View Full Version : The Franklin Avenue Shuttle

September 30th, 2003, 12:20 PM
September 30, 2003


Short Line. Small Train. Little Graffiti.


Time and circumstance have rarely been kind to a modest piece of Brooklyn railroad that stretches like a medium-size Band-Aid from Bedford-Stuyvesant to Prospect Park.

Here are just a few of its worst moments, in chronological order:

¶In the fall of 1918, a substitute motorman at the controls of a five-car train runs it far too fast — estimates vary from 30 to 50 miles per hour — into a sharp curve along the line, derailing and killing almost 100 passengers. The crash remains one of the worst mass-transit accidents in American history.

¶In 1920, a new tunnel is opened and the 1.7-mile stretch of track is essentially severed from the main part of what is known as the Brighton Line to Coney Island, leaving the stretch a kind of vestigial organ on the subway map.

¶In 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers play their last game at Ebbets Field, doing away with the main reason that thousands of people ever cared about the line, now known as the Franklin Avenue shuttle.

¶In 1995, one of the five stations along the line is closed, the first station to close on an operating line since 1962. Not many people miss it, however: transit officials say fewer than 100 tokens are collected there per day, making the station the least-used in the entire subway system. The line has become so decrepit that David L. Gunn, a former Transit Authority president, advises, "You should probably shut the whole damned thing down."

¶In 1999, even when speaking glowingly of the shuttle's rebuilding, E. Virgil Conway, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, manages to disparage it, calling it "a relatively short connector that most people in New York have never heard of."

In many ways, then, things haven't changed all that much on the little train that refused to die.

It is still short. (In fact, very short; it has dwindled from eight cars to only two per train now.) It is still only a connector, taking people to trains that go places, but not going much of anyplace itself. And there are still few people outside of a handful of Brooklyn neighborhoods who seem to know where or what the Franklin Avenue shuttle is.

"You know what I get sometimes?" said Christopher Moore, 29, a car cleaner working yesterday afternoon at the Prospect Park end of the shuttle. "I get people coming up to me and asking, `Is this the shuttle to Times Square?' And then when I show them on the map where they are, they get a little freaked out."

But if these people were to forget about Times Square and instead shuttle along Franklin Avenue for a few hours one early fall afternoon, they would experience a rare, almost educational demonstration of New York subway life in miniature, a kind of diorama, if you will. It is an experience not found anywhere else in the system, and certainly not on the shuttle's more famous counterpart in Times Square, which is so crowded that its riders seem to be subjects in an illegal physics experiment.

On the Franklin Avenue shuttle, there are rush hours, too. But they tend to remain sensibly within an hour's time, more or less, morning and evening. There is a little graffiti, but Mr. Moore is able to get to much of it himself with a roll of Tuff Towels, specially made to tackle even the most stubborn gang tags. There are the annoying ads — Dr. Zizmor; Erik Estrada selling cheap home phone lines — but, with only two cars per train, the persuasive powers of American business are limited.

And even along its route, the Franklin Avenue shuttle provides a shorthand tour of the vistas — good, bad and ugly — available throughout the subway system. Pulling out of the Prospect Park station, there is a little stretch of traditional subway tunnel. Heading north, there is an almost bucolic patch of scrub oak, sun-streaked yesterday, reminiscent of the lovely nature run on the A train heading into Jamaica Bay; this gives way to graffiti-covered walls and disintegrating car chassis.

But finally, as the shuttle approaches its other terminal at Franklin Avenue, there is the iconic view of the elevated: a peek of distant Manhattan skyline on one side. And on the other, the multifarious commerce of Brooklyn: Lucky's Roti Shop, Flintstone's Unisex Haircare, Arthur Brave "Charisma" Caribbean Delights.

For many years, decades in fact, people argued that the shuttle had outlived it usefulness. As one passenger, Abimbole Bamidele, 19, said yesterday, "I guess it doesn't really go anywhere all that exciting." But for people in the middle of Brooklyn who managed to save it, the most important part was not the destination. Its survival is the urban equivalent of a fierce desire in the family not to throw out a favorite old chair.

"It's like a small town," Mr. Moore said. "People know you. I'm in Manhattan sometimes, and people say, `Hey, aren't you the guy from the shuttle?' "

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

September 30th, 2003, 12:31 PM


October 6th, 2003, 12:40 AM
October 6, 2003

Transit Tale: A Shuttle Grows in Brooklyn

To the Editor:

In his eagerness to portray Brooklyn's Franklin Avenue Shuttle as a loser of a subway line, Randy Kennedy (Tunnel Vision column, Sept. 30) leaves out all the good stuff:

¶The shuttle carries more people each weekday than several branches of the Long island Railroad.

¶It serves the Brooklyn Museum and Botanic Garden, Interfaith Hospital and several high schools. (Try the line when school lets out; it feels like the shuttle's more famous cousin at Times Square.)

¶It makes it easier for central Brooklynites to escape to Coney Island.

¶It is a civic jewel after a $74 million overhaul in 1999, marked by gleaming stations and stained glass windows by local artists.

It took a 20-year struggle to save the line and turn it from a community drain to an engine for growth. Its rebuilding was a victory for good transit.


New York, Sept. 30, 2003

The writer is senior attorney, New York Public Interest Research Group Straphangers Campaign.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

December 29th, 2003, 07:00 PM