Southern Brooklyn

How Transit Riders Continually Get Screwed

Second Avenue Subway construction at 83rd Street in the city. Source: Wikipedia
Second Avenue Subway construction at 83rd Street in the city. Source: Wikipedia

THE COMMUTE: It started with continual promises to construct a Second Avenue subway and the failure to complete the IND Second System. We are currently in the sixth reincarnation of the promised Second Avenue subway with voters twice approving bond issues specifically for that purpose in 1951 and in 1967. Now it is doubtful if the opening of the first three stations will even occur by the latest rescheduling to 2016.

East Side Access, planned for more than 40 years, could now cost $10 billion (up from ($4 billion) — also many years behind schedule. This plan could be delayed until 2021 due to continual expansions to the work scope and cost overruns. It will also result in fewer LIRR trains serving Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

Most recently, Super Bowl patrons at the Meadowlands were requested to use New Jersey Transit to avoid highway hassles. However, the capacity needed was not available and riders had to wait an hour for a train and up to three hours for a train after the game, with reports that a few riders passed out. For some, it was probably the first and last time they took the railroad. Not a way to build a clientele for mass transit.

It is also doubtful if the NFL will ever agree to another Super Bowl at the Meadowlands. Bottom line: Don’t advertise your service for an event that you claim you have been planning for two years, if you are not prepared to handle the crowds, and there have been severe delays at past events. At least apologize for your failure instead of making flimsy excuses.

When money is appropriated for new mass transit projects, many questions arise regarding the benefits, expense and necessity for those projects:

  • The proposed Moynihan Station (skip to section 4.1) to replace Penn Station in Manhattan does not add any new track capacity.
  • The new Tappan Zee Bridge will not include any form of mass rapid transit, but does not preclude it being added in the future.
  • The new PATH terminal at the World Trade Center will cost $3.7 billion and will be the most expensive subway station in the world. Can we really afford to splurge on art when funds are so limited?
  • A new $1.5 billion PATH extension to Newark Airport from Newark’s Penn Station is planned. Why is that necessary when a convenient transfer to New Jersey Transit already exists and the new service will still not provide a one-seat ride.

Necessary Projects Are Not Even Considered

We still do not have a one-seat mass transit ride from Manhattan to either JFK or La Guardia airports and probably will never have one. A one-seat ride to JFK could have been a possibility if the abandoned Rockaway Beach branch were reactivated instead of spending $3 billion on AirTrain, which only conveniently serves Long Island riders. If AirTrain did not destroy the section of Queens near the VanWyck Expressway, why should politicians claim that constructing a similar elevated structure over the Grand Central Parkway to extend the N line to La Guardia will destroy Astoria?

  • Long promised extensions of the Nostrand and Utica Avenue Lines are off the table.
  • No one ever considered off-street bus terminals in Flushing, Downtown Brooklyn, the Flatbush Nostrand Junction or the Brooklyn Army Terminal as a way of reducing on-street traffic congestion.
  • There is no funding for new rail freight tunnels across the Narrows to reduce truck traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway or a new rail passenger tunnel across the Hudson.
  • The Triboro RX line has been on the back burner for over forty years and is going nowhere.

It Does Not End There
Unnecessary or overly expensive capital projects that are long delayed and over budget while ignoring needed projects is not the only way mass transit riders get screwed.

The B44 SBS was implemented as a poor substitute for a subway line. New parking and turning regulations were put in place to speed traffic, but they are not enforced. The result is that bus traffic is still delayed through the Flatbush / Nostrand Junction, a problem SBS was supposed to reduce or eliminate. Two promised lanes of through traffic becomes one in Crown Heights, causing massive delays to automobile and truck traffic due to non-enforcement of curbside parking during the morning rush hour.

Routing problems with local buses have been ignored for more than 70 years. Only now is bus bunching getting some attention with Bus Time. It was already due to have been implemented in Brooklyn and we are still waiting. Instead of providing the number of minutes away the next bus is at bus shelters, as promised, Bus Time will only tell smartphone users how far away a bus is by distance, asking riders to convert distance into time.

Floor and some wall tile at subway stations rehabbed over the past 20 years are already crumbling when original tile lasted more than 60 years. Yet no one is held accountable.


When will our politicians wake up and realize how vital good mass transit is to the economy of our region and provide the funds we need? We hear a lot about the need for pre-K for our youth. Every time a major league team needs a new stadium, they get it. You would never hear a politician say we can only afford to subsidize a new stadium for the Yankees or the Mets, but not both. Former Borough President Marty Markowitz was gung-ho for the Nets to come to Brooklyn, which is now a reality.

Yet when it comes to mass transit, we always have to make a choice between projects, and most of the time we get neither. In my lifetime, I have already seen three Yankee Stadiums, but am still waiting for the first Second Avenue Subway, which may never be completed in Manhattan or extended to Brooklyn.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

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