NYTIP – extending the nyc subway, part 2: from the concourse to co-op city

UPDATE (06.28.2021): Post updated with a new extension option and revised commentary.

Welcome back to my ongoing NYTIP series! In my last post, I began expounding on point two in my three-point plan to fix the NYC Subway – extend – with SAS Phase 2X and an Astoria line extension to LaGuardia Airport. In this post, I will discuss subway extensions to Co-op City.

Note: Click any image to enlarge.

I. Co-op City South

Let us begin with a brief history of the Grand Boulevard and Concourse line. The Concourse line opened in 1933. However, plans for its extension date back to 1929:

[Fig. 1] Snippet of the ambitious IND Second System plan from 1929 showing the Concourse line extension.

From Norwood – 205th Street station, the proposed extension crossed under Bronx Park and ran via Burke Avenue and Boston Road to Baychester Avenue. The Great Depression of 1929 killed both this plan and the Concourse line’s original four-track layout. Instead, the city built a three-track line to Bedford Park with two tracks extending to Norwood and a provision for further expansion. After the New York, Westchester, and Boston (NYW&B) railway ceased service in 1937, the city planned a modified Concourse line extension via Burke Avenue and the NYW&B right-of-way to Eastchester – Dyre Avenue. However, to save costs, the city connected the NYW&B to the IRT White Plains Road line instead, forming today’s 5 train.

In 1968, the MTA planned a short Concourse line extension to White Plains Road, connecting with the IRT White Plains Road line at either Burke Avenue or Gun Hill Road station. However, this plan never came to fruition either. The MTA has not proposed any Concourse line extensions since then.

What would be the rationale for a Concourse line extension today? There are several justifications for it, including:

  • Co-op City. It is the largest housing cooperative on Earth, and one of the largest neighborhoods in NYC without a rapid transit link. (Eventually, that won’t be the case since MTA’s Penn Station Access (PSA) project includes a station at Co-op City.)
  • Cross-Bronx transit. The Bronx is the only borough among those served by the NYC Subway without any form of crosstown rapid transit. (Select Bus Service doesn’t count, although one could argue part of the 6 line does.)
  • Crosstown congestion. All of The Bronx’s crosstown buses perform poorly due to chronic delays and car-caused traffic congestion; most of The Bronx’s crosstown routes received grades of D or F from the Bus Turnaround Coalition.

To address these issues:

Extend the Concourse line Co-op City.

But how? There are several ways to accomplish this. Each approach includes an extension of the Pelham line (6 train) to Co-op City to create a multimodal transit hub. Let’s explore.

Option 1: Burke Avenue alignment

[Figs. 2, 3] Overview of Option 1. Option 1a is the “straight shot” alignment, while Option 1b is the Bartow Avenue alignment. Created using Brand New Subway.

Option 1 is my interpretation of historical plans to extend the Concourse line via Burke Avenue. The extension begins by emerging briefly to cross over the Bronx River (something I learned about the original plans recently), then returning underground under Burke Avenue and Gun Hill Road. Due to a steep decline east of Eastchester Road, the line would likely emerge onto an el east of there. The extension includes connections to the 2 and 5 lines, several bus routes, and a future Metro-North station at Co-op City.

A major complication with this option is that it is most likely infeasible. The Bronx Park Preserve, bounded approximately by Gun Hill Road to the north, the Metro-North Railroad to the west, Allerton Avenue to the south, and the Bronx River Parkway to the east, is a Forever Wild site; per New York State Constitution Article XIV, such land can’t be developed for any reason except as provided in said article. Therefore, unless the Burke Avenue extension doesn’t run afoul of Forever Wild rules, the Concourse line extension must traverse an alternate route that does not disturb the Bronx Park Preserve. This leads us to…

Option 2: Gun Hill Road alignment

[Figs. 4, 5] Overview of Option 2. As with Option 1, alignment options include a “straight shot” via Gun Hill Road (2a) and an alternate route via Bartow Avenue (2b).

