Contemplating a Potential Brooklyn Subway Expansion
New York’s fastest-growing borough has transit woes that must be addressed
In a city faced with a crumbling subway system and a plethora of infrastructure issues, it goes without saying that numerous ideas are on the table regarding the fixture of these issues, but none have seen the light.
Enter Brooklyn. As New York City’s fastest-growing borough, Brooklyn is home to most of the city’s charm and charisma. But it’s also home to the majority of the city’s subway lines. Despite this, a large portion of the borough is unserved by rapid transit, with the only public transit option of the residents of the affected neighborhoods being slow, overcrowded buses.
The reality of the situation is that there are numerous neighborhoods and hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who simply do not have access to effective public transit, and advocating for change is one thing, but receiving the change is another. Unfortunately, it seems that change in this subject is unlikely to occur, as there are multiple projects on the table that would bring subway service to these areas, but haven’t even become close to a reality.
Let’s take a deep look at those projects, and assess their probabilities.
Utica Avenue Extension
The Utica Avenue Extension, or simply the Utica Avenue Line, is one of the major proposed subway extensions which would benefit Brooklyn. It would bring subway service to the transit-impoverished neighborhoods of East Flatbush, Flatlands, Mill Basin, and Marine Park. First proposed in 1910, the line has remained all but a dream for over 110 years.
The line, which would be served by the 4 train, would stretch from the 4’s current southern terminus at Eastern Parkway and Utica Avenue, and run underneath Utica Avenue (as the name implies) south to Flatbush Avenue, where it would terminate at the vast Kings Plaza mall, which is unserved by the subway and would greatly benefit from subway service.
The plan is arguably the closest of all the plans to becoming a reality, but is still a far ways off. The Utica Avenue Extension was once again proposed in the MTA’s 2015–2019 capital plan, but since Mayor Bill De Blasio called for a study of the line in 2015, not much has sprouted since. In early 2020, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams assembled a group of residents and representatives to assess the potential transit options along Utica Avenue, including the subway extension, but of course, that hasn’t led anywhere.
Utica Avenue is currently served by the B46 bus, which carries over 50,000 people daily and is the city’s second-busiest bus route. Although subway plans underneath the avenue haven’t really surfaced, the bus line was converted to a Select Bus Service express route a few years ago, and bus lanes were added along Utica Avenue to accommodate this. Still, however, the bus line does little to improve transit along the avenue, something the subway line would.
Like the rest of the city’s infrastructure projects, the likelihood of the extension ever becoming a reality is rail thin. The MTA has a tendency to start projects it can’t complete, and the fact that it is already deep in debt doesn’t help the case for improving Brooklyn’s transit woes. According to YIMBY:
Unfortunately, transit advocates and politicians alike are skeptical that the Utica Avenue line will ever materialize, between the MTA’s budget struggles and its inability to finish incredibly expensive projects like the Second Avenue subway or East Side Access.
Clearly, the MTA has its priorities upside down. While extremely beneficial, the Second Avenue Subway is only about 20% complete, and its future is in doubt. Plus, with Manhattan already served by numerous subway lines (including the Upper East Side, which, while home to only one subway line — with three services), the areas of Brooklyn which these proposed lines would serve are currently not served by the subway at all, and thus, are in more dire need of service than the Second Avenue Subway provides.
But let’s face it, if France can build an entire subway system loop conisisting of 68 stations for $48 billion, and the MTA needs $51 billion to build four stations for the Second Avenue Subway, then the state of subway expansion in New York wasn’t looking very bright from the start, if we’re being honest here.
The Utica Avenue Extension would work fine on its own, but couple it with the other proposed subway extensions for Brooklyn, and you have a real solution. The Utica Avenue Extension is only one piece of the puzzle. The second piece would be the Nostrand Avenue Extension, coupled with the Flatbush Avenue Extension to Kings Plaza. The finishing product would look something like the following picture.
This leads us into our next proposed subway: the Nostrand Avenue Extension.
