Archive for 7 Line Extension
The fallout from the leaky Hudson Yards subway station continues to reverberate a week after MTA Board members lit into MTA officials for not divulging knowledge of the problems plaguing the new stations. Today, we learn that contractors were aware of the problem as early as 2011, and waterproofing issues even led to a stop-work order in mid-2013. As this station’s opening was delayed due to a variety of technical issues, it seems that we can add faulty construction to the list.
Emma Fitzsimmons of The Times offers up this story of a circular blame game:
In fact, leaks had plagued the station on the Far West Side of Manhattan for years while it was under construction. As the transit agency investigates what exactly went wrong, documents from a continuing legal dispute among the site’s contractors reveal early concerns about how the waterproofing system was built and the type of concrete that was used. The main contractor, Yonkers Contracting Company, has blamed flaws in shotcrete, a spray-on concrete that lines the waterproofing system. The concrete was filled with “voids” or spaces, according to a 2014 lawsuit the company filed against two subcontractors on the project.
But a 2011 letter that was sent to Yonkers Contracting discouraged the use of shotcrete because it could increase the potential for leaks. The letter, which was obtained by The New York Times, was sent from Cetco Building Materials to KJC Waterproofing, the subcontractor that installed the waterproofing system. KJC Waterproofing forwarded the letter to Yonkers Contracting, according to a deposition from the lawsuit. It is unclear whether the letter was sent to the transportation authority.
The transit agency halted construction at the station in 2013 after officials found “significant” leaks there. The agency issued a stop-work order, citing the use of shotcrete on overhead arches above the escalators and noting it had not been specified in the design.
The MTA hasn’t definitively said that shotcrete is the cause of the leaks, and the agency is waiting on an assessment from an independent engineering consultant. Still, the contractors are fighting it out, as Fitzsimmons reported, with Yonkers suing Superior Gunite and KJC for breach of contract and negligence, and Superior Gunite and KJC counter-suing for payment. Meanwhile, the MTA is facing a slip-and-fall suit over an injury a customer sustained on a wet escalators, and the optics of these problems — coming only a few years after the new South Ferry station suffered from poor waterproofing as well — creates a headache for an agency already struggling to meet deadlines and budgets.
As transit analyst Nicole Gelinas noted to The Times, it’s a bad look for the MTA. “This is their big marquee project,” she said, “and the fact that they can’t have it open and looking good a few months later doesn’t speak well to their ability to do these things.”
Remember those photos from Hudson Yards I posted last week? Showcasing a leaking wall and some out-of-service escalators, these pictures represented but a slice of the problems plaguing the MTA’s newest subway station. As many have noted — both in the media and as riders — icicles formed over the winter, and MTA officials eventually poor grouting work that a contractor will fix, at a cost of $3 million to this contractor. It won’t cost the MTA a penny, but it leaves egg on the face of an agency with a poor public image. Worse yet, it exposes some deep rifts in the oversight process.
Yesterday morning, the MTA’s Board committee met for the first time since the Hudson Yards flaws hit the headlines, and they were not happy with the news. Polly Trottenberg said she found out about the water intrusion problems first from reading Gothamist and not from internal MTA reports, and MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu grew very defensive in the face of appropriately combative and probing questions. At one point, in response to questions regarding faulty escalators, Horodniceanu said simply, “I do not control when things break.” His words came awfully close to a self-absolution of responsibility, and he later indicated that MTACC knew about the problem as early as 2012.
Meanwhile, while Charles Moerdler was content to defend the MTA’s shoddy waterproofing efforts — a reason, by the way, why the new South Ferry station is being rebuilt from the ground up — Jonathan Ballan, Trottenberg and Allen Cappelli were far less forgiving. “The level of surprise and disappointment cannot be overstated,” Ballan said, of a station the MTA Board seemed to call a $2 billion lemon. “It should work.”
Cappelli, meanwhile, picked up on the public relations aspect of the problem. The images, he said, are “damaging to the reputation of the agency,” adding that it “looks foolish” to have problems so soon after opening, and Horodniceanu hedged when asked if the contractors responsible are working on other MTA capital projects. My own reporting has indicated that the Yonkers Contracting Company is involved with some work in the East Side Access cavern but does not appear to be involved with the Second Ave. Subway construction.
