The Utica Subway

Last week, Bill de Blasio released a plan for New York’s future called OneNYC, whose section on subway expansion called for a subway under Utica Avenue in Brooklyn (PDF-pp. 45-46). The call was just a sentence, without mention of routing or cost or ridership projections, and no plan for funding. However, it remains a positive development; last year, I put the line at the top of a list of underrated subways in North America. Presumably the route would be a branch off the Eastern Parkway Line, carrying the 4, while the 3 continues to go to the current New Lots terminus.

The cost is up in the air, which means that people forming opinions about the idea don’t have the most important and variable number with which to make decisions. In this post, I am going to work out the range of cost figures that would make this a worthwhile project. This has two components: coming up with a quick-and-dirty ridership estimate, and arguing for a maximum acceptable cost per rider.

Before doing anything else, let us look at how much such a subway extension should cost, independently of ridership. Between Eastern Parkway and Kings Plaza, Utica is 6.8 km. The non-English-speaking first-world range is about $300 million to $3 billion, but around $1.4 billion, or $200 million/km, is average. Utica is a wide, relatively straight street, without difficult development alongside it. In fact, I’ve been convinced in comments that the line could be elevated nearly the entire way, south of Empire Boulevard, which would reduce costs even further. Normal cost should then be around $100 million per km (or $700 million), and even in New York, the JFK AirTrain came in at a $200 million/km. I doubt that an elevated solution could politically happen, but one should be investigated; nonetheless, a $1.4 billion subway would be of great benefit.

Now, let us look at ridership. Recall that Utica’s bus route, the B46, was New York’s third busiest in 2014, with 46,000 weekday riders. But two routes, Nostrand’s B44 and Flatbush’s B41, run parallel and provide similar service, and have 67,000 riders between them. Those numbers are all trending down, as residents gradually abandon slow bus service. A subway can realistically halt this decline and generate much more ridership, via higher speed: B46 limited buses average 13 km/h south of Eastern Parkway, but a new subway line could average around 35 km/h. Second Avenue Subway’s ridership projection is 500,000 per weekday, even though all north-south bus lines on Manhattan’s East Side combined, even ones on Fifth and Madison Avenues, total 156,000 daily riders.

Vancouver is considering replacing its busiest bus, the 99-B, with a subway. The 99-B itself has 54,000 weekday riders, the local buses on Broadway (the 9 and 14) have 43,000, and the 4th Avenue relief buses (the 4, 44, and 84) add another 27,000. Those are much faster buses than in New York: the 99-B averages 20 km/h, while the 44 and 84, running on less crowded 4th Avenue, average nearly 30 km/h west of Burrard. SkyTrain is faster than the New York subway since it makes fewer stops, so the overall effect would be similar, a doubling of travel speed, to about 40 km/h. The ridership projection is 250,000 per weekday in 2021, at opening, before rezoning (see PDF-p. 75 here). This represents a doubling of ridership over current bus ridership, even when the buses provide service SkyTrain won’t, including a one-seat ride from the Westside to Downtown and service along 4th Avenue.

In New York, as in Vancouver, the subway would provide service twice as fast as current buses. The distance between Nostrand and Utica Avenues is much greater than that between 4th Avenue and Broadway in Vancouver, so the analogy isn’t perfect (this is why I also support continuing Nostrand down to Sheepshead Bay). Conversely, the speed advantage of subways over buses is greater than in Vancouver. Moreover, Nostrand already has a subway, so actual demand in southeastern Brooklyn is more than what the B41, B44, and B46 represent. A doubling of ridership over bus ridership, to about 220,000, is reasonable.

For a quick sanity check, let us look at Nostrand Avenue Line ridership again. South of Franklin Avenue, the stations have a combined weekday ridership of 64,000 per weekday, as of 2014. But this is really closer to 128,000 daily riders, counting both boardings and alightings; presumably, few people ride internally to the Nostrand corridor. The Nostrand Avenue Line is 4.3 km long; scaled to length, we get 200,000 weekday riders on Utica.

Put together, a normal-cost Utica Line, with 200,000 weekday riders, would cost $7,000 per rider. This is quite low even by non-US standards, and is very low by US standards (Second Avenue Subway Phase 1 is about $23,000 according to projections, and is lower than most US rail lines).

