Subway Expansion to Kingsborough Community College

One of the perennial wishlist items for New York subway expansion is Nostrand Avenue. The 2 and 5 trains run under the avenue between Eastern Parkway and Brooklyn College, a distance of 4 km; from the start, the line was intended to be extended farther south, and in both the 1950s and 1970, there were plans for such extension as well as one shortly to the east under Utica, to be built right after Second Avenue Subway. The case for Nostrand and Utica remains strong – these two streets host Brooklyn’s two busiest buses (the B44 and B46 respectively), and another top route, the B41 on Flatbush, is closely parallel. The purpose of this post is to ask what the southern end of Nostrand should be, and whether a longer extension going to Kingsborough Community College is a good idea.

Nostrand: current plans

All plans I am aware of for extending the subway under Nostrand have it following the street to Sheepshead Bay. For example, my proposal from 2019 would terminate it right at the water, at Emmons Avenue, where the B44’s southern end is. This reflects official proposals over the last few generations: a Nostrand subway is to run just under Nostrand.

Kingsborough Community College

Right across geographic Sheepshead Bay from the neighborhood named after the bay, the eastern end of geographic Coney Island comprises the neighborhood of Manhattan Beach. It is not a dense area, and for the use of residents, there are buses to the Brighton Beach subway station. However, at the easternmost end of Manhattan Beach, Kingsborough Community College (KBCC) is a huge destination.

How huge? The bus serving it, the B1, is one of the busiest in Brooklyn, with some rush hour runs just operating back and forth as short-hop shuttles between Brighton Beach and KBCC, a distance of 2 km. Frequency at rush hour reached a bus every 3-4 minutes before corona.

This is not easily legible to commuter-oriented planning tools like OnTheMap. That area has only 1,000 jobs; KBCC itself doesn’t generate many jobs, nor does it anchor other industries around it that aim to employ graduates. Those planning tools can capture other universities if they’re more residential and higher-end – those have a higher ratio of faculty to students, have ample research labs, and anchor employers who look to locate near residential students. In contrast, a commuter college is largely invisible to them. In reality, there are 18,000 students, all of whom commute from elsewhere.

How much ridership does this generate?

KBCC has 18,000 students, and the overall area has 1,000 workers. If the modal split were 100%, this should generate 38,000 trips per weekday; commuter colleges don’t generate as many non-commute trips as do residential colleges. In reality, the modal split is not 100%, but it should be high given the low car ownership rates in the city, especially low for college students.

The bigger question is what proportion of the travel market would ride a Nostrand subway in preference to a rail-bus connection at Brighton Beach. This in turn depends on the state of the rest of the system. If the Interborough Express or some variant of it is already built, then from all points on or north of the IBX route, an all-rail route is superior to a rail-bus connection. If it isn’t, then it’s dicier, and from much of Southern Brooklyn from the Brighton Line to the west, the B1 is likely faster.

IBX should be built ahead of such a connection based on current plans, so the assumption should be the more optimistic one – and, of course, if there is long-term planning for subway extensions, then this should figure as an argument in favor of IBX. KBCC is hardly the only place that, despite being far from IBX, IBX can help riders access. In that scenario, 30,000 trips a day are not unrealistic, and 20,000 should be conservative.

How much should this cost?

I do not know. In an unusual inversion, I’m more confident of the benefits than the costs. The travel market is fairly circumscribed. In contrast, the costs have a question mark, because of the premium coming from underwater construction.

With no premium at all, New York should be able to reduce its construction costs for subways to $200 million per km on average, and less on easy sections, that is, on outer extensions of the system in the Outer Boroughs. But Nostrand has a high water table, and the underwater segment across Sheepshead Bay is not easy; figure $250-300 million per km, with a wide error margin.

This is not an onerous cost. It’s about 600-700 meters longer than the usual plan for Nostrand to Emmons, and presumably the whole route would be built at once with a tunnel boring machine, so the fixed costs are already paid. So $200 million is probably a reasonable cost.


  1. Joe Wong

    It would be nice if they could have done this using the former LIRR’s Manhattan Beach Branch. But its really too late now, since the lower parts of Nostrand Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, and Utica Avenue are on top of a water table, these sections may have to be built as an elevated line instead of an underground subway extension, which may cause some community opposition for same.

  2. Frederick

    If we are to cross the sea and reach the KBCC, why not extend further through the Oriental Boulevard to Brighton Beach or even Coney Island?