For its part, the MTA plans to engage an outside consultant to assess the process. The agency will study “what did we know and what actions did we take with respect to trying to correct the conditions that are existing there, so we can find ourselves in a position next time that we don’t have the same outcome?” MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast said.
But on the other hand, this development raises questions regarding general oversight. No one in charge of the MTA today was around when this project was approved in the mid-2000s. Peter Kalikow was in charge of the agency then, and Mysore Nagaraja was the head of Capital Construction. Still, the current administration, and in particular Horodniceanu, have been around long enough to oversee numerous contract awards and the day-to-day construction progress. Yet, waterproofing and escalators, a technology that dates to the mid-to-late 1800s, have remained frustratingly out of reach.
So what next? The MTA is going to open some new stations later this year or early next (if they can once more, in part, overcome the hurdle of escalator installation and operations), and we’ll do this all over again. But from oversight to construction practices, it seems as though an agency that can’t spend efficiently needs some help. How they get it is an open question.
It’s been a sliver over six months to the day since the MTA opened the 7 train’s new 34th St.-Hudson Yards subway station. After nearly 21 months of delays and bickering between the city and MTA that led to the project’s being cut in half mid-planning, the 34th St. stop was the first new subway station, other than the replacement South Ferry terminal, since the 63rd St. line opened in 1989. The new station, a deep-bore tunnel 125 feet below ground with a full-length mezzanine and new-to-the-MTA incline elevators, is supposed to be the model for future new stations along the Upper East Side. When I first saw it, it seemed big and somewhat sterile, but sterile isn’t a bad thing considering the state of many other New York City subway stations.
Eventually, the Hudson Yards stop will serve as a gateway to a new neighborhood in Manhattan, and the signs of that emerging neighborhood are easily visible at street level. Construction dominates the landscape, and the growth of the Far West Side is a fait accompli at this point. It’s not a matter of if, but when, and despite a paucity of riders in the early going, the 7 line will bring a whole heckuva lot of people to this supposed last frontier of Manhattan.
This past Saturday, I found myself near the Hudson Yards stop for the first time since its opening in September. There were no politicians, no one lined up to storm the station and no 7 train cookies this time around. Rather, there was a particularly speedy ride to Times Square and a station struggling to get by. On one hand, it doesn’t feel like a New York City subway stop; it’s too new and clean and bright and airy. But on the other hand, it feels very much like a New York City subway stop. The bathrooms, for instance, seem permanently in a state of never opening, and scenes from the station betray some of the reasons why subways arrived first in September of 2015 rather than December of 2013.
I’ll let these pictures, with a little bit of commentary, tell the full story.
One of the quirks/flaws of the Hudson Yards station is its lack of staircases. Since the platforms are so deep, the only ways to get from the fare payment level to the mezzanine above the platform involve either five escalators or two inclined elevators. On Saturday (and for some time now), these have been reduced to one down escalator, two up escalators and the inclined elevators because some of the escalators — a sticking point in getting the station open in the first — have been out of service. And when are these expected back in service? Well, take a look at the next photo.
According to the MTA’s website, one of these escalators has been out of service since February 7 and the other since February 24. It’s not clear when either or both will be back in service, and that sign doesn’t give me much hope for a speedy repair. It’s somewhat mind-boggling that the MTA is struggling with a technology as commonplace as an escalator, and the lack of stairs to the mezzanine level now feels like a glaring omission.
Meanwhile, on that mezzanine level, an industrial fan sitting in front of a wall panel that simply says “water” and hides a bunch of water pipes is hard at work attempting to dry a leak from said water pipes. The water intrusion as this station isn’t nearly as bad as it was at the new South Ferry stop, but water from the cooling system dripped through earlier this winter in enough places to cause indoor icicles. Here, a temporary leak seemed to be plaguing the station, but a leak six months in is worrying enough.
In the grand scheme of the Hudson Yards station, these aren’t major problems that affect, say, the structural integrity of the station, but they are issues indicative of the MTA’s struggles with megaprojects. They are why Brooklyn residents don’t trust the MTA on its ducking and dodging on the L train repairs, and they are why Upper East Siders, while anticipating the Second Ave. Subway, are worried the same problems that delayed the 7 line will plague those three and a half new stops in a few months as opening day ticks nearer. Either way, it’s not a good look for the MTA.