As far as I’ve seen, from glancing at lines in large cities such as London, Paris, and Tokyo, the normal cost range for subways is $10,000-20,000 per rider. Paris is quite cheap, since its ridership per kilometer is so high while its cost per kilometer is not very high, keeping Metro extensions in the four figures (but Grand Paris Express, built in more suburban geography, is projected at $34 billion for 2 million daily passengers). Elsewhere in Europe, lines north of $20,000 are not outliers. If we set $25,000/rider as a reasonable limit – a limit which would eliminate all US rail lines other than Second Avenue Subway Phase 1, Houston’s light rail extensions, and Los Angeles’s Regional Connector – then Utica is worth $5 billion. A more generous limit, perhaps $40,000 per rider to allow for Second Avenue Subway Phase 2, would boost Utica to $8 billion, more than $1 billion per km. Even in the US, subways are rarely that expensive: the Bay Area’s lines are only about $500 million per km.

The importance of the above calculation is that it is quite possible that Utica will turn out to have a lower projected cost per rider than the next phase of Second Avenue Subway, a project for which there is nearly universal consensus in New York. The original cost projection for Second Avenue Subway’s second phase was $3.3 billion, but will have run over since (the projection for the first phase was $3.7 billion, but actual cost is nearly $5 billion); the ridership projection is 100,000 for each phase beyond the first, which is projected at 200,000. In such a situation, the line would be a great success for New York, purely on the strength of existing demand. I put Utica at the top of my list of underrated transit projects for a reason: the line’s worth is several times its cost assuming world-average per-km cost, and remains higher than the cost even at elevated American prices. The de Blasio administration is doing well to propose such a line, and it is nearly certain that costs will be such that good transit activists should support it.

79 comments

  1. Joseph

    It’s good to hear, and not too surprising, that the Utica line could be cost-effective even as a subway. It would really make sense to have the southern half elevated if the roadway is wide enough – Aren’t many of the outer lines in Queens and Brooklyn elevated?

    But the other concern I have heard is the issue of capacity on the East River tunnels and the main lines in Manhattan. Does the route of the 4 have enough extra capacity to absorb 200,000 new riders headed into Manhattan every day?

    • Alon Levy

      Yes, it does! The 4 and 5 are overcrowded coming south from the Upper East Side, not north from Brooklyn; see the hub bound travel report. The B/Q, which I expect many Midtown-bound passengers to transfer to at Atlantic-Pacific, are also far from overcrowded. Any additional travel generated by a Utica subway (and by a Nostrand extension) is reverse-peak.

      Outer lines in Brooklyn and Queens are indeed mostly elevated, but this is because they were built in the 1910s or even before. By the 1930s they were already built fully underground, even under Queens Boulevard, which is so wide it’s actually nicer when it has an el in the middle.

      • Adirondacker12800

        …why would people change from the IRT to BMT when they are on a train that goes to Times Square to get on a train that goes to Times Square? Or get off a Lexington Avenue train and schlepp to the BMT when there will be a Seventh Avenue train on the same platform? Or even Herald Square. Or Rockefeller Center?

        • Alon Levy

          The 2 crawls through Lower Manhattan. The Q isn’t exactly high-speed rail, but it does do Atlantic-Pacific to Times Square in about 7 minutes less, which is about the same as the time saving over the R between DeKalb and Canal. And the northbound R is the sort of train where people can get seats at rush hour.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Un huh, get off an IRT train to wait around for a BMT eats up the time savings. And there are those days when you get to the BMT platforms and find that there are delays.

        • Joey

          So the configuration would have to be 2 down Nostrand, 3 down Utica (or the other way), 4 and 5 to New Lots (or one terminating at Utica)?

          • Fbfree

            The minimal change would be to extend the 4 to New Lots and run the 3 down Utica. Other configurations may be warranted to increase capacity at Rogers Ave. junction.

  2. Fbfree

    As it’s sure to be asked again, what are the pros/cons of extending the 2/5 from Brooklyn College down Flatbush vs. a Utica line?

    My response would be, “Lines down both Utica and Nostrand are so cost effective, that both should be pursued.”

    While placing rapid transit on a diagonal to local services can allow more network connectivity in some cases by connecting to two local routes at each station (i.e. the CTA Blue Line or Vancouver’s Expo Line), buses already follow diagonal routes in SE Brooklyn. Mind, connectivity of local buses to the Subway does not seem to be a priority in New York as it is in other cities.

