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.

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 system

The 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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

Compared to those operated by the BMT, they offered increased speeds.

The first section of the Independent system opened on September 10, 1932.

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.

Zack Cohen is experienced and writes articles on Local Movers New Jersey, Movers In Jersey City, New Jersey Moving Company, Jersey City Movers, NJ Moving Companies etc.

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