Every few months, the long, lost 7 line station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. makes an appearance in the news, and we can all hope for a few minutes that everyone will come to their senses. Today, this station — a victim of a game of political chicken between the MTA and New York City that saw everyone else lose over a matter of a few hundred million dollars — made waves when NYC’s Economic Development Corporation released an RFP for the Covenant House at 41st St. and 10th Ave. With scenic views of the Port Authority Bus Terminal ramps, this spot is primed for development, and it would seem to be an ideal vehicle through which a second stop for the 7 line extension could arrive. Don’t get your hopes up.
The story broke first on Curbed on Wednesday afternoon. Buried in the RFP for the site (pdf) is a brief reference to the MTA and its work assessing the area around 41st St. and 10th Ave. As you may recall, the 7 line extension originally included two stations, but when costs climbed, the city refused to cover the overruns. Since the MTA wasn’t going to spend a dollar more than it needed to of its own scarce capital money on a project entirely funded by the city and the city didn’t need to spur development in a neighborhood already being developed, the station was axed from the extension. Over the years, a few half-hearted, 11th-hour attempts by, variously, the real estate industry and Sen. Chuck Schumer went nowhere, and the extension opened last year with just one stop.
The MTA didn’t foreclose on the idea of a station there and left provisioning in place for a station with two side-platforms at this spot in Hell’s Kitchen. Now, we see that the agency, at a low level, is doing its diligence with regards to this station. Here’s what the RFP says:
The MTA is in the process of preparing the conceptual design study of the Tenth Avenue Station for the No. 7 Train Extension. The goal of the study is to arrive at a conceptual design of the station facilities and infrastructure on the Project Site to a level of specificity that will assist in determining the dimensions of any required MTA Easements, volumes of space, impositions or encumbrances. At the time that the study is complete, the Developer will be expected to work with the MTA to finalize the MTA Easements and adjust its Proposal accordingly. The Developer is encouraged to design and incorporate the MTA Easements so that the MTA Easements appear uniform with the overall Project. The Contracts of Sale will require that, as a Condition to Closing, the Developer shall have coordinated with the MTA, and shall have accepted and accommodated within its site plan the MTA Easements as set forth in the abovementioned conceptual design study.
That paragraph is dense with legalese and real estate-ese, but ultimately and unfortunately, it urges us not to hold our breaths expecting a station at 10th Ave. any time soon. While the MTA may be preparing a conception design study, the purpose of this study is simply to ensure the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed with regards to the Covenant House spot. The easements are future considerations. Should the MTA eventually decide to build the station, whatever development grows at this spot would have to support the necessary land grab and construction work without sacrificing the integrity of the mixed-use development that will soon rise there. It’s nothing more than a hedge against future uncertainty and not a true conceptual design that will see the light of day.
The reality is that, despite Dan Doctoroff’s come-to-Jesus moment seven years too late, we missed the best chance we had of seeing a stop at 10th Ave. Instead of a $500 million project, a new station built around an active subway line is likely to cost upwards of $800 million, and the MTA has no plans to fund this station. It’s not a part of the 2015-2019 capital plan, and based on the agency’s short- and long-term needs, it’s not likely to be a part of the 2020-2024 plan unless someone else fronts the dough.
So ultimately, the MTA and NYCEDC are doing what they have to do to preserve the slight hope that someone will fund a station in the future. Whoever builds something at 41st will have to plan for some work underneath the building that’s unlikely to begin any time soon, and that’s all this RFP is about. As frustrating as it is, the 7 line stop at 41st St. and 10th Ave. is no closer to reality today than it was a week, a month or a year ago.
As Mayor Bill de Blasio and a pair of surrogates for Gov. Andrew Cuomo engaged in political sniping over the MTA’s capital plan during Sunday’s opening of the 7 line extension, a few feet away and well out of the fray sat former NYC Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff. The one-time Bloomberg side man could bask in the belated success. After all, the 7 line extension was one of his pet projects, originally attached to Doctoroff’s doomed 2012 Olympics bid, and while Michael Bloomberg served as the public face of the city’s funding commitment, Doctoroff did all the dirty work behind, and sometimes in front of, the curtain.
Some of Doctoroff’s more notable performances came in mid-2007 when it became clear that the station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. would not survive the budgetary axe. As I explored a few weeks ago, losing that second stop represents a big missed opportunity for New York City, and that is, in no small part, thanks to Doctoroff.
