Weaving the Broadway Junction tapestry

If you like looking at old maps, or seeing how transportation options change over the years, this is the post for you.

I spent several hours combing through the Historical Maps section of nycsubway.org, finding visual aids to complement what I had read across many sources. (Of course, I spent far too much time analyzing the design of various maps across decades. I’m still convinced Vignelli’s spaghetti map is the king, but maybe I’m biased, since a copy hangs over my bed. The MTA also uses a modified Vignelli for its “Weekender” feature.)

I’ll take you through several maps, but let’s start with the now-familiar layout of Broadway Junction as it is today. The question: how did we get here?

Unless otherwise noted, the images on this page come from the nycsubway.org Historical Maps page.

The Long Island Rail Road connected the area to Fulton Ferry in 1836. (This was the main reason John R. Pitkin wanted to develop East New York.) The Brooklyn and Rockaway Beach Railroad began service 1865, connecting the LIRR to the Canarsie waterfront. Patrons could then enjoy an afternoon in Canarsie, or hop on a ferry to the Rockaways. Austin Corbin’s New York and Manhattan Beach Railway opened in 1877. The line continued north to Manhattan-bound ferries at Greenpoint. Already, East New York was home to a huge cluster of tracks.

An article on the proposed Lexington Avenue Elevated in the April 3, 1880 Brooklyn Eagle refers to the interchange as ”Manhattan Beach Crossing”. That El opened in 1885, connecting the Myrtle Avenue streetcars just north of Pratt’s campus to Manhattan Beach Crossing, going as far east as Van Sicklen Avenue. The Broadway Elevated – today’s BMT Jamaica Line (J/Z) – followed as a spur in 1888, and the combined lines were extended to Cypress Hills Cemetery in 1893. The Fulton Street Elevated came to the area in 1889. It was just one block to the south of the Broadway El at what soon came to be called Manhattan Junction.

Detail from a 1912 map of BRT lines.

By 1906, Brooklyn Rapid Transit (BRT) had acquired all of the lines at Manhattan Junction, and tried to make them as connected as possible. For a few years, the BRT ran a “loop” between the Fulton Street El and the Broadway El, so that trains would go toward downtown Brooklyn in both directions. Anyone wanting to go east or south from this point would have to switch. In practice, this was extremely unpopular, and led to the East New York Loop’s demise. This station – which had a curved platform – was called Manhattan Junction.

The layout of tracks circa 1906 at the Manhattan Junction complex, including the curved platform of the loop, which had been discontinued by this point. (from Kahn and May)

Manhattan Junction became known as Broadway Junction as early as 1913. The Manhattan Beach Branch of the LIRR closed in 1924, eliminating any reason to call the area the old name.

The BMT Canarsie Line – today’s L – would be extended into Manhattan: the Sixth Avenue-Montrose Avenue portion was finished in 1924, while the intervening stations were completed in 1928. The new stop took the name Broadway Junction. (The BMT – the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation – was the successor to the defunct BRT.) The line would also be elevated at the stop, above the already-elevated Broadway El. It’s now one of the highest lines in the city.

Detail from a 1924 map of BMT lines. The dotted black line to the northwest of Broadway Junction is the unbuilt portion of the BMT Canarsie Line (today’s L).

The first line on the city-owned Independent Subway System (IND) was the IND Eighth Avenue Line – today’s A/C/E – in 1932. By 1936 it had been extended to Rockaway Avenue, which included the stops in Bed-Stuy that led to that area’s rapid growth. The Fulton Street El was suddenly redundant, and in 1940 everything west of Rockaway Avenue was closed. There was a free transfer between the el and the subway, despite the difference in ownership.

Detail from a 1939 map of subway and el lines of all three companies. The IND Fulton Street Line (thick red) ended at Rockaway Parkway, where riders could change to the Fulton Street El (thin blue). Partial closure of the el would come the following year.

Further eastward extension of the line was delayed by World War II, but a year after the war ended, the Broadway-East New York station opened on the IND Fulton Street Line. Stops to Euclid Avenue opened in 1948, and the line took over the old Fulton Street El right-of-way starting at 80th Street in 1956.

Detail from a 1951 map of all subway and el lines. Rockaway Av is now the western terminus of the Fulton Street El (thin black line).

One confusing detail of the Broadway Junction facility was that, for a long time, it went by three different names: Eastern Parkway (BMT Jamaica Line), Broadway Junction (BMT Canarsie Line), and Broadway-East New York (IND Fulton Street Line).

Detail from the 1972 Vignelli subway map. Note the three different names for the single stop.

Conformity came in the early 2000s, with all three lines taking the Broadway Junction name. I have been so far unable to find the exact date of the change.

Detail from the current MTA subway map. © 2012 Metropolitan Tranportation Authority.

The complex today is a bottleneck of sorts. It has only one entrance, with the J/Z and L up a long escalator and the A/C downstairs. Access to both the A/C and the J/Z lines is at a single end of the platform, which can lead to crowding if those waiting don’t take it on themselves to spread out. The L and the J/Z can still connect, but there’s rarely (if ever) any scheduled service between the two. You can get to the LIRR’s East New York station, although it’s more convenient from the L’s Atlantic Avenue stop.

For those interested in the East New York yard, here’s a diagram depicting service around 1900. The layout inside the yard hasn’t changed much since then.

(from Kahn and May)

Bound sources:

A history of the New York City subway system, revised edition by Joseph Cunningham and Leonard de Hart (self-published, 1993).

The Brooklyn and Rockaway Beach Railroad, the Canarsie Railroad by William W. Fausser (Fausser, 1976).

Brooklyn elevated railroads by Alan Paul Kahn and Jack May (Electric Railroads Association, 1975).

Further online reading:

Station Reporter: Broadway Junction Complex

nycsubway.org: A/C at Broadway Junction

nycsubway.org: J/Z and L at Broadway Junction

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4 Responses to Weaving the Broadway Junction tapestry

  1. Chris Ar says:

    Nothing confusing about the complex having three names. In fact, it made it less confusing by giving each line’s station it’s own unique name. You younger whippersnappers would have been baffled riding the system 30-40 years ago,

    • Keith says:

      Hi Chris – thanks for stopping by and commenting. Looking at the Vignelli map with all of its double-letter lines keeps me humble.

      I think there’s only a need for multiple names if there’s a geographical distinction. For example, before Bruce Ratner tossed the MTA some coin, Atlantic Avenue / Pacific Street gave the uninitiated some idea where they’d be getting out. Maybe you’d wait for the D instead of the B at Grand Street to save yourself five minutes of walking.

      Since there’s now just one exit at Broadway Junction, and I’m guessing* most riders just use it as a transfer point anyway, having different names makes less sense in my view.


      *if anyone has hard stats on this, I’d be much obliged. I’ve seen only turnstile numbers.

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