Home View from Underground Why subway station presentation matters

Why subway station presentation matters

by Benjamin Kabak

Missing tiles is not an endearing part of the NYC subway experience. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

It’s no big stretch to claim that the New York City subway’s station infrastructure is not in particularly good shape. As the authority has invested billions in track, signal, switch and rolling stock maintenance and upgrades over the past three decades, stations have enjoyed renovations and modernization at a far slower pace. To some degree or another then, the bulk of subway stations look closer to the photo I snapped a few years ago of 7th Ave. on the IND Culver line than they do of somewhere clean and presentable.

Yet, whenever I bring up the fact that Transit’s stations are in various states of disrepair, someone will always appeal to some sense of New York City grittiness and character. In my post yesterday on driverless trains, I referred to the “passable-to-decrepit appearance of the subway system,” and someone took issue with it. Here’s what SAS commenter “normative” had to say:

Why do you always say that? The NYC train system is an experience not merely just a ride from A to B. Every time I travel out of the country, I always get asked about the subway in NYC. WHY? Because its dirty, loud, a motley mix of the marginalized, alternative, the rich, and the normal. There are performers, political diatribes, street artists, angry old women, and people who sing out loud to themselves. I take the DC train, and it is pharmaceutically sterile, boring, and just about getting to work and getting home. I start so many stories with, “on the train the other day…” This is NYC. The subway-as-experience makes it what it is, and why people write books on it, make films about it, and why there are train buffs who can tell you everything about it. If you woke up tomorrow and the train looked like DC, do you really think this would be NYC anymore?

When it comes to stations, I don’t think we should be so accepting of the “subway experience.” At one station near my apartment in a relatively affluent section of Brooklyn, my regular “experience” includes a shuttered staircase that is literally eroding due to a 20-year stream of human urine. This station often plays host to more than one homeless person, and I’ve seen human excrement on the platform more times than I care to remember. Fifteen blocks away, the tiles are falling off the walls. That’s my “experience.”

Now, I don’t think Washington, D.C.’s vault-like subway stations are the way to go. I was down in D.C. in mid-June, and I found the Metro to be oppressively dark and dreary. The train service, with constant mechanical problems and infrequent service, is even worse. There is a happy medium though.

Subway stations don’t need to look as though they have been neglected for decades with constant water damage and a general state of disarray. Rather, subway stations should look like something we can tolerate for 10-15 minutes at a time. They should be well-lit with clean places to sit, staircases that aren’t falling apart and walls that can stay in place. The experience — with its melting pot of New Yorkers and varying design elements — won’t disappear. It will just look good. Is that too much to ask?

I’ve wavered on the issue of station cleanliness and presentation over the years. At a certain level, the MTA has to prioritize investments in tracks and rolling stock because that’s what makes the system run regularly and reliably. On the other hand, though, by putting forward a cleaner public face, the MTA can create a more pleasant environment and possibly fewer disgruntled commuters. It’s a Broken Windows theory of station maintenance: If straphangers experience something pleasant in the stations, they are less likely to despise, nitpick and bemoan the system. Complaints about subway service start because station environments aren’t conducive to waiting.

Ultimately, this whole thing boils down to money. The money isn’t there for the necessary station rehabs that involve massive lead and, in some cases, asbestos abatement projects. It’s timely and inconvenient to shutter stations, and the outcomes have been far from perfect. Still, stations have to be a part of the discussion. Putting lipstick on this pig might produce more than just a prettied-up swine.

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57 comments

Alex C July 11, 2012 - 12:45 am

NYC style + BART cleanliness is what we need. Either 1080p video and photos are overly flattering, or the stations on the BART system all look brand new. The tile and mosaic style of our stations would look brilliant if only they were clean.

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BBnet3000 July 11, 2012 - 4:09 am

BART has guys spraying down the platforms as well as the ground outside of the station entrances on a fairly regular basis. You see them all the time if you ride on the last few trains of the night.