Option 2 sends the D train to new stations at Williamsbridge Plaza (2 train), Boston Road, Eastchester Road (5 train), and Co-op City South – Bay Plaza. Option 2a serves an additional station at Allerton Avenue near a shopping plaza, while Option 2b serves an additional station at Co-op City near the Bartow Mall and Bay Plaza.

While the Gun Hill Road alignment may seem like a long detour compared to the Burke Avenue alignment, the approximate difference in distance between the two is actually less than 1/3 mile. Using an average speed of 20 MPH, this amounts to less than one minute of additional travel time in each direction. Furthermore, the Gun Hill Road alignment offers the same connections to existing subways as the Burke Avenue alignment.

Some time after I published this post, the MTA released their PSA environmental assessment, which includes details on proposed station locations. I developed Options 1 and 2 above under the assumption that MTA would build the Co-op City station near the original station site off Boller Avenue. Instead, the MTA’s proposed station is in the middle of nowhere under the New England Thruway (I-95)! I think that with a different choice of interlocking, one could move MTA’s proposed platform a few hundred feet eastward – consider the following:

[Fig. 6] Alternative platform placement and interlocking for the future Co-op City PSA station.

This diagram is based on an actual proposal for the replacement Pelham Bay bridge (see pages 174-175 of the linked document); however, it is compatible with the existing PSA plan. In short, when Amtrak replaces the Pelham Bay bridge, it will also relocate the Pelham Bay interlocking to a new location past the east side of the bridge. Consequently, MTA’s justification for its middle-of-nowhere platform – room for a modified interlocking – seems short-sighted.

While Figure 6 shows two potential platform locations, I think the red one (between I-95 and a location just shy of Hunter Avenue) is most feasible. Even if one places that platform such that its east end only reaches Boller Avenue, it’s still better than MTA’s proposal.

In any case, this led me to rethink the Co-op City subway extensions, resulting in a new option.

Option 3: Extension to hub station at Bartow Mall

[Fig. 7] Overview of Option 3.

In Option 3, the D extension runs via Gun Hill Road to Bartow Mall like in Option 2, but it terminates there instead of continuing to Co-op City South. The 6 train serves Co-op City South at DeReimer Avenue, meeting the PSA station, then continues via Baychester Avenue. From there, the 6 extension takes a curve onto Bartow Avenue to meet the D train extension. This option moves the subway hub to the center of Co-op City at Bartow Mall, near Bay Plaza.

Common Elements

To reduce construction costs, the D extension under Options 2 and 3 include an elevated extension that curves away from the existing tail tracks east of Norwood – 205th Street station. The el would be a modern reinforced concrete viaduct or similar that reduces noise and is more aesthetically pleasing than the bare steel els of old. There are two potential locations for el portals:

[Fig. 8] Potential alignments for the D extension east of Norwood – 205th Street station with proposed el portal locations.

Given residential construction near Parkside Place, I am leaning toward the Webster Avenue portal; the Webster Avenue portal results in a smoother curve from the Norwood – 205th Street station.

One particular challenge with an elevated extension is Gun Hill Road’s elevation profile, which runs steeply downgrade east of Eastchester Road. My “back-of-the-envelope” calculations suggest an el must maintain a grade of roughly 3.8% to maintain constant height (e.g. 20 feet) above the ground, which is a bit higher than the standard 3% grade. At a 3% grade, an el that starts out 20 feet above the ground at Eastchester Road will end up about 37 feet above the ground at Co-op City. Given that 37 feet isn’t even half as high as NYC’s highest elevated station, this isn’t insurmountable; for the D extension specifically, this height is actually a good thing since it must cross over I-95 while ensuring sufficient clearance below for commercial trucks.

Alternatively, one could build the extension as a subway until a point east of Eastchester Road, then as an el where the ground elevation drops.

Importantly, the Gun Hill Road alignment covers the span from the Bronx River Parkway to I-95 – each of which contribute to traffic woes:

[Figs. 9, 10, 11] 2019 Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) counts for the Gun Hill Road corridor.

