Home Second Avenue Subway SAS Neighborhood Impact: Ventilation Structures

SAS Neighborhood Impact: Ventilation Structures

by Benjamin Kabak

With subway construction come neighborhood gripes. As the Second Ave. Subway continues what one reporter recently termed its “unhurried pace” toward completion, residents along Second Ave. are learning that life with subway construction and life with an eventual subway line isn’t as rosy as it first sounds. Today, we will explore two stories about life on the East Side and the real estate problems presented by the Second Ave. Subway. Please note that for all images, click to enlarge.


We start at the corner of 2nd Ave. and 97th St. with a ventilation shaft pictured above. It’s big; it’s ugly; it’s windowless; it will lead to the eviction of some residents and businesses; and the people who live near it are not happy. Can you blame them? Look at the thing.

Of course, it serves a functional purpose as well. Around the city, various properties are mysteriously vacant. There’s an old building on 96th St. between West End and Broadway used by the MTA, and the Greenwich Village substation is an obvious. The Second Ave. Subway, though, will feature something new. A train line for the 21st Century, the SAS will no longer subject straphangers to hot and sticky platforms. Instead, glass walls will keep out the heat and allow for air conditioning to maintain a semblance of normalcy in underground temperatures.

Of course, with air conditioning comes the need for ventilation, and the MTA plans to build eight of these ventilation shafts of various shapes and sizes along the current 34-block stretch that makes up Phase I of this subway line. Yesterday, The Real Deal explored residents’ reactions to these neighborhood eyesores. Some of these buildings, reports Sarah Ryley, are going to be up to nine stories high, and while others fit into the neighborhood, most stick out like sore thumbs.

Stanford Eckstut, an architect who helped PATH design its ventilation shafts, called the MTA’s versions behemoths with facades resembling “an improved parking garage.” He said, “These are buildings that are going to last forever; they should be contributing to the street scene. They should not just be a wrapping to hide mechanical things.”

Thomas Nobel, a co-op owner at 69th St. which, according to Ryley, is next to the largest of the structures, bemoaned them too. “It’s going to be a real detriment to the neighborhood,” he said. The MTA has yet to release renderings of the planned nine-story ventilation shaft for the 69th St. spot.

Still, Ryley continues, most Upper East Siders are willing to pay the cost:

Some Upper East Side residents are wary of locking horns with the MTA, fearing that a protracted legal battle would delay or kill the subway project. Instead — through elected officials, civic groups and the law firm Herrick Feinstein — they have attempted, with some success, to negotiate behind the scenes.

“People in the Upper East Side want this subway. When it’s finished, all in all, it’s going to be a great boon to the neighborhood,” said Noble, who is also an architect. “I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to have the process grind to a halt yet again.”

The fact that the structures need to be built is nonnegotiable — they are needed to house utilities, smoke evacuation systems and emergency exits, said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz, noting that sidewalk grates now violate the city’s building code.

And indeed, as Ryley reports, the MTA has been very willing to negotiate on height. Some groups have gotten 50 percent reductions in the heights of these ventilation shafts, and the MTA that the renderings which I present below are simply plans. Nothing is set in stone, and there is still plenty of time for the MTA and the Upper East Side to work together to build community-friendly structures that don’t overwhelm the sidewalks.

In the end, some residents are concerned about property values, and one real estate assessor says these people have reason to be. He claims the few properties directly abutting these structures could see a decrease in value, but that overall, property values on the Upper East Side should increase by 15 percent due to the added convenience of a nearby subway line. That’s a trade off most should be willing to make.

After the jump, more images of the planned ventilation shaft. All are courtesy of the MTA. Click to enlarge.


The northeast corner of 93rd St. and 2nd Ave.


The northwest corner of 86th St. and 2nd Ave. This is probably the least intrusive of the ventilation shafts.


The northwest corner of 83rd St. and 2nd Ave.

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@epc December 1, 2009 - 6:59 am

Do you know if they plan to include actual storefronts in those buildings (some of the drawings appear to include storefronts)?

rhywun December 1, 2009 - 7:44 am

Yeah, they ought to put shops in there or else the buildings will simply become magnets for taggers and vagrants.

