NYTIP – extending the nyc subway, part 3: utica and nostrand avenues

UPDATE (07.03.2021): I’ve updated this post to include Nostrand Avenue subway extension options.

Welcome back to my ongoing NYTIP series! In my last post, I discussed subway extensions to Co-op City. In this post, I’ll discuss extensions of the Brooklyn IRT on two dense corridors – Utica and Nostrand Avenues.

Note: Click any image to enlarge.

I. Utica Avenue

Like the Concourse extension, the city conceived a Utica Avenue subway long ago:

[Figs. 1, 2] Snippets of the 1929 IND Second System plan showing the Utica Avenue subway. Under this plan, branches of the SAS, 6th, and 8th Avenue lines would’ve entered Brooklyn and split into two branches – one serving Utica Avenue and one serving central Queens and the Rockaways.

[Fig. 3] Snippet of the 1939 IND Second System plan showing the Utica Avenue subway. Unlike the 1929 plan, the subway turned onto Flatbush Avenue instead of Nostrand Avenue.

The Utica Avenue subway, however, predates the IND Second System plan – the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) company included provisions for such when building the Eastern Parkway line. MTA’s 1968 Program for Action would’ve used this provision to extend the Eastern Parkway line to Avenue U, where Kings Plaza sits. (Kings Plaza opened in 1970.)

Despite all of these plans, neither the old IRT, nor the city, nor the MTA built the Utica Avenue subway.

Even now, the MTA is studying improvements to the Utica Avenue corridor, including a subway extension. However, the study hasn’t progressed.

vanshnookenraggen has a detailed post on the Utica Avenue subway’s history, including the challenges associated with building such a subway today. Given the history and the challenges, let’s explore potential options for building the Utica Avenue subway today.

Option 1: Extend the 4 train to Kings Plaza

[Fig. 4] Overview of Option 1. Created using Brand New Subway.

Recall the Eastern Parkway de-interlining plan under NYTIP. By fixing the infamous Nostrand Junction, 2 and 3 trains run via Nostrand Avenue, while 4 and 5 trains run via Eastern Parkway. East of Franklin Avenue, the 4 runs express to Utica Avenue and the 5 runs local to Linden Boulevard.

Under Option 1, service east of Franklin Avenue flips – the 4 runs local and the 5 runs express. This is because the Utica Avenue subway provisions extend from the local tracks. Option 1 contemplates seven stations on Utica Avenue as shown above, including the Kings Plaza terminal. Owing to a high water table in southern Brooklyn, the Utica Avenue subway would emerge onto an el after some distance. One possible location for a portal is the space on the left side of Utica Avenue between Rutland Road and Clarkson Avenue:

[Fig. 5] Potential portal location. A portal in this area requires some property takings and possibly realigning Utica Avenue (compare the Culver line); however, the portal itself would be narrower than the highlighted spaces.

Alternatively, since Option 1 contemplates a two-track extension, the subway could emerge through the street by appropriating road space; the likeliest candidate for this is the road between Snyder and Tilden Avenues. (The 1929 plan proposed an underground subway to Avenue J before emerging onto an el – this is another potential option.)

To minimize conflicts between 4 and 5 trains, Option 1 includes a new switch for 5 trains near Sutter Avenue – Rutland Road station:

[Fig. 6] A new switch near Sutter Avenue – Rutland Road station gives Manhattan-bound 5 trains direct access to the Eastern Parkway express track. (Original track map by vanshnookenraggen.)

The subway would have provisions for future expansion – including a full-length Utica Avenue subway and up to four tracks. To that end, the tunnels and the el would have B Division clearances.

Option 2: New “I” train – build the Utica Avenue subway as a branch of the L train

[Figs. 7, 8] Overview of Option 2.

Option 2 contemplates a new “I” train, which makes the same stops as the L train between 8th Avenue – 14th Street and Montrose Avenue. From Montrose Avenue station, the I train branches off, running under Bushwick Avenue for a short distance before traversing private property to Stuyvesant Avenue. The subway then continues toward Fulton Street, where it runs under Boys and Girls High School using an existing provision, then reaches Utica Avenue. At some point on Utica Avenue, the subway would emerge onto an el. The entire line would have two tracks. Option 2 contemplates 12 new stations, most of which are the same as those in Option 1. Aside from those, the remaining stations are at Fulton Street (A/C), Gates Avenue, Myrtle Avenue (J/M/Z), and Flushing Avenue.

Advantages include increased service to L train stations at Montrose Avenue and points west, increased connectivity between subway lines in Brooklyn, and increased capacity compared with the 4 train extension in Option 1. Disadvantages include cost – this line is longer than the 4 extension – and a net reduction in service at L train stations east of Montrose Avenue, including the busy Myrtle – Wyckoff Avenues station. This fact alone might make Option 2 a tough sell, which brings us to…

Option 3: Extend the C train to Kings Plaza via Worth Street and Utica Avenue

[Figs. 9, 10] Overview of Option 3.

Option 3 is a modified version of the 1929 plan for a full-length Utica Avenue subway. The first element of this line is the Worth Street subway branching off the 8th Avenue line south of Canal Street. From Manhattan, the subway enters Brooklyn and traverses Broadway, South 4th Street, and private property before meeting the Stuyvesant – Utica line proposed in Option 2. In this option, the C train traverses the new subway to Kings Plaza; consequently, the World Trade Center station platforms would close except for short-turns.

