Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable
December 15th, 2008
America in Gridlock
[TIMELINE] The Wrong Track: The Greatest Subway New York Never Built

1920s-1930s 1940s-1950s 1960s-1970s 1980s-present

THE PROPOSAL: 1920s-1930s
1920New York City Mayor John F. Hylan and other city officials call for a new subway line on the East Side of Manhattan.

Daniel L. Turner of the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) publishes the “Proposed Comprehensive Rapid Transit System.”

Phase I of the plan – build Sixth and Eighth Avenue lines.

Phase II of the plan – build Second Avenue Trunk line.

1922The Turner papers are updated. The Second Avenue line is revised to be six tracks wide with a short eight track connection to Queens. The line is to connect with the Grand Concourse branch of Phase I, and two tracks continuing under the East River to the Fulton Street line.

Estimated cost – $165 million.

1925Phase I is under way.
1929An expanded proposal is made to build the Second Avenue line from Houston Street to the Harlem River.

Estimated cost – $86 million.

This includes a turnoff at 34th Street, a 34th Street Crosstown Subway and an East River tunnel to Queens; a turnoff at 63rd Street to connect with the Sixth Avenue line of Phase I; and a connection in the Bronx at Morris Park and Lafayette Ave.

Later revision of the Second Avenue line has the six track line from uptown branching off – two tracks to 61st Street (instead of 63rd Street), two to Chambers Street, and two to the Fulton Street Subway.

Estimated cost for the 100 mile Phase II system – $438 million.

Construction is anticipated to begin in1930, with lines in service sometime between 1938 and 1941.

In October, however, the Wall Street stock market crashes.

From The New York Times Archive – “100 Miles of Subway in New City Project; 52 of Them in Queens” (September 16, 1929)

1930The Second Avenue line is expected to be built north from 32nd Street starting in 1931, opening in 1937; and south of 32nd Street starting in 1934, opening in 1940.
1931-1935As the Depression arrests the city, Phase I construction falls behind. Due to cost overruns for Phase I, plans for the Second Avenue line are postponed. The Phase II plan is then revised – dropping the connection to Fulton Street in Brooklyn by instead connecting the line to the Nassau Street loop. The new proposed opening date is 1948.

From The New York Times Archive – “Debt Limit Curbs City Subway Plans” (May 15, 1935)

1939Estimated cost of the Second Avenue line – $249 million.
DELAYED: 1940s-1950s
1944The Second Avenue line is back in the planning stage. Ground has still not been broken for the project.

New revisions: From Canal Street to 57th Street the line is to be four tracks, with six north of 57th Street (two for a super express to the Bronx); two tracks will be south of Canal Street; connections are planned for the lines from the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges. The plan also calls for a connection in Brooklyn with a major rebuilding of the DeKalb Avenue junction.

Estimated cost of the Manhattan segments – $242 million.

The proposed opening date is pushed back to 1951.

1947Subway fares increase from 5 cents to 10 cents, following an $18 million transportation budget shortfall in New York City.
1948The city’s transportation system loses another $30 million and requests $300 million for rehab and $500 million for capital improvements from the New York legislature. However, the State does not approve to increase in the city’s debt limit.
1949Estimated cost of the Second Avenue – $504 million.

The new R11 “million dollar train” is unveiled as the prototype train to run on the line – 10 stainless steel subway cars, which cost $100,000 each.

1950The Second Avenue plan is revised to include a two-track turnoff at Seventh Street to 34th Avenue in Queens.

Then, the Korean War starts, driving up material costs.

1951A Bond issue for $500 million is approved. Construction on the Second Avenue line is to begin in 1957 or 1958.

From The New York Times Archive – “$500,000 Voted for 2d Ave. Subway By Estimate Board” (September 14, 1951)

1952-1953Growing city debt causes the Second Avenue line to be postponed, first for three months, then indefinitely by 1953.
1957Transit Authority Chairman Charles L. Patterson uses most of the $500 million bond issue for improvements to the current system – leaving only $112 million for the Second Ave line.

The New York Times reports on Jan 17, 1957, “It is highly improbable that the Second Ave Subway will ever materialize.”

From The New York Times Archive – “A 2d Ave. Subway Called Unlikely” (March 9, 1957)

A formal hearing is held to investigate the use of funds meant for new construction. Patterson, however, defends his right to spend the bond money on general system improvements.

back to top
GROUND BROKEN?: 1960s-1970s
1963The Second Avenue line is still planned, but no funds are available.
1964The Urban Mass Transit Act is passed, making Federal funding available for transit projects.
1965The Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority (MCTA) is founded in New York.
1968MCTA changed to Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

The MTA takes over the city’s subway system, putting the Second Avenue line plan back on track. The Second Avenue line will cost $220 million for a two track line from 34th Street to the Bronx. It would connect with the 63rd Street Tunnel, the Central Park line to 57th Street, Sixth Avenue, and Broadway Avenue.

Phase II would bring the line down to Water Street near Battery Park. The New York Board of Estimate approves a two track line from the Bronx to Water Street, including the 63rd St. connection.

1972October – Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller leads a groundbreaking ceremony with Mayor John V. Lindsay 103rd Street and Second Avenue, and work begins on the first part of the line, from 99th Street to 105th Street.

From The New York Times Archive – “Rockefeller and Lindsay Break Ground for 2d Avenue Subway” (October 28, 1972)

1973March – Construction begins from 110th Street to 120th Street.

October – Mayor Lindsay breaks ground for the Second Avenue line’s downtown section.

1974July – Mayor Abraham D. Beame breaks ground for a fourth segment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

November – After three ground breaking ceremonies and some six decades of stalled proposals for the Second Avenue line, the MTA announces the completion would be delayed – yet again – due to a lack of funds.

December – Mayor Beame calls for the constructed tunnel segments to be sealed once work is completed.

From The New York Times Archive: “2d Ave. Subway Put Off Further” (December 14, 1974)

1975Mayor Beam stops work on the fourth tunnel before construction got past the preliminary stage.
SLOW TRAIN COMING: 1980s-present
1980sNo progress, no work.
1996Some sections have construction activity – Section 5 (Bowery to Chrystie Street), Section 11 (East 99th to East 105th Streets), and Section 13 (East 110th to East 120 Streets).
2007April – Gov. Elliot Spitzer leads a ground breaking ceremony with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and work begins for an initial phase from 63rd Street to 96th Street.

From The New York Times Archive: “Is that finally the sound of the 2nd Ave. Subway?” (April 9, 2007)

2008And the construction continues.
back to top

Sources: The New York Times, New York Magazine,

Inside This Report

Produced by THIRTEEN   ©2015 WNET.ORG Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.