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, New York’s pretty bad about bus-subway integration. But Nostrand, Utica, and Flatbush are all major streets that deserve bus service, even if it’s slightly duplicative of the subway. Some corridors are strong enough that they retain high bus usage levels even when there’s a subway: Third/Lex, 14th, Broadway, Grand Concourse. Elsewhere, I’m honestly not sure what a rationalized bus network would look like, since there isn’t a large-scale grid outside Manhattan, and at any rate there are subways to take into account. More interesting is the role of subway extensions in bus route design: since New York is at least in principle capable of building extensions, thinking about bus route redesigns concurrently is always good. For a positive example, the separation of Jamaica Station from Jamaica Center reduces the crunch of subway riders all trying to board the same station, and perhaps an extension of the 7 one stop east with the same goal in mind is desirable.

      I’m not terribly fond of using Flatbush for a subway. I like that it fuses Nostrand’s biggest draw, Brooklyn College, with Utica’s, Kings Plaza, but that’s its only redeeming feature. Everything else about it? Meh. For one, it would definitely be an el and not a subway, because of water table issues, at least as far as I can remember forum discussions from 2007-8; Flatbush is wide enough for it, but the area’s dense enough for NIMBYs. Flatbush also has lower bus ridership than either Nostrand or Utica, even though Nostrand is partly duplicative with the subway, and Flatbush is in principle as good as Nostrand at feeding the 2/5. Finally, the Nostrand Avenue Line is a crawlfest – 24 km/h when it’s being nice, 17 km/h when it’s not. An extension would be faster because it’s not 1920 anymore, but trains would still get stuck on the legacy segment. A brand-new Utica line would be well north of 30.

      And on top of that: yeah, Utica leaves the Nostrand option open, and vice versa, while Flatbush commits the city to having just one line there.

      By the way, the Vancouver Expo Line isn’t neat enough to really run diagonally to a grid the way the Chicago Blue Line does. Instead, some of the core bus routes in Vancouver just detour to have their eastern end at an Expo Line station. In addition, one of the core lines, the 19, runs on Kingsway, parallel to the Expo Line.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Yeah, New York’s pretty bad about bus-subway integration

        Those people in the other borough take the bus to the subway anyway. You don’t think all of the people using Flushing Main Street walk there do you?

        deserve bus service, even if it’s slightly duplicative of the subway.

        People in the outer boroughs do all sorts of things out there that aren’t amenable to using the subway. Like going north from four blocks south of the subway stop to someplace six blocks or sixteen blocks north of the subway stop. There are even people out there that rarely if ever go into Manhattan.

        since there isn’t a large-scale grid outside Manhattan

        I had to keep a map of New York City in my head ( before there were computers on every desk ) I can tell you where an address in Brooklyn or Queens is just from the address. Expect for the older parts of Northern Brooklyn. Which is also on a grid.
        Gonig down – Albermarle Road, Beverly Road, Cortelyou Road, Ditmas Avenue. Newkirk – an outlier – Foster, Glenwood, Ave H, Avenue I all the way down to Avenue X. Quentin Road is between Avenue P and Avenue R. Ya see a pattern here? Slightly different names to the east and a slightly different grid to the west. Queens is even easier outside of Long Island City. Both of them are interrupted by roads that were there before the grid. Like the grid in Manhattan is interrupted by Broadway.

        • threestationsquare

          It’s close enough to a grid to keep track of addresses but if you try to run a bus like the B6 through it you end up with a lot of turns. The B6 still manages to be the seventh busiest bus route in the United States so this is clearly not the end of the world, but it’s not quite the idealised abstract grid Jarett Walker likes to draw.

        • Alon Levy

          There are two problems with this.

          First, the grids west of about McDonald and east of about Bedford are at an angle to each other, so buses often turn.

          Second, and more importantly, there are no continuous arterials in southern Brooklyn that go perpendicular to the subway, except Kings Highway. The B35 has to transition from 36th to Church, and averages hilariously low speeds, even by New York (ex-Manhattan) standards. Utica averages 13 km/h; the B35 averages 9. Other bus routes slalom even in the regularly gridded areas: the B16 gets off Fort Hamilton Parkway to detour through 13th/14th Avenue; the B6 goes on J, then Glenwood, then H; the B8 goes on 18th, then Foster, then D; the B9 goes on N, then M, then L. The B15, I can’t even figure out where it goes. The B82’s okay once it hits Kings Highway, but the route to there from Coney Island seems completely useless.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Yet people still ride them. Just like people use the subway in Manhattan to get from Columbus Circle to Union Square the bus riders in Brooklyn ( or Queens or the Bronx ) do all sorts of things other than ride from one end of the line to another.

