Expansion of the New York City Subway System

Brooklyn Rapid Transit and the Dual System:By all accounts, the IRT had achieved success-and monopoly-carrying 269 million passengers in 1910. Clearly, the demand existed, but the distance did not. Compared to the 66.1 route miles of elevated track, its own covered only 21.4, along with a paltry 3.8 more under the contract #2 extension to Brooklyn.More than transportation, the subway was seen as a tool–a solution toward population redistribution, particularly to the outer boroughs. But this minuscule Brooklyn line could hardly achieve that goal, and the initial two contracts were only considered the first of many that would eventually cover mostly farmland with tracks.Although the Rapid Transit Board (RTB) approved 19 succeeding routes by June of 1905 in hopes of creating competition between the companies that would operate them, future direction of the subway system, in more ways than one, was delayed, deferred, or derailed by obstructing and conflicting policies, as the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, toward further IRT monopoly, when it announced its acquisition of the Metropolitan Street Railway Company on December 22. Tightening its grip on the city’s rapid transportation system, it had no intention of relinquishing it to competing companies nor expanding the routes it already operated.Perhaps the first counter-strategy to this situation was the creation, two years later, of the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC). Unlike the Rapid Transit Board it replaced, it was empowered with the ability to oversee all existing elevated and subway lines, and advocated public regulation of private utilities.Although it was eager to negotiate with the IRT regarding the extension of its incubation line in Brooklyn, it also identified the need for a second company to provide the needed transportation coverage over and above that of the first. But the IRT only continued to hold a short-term, self-centered view. Astronomical construction costs of new routes, it felt, could not be compensated by the dearth of riders they would serve in areas still populated by farm animals, and this only resisted expansion beyond its original Manhattan coverage. Its passenger base here had doubled in the five-year period from 1905 to 1910, and its profits commensurately followed suit.Like Manhattan, Brooklyn had been blanketed by a disjointed, multiple-mode transportation network comprised of trolleys and both street and elevated railroads pieced together under the auspices of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company. But its link to mother Manhattan was tenuous and less than convenient.Traveling to it entailed a cable car ride from the Sands Street terminal, located at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, actual crossing of it to City Hall, and then a separate-fare transfer to one of three inter-city rail options-the Second Avenue el, the Third Avenue el, or the IRT subway. Alternatively, a person could cross the bridge to the Park Row terminal via elevated railway.What were needed were both a cross-river, Manhattan-Brooklyn link and an inter-Brooklyn subway network. Because of the IRT’s resounding success, it logically followed that it would extend its tracks.Outer borough links, at least based upon the many civic projects undertaken, provided no obstacles. The Brooklyn Bridge, for example, had already spanned to its namesaked destination in 1883, and the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges, built during the first decade of the 20thcentury, further connected the two areas. The Queensborough Bridge, as its name suggests, served the same purpose for its territory. What remained was the laying of tracks on them.August Belmont, naturally seeking to retain the IRT’s grip on the rapid transit market, proposed connecting South Ferry in Manhattan with Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn by means of an East River tunnel, as well as expanding inter-Manhattan trackage on the Lower West Side and laying a Lexington Avenue line from Grand Central Station.Yet its proposals were less than extensive. All were sections, add-ons, or piecemeal extensions of its existing lines and none of them provided the fundamental coverage the PSC considered unwritten obligations resulting from its Contract #2 award.The Hudson and Manhattan Railway Company suggested a New Jersey connection by building a new, Hudson River tube-plying subway line.A second, and countering, proposal submitted by Belmont advocated a new West Side route running from Times Square to the Battery and then crossing the East River to Brooklyn, as well as a second course from Grand Central Station to the Bronx by means of Lexington Avenue.It was apparent that the IRT did not consider Brooklyn its home territory and wanted little part in serving it. This view may well have been the first fray in its independent and monopolistic rail fabric.Part of the fray was its refusal to see the purpose it provided-or could have provided-within the overall rapid transit picture. Having already implemented a plan to relieve population congestion in the tenement-choked slums riddled with crime, disease, poverty, squalor, and dirt with planned development, Manhattan Borough President George McAneny believed