In late 2007, when the city could have afforded the $500 million extra it would have cost to build the second station, Doctoroff disingenously offered a 50-50 split with, well, anyone. The MTA had held firm on the idea that they weren’t going to spend significant dollars on the 7 line extension, and the feds had prioritized the 2nd Ave. Subway over the 7 line, a move Doctoroff would not easily forget. When Bloomberg’s administration offered to go in on half the cost overruns, these officials knew no one would take them up on this offer, and the station died a painful death.
Now, Doctoroff has had his “come to Jesus” moment. As he and James Meola, another long-time Bloomberg ally and appointee, wrote in this Sunday’s Daily News, they now feel it’s time to fund and build this station. There is nothing quite like closing the barn door eight years after the horse escaped. Wrote the pair:
The challenge, then, was to find the money to pay for the subway extension and related amenities. The city developed a novel plan: It would issue bonds but ask bondholders to accept repayment only out of incremental tax and other revenues generated from the district over and above the amount the city collected in the year before the project began. While the city agreed to pay the amount of any difference between new tax revenue and the $153 million in annual interest payments, that was the extent of its obligation. The bondholders accepted the risk that there wouldn’t be enough development and tax revenues to pay them back. In a way, it was the ultimate expression of faith in the future of New York.
A casualty of the financing plan was a second subway station at 42nd St. and 10th Ave. Without a track record, we just couldn’t raise the money to pay for the cost of the second station and the parks that would serve the northern section of the District…
Based on our calculations, if we just take into account the buildings that have been completed, are in construction now, or are in the advanced stages of planning, over the next 30 years Hudson Yards will throw off $30 billion on that investment of $353 million! Now that it is clear that the financing structure has become so successful, the city should expand it by borrowing an additional $1 billion and using the proceeds to pay for the 10th Ave. station, which could be completed in about five years, and the additional parks. The total cost is but a small fraction of the profits that the city already is expected to generate from the original Hudson Yards financing structure.
Doctoroff, of course, has nothing to lose here, and he can even restructure history. The city knew Hudson Yards would be an economic development success story and could have foot the bill, through a variety of financial means, years ago. Instead of a station for $500 million built contemporaneously with the rest of the project, Doctoroff now proposes a station built for over $800 million that would likely be severely disruptive to the 7 train operations.
That’s not even the most interesting part of Doctoroff’s about face. A few years after calling the 2nd Ave. Subway, a “silly little spur that doesn’t generate anything,” Doctoroff now claims to see the benefit of “provid[ing] subway service to the currently underserved areas around it, including northern Hudson Yards and parts of Hell’s Kitchen.” The station, he argues, would also help alleviate congestion at Times Square — hardly the same grounds he used to build the 7 line to Hudson Yards and certainly not new arguments put forward by those who have long wanted that second stop.
Ultimately, Doctoroff’s change of heart is a big nothing. We can wallow in his hypocrisy or we can view it as progress. But either way, no one — not de Blasio, not Cuomo, not the MTA — is rushing to fund a station at 41st and 10th, and despite a lackluster call yesterday from The Times editorial board to build the station, most people I’ve spoken with both in and outside of the MTA don’t believe we’ll ever see this station become a reality. The time to build it was eight years ago. That ship sailed, thanks to Doctoroff and his boss, and no amount of Daily News columns can right that wrong.
For the first time since the last 1980s, the MTA yesterday opened a new station. The long-awaited 7 line extension from Times Square to Hudson Yards at 34th St. made its inaugural ride shortly after 1 p.m., but for a few hours during a bright blue morning, as politicians commemorated the day, the debate over the MTA’s future took centerstage. In the end, just about everything about Sunday’s opening ceremony for the 7 line extension was weird.
For now with infrastructure projects, New York is stuck in a weird place. Yesterday’s opening celebration was much ado about one new subway stop, something that would barely register a blip in cities around the world with developed transit networks, and yet, Sunday seemed like a release. Twenty-one months after then-Mayor Bloomberg held a pre-opening ribbon-cutting to slap himself on the back, the MTA finally let the public loose on its latest station, and except for a street-level elevator outage, with that new train station smell permeating the air, amidst a sunny day, everything seemed to run smoothly.
