The Second Avenue Subway

by John Delach


January 1, 2017 was indeed a Happy New Year’s celebration for the citizens of New York City.  Through, and because of, the clout of Andrew Cuomo, Governor of the State of New York and the absolute Tsar of the MTA (take that Cuomo’s arch-enemy, comrade Mayor Bill DeBlasio) the Second Avenue Subway finally opened for service as promised at the start of the New Year.


Admittedly, this newly completed line is just a small portion of a grand idea. Less than two miles long, It begins at the existing station at 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue where the new tunnel continues toward the East River before turning north under Second Avenue to reach three new stations at 72nd, 86th and 96th Streets.


Critics point out that this mere hint of a real subway cost $4.8 billion, that the next phase extending the line to 125th Street may cost $6 billion and may not be built for another ten- years. Smart money bets the line will never reach its ultimate southern terminus in lower Manhattan. One wag noted that the cost of subway construction in New York was more than four times the cost in Barcelona and twice the cost of Paris. He compared this to paying $60 for a steak at Peter Lugers while being able to get a steak at a Parisian bistro for less than $30. “How much better could the steak be at Peter Lugers at double the price?”


For the record, I have had the pleasure to partake great steaks at famous New York steak houses like Lugers, The Palm, Sparks and Keene’s. Fate has also allowed me to dine in Paris. By way of comparison, I will make two points: First, if you can’t tell the difference between the steaks in New York and anywhere else, stick with chicken. Second, you get what you pay for: The New York cuts are out-of-this world. As for the Parisian cuisine, that piece of meat you are served has about a 50 / 50 shot of originating from a horse.


But this is a time for celebration. Set aside the negativity, part of the Second Avenue Subway first proposed 80 years ago is finally a reality. This is the hoped for salvation that most New Yorkers had resolved they would never see.


If you ever lived on the East Side in the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties and commuted to work, your only access to the subway system was the grossly over-crowded Lexington Avenue Subway. This became a daily descent into your own personal hell with no alternative except yellow taxis or Uber.


The Lex’s express stop at 86th Street was a hub of horror. Narrow entrances / exits have to accommodate both those wanting to get in and wanting to get out. Double-decked with local service above and express below, every rush hour train creates a combat zone. The quick and those left behind.


The opening of this new line has finally ended that bondage and suffering. I say to those critical wags; balderdash! As a certified NYC transit geek, long ago deemed with the handle, “Johnny Transit,” I invite you to celebrate the Second Avenue Subway:  Oh come let us explore it.


Bob Christman and I made our opening run on Wednesday, January 19. We boarded a Q-Train at Herald Square and rode it north.  We’d only ridden as far north as 57th Street when the door at the end of our car opened and a beggar entered imploring us passengers with his tale of woo. After he passed, Bob observed, “New subway; same ole panhandlers.”


We rode to the end of the line at 96th Street then worked our way back south stopping to explore the other two stops. The run north along the new tube was noticeable for its speed, smoothness and relative quietness.


Along the way we exited at 86 Street for a leisurely lunch of beer and sauerbraten at the Heidelberg Restaurant that Zagat’s describes as, “a remnant of old Yorkville.” This 1938 vintage Bauhaus lived up to our needs. German lager on tap and acceptable sauerbraten; good, but not outstanding, made for a satisfying lunch.


Pleased, we returned to the underground. The sounds of trains entering and leaving the station are muffled by concrete ties that are mounted on noise reducing rubber gaskets allowing us to experience a semblance of quiet at least by New York subway standards.


Each station features a spacious and uncluttered island platform that is well-lit and well ventilated. A lower mezzanine extends the length of the station above the platform featuring large cutouts that offer unobstructed views of the vaulted ceiling directly from the platform. The effect creates a space both open and airy.


Entering and exiting each of these new stations is a joy to behold. Multiple stairs, escalators and elevators connect platform and mezzanine with exits at both the north and south ends of each station. These three stations are set apart by individual art work themes that decorate the mezzanine walls. Second sets of escalators, stairs and elevators take passengers either to an upper mezzanine or directly to the street. The length of those escalators leading directly to the street is similar to those in London revealing how deep down below street level  these stations were tunneled.


Too new for dirt, vermin and graffiti, the stations are well-covered by security cameras and uniformed NYPD officers. So grand, so modern, the Second Avenue Subway is everything a Twenty-First Century transit facility should be.


With all its glitz and glamor, our new subway is an appropriate addition for the silk-stocking Upper East Side that it serves. I salute Cuomo and Co. for finally bringing it in and I salute the designers and builders who created this brilliant addition. Unfortunately, these three stations are also a reminder of how old the rest of the system is and they do not reflect the subway system we love to hate:


New York, New York, It’s a hell of a town.

The people ride around in a hole in the ground.


Some snooze,

some booze,

if you snooze,

they steal your shoes,

as the subways go rolling along.