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AG July 11, 2012 - 3:26 pm

Look at the age of the NYC subway system and the BART system…. it’s not even a close comparison. BART is a baby in age comparison so it should look “spiffier”. That said the 70’s and 80’s brought the system in such disrepair… it’s hard to catch up.

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Joe July 11, 2012 - 4:10 pm

Except BART’s railcar interiors are filthy. Seriously, dirtiest subway trains I’ve ever been on. And the stained and tattered upholstered seats are revolting.

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Alex C July 11, 2012 - 11:13 pm

Yeah, BART’s interior and seat issues are well known. They do seem to be trying to tackle that issue with new vinyl seats.

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Alargule July 11, 2012 - 3:18 am

Spot on. NYC should take a look at Berlin, a city with similar underground infrastructure and stations. That city has managed to keep its underground stations in a good state of repair and well lit.
Get rid of the ugly tiles for a start, and replace them with easy-to-maintain wall plates. Install a ceiling system of some sort to keep all the wiring running along station ceilings out of sight.

How hard can it be?

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Eric July 11, 2012 - 10:26 am

I like the tile. They say New York to me. And it is possible to keep them in good repair. The MTA just needs to make water abatement a priority.

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Bruce M July 12, 2012 - 1:52 am

I agree–the tiles define the character of our system. In the 60’s & 70’s the Transit Authority began covering up tiles with “easy-to-maintain” panels in the vain hope of attaining a modern look, and the result was bland, dreary, and characterless.
But more recently, the MTA had restored the use of tiles and mosaics in some of the more ambitious renovations, and some of the results have been terrific. The Broadway BMT uses clever and colorful artistic enhancements to the tiled walls (hats at 23rd St., Chinese characters at Canal St. etc).
If only the MTA didn’t leave these renovated stations to rot along with the rest. Can’t they at least perform very basic cleaning (power wash the walls, pick up trash from the tracks) on a more regular basis?

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AG July 11, 2012 - 3:29 pm

1) Berlin had to rebuild after WW2… so its more “fresh”
2) Fiscal issues. The German government does a better job of keeping up infrastructure than anywhere in the US.

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pea-jay July 11, 2012 - 5:58 pm

What I don’t get is why ceiling tiles and acoustic wall panels can’t be used to hide the wires and leaks. Especially at stations with chronic leaks. Couldn’t panels be placed on leaky walls with sufficient gaps between the false wall and real one to simply allow water to dribble on down to the tracks where aesthetics don’t matter as much?

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Bruce M July 12, 2012 - 1:56 am

The 49th St/7th Ave. station on the Broadway BMT (renovated in the early 70’s) had some sort of acoustical panels installed in the ceilings above the tracks, and along the trackbed. The noise level when trains roll through here is definitely a more subdued whoosh, vs. the thunderous roar you hear everywhere else. Why didn’t the MTA continue to install these in other stations as they renovated?

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mike d. July 12, 2012 - 2:45 am

lack of money.

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Henry July 11, 2012 - 8:51 pm

Is it possible to get wall panels that mimic the style of the mosaic tiles? We’d get the best of both worlds 😀

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Ray July 11, 2012 - 6:54 am

The inaction of “the state” (Albany) and the overwhelming prioritazation of repairs and operational functions placed on their appointed managers at the MTA beg for a new paradigm.

Stations are a “community” amenity that enhance the property value of nearby residences, drive sales for retail establishments and make commercial buildings more attractive for business. There should be shift in responsibility for the routine maintenace (trash collection, mopping the floors, replacing lights) and routine repairs (tiles, sairs, flooring).

Cooperatives could be established to take care of a cluster of stations (station districts encompassing some wealthy and some not so wealthy areas). Their operations could be financed via an assessment through a special property or sales tax (indexed to area incomes/financial health). Capital needs could be advanced through a state bond fund back by the assessments. Lots of work would get underway quickly. A wide variety of city businesses would be engaged. Local people can communicate with each other about projects. Ground rules can easily be set to maintain styles, standards and stay clear of rail operations.

