If you ever wanted to know what a couple billion dollars buys you in New York City, head to the new 34th Street-Hudson Yards subway station this Sunday around 1 p.m.
The station—the system’s first fully new digs since 1989—is part of the 7 train extension that reaches the far west side of midtown Manhattan. The service now gives riders access to Hudson Yards, the Javits Center, the High Line, and the rest of the growing Chelsea-Hell’s Kitchen borderland that was, until now, three avenues away from the nearest subway stop. The 7 links to 18 other subway lines, passing east through Times Square and Grand Central and into Queens en route to Citi Field, home of the (suddenly relevant) Mets.
Given the occasion we gathered seven fun facts about the 7 train extension for you to wow your fellow riders or woo that special transit-loving someone or say woe to what relatively little $2.4 billion gets you these days.
1. It was originally part of the city’s 2012 Olympic bid.
Ideas for extending the 7 line west date back at least to 1993, but it wasn’t until New York’s bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics that things really got serious. The new subway would give visitors access to a new stadium on the far west side that would have hosted track-and-field and soccer during the games and—at least in then-Mayor Bloomberg’s dreams—lured the Jets into the city from New Jersey.
When the Olympic bid (mercifully) died, the Bloomberg administration pushed ahead with the 7 line plans anyway. In explaining how New York actually “won” the Olympics by losing the bid, NYU’s Mitchell Moss includes the subway extension as one of the situation’s fortunate outcomes:
When completed, the #7 Extension will be one of the largest expansions of the New York City transit system in decades and one of the most significant in terms of its potential impact.
2. It was supposed to have two stops.
When the subway extension opens, there will only be a single stop: 34th Street-Hudson Yards. But the initial plans included another station at 41st Street and 10th Avenue, another growing area just west of Time Square.
Those ambitions quickly faded with high cost estimates. Officials instead set their sights on constructing a station shell that could be filled in when funding allowed, but in 2007 that lesser aim died away, too, as the pricetag approached half a billion dollars. When the contractual option officially ended in 2008, a Bloomberg official framed the decision with startling clarity—as one prioritizing economic development (read: real estate) over stronger public transit:
Unlike the extension to 34th Street and 11th Avenue, which the city is funding, a 10th Avenue station is not necessary to drive growth there. A Tenth Avenue station would be nice, but it’s really a straight transportation project versus an economic development catalyst.
The 7 line builders did technically leave room for a future station at 41st and 10th, though the funding prospects remain grim: the half-billion dollar cost estimate had reportedly reached $800 million by 2010.
3. It was paid for by the city with an innovative funding scheme.
Bloomberg wanted the 7 train so badly that rather than wait for the MTA to drum up the money (he’d still be waiting), the administration said the city itself would foot the bill. The funding structure they devised, known as “tax incremental financing,” was an innovative one—at least by the standards of U.S. transportation funding. The city issued bonds for the construction to be repaid by future tax revenue from developers whose property value would soar once the extension was complete.
On paper, at least, the plan was a great example of what’s called “value capture”—leveraging real estate gains for the good of public transit. In practice, of course, there were hiccups. Officials later ended up giving Hudson Yards developers a tax subsidy, which Columbia University planning scholar David King called “exactly the opposite of capturing increased property values.”
4. It’s really screwing up the subway map.
The New York City subway map is intentionally distorted—for rider pleasure. But the 7 train extension really brings those distortions into focus, and not necessarily in a good way. Ben Kabak of 2nd Ave. Sagas (who deserves credit for tracking the 7 line’s development as closely as anyone over the years) recently posted a close-up of the 34th Street-Hudson Yards addition to the map:
Note how the purple line bleeds into the Port Authority Bus Terminal station name, and how the Times Square station dot now “only sort of touches all four of the lines that stop there,” and most egregious of all, how the walk from 11th Avenue to 8th Avenue looks shorter than the walk from 8th to 7th. Inspired by Kabak’s quibbles, KickMap made a nicer alternative:
5. It could become the first subway line to go to New Jersey one day.
Limited train access between Manhattan and New Jersey via the Hudson River has long been a major concern for the metro area. That concern became even greater a few years back when Chris Christie cancelled the ARC tunnel under the Hudson. Afterward, legend has it, Mayor Bloomberg scribbled an alternative idea on a cocktail napkin: send the 7 train across the river.
The plan isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. In fact, the New York City Economic Development Corporation commissioned a feasibility study on it, and in April 2013 the prognosis came back positive: extending the 7 train into Secaucus could generate some 128,000 riders a day. Chatter about the plan has since died down, and there’s no money for it to speak of, but with Amtrak’s Hudson tunnel closure looming, all manner of replacements could get consideration.
6. It has a pretty sweet inclined elevator.
Among the new 7 train station’s features—which counts climate-controlled platforms and slightly trippy ceiling art—will be the subway system’s first inclined elevator. The conveyance will reportedly take 15 passengers at a time some 170-feet down to the platform at a 27-degree angle, giving them two minutes to pretend they’re in the French Riviera, or the Luxor in Las Vegas, or at the very least someplace that isn’t a packed elevator taking them to a packed train.
One problem: the custom-designed elevator failed early tests. (The New York Times reports that officials wanted the Italian company making the lift to use parts from Ohio and Queens, which one insider likened to asking Ferrari to use a Chevy engine and a Ford transmission). The opening of the 7 line was delayed as a result, which brings us to the seventh fun fact…
7. It’s already had several delays.
In mid-2013 the MTA declared that the 7 line extension was 90 percent complete. Mayor Bloomberg took a ceremonial first ride in December, and launch of the new station was expected the following June.
Here we are two-plus years later, with the opening pushed back time after time after time after time, for one reason or another. To the MTA’s credit, the project does seem to be coming in on budget—bloated as $2.4 billion seems for a single station—and Sunday does seem to be The Day. Besides, if there’s anything New Yorkers expect from their subway system, it’s a bit of a wait.