The New York City Subway: Big, But Not Big Enough
Winson Thai




SHIRLEY VASQUEZ (21, short, half-Asian, half-Latino railfan) and FELICIA ORTIZ (26, tall, impatient, pale, fit) wait at a Q72 bus stop. Shirley holds a tote bag. Felicia holds a tiny purse and child's book. Cars and people pass them randomly. They pace slightly for 15 seconds, then Shirley takes a cell out of his pants pocket, typing on the keypad. Felicia looks at the stop's information box, down the road, and her watch.

FELICIA (Getting impatient): Man, we have been here for over ten minutes! Where's the freaking bus?!

SHIRLEY: Beats me. I'm texting Paola to tell her that we will be a little late. I hope she and Erika have patience.

FELICIA: They do, but that Guide-A-Ride says the next bus would be here at 12:30 and it's now 12:35 for pete's sake!

SHIRLEY (Puts his phone in his pants): Yo unlike the subway, you can't use the timetables or schedule sheet to assume when the next bus will come. Many things can make it really late like red lights, heavy traffic, and passengers who get off at the front door. The worst of them is those in wheelchairs. It can take the driver like fifteen minutes to finish the process of lifting them in and out.

FELICIA: Grr! That is why I hate riding city buses. Walking gets you to wherever you have to go quicker sometimes.

SHIRLEY: But some areas in the city are only reachable via bus and you are right that walking can be faster, like in Midtown Manhattan, as the crosstown buses have speeds of three to four miles per hour only. Why does Paola live in a spot with no train lines?

FELICIA: She adores watching planes land and take off from LaGuardia Airport. We sat by our room's window each night when we were little to see brightly lit jets roar above our house. That is why she didn't want to move with me to Brooklyn in 2008. I looked at your bus maps and saw Manhattan and Brooklyn have lots of train service and Queens has little. Why is that? It is the largest borough, yet has the least amount of train stations.

SHIRLEY: Actually, The Bronx has the lowest amount at 70, but it is the second smallest borough next to Manhattan. It really doesn't need more. Queens lacks subway lines because when the system was being built in the early 1900s, it was mostly marshland and farm and not many people lived here and Brooklyn and Manhattan were so populated and getting more urban by the 1800s. They had the most demand for trains, so the city built many elevated steam railroad lines there that became part of or replaced by the subway by the 1920s. Even today they're the most populated boroughs of the city. It was not until 1917 when the #7 Flushing and Astoria N Lines were made that Queens finally had subway service, but it also had elevated railroad lines as with the other boroughs, located at Jamaica, Myrtle, and Liberty Avenues, which are now respectively the J, M, and A trains. Its biggest route is the IND Queens Boulevard Line which did not open till the 1930s. There were plans to add fifty-two miles of new lines here that decade, but it did not occur sadly, so Queens has just 81 stations. Brooklyn and Manhattan have 170 and 147, respectively now.

FELICIA: Hmmmm really sweetheart, this place was that undeveloped a century ago?

Shirley takes out of his bag a black and white photo of the Flushing Line surrounded by farmland, showing it to Felicia.

SHIRLEY: Mm-hmm, look at this. This is the 7 Flushing Line from 1917. Do you see how vacant the surrounding land is?

FELICIA: I do. This looks like the Midwest, not New York. It looks odd to have an elevated train route in a locale like this, but from what Paola told me, the #7 train is one of the most heavily used in the city as it goes to very populated neighborhoods in Queens like Elmhurst, Sunnyside and Jackson Heights and runs cross-town on the busy 42 Street in Manhattan.

SHIRLEY (Putting the photo in his bag): Yes and it'll get more much crowded when the West Side extension opens.

FELICIA: I know, but Paola's anxious to have the 7 run to Jacob Javits Center as she loves attending the conventions held there. I am so stunned that no trains serve that place. In fact, I think some of Manhattan or Brooklyn have no train service either right?

INSERT: A full scale map of Brooklyn with the subway lines.

SHIRLEY (V.O): Yes a part of southeast Brooklyn is not accessible by subway, including neighborhoods like Gerritsen Beach, Georgetown, Spring Creek, the heart of Flatlands, my part of Sheepshead Bay, Marine Park, and Kings Plaza.

FELICIA (V.O): Oh, the area by Emmons and Nostrand Avenues is only reachable by bus.

SHIRLEY (V.O.): Yeah. I've never had a problem with the B36, which I take to get to the subway. It is there when I need it.

FELICIA (V.O): I'm glad that I live within walking distance of the subway. I saw that all of the Midtown Manhattan north-(Sounding curious)south routes are clutched in a five block square in the island's middle between Eighth and Park Avenues. No lines exist from 8th Avenue to West Street to the west and Park Avenue to the FDR Drive on the East Side.

INSERT: A full scale map of Midtown with the subway lines.