its cornerstone was elevated and subterranean rail access to new neighborhoods, which, appendaged to Manhattan by tracks, would naturally rise, sparking the envisioned outer borough growth. This, in turn, was seen as fostering overall economic strength.The IRT, because of what it refused to see (beyond its own self-serving needs and revenues), could no longer be considered the only company to fulfill the city’s plan, and proposals for the so-called, but far more extensive Triborough System, also failed to satisfy it. What resulted was the Dual System of Rapid Transit.Threshold to this concept was the January 19, 1911 creation of a new transit committee, which was chaired by McAneny himself and conferred with the PSC for the purpose of re-examining New York’s rapid transit needs.Part of the solution was to discontinue the focus and fixation on the principle proposals concerning IRT track extension and the new Triborough System coverage as the only ones. The latter, particularly, was quickly deemed impractical. The solution was a third alternative, to be operated by the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT), which already served its namesaked borough and submitted a proposal to convert its southern rail lines into rapid transit ones.Although this fell far short of the comprehensive coverage needed, one of the locks to the optimal solution was opened when it was concluded that the subway systems themselves, often acting in their own best interests, would henceforth no longer be empowered with determining future routes.McAneny himself stated that he “always held that the city should make its own transit plans, placing individual routes where they will do the most good and not necessarily with reference to their earning capacity alone… “In order to develop what he considered would be a practical, yet comprehensive rapid transit system that would deliver the maximum benefit to the city and its citizens, he selected the best features of both the IRT and the BRT proposals based upon routings, cost, population projections, ridership, and revenues, allowing both to proportionately operate-and share the costs for–the expanded systemThe resultant Dual System of Rapid Transit constituted the largest and most expensive municipal project ever undertaken by the city, its routes and tracks planned and laid out by PSC engineers, but its actual construction performed by private companies.Two general route types were expected: extensions and branches of existing tracks, which would be operated by the IRT, and new lines, which would be served by a new company, such as the BRT, but would still be integrated with the original ones.Dual system approval, by a vote of three to two, was granted by the PSC on March 4, 1913, and the signing of two-or dual-contracts, stipulating that each would share construction and operation costs, but lease their networks to the city for a 49-year period, occurred 15 days later, on March 19.Contract #3, awarded to the IRT, entailed ten new routes in Manhattan,, the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn that opened between July 1, 1918 and January 21, 1928.The new system’s greatest improvement was the gap it plugged in its original north-south, inter-Manhattan, zigzag route coverage. West Side track laid south of 42ndStreet ran under Seventh Avenue to Lower Manhattan and then across the East River to Brooklyn, while an East Side counterpart, running below Lexington Avenue, extended north of 42ndStreet, creating an “H” configured network, which became the core for feeder lines to and from the Bronx and Brooklyn.Service to the former was expansive, but decidedly less so in the latter, since it had to cede routes to home turf competitor BRT, although a Flatbush Avenue routing, itself an extension of its existing track, terminated in Eastern Parkway and branch lines from Nostrand Avenue took its trains to East New York. All these lines fed its trunk, H-shaped Manhattan network.A Queens connection, facilitated by the converted Steinway Tunnel, linked 42ndStreet with a new transfer station at Queensborough Plaza from which two lines ran-one to Astoria and the other to Corona and Flushing.Unlike the Manhattan track, most serving the outer boroughs was elevated.Contract #4, between the PSC and the New York Municipal Railway Corporation (for the BRT), entailed 12 routes opened between August 4, 1913 and May 30, 1931, and enabled it to leave a significant imprint on Manhattan Island.Running from City Hall, via Broadway, to Times Square, and then following Seventh Avenue to 57thStreet, this trunk line was appendaged to its Brooklyn home by means of the Battery and an East River tunnel that took it to Dekalb Avenue. A second connection from the Broadway line entailed a branch track to Canal Street and across the Manhattan Bridge, once again terminating on Dekalb.Another Broadway line branch connected 59thand 60thstreets with Queensborough Plaza, and IRT track rights enabled the BRT to ply its rails to Astoria and Corona/Flushing.It wove a dense web of tracks across southern Brooklyn with the Fourth Avenue, Culver, West End, Sea Beach, and Brighton lines–Dekalb Avenue all along serving as the funneling point for interline transfers to and from Manhattan.Expansions and improvements undertaken as a result of both the IRT Contract #3 and