Monday, December 26, 2016

The Prisoner of Second Avenue

Perhaps no passenger rail line in the United States - not even any of the proposed high-speed intercity lines that never got past the proposal stage, bar a few lawsuits - has been delayed longer than the Second Avenue subway line in Manhattan, having first been proposed over a century ago but just beginning service less than a week from now, on New Year's Day 2017.  Work on the subway didn't actually begin until the early seventies, but the 1975 fiscal crisis and a shift toward more highway construction in the country in the 1980s put it on indefinite hold - at about the same time the New York City subway system became more famous for its violent crime, is filthy stations, and its graffiti-splattered cars than for quality service.  But, with the "crime and grime" era behind it and with demand for more trains on Manhattan's East Side continuing, New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority is ready to go with the new Second Avenue line.  (One of its new stations is shown below.)

Well, not completely.  This is just the first phase, which runs from East 63rd Street to East 96th Street.  The entire line will connect East 125th Street in Harlem with Hanover Square near the Financial District in Lower Manhattan.  And just getting this first leg done has taken longer than expected.  The MTA has been accused of rushing things too quickly to get it done by an arbitrary completion date of January 1, 2017 . . . which is ironic, since the MTA has taken its sweet time even getting this far.  For most Upper East Siders, it can't happen too soon.  They've had to take the Lexington Avenue line, which handles more passengers than entire rapid-transit networks of Chicago and Washington, D.C. put together, and it's woefully overcrowded.  Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, is certainly pleased with this new line.  "New Yorkers have waited nearly a century to see the promise of the Second Avenue Subway realized," he recently said, "and after unrelenting dedication from thousands of hardworking men and women, the wait is over . . ..  The on-time completion of this major, transformative project reaffirms confidence in government competence, increasing capacity on the nation’s busiest subway system, and delivering a new, vital transportation artery to millions of New Yorkers."
Just as long as New York City and New York State can reassure beleaguered Manhattanites - who've had to deal with a rapid-transit-free Second Avenue since the elevated railway there was demolished in 1940 - that the rest of the line will be done in good time.  At least this much has been done.  Meanwhile, as President Barack Obama plans to leave office this coming January 20, not a single mile of his proposed national high-speed rail network has been built.  And unless California can overcome overwhelming odds and oddities (those lawsuits again), no high-speed rail will ever be built here.  

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