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Six-Month Closure Coming for Several Subway Stations

Subway stations will close for repair and upgrades in the Enhanced Station Initiative program. | Image courtesy of MTA

BY RANIA RICHARDSON | Mysterious delays. Aging infrastructure. Shoddy conditions. Never-ending price increases. Years of frustration for subway riders reached a fever pitch last June, when an A train derailed as it approached the 125th St. station, injuring dozens of passengers in a smoke-filled nightmare.

Following the incident, and on the heels of several others, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency for New York City subways. A few weeks later, he unveiled the Enhanced Station Initiative (ESI) to make repairs and upgrades in select locations. Work would be staggered in four areas of the city, divided into “packages.” 

Package #1, consisting of stations in Brooklyn, is complete — and Package #2, in Queens, is underway. Package #3 on Manhattan’s West Side, is comprised of stations at 163rd St., Cathedral Parkway-110th St., 86th St. and 72nd St., B and C lines, and is in the midst of rolling closures through the spring season.

Closer to home, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) presented plans for Package #4 at an April 18 meeting of the Transportation Planning Committee (TPC) of Community Board 4 (CB4).  The stations that will be affected are 57th St. (F), 23rd St. (F, M), 28th St. (6), and 34th St.-Penn Station (A, C, E and 1, 2, 3).

From July through December 2018, the stations in both directions at 57th St., 23rd St., and 28th St. will be closed. Due to the impossibility of closing Penn Station — the busiest transportation hub in the country — work will be phased during those months, with four entrances earmarked for upgrade to be closed one at a time.

Digital screens will include maps, countdown clocks, and rerouting information in modular form for recombination. | Image courtesy of MTA

ESI program manager Bill Montanile, outlined the plan through a series of slides that illustrated the dual aspect of the project. First, a state of good repair will be implemented. Work will focus on fixing critical problems in the infrastructure and “future proof it” with materials and design intended to reduce maintenance and costs going forward.

“This is not the flashy stuff. It’s the bread and butter,” Montanile said, adding that it’s not what gets reported in the media — to the disagreement of TPC co-chairs Dale Corvino and Christine Berthet, who pointed to this reporter from Chelsea Now (seemingly the only member of the press in attendance, and indeed there to report).

This “bread and butter” aspect of the project includes aggressively cleaning the entire underground to remove debris and reduce fire hazards. Pervasive leaks will be injected with a polymer sealant to stop ongoing water damage. “Conditions like these directly affect service to the point where we may need to stop trains,” Montanile noted.

Corroding steel columns, crumbling ceilings, damaged stairs, and worn yellow platform edges will also receive attention. Paint and chewing gum will be sandblasted off concrete surfaces. Paint will be discontinued, as it tends to peel and become unsightly, and concrete can stand alone as a design element.

Above: Four entrances to Penn station are slated for upgrade. Below: Cantilevered canopies will be a beacon for new Penn Station entrances. | Images courtesy of MTA

The second, more captivating, aspect of the project involves upgrades that will improve aesthetics and enhance the customer experience to “leave the stations cleaner, brighter, easier to navigate,” Montanile said.

Terracotta blue tile will introduce the ESI stations in an entrance redesign that includes cantilevered canopies to help keep out the elements. The antique green and red globes New Yorkers are familiar with will take a modern form as colored strips of light across digital “totems.” These plinths will supply information, such as countdown clocks that indicate the time the next train will arrive. The plan puts information where decision points are, allowing questions like, “Do I have time to grab a cup of coffee before I descend the stairs to the subway?”

Totems are part of a “coordinated and flexible family” of modular maps, signage, and rerouting and service delay information, with real-time (paperless) updates. Within the stations, they will be combined in a streamlined area that consolidates MetroCard Vending Machines. Another area of improvement will be wayfinding, knowing your location within the environment and how to navigate to other areas.

Once complete, the MTA will evaluate the four Packages of work before strategizing for other stations.

Community Boards that were affected by earlier areas of ESI work registered complaints that the MTA did not communicate with them fully ahead of time, so it is in the MTA’s best interest to be open to input from the neighborhood. At the TPC meeting, board members raised the question about the lack of enhancements to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. Montanile’s response was that a citywide study for this is underway, to be handled through a different program.

In the 23rd St. F station, work includes fixing what looks like a “high school science project,” noted ESI program manager Bill Montanile. | Image courtesy of MTA

Cate Contino, from New York City Transit’s Government & Community Relations team, discussed alternative service options during the subway shutdowns. She said that there are one to three stations within a three to five minute walk from those that will be affected, and the areas are well-served by buses. More buses may be added if there is a significant increase in ridership as they monitor passenger flow.

Upgrading one of the oldest, largest, and most used public transit systems — one that runs round the clock every day of the year — is imperative, and this ambitious plan is just the start.

New York City Transit’s Cate Contino (standing), at the April meeting of CB4’s Transportation Planning Committee. | Photo by Rania Richardson

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