By all accounts, the IRT had achieved success-and monopoly-carrying 269 million passengers in 1910. Clearly, the demand existed, but the distance did not. Compared to the 66.1 route miles of elevated track, its own covered only 21.4, along with a paltry 3.8 more under the contract #2 extension to Brooklyn.
More than transportation, the subway was seen as a tool–a solution toward population redistribution, particularly to the outer boroughs. But this minuscule Brooklyn line could hardly achieve that goal, and the initial two contracts were only considered the first of many that would eventually cover mostly farmland with tracks.
Although the Rapid Transit Board (RTB) approved 19 succeeding routes by June of 1905 in hopes of creating competition between the companies that would operate them, future direction of the subway system, in more ways than one, was delayed, deferred, or derailed by obstructing and conflicting policies, as the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, toward further IRT monopoly, when it announced its acquisition of the Metropolitan Street Railway Company on December 22. Tightening its grip on the city’s rapid transportation system, it had no intention of relinquishing it to competing companies nor expanding the routes it already operated.
Perhaps the first counter-strategy to this situation was the creation, two years later, of the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC). Unlike the Rapid Transit Board it replaced, it was empowered with the ability to oversee all existing elevated and subway lines, and advocated public regulation of private utilities.
Although it was eager to negotiate with the IRT regarding the extension of its incubation line in Brooklyn, it also identified the need for a second company to provide the needed transportation coverage over and above that of the first. But the IRT only continued to hold a short-term, self-centered view. Astronomical construction costs of new routes, it felt, could not be compensated by the dearth of riders they would serve in areas still populated by farm animals, and this only resisted expansion beyond its original Manhattan coverage. Its passenger base here had doubled in the five-year period from 1905 to 1910, and its profits commensurately followed suit.
Like Manhattan, Brooklyn had been blanketed by a disjointed, multiple-mode transportation network comprised of trolleys and both street and elevated railroads pieced together under the auspices of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company. But its link to mother Manhattan was tenuous and less than convenient.
Traveling to it entailed a cable car ride from the Sands Street terminal, located at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, actual crossing of it to City Hall, and then a separate-fare transfer to one of three inter-city rail options-the Second Avenue el, the Third Avenue el, or the IRT subway. Alternatively, a person could cross the bridge to the Park Row terminal via elevated railway.
What were needed were both a cross-river, Manhattan-Brooklyn link and an inter-Brooklyn subway network. Because of the IRT’s resounding success, it logically followed that it would extend its tracks.
Outer borough links, at least based upon the many civic projects undertaken, provided no obstacles. The Brooklyn Bridge, for example, had already spanned to its namesaked destination in 1883, and the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges, built during the first decade of the 20thcentury, further connected the two areas. The Queensborough Bridge, as its name suggests, served the same purpose for its territory. What remained was the laying of tracks on them.
August Belmont, naturally seeking to retain the IRT’s grip on the rapid transit market, proposed connecting South Ferry in Manhattan with Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn by means of an East River tunnel, as well as expanding inter-Manhattan trackage on the Lower West Side and laying a Lexington Avenue line from Grand Central Station.
Yet its proposals were less than extensive. All were sections, add-ons, or piecemeal extensions of its existing lines and none of them provided the fundamental coverage the PSC considered unwritten obligations resulting from its Contract #2 award.
The Hudson and Manhattan Railway Company suggested a New Jersey connection by building a new, Hudson River tube-plying subway line.
A second, and countering, proposal submitted by Belmont advocated a new West Side route running from Times Square to the Battery and then crossing the East River to Brooklyn, as well as a second course from Grand Central Station to the Bronx by means of Lexington Avenue.
It was apparent that the IRT did not consider Brooklyn its home territory and wanted little part in serving it. This view may well have been the first fray in its independent and monopolistic rail fabric.
Part of the fray was its refusal to see the purpose it provided-or could have provided-within the overall rapid transit picture. Having already implemented a plan to relieve population congestion in the tenement-choked slums riddled with crime, disease, poverty, squalor, and dirt with planned development, Manhattan Borough President George McAneny believed its cornerstone was elevated and subterranean rail access to new neighborhoods, which, appendaged to Manhattan by tracks, would naturally rise, sparking the envisioned outer borough growth. This, in turn, was seen as fostering overall economic strength.
The IRT, because of what it refused to see (beyond its own self-serving needs and revenues), could no longer be considered the only company to fulfill the city’s plan, and proposals for the so-called, but far more extensive Triborough System, also failed to satisfy it. What resulted was the Dual System of Rapid Transit.
Threshold to this concept was the January 19, 1911 creation of a new transit committee, which was chaired by McAneny himself and conferred with the PSC for the purpose of re-examining New York’s rapid transit needs.
Part of the solution was to discontinue the focus and fixation on the principle proposals concerning IRT track extension and the new Triborough System coverage as the only ones. The latter, particularly, was quickly deemed impractical. The solution was a third alternative, to be operated by the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT), which already served its namesaked borough and submitted a proposal to convert its southern rail lines into rapid transit ones.
Although this fell far short of the comprehensive coverage needed, one of the locks to the optimal solution was opened when it was concluded that the subway systems themselves, often acting in their own best interests, would henceforth no longer be empowered with determining future routes.
McAneny himself stated that he “always held that the city should make its own transit plans, placing individual routes where they will do the most good and not necessarily with reference to their earning capacity alone… ”
In order to develop what he considered would be a practical, yet comprehensive rapid transit system that would deliver the maximum benefit to the city and its citizens, he selected the best features of both the IRT and the BRT proposals based upon routings, cost, population projections, ridership, and revenues, allowing both to proportionately operate-and share the costs for–the expanded system
The resultant Dual System of Rapid Transit constituted the largest and most expensive municipal project ever undertaken by the city, its routes and tracks planned and laid out by PSC engineers, but its actual construction performed by private companies.
Two general route types were expected: extensions and branches of existing tracks, which would be operated by the IRT, and new lines, which would be served by a new company, such as the BRT, but would still be integrated with the original ones.
Dual system approval, by a vote of three to two, was granted by the PSC on March 4, 1913, and the signing of two-or dual-contracts, stipulating that each would share construction and operation costs, but lease their networks to the city for a 49-year period, occurred 15 days later, on March 19.
Contract #3, awarded to the IRT, entailed ten new routes in Manhattan,, the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn that opened between July 1, 1918 and January 21, 1928.