In Manhattan (and elsewhere), stations should be rolled up under the many business improvement districts that all ready exist. These BIDS are all ready doing much of the same work on the surface. In Greenwich Village, where I live, the BID would have responsibility for West 4th, Eighth Street/NYU and Astor Place. In my view not too onerous.

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SEAN July 11, 2012 - 10:46 am

That’s a good idea. Stations should be maintained on the local level since most of them are unique to each community. however things like elevator instalations & the like should be done by the MTA.

As an example, the Beach 67th Street should be maintained by the Arverne by the Sea development do to the benefits they receive by having the station as part of their community.

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stan July 11, 2012 - 8:52 am

south ferry ALREADY looks neglected. perhaps the stubborn refusal of the MTA to steer away from the ceramic tile-based design scheme is part of the reason that the stations look so decrepit. it seems to me that there should be a construction method that could minimize water damage to stations while making those stations appear cleaner and more pleasant.

i understand that the tiling is part of the personality of the subway system, but i think that adherence to that design aesthetic is financially unsound and part of the problem.

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al July 11, 2012 - 9:22 am

The leaks at South Ferry and at other locations need to be fixed. The longer the leaks go on, the larger the leak size. As much of the system is built in cut and cover and through soft soil, the leak water is invariably carrying sand, silt and clay in with them. That means soil disturbances on the other side of the tunnel. You can end up with voids, ground settling, and building foundation, infrastructure, and tunnel destabilization. There is also steel corrosion, and physical and chemical concrete deterioration. Grouting crews going around and filling holes and cracks during FasTrack is a start. They need to expand this.

Those tiles also have an acoustic disadvantage. The hard smooth surfaces make for great sound reflection. It makes the stations louder.

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Alex C July 11, 2012 - 11:17 am

They could probably get large panels made of resin with carvings in them to resemble tiles. Paint the carved-in ridges dark grey and the rest shiny white and bam, replaceable, mass-produced light-weight, strong tile-look-alike.

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Andrew July 11, 2012 - 10:15 pm Reply
stan July 12, 2012 - 11:21 am Reply
kantor July 11, 2012 - 9:13 am

The reason why most Europeans like me are attracted by the NY subway is not its “grittyness” or the fact that most stations look like they got no work done since the early fifties…

Rather we are attracted by its historical value, its vastness and complexity and mainly by its legendary status.

But believe me, nobody would complain if it looked cleaner or better maintained, nor it would lose a bit of its fascination to us.

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Deb Parise July 11, 2012 - 9:16 am

Maybe he should pay an entertainment surcharge. True, the variety won’t disappear due to clean stations.

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JB July 11, 2012 - 9:17 am

I’ve always been curious as to how the 6th ave IND stations (specifically 47-50,42, 14th and 23rd) look so remarkable in their original tiling yet other IND stations built at the relative same time needed to be redone. Maybe it comes down to good, honest contractors who legitimately try to do a good job?

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al July 11, 2012 - 9:23 am

Ground water conditions can also have an effect on leaks.

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Jeff July 12, 2012 - 3:40 pm

Not to mention old leaky sewage and other types of piping

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TP July 11, 2012 - 9:27 am

BART and DC Metro aren’t good examples for the MTA because they’re so much newer systems and were designed to be easier to clean. But the PATH was mostly built around the same time as today’s MTA subway, also has 24 hour service, and they somehow manage to keep their stations spotless, well painted, and litter free. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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Benjamin Kabak July 11, 2012 - 9:29 am

No one in NYC likes to admit it but there’s a rigidly enforced food ban and no garbage cans on platforms. That way, people don’t bring in much trash, and they have to carry out newspapers. It’s a pretty easy solution that no one in the city wants to pursue.

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Alon Levy July 11, 2012 - 4:03 pm

And yet in Singapore the legendary (and somewhat overrated) cleanliness comes from trash cans that are located at short intervals on the street so that people don’t litter.

