The Second Avenue Subway Opens, and a Transit Expert Savors the Moment

I rarely write personal blog posts. But the opening of the first phase of Second Avenue subway is an occasion that has inspired me not only as a veteran transportation researcher, but also as a New Yorker.

I live right around the corner from the 72nd Street station and have been here during most of the construction. My three-year old nephew, who also lives nearby, has only known 2nd Avenue as a large construction site, fascinated by the cranes and dump trucks. So personally and professionally, I’ve been looking forward to the opening for years. On Sunday just as the new line opened at noon, I headed to the 72nd Street station and encountered a line of straphangers that wrapped around the corner.

The next hour or so was one of the most fulfilling professional experiences of my life. I listened to people speaking in awe of the size of the stations, how accessible they were and the artwork that decorated halls. They were impressed by how smoothly and quietly the trains operated. I saw their big smiles as they posed for pictures with friends and family. The atmosphere was one of excitement and wonderment. New Yorkers were really enjoying their new subway and were proud of what government had accomplished on their behalf.

I spoke to several riders about the new service and what might come next. Many said they want to see more, specifically more subways and improved stations like these. They also don’t want improvements to take so long, even though they understand that these projects are enormous undertakings. A few more jaded riders said they have little faith in the MTA or in seeing anything else like this in their lifetimes.

Criticism over the cost and timeline to build the Second Avenue subway and skepticism about future construction are understandable. RPA will be releasing new ideas and research in the coming months on how our region can carry out large construction projects more efficiently. But first, it is worth recognizing this project – the first major expansion of the subway system in decades – and what it means for New Yorkers.

The benefits are substantial. This week, crowding will drop on the Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6 lines, and travel times will decline, as tens of thousands for riders divert to Second Avenue. Many major medical institutions on the Upper East Side will now be accessible by subway. East Side residents will have more direct access to jobs in Midtown and to major regional and intercity hubs like Penn Station, shaving time off their travel. In short, the project will change people’s lives, and perhaps even add some joy to New York’s daily grind. So, hats off to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, including all the individuals and organizations involved in making the first phase of the Second Avenue subway a reality.


Photo : Richard Barone


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