          • Adirondacker12800

            People aren’t going to take the bus from Carnarsie to Bay Ridge to get to Manhattan. Or go to CVS instead of Rite Aid.

        • Alon Levy

          The buses (originally streetcars) were run by separate private companies from the subways, so they often competed with the subway, and were not built to feed it.

          • Adirondacker12800

            I suspect the ones that parallel the subway on the same street have fairly decent connections to the subway. PDF files are painful with a P4 and half a gig of RAM. Looks like most of the perpendicular lines do pretty well.

            http://web.mta.info/nyct/maps/busbkln.pdf

            I’m gonna assume those itty bitty subway icons that match the train designators, along the bus routes, indicate that you can change to that train…

          • lop

            Can you give an example or two? I always thought bus routing was pretty decent about offering subway connections.

          • ardecila

            Historical fact of density. Most NY subway stations were fed by walk-in riders, because the surrounding neighborhoods were dense enough to support the stations on their own. Chicago, which has always tried to integrate bus and rail, relied on those bus connections to expand the catchment area of rail stations. The unified ownership under Samuel Insull didn’t hurt, but there was a very sound reason. Buses only competed with rail for crosstown trips, since an L-shaped journey on two bus routes was often faster than changing trains downtown.

          • threestationsquare

            In Brooklyn the streetcar and rapid transit systems were both almost completely controlled by the BRT (and later BMT) from 1900 onwards (in some cases earlier), with the IRT subway the only significant exception. As the system expanded, surface routes were routed to rapid transit stations and new rapid stations were opened with connections to surface routes; as a result the bus system in Brooklyn does a decent job of feeding the subway.

            In the other boroughs the situation was more like you describe. But the companies in the Bronx and Queens could never really expect many passengers to ride slow surface transit all the way to midtown/downtown Manhattan, so in a lot of cases wound up feeding the subway anyway (especially in Queens where most lines opened fairly late and were never streetcars). In Manhattan there was indeed a lot of competition and duplication between the surface lines and the subway, but many of the most duplicative routes still have decent ridership, and it’s not like they make bus-subway transfers any harder. The one-way system imposed on the avenues in the 1950s did a lot more to make subway-bus transfers inconvenient than the competing companies did.

          • Fbfree

            The SW brooklyn bus network doesn’t make very much sense to me (mind you, I’m looking from afar.) The B64, goes out of it’s way to avoid crossing the N and D, the B63 and B37 both parallel either side of the 4th Ave line without connecting to it. While there are areas where the bus connections have been designed with the subway in mind, especially the network around Brooklyn, theres many instances of bus routes missing a subway connection by one block, or where the buses divert for less than obvious reasons. The B4 and B36 in Coney Island or the B9 running on Avenue M (when the Q has an entrance on Avenue N) come to mind.

    • Fbfree

      Take a look here. The problems are noise, light blocking, and aesthetics. The first can be mitigated with the design of the structure and track, the second isn’t a big problem on wide streets, and the latter is not worth spending $1 billion on.

      • Eric

        It’s also mostly bordered by low density industrial development which wouldn’t really mind shadows much.

  3. threestationsquare

    Do we have any statistics on how much of the B44 and B46 ridership is north of Eastern Parkway? Bed-Stuy is pretty dense, and if a significant fraction of the bus ridership is there then the total bus ridership numbers may be misleading.

    On the other hand, Utica and Flatbush are both served by dollar vans, and so the MTA’s bus ridership numbers understate actual transit usage in the area. The relevant section of Flatbush is also served by the Q35 (an extra 4000 weekday riders).

    • Alon Levy

      No, but, for what it’s worth, on the B46 all locals and about half the limiteds turn at DeKalb (and a few even turn at Eastern Parkway), so the north-of-Eastern-Parkway ridership is just to Fulton and Broadway, not to Williamsburg. On the B44, everything runs at least as far north as Flushing Avenue.

      Bear in mind, in Vancouver, a significant fraction of the ridership is one-seat rides to Downtown: the 4, 14, and 44 have 35,000 riders, vs. 89,000 on the 9, 99, and 84; if only the latter count, then the rapid transit bias factor is nearly 3, rather than 2.