Sherry December 1, 2009 - 8:26 am

As a daily rider of PATH from 14th Street to Hoboken, I ask: “What PATH ventilation?”

Scott E December 1, 2009 - 8:40 am

As I understand, some of these buildings will have storefronts, some will not. It is less likely in the shorter ones with less overall space, and less likely in the ones with smaller footprints where the entire street level is a public and/or emergency entrance/exit.

A couple of notes to add to the original post: (1) in addition to air conditioning, the buildings extract smoke from tunnels and bring in fresh air in the event of a terror attack (explosion) – or even a simple track fire. The height keeps it out of neighboring apartment windows. (2) I thinkthe rectangles in the picture at the top of the article are, in fact, windows. On page 37 of the Community Board presentation here, they are described as “translucent” or “semi-translucent” with the note that it “glows at night”. We’ll see.

And finally, there will likely be some of these built on 34th St. as part of the new NJ Transit tunnel, and probably on 42nd St and/or 11th Ave for the 7-Extension as well – though I don’t know what they’ll look like. I haven’t heard anything about East Side Access.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines December 1, 2009 - 9:04 am

[…] Can the MTA Keep 2nd Ave Subway Utilities From Blighting the Street? (Real Deal via 2nd Ave Sagas)  […]

tacony palmyra December 1, 2009 - 9:47 am

Funny how they placed a street tree at the left end of the 97th St rendering to obscure the McDonalds and Subway restaurants there. It looks so much more picturesque. Is the MTA going to plant street trees as part of these projects? It’s a shame we had to lose the Century Lumber building… it’s pretty cool looking and looks like it’s been there forever.

As for the question of property values, the vast majority of people who live around 2nd Ave are renters, so a 15 percent increase in property values should scare them, not comfort. Of course the minority of property owners tend to be more involved in local politics (they have both the money to influence and the time to scream the loudest), leading to the impression that increasing property values should be seen as a universal goal, and the wacky public policies we create that make this city’s real estate impossibly expensive.

Kid Twist December 1, 2009 - 10:14 am

It’s a pretty short trip from 96th Street to 63rd Street. Maybe we can just ask riders to hold their breath for a few minutes.
[said in jest]

Cap'n Transit December 1, 2009 - 10:43 am

I don’t see why all of these have to be on corners. The vents for other tunnels are on side streets.

Whether or not they’re on corners, they should all have street-level retail. Blank walls deaden the streetscape.

It’s also idiotic for them to keep designing things that look like someone’s idea of “futuristic” or “modern.” The art deco designs of the old ventilation structures may have been futuristic when they were built, but now they’re time-tested and we know that people like them.

Eric F. December 1, 2009 - 11:19 am

Off topic, but it seems like the small component of the East Access project consisting of a below ground ventilation shaft on Park Avenue and 37th street is complete, or at least so it would appear from above ground. Might be worthy of a blog post?

Brandi December 1, 2009 - 12:27 pm

These need to have ground level retail in order to not create a dead space on prominent street corners that will just be vandalized. I mean its also just a huge waste of prime retail space to not use all those street corners. Creating retail spaces could also serve as a small source of revenue for the MTA. Otherwise these things are mediocre looking at best.

ferryboi December 1, 2009 - 1:31 pm

If the MTA wants to build a subway to Staten Island and erect these “ugly” ventilation shafts, then most Islanders would be more than happy to trade with UES residents any day. You’ve been crying for 50 years that this line is necessary, but you want it built with no disruptions, no vent shafts, no noise, no eminent domain, etc.

Can’t please everyone, no?

SAS Neighborhood Impact: Station Entrances :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog December 1, 2009 - 3:39 pm

[…] about life on the East Side and the real estate problems presented by the Second Ave. Subway. Part I, I examined the eight ventilation structures soon to appear on the Upper East Side. Part two […]

E. Aron December 1, 2009 - 4:44 pm

8 of these things? To keep the tracks from 125th to 63rd streets cool? How much will this cost to install and then to operate, on a yearly basis? The waste, to me, seems egregious.