BRT Contract #4 arrangements also entailed the elevated railways.Advantages of a dual-contract subway system were considered two-fold: 1). Passenger interchange would be provided between two significant rapid transit networks and 2). Vitally needed rail coverage to and within the BRT’s home territory, which had either been devoid of tracks or inefficiently and disjointedly served by its existing ones and their now-antiquated transportation vehicles.But a dual-contract system quickly proved that it was not equitable with “double” the previous single one, much less compatible. Indeed, “dual,” in this case, was more akin to “duality”-translated as “competitive rivalry.” Fares were separate. And there were precious few connections, interchanges, or even pedestrian passageways between their stations.More importantly, the two systems were, from the outset, divergent. Although their track gauges were identical, the BRT was not hampered by the narrower tunnels, lower clearances, and sharper curves characteristic of the IRT system that had mandated specific car dimensions and train lengths. Unburdened by these restrictions, the BRT was therefore free to specify different car designs and rolling stock interchange between the two, aside from all the other rivaling aspects, was precluded.Manufactured, like the IRT cars, by the American Car and Foundry Company, and retaining the features for which no patent payments were required, the BRT counterpart deviated in dimensions, with a 67-foot length and 9.8-foot width, and introduced steel body construction from the outset. Accommodating 250 standing and seated passengers, the latter in both longitudinal and transverse, mid-cad car seats in a three-two configuration, the 47-ton coach, powered by a 140-hp motor on each of two trucks, was accessed by three sets of electro-pneumatically operated doors and was internally unobstructed except for the motorman’s cab. They were devoid of end vestibules.Designated “A-Bs” or “Standards,” they were initially underpowered and therefore only able to attain 39-mph speeds.Deliveries of the first 100 ordered began in 1914 and 400 more followed during the proceeding four years.As had occurred with the IRT system, the BRT experienced unprecedented demand and one of the remedies was to introduce articulated, tri-car units, in 1925.Manufactured by the Pressed Steel Company and designated “D” cars, the three semi-permanently coupled coaches were equipped with four 200-hp motors and were mounted on four trucks that were “shared” by the middle car.Seating was similar to that of the “A-Bs,” but the transverse arrangement called for two passengers on either side.A three-car unit equaled the length of two conventional coaches, but offered greatly increased passenger capacity.After their initial trials had proven their application, 118 more units were ordered.In essence, dual-contract operations resulted in the following coverages. The IRT served Lexington Avenue above 42ndStreet; Seventh Avenue and Broadway below 42ndStreet; the 42ndStreet Shuttle; all lines north of 60thStreet in Manhattan and the Bronx, including those that were elevated; and the Second Avenue tunnel to Brooklyn, whose dual branches terminated on Flatbush Avenue and in East New York. The BRT, on the other hand, operated the Fourth Avenue subway; the Manhattan Bridge and the Montague Tunnel; the Broadway-60thStreet subway; the Nassau Street Loop and the 14thStreet Canarsie line; and the reconstructed and extended elevated lines in North Brooklyn and Queens. The Steinway Tunnel to Queens, Astoria, and Corona were jointly operated by both systems.Unlike the original IRT subway routes created by contracts 1 and 2, the dual system succeeded in sparking outer borough growth and transformed vegetation into population.With the strangely predictive designation of “Trains Meadow,” for instance, a 500-acre tract of land in north-central Queens between Woodside and Corona became the recipient of one of those transformations. Although its meadow reference was appropriate to this bucolic expanse of grass- and flower-covered fields and knolls interspersed with ponds and streams and dotted with farmhouses, it was not named after the trains that served it, but the fresh water that drained from it, although those trains would one day provide more literal meaning to the word.With a turn of the 20thcentury, count-on-one-hand population density of two per acre, it served as a country escape for city dwellers, offering bird-watching, fishing, and hunting, but with the encroaching, track-clacking subway cars, it soon turned into a breeding ground more appropriate for humans than waterfowl.After the Steinway Tunnel had been converted from its original, electric streetcar application and reopened on June 22, 1915 for IRT use, it provided the physical link to Manhattan rising on the horizon. People, needless to say, rode the trains that bored through it.Subway-appendaged, via the 82ndStreet station when the Queensborough line opened two years later, on April 21, it became a 22-minute link to Grand Central Station, and was developed by Edward Archibald MacDougall, who renamed it Jackson Heights and built a garden apartment community for upper middle class residents. Caught by the city’s clutches during the day, they were able to escape to its suburbs by