

September 21, 2018 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Amelia Earhart (lower left) speaks with her husband and friends before taking off from Floyd Bennett Field for Los Angeles in 1936. A 1939 plan would have brought the subway to the now-defunct airport. AP file photo
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The past few years have seen a lot of excitement surrounding new transit projects.

The first new subway construction in almost 30 years, the extension of the No. 7 line from Times Square to 34th Street-Hudson Yards, was followed by the opening of the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway. Planning is already underway for the Second Avenue line’s second phase, which would bring it north to 125th Street, according to the MTA.

Yet, some subway proposals for Brooklyn and Queens have gone unbuilt for decades. Some have been completely abandoned, others seem to be in a state of permanent limbo. Here are some of the never-fulfilled plans for subway extensions in the two boroughs:

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  1. Extension of the Nostrand Avenue (2 and 5) subway. When the line, whose current terminal is Flatbush and Nostrand avenues, opened in 1920, Brooklyn College didn’t exist, and its future home was a large stretch of empty land. Now, a whole community has grown up south of there. Plans to extend the line south were proposed in 1929, in 1939 and in the MTA’s 1968 “Program for Action.” A bond issue that might have funded this extension as well as the Utica Avenue line was voted down in 1971. According to some sources, one of the reasons for these proposals’ unpopularity is the fact that they would have included elevated tracks, which produce noise and block sunlight.

  2. The Utica Avenue subway. When Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed the latest version of a line down this important Brooklyn thoroughfare two years ago, reaction from the media was merely ho-hum. The MTA hasn’t even issued a request for proposals. But the idea for a line along Utica Avenue, branching off what is now the 4 and 5, dates to 1920, when space for a turnoff was provided in the Eastern Parkway line’s construction. A 1939 version of the line would have terminated at the now-defunct Floyd Bennett Field airport, while the 1968 plan anticipated the completion of Kings Plaza two years later.

  3. The extension of the L train north and south from Canarsie. In the 1968 Program for Action, the L would have been rerouted southwest over the LIRR’s Bay Ridge Freight Line to Brooklyn College, while a spur would have proceeded northeast to East New York. At the time, the Bay Ridge Freight Line was rundown and hardly used. Nowadays, however, the line is leased to a professional freight operator, the New York and Atlantic, which has cleaned up the roadbed. It transports freight cars full of goods that are off-loaded at the 65th Street Railyard’s car float in Bay Ridge.

  4. Extension of the R train (then the BMT Bay Ridge line) to Staten Island. A small part of a cross-Narrows tunnel was completed in Bay Ridge in the early 1920s, and supposedly one can still find the air shafts in Owl’s Head Park. Mayor John Hylan in 1922 proposed a tunnel that would carry both passenger trains and freight trains between Brooklyn and Staten Island. The Staten Island Railway, in preparation for the link, brought new passenger cars that were very similar to BMT cars of that era. (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit was one of the private companies that was later incorporated into the city’s Transit Authority.) However, regulatory problems ensued because the tunnel would carry both subway and freight trains, and Gov. Al Smith eliminated freight trains from the plan. In 1925 Hylan canceled it due to lack of funding. Some people believe that Hylan, a former BMT motorman who was fired from the company, hated the BMT so much that he would do anything to hurt it. Still, one feature of the tunnel plan — the 95th Street station — survived and opened that year.

  5. Extension of the N train to La Guardia Airport. If one looks at the last stop of the Astoria line, or N train, Ditmars Boulevard, one can see that it was built to accommodate further extensions. One such extension, which would have turned east to Horace Harding Boulevard, was proposed as early as 1939. But it really became a political issue in 1998, when Mayor Rudy Giuliani proposed an extension of the N to La Guardia Airport. Because it would run as an elevated line through several blocks of Astoria, local politicians — especially powerful City Council President Peter Vallone, who represented the district — opposed the idea. The MTA and City Hall decided to concentrate on the Second Avenue Subway and the Air Train to JFK Airport.

  6. Extensions to the Archer Avenue subway in Southeast Queens. In 1988, part of the long-awaited Archer Avenue subway was opened, eliminating the unsightly Jamaica el north of Queens Boulevard and bringing the subway closer to the LIRR’s important Jamaica station. However, this is only a fraction of the original 1968 plan. The E train was supposed to proceed along the LIRR’s Atlantic Branch tracks into Locust Valley and Laurelton, while the J was supposed to continue alongside the LIRR’s Montauk Branch to St. Albans. According to most sources, poor financial planning — the existing Archer Avenue line came in at $350 million over budget — and the opposition of some politicians killed the extensions.

  7. A connection between the Queens Boulevard line (E, F) and the A train’s Rockaway line, using a north-south corridor alongside the now-unused Rockaway Branch of the LIRR. This was proposed in the 1929 “Second System” expansion plan for the subways, and an additional platform and extra space for a turnoff were actually constructed within the Roosevelt Avenue station. This connection, like most of the lines included in the 1929 plan, was never built because of the Depression. Recently, some Rockaway residents and politicians have revived the idea, seeking to build the link on the LIRR roadbed, which was abandoned in 1962.  They say the current route from the Rockaways into Manhattan, over the Fulton Street line in Brooklyn, is indirect and takes too long. However, a competing proposal for the unused rail line — a High Line-type park called QueensWay — has also been gaining support. Some local residents in Ozone Park and other nearby areas suggest a combination of both, with a strip of parkland coexisting alongside subway tracks. Which proposal will win? Stay tuned!

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