      • threestationsquare

        The corridor is noticeably denser than Utica (see the map Yonah Freemark posted) but the Q66 only gets 14k weekday riders. I guess people just walk to the overcrowded 7 train? Or take one of the perpendicular bus routes (Q33, Q47 and Q49 together total 25k weekday riders) to 74th/ Broadway.

        • lop

          http://library.rpa.org/pdf/RPA-Moving-Forward.pdf

          Page 55, By NYCT standard, 7 express V/C ratio at peak load point was 1.02 in 2011. Same as the 4/5. Only line worse was the L at 1.03, but they’ve since added a couple trains. The 7 local had a V/C ratio of 0.81. If someone walks to a subway on northern instead of the 7 local it doesn’t make much of a difference then, does it? Unless it keeps them from transferring to a 7 express or the E in Jackson heights.

          If it uses the 63rd street tunnel and the existing tracks under northern (F) is there a good place to elevate it before you get to the Grand Central?

          • Eric

            It wouldn’t be elevated in Manhattan (if that’s what you suggested). Rather, it would feed into either the Broadway line or (once it’s built) the SAS line going south.

          • Alon Levy

            Why would the trains use the GCP, though? I guess they could make a decent airport connector if the F trains use the line, while the SAS tie-in (the U?) goes express on QB. But Northern needs that subway connection more than the airport does.

          • threestationsquare

            Existing tracks under Northern south of Broadway are already at capacity with the E/F, so it would need separate tracks in that area (splitting from the F before the F merges with the E). One might want it to detour slightly south to serve Sunnyside Junction anyway.

            If the 7 express is significantly more crowded at peak than the local, can’t they run more expresses and fewer locals?

          • lop

            @threestationsquare

            From google maps I had always thought the F was the only line under northern. Didn’t realize there weren’t express tracks under Broadway/Steinway.

            @Alon

            I didn’t mean it would use the GCP. Head east on Northern Blvd and you cross the GCP at a messy highway interchange with the Van Wyck near citi field, then across Flushing Creek to get to downtown Flushing and points east. A subway/elevated transition is messy, but I don’t think you’d have many people complain about it where Northern crosses the GCP. The point would be to make an extension east or north beyond Flushing cheaper than if it was underground. I was assuming there was room on the existing tracks under northern for the new line, and was wondering if there was a better place to make that transition from under Northern to over it between Broadway and the GCP.

            Since there isn’t room on those tracks, do you have a rough idea for how you would get a train from the 63rd street tunnel/under 41st ave to Northern east of Broadway, either as a subway or an elevated? Or if using the existing tracks, where you would reroute the E between Queens Plaza and Jackson heights?

          • Alon Levy

            I assume it would actually diverge from the F farther west of where the F joins the E, serving Sunnyside Junction. The F might potentially be diverted to Sunnyside as well, with a new tunnel to let it rejoin the E after making that extra stop. The U would duck under the E/F at Broadway and go under Northern, transitioning to elevated at the GCP. There’s a large drop in surface elevation around the GCP, so it’s easier to transition there anyway, on top of the fact that there are no NIMBYs in Willets Point. It might go underground again in Flushing; I think it shouldn’t, but Flushing NIMBYs may disagree, and honestly there’s no reason to ever send the U farther east of the intersection with the Port Washington Branch, so it’s only a short segment anyway.

          • Ryan

            There’s no reason to send a 2 Av service out to the Port Washington branch at all. Rationalize the Port Washington schedule/fares, and suddenly Port Washington riders don’t actually need a subway extension because they have a regional rail line that works just as well. (Or if they really, truly need a subway extension, run the 7 further past Flushing.)

            I think you’re better served either stopping at Willets Point, or if there’s enough demand up in that corner of Queens, taking a wide turn from Northern along the Whitestone Expressway and then running up into College Point.

          • Alon Levy

            By the time there’s any point in running the U past Willets Point, there’s going to be demand for running the 7 to College Point instead. It’s better to send the 7 to College Point than the U because then the 7 and U would intersect in Flushing.

          • Adirondacker12800

            College Point is relatively low density and probably always will be. The bus to the subway and train is good enough. There’s a reason or reasons why the LIRR abandoned service. And that the regulators let them.
            The usual number tossed around for ridership on the Port Washington Branch is a quarter of the LIRR ridership. They have a connection to the subway to the subway at Main Street. They don’t use it. That tells me there isn’t much demand to make every stop across western Queens. Once East Side Access opens they’ll have even less reason to use Woodside.
            The TA isn’t going use U. They aren’t going to use I O P or Y either, too much room for confusion.

