A long, slow good bye for the wooden benchesBy
The wooden benches that fill our subway system offer something of a respite for weary travelers. Wood because the material has been cheap and is fairly resilient to everything people throw at it, the benches are designed with low, thick arm rests to discourage permanent residents, but they seem to attract everything from blackened gum to spilled beverages and any unidentifiable liquid in between. They’re also on the way out.
For years, we’ve been hearing about Transit’s plans to replace the wooden benches. In late 2010, the MTA first started debating potential replacements. Some folks, in the wake of reports of bed bugs in mid-2008, called the wood unhygienic while others thought that stainless steel, a potential replacement, was too cold, both literally and figuratively, for the subway system. Yet, stainless steel doesn’t rot or attract bugs, and it seems to have won the day.
As Pete Donohue reports in today’s Daily News, Transit will begin to phase out wooden benches in exchange for the stainless steel variety. Sneak a peek at the planned replacements right here. Donohue has more:
The MTA has chosen a sleek, modern style to be installed in stations when they come up for major overhauls or more modest face-lifts, the MTA said. One of the new subway seats is already in place at the R station at Whitehall St., at the southern tip of Manhattan where straphangers gave mixed reviews.
“It’s better,” Luis Pares, 46, a concierge from New Jersey, said of the metal three-seat bench. “It’s more comfortable. It’s the best thing they’ve invented.”
But Carol Godfrey, 52, a subway conductor who plopped down on it while waiting for a train home called it “horrible…It’s cold,” she said. “There’s nothing like the old wooden ones. They’re sturdier. Put back the old wooden benches. No, put back new wooden benches.”
That, folks, is a perfect example of a he said/she said story. One person likes the subway benches; the other does not. Such are the way of things underground.
If we go slightly beneath the surface, it’s easy to discern the decision-making process here. First, stainless steel benches will last longer than wood. Instead of absorbing anything that lands on them, the benches will deflect instead. Second, as Godfrey noted, by being literally colder than wood, the benches could discourage long-term inhabitants from moving in. They too have arm rests to discourage horizontal sleeping. Ultimately, says the MTA, stainless steel is “easier and less costly to maintain” although the authority didn’t release cost figures for the new benches.
Despite this new approach though, don’t expect to see the new benches spring up too frequently. The cash-starved authority says it can replace wooden benches only when the stations they’re in are up for full renovations. It will be a gradual phase-in as the new and old co-mingle throughout the system. Meanwhile, I wonder what will happen to Tom Otterness’ little fellows at 14th St. who make a better use of those wooden benches than anyone else around.