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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Century of Missed Opportunities
There’s a building at 2nd Avenue and 33rd street with a plaza in front, it’s open to the public and very popular with smokers. I never could figure out why anyone would waste the space on a plaza; surely the owners must have lost money on the unused space. But a according to this book, the zoning rules required the building to have the plaza; the city wanted...
Published 10 months ago by B. Wolinsky

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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Summary: money and politics
You would need to be very familiar with New York City to find this book useful. In order to understand the material presented, a good street map of the metropolitan area is almost essential. There is none in the book; the sparse maps which are included are too small, often illegible copies of photographs from old newspapers.

While it obviously represents a...
Published 8 months ago by G. R. Carter


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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Century of Missed Opportunities, December 2, 2013
This review is from: The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City's Unbuilt Subway System (Hardcover)
There’s a building at 2nd Avenue and 33rd street with a plaza in front, it’s open to the public and very popular with smokers. I never could figure out why anyone would waste the space on a plaza; surely the owners must have lost money on the unused space. But a according to this book, the zoning rules required the building to have the plaza; the city wanted to use it for a subway entrance! The building was from the 1970’s, a time when Mayor Lindsay and Governor Rockefeller had planned the 2nd Avenue Subway line, all the way to downtown Manhattan. It would be almost 40 years before it was built, a delay that resulted from a combination of financial troubles and a fractured city government. Meanwhile, the plaza remains

Joseph Raskin has opened a big can of worms with this book. He brings to light the massive number of subway lines that were planned throughout the area but stayed just that; plans and nothing more. Never mind the 2nd Avenue subway line, that’s been in the works for years. I’m taking about a subway line that would’ve run all the way to the East Bronx. If you’ve ever been there (which is unlikely unless you live there) you’ll know you can’t get there without a car. There was even a plan to build a subway line straight across the city to the Hudson River.

Raskin’s research for this book places most of the blame on Mayors who didn’t care for the subway that much. As the city expanded outward, there was a push to build more roadways for the cars and less emphasis on public transport. And what could exemplify the “subways don’t count” attitude like the great Robert Moses, who wrecked the Bronx with his Cross Bronx Expressway? Perhaps the blame should fall on the people as well; more and more New Yorkers drank the cool aid about the “house and car” dream after WWII. There was, however, a movement to build houses on the route of the unplanned subways. Housing was built on Burke Avenue, just because the builders anticipated a subway line going that way.

This book should be required reading for a course on NYC history (if such a course exists) because public transit is a major part of life in this city. It ranks up there with Robert Caro’s The Power Broker and Jane Jacobs Death and Life of American Cities. I applaud Raskin’s effort in writing this book; his massive research has paid off.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good thorough book, December 10, 2013
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This review is from: The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City's Unbuilt Subway System (Hardcover)
A thoroughly researched book rich in footnotes. The theme is largely political showing the conflicts between proposed routes, construction (subway vs. el), real estate developers vs. riders, private management (IRT and BMT) vs. city constructed and managed. (IND), and the conflicts between state and city. There were endless and enervating political delays which delayed construction of new routes for decades. The impacts of the great depression and WW2 are well drawn. One is impressed at the power held by various mayors, Robert Moses, and administrators who were advancing their own political agendas at the expense of sound economic and engineering considerations. These factors persist to this day. It is a wonder that the LIRR to the eastside, the extension of the 7 to the westside , and the initial phase of the 2nd avenue subway are underway despite the political and economic environment.

On the negative side, the maps and figures are often poor copies barely readable with a magnifying glass. I wish for clearer and, perhaps, redrawn supporting artifacts.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Summary: money and politics, January 31, 2014
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This review is from: The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City's Unbuilt Subway System (Hardcover)
You would need to be very familiar with New York City to find this book useful. In order to understand the material presented, a good street map of the metropolitan area is almost essential. There is none in the book; the sparse maps which are included are too small, often illegible copies of photographs from old newspapers.

