The Long Wait for the Next Train in New York City
by Philip Mark Plotch
Pub Date 15 Mar 2020
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Last Subway is the fascinating and dramatic story behind New York City's struggle to build a new subway line under Second Avenue and improve transit services all across the city. With his extraordinary access to powerful players and internal documents, Philip Mark Plotch reveals why the city's subway system, once the best in the world, is now too often unreliable, overcrowded, and uncomfortable. He explains how a series of uninformed and self-serving elected officials have fostered false expectations about the city's ability to adequately maintain and significantly expand its transit system.
Since the 1920s, New Yorkers have been promised a Second Avenue subway. When the first of four planned phases opened on Manhattan's Upper East Side in 2017, subway service improved for tens of thousands of people. Riders have been delighted with the clean, quiet, and spacious new stations. Yet these types of accomplishments will not be repeated unless New Yorkers learn from their century-long struggle.
Last Subway offers valuable lessons in how governments can overcome political gridlock and enormous obstacles to build grand projects. However, it is also a cautionary tale for cities. Plotch reveals how false promises, redirected funds and political ambitions have derailed subway improvements. Given the ridiculously high cost of building new subways in New York and their lengthy construction period, the Second Avenue subway (if it is ever completed) will be the last subway built in New York for generations to come.
Philip Mark Plotch is an associate professor of political science and director of the Master of Public Administration program at Saint Peter's University. He has served as Director of World Trade Center Redevelopment and Special Projects at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and manager of planning and policy at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Plotch is the award-winning author of Politics Across the Hudson. Follow him on Twitter @profplotch. For additional information visit plotch.com.
"Last Subway is an important addition to our understanding of how complex engineering and political decisions are made in large metropolitan areas. Engaging and filled with intriguing insights, it is essential reading to those interested in improving the quality of life in our cities."—Jameson Doig, Dartmouth College, author of Empire on the Hudson
"Politics at its best is about making the impossible happen, and for too long I was told that completing the Second Avenue subway was impossible. After a nearly century-long battle, the first phase of the Second Avenue line is finally complete. Philip Mark Plotch beautifully details the complex history of the Second Avenue subway and takes you behind the scenes of the project's many twists and turns."—US Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, New York's 12th District
"The intersection of politics and real estate with mass transit is at the heart of Last Subway. Philip Plotch details the complexity of realizing a subway dream that was deferred by close to a century, and he highlights how politics derailed, again and again, the building of the Second Avenue subway. A must-read for all straphangers!"—Jose Martinez, Senior Reporter, THE CITY
"Far too little has been written about public transportation in the United States. Last Subway is a thoughtful and successful effort to describe the history of the subway system which over a billion people a year ride."—Richard Ravitch, former Chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority
"For nearly three quarters of a century, the Second Avenue subway was notorious as the most famous thing New York never built. Now Phil Plotch takes you into decades of political struggle for a glimpse on how megaprojects can beat back the million-to-one odds against them."—Gene Russianoff, Senior Attorney, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign