IMAGINE my surprise when I learned that Atlantic Avenue, one of the lengthiest streets in NYC, divided about equally between Brooklyn and Queens, had been extended for about a block on its east end. (I care about this stuff so you don’t have to.) Atlantic Avenue extends from the Brooklyn Heights waterfront east in about a straight line to where the Van Wyck Expressway meets 94th Avenue (at the former LIRR Dunton station). Its history is pretty straightforward: other than short stints as District Street and Atlantic Avenue when it was first laid out in the early 1800s, as it was extended east, it’s always been under the Atlantic Avenue moniker.
It was extended east to accompany the Long Island Rail Road as it ran from Flatbush terminal to Jamaica. Actually the LIRR ran in a very early railroad tunnel beneath the avenue from the waterfront to about Court Street in the 1830s, where it surfaced; Flatbush Terminal was built about 1907, and the railroad has officially emanated from there since then. As for the Brooklyn Heights tunnel, it was sealed up and forgotten about, except for the occasional smuggler or Prohibition rumrunner until the 1980s, when a railbuff, the late great Bob Diamond, rediscovered it; he ran underground tours and had dreams of running a street car line in it until he ran afoul of various city agencies as well as the FDNY, which snuffed the dream.
The LIRR has always been Atlantic Avenue’s calling card and ran in the middle of the avenue as a surface road. West of East New York, the line’s cars were at first pulled by horses as steam engines weren’t allowed west of there; an open cut and elevated line were constructed along the line’s western end in Brooklyn (which are still in use) in the 1880s, but the line ran at grade along Atlantic Avenue from East New York to Jamaica until 1940, when the LIRR tunnel under Atlantic Avenue was completed.
At Atlantic Avenue’s east end at the Van Wyck, its traffic then traveled east on 94th Avenue, then a two-lane street. However, in 2020 an eastbound spur was completed that shifted eastbound traffic to 95th Avenue, which became one-way east; 94th Avenue then became one-way west. The changes are ostensibly to facilitate traffic heading toward the AirTrain station and the LIRR Jamaica station, but 95th Avenue’s eastern progress ends at 150th Street, whereupon station-bound traffic has to turn left and then right on Archer Avenue.
At the same time the new spur road was built, the city acquired land to use as the new Gateway Park on both sides of the spur. The Department of Transportation has not yet installed new “Atlantic Avenue” signs at the junction with 95th Avenue and it’s unclear if it will.
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