Home Queens New raised storm grates earn architectural praise

New raised storm grates earn architectural praise

by Benjamin Kabak

The new raised storm grates have earned aesthetic praise while keeping the subways flood-free. (Photo courtesy of the MTA on Facebook)

When an August 2007 rain storm completely flooded the New York City subway system, the MTA recognized a problem at street level. Because ventilation grates were flush with the sidewalk and fed directly into subway stations that weren’t very deep underground, numerous stations – particularly in Queens – were completely overrun with water.

To solve this problem, the authority proposed in late 2008 a reconceptualized subway grate that would also double as street furniture. By July of 2009, the $31 million flood-prevention plan was fully in place with grates along Sutphin and Queens Boulevards among other areas susceptible to flooding.

This week, the city’s Center for Architecture awarded Rogers Marvel Architects and di Domenico + Partners an Urban Design Merit Award for their work with the MTA’s flood mitigation streetscape plans. This award came as part of the juried prizes handed out each year at the American Institute of Architecture’s design awards luncheon. The flood mitigation pieces wil also be a part of an exhibit at the Center for Architecture (536 LaGuardia Place) now on display through July 3, 2010.

This project showed tremendous innovation and thought on behalf the MTA and then-CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander. I’m glad to see it earning some recognition from the design community. For more pictures of the raised grates, check out this Facebook album.

You may also like


E. Aron April 16, 2010 - 12:45 pm

They also make for a nice bench while passengers wait for buses on Hillside Ave.

Kevin Walsh April 16, 2010 - 12:57 pm

The Center for Architecture must be kidding. These things are intrusive and ugly. When I saw them on Broadway in Astoria, I thought they were terrorism bollards.

Nesta April 16, 2010 - 5:12 pm

Kevin I completely agree they are hideous and waste valuable space.

Scott E April 16, 2010 - 1:28 pm

I’d rather see benches all around (with partitions between seats to deter sleepers and skateboarders) rather than one tiny bench and a wavy, inclined piece of steel grating. This artistic effort is too abstract and out-of-place in NYC, where functionality triumphs all.

Then again, I understand the goal is to be artistic and to keep the water out of the subway. But if it doesn’t bottleneck sidewalk traffic, then I’d say its effective.

JAR April 16, 2010 - 1:36 pm

The real architectural prize should be for the architect that invented the grate that actually was flush with the sidewalk!
These get in the way of the purpose of the sidewalk and street space. It would be nice if, instead of looking so “cool” and wavy, they added features like a bike rack, or more than one bench, so that we’d get a little more back considering the amount of space we lose.

Benjamin Kabak April 16, 2010 - 2:09 pm

The ones in Lower Manhattan are bike racks. I’ve criticized them before for eliminating sidewalk space, but we can’t have subways flooding every time it rains. That’s a balancing consideration, no?

Building 11 April 18, 2010 - 12:38 am

That’s the whole point. You might not like how they look, but they work.

Nabe News: April 16 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle April 16, 2010 - 1:39 pm

[…] future of subway flood control – raised storm grates? [Second Avenue […]

Blue April 16, 2010 - 4:50 pm

These things get so filthy that I wouldn’t dare sit on it, so the seating is actually pretty useless. And the ones on Northern Boulevard in LIC cut the sidewalks in half, forcing you to walk dangerously close to traffic. Another example of how out of touch architects are with the reality of living in cities.

Trilby April 16, 2010 - 5:59 pm

I just saw these for the first time yesterday in Hollis. They are hideous! I couldn’t figure out what they were for. My son said they were either uninviting places to sit or ineffective barriers to sitting.

They are really keep water out? Water? Are they sealed around the bottom?

Jerrold April 16, 2010 - 6:43 pm

You know, I always thought that those grates were there to provide ventilation for the subways.
I mean, why would they have INTENTIONALLY made storm drains that bring rainwater into the subways rather than into the sewer system?

Andrew April 16, 2010 - 7:06 pm

They are there to provide ventilation. But when they’re flush with the sidewalk, they also provide unwanted water.

