Thousands of people walk past this subway entrance at 52nd and 8th, unaware of its history. (Photo by RJ Mickelson for amNew York)

We started the week with a tale about a doomed abandoned platform at 42nd and 8th Ave. Let’s end the week ten blocks north standing outside a gated subway entrance at 52nd St. and 8th Ave.

In what very well might be the best story to appear in the pages of amNew York — sorry, Chris — Matthew Sweeney explores the history of a subway entrance that has sat closed since 1991, and no one really knows what it was doing there in the first place. The article is part of a two-parter in Friday’s amNew York about some of the partnerships the MTA has formed with the buildings that climb high above their stations. The other piece focuses on the MTA’s tortured relationships with its escalators.

Sweeney gives us the history:

Paid for with private funds in 1986 — when the misbegotten K train still ran — the subway entrance at Eighth Avenue and 52nd Street has been gated and locked for nearly two decades.

It’s been shut for so long New York City Transit on Thursday could not remember when or why it ordered the gates locked. Transit officials also couldn’t say whether it will ever be open again. “It’s kind of ridiculous,” said real estate developer Adam Rose, who built the stairwell entrance to what is now the uptown C and E train platform. “The day after it opened, they closed it.”

Rose’s memory is not entirely accurate. For a brief period the entrance was open at off hours. But even then, it was not always open when it was supposed to be, said Andrew Albert, chairman of the NYC Transit Riders Council. According to Albert, the entrance was permanently closed after a woman was stabbed in the stairway in 1991.

The article doesn’t explain why the MTA has decided to close the entrance and why it was never fully staffed in the first place leading up to the Linda Belle stabbing. The building, according to Rose, was forced to construct the entrance by the MTA. Now, it sits empty, a late-1980s subway map hanging on the wall and trash collecting at the bottom of the stairwell.

Say what you will about MTA management in this instance, but stories like these are why I love the subways. While we see a lot of the system on the surface just by passing through, so many of the quirky stories behind its nooks and crannies are lost to time. You’ve got art in abandoned stations and artistic stations long since abandoned. We think of the subway map as static, but train lines head up different avenues and switch stops seemingly on a whim over the years.

The next time I walk past 52nd St. and 8th Ave., I’ll stop for a minute or two to take in an entrance I’ve seen and ignored countless times over the course of my life. One day, it may have a purpose; today, it’s just another one of New York’s great subway what if’s.

Categories : Abandoned Stations
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Personal space is tough to find in the Shanghai Metro during rush hour. (Photo by flickr user Marc van der Chijs)

I am perennially about a week behind when it comes to reading the New Yorker. They arrive in my mailbox too frequently, and there’s always too much to read. So this afternoon on the way home from work, I wrapped up Nick Paumgarten’s technically adept look at elevators.

The piece spends a lot of time looking at the science and technology behind elevators while focusing on Nicholas White’s harrowing tale. White was, in 1999, stuck for 41 hours in an elevator in the McGraw-Hill building, and he’s never been the same. (On YouTube, you can find the rather harrowing security camera footage from White’s ordeal.) During the course of the technical details about the elevators, Paumgarten dropped in an interesting passage about how the folks behind our urban conveniences figure out how much space is enough space. It, of course, relates to the subway:

If you draw a tight oval around this figure, with a little bit of slack to account for body sway, clothing, and squeamishness, you get an area of 2.3 square feet, the body space that was used to determine the capacity of New York City subway cars and U.S. Army vehicles. Fruin defines an area of three square feet or less as the “touch zone”; seven square feet as the “no-touch zone”; and ten square feet as the “personal-comfort zone.” Edward Hall, who pioneered the study of proxemics, called the smallest range—less than eighteen inches between people—“intimate distance,” the point at which you can sense another person’s odor and temperature. As Fruin wrote, “Involuntary confrontation and contact at this distance is psychologically disturbing for many persons.”

