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.