While it obviously represents a great deal of careful research, I found the way the findings are presented quite tedious and confusing. In each chapter the author sets out to trace the chronological history of a particular subway line or service area through proposals, engineering studies, budgetary discussions, design modifications, alternate proposals, meetings, meetings, meetings... Sometimes he diverges briefly into the political career (past and/or future) of one or another of the participants, sometimes even referring to their activity at another time in regard to another transit line. The illustrations include numerous images of the political players, again poor copies of old newspaper photos.

Each chapter follows basically the same pattern, from conception to abandonment (meetings, meetings, meetings...). The time frames covered run from the late 1800s in some cases up to the current day. They clearly demonstrate how the conflicting motives and objectives of interested parties affected the development of the transit system, but without giving a sense of how such matters related to the growth of the city as a whole.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Scholarly History, December 11, 2013
By 
Old Timer (Washington, D.C.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City's Unbuilt Subway System (Hardcover)
This qualifies as a scholarly book; but for an out-of-towner, even one who has been riding the NYC subways since 1955, the book has certain shortcomings. Many of the photographic reproductions of historical maps, plans, etc., are unreadable, and many of the geographic and political references are obscure. What is desperately needed in addition is a preface that explains briefly the building of the constituent various systems and the details of the municipal take-over, e.g., the "Dual System contracts." One of the concluding chapters points to the sacrosanct nickel fare as the key factor in the subway system's failure to grow with the City, but I came away uncertain that that was the whole story.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Politics doomed great start., December 4, 2013
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This review is from: The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City's Unbuilt Subway System (Hardcover)
Tells the story but the maps are not legible enough. Politics, refusal to raise fare, left subway system short of money.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good history., January 31, 2014
By 
STEVEN M. SWIRSKY (CHAPPAQUA, NEW YORK USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City's Unbuilt Subway System (Hardcover)
Great research re what might have been and the history of what might have been. More and better maps would be a plus.
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4.0 out of 5 stars I give it four stars because it is very good for what it is, August 15, 2014
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This review is from: The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City's Unbuilt Subway System (Hardcover)
This a exhaustive - and for anyone but a diehard NYC subway fanatic - exhausting social political history of the building of the subway. Written in a concise detailed manner, it has more similarities to a textbook than to historical narrative. If you want to know something for a book report this is your book. If you want to have a pleasant read with more of a design or object driven emphasis this is not the book for me or you. I give it four stars because it is very good for what it is. I should have scanned the reviews a little closer.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, July 11, 2014
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This review is from: The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City's Unbuilt Subway System (Hardcover)
lot of history goes behind the story
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good if you want great detail, June 28, 2014
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I have always been interested in this subject and picked up answers to questions I had always had, It was fascinating to read how decisions on lines and routes are made.

BUT, be prepared to skip large sections of the book unless you have a very specific interest in the area being covered. It reads like a theses, but without careful editing.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Missed Opportunity, June 13, 2014
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This review is from: The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City's Unbuilt Subway System (Hardcover)
I've been waiting for a book like this for a long time, and I was so excited to learn of it. And so my disappointment in the actual result was profound. While it's clear that Raskin knows the stories of the unbuilt lines in tremendous (even excessive) detail, the organization of the book is baffling, and the lack of maps and legible diagrams is unforgivable--especially since Raskin refers to the lines by their historic names (e.g., the Sea Beach Line instead of the N). This is an understandable decision, but it must make the book daunting for those who haven't internalized the old names. A list of lines and names in the back helps a little, but a map or series of maps would have made a huge difference.

I know maps are expensive and that old ones often don't reproduce well. But Raskin needed to make the investment in new drawings to illustrate much of what he talks about. I'm very familiar with New York's transit geography, but I repeatedly had to go to other sources to figure out what he was referring to. The narrative structure is equally baffling, with stories coming and going in no particular chronological order. I can't imagine what a more casual reader would make of this.

I really wanted to love this book, but I think only the most diehard of NYC railfans will get through this happily.
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The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City's Unbuilt Subway System
The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City's Unbuilt Subway System by Joseph B. Raskin (Hardcover - December 1, 2013)
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