Preliminary sketches of the new station show the shifting sidewalks and traffic patterns on Broadway. (Click to enlarge; Courtesy of the MTA)
Please note, the hearing mentioned below is scheduled for Wednesday, June 6, and not Tuesday as the post originally implied. My fault.
Nearly one year ago, Community Board 7, the lords of the Upper West Side, overwhelmingly supported a plan to overhaul the northern entrances of the 96th St. stop on the IRT. Tomorrow, these plans — a drastic reconstruction of one of the system’s oldest stations — will inch one step closer to reality as the MTA hosts a public hearing on the proposed Station Access Changes.
Currently, the 96th St. station entrances are a bit of a disaster. Passengers have to enter on either the southwest or southeast corners of Broadway. They must walk down one narrow staircase to reach the turnstile area. After swiping through, riders then have to walk down another set of narrow staircases to each a tunnel underneath both the uptown and downtown platforms. Then, straphangers have to walk up yet another staircase to reach the platform.
Additionally, the entrance on the southeast corner of Broadway and 96th St. is open only during the day. Any nighttime passengers heading north must cross the street to get to an open entrance and then walk back that length to reach the uptown platform.
The plans to streamline station access and to make this high-volume station handicapped-accessible are, according to the MTA, as follows:
NYC Transit proposes to close the sidewalk stairs on the southwest and southeast corners of 96th and Broadway and to replace these entrances with a head house built on an expanded Broadway median between 95th and 96th Streets. The new head house will have stairs and elevators leading directly to the uptown and downtown platforms. This entrance will be open and staffed full time.
The sidewalk entrances need to close because the Broadway median must be expanded to make room for the head house. To allow for the widened median the Broadway sidewalks will be narrowed and the sidewalk area where the stairs are now will be eliminated.
This is an interesting plan, and it’s hard to come out against it at first brush. Most notably, these plans will provide elevator access (that is, handicapped access) to the first (or last) transfer point on the West Side IRT lines. It will also reduce the total elevation change for passengers from 43 feet (down-down-up) to just 19 feet (down). Furthermore, the four seven-foot wide staircases to the platform will replace the current two five-foot wide staircases thus reducing station congestion.
But on the other hand (or the “disbenefits,” as the MTA terms it) are the additional walking people will have to do above ground. The new structure will be fifty feet south of the current entrances and in the center of Broadway. The MTA claims that the two out of every three passengers who have to wait at a red light to cross Broadway will be delayed a whopping 26 seconds.
As a native of the Upper West Side, though, I’m much more concerned with the decrease in available sidewalk space. The new plans call for moving Broadway nine feet on either direction to compensate for the wider island in the center of Broadway. While the sidewalks would be 15 feet wide, that’s a big decrease from their current width of 23 feet.
But the benefits of the station house should outweigh one shorter block. It will be easier and faster to enter one of the more crowded stations on the West Side. Meanwhile, above ground, the station will resemble the new structure at 72nd St. The same firm is signed on for this project, and the plans call for a wider median with a seating area at 96th St. leading to the station entrance in the middle of the block. That sounds good to me.
MTA Public Hearing: Station Access Changes, Wednesday, June 6, 6 p.m., MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue – Fifth Floor
For more images of the plans for the rehabilitated 96th St. station, click here