night.Cord Meyer, another developer, transformed the southern portion of Trains Meadow into Elmhurst.Accessing areas like this, the greatly expanded rapid transit system turned the patchwork quilt of farms sprouting crops into grids defining houses and low-rise apartment buildings, which cultivated families and neighborhoods and served them with stores, schools, and sites of religious worship. They were considered “subway suburbs.” Tracks, facilitating daily commutes, were links to the heart of the city, with its employment, entertainment, and cultural venues.Their purpose was reflected by the exponentially increasing passenger statistics. In 1912, for example, the IRT transported almost 303 million. In 1930, this figure had escalated to 986 million. The corresponding BRT figures were 172 and 714 million.As a people mover, the expanded system provided short-term (daily) and long-term (residency shifting) effects between 1910 and 1940, resulting in a 90-percent population increase in the so-called subway suburbs, created by the very means to get to them.And once they had, their quality of life considerably improved. Compared to the tenement-defined slums from which families often moved, they provided larger and more modern dwellings in the suburbs for the same cost, yet with vastly improved facilities, such as rooms with windows, ventilation, and natural light; heat; running water; private, indoor bathrooms and kitchens; courtyards; and gardens.In short, subway mobility created social mobility, depositing people into population pockets that were considered middle class.Despite the dual subway system’s less than cooperative nature, it was successful in connecting Manhattan Island, like a nucleic core, with the rest of its atom, traversing the rivers that had hitherto created its insularity. As the world’s largest single subway network expansion, it entailed a route mileage increase from 119 to 233 miles with corresponding track mile increases of 296 and 621. Although there were several elements which divided it, collectively it united-albeit not itself, at least not yet.The only question that remained was: could there be a third system?The Independent:Dual-contract service, at least initially, was successful and all counts associated with it were on the rise, from the number of areas accessed to the number of stations, riders, and track and route miles. As a catalyst to population redistribution and decentralization, it provided incentive toward and accesses to outer borough development.But such an extensive system required, more than rails, revenue to run, and the nickel fare, restricted by the 1894 Rapid Transit Act, Contract #1, and ultimate dual contracts of 1913, was the one reversal to the rising aspect of the new operational concept. Because the very nature of the subway precluded the traditional revenue-to-distance ratio, passengers were able to ride further afield on the now extended network, yet did not commensurately pay for that privilege. Whether a person rode the subterranean rails to the next station or to the end of the line, he still only relinquished five cents, reducing, rather than increasing, the system’s revenue earning potential.Its balance statement, appearing more like a seesaw, was anything but, its profit side declining into deficits and its costs escalating toward the skyscrapers above its track.One of its two contract operators hardly emerged unscathed. A December 31, 1918 bankruptcy of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company questioned its continued viability until it re-emerged as the renamed Brooklyn-Manhattan Rapid Transit Company, or BMT, five years later, in 1923.To say that John F. Hylan, New York mayor, was less than enamored by the system run as much by politics as by electricity was an understatement, and in his 30-page “Mayor Hylan’s Plan for Real Rapid Transit” report, he wrote that subways should be “planned, built, and operated to accommodate the transportation needs of the people… and not solely for the financial advantage of the operating companies.”His vision, in essence, was to wage a war on wheels-or, more specifically, on rails-fought with a third specifically-designed and efficiently and independently operated system that would compete with the existing and monopolistic IRT and BMT, often paralleling their very enemy lines, but also filling in trackless gaps. It was intended, in his words, as “the people’s subway.”The tunnel toward his ideal came in the form of the Adler Bill. Although it ensured the New York State Transit Commission’s power to regulate the existing subway system, it equally established the New York City Board of Transportation, which was granted the authority to construct and operate its own subway network, as well as grant desperately needed fare increases, after a three-year period, to cover escalating operating costs.The new, or third, subway line’s nature was expressed by its very name-”Independent”-or “IND.” It had, at least according to combatant Hylan, four intended purposes.1). Compete with, but remain independent of, the incumbent IRT and BMT systems.2). Replace the antiquated elevated lines in Manhattan and the Bronx.3). Serve areas without existing train service, such as those along Queens Boulevard.4). Increase service to areas with inadequate transportation, such as