Moving beyond the technical — I would love to meet a proxemics expert — this brief passages lets us in to a dreadfully obvious secret about the subway: Packed train cars are psychologically taxing on the vast majority of people because there just isn’t enough space. Worse still is the fact that schizophrenic people prefer fifteen times more space that non-schizophrenics. No wonder the subways seem packed with crazy people sometimes; we’re in their space.

Day in and day out, New Yorkers choose to subject themselves to the psychologically taxing demands of a subway ride. We cram ourselves into cars that are too hot or too cold, cars that have annoyingly whiny PA systems (the old R40 Slants on the B line come to mind), cars without enough space to move without jostling or, worse yet, smelling the person who’s just too close to us.

Even in subway cars with space, we still feel the encroaching others in our personal space. Everyone knows that familiar feeling of resentment when a passenger stands just a step or two too close to you in a half-empty car. That’s your touch zone coming under attack. Tell them to back it up to the persona-comfort zone.

This psychological disturbances are why people in the New York City subway systems seem generally unfriendly. It’s why people won’t make eye contact with each other and why two people attracted to each other won’t attempt to strike up a conversation. It’s also why subway riders get a rush of calmness and serenity upon leaving a crowded train and finding their ways aboveground at rush hour. There’s just not enough space.

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At Yankee Stadium, 24 ounces of Heineken will run you about $12.50. At the corner bodega, a six-pack of Heineken can be yours for around $8-$10. And on the Long Island Rail Road, that same beer will cost a measly $2.50. For now.

But bad news awaits those commuters who enjoy a relaxing beverage on their train rides home. For the first time in over ten years, the MTA is considering raising concession prices on board their trains. It was bad enough they raised the fares, but the beer prices also? Where will the madness end?

Steve Ritea of Newsday has more:

“We haven’t raised beer prices in four years and there has been no across the board price increases since 1996,” said LIRR spokesman Joe Calderone. “This price increase will help us offset higher labor and product costs for beer, wine, liquor and snacks. The increase also is in line with prices charged by other vendors at Penn Station.”

On the LIRR, domestic beers would increase by a quarter, to $2.25 and imported beer from $2.50 to $3. Top shelf liquor would go from $4.25 to $5.50 while house spirits jump from $4 to $5.25. A glass of wine goes from $3 to $3.50. Soda and water would increase from $1.25 to $1.50 and peanuts from 75 cents to $1.

Prices on Metro-North also will be higher, with top shelf liquor increasing from $5.50 to $6.50 and wine from $4.50 to $5.50.

In 2007, the MTA’s various subdivisions didn’t profit as much as one would expect from the sale of booze on board the trains. Despite grossing $2.5 million in concession sales, for example, LIRR took home a net profit of just $500,00. In this day and age of grossly overpriced beers at bars and ballgames around the city, the MTA is showing curious restraint in keeping their prices low.

I’m sure the commuter-rail passengers will grouse about this move. Those bar cars I know are popular around 6 p.m. But $3 for an import is a better deal than most happy hours, and the MTA is in revenue-capture mode these days. Personally, the next time I want a good deal on a drink, I’m hoping on the train. White Plains, anyone?

Categories : LIRR, Metro-North
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These bridges won’t be free for much longer if DOT has its way. (Photo by flickr user SheepGuardingLama)

While those of us in the pro-congestion pricing camp were busy slamming Sheldon Silver and mourning the death of Mayor Bloomberg’s radical and potentially revolutionary congestion pricing plan, the New York City Department of Transportation had other plans.

Speaking on Friday at the Regional Plan Association’s annual conference, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan let slip that congestion pricing in name may be dead, but the ideas and certain proposals are far from dead. “I really don’t think that we should be in the business right now of eulogizing congestion pricing. The way I prefer to think about it,” she said, “is that perhaps we are in little more of a hibernation mode.”

DOT, you see, is trying to return to an idea dropped during the build-up to congestion pricing: tolls over the East River bridges. Furthermore, these tolls could potentially be used to fund the MTA’s capital campaign and its currently-projected multi-billion-dollar funding gap. Pete Donohue from the Daily News has more:

“At the end of the day, the failure on congestion pricing that occurred last month was just a setback,” said a fellow panelist, former Deputy Mayor Marc Shaw. “I think it will be reconsidered in the near future.”

