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article imageNew York City's Second Avenue Subway opens, 100 years later

By Jack Derricourt     Jan 3, 2017 in Technology
The ‘greatest New York project never built’ has finally opened to the public. After a century of waiting, the public can finally ride New York’s Second Avenue Subway.
On the first day of 2017, New York greeted its new, three-stop subway line with pomp and circumstance. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo saw the final completion of the project as a symbol of the best of government.
"We needed to show people that government works and we can still do big things and great things and we can still get them done," Cuomo said, hearkening back to the large public works projects in the second half of the 20th century. Stretching from the New Deal, to Eisenhower’s interstate system, to the Great Society of LBJ, projects like the Second Avenue subway intended to stimulate the economy and to show the public that government could improve their daily lives.
Crowds flocked to the opening of the Second Avenue Subway on January 1st  2017.
Crowds flocked to the opening of the Second Avenue Subway on January 1st, 2017.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin
While it was a long time coming, the Second Avenue Subway seeks to ease the pressure on the Upper East Side’s commuters as they venture back and forth from downtown every day. The three stops at 72nd, 86th and 96th streets are just the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway project. The first phase cost $4.5 billion and is projected to serve 200,000 daily riders. If the subway line actually expands through phases two, three and four (all of which currently lack full funding), the Second Avenue Subway could serve as many as 560,000 daily riders — with an estimated cost of $17 billion.
New Yorkers get a first look at the Second Avenue Subway
New Yorkers get a first look at the Second Avenue Subway
Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin
The Second Avenue line was first proposed in 1919, as even back in those early days, congestion was starting to build up in New York’s subway system. Unfortunately, in the first of many setbacks, the construction of the line was killed by the Great Depression. The line was proposed again in the early forties in order to replace the elevated 2nd and 3rd Avenue line. Again, however, history had different plans: World War II (and city planner Robert Moses’ love of expressways) put a stop to plans for the Second Avenue line. The lack of a Second Avenue option put additional strain on the Lexington Avenue Subway, making it the busiest subway line in the U.S.
Many New Yorkers felt a sense of déjà vu when the resurrection of the project was announced in the 2000s. As the official deadline of 2013 was pushed back, and the cost continued to balloon, it looked like the project would never happen. But, in the year the Cubs won the World Series, anything can happen!
Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin
Of course, it’s not all swift commutes and roses. Cynics and critics alike wonder if the projected service into East Harlem will ever get funding and get built. There’s also the threat that the subway will send surrounding real estate prices through the roof (as a Mad Men episode once predicted) pricing local residents out of the neighbourhood.
As Cuomo noted in his speech, the mezzanines in these stations are big, and you don’t normally see them in subway stations. Vox points out that, amongst other things, these mezzanines are why the project is so expensive — threatening to become the most expensive transit project in the world.
After a century’s worth of setbacks and snares, New Yorkers have a beautiful, but costly, subway on 2nd Avenue. Excelsior!
More about Second Avenue Subway, NYC, Transit, Subways, Andrew cuomo
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