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The Routes Not Taken

A Trip Through New York City's Unbuilt Subway System

Joseph B. Raskin is an independent scholar. He is widely regarded as an authority on unbuilt subway systems, on which he has been interviewed by the New York Times. He is Assistant Director of Government and Community Relations for MTA New York City Trans

Publication Year: 2013

Robert A. Van Wyck, mayor of the greater city of New York, broke ground for the first subway line by City Hall on March 24, 1900. It took four years, six months, and twenty-three days to build the line from City Hall to West 145th Street in Harlem. Things rarely went that quickly ever again. The Routes Not Taken explores the often dramatic stories behind the unbuilt or unfinished subway lines, shedding light on a significant part of New York City’s history that has been almost completely ignored until now. Home to one of the world’s largest subway systems, New York City made constant efforts to expand its underground labyrinth, efforts that were often met with unexpected obstacles: financial shortfalls, clashing agendas of mayors and borough presidents, battles with local community groups, and much more. After discovering a copy of the 1929 subway expansion map, author Joseph Raskin began his own investigation into the city’s underbelly. Using research from libraries, historical societies, and transit agencies throughout the New York metropolitan area, Raskin provides a fascinating history of the Big Apple’s unfinished business that until now has been only tantalizing stories retold by public-transit experts. The Routes Not Taken sheds light on the tunnels and stations that were completed for lines that were never fulfilled: the efforts to expand the Hudson tubes into a fullfledged subway; the Flushing line, and why it never made it past Flushing; a platform underneath Brooklyn’s Nevins Street station that has remained unused for more than a century; and the 2nd Avenue line—long the symbol of dashed dreams—deferred countless times since the original plans were presented in 1929. Raskin also reveals the figures and personalities involved, including why Fiorello LaGuardia could not grasp the importance of subway lines and why Robert Moses found them to be old and boring. By focusing on the unbuilt lines, Raskin illustrates how the existing subway system is actually a Herculean feat of countless political compromises. Filled with illustrations of the extravagant expansion plans, The Routes Not Taken provides an enduring contribution to the transportation history of New York City.

Published by: Fordham University Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

My desire to tell the story of the New York City’s unbuilt subway lines and the efforts to bring subway service to the areas not now served by rapid transit began by accident more than twenty years ago....

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Building (and Not Building) New York City’s Subway System

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pp. 1-22

Robert A. Van Wyck, the first mayor of the Greater City of New York, broke ground for the first subway line, near City Hall, on March 24, 1900. George B. McClellan, the third mayor of the five boroughs, officiated at its opening on October 27, 1904. It took four years, seven months, and three days to build the line from City Hall to West 145th Street in Harlem....

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Sound to Shore

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pp. 23-46

Th e Brooklyn–Queens Crosstown line was part of the IND’s first phase. Its first segment, between the Queens Plaza and Nassau Avenue stations, opened on August 19, 1933; the second, connecting with the Smith Street line at the Bergen Street station, opened on July 1, 1937....

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Why the No. 7 Line Stops in Flushing

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pp. 47-74

The neighborhoods in Queens served by the Flushing line show the impact that rapid transit can have on residential, commercial, and industrial development. Bracketed by Hunters Point and Flushing, two of the oldest neighborhoods in Queens, the Flushing line, known to most riders as the No. 7 line,1 went through largely undeveloped land when its first segment was built to 103rd Street and Roo se velt Avenue in Corona in 1917....

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Th e Battle of the Northeast Bronx, Part 1

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pp. 75-108

The expansion of the subway system helped to bring social and economic change to the Bronx. As IRT lines extended to the northern reaches of the borough and the New York, Westchester, and Boston Railway (W&B) from Hunts Point to past the city line, developers of large properties recognized the land’s potential. “Th e faster the Interborough puts through ser vice in operation on the White Plains [Road] line the quicker ...

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Buy Land Now, Ride the Subway Later

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pp. 109-136

In the early de cades of the twentieth century, real estate developers saw the benefits of buying land along the route of subway lines that were proposed, planned, or built. One company with that foresight was Wood, Harmon, and Company....

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Ashland Place and the Mysteries of 76th Street

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pp. 137-148

When talking about the New York City subway system’s unbuilt lines, someone will inevitably bring up the existence of the 76th Street station on what would have been the IND Fulton Street line’s extension into eastern Queens. Supposedly located in Ozone Park, the station and line segment are alleged to have been built during the 1940s....

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To the City Limits and Beyond

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pp. 149-168

Th e Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s East Side Access (ESA) program is the most substantial expansion of New York’s commuter rail system since the Long Island Rail Road extended into Pennsylvania Station a century ago. Using the 63rd Street Tunnel’s lower level, trains will run from the Sunnyside Yards in Queens to a new station...

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Th e Battle of the Northeast Bronx, Part 2

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pp. 169-198

Th e New York, Westchester, and Boston Railway’s last trip arrived in White Plains at 12:40 a.m. on January 1, 1938. One hundred fifty members of the Allied Civic Associations and other community groups met with John H. Delaney and Charles V. Halley, Jr., on January 12. Th ey wanted the Board of Transportation to obtain the W&B’s Bronx tracks and resume operations. Delaney said he didn’t think it would be profitable....

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Building the Line Th at Almost Never Was

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pp. 199-226

It’s impossible not to write about New York’s unbuilt subway lines without discussing the 2nd Avenue subway. The question of when it would be built has been asked for more than eighty years. It’s being partially answered with the construction of a segment east and north from the Lexington Avenue station on the 63rd Street line to 96th Street and 2nd Avenue, one step in a pro cess that has lasted the entire twentieth century and into...

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Other Plans, Other Lines,10 Other Issues in the Postwar Years

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pp. 227-254

General Charles P. Gross began his tenure as Board of Transportation chairman on January 7, 1946, by announcing his plans to modernize the system. Lengthening platforms, buying new trains, installing escalators, improving lighting, and paying down debt took priority. Without financial resources, greater emphasis was being placed on upgrading the existing system. No commitment was given to raising the fare....

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What Happened to the Rest of the System?

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pp. 255-262

One of my colleagues once pondered the question of what happened to all the ambitious plans to expand the subway system. She explained it this way: “Bad transit karma.”
Terrible events always seemed to coincide with announcements of expansion plans— the Great Depression and other economic crises, both world wars, and terrorist attacks. Funds or resources that could have been used for capital programs were used to fill ...


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pp. 263-264

Appendix A: Th e 1944 Ser vice P

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pp. 265-266

Appendix B: Th e 1947 2nd Avenue Ser vice Plan

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pp. 267-270

Appendix C: The Cast of Characters

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pp. 271-272


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pp. 273-296


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pp. 297-298


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pp. 299-300


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pp. 301-324

E-ISBN-13: 9780823255320
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823253692

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 100 b/w
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Cloth