He predicted congestion pricing would come back in a somewhat different and “purer” form: tolls at the East River bridges and across 60th St.

Shaw chaired a commission that recommended charging $8 to drive below 60th St. It largely would have affected drivers who do not currently pay to enter lower Manhattan because they use free East River bridges. The goals included reducing traffic and generating funds to improve the mass transit system.

Furthermore, Donohue notes, the new MTA commission on funding led by former MTA head Richard Ravitch will consider both the East River tolls and congestion pricing plans as sources of revenue for the beleaguered transportation authority.

I am all in favor of tolling the East River bridges. Right now, four bridges — Brooklyn, Manahttan, Williamsburg, Queensboro — feed into Manhattan south of 60th street for free. Users of these bridges have myriad public transportation options, and yet these drivers still get a free ride into and out of the city. If tolling these bridges would provide the MTA with funds while reducing congestion and automobile use, DOT should make it happen. The city and its public transit advocates could use a big win, and it’s comforting to see DOT keeping this hope alive.

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The old platform on the lower level at Times Square will soon be lost to the 7 Line Extension. (Photo by Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)

Astute subway buffs know where to look for the tell-tale signs of the mysterious lower level underneath the 8th Ave. IND platform at 42nd St. Stand on the northern edge of the uptown platform and look all the way across the tracks. If you look closely, you can see another level of subway tracks beginning a mysterious descent seemingly to nowhere.

Well, it’s not quite nowhere. Those tracks lead to the long-abandoned lower level platform that, for a few decades from 1959-1981, was home to the Aqueduct Express. The tunnel feeds into the lower level E platform at 50th St. and terminates with a merge, now out of service, in between 42nd St. and 34th St. on that IND line.

In Sunday’s Times City Section, Alex Mindlin writes about the waning days of that lower level platform. It is currently in the way of the 7 line extension and will soon to lost to the ages:

But the platform endures, gathering dust and grime. And it has seen more activity this year than in the previous few decades. Workers are preparing to demolish part of the platform so that the extended No. 7 line can cut across the space on its way westward. Other sections of the platform will be turned into electrical and hydraulic rooms; the rest will be walled off. The work should be complete in about four years…

Several films have been shot here; the track walls bear some “47-50” signs that, at this 42nd Street station, must have been intended for a movie. In the best-known scene shot at the location, from the 1990 film “Ghost,” Patrick Swayze stands on the empty platform and learns from another ghost how to move objects with his mind.

This great photo at shows how the station signage was cannibalized by Hollywood for those movies.

What Mindlin’s article misses is the amusing story behind the origins of the platform and its original purpose. After it was built during the construction of the IND lines in 1932, this lower level platform sat idle and unused until those Aqueduct trains started running 27 years later. Joseph Brennan’s abandoned station page for the platform speculates that the platform could have been used to hold Queens-bound trains at 42nd St. without impeding other trains along the 8th Ave. line.

But I prefer the theory set forth on the station’s 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.

This now-decaying station won’t impede westward progress any longer, and as the 7 line inches its way west, this platform will be lost to the annals of New York subway history. While the West Side 91st St. station and the famous City Hall stop exist through subway windows, this lower level platform will end up a legend of the subway, perhaps built to stop progress and now destroyed in the name of progress.

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So apparently the Pope is snarling traffic everywhere, and it’s only going to get worse before it gets better this weekend. Stay away from the Upper East Side; stay away from the Yankee Stadium area. And if you’re heading to a Seder tomorrow or Sunday night, leave plenty of time for travel.