  3. Allan Rosen

    A much cheaper suggestion would be to extend the B44 SBS to Kingsborough which I suggested about five years ago. The MTA was completely uninterested, except for one high level official in Buses who has since retired. Why would they even think of a subway option? The MTA is not interested in improving your commute, but only to reduce service to reduce their budget deficit.

  4. Gregory Homatas

    I think the question of a Kingsborough Community College subway is one of whether or not the neighborhood will object or not. Another idea would be the beachfront light rail tram idea such as the Athens metro has built to serve the Athenian Riviera beachfront communities. Perhaps the tram can go up and down Oriental Boulevard starting at the Brighton Beach Q subway station instead of the B1 bus or starting at the Sheepshead Bay Q subway station instead of the B49 bus and terminating at Kingsborough. Again, I think that the Manhattan Beach neighborhood would have an opinion on this one. I was in Greece recently on vacation and think that the beachfront light rail tram idea is a great one and should be investigated further for its usefulness in serving beachfront communities.

    • Allan Rosen

      Correct. The community will vehemently object. They even objected to the college being located in their neighborhood in the first place until they were given the choice of a college or public housing.

          • Alon Levy

            Which part of democracy says “micro-districts self-govern”? There are democratic traditions other than 18c-early 19c New England town meetings. What I’ve had to repeatedly explain to some American libertarians is that European democratic traditions were bundled into centralization, because we had aristocrats, and the democratic state was viewed simultaneously as liberation from absolute monarchy and liberation from the local gentry.

            Within cities, too, the local concept of the self-governing village never really fit – people were too mobile. The city could self-govern (and did, on both sides of the Pond – most early subways were built at municipal scale, like the IRT or the Métro), but people commuted between neighborhoods and identified with citywide class or ethnic networks. In New York, neighborhood self-governance is an invention of middle-class gentrifiers and business owners in the 1960s who looked for a mechanism to distinguish themselves from the paupers who Moses was abusing and were against any neighborhood change once they themselves got comfortable.

          • adirondacker12800

            The City Council they elected? It’s just terrible the way they got the government they wanted not the one you wanted.

          • Alon Levy

            City councils have such severe democratic deficit there’s no legitimacy there. Remember, San Francisco’s citywide elections turn on housing politics and return YIMBYs, who are in turn the most popular politicians in the city – and then just about every member of the Board of Supervisors is some kind of NIMBY, including ones in whose districts the YIMBYs win every citywide ideological election. It’s stuff that makes the Council of Ministers look good – at least it has ideological representation roughly in line with what EU voters want.

          • Matthew Hutton

            Is the issue that people agree that San Francisco needs more housing but that the individual projects are bad? What’s the impression of local opinion with regards to local projects when one goes out canvassing in San Francisco?

          • Alon Levy

            The issue is that people agree San Francisco needs more housing, but the people who are most empowered in neighborhood-level elections are weird and are the minority who disagree. Most people don’t work and socialize in a neighborhood but in a city or city region, and those people don’t drive local voting; I don’t even know the names of the people I voted for at the borough level, because I read national and citywide news and socialize with people from all over Berlin, whereas I do have strong opinions about who to vote against at the city level and even found a national politician who I don’t hate (and of course the party sidelines her in favor of a much less competent man).

          • Matthew Hutton

            Interesting viewpoint. Not sure what the way forward on that is.

          • adirondacker12800

            There they go, those terrible San Franciscans, electing the government they want, not the one you want. Like the awful New Yorkers get the one they want, not the one you want.

          • Tiercelet

            In fairness to San Franciscans, a lot of local opposition is also coming from people who are holding development hostage because they have unmet housing needs or are at high risk of displacement, and hostage-taking is their only leverage. You see this in New York as well–witness the recent One45 project getting scuttled–the city council member is trying to push for what’s actually needed (massive government-sponsored affordable housing construction) but all they can do is try to lock the big real estate developers out while gambling on getting public housing built before the community is squeezed dry. I don’t necessarily approve of the strategy, but I can at least understand it as rational (if risky)–it’s also at least in part motivated by the belief that any new market-rate housing will lead to more rapid gentrification, which is probably not true, but changes the risk calculus for people who try to employ the strategy.

            That said, there are many things you can call a system where the Brighton Beach Homeowners’ Association or whatever can veto MTA initiatives supported by a majority of city residents, but “democratic” isn’t one of them.

          • Alon Levy

            Hostage takers are terrorists and it is a compelling state interest to destroy them. As it is, their existence does not in fact make housing more affordable any more than the existence of ISIS makes the global rights of Muslims more secure.

          • Matthew Hutton

            I suspect that part of the issue is that the ward/district based campaigns run by YIMBYs try and stick with the online only approach that works for citywide elections.

