UPDATE (03.28.2022): Post updated with the Livonia El extension.
Welcome back to my ongoing NYTIP series! In this post, I’ll discuss Brooklyn IRT extensions on two dense corridors – Utica Avenue and Nostrand Avenue.
Note: Click any image to enlarge.
I. Utica Avenue
As with many planned subway extensions, the city conceived a Utica Avenue subway long ago:
[Figs. 1, 2] Snippets of the 1929 IND Second System plan for the Utica Avenue subway. In this plan, the subway would’ve met the proposed Nostrand Avenue line extension at Sheepshead Bay.
Plans for the Utica Avenue subway, however, predate the IND – 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 IRT, nor the city, nor the MTA built the Utica Avenue subway.
vanshnookenraggen has a detailed post on the Utica Avenue subway’s history, including the challenges associated with building it today. While the challenges are palpable, the Utica Avenue subway would be a worthy investment. The B46 bus, which travels on Utica Avenue, is the busiest bus route in Brooklyn and the third-busiest in the city. Additionally, Southeast Brooklyn is not well served by existing subways. Thus, the Utica Avenue subway would be a key element of NYTIP. Let us explore three options for realizing the Utica Avenue subway.
Option 1: Extend the 5 train to Kings Plaza
[Fig. 4] Overview of Option 1. Created using Brand New Subway.
Recall the enhanced NYC subway under NYTIP. By fixing the infamous Nostrand Junction, 2 and 3 trains serve Nostrand Avenue, while 4 and 5 trains continue eastward. East of Franklin Avenue, the 4 runs express and the 5 runs local. Since the Utica Avenue subway provisions connect to the local tracks, the 5 would serve the Utica Avenue subway to Kings Plaza, while the 4 replaces the 5 on Livonia Avenue.
To minimize conflicts between 4 and 5 trains, Option 1 includes a new switch for 4 trains near Sutter Avenue – Rutland Road station:
[Fig. 5] New switch allowing direct access to the westbound Eastern Parkway express track. It includes an option for building the center track on the Livonia El for operational flexibility (Original track map by vanshnookenraggen.)
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. 6] Potential portal location. A portal in this area requires some property takings and realigning Utica Avenue (compare the Culver line); however, the portal itself would be narrower than the highlighted areas.
Alternatively, since Option 1 contemplates a two-track extension, the subway could emerge through the street by appropriating road space; candidates include the road south of Avenue J (1929 plan) and the road between Snyder and Tilden Avenues.
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, 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 5 train extension in Option 1. Disadvantages include cost – this line is longer than the 5 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.
As of 03.28.2022, 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.
Optional Enhancement: Gateway Center Mall Extension
The aforementioned 1968 Program for Action included a Livonia El (a.k.a. New Lots line) extension to Spring Creek. The extension would’ve run via Linwood Street – and possibly Livonia Yard – to Flatlands Avenue. However, with the Gateway Center mall due less than 1/2 mile south, an opportunity exists to extend the New Lots line there instead. To reach Gateway Center, the extension must traverse Elton Street instead of Linwood Street since the latter ends a few blocks short of the mall. In addition, the extension must partially traverse Livonia Yard, as shown below:
[Fig. 11] New Lots line extension through Livonia Yard.
The extension would include two new stations at Linden Boulevard and Spring Creek – Gateway Center. The Linden Boulevard station would include an entrance near Stanley Avenue, while the Gateway Center terminus includes an entrance at Vandalia Avenue. Given the benefits such an extension would provide, NYTIP would include this extension.
II. Nostrand Avenue
The aforementioned subway expansion plans of old included Nostrand Avenue subway extensions. 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. 12] Overview of Option 1.
Option 1 is a 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 two-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. 13] Overview of Option 2.
Under Option 2, the Nostrand Avenue line takes a curve onto Flatbush Avenue; this curve includes a new lower level platform at Brooklyn College. (In this option, the existing platform at Brooklyn College would remain in use for short turns.) From Brooklyn College, the line continues toward Kings Plaza, where it meets the 5 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 near 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.
[Fig. 14] The Flatbush Avenue – Belt Parkway interchange with a superimposed image of Jamaica Yard – one of the largest storage yards in the NYC subway – at scale. This shows that there is room for a sizable yard entirely within the interchange.
Option 3: Extensions to Sheepshead Bay and Kings Plaza
[Fig. 15] Overview of Option 3.
With 2 and 3 trains serving Nostrand Avenue 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.
Thus, as of 03.28.2022, I am still leaning on Option 3. Building both the Kings Plaza and Sheepshead Bay extensions would close a large gap in subway service in Southeast Brooklyn. The new storage yard at the Flatbush Avenue – Belt Parkway interchange would catalyze service increases and relieve the entire Brooklyn IRT system.
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 at the time (2018):
[Figs. 16, 17] 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.
To conclude, 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 options for thousands of Brooklynites.