As the AADT figures show, over 20,000 vehicles per day traverse multiple stretches of Gun Hill Road. The D extension, therefore, would provide significant relief to this corridor. Meanwhile, the 6 extension could relieve the congested Bruckner Boulevard corridor.

As of 06.28.2021, I am now leaning on Option 3 for the Co-op City subway extensions. This option still creates a multimodal hub at Co-op City South, while creating an additional hub serving both Bartow Mall and the much larger Bay Plaza mall.

Optional Enhancement: Westchester Square Express Stop Conversion

The 6 extension to Co-op City has high ridership potential, owing both to Co-op City’s size and the Bay Plaza mall. Consequently, it could exacerbate crowding conditions on the 6. To mitigate this, the 6 extension includes an optional capital investment – converting Westchester Square – East Tremont Avenue station to an express stop:

[Fig. 12] Optional Westchester Square express stop conversion. (Original track map by vanshnookenraggen.)

This conversion promotes faster peak-directional express service and expanded local service on the 6 line in The Bronx. As a terminal for local trains, it offers an important advantage over Parkchester – local and express trains no longer cross in front of each other. Terminating local trains use the Westchester Yard leads to change directions, while express trains continue northward to Co-op City with minimal conflict. As of 06.28.2021, I’m still leaning on including this conversion. This effectively doubles service at Westchester Square, a key transit hub in the East Bronx.

II. Co-op City North

Co-op City is divided into five numbered sections. Co-op City South is Section 5, located below the Hutchinson River Parkway. Sections 1 through 4, which includes Bay Plaza, are all north of the parkway.

Initially, I considered extending the 6 or the D – or both – to Co-op City North. More recently, I thought of a simpler way to serve Co-op City North:

Construct the “Co-op City Jughandle”.

[Fig. 13] Overview of the “Co-op City Jughandle”.

From Eastchester – Dyre Avenue, the Jughandle reroutes the 5 train via private property and Conner Street, which eventually meets Co-op City Boulevard. Here, the 5 train serves a new station at Co-op City North – Peartree Square with entrances at both the square and the Carver and Dreiser loops. From here, the line curves onto Tillotson Avenue and then rejoins the Dyre Avenue line at Baychester Avenue. To facilitate the curve from Tillotson Avenue to the Dyre Avenue line, the Baychester Avenue station shifts about 300-400 feet south of its current location. This relocation allows new entrances at 222nd Street. To encourage ridership further, the Eastchester – Dyre Avenue terminus receives a new entrance at 233rd Street.

Taken together, these projects provide ample rapid transit service throughout Co-op City, significantly improving travel options for thousands of Bronxites.

In my next post, I’ll discuss subway extension options for Utica Avenue in Brooklyn. Until next time!

4 thoughts on “NYTIP – extending the nyc subway, part 2: from the concourse to co-op city

  1. The tail tracks past the Norwood-205th St station are pointing towards Burke Ave, not Gun Hill Rd on the White Plains Line. If there are no plans for directional express on the WPL, it shouldn’t matter which station the Concourse extension connects to, and therefore it would be a much straighter ROW if it were to continue under Burke Ave and Gun Hill Rd, rather than Gun Hill Rd all the way.

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    1. While it’s true that the Burke Avenue alignment is the straighter shot (and indeed, the original plan for the Concourse extension), such an extension would disturb Bronx Park and the Bronx River – both of which are protected IINM. Since the tracks end at Webster, a Gun Hill alignment would begin somewhat west of there. I haven’t considered the WPL express north of East 180th, so if it’s possible to build a Burke Avenue subway without impacting the Bronx Park and River, then I’m not opposed (though it’d likely have to be underground).

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    2. Hi Leo:

      I wanted to swing back to this comment, because a recent post update addresses this. The “straight-shot” alignment via Burke Avenue is no longer feasible since the Bronx Park Preserve is Forever Wild.

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  2. I’m so glad you included an extended #6 in your plans. This is a game changer for anyone living and traveling in the Bronx. Just the fact you could now travel through the Bronx just makes life simpler, living, shopping and working in the Bronx.

    Liked by 1 person

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