The new, elaborate 34th Street Hudson Yards station on the number 7 subway line, complete with mosaics, angled elevators and more, has now been open a few weeks.
But the station didn’t get there overnight. It was the result of years of planning, arguing, budget-crunching and revisions. And as impressive as the station and the overall 7 line extension may be, the plan is even more intriguing because of all the “might-have-beens” that weren’t built — but still may be someday.
For quite some time, expansion of the subway system to the Far West Side had been talked about. In 1993, the city’s Planning Commission released a report called “Shaping the City’s Future,” which considered extending the Number 7 line (also known as the Flushing Line) to the Hell’s Kitchen area.
In January 1999, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani called plans for the Second Avenue subway (now under construction) “something of a pipe dream,” and said the city should first extend the 7 line to the Far West Side, according to The New York Times. This was around the time Giuliani proposed a domed stadium for the football Jets above the railyards (after his plan to move the Yankees to the area proved unpopular).
The subway extension plan picked up steam as part of the city’s bid to house the 2012 Summer Olympics. The stadium, which would also have played a role in the Olympics, was rejected and the city lost its bid — but the subway extension was approved.
At the urging of the Bloomberg Administration, the station was financed by bonds, not as part of the usual MTA budget. A contract was awarded in October 2007, and construction began that December with a ceremony at Times Square. By December 2013, a ceremonial train carrying Mayor Bloomberg was able to run to the almost-finished station.
Then, the project ran into delays. Many of them stemmed from problems with the station’s unusual inclined elevators, “snags in testing the fire alarms,” and the need for real estate developer Related to dig structures above the subway station for construction work, according to WNYC and the New York Post. After being postponed several times in 2014 and 2015, the new terminal opened Sept. 13 of this year.
Here are some of the major “might-have-beens” about the number 7 subway extension:
•A planned second station at 42nd Street and 10th Avenue. It would serve nearby residents and office workers as well as the area’s thriving Off-Broadway theater district. Plans for the station were shelved in late 2007. According to Digiplanet, an option for a “shell” in which a future station could be built was part of the October 2007 contract, and in February 2009, the MTA announced it would build the station if it received sufficient funds from the federal economic stimulus program. Developers and local residents petitioned the powers-that-be to construct the shell, but in the end, construction continued without it. In 2010, Mayor Bloomberg said the station could still be built in the future — but it would have to be a station with one street entrance for each direction and no cross-overs or cross-unders. In other words, it would have to be like an old-fashioned local station.
The “Second Avenue Sagas” subway blog quotes then-Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Dan Doctoroff as saying in 2010 that “A Tenth Avenue station would be nice, but it’s really a straight transportation project versus an economic development catalyst.”
•An extension south into Chelsea. During construction, many local residents doubtless wondered why work was going on in the 20s, since the line terminates at 34th Street. The answer is that layup tracks – where trains park while waiting to be put back into service – were built into the line, extending as far south as 25th Street. While this isn’t uncommon in the subway system, it raises possibilities — especially for residents of West Chelsea, where high-rise development continues.
At the 2012 summit of the Regional Plan Association, then-MTA Chief Joe Lhota said, “As far as big projects are concerned, I could see the extension of the number 7 train to other parts of New York City’s West Side. It’s something I would like to see go all the way down to 23rd Street.” However, according to NYC’s “Transportation Nation” blog, Lhota said this was part of his “wish list,” that there were no active plans to extend the line south, and that he wasn’t sure how physically feasible it was.
•An extension across the Hudson River to Secaucus, New Jersey. This idea has gotten quite a lot of publicity. A feasibility study was done during the Bloomberg Administration and released by the Economic Development Corp. At Secaucus, the line would link with New Jersey Transit lines as well as MetroNorth’s Port Jervis line. “Extending the No. 7 subway line to Secaucus could easily cost $10 billion or more,” commented Larry Penner in the Observer. “Despite its great value to the area’s commuters, it’s hard to picture it becoming a reality.”
Indeed, Lhota, when he still headed the MTA, famously commented, “It’s not going to happen in anybody’s lifetime.” And unlike in other cities — Boston, for example — the New York City subway system has never gone outside the city’s borders.
Still, according to a 2014 article in nj.com, influential voices in the real estate and development communities, such as the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce and Stephen Spinola of the Real Estate Board of New York, have continued to advocate for the idea.
In the meantime, let’s be glad that the subway extension has finally reached 34th Street-Hudson Yards, and that thousands are taking advantage of it every day.