Home Straphangers Campaign Straphangers: Subway station conditions need some work

Straphangers: Subway station conditions need some work

by Benjamin Kabak

Water damage and missing tiles mar the walls at 7th Avenue on the IND Culer Line. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

As far as transit services go, subway stations are caught amidst a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, it’s far more important for the MTA’s offerings to ensure that tracks, its signal system and the rolling stock are in top shape than it is to gussy up its subway stations. On the other hand, though, subway station appearance sets a tone for the level of care the authority gives its outward-looking infrastructure. Decrepit stations with rats and garbage indicates a level of inattention to passenger environment.

Today, the Straphangers Campaign released their assessment of subway station conditions, and the report attempts to quantify what we see on a daily basis. Their team observed 250 station platform at 120 randomly selected stops. That figure, they say, represents 28 percent of the system’s 909 platforms. During the survey, conducted last year, they found some good, some bad and some ugly.

As they highlight it, the good is a bare qualifier. Every station they saw had garbage cans present, and somehow, only one of the 250 suffered from overflowing trash cans. Furthermore, only six percent had visible garbage bags lying about. The bad included rats in 15 out of 139 underground stations — a figure that seemed low to me — missing tile, exposed wiring and cracked floors and staircase. The ugly though was ugly. Nearly 80 percent of stations had substantial peeling paint while 53 percent suffered from water damage.

Yet, despite these findings, I am inclined to think that the Straphangers over-rate the state of the stations. It’s the subtle things that matter. Sure, every station may have a trash can or two, but as I’ve noted in the past, at 7th Ave. on the Culver Line for instance, the last garbage can is a few hundred feet from the end of the platform. Thus, garbage piles up far from the trash receptacle.

Meanwhile, while recently renovated stations alleviate the underground blight, those that haven’t gone under the knife in decades, if ever, look worse for the wear. In the Bronx along the IRT lines, in Brooklyn both above and below ground, throughout Queens, stations are literally falling apart. Walls are bare, floors are grimy, benches are just flat-out gross. Franklin St. in Tribeca might look great, but the 149th St.-Grand Concourse subway station has needed a substantial amount of work for at least two decades, if not longer.

It’s hard to maintain over 468 subway stations, many of which suffer from decades of deferred maintenance. It’s costly and time-consuming to keep up with the seemingly unattainable State of Good Repair, and painting over leaky walls and cracked ceilings is akin to putting make-up on a pig. But between rats and water damager, dark corners and garbage bags, the city’s stations need some help. This report is just another voice calling out for better repairs.

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al February 2, 2012 - 2:16 pm

Sealing cracks and leaks with corrosion inhibitors in the formulation should be a priority. The leaks are probably degrading the reinforced concrete and steel structures. The longer it goes on, the more it costs. When you defer maintenance and repairs of this nature, the repair costs come with interest, and high interest at times. The MTA has component based repairs. This might be one to prioritize.

Peter February 2, 2012 - 2:36 pm

That’s a mighty nasty wall at Seventh Ave, but why do we keep seeing it?

There’s plenty of other decay in the system!

Benjamin Kabak February 2, 2012 - 2:41 pm

Honest answer: Because I haven’t had a chance to take more photos of decay, and I know where these are on flickr (since they’re my photos). I’d love to get some shots of the ruined wall at the southern end of the Manhattan-bound 2/5 platform at Grand Army Plaza or the general state of local stations along the Queens Boulevard line or all of West 4th St., but it’s a matter of time and convenience.

Al D February 2, 2012 - 2:42 pm

A note on the trash cans. They are big and in the way. On island platforms, they are placed in the center, where people are supposed to be moving about, going to and fro, exiting and entering the plaform and so on. But they are in the way especially on crowded platforms. The NB 4 5 6 platform at Union Sq may be the best example of this. The platform is very crowded and narrow, the support columns are unevenly laid out, so there is no continuity of movement. But, it is the trash cans, big and fat and smack dab in the middle of the platform on the only narrow sliver where movement is possible further complicating matters. The solution is simple, move the cans to out of the way. Or, get smaller cans. These 1’s are too big.

John February 2, 2012 - 10:30 pm

Maybe, but how much more trash gets deposited into them because people have no way of avoiding them? If they were moved farther down the platform (toward the rear of the platform), they wouldn’t be utilized as much. The 4/5/6 trains in both directions deposit passengers at the front of the train. Most traffic is concentrated up there, hence the presence of garbage cans there. And the way most people treat the system as it is, the garbage cans need to make themselves as visible as possible, to a fault, to get people to take the hint.

Kareem February 2, 2012 - 3:06 pm

At first I thought that was 7th Ave/53rd street. It has it’s share of issues, as well.

Or the 59th Street Lexington Ave stop were after a storm last summer, there was literally water raining down out of a light fixture on way to the 4,5,6 uptown platforms.

As a native of St. Louis, station conditions aren’t usually an issue, (namely because of the newness of the system; the original alignment started in 1993), but the conditions of some subway stations West 4th, as well as others I didn’t see in my three month stint in NYC, are nothing less than shocking.

Andrew February 2, 2012 - 9:09 pm

Are you sure that was a light fixture and not an illuminated showerhead?

Clint Guyon February 2, 2012 - 4:02 pm

The 21st-Van Alst (new transfer from the G to the 7) seems practically in Newtown Creek, for all the seepage and decaying walls and missing tiles.

Eric February 3, 2012 - 12:52 pm

It’s misleading to say that 21st is the “new transfer” from the G to 7–it’s a temporary out-of-system transfer while the Court Square 7 station is being worked on–but you are correct that 21st St is a disgrace. Sadly, it doesn’t get much ridership and will probably never be redone.

Greg February 2, 2012 - 4:40 pm

Will the fast track program ever expand outside of manhattan below 59th street, especially to the outer boroughs?

Brian February 2, 2012 - 8:22 pm

Probably not, since most of the routes in the outer boroughs don’t have other routes that parallel them as extensive as the routes in Manhattan have.

Andrew February 2, 2012 - 8:47 pm

The only places I can think of where this would work are the Concourse line north of 161st and the Flushing line between Hunters Point and Manhattan. Not only does there need to be a nearby parallel route, the line being shut down also needs to be underground.

Matthias February 3, 2012 - 11:44 am

Why does it need to be underground?

Jerrold February 2, 2012 - 9:25 pm

Not exactly on-topic, but I wanted this to be seen.
Does Ben or anybody else know anything about the new Grand Central entrance on 47th St. between Park and Lexington? Is it opening anytime soon?

Benjamin Kabak February 2, 2012 - 9:27 pm

First quarter of 2012. They have until the end of March basically.

Miles Bader February 2, 2012 - 11:42 pm

“It’s hard to maintain over 468 subway stations” seems a slightly odd statement — surely in any sane system, income / funding are roughly proportional to size and usage, … right?

Bolwerk February 3, 2012 - 8:10 am

So is graft and waste!

Kai B February 3, 2012 - 8:45 am

Aside from a few historic stations, the MTA should come up with a better wall maintenance system. Plastic panels or something along those lines. It’s the 21st century and those tiles are simply not maintainable in the long run. Even stations that were renovated around ten years ago (Bergen on the F&G & Metropolitan) are starting to look bad again.

Bolwerk February 3, 2012 - 12:16 pm

I don’t see why plