The current schematics for the 96th St. station along Second Ave. do not feature an entrance on the north side of the street. (Click to enlarge. Image via the 2008 CB8 presentation.)
Few streets offer up as a stark a dividing line between two neighborhoods as 96th St. does on the Upper East Side. Although gentrification has stretched the boundaries of the two areas, south of 96th St. along Second Ave. has been the Upper East Side while north has been Harlem. The two neighborhoods have tolerated each other over the last few decades, but they are quite different.
As the MTA has planned the station stops for the Second Ave. subway, we’ve seen neighborhood groups object to just about everything. Some groups complained about the station entrances; others targeted the auxiliary ventilation structures.
At 96th St., the complaints are similar. The current MTA schematics call for a northern station entrance on the south side of 96th St. Residents in Harlem, Dan Rivoli reported last month, are crying foul:
The proposed station will only have entrances and exits on the south side of the street, where the traditional boundary for the Upper East Side begins. East Harlemites will have to cross a busy intersection to access the new subway line.
Critics have also pointed out that Metropolitan Hospital Center, which occupies the area bordered by East 97th and 99th street between First and Second avenues, will be underserved. The hospital has 341 beds and saw more than 400,000 visits last year. “It’s a highly congestion intersection. There are safety considerations to crossing 96th Street or Second Avenue or both,” said Hunter Armstrong, executive director of Civitas.
The group, a civic organization focused on the Upper East Side and East Harlem, has called for added subway entrances. In June, Civitas published a study suggesting that a northern subway entrance is necessary to accommodate the 35 percent of station users who are expected to come from north of 96th Street. “It would be not only beneficial but prudent for the neighborhood to have an entrance on the north side of 96th Street,” Armstrong said.
For its part, the MTA says it can’t dig north of 96th St. due to preexisting tunnel infrastructure. A segment of the Second Ave. tunnel, dug out decades ago and planned for the northern Phase II of the project, is in the way. “The 96th Street Station will connect to an existing tunnel which prohibits the station from being moved further north,” agency spokesperson Kevin Ortiz told Our Town.
The community groups may have a point; in an ideal world, the 96th St. station would allow passengers to enter and exit on both sides of a busy two-way street. It is, however, hardly alone in limiting entrances to one side of the street due to station plans. The 96th St. stop on Broadway has entrances on only the south side of the street, and many riders have no problems crossing the street to head to and from the subway.
There are, of course, safety concerns whenever people have to cross the street, but here, the limits of engineering handicap the MTA’s ability to alter the designs. Harlem is the next area to enjoy Second Ave. subway access if and when Phase II is built, and for now — or in 2017 — straphangers will just have to cross 96th St.