SHIRLEY (V.O.): Right, not sure why it's like that. The cross-town buses are used a lot despite their slowness. The lengths between each avenue are longer than people think. I took twenty minutes to go four blocks from the Intrepid to Times Square last year. From the way Manhattan is positioned east to west subway lines are not possible.


Felicia GIGGLES while shaking Shirley’s slim arm.

FELICIA: At least you got some exercise, but anyway, is the MTA going to extend the 2 line to Kings Plaza? Brooklyn College isn't that far based on the bus map and an extension will speed up commuting to and from that mall.

SHIRLEY: Um nope, but the proposal to expand service for Queens I told you about also included adding two new subway lines in that section of Brooklyn.

FELICIA: Really? Were there any other routes planned for the city at that time?

SHIRLEY: Yes, there were so many, they were called the IND Second System. Think of it as a new subway system being built onto the existing one honey.

FELICIA: Could you show me where these lines would have been on the subway map?

Shirley takes out a subway map from his bag and unfolds it.

INSERT: A New York City Subway map. As Shirley explains the extensions, lines appear to show where they would have been.

SHIRLEY (V.O.): All lines in Queens would have went further into the borough, providing service to neighborhoods like Saint Albans, Cambria Heights, Bellerose, College Point, Utopia, where Paola lives, Glen Oaks and South Jamaica. Two new lines were planned too. One would've ran by Woodhaven Boulevard to connect Queens Boulevard and the Rockaways while the other would run along Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, connecting Kew Gardens to Flushing. The Nostrand Avenue Line would have continued south not to Marine Park, but on the road of the same name to Sheepshead Bay’s east side, then go under the bay to end at where today is Kingsborough Community College. A new line would have diverged from the J train, but later plans had it moved to the 3, at Utica Avenue and run south to Floyd Bennett Field to serve where Kings Plaza is. Another new line would've split from the F, going down Fort Hamilton Parkway to serve Dyker Heights and cross under the Narrows to serve Staten Island. In Manhattan, there was going to be a few new cross-town lines south of Houston Street that run to Brooklyn and let's not forget the old Second Avenue Subway. It wound have run on the entire east side of the island, going to Fulton Street in Brooklyn and under the Harlem River to serve areas in South Bronx such as Throgs Neck, Soundview, and Shuylerville.


FELICIA: Crap, I forgot about Staten Island! It only has one lousy train, right?

SHIRLEY: Yes, it is called the Staten Island Railway, runs every half hour to an hour and not considered part of the subway, though has been on the maps since 1998 and uses a car type (Smirking) that also ran on the A before it retired last month. It's free except at the Saint George Ferry Terminal, though payment was put on the next station south, Tompkinsville, in January as most riders exited there and walked to Saint George to avoid the fare.

FELICIA: Ha free rides come with long waits! Could they use more train service?

SHIRLEY: Well no. It is the least populated and most suburban-like of the five boroughs. There aren't so many long commercial roads and bus service is often very reliable and fast there.

FELICIA: Eh, I guess you're right. (Looking at the map) Hey, what's that scribble at Pelham Bay Park coming off of the 6 train, your own extension to City Island?

Shirley looks at the map and his eyes widen in anger.

SHIRLEY: Gaahh that Erika!!! Always coloring and ruining my freaking MTA maps!!!

Felicia LAUGHS and Shirley punches the shelter nonstop. She drops the map and wraps her arms around him to restrain him.

FELICIA: Hey, hey, take it easy baby. That's public property. Erika is a little girl who loves colorful things and you have many spare maps. Remember, she is why we are together now. Who can forget that mild day in January when you got on the F train at York Street and sat beside Erika and me? Then you took out your Brooklyn Bus Map to see where you can switch to the B9 bus. Erika began grabbing it after seeing it, as it is a collage of colors. You could do nothing and I used all I had from toys to milk to cookies to make her release it.

She lets go of Shirley, who picks his map off of the ground.

SHIRLEY: Right, one thing led to another and a ten-month-old brought two distant relatives together. I wished she'd not touch things that are not hers.

FELICIA: Me too, it's tough, but anyhow, how come these routes never got built?

SHIRLEY: You can blame many factors like bad city management, Great Depression, and a loser named Robert Moses who used all available cash on roadways for why the subway never expanded.

FELICIA: Were any new lines made after 1940?

INSERT: Full subway map with circles drawn over the lines.

SHIRLEY (V.O.): Yes, a few. The Rockaway Line, used by the A train, originally belonged to the LIRR, but they abandoned it in 1950 after frequent fires on the trestle over Jamaica Bay. The city bought the line and turned it into the subway in 1956. The Dyre Avenue Line, used by the 5 train was taken from the New York, Westchester, and Boston Railway, bankrupted in 1941. The Archer Avenue Line, the E and J trains' two eastern stops opened in 1988. The 63rd Street Line, used by the F to move between Manhattan and Queens, debuted a year later. Other than those extensions, the subway’s layout hasn't changed over the past 70 years, but the 2nd Avenue Subway is finally being built, a big must.