The full-length Utica Avenue subway contemplated by Option 3 would have two tracks. It leaves all provisions for future expansion intact, such as connections to 6th Avenue, SAS, and an expansion to four tracks.

This option offers several advantages in terms of capacity and coverage, such as new service in parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn underserved by existing subways; however, it also has several drawbacks. Aside from the most obvious one – cost – Option 3 would not provide meaningful relief to the Lexington Avenue line (4/5 trains) since most riders would likely transfer at Eastern Parkway. In my view, the 8th Avenue local is not the best choice for the full-length Utica Avenue subway; however, it could work in a four-track scenario.

As of 07.03.2021, I am still leaning toward Option 1 for the Utica Avenue subway. Option 1 balances cost with expanded subway coverage, and does not preclude future expansion. In the future, a branch of SAS could serve the full-length Utica Avenue subway to provide meaningful relief to the Lexington Avenue line and expand subway coverage. I’ll discuss this further in a future post.

II. Nostrand Avenue

The aforementioned subway expansion plans of old included extensions of the Nostrand Avenue subway. As with many planned-but-never-built subway extensions, plans for the Nostrand Avenue extension go back many decades – in this case, to at least 1919. In fact, MTA mulled a Nostrand Avenue subway extension to Kings Plaza as recently as 2016, but nothing came of it.

Could a Nostrand Avenue line extension augment the Utica Avenue subway? If so, how? Let’s explore.

Option 1: Extension to Sheepshead Bay

[Fig. 11] Overview of Option 1.

Option 1 is the straight-line extension to Sheepshead Bay via Nostrand Avenue. While the Utica Avenue extension fills a gap in Southeast Brooklyn, there is still a nearly 2-mile gap between Utica Avenue and the Brighton line. Option 1 would fill this gap with 5 new stations in high-density areas. Like the Utica Avenue subway, this extension would emerge onto an el after some distance due to high water tables in southern Brooklyn.

Option 2: Extension to Kings Plaza

[Fig. 12] Overview of Option 2.

Under Option 2, the Nostrand Avenue line takes a curve onto Flatbush Avenue – which requires a modification to the existing Flatbush Avenue – Brooklyn College station – and continues toward Kings Plaza, where it meets the 4 train extension. As with Option 1, this extension would emerge onto an el after some distance. Option 2 contemplates a new storage and maintenance yard south of Kings Plaza in the vicinity of the Flatbush Avenue – Belt Parkway interchange. This is significant because, at present, the small Livonia Yard is the only storage yard for numbered-line (IRT) trains in Brooklyn.

While both Options 1 and 2 show extensions of the 2 and 3 trains, the 3 would likely serve the new stations on a part-time basis; I envisions some 3 trains turning at Flatbush Avenue – Brooklyn College under either option.

Option 3: Extensions to Sheepshead Bay and Kings Plaza

[Fig. 13] Overview of Option 3.

With 2 and 3 trains serving the existing Nostrand Avenue subway under NYTIP, an opportunity exists to build both the Sheepshead Bay and Kings Plaza extensions. I can’t think of any significant drawbacks to this option, aside from cost. Perhaps there’s a question of necessity, but I’d say the high ridership of the B44 and B46 buses (respectively, the 5th and 3rd-busiest bus routes in NYC in both 2019 and 2020) provides the necessary litmus test for demand on Nostrand and Utica Avenues, respectively.

As of 07.03.2021, I am leaning on Option 3. If I had to prioritize one of the two Nostrand Avenue extensions, it’d be the Kings Plaza extension – both because of the mall and space for a new storage yard to the south, which would catalyze service increases. However, there’s merit to building both the Sheepshead Bay and Kings Plaza extensions.

As a sanity check, I performed a work destination analysis using OnTheMap for both the Utica Avenue and Nostrand Avenue extensions using the latest available data (2018):

[Figs. 14, 15] Heat maps showing the top 25 work destinations among people residing within the Utica Avenue and Nostrand Avenue extension corridors, respectively.

In both maps, downtown Brooklyn and West Midtown stand out; to a lesser extent, Kings Plaza does as well. As expected, there’s a healthy concentration of travel to jobs along existing transit (i.e. subway and bus) corridors. Interestingly, employment destinations within the Nostrand Avenue corridor are more locally concentrated; I believe Kingsborough Community College explains the strong job concentration in zip code 11235.

Taken together, the Utica Avenue and Nostrand Avenue subway extensions would close significant gaps in the subway network, form a new rapid transit hub at Kings Plaza, and improve travel for thousands of Brooklynites.

In my next post, I’ll circle back to point 1 – enhance – to address some low-hanging fruit I forgot to mention previously. Until next time!

4 thoughts on “NYTIP – extending the nyc subway, part 3: utica and nostrand avenues

  1. I agree that a Utica extension needs to be along the IRT. It is unfortunate, though, since IRT trains have less capacity than IND/BMT trains that ideally any new extension should be along the IND/BMT. I cannot justify doing a new subway right next to the J/M/Z for cost reasons.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just wondering is there a realistic possibility of expanding the 2nd ave line to Williamburg or Utica Avenue line


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