The Time They (Almost) Built a Subway to Staten Island

Map of proposed subway tunnel to Staten Island
Our recent special congressional election raised a question in the mind of many Bay Ridgites: why do we share a congressional district with Staten Island anyway? It’s because someone has to; Staten Island isn’t big enough to be its own district. A subway tunnel connecting Bay Ridge to Staten Island, on which construction was begun in 1923, was intended to open Richmond County to an infusion of people from more congested parts of the city. If construction had been completed, Staten Island could have easily grown to many times its current population, just as Bay Ridge did when the Fourth Avenue subway was completed. Then the island would have had enough population to have its own congressional district!

According to the recent book Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City’s Unbuilt Subway System by Joseph B. Raskin, the tunnel was originally planned to carry both passengers and freight. A dispute between governor Alfred E. Smith and former locomotive engineer and then-mayor John Hylan, about whether the tunnel should be mixed use or only carry passengers, led to legislative deadlock and eventually to the tunnel’s demise—but not before portals for the tunnel were constructed on both side of the Narrows. “As the Fourth Avenue line was built south toward Bay Ridge, tunnel portals were built between the 59th and Bay Ridge Avenue stations,” Raskin writes. “This would allow work on the Staten Island branch to take place later, minimizing service disruption. The portals open to the railroad tracks running under the Fourth Avenue line, giving riders their only glimpse of daylight along that line.” Work stopped in 1925, the same year the 95th Street–Bay Ridge station opened, with Hylan’s loss in the mayoral election to Jimmy Walker. Records for the construction were kept in an office at the corner of Shore Road and Bay Ridge Avenue, which remained open until 1931.

It only took 100 years to bring construction on the Second Avenue line in Manhattan. Following that example, it’s never too late to give Staten Island their own subway line. It would be good for the city, good for the environment, good for Staten Island—and definitely good for Bay Ridge.

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