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UESider July 12, 2012 - 10:10 pm

yes, that and the caning laws prevent people from doing anything untoward

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lawhawk July 11, 2012 - 10:47 am

The PATH has limited runs in overnight and weekend hours – and they do have shutdowns of some stations to take care of cleaning and maintenance. But many of the PATH stations in NYC have undergone updates/upgrades in the past decade, and several more are on tap to bring the entire system up to snuff. PATH has a fraction of the number of stations that the MTA subways do – along with fewer track miles, less equipment, and smaller ridership.

The biggest difference is that the entire PATH railcar fleet has been replaced so that it’s now the most modern fleet in the nation after being one of the oldest by a wide margin. That has a huge effect on ridership – more reliability and better amenities, and they’re easier to clean.

There might be a food/drink ban on PATH, but it’s still fairly easy to get around.

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mike d. July 11, 2012 - 12:59 pm

PATH has a food and drink also a garbage can ban.

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Larry Littlefield July 11, 2012 - 10:00 am

A little history. The 7th Avenue subway line in Park Slope was fixed up, but the water infiltration system was not resolved. Then it was fixed up again.

The result was political outrage at MTA management, stoked by the TWU. NYC Transit President David Gunn, who battled to require workers to actually do their jobs (not the case before he got there), lived near that stop and always took transit. FAVORITISM was the cry. The MTA is against the little people!

That was, what?, 25 years ago? Even so, as a result, no one is going to ANYTHING for that station for 50 years.

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normative July 11, 2012 - 11:38 am

Wow I am famous. Thanks Ben.

Although I have work to do, I can help by try to just throw in a bit here. First off, as this always comes up, I am not asking people to throw garbage around, to spit on the tracks, to break signs, of anything of the like. My interest in the aesthetic of the subway became more critical when I noticed that my friends would complain about how dirty and unruly the nyc train system was (we both grew up in Brooklyn), but then took a more presentable train system, like say in Switzerland or DC, and complained of its dullness.

I really cant go into a full exposition of my concept of the subway aesthetic because it would take too long. I had started to an essay on the subject, but put it down a while ago, maybe I’ll pick it up again. I do want to say that I find it interesting though that many people view an old tile or platform as merely a sign of dysfunction. There are many reasons why you want to change something that is old, but the idea here seems to be either (1) a cleaner system could lead to happier riders, or (2) a complaint about something being old and outdated as an end itself regardless of the consequences that occur when changing it.

For (1), as Ben forwarded the broken-window theory of stations, I find this quite tenuous. There are several other variables at play here that could potentially change how people view stations. While I can only deal with it obtusely here, I would support any effort to clean up stations or campaigns to remind people throw out garbage. I am talking about the detritus that appears from the millions of people not who ride the trains.

So as to not to ramble on and get back to work, I want to indirectly deal with (2) through a comment that was already said.

“Rather we are attracted by its historical value, its vastness and complexity and mainly by its legendary status.”

Mainly its legendary status? I ask you describe the images and words that come to mind when you think of its legendary status. Its legendary status is inexorably linked to the city itself—the NYC aesthetic built up over the years of yes, its gritty character, but more importantly its sense of autonomy. The subway, as an extension of the city itself—or metaphorically the arteries flowing through the heart—is a place where you see things you don’t normally see in others cities. Only in New yawk right? Zones of autonomy within a city allow its citizens to color its milieu with the characteristics they bring. NYC is a big, loud, dirty, chaotic, vibrant, city that has given birth to more artistic movements than small countries. Why?

The dying tiles, the gum-stained platforms, the scratched up wooden benches, the aging graffiti, the humorous messages scrawled over the advertisements (I saw a sticker today over the forehead of women for a proprietary school that said “Dominicans don’t wear socks”), the kids that come in and break dance, the people who perform poetry or comedy routines (saw a guy on the A line who was hilarious), the arguments that can break out, the rushing to catch that transfer, are all one in the same to me. Sure, we could spruce it up, but allow that nyc character to come through as well. Such are not the signs of dysfunction nor decay, it is the living breathing element that makes nyc special. Nothing built it, no legislation was signed to make it this way, no one person or group is responsible for it.