            For ward/district voting you can perhaps advertise against the community groups on Facebook Blue. But otherwise you have to do leafleting and canvassing the old fashioned way. Perhaps with some help from third party leafleting companies or the postal service – although even that can be tricky as their districts often don’t match the electoral districts.

            That Alon you don’t know who your ward/district representatives are shows there’s space for good print to get the message out better and to beat the old fashioned candidates who are against new construction.

            The other good news is that print is very, very cheap if you have volunteers to deliver it.

          • adirondacker12800

            Don’t like the First Amendment either, do you? I’m not sure if it’s the general right to free speech that bothers you or the more specific right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

          • adirondacker12800

            massive government-sponsored affordable housing construction
            Why should the government subsidize employers with cheap housing? The rent isn’t too damn high, the pay is too damn low.
            although even that can be tricky as their districts often don’t match the electoral districts.
            Maybe in 1972. We have really cheap, really fast computers, with access to detailed information, these days, that can send highly specific mailings to exquisitely selected recipients.

          • Tiercelet

            I am confident there is some middle ground between liberum veto and Louis XIV.

            I certainly don’t endorse hostage-taking in the housing market–after all, it is actively harmful to my own personal housing security–but you see the same basic pattern of conditional compliance in lots of places. Like every strike ever. Or the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Or conditioning federal transit funds on implementing certain cost-control and community-disciplining standards…

            So I’m not sure I would sign on to a blanket declaration that anybody who uses the strategy is a legitimate enemy of the state. It really depends on situational specifics–how reasonable/sympathetic the non-compliers’ aims are, the extent to which any less-disruptive avenues exist that are responsive to their unmet needs, how likely the strategy is to succeed (vs. just blowing everyone up for no reason), how much the group in question will share the cost of failure (vs. just imposing those burdens on others), etc.

            At the end of the day, I’ll tolerate a lot from people who are trying to get the right thing done, and I’m not too fond of even mild methods from people who want to do the wrong thing. (Now if only we all could agree on the right and wrong thing in every circumstance…)

        • Allan Rosen

          If that were possible to do it without community approval, the Rockaway Beach branch would have been reactivated decades ago. A small group near Forest Hills has prevented that from happening.

      • Matthew Hutton

        Why would the neighbourhood in a large city object to a new rapid transit line to their neighbourhood?

        • Allan Rosen

          Because they already live near a subway and rail line and are not the ones who would benefit. The ones who would benefit are in a favor. It’s a small minority that is keeping the Rockaway Beach branch from being reactivated. As far as Manhattan Beach, it really can’t be justified in terms of usage.

        • Tiercelet

          What Allan Rosen said; or alternatively they have fears about improved rapid transit access–whether unjustified (racist/classist nonsense about transit users, desire for nothing in the neighborhood to ever change) or somewhat justified (concern that improved transit access will raise desirability and lead to development processes that, while positive for the city as a whole, won’t benefit current residents, either because they don’t own real estate and thus can’t capture increased land values, or because they would have cash flow issues due to increased property taxes, or because land values won’t rise enough for the owners to sell and relocate to a place with similar amenities).

          Keep in mind that Sheepshead Bay (where Kingsborough CC is) has an unusually high home ownership rate for NYC, but it’s still only 45%. Even if the homeowners are twice as politically engaged as the renters, it doesn’t take many NIMBY-inclined owners to veto anything. And owners tend to be quite a bit older, and so demographically a lot more likely to oppose any change, anyway.

        • Matthew Hutton

          To be fair it sounds like the community consultations need reform but not removal. Reform is probably doable – removal isn’t.

          Especially as I suspect the people complaining aren’t particularly representative of the whole community.

  5. adirondacker12800

    underwater segment across Sheepshead Bay is not easy
    It could be on a bridge. There isn’t going to a naval base or container port on Sheepshead Bay.

  6. Eric2

    Is a pedestrian bridge over the bay an option? Could be much cheaper than a subway extension.

    • Alex Cat3

      I’d think such a bridge would need to be elevated pretty high above the waterway to allow sailboats to pass underneath, making it inconvenient for walkers with steep stairs or two elevators.

    • Alex Cat3

      Also, with the bridge it would still be a 680m to 1.2 km walk to the college (depending on which college building you are walking to), which is not very convenient. At 3 kph a 680m walk takes 14 minutes and a 1.2km walk takes 24 minutes.

      • IAN! Mitchell

        Isn’t that equivalent to the walk from most anywhere that someone could reliably park?

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