Jerrold April 16, 2010 - 7:23 pm

Yes, that’s what I thought.
It only seemed a bit confusing to me that they were being
called storm drains.

herenthere April 16, 2010 - 10:47 pm

Like many have said above, although it may prevent rain from flooding into the stations, it really does block much of the sidewalk in crowded areas, forces bus patrons to either wait dangerously next to the curb or obstruct the inner part of the sidewalk, and causes confusion in people that are not taking a certain bus route. Not to mention some of it is already beginning to rust.

Nathanael April 17, 2010 - 1:46 am


Drainage grates are deliberately *below* sidewalk level to collect flood waters. These are *air ventilation* grates, and it makes perfect sense to have them *ABOVE* sidewalk level. In fact, newer subways put them at the second floor atop long ventilation shafts (see Second Avenue Subway). They were a very lazy and irresponsible design originally.

The new design makes a lot of sense.

bus rider April 17, 2010 - 9:14 am

While they may be effective for preventing rains from flooding the subway, they create barriers when trying to get on and off the buses that bring us to the subway. Whatever bus I am on always stops so its back doors are block by the new subway air vents.

pete April 20, 2010 - 9:00 pm

Exactly. They waste valuable space for standing waiting for buses during rush hour. Raising the grate 2-3 inches with beveled concrete edge so they aren’t a tripping hazard would accomplish the same thing.

Scott E April 17, 2010 - 1:01 pm

I suppose it would be possible to have a combination drainage/ventilation grate flush with the sidewalk– the air vents would need to make a couple of turns underground that the air could go around, but the water would fall straight down into the sewer. Of course, all the pieces need to line up properly underground in order to make that work.

It still doesn’t help the women wearing high heels, who need to dodge the grates or get their heels stuck in them.

Dave (LA Artist) April 19, 2010 - 6:56 am

As an artist and public transportation rider, I really hope that someone here in LA is paying attention while our subway system is being extended. Those are beautiful functional art.

Allan April 19, 2010 - 3:37 pm

When I first observed the ones on Hillside AV at Suthpin Blvd (a few days after they were installed, one thing was quite prevalent – they are too close to the curb – anyone in a car who opens the passenger side door without paying attention will get some very deep dents in their car doors. That as well as not being able to get out of the car on the passenger side because even if the doors don;’t get dented, they can’t be opened enough for anyone to get out of the car.

Storm Grate/Seat | OrignauxMoose April 20, 2010 - 5:04 pm

[…] Via Second Avenue Saga […]

Do the MTA cuts leave straphangers lost in bad weather? :: Second Ave. Sagas May 11, 2010 - 12:01 pm

[…] investigation ways to better prepare the subways for weather-related emergencies. Although the raised storm grates should protect the system from massive floods, the MTA still needs to communicate with its […]

SuperSparky May 19, 2010 - 4:38 pm

I don’t live in New York, but I can sympathize with the problem. The problem could have been solved under the streets. Sure, the raised grate may “work”, but it does cause other pedestrian traffic problems.

Why not have a water catch beneath the grate? Something that leaves plenty of room for air circulation, but also catches all the water and pipes it to the drain or a sump. I don’t see how these grates work below, but you can modify (sink) the surface below a grate to sump off the excess water before it flows away and becomes a problem. Heck, on the level below have another grate to catch the water in a sump drain.

Why not have better drainage for the streets instead? How you New Yorkers elect these idiots every time is beyond me. They bandage the problem (thus causing others) and put your city into debt instead of just fix the problem permanently.

Just saying…

Lichanos July 12, 2010 - 1:49 pm

@superparky: The problem could have been solved under the streets…

New York has many infrastructure problems that would not exist if people had been more thoughtful 50, 60, 100 years ago, but they weren’t. These grates strike me as quite handsome, and they will work. They will vent the subway, and they will prevent stormwater from flooding them, which completely shut down the system in 2007.

As many have pointed out, they also create problems, e.g., difficulty getting out of a car in heavy traffic, bus stops, squeezing in high foot traffic areas, etc. Weigh those against total system shut downs every few years. Consider the relatively low cost and ease of construction of these, compared to digging up and re-engineering portions of stations. How many would be addressed how quickly using that approach?

I think the raised grates are an excellent engineering solution that provides some nice aesthetic benefits too. People will have to adjust to them as they adjust to so many problems in NYC. The tradeoff here is pretty darn good.


Leave a Comment