I was going to go on about why orderly and contained subway and city setups lead to the decay of culture, but I think I’ve raised some points.
While this beats data analysis, I got to get back to work.

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ACS July 11, 2012 - 3:38 pm

I don’t understand your logic. To me trash, dirt & broken-ness are all in the same category of non-characteristic negatives to change, whereas people beak dancing is part of the living, breathing worth-keeping part of the city.

I would agree that we shouldn’t swap our local stations’ unique aesthetics for DC’s uniform one, though nobody in this article or the comments is even suggesting that. I don’t understand how or why anyone would say that cleaning the existing stations and repairing the broken tiles and stairways would somehow detract from their character. To me, making things more visible highlights the character of the station.

It just seems like a false dilemma – either we can have clean stations with electric signs and unbroken tile work or we can have people singing, arguing, dancing and rushing through the city in dirty, literally-falling-apart stations.

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Al D July 11, 2012 - 2:06 pm

I don’t really quite get the grandeur of having a station environment falling to bits.

Take for the example the rusting support columns at the Broadway G. Once the columns rust through sufficiently, the street above will begin to buckle, collapse and the police and fire stations above will come crumbling down. That in turn will have a direct negative benefit to the surrounding community, decreasing its safety significantly, not to mention a months (years) long suspension of G service.

Extreme you say? I don’t think so, but then OK. The Union Square station on the 4 5 6 is hotter than hell and everyone knows it. So is 42 St on the 1 2 3, so why can’t these stations somehow be ‘cooled’ to at least below 100 degrees on the hottest days?

Yeah, I guess the stations don’t necessarily have to be the prettiest stations there are, but c’mon…

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jj July 11, 2012 - 3:30 pm

SAS probably enjoyed the high murder and crime rates of “gritty” NYC

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Benjamin Kabak July 11, 2012 - 3:35 pm

I think you read this wrong. SAS commenters perhaps but not me.

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AG July 11, 2012 - 3:41 pm

One thing I seriously think should be undertaken is for a way to extract the hot air out of the underground stations when the temperatures rise above say 75 degrees. Maybe some technology exists that could convert that heat to energy and allow it to power the lights in the station or something….? I think that should be done each time an underground station goes through a rehab. It will take longer… but I think it will be well worth it for the comfort of commuters (it may even increase productivity of workers) and tourists. .

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Joe July 11, 2012 - 4:17 pm

Sadly, heat -> electricity conversion is possible but extremely difficult and prohibitively expensive still, unless the heat is intense enough to boil a liquid (steam turbine). Fortunately, the subways aren’t THAT hot or we’d all be dead.

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AG July 12, 2012 - 8:44 am

I sent an inquiry to the MTA – so we’ll see what they say. If a study is done and it’s too expensive (as I know installing climate control would be) then we’ll see… but something has to be done. I’m sure there is something useful that could be done with the heat. I wonder how many ppl suffer from heat exhaustion the subways every year and cause station delays… The loss of productivity probably counter-balances the cost.

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Kai B July 11, 2012 - 5:38 pm

Isn’t South Ferry station air-cooled? It was supposed to be and I vaguely remember it being cooler when using it.

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mike d. July 11, 2012 - 8:31 pm

“air condition” station.

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AG July 12, 2012 - 8:41 am

yeah it was much cooler

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Henry July 11, 2012 - 8:59 pm

The MTA needs to do something about the homeless problem in the subway – it’d get rid of the smell of human excrement, to say the least.

They also need to do something about the bathrooms in some of the stations – they could do with a upgrade.

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John-2 July 11, 2012 - 9:08 pm

I’ve found that while the island platform stations can save money via shared infrastructure (I.e., elevators or escalators for passengers in both directions) on those stops or the express stops with island platform and walls behind the trains, any flaws remain in place far longer, becase to repair them requires shutting down a track for an extended period. Leaky stations with wall platforms can be worked on by just cordoning off part of the platform, but odds are any new system construction, like Second Avenue, is going to go with the single platform layout. Hopefully, the MTA does better due diligence there than they did at South Ferry.