Washington Heights and West Bronx.Seven fundamental routes were covered with 190 miles of track. For Hylan, duplication of competitors’ lines was the equivalent of retaliation and triumph. The IND’s Eighth Avenue route, for instance, was a mirror image of the IRT’s on the Seventh, although its reflection ceased at 59thStreet and Columbus Circle, where its tracks branched. One turned to the west, toward the Hudson River, and the other followed the Grand Concourse in the Bronx after crossing the Harlem River.Where the tracks paralleled the IRT’s-separated by an avenue-the IND vied for the same passengers. Perhaps the ultimate expression of audacity was made with its Sixth Avenue line: it operated directly below the elevated railway owned by the IRT!Route battles, however, were not restricted to those with Manhattan’s original system. The BMT also became a sparing partner when the IND laid tracks to Brooklyn through an East River tunnel, advancing its fortress along Fulton Street in the heart of the city and ceasing battle in East New York.As a competitor, the IND, from its inception, sought to offer superior service, with mezzanine provisioned stations, 60-foot platforms, and ten-car trains.The cars themselves, although dimensionally compatible to the BMT’s “A-B” types, eliminated certain features in order to avoid the otherwise mandatory royalty payments for them stipulated by their patents.Designed “R-1s” and built by the American Car and Foundry Company, the riveted, heavyweight steel coaches were powered by two 190-hp traction motors installed on the number two truck and were 60 feet long, ten feet wide, and 12 feet high-or nine feet longer than those of the IRT, but seven feet shorter than those of the BMT. Access was provided by four, 3.10-foot-wide double doors (one more than those initially installed on BMT cars), while end doors facilitated inter-car passage during motion.The olive green interior, in a mixed, longitudinal and transverse configuration sported rattan- or cane-covered seats and accommodated 58 seated and 282 standing, while other features included exposed light bulbs, paddle fans, strap handles, and a clerestory roof.Compared to those operated by the BMT, they offered increased speeds.The first section of the Independent system opened on September 10, 1932.Unification:As the third subway system went up (actually down), the elevated railroads it replaced fell like conquered, grid iron empires, the girders and stanchions that had stilted them severed and the sun, after decades, once again able to cast its light on the streets that had been shielded.The Fulton Street el in Brooklyn absorbed its last track clack in 1940. The Second and Ninth Avenue lines followed suit, reduced to defeated tangles of metal. And the famed Third Avenue el, subjected to much protest by those wishing to save it, relinquished its grip in 1955.Some two decades before this time, however, the rival to the other two subterranean rail networks had accepted defeat and become one with the other two.The impetus came from Fiorello La Guardia, who was elected New York mayor in 1934. Advocating unification of the three subway lines, he felt that the city would be more efficiently served, but many believed that his true motivation for the amalgamation could be read between those lines.His urge to merge, which was intended to drastically amend the system’s organization, ownership, and operation, manifested itself in a 1935 agreement in which the City of New York would expend a little over $430 million to acquire the IRT, the BMT, the Williamsburg powerplant, and what then remained of the elevated lines, and then lease them, along with the IND, to the Board of Transit Control to operate them.But the Transit Commission saw both his plan and the shadow behind it. It believed that it would have enabled La Guardia to provide sorely needed bail out funding to a subway system unable to remain afloat by the current nickel fare restriction at an excessive acquisition price, thus forcibly ceding ownership of it, in the end, to the bankers.Undaunted, La Guardia circumvented the resistance. Re-elected in 1937 and eliminating most of the Democratic Tammany opposition within the Transit Commission, he was able to implement his idealized plan, in effect acquiring more for less. The package included the two subway systems, the elevated lines, the street railways, and the buses for $326.5 million, an amount that represented more than a $100 million savings over the original proposal.Unified in June of 1940, this multiple-mode rapid transit system thus shifted into City of New York ownership and the Board of Transportation became its operator. Passed from private to public hands in what was heralded as the country’s largest railroad merger, it became the world’s largest rapid transit system, its hitherto three IRT, BMT, and IND designations discontinued and redesignated “A” and “B” divisions. The latter, referring to the BMT and IND, was subdivided into B1 and B2 divisions.Only its truly staggering statistics could define the size and scope of the resulting empire: 760 miles of subway and elevated railway tracks, 435 miles of street railroads, 80 miles of bus lines, and 2.3 billion passengers carried during its first full unified year alone.

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