An R188 7 train, jammed with rail fans and locals, left Hudson Yards at 1:06 p.m. en route to Queens, and that was that. But underneath the clear skies and before the afternoon’s rain came, tensioned simmered. MTA CEO Tom Prendergast challenged Mayor Bill de Blasio, sitting a few feet away, to find $2.3 billion for the MTA’s capital plan over the next five years while de Blasio pushed back forcefully. Meanwhile, Senator Chuck Schumer and Rep. Jerry Nadler, both citing Mayor Bloomberg’s push to see the 7 line extended to the West Side, urged the city to pay up, and Schumer echoed a Sunday Dan Doctoroff Daily News column in calling for a station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. When their turns came, Albany pols seemed to want some resolution to the MTA’s capital debate, and TWU President John Samuelsen also used his turn at the mic to lay into the city’s lack of capital contributions. Governor Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t, after all, his party.
After the pols spoke, Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, head of the MTA’s capital construction unit, spoke on the design of the station. At one point, he mentioned how inclined elevators were first installed by Americans as part of the Eiffel Tower in the late 19th Century. It was an odd parallel to draw considering how the inclined elevators were one of the reasons why the station opened nearly two years late, and only City Council Member Corey Johnson noted that “it took long enough” to finally open the new stop.
I’ll take a look later this week at the evolving soap opera behind the capital campaign, But now, let’s journey underground into this vast, expensive new station. It’s very nice, and it’s very large. The inclined elevators are there for ADA compliance, and they’re so slow that the escalators are always a better option. The mezzanine reminds me of the giant, empty spaces that mark the IND stops in Brooklyn and Queens. There will never be enough people at the station to fill all the space, and as now, there’s no clear indication that the mezzanine will be anything more than just for show. The lack of columns leads to open views, and the lack of Transit Wireless service leads to more questions regarding cooperation among MTA contractors. (Reliable sources tell me the general contractor at Hudson Yards wasn’t keen to give Transit Wireless early access to the station. So cell and wifi service won’t be available for a few months.) All in all, though, it’s a subway stop. Take that for what you will.
Ultimately, this project will be known for what New York City got for its money. It’s a needed subway extension to an area of Manhattan previously inaccessible, but it cost $2.42 billion to get there. Sunday featured a lot of self-congratulatory speeches without a nod to the excessive costs or any indication that the MTA will have to rein in these price tags if it wants to realistically expand the subway system. In other countries, the opening of a new subway line is expected and a regular happening. In New York, it’s a monumental and costly undertaking that takes seven years to build 1.5 miles of truck and one subway station. Take that too for what you will.
Now, after months of waiting, the bulk of this saga is behind us, and New York City’s subway today has 469 stops, a temporary number on the way to at least 472. It was a beautiful day for a subway ride; the band played on; the art looks great; and there were cookies.
Following Thursday’s G train derailment, the MTA restored full service to the line by mid-afternoon on Friday, and then the fighting began. I’ll have much more on this next week, but in announcing restored service, MTA CEO and Chair Tom Prendergast let loose on the city and Mayor de Blasio for their lack of support for MTA financing.
The G, Prendergast noted, derailed when it came into contact with a deteriorated section of bench wall. The incident, by the way, was around 300 feet away from where Thursday’s earlier rail condition had occurred. Prendergast viewed this as a clear sign that support for the MTA’s maintenance is lagging, and he urged action. “I am tired of writing letters to City officials that result only in vague calls for more conversations,” he said. “The sooner we can end these games and get to work on rebuilding our transit network, the better we can serve the 8.5 million customers who rely on the MTA every day.”
Earlier in the day, TWU President John Samuelsen had issued a similar statement asking the city to pay more. Clearly, Gov. Cuomo had sent his allies to put pressure on New York City. Whether NYC should fund more of a state agency’s capital plan has become a hotly contested debate of late. More, as I mentioned, next week.
7 line opens Sunday
Until late last night, the MTA’s website had barely any mention of the opening of the 7 line extension stop at 34th Street, and it seemed weird. They should be plastering everything they own with this news, but they could be wary about drawing too much attention to the 21-month delay. Still, the 7 line is opening at 1 p.m. Sunday, and it’s the MTA’s first new subway stop in a generation. I’ll be on hand earlier in the day with photos. Be sure to check out my Instagram and Twitter accounts for updates. Unfortunately, Transit Wireless was unable to complete service installation for day 1. So the new station won’t be wired. I’ll have updates as soon as I have cell service.