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Andrew July 12, 2012 - 12:25 am

I strongly disagree with your priorities. You say, “If straphangers experience something pleasant in the stations, they are less likely to despise, nitpick and bemoan the system. Complaints about subway service start because station environments aren’t conducive to waiting.”

In my experience, people complain far more about service disruptions than about grimy stations, and with good reason. With rare exceptions

Your assertion that stations have been neglected in favor of behind-the-scenes infrastructure is simply false. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Elected officials are far readier to voice support for a highly visible station rehab than for modernization of such critical infrastructure as signals, fan plants, traction power systems, yards and shops, etc., without which the system would simply not function.

Even when it comes to stations, the primary function of a rehab is to bring the station into a state of good repair, not to make it look pretty.

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Benjamin Kabak July 12, 2012 - 12:27 am

Your assertion that stations have been neglected in favor of behind-the-scenes infrastructure is simply false.

Really now? Because the history of the last three decades doesn’t agree.

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Andrew July 12, 2012 - 8:10 am

How do you figure? If you’re only evaluating the situation by what you see with your own eyes, you’re not seeing anything but stations (and rolling stock).

Much of the IND south of 59th still has its original signals, most dating back to the 1930’s – Queens, 8th, 6th, Crosstown, Fulton. If a signal stops working, the trains stop, and many thousands of people are instantly late to work.

Station condition is important, but the only station failure I can think of that stopped train service was the ceiling collapse a few years ago at 181st – and making aesthetic improvements still wouldn’t have solved that problem!

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Nathaniel July 12, 2012 - 1:11 pm

7th Avenue is my local station,and I fully agree, it needs some major renovation. I envision some bright, Jay Street-Metrotech type renovation, with newsstands and all. I don’t know, but when the F train pulls into that station, there’s just something about it that makes it feel like a major hub in comparison to, say, Hoyt-Schermerhorn.
But of course, with the MTA, all Manhattan stations get priority. That means the latest technology (cell service and Wi-Fi in those Chelsea stations), trial machines (the “Help Machine” on the 6) and most importantly, the Manhattan branches have recently come to receive FASTRACK maintenance. That makes some sense, but it means that we in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx (and perhaps Staten Island) will just have to wait for the contractors to come around to us.

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UESider July 12, 2012 - 10:27 pm

I have to agree on some points but not others:
the MTA should be able to manage track work, rolling stock investment and capital improvements – it’s the business they’re in and riders should expected competence

But having immaculately clean stations and trains wouldn’t diminish the NY experience one bit – charcter doesn’t arise from filth (alone) but from unique expression of who we are. Subways in other cities are different, not just because of the age of the infrastructure, but because of the culture of the people, what they value, how they behave as a society

The ridership of the DC Metro & BART is different than the NYC profile… what they value is different, how they behave is different, how they live is different. I doubt anyone in DC has a 2 hr ride on the train and Needs to eat a meal en route as, say someone living in the Bronx and working in Brooklyn might

NYers are accustomed to filth and we prefer a filthy station in favor of new trains and more frequent service (right, Ben?) Yes, we want a cleaner station, but we pick our battles and, right now, new rolling stock is the focus, trash cans are out. We have decided to endure the filth to get the new trains, countdown clocks, etc.

To disagree on a point made, there will come no state of the MTA that NYers will ever cease to despise or find fault in some aspect of the system that could/should be better … there’s too much Steinbrenner in each of us to prevent that anywhere short of absolute Utopia or anything shy of Nirvana

There will always be something to despise when it comes to the MTA but the thing we should fear the least is losing a single ounce of the character that makes New York, well, NY

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AG July 13, 2012 - 3:10 pm

UEsider – I agree totally (except the part of having to eat on the trait). I prefer comfortable new trains and modern conveniences like countdown clocks… and proper infrastructure which keeps the trains running on time. Most of the above ground stations are better now… but the underground ones are lacking. Clean stations and ventilation would be nice though… and I agree – that won’t change the character.

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UESider July 13, 2012 - 8:14 pm

agreed, it’s the brass figures at W4th st, the twisted passages at Canal St, wooden benches, tile mosaics, occasional drip, metal barricades, roaming panhandlers, daylight at 125th st on the 1 before going back underground, the musicians, crazy preachers, Ranger Train on the S (now the Olympic Pepsi train), and convoluted and/if/but/except schedules, platforms splits and joins that gives the NYC subway its character.

and it is reflective of us… I would love better ventilation, a cleaner ride and fewer rusted walls – hopefully, that is on the way (along with the elusive next train)

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ZZinDC July 13, 2012 - 3:57 pm

Please leave us (DC Metro) out of this – we have plenty enough of our own problems!

Getting back to topic, the statement from Normative that the NYC subway is

“a motley mix of the marginalized, alternative, the rich, and the normal. There are performers, political diatribes, street artists, angry old women, and people who sing out loud to themselves”

is more about the riders, not the physical condition. That mix of folks, and incidents to talk about later, will still exist, even if the broken tiles and oozing water and broken stairways (and on and on) are fixed, because that mix people is New York.

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Dan July 15, 2012 - 1:11 am

I personally prefer the DC Metro way more. The stations are all very clean, never really smell like urine or excrement, and literally every single station has accurate countdown clocks. Yeah you could say it’s newer, but think about it this way… If a city could afford to build an ENTIRE new transit system in the 70’s and 80’s when NYC was rotting, why can’t NYC set aside even a third of that for repairs and upkeep.

As for character, it’s unnecessary. A transit system is made to get people around efficiently, not entertain them. I don’t want to be barraged by busking musicians, performers, and hobos. I don’t care about that stuff. I just want a quiet, boring ride to wherever I’m going. After being in DC for a few days, I really did not miss NYC’s transit system at all. Urine smells do not equal “character.” If it were up to me, I’d get rid of all the tiles and replace them with concrete slabs or something more dirt-resistant. Basically make the stations as easy to clean and maintain, with some sound dampening if possible. Leave the history for a museum. And definitely kick all the hobos out of the system, they really just ruin the experience for everybody.

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AG July 16, 2012 - 6:05 pm

Dan – it really doesn’t make sense to compare the 2 systems. For one thing – the NYC subway system didn’t get 65% of its capital investment from the federal government (meaning everyone else’s money) like the current capitol city did…
And of course – whether good or bad – the sheer density and mass of things in NYC make it very difficult to compare to anywhere else. If the NYC subway system was 1/4 of the size it is now and had 1% of it’s current ridership it would be much easier to maintain.

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Alex B. July 16, 2012 - 10:37 pm

Of course, when planning for Metro began, the Federal Government was the local government in DC.

That said, the federal share of funding isn’t all that different than other contemporary lines (Baltimore, Miami) and systems (Atlanta). A great deal of DC’s federal funds came from other federal dollars for inner city highways that were cancelled due to fierce opposition within the city.

But yes, the various capital needs aren’t really comparable due to the different ages of the various components.

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Frank McArdle July 30, 2012 - 2:14 pm

There are several issues involved in station renovations that have to be considered. The first is that the stations have to be renovated under load,since with a few exceptions on the elevated lines it is impossible to close an entire station and give the renovators full access. Having to work under load drives up renovation costs and makes it much more difficult to deal with the water intrusion issues.

There is also the question of design and design standards. The Franklin Street station, which was renovated as part of the build out of an adjacent off building, was done almost 25 years ago and still looks very fresh. That is in part because the designer was from outside the TA universe and the developer was prepared to pay the contractor enough to do the job right.

The third issue is the money. The riders and the political elites are simply not willing to accept being charged enough to run the system correctly. This is not a new issue, since it surfaced first in the 20s, but the need to always consider the fare subsidies leaves the stations renovation programs at the back of the queue. The unknowns about how to prevent water intrusions at any one station and how to best reconfigure the station for a 40 year life expectancy makes these projects very hard to price, correctly estimate construction time, and then execute. So projects get pushed off in favor of projects that contribute more to the daily movement of people.

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