FELICIA: Geez, the system would've given you direct subway access, but buses run on Nostrand and Utica Avenues yeah?

SHIRLEY: Yes, the B44 and B46, respectively. In fact buses run along many of the planned train lines as substitutes.

FELICIA: So there is no train service at all east of Jamaica or Flushing Queens?

INSERT: Queens bus map with the LIRR lines highlighted.

SHIRLEY (V.O.): Actually the LIRR’s Port Washington Branch runs near Northern Boulevard and has six stops in Queens east of Flushing, the Hempstead Branch runs by Jamaica Avenue and serves Queens Village and Hollis, there are four other stops between Kennedy Airport and Jamaica at Saint Albans, Locust Manor, Laurelton, and Rosedale, and there was a line serving Whitestone and College Point, but it closed in 1932 due to lousy ridership. I love riding the LIRR due to the entirely outdoor lines and super fast, comfy trains, but ticket prices are high.

FELICIA (V.O): Commuter trains have advantages and disadvantages over the subway. It's sad our system is mileage-wage the world's largest, but barely covers sixty-five percent of our big city.

SHIRLEY (V.O.): Yes the system in reality is tinier than it was way back in the 1960s.

FELICIA (V.O): Uh, you mean we used to have subway lines that no longer exist? Where?

INSERT: Subway map with lines showing the former routes.

SHIRLEY (V.O.): In Brooklyn, an elevated line above 39 Street linked the D at 9 Avenue to the F at Ditmas Avenue, becoming a shuttle in 1956 after a link from Ditmas to Church Avenues opened. It closed in 1975 after low ridership. The el was removed and the B35 bus has replaced it. The Myrtle Avenue Line ran west from the Jamaica Line stop of that name to Jay Street in Downtown and until 1944 crossed the Brooklyn Bridge to Park Row. Due to lack of funding that part closed in (Sighing unhappily) 1969 with the B54 replacing it. In Queens, the Jamaica Line ran as far as 168th Street until 1977 and all of the boroughs had privately-owned elevated train and streetcar routes that were closed by 1973. Some were thankfully replaced by buses or the subway. Fascinating, isn't it babe?

FELICIA (V.O.): Yes! This reminds me, why are there two staircases going to nowhere on the embankment along the northbound side of Neck Road on the Q train?

INSERT: Old map of the Manhattan Beach Branch.

SHIRLEY (V.O.): That used to be an LIRR stop. Until 1924 a branch from Greenpoint, East New York and Bay Ridge ran parallel to the Brighton Line from Avenue J to Sheepshead Bay before going east near Neptune Avenue, terminating in Manhattan Beach. It ended operation due to declining popularity of the racetracks and hotels it went to.


FELICIA: Wow, I'm amazed you know so much of our subway’s history. People use it to get to wherever they must go and not think about how big things have changed in the last century or the manpower and cash used to build it. You should do something with that.

Shirley folds his map, puts it in his bag and looks unhappy.

SHIRLEY: Yeah I know.

FELICIA (Looking curious): Hey, is something wrong sweetie?

SHIRLEY: I just thought about how much I was teased in high school because of my big interest in trains. People said "get a life" and other mean things.

FELICIA: Hey some people don't get what it's like to have a hobby, especially if it's unique like yours. I love it a lot and am sure those students have matured by now and regret what they did to you. Don't worry about them.

SHIRLEY: Oh right, I think one wants to be a Hollywood filmmaker and director. I saw his YouTube profile and it has a few cool amateur movies. He has a beautiful girlfriend who models for various department store catalogs.

Felicia makes a fist with her hand and pulls Shirley to her.

FELICIA: See, besides anyone who bullies you needs to answer to me and I protect people I love at all costs always.

Shirley smiles as he and Felicia hug with their eyes closed. She pats his back, lowers her head, and kisses his forehead. She opens her eyes, lifts her head, smiles and points ahead.

FELICIA (Cont'd): Hey love, the bus is finally here!!

They let go of each other as a Q72 bus pulls up to the stop.

SHIRLEY (Walking toward the bus door): Oh my I got caught up in our chat I forgot that we were waiting for it.

FELICIA: Ha-ha-ha me too, but I was going to really pee in my pants if it didn't come within the next three minutes.

SHIRLEY (Looking at her wild-eyed): Uh do you have to use the bathroom?

FELICIA: No, no, it's okay, I can hold it in until we get to Paola's home honey.

The bus's front doors open as Shirley and Felicia go inside. The doors shut and the vehicle leaves in the same direction.




Copyright © 2011 Winson Thai
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