For recent coverage of the 7 train extension, check out my posts. I look at the long lost stop at 41st and 10th, the now-bisected lower level at 42nd St. and 8th, the messy updates to the map, and future extensions to Chelsea or New Jersey.
Weekend work advisories for 14 subway lines
Now, after the jump, this weekend’s subway advisories, straight from the MTA. If anything looks wrong, take it up with them. Read More→
Even though the 34th Street-Hudson Yards stop on the 7 line won’t host passengers until next weekend, it’s never too early to look ahead to the future. After all, if we’re not planning for what’s next, nothing next will ever arrive, and no recent NYC infrastructure project has seen more discussion about potential future extensions than the 7 line. On the western side, we’ve talked about New Jersey and Chelsea, and an Eastern or northern extension into Queens has always been a tantalizing proposition.
New Jersey: The 7 to Secaucus
Sending the 7 train to Secaucus was one of those ideas that came out of nowhere following Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC tunnel. As I’ve been told in the past, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg essentially scribbled the idea on the back of a cocktail napkin, and his nascent idea has become a steady part of the conversation of some unknown future. It’s not a bad one really.
The driving idea behind the 7 train to Secaucus is that it can alleviate some of the pressure on trans-Hudson rail and road capacity while allowing for a direct connection to the subway. For an idea with no funding and no immediate future, it has some staying power, and in 2013, the New York City EDC issued a feasibility study (which included plans for that in-fill station at 41st Street). The report concluded that the subway extension would be massively popular and provide a 16-minute ride from Secaucus to Grand Central.
Of course, to say there are challenges is an understatement. It’s not unheard of for a subway to connect New York and New Jersey; that is after all what the PATH train does. But those tunnels were built over 100 years ago, and funding for a 7 train to Secaucus just isn’t there. No one on the New Jersey side has really picked up this argument, and even in New York, Staten Island representatives, for one, have raised objections to building a subway to New Jersey before anyone builds a subway to Staten Island. It’s not clear how much this would cost or would it would take to get an FRA waiver to ensure that 7 train rolling stock doesn’t need to comply with over-the-top federal standards.
For now, no one is actively fighting for this project, but it’s out there, just like many other ideas. It’s also farther along in the planning stages than most, but without dollars, it remains just a PDF report and a map. I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear of it.
Chelsea: The 7 heads south (or back east)
As part of the new extension, trail tracks for the 7 line head south from 34th Street to around 25th Street. Transit is going to use these tracks to improve terminal operations for the 7, as trains can now enter the station at higher speeds, and for storage since the Corona Yards can’t handle the additional rolling stock needed to maintain 7 train service. The tail tracks also allow the MTA to boost Queens-bound service immediately during rush hour rather than waiting for trains to make the slow crawl from Queens. And yet, there’s something about the tail tracks that seem like a missed opportunity as they reach into a neighborhood underserved by the subway without opening a stop there.
The ideas for sending the 7 into Chelsea are less well-formed than the ones for New Jersey. Long-ago plans never really developed proposed sending the 7 to meet up with the L train along 14th St. to connect two disconnected lines, and when he was in charge of the MTA, Joe Lhota discussed a station at 23rd St. and 11th Avenue. “It’s something that I think would make sense because if you look at the demographics of the West Side, we shouldn’t just make one stop,” he said in 2012. “It’s important to have plans, to have a wish list. [But] I’m not sure it can be done. I’m not sure about how close you can get to the Hudson River.”
Queens: Looking eastward
While an eastward extension doesn’t seem in the cards, Queens beyond Flushing is an area clamoring for better transit service. The infamous Second System plans called for extensions of the Flushing Line into Queens with branches heading either to College Point or Bayside. As Lhota said, “it’s important to have plans,” but this one seems more like a dream from the past than a future we should expect.