          • Alon Levy

            The LIRR abandoned service because there were tons of grade crossings and the neighborhood clamored to have them all closed. One of the proposals was to turn the line into a branch of the Flushing Line, but in the 1930s there was no money for that or for mainline rail grade separations, so the LIRR abandoned the line instead. The postwar abandonment of the Erie Main Line was for a similar reason, even though it served dense areas of Passaic.

          • threestationsquare

            How terrible an idea is having the Northern Blvd subway turn on Junction and run to College Point via LGA, something like this? (Based partly on the idea that rail to LGA is politically inevitable and trying to benefit as many other people as possible at the same time.)

            Regardless, I’m still curious how to quickly estimate ridership on a corridor like Northern where bus ridership is cannibalised by perpendicular buses and people walking to the subway. I guess Second Avenue is like that and the subway is expected to outperform the M15 by a factor of about 10, which would very roughly imply Northern Blvd subway (straight to 108th/Northern, not the LGA/CP line above) ridership of about 140k? With length (and thus costs) comparable to Utica, I suppose this suggests Northern should be a lower priority in spite of its higher density.

          • Alon Levy

            Well, the usual rule is that whatever branch serves LGA has to run in Manhattan as the F, or maybe the E, rather than using Second Avenue, because of the Midtown hotel demand. But going straight on Northern is still more useful, because of the possibility of service to Willets Point and Flushing. Flushing needs more service in multiple directions, and Willets Point has incredibly peaky demand because of the Mets, so trains after games are overcrowded.

            That said, if it were a trunk line rather than a branch, then yes, Northern should have a LaGuardia branch under Junction, since it would provide very direct service to Midtown. But that would require a fifth subway tunnel between Manhattan and Queens…

            As for ridership on Northern, for a sanity check, the ridership on the 7 from 82nd to 111th inclusive is 85,000 per weekday. Some people do ride internally, but still, 140,000 is reasonable in that regard. It’s higher than I thought – I’d have figured Northern for less important than Nostrand and Utica, whereas this seems to place it somewhere in between.

          • Adirondacker12800

            There are proposals to send the 7 to Secausus. The Californians are extending BART to San Jose. That doesn’t make them good proposals.
            The Erie abandoned service because there wasn’t enough demand. Just because the Erie and the DL&W thought it was a good idea doesn’t mean it’s a good idea today. Or anytime in the future.

          • Alon Levy

            Yes, probably. For Willets Point, it’s a matter of connections to the rest of the city after Mets games; the 7 is pretty good at it, whereas the PW Branch would need at a minimum an infill station at Queens Boulevard for the Triboro transfer, and even then it wouldn’t have great transfers to most of Brooklyn. Northern would add a second connection to Triboro and, via the F (or F-to-Q, or U-to-L), somewhat better Brooklyn connections. Sport stadiums are annoying in this fashion and I might dedicate an entire post to the problems they pose.

            For Flushing, LIRR modernization is crucial in adding service to the east, but to the west, I don’t know how much infill is practical between Woodside and Willets Point. Northern and the LIRR are also on opposite sides of Roosevelt; LIRR modernization is useful in decongesting the 7, but not so much in providing that new service north of Roosevelt. (The U would also offer direct Flushing-Chinatown service, for what it’s worth.)

            I have a retro-fantasy map lying around, in which New York built an S-Bahn from the start, connecting Grand Central with the LIRR at Flatbush/Atlantic via mainline rail instead of building the subway, and expanding from there; the 7 is of course replaced with the PW Branch, PATH is replaced with direct tunnels from the railroads that it connected, etc. Northern ends up as the most important gap in the network, since it’s even farther from the alt-7 than it is from the real 7.

          • Adirondacker12800

            New York did build an Sbahn,. The express subway lines.

  4. Ryan

    Why do you keep referring to it as the U train, anyway?

    There’s good reasons why the letters I, O, and U shouldn’t be used for any subway labeling (and not necessarily good reasons but there are reasons to preclude the use of P, X, and Y as well), and we’re nowhere near close to running out of letters besides – assuming the W comes back, you still have H, K and V to assign to new services. Even if you manage to split up the M and the V again and run a brand new 8 Av train, whichever of H/K didn’t go to 8 Av can go to the Utica service instead. Or you could assign that service the letter V, since the majority stretch of that run (from Houston St to central Queens) parallels the old alignment closely enough that a V Second Avenue Local wouldn’t be a huge departure from the remembered service pattern of the V Sixth Avenue Local.

