First, there were horse-drawn wagons. Then, during the industrial revolution, the steam engine took over and ultimately helped to win the West. But all of these achievements seem to pale in comparison to what the venerable Metropolitan Transport Authority, MTA for short, has unveiled on New Year’s Day: The new Q train extension, which for the first time in thousands, nay, millions of years, connects the rural more eastern side of a part of the Upper East Side to downtown Manhattan.
But jokes aside, it might seem weird to outsiders, the very intimate relationship we New Yorkers have with our subway system. A big part of the reason being that most of us don’t have a car and heavily rely on the old underground railway system to get to work, to this new must-go restaurant in Bushwick, or that special Starbucks with just the right amount of distraction to musefully work on our screenplays. Of course, this dependence has its downsides, most dramatically felt when trains aren’t running properly, which, let’s face it, is all the time. In fact, the MTA has an actual smartphone app solely dedicated to informing us about service changes during the weekend (called “The Weekender”)! But wherever you are on the MTA love/hate spectrum (please don’t get me started on the F train!), you have to acknowledge the sheer size of the operation: 6407 subway cars distributed among 35 lines running on a total length of 380 km (236 mi), and transporting over 5 million people on a typical weekday (over 1.7 billion (with a B!) per year). Which by the way happens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To the MTA’s credit, they are, at least for the most part, keeping this beast running. In addition, they are even trying to further expand the network and this is where the new Second Avenue line comes in.
This feat has been a long time coming. Originally proposed almost a century ago, the actual construction never got off the ground mainly due to the Great Depression kicking in. However, the plans were brought back on the table after the demolition of the Second and Third Avenue elevated tracks (1942-55) left the Lexington Avenue line (serviced by the 4,5 and 6 trains) as the only option for commuters on the Upper East Side. And everyone living and/or working there today knows that, particularly during the week, those trains are bursting at the seams. Construction of the first tunnels began in 1972, but had to be halted again in 1975 due to New York City’s fiscal issues at the time. Nonetheless, the city’s development never stopped, leading to an ever increasing number of subway commuters, further exacerbating the situation on the Lexington Avenue lines. Finally, in 2007, after thirteen years of (re-)planning (and, of course, many quarrels about costs and the actual route), the second attempt to build the Second Avenue Subway was undertaken. According to the MTA’s vision, the new line will be built in four construction phases that will take… actually, no one knows how long it will take; The MTA isn’t even trying to give an estimate. What we do know is that the fully completed line is supposed to run along Manhattan’s east side from the financial district (Hanover Square) all the way up to East Harlem (East 125th Street). And the other thing we know is that, as of last month, the first construction phase extending the Q line to the Upper East Side has been completed, baffling the natural skeptic/cynic that is alive and well in every New Yorker’s soul.
The daredevil that I am, I have already logged a sizable number of rides on the new Q, which connects the Lexington Avenue-63rd Street station with three brand new stations on the Upper East Side’s Second Avenue at 72nd, 86th and 96th Streets. So what’s the verdict? Is the new Q faster, better, stronger? For everyone at the Tri-Institutions and around, the answer is a resounding… it depends. It depends on where you live but even more, whether you do a lot of dining, shopping, etc. on the Upper East Side. Personally, I do like the new Subway. I’m saying this, not because the new stations are really gorgeous (which they are!), and also not because I get to work significantly faster (and when it’s raining, probably drier as the closest entry to the 72nd Street station is already on 2nd Avenue/69th Street). I’m saying this, because I do enjoy certain places on the Upper East Side, which were inconvenient to get to from work, because walking to Lex just to ride the subway for one stop and then walk back to 2nd Avenue doesn’t really make sense. But also areas that are further uptown (and would make a little more sense to take the 6 train) are now easier to reach, like the one around 86th Street, where you might find me shopping at Fairway (and by Fairway, I of course mean Shake Shack) or going to the East 86th Street Cinema (again, Shake Shack). So overall, even if the new subway might not revolutionize your way of living, it at least opens up some more possibilities to travel to this mystical northern territory. And whether or not you’ve already acquainted yourself with the Upper East Side yet, now is the perfect time to get to know some great new places around Second Ave, and I’m sure that soon we will see each other buying bread at Orwasher’s, slurping ramen at Mei Jin or inhaling a burger at… well, you know where.