You all know the drill. Service alerts are here and below.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 21, Manhattan-bound 24 trains run express from Franklin Avenue to Atlantic Avenue due to hydraulics work at Atlantic Avenue. – This is bad news for people like me going from Grand Army Plaza to the Upper West Side for a Seder.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 21, uptown 2 trains replace the 5 from Nevins to 149th Street and uptown 5 trains replace the 2 from Chambers Street to 149th Street. These changes are due to several projects, including station rehab work at Chambers Street and Wall Street and tunnel lighting work in the Clark Street tunnel.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 21, there are no 3 trains running between New Lots Avenue and 14th Street due to tunnel lighting work in the Clark Street tunnel. Customers should take the 4 train instead.

From 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday, April 19, Bronx-bound 4 trains skip 170th Street, Mt. Eden Avenue, and 176th Street due to track panel installation between 167th Street and Burnside Avenue stations.

From 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 19 and Sunday, April 20, Bronx-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point to Parkchester due to track panel installation.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 10 p.m. Sunday, April 20, Flushing-bound 7 trains skip 82nd, 90th, 103rd, and 111th Sts. due to track panel installation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 21, there is no C train service between 145th Street and 168th Street. Customers should take the A instead. Free shuttle buses replace A trains between 168th Street and 207th Street. Transfer is available between the Broadway or Ft. Washington Avenue shuttle buses and A trains at 168th Street. These service changes are necessary due to tunnel lighting between 168th and 207th Street and roadbed replacement at 175th Street.

From 8:30 a.m. Friday, April 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 21, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R trains instead.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 10 p.m. Sunday, April 20, Queens-bound J trains run express from Myrtle Avenue to Broadway Junction due to track panel installation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 21, Brooklyn-bound NR trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from Canal Street to DeKalb Avenue due to structural work between Whitehall Street and Canal Street and station rehab work at Lawrence Street.

Categories : Service Advisories
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Midtown is rather devoid of subway stops for handicapped riders. (Source: Smorgr)

A few months ago, the urban life Website Smogr posted a heavily-edited subway map showing the limited options available to riders of the subway who are faced with limited staircase mobility. Disabled riders have long tried to get their voices heard, and it is only as old stations undergo renovations that they must be made ADA-compliant.

At the beginning of last week, the MTA announced a long-term elevator outage at the World Trade Center-Chambers Street E station due to Port Authority construction. For the vast majority of us, this news goes in one ear and out the other; what does an out-of-service Port Authority elevator that provides access to the subway platforms have to do with us? But for a significant minority who can’t depend on stairs to get underground, this is big news. Here’s how the MTA presents it, in part:

Beginning Friday, April 11, 2008, customers who rely on elevator service at the WTC-Chambers Street E Station will no longer have access to elevators at this location due to ongoing construction at the World Trade Center site…

The West 4th Street and the 14th Street-8th Avenue stations are the closest ADA accessible stations along the E line to the World Trade Center-Chambers Street E station. Customers traveling uptown from the WTC site to West 4th Street ABCDEFV lines should board the uptown M6 bus on Church Street at Vesey Street and get off on 6th Avenue at West 3rd Street. Customers traveling downtown from 14th Street-8th Avenue to the WTC area should board the downtown M20 bus on 7th Avenue at 14th Street and get off on Chambers Street at Hudson Street.

For customers traveling between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m., please note that the M6 and M20 bus routes do not operate during these hours.

So basically, the MTA has said that the nearest ADA-accessible stop to anyone trying to reach Lower Manhattan on the E is nearly a mile and a half away. Put yourself in the shoes, then, of the disabled. I know I wouldn’t be too happy finding out that my regular station is closed, and the nearest one is a mile and a half away. And, hey, the closest buses don’t operate for five hours each day.

As the MTA confronts a budget crunch, disabled rider complaints will have to compete with a plethora of other subway issues. While you and I may not think of them too often, these are real concerns for a lot of subway-riding New Yorkers.

After the jump, a broad — and small — overview of the subway map with only the handicap stations listed. Sadly, there is no larger version of this map, but as you’ll see, ADA-compliant stations are few and far between in the Outer Boroughs. In fact, after the Atlantic Ave.-Pacific St. stop on the D and N, the next accessible station is Coney Island.

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Categories : MTA Politics
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