A never-built subway tunnel to Staten Island

If things went according to plan and the Fourth Avenue subway tunnel connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island, proposed in 1912, was actually built, would Staten Island have become as urban as the other four boroughs?

We’ll never know, because like so many other ideas tossed out by the MTA and its forerunners, this one got shelved.

Okay, it did get off the ground a little bit. In 1923, the Brooklyn Transit Company began digging a tunnel under Owl’s Head Park in Bay Ridge that would connect the Fourth Avenue line to Staten Island off St. George.

But 150 feet in, digging stopped due to lack of funds. A Staten Island-Bay Ridge subway link was again considered in 1929, part of the city’s plan for subway expansion (see color map above).

The Depression ended that. In the early 1960s, community leaders proposed adding subway tracks to the under-construction Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

But anti-mass transit Robert Moses, Triborough Bridge Authority boss at the time, wasn’t going to let that happen.

[Black and white map, above left, reveals the original 1912 tunnel plan]

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17 Responses to “A never-built subway tunnel to Staten Island”

  1. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    But they do have a subway in Staten Island, rode it a few times in the 60s when I worked as a messenger. It was like an elevated Brooklyn subway train.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I’ve been on it a few times too. At some point halfway down the island, you feel like you’re on a small-town train line.

    But if it connected to one of the main subway lines in Brooklyn a hundred years ago as planned, I wonder if Staten Island would have become more built up and congested.

  3. petey Says:

    but if it’s an el it’s not a subway. pedantic of me maybe, but i was confused by the idea of a subway on SI.
    the SIRT used to have a north shore line, there is talk of resurrecting it as a light rail thing.
    my first pictures with my first camera were of the ferry trip and the SIRT trip all the way to tottenville, which once was so remote that it made an appearance in “Sorry Wong Number” as a place where people could do secret things.

    • petey Says:

      er, ‘Wong” is wong. should be “Wrong”.

      • petey Says:

        i’d like to correct that correction, should be “Wong”, not ‘Wong”. it’s decaf from now on.

      • Joe R Says:

        Ha, ha! You’re starting to sound like Kaos villain the Claw from “Get Smart.” ” I said craw! Not craw!”

  4. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    I recall it rode by the beaches and it was very nice. I took it to the end of the line, Tottenville I recall that after all these years, walked around a bit then rode back. Nothing like being in NYC at all. Glad it never grew with the city.

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    I took it all the way down to pretty Tottenville too and it was lovely. But yes, above ground, not unlike the F train.

    Tottenville was in Sorry Wrong Number? I’ll have to watch that again!

  6. aspicco Says:

    Robert Moses destroyed any possibility of it ever happening. He insisted the SI/Brooklyn crossing HAD TO be a bridge… so there was no subway connection. The tunnel in Bklyn was actually started ages ago, but stopped when funding was pulled. There is a stub of a tunnel under Bay Ridge Brooklyn and you can find it if you know your way around

  7. T.J. Connick Says:

    An improbable plan that may, as the sun sets on the automobile culture, give rise to new ideas. Thanks for digging up the forgotten vision of the unified city, and don’t be surprised to see a reconsideration of the whole thing.

    Your first map depicted the second stage of the city-owned Independent Subway, and foresaw an ambitious, leading role for New York in demonstrating further possibilities of the subway. The 1939 plan was postponed due to the war, and thereafter yielded to one based upon high-speed, private transport. “Carland” was an expensive, frustrating mistake; in due time it will be recognized as such, and will require solution. If it is dismantled with energy and imagination, we may see the 1939 plan revived.

  8. Joe R Says:

    A similar plan to connect to SI by rail is under serious consideration, but from the Jersey side!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hudson%E2%80%93Bergen_Light_Rail#Bayonne_Bridge

  9. Drew Wallner Says:

    Re: S.I Subway Tunnel

    Under 1939 revised planning for the ‘IND 2nd System’– and not the 1929 original scheme, there were plans to build a “Ft. Hamilton Parkway” Branch Line that was to connect to the system at or near the southern end of the IND’s Ft. Hamilton station – completed July 1933, on the Crosstown Line.