    • johndmuller

      I can imagine reasons for I and O (could be confused with 0 and 1), and I’ve seen X used as a prefix to indicate eXperimental (could also imagine T likewise for Temporary, but I don’t know if those are your reasons or not and I don’t have any inspiration for why U, P, and Y are also to be avoided. Should the people I know in the Ioup family wonder if there is some kind of conspiracy? What’s with rerouting the Q out of Queens? What are the reasons to spurn those particular letters?

      • Ryan

        I and O are out because of the potential for confusion with 1 and 0, yes. U is out because of the verbal confusion potential (specifically because it’s a homonym for the word “You”) – P and Y are potentially also off limits because of their respective words, and X makes for a convenient placeholder designation. (As I said, the reasons for discarding PXY weren’t necessarily good ones.)

        I didn’t mention T but it’s been long-assumed to be (if not officially already designated as) the label for Second Avenue Local service.

        • threestationsquare

          B, C, R and T are also homonyms for English words but don’t cause confusion in context. “The you train” (or even “the you”) is not a phrase anyone has other reason to use. The L train actually does cause some confusion (with “the el[evated] train”) but we survive.

          • Ryan

            And perhaps U wouldn’t cause any problems either, but the fact remains that there’s some potential for confusion there.

    • Alon Levy

      Because it’s adjacent to T.

      It’s also adjacent to V, which is useful if there’s a second phase of Utica, from Eastern Parkway to Williamsburg to SAS (roughly like in the Second System plan, but with a connection to the L and without the Worth Street frills), then it could have one branch feeding to SAS and one connecting to Sixth Avenue Line as a restored V. The current M-V merger is valuable as a second route from Williamsburg to Midtown, but loses its purpose if this second phase of Utica opens. So Utica would have a turquoise U and an orange V, unlike in the first phase, when it would only have the 4, which is just one line.

      • Ryan

        Does that really matter, though? The few places in the system where adjacent lettering is used right now seem to have gotten that more as a result of a happy accident rather than as a product of any concerted effort to label services to that end, and I’m struggling to see what the inherent benefit of having trunk line services all using adjacent lettering is.

        • Adirondacker12800

          “Low” things on the West Side of Manhattan and then it works it way east.
          There’s no reason why it has to be single characters. Locals on the IND and later the BMT had double letters. The QB ran over the bridge and the QT ran through the tunnel. MJ RJ all sorts of peculiar letter combinations to designate the differing services. Stuff that ended in an X was a super express. Those services didn’t last very long.

          • Eric

            A double letter is easily confused with two routes. I would be more concerned about that than a single letter that sounded like a word (except for P, a P train might suffer from excessive vandalism).

          • Adirondacker12800

            Single letter for express services and double letter for local service has some logic to it. That the IND used for decades.

          • threestationsquare

            They got rid of double letters for a reason, too many passengers found them confusing. Once we have K, T, U, V, W, X and Y trains we can worry about whether we need other ways to designate them.

          • Fbfree

            Phi this nu train lettering. I’ll rho the day I’ll have to take the omega!
            (Mathematics ran into this problem awhile ago; doubled characters were not the answer.)

          • Alon Levy

            I doubt that having small and capital versions of the same letter refer to two different quantities is good for transit planning.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Too many outta towners were and will be hopelessly confused by any scheme that can be arranged. Yokels from the hinterlands who settle in Manhattan too.

          • Eric

            By far the most confusing thing for out-of-towners is figuring out how to transfer in Lower Manhattan, downtown Brooklyn, or the Queens Plaza area. The lines are absolute spaghetti in those places. This is really begging to be fixed by out-of-system transfers.

  5. Adirondacker12800

    Where to start. If you are staying for a few days you don’t have time to venture out to Brooklyn or Queens except when you are going to and from the airport. If you are staying for more than a few days a 7 day Metro Card makes sense. So whether or not the transfer is in-system or out-of-system doesn’t matter. Sending them to the street just gives them more places to get confused about. And if they can’t cope with crossing the platform to change from the 7 to the N or the Q or between the E, M and R maybe they should stick with cabs.

  6. Pingback: What are the Strong Tramway Corridors? | Pedestrian Observations

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