Nostrand Avenue Extension
Unlike Utica Avenue, Nostrand Avenue already has trains running underneath it, but they stop halfway through the avenue’s length. The final station for both the 2 and 5 trains, which run under Nostrand Avenue during their southern portions, end at Brooklyn College, leaving the rest of the avenue, and the neighborhoods it runs through, in the dust.
Plans to extend the subway to Sheepshead Bay surfaced in 1929, when the line was intended to be extended. As stated in a September 16, 1929 edition of The New York Times, the line was to extend underground to Kings Highway and then become elevated the rest of the way, similar to other lines in South Brooklyn, including the Culver and West End Lines. The report stated:
The Nostrand Avenue line was planned to be extended in 1929 as part of the IND Second System. The line would have been extended as a subway to Kings Highway, and then as an elevated line to Avenue S at the cost of $7.4 million. South of Avenue S the line would continue to Voohries Avenue on a four-track structure shared with the proposed Utica Avenue Line for $3.2 million.
Of course, these plans, like the elevated line, never surfaced. Although the city continued studying the plan and creating new proposals for it through the 1960s, 1970s and beyond, the plan simply never came to fruition. The plan was again reimagined in August 2016, when the Department of Transportation examined the possibility of developing the line. However, if you guessed that nothing has come of that study since, you’d be right.
Finally, there is the Flatbush Avenue Extension, or simply the Flatbush Avenue Line, which is another proposal. This one is less of an official proposal and more of an extra connector between the two lines. Say both the Utica and Nostrand Avenue Extensions were to be built, the 2 can run along the entire Nostrand Avenue Extension, while the 5 would use the Flatbush Avenue Extension to connect to the 4, terminating with the 4 at Kings Plaza.
The Flatbush Avenue Extension would bring subway service to the Flatlands neighborhood, which is currently unserved. It would also help improve land value in these areas, as these areas are some of the borough’s last affordable areas to live in, having been spared from the rapid gentrification of the borough’s northern areas. However, it appears that most of the official proposals don’t actually include the Flatbush Avenue Extension specifically, but rather are a combination of the listed proposals in some form or another.
Red Hook Line
There are other proposals to bring subway service and expansions to other neighborhoods of Brooklyn, such as Red Hook. Another neighborhood which is unserved by the subway system and is often called a transit desert, Red Hook was officially considered by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who in 2018 ordered an evaluation of the construction of a new subway line in the neighborhood. Cuomo stated of the proposal:
Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood is full of untapped potential, and with this proposal, I am calling on the Port Authority to accelerate consideration of relocating its Red Hook maritime activities to free up this waterfront for more productive community use. I am also calling on the MTA to take steps to improve transportation options to Red Hook, including studying the potential of a new subway line to connect Red Hook to Manhattan.
The subway line, as indicated by Cuomo, would run from Manhattan to Brooklyn, rather than being an extension of a line already in Brooklyn, such as the G, which does not serve Manhattan. Multiple proposals for an extension were contemplated by transit enthusiasts, including an extension of the 1 line which currently terminates in Battery Park. The 1 could be extended to serve Liberty Island and Governors Island, before terminating in Red Hook.
However, these proposals are shaky, as Red Hook is located in a low-lying, flood-prone area, which could impact the subway should a flood occur. Land barriers and flood gates would need to be built to minimize the impact of a flood, but this would jack up the cost of an extension even more, leaving the Red Hook extension unlikely to ever be built.
It is an unfortunate reality that these proposals, the proposals for subway extensions to better serve areas of Brooklyn which are unserved, will most likely never see the light. However, it is important to recognize these projects and ponder the impact which they would have on the city and its residents. These proposals have laid flat for decades, and as such, their completion remains unlikely.
New York is the city where dreams are possible. But these dreams, the dreams that would directly improve the city itself, unfortunately might not ever be.
Chris is a writer and publisher who travels America, and loves doing it. He also loves pizza, video games, and sports, and can tell you a thing or two about each. Follow him on Medium to be informed of new articles.