    Details as to any actual connection point were not precisely specified but presumably it would have been just beyond the southern ends of the platforms. Looking south toward Coney Island, at that point the right-of-way\ROW turns to its right – directly under the Parkway, before straightening…

    This long forgotten proposed Line was to run wholly as subway some 3¾ mi. all under Ft. Hamilton ‘from’ this station to a terminus at 86th Str.- presumably 4-tracks (?) to at least 68th Str.

    From the proposed Ft. Hamilton Line there also was to originate an additional branch line (as subway) to be 2-tracks westward into Staten Island. This Branch Line was to run from the Parkway under 68th Str. to 5th Av., then under private property to 4th Av. where it would continue beneath Senator Str. and finally under Owl’s Head Park before proceeding below the Narrows (waterway connecting NYC’s Upper & Lower Bays) to roughly St. George, S.I., and merging there with the then SIRR’s 2 main branches (North Shore Line and the Main & South Shore Line.)

    [Note: This should not be confused with much earlier (1912) BRT - later BMT, planning for their own S.I. Branch Line physically connecting from the 4th Av. subway several blocks south of that Line’s 59th Str. station. For this project there were significant bell-mouths constructed below East 65th Str. at 4th Av. to turn and then take the branch line under 67th Str. running west and then beneath the Park & Narrows.]

    Neither the Ft. Hamilton nor the Brooklyn-Staten Island IND Lines ever got beyond the preliminary or ‘wishful thinking’ stage. However, the BMT did build a stretch of tunnel (1923-1925) deep beneath Owl’s Head Park in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. That tunnel is said to extend about 150ft out into the Narrows at one end –and- at the other, to a point near the 67th Str. entrance to the Park – possibly in-line with Senator Str. The tunnel is still there today although its condition may not even be known to the MTA! [The NYC Parks Dept. has placed a concrete-slab (chained-down & padlocked) over a tunnel vent and/or access shaft in Owl’s Head Park; that ‘adit’ is located roughly 250ft from the southeastern entrance to the Park at Colonial Rd. & 68th Str.]

  10. Margaret Ames Says:

    Having recently moved to Staten Island (I grew up in Manhattan), there are so many contradictions and cross purposes about development out here. People don’t like development (like the new ferris wheel and shopping center near St. George) or improving the bridge to Bayonne (also on the north side). Meanwhile, inhibiting profitability of businesses here, as well as possible improvements, are the tolls in and out of Staten Island on the bridges that are outrageously high (as though SI was another state?). Even though the ferry is still free, you have to get to the ferry (which for people unfamiliar with SI, is at the northernmost part of the island) so you have to take SIR or a bus (now $2.50), then transfer to another mode of transportation on the Manhattan side. Express Buses to Manhattan (not so express, in my experience) go through Brooklyn or New Jersey are both expensive and take a long time. If you don’t have a car, getting around Staten Island, since most places are nowhere near the one “subway” line, means having to rely on buses, which makes the most mundane tasks take a ridiculously long time. Getting to Brooklyn requires either going into Manhattan and then taking a subway to Brooklyn, or taking the one bus that goes into Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and continuing on from there). Had there been a subway connection to Brooklyn, and thereby, the rest of Long Island, the connectivity to the rest of the city from Staten Island would have been immensely improved. What we’ve ended up with is a hodge-podge of commercial and residential growth since the 1970’s when the Verrazano Bridge opened, including housing in flood zones as witnessed when Sandy hit last fall, and an island that mainly relies on auto transportation and the ensuing jammed streets and highways. Maybe it is time to take another look at the plans defeated by Robert Moses and consider improving SIR’s reach.

  11. Vincent G. Says:

    Thank you, Drew. I was just in Owl’s Head Park today and wondering if there was any visible sign of the tunnel. I’ll have to look next time for that concrete slab.

  12. Meredith Staton Says:

    I way past the time that we should add staten Island to the rest of the city by lining the subway in just that manner

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