On The 2nd Avenue Subway, A Long Slow Train Starts to Arrive

How do you spell relief for the long-suffering Lexington Avenue subway riders on the #4, 5, and 6 trains? S — A — S, or the Second Avenue Subway. And it's coming.

The tunnel-boring machine that has been scraping its way through solid rock under the avenue has broken through to enable trains to run to the west side and eventually down the east side to lower Manhattan. The machine will now be redeployed for the second run from 92nd Street to build the second tube for the northbound side of the tunnel. See the story from the MTA.

As positive as this story is, the segment in question is only the first of four for the SAS in Manhattan, much less the needed extensions into the other boroughs. Planning on these lines is or should be underway.

The SAS, as most New Yorkers with long memories know, has been around for some time. Its genesis goes back to the 1920s when RPA (among others) called for the replacement of the elevated lines in Manhattan with subways. On the west side it happened with the Sixth and Ninth Avenue Els razed and the Sixth and Eighth Avenue subway lines built. No such luck on the east side. There we got the worst of both worlds when the Second Avenue El was torn down in 1940, followed by the Third Avenue El in 1955, but no line was built to replace them. Anticipating the SAS, the east side was upzoned to the north for residential towers and in midtown for office towers. The result: more transit riders using the Lex, the only subway line left on the east side. No wonder it is the most crowded line in the system.

Meanwhile, the SAS was not started in the 1930s; funding was shifted from it in the 1940s; construction was begun in the late 1960s with short stretches dug; the funding was taken away during the City's financial crisis in the1970s; de-prioritized in the 1980s to focus on overcoming years of deferred maintenance (a polite term for negligence); rediscovered in the 1990s; under construction in the 2000s; and will be finished at least the segment from 96th to 63rd Street in the 2010s.

How should one react to this long roller-coaster history?

Thankfully, that progress is now tangible?

Bitterness at the wasted years?

Bemusement at the shortsightedness?

With a frisson of déjà vu as needed projects get stretched out or even axed?

Assume a fetal position?

Draw lessons to avoid the mistakes of the past as we plan for the future? 

You choose. I made mine, but I am not telling.