Aaron December 1, 2009 - 5:01 pm

Heating and cooling may be one component, but the primary purpose of these is to circulate any air at all. You’ll note that all tunnels have to have ventilation, but it’s usually pretty well ceoncelaed, and we’re only learning about this now because the process is ongoing and visible. Ventilation is one of the most difficult aspects of any tunneling project, often more difficult than the tunnel itself. Quibble over the placement or design, but their existence is a prerequisite for tunnel construction. I suspect these exist all over the boroughs and nobody knows where they are because they’ve always been there. Still, sometimes they can be of gargantuan size (the vent shafts at the Holland, Lincoln and B’klyn Batter tunnels are very visible since they obviously can’t run shafts up above the water line of NY Harbor unless they wanted to create a nautical obstacle course..

Andrew December 1, 2009 - 6:17 pm

That’s right – this isn’t primarily about air conditioning. It’s about emergency smoke ventilation. See Ortiz’s remark about “house utilities, smoke evacuation systems and emergency exits.” The city’s building code, which he refers to, certainly doesn’t require air conditioning, but it may well require smoke evacuation.

E. Aron December 1, 2009 - 6:34 pm

All points taken. So there are 8 ventilation units the size of a 4 floor building for every 3 miles of subway tunnels all throughout the city?

Cap'n Transit December 1, 2009 - 7:43 pm

No, because they’re mostly cut-and-cover tunnels and have gratings in the street. These are deep bore tunnels, and as Kevin Ortiz of the MTA says in the quote above, “sidewalk grates now violate the city’s building code.”

Alon Levy December 1, 2009 - 4:57 pm

In Asia the MTA would’ve included not just ground-level stores but also an enclosed shopping center or an apartment building.

herenthere December 1, 2009 - 7:54 pm

Absolutely the smartest thing idea in Asia…especially in Hong Kong – the transit company there is one of the major management companies of the malls there. Linking an entrance to the subway directly into the malls means added convenience and revenue stream.

Upper Green Side » Select Bus Service & the Second Avenue Subway December 1, 2009 - 7:16 pm

[…] from project team members and a discussion of the architectural finishes for the ventilation ancillary buildings. The people in attendance were most interested in the design of the ancillary buildings and […]

herenthere December 1, 2009 - 7:55 pm

It’s not too bad, maybe they should’ve added some stores or chosen a brighter different color than grey, but they don’t exactly want to attract people’s attention. They want it to blend in to nearby buildings without being too cost-prohibitive…

Christopher December 1, 2009 - 10:18 pm

While I’m not sure there’s enough space for proper ground floor retail, maybe they could incorporate some things that would keep the space “alive”, at least at ground level, but that have a small footprint. Some ideas: newsstands have a small footprint, and there is clearly demand already at these locations, more so when they are going to be right at a subway entrance. The operator doesn’t need too much space inside, but could take advantage of extra display space on the exterior. Or how about an espresso shack? The folks in Oregon seem to have them all over, including one I remember in an old Photomat booth. Again, not much floor space needed, just some electricity and water. Or maybe one of those self-contained self-cleaning toilets?

And yes, many of my neighbors here on the UES are cry-babies when it comes to what’s going on with the SAS. Please feel free to ignore them.

rhywun December 2, 2009 - 12:38 am

Yeah, I was thinking “newsstands” too. Or small bodegas. Whatever–anything but a blank wall.

Steve December 2, 2009 - 9:25 am

I agree with the other commenters that street space is too valuable to waste. More thought needs to go into creating dual use and better architecture.

One small grammar quibble: “it’s big; it’s ugly; it’s windowless; it has lead to the eviction. . .” I think you meant “led.” Lead (rhymes with red) is a metal.

Nathanael December 24, 2009 - 11:15 pm

Wow. Gotta agree with all other commenters.

The building should be wrapped with useful space at ground level. At the very least, advertising display windows; newstands are better, small stores better still.

Why not put as much of the equipment as possible on the upper stories, put the core shafts in the middle of the building, and get some valuable commercial space out of the thing?

Along Second Ave., more complaints about auxiliary buildings :: Second Ave. Sagas September 1, 2010 - 9:30 am

[…] of complaints as Upper East Siders have bemoaned entrances at 96th St. and 72nd St. as well as ventilation structures up and down the avenue. Yet again, the auxiliary structures are coming under […]


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