Second Aveue Subway construction (samschwartz.com)
Ask a hundred people who live on the East Side what they love about their neighborhood and you'll hear a hundred different answers. Ask the same people what is their least favorite thing about where they live and you'll hear the same refrain over and over: it's too far from the subway!
New York neighborhoods live or die based on their proximity to public transit. The far East Side, from Third Avenue to East End Avenue, has always suffered due to its distance from the Lexington line, the only subway line operating in the 8 full avenue blocks between Central Park and the East River.The Lexington line serves an average of 1.3 million riders each day – more than the average daily ridership of any other entire transit system in the US.
The Second Avenue Subway offers the promise of public transit to the East Side to neighborhoods long isolated. When Phase 1 opens in 2016, the entire East Side will enjoy the same easy access to subways as the rest of Manhattan. New Yorkers who live and work on the far East Side will finally know what it's like to catch a train just a couple of blocks away.
Where, though, will that train take them?
As of 2016, not very far. The first phase of the Second Avenue Subway, opening in 2016, will only extend the Q line from 57th Street to 96th Street. While this will provide some much-needed relief on the Lexington line, it doesn't truly solve the problem: a dearth of subway access east of the entire length of Lexington Avenue.
Extending the Q train four stops only helps Upper East Siders travelling to destinations near Broadway (mostly on the West Side in midtown.); it does nothing to connect uptown and downtown on the East Side, the route where the need is most critical. True transportation equity requires a full build of the Second Avenue Subway, from 125th Street to Hanover Square.
It is unclear if the MTA is prepared to seamlessly move forward with construction. The MTA's Twenty-Year Capital Needs Assessment, released in October 2013, devotes only three paragraphs (out of 140 pages) to the Second Avenue Subway construction, noting that "[i]mplementation of future...phases will need to take into account MTA's ability to fund and plan each functional incremental stage." The decade old Environmental Impact Statement for the project has not yet been updated, one of the very first steps the MTA will have to take to plan for future phases. As of yet, no concrete steps have been taken to ensure that construction of the Second Avenue Subway will continue past Phase 1.
This is an enormous mistake.
It's a mistake to introduce a delay of any kind into this construction process. When Phase 1 concludes in 2016, the team of thousands that has made this project possible will disband without a new phase to move on to. Any pause between phases, no matter how slight, will result in a loss of institutional knowledge, equipment, staff and experienced contractors, and cause future delays.
It's also a mistake to miss out on the lowest interest rates we're likely to see for decades. Right now is a perfect time to raise capital to continue Second Avenue Subway construction. In order to take advantage of this, we need to build as much as we can, as quickly as possible. Rather than simply moving forward on only Phase 2, the MTA should finance and begin construction on both Phase 2 and Phase 3 simultaneously. We must build a subway that meets the urgent need that was the impetus for the 2nd Avenue Subway more than 80 years ago.
As New Yorkers, we all know the benefits that subway access can bring. We've already seen the far East Side spring to life in the last few years in anticipation of the opening of Phase 1. However, we also know that partially finished projects usually don't deliver any of the promised benefits – building half a bridge is just a waste of money.
Extending the existing Q line a mere 40 blocks does not fulfill the promise of the Second Avenue Subway. It's time to boldly move forward and begin financing, planning and building the next phases of this project. The East Side has waited long enough for transit equity.
Assemblymember Dan Quart represents the 73rd District on Manhattan's East Side and is a member of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, which oversees the MTA