With the 7 line extension’s Hudson Yards spur set to open next weekend, not only is the subway system heading west but the subway map is too. Based on a variety of design choices, on the current map, 8th Ave. and 7th Ave. look farther apart than 8th Ave. and 11th Ave. do, and the new station, one would hope, could force the MTA overhaul what has become a very crowded map. With Transit getting ready for the big day, the new subway maps have started popping up in 7 trains, and, well, see for yourself:
To say that this addition ain’t pretty is an understatement, and it may also violate some central tenets of the current map. First, what is going on here? The purple line showing the 7 line extension cuts through the word “Terminal,” which itself is part of the name of the stop at 42nd St. and 8th Ave. Plus, it’s now not immediately clear what’s happening at Times Square as the white dot only sort of touches all four of the lines that stop there. It’s not too clear that there’s a direct transfer from the 7 to the A/C/E, and it now looks as though the 7 doesn’t provide easy access to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. While you and I may know how Times Square works, a subway map isn’t supposed to be designed for people who know the system; it’s supposed to be designed for those who don’t. This purple line isn’t helping.
Meanwhile, if you look at the normal markings for a terminal, the colored block with the line’s route designation usually appears right near the white circle designating the terminal. You can see it above for the L train at 14th St. and at right for the 7’s eastern end in Flushing. Here, the purple square is underneath the word “Yards” and next to the handicap symbol and another 7 that’s just sort of floating there. It should be under the black circle denoting the station (and that black circle should be white since both local and express 7 trains will service Hudson Yards). Yet, placing the purple block would cause conflicts with the designation for the 8th Avenue’s Penn Station stop since the avenue spacing here has been distorted for design purposes. Instead of adjusting a geographical inaccuracy, the map designers just shoved this thing wherever it could fit.
The debate over designing a better map can fill volumes, but one way to present the information, at least for a mobile-optimized experience, comes to us via KickMap.
Eddie Jabbour and I had a back-and-forth about the design on the Second Ave. Sagas Facebook page, and he presented the idea of showing the 7 connecting to 42nd St. via a “T.” The avenue distances are still distorted but are closer to reality than the MTA’s design. His map also incorporates the Javits Center, a key destination for the 7 train, rather than a ferry terminal floating somewhere between 34th St. and 42nd St., as the MTA’s map shows. It’s a better presentation with more relevant data than the MTA’s map has.
The MTA will have a second chance over the next year and a half to redesign the map when three new stops open underneath Second Ave. I hope they take the opportunity to do so; this thing is in bad need of a rethink and a better design.
Yesterday, as part of the countdown to the opening of the 7 line extension, I took a look back at the lost opportunities at 41st St. that will plague this project until and unless the MTA builds the omitted station. Today, we look at something else the new 1.5 mile tunnel had to cut through to reach the Hudson Yards: an abandoned subway platform underneath 8th Ave. at 42nd Street.
The IND’s stop at 42nd St. and 8th Ave. is a funny little quirk of history. It hasn’t seen passenger service March of 1981 and was most famously featured in the movie Ghost in 1990. It’s a one-track, one-platform nearly unique in the system and once served as the staging ground for special Aqueduct service and as a staging ground for certain rush-hour E trains. It’s an odd duck in a system filled with odd ducks.
So what’s the story with this Lower Level platform? We’re long on theories for this one. When the IND opened in the early 1930s, the city had built a shell of a lower level at 42nd St. and 8th Ave., but the station remained unfinished until the 1950s. Why they even bothered with finishing it is a very good question. My favorite theory on the murky origins of the lower level comes to us via the station’s NYCSubway.org page:
An oft-repeated story offers this as a reason the lower level was built: The Independent subway was being built by the city to compete directly with routes owned by the IRT and BMT companies. The #7 crosstown IRT line terminates at Times Square; it is said that the bumper blocks of the #7 are directly against or very close to the eastern wall of the lower level of the 42nd St. IND station. The construction of the lower level therefore blocked any potential extension of the #7 line to the west side of Manhattan. If this is true, it would have been done only in the spirit of crushing the competition, for the IND had no plans to construct a competing crosstown line.
It is, of course, that same 7 crosstown IRT line that signals the death, in part, of the lower level at 42nd St. To build out the train to 34th St. and 11th Ave., the MTA had to construct the tracks directly through the old platform. You can see the tunnel box in the photo atop this post, and I have a few other shots of the old platform from my 2012 tour of the 7 line. You can see where new constructed bisected the old station and where new systems are attached to old. The station is a weird ghost platform that looks like a dystopian version of the platform above it, and it will never see train service again. At least, after over 30 years of sitting fallow, trains will soon begin to pass through this abandoned and barely understood piece of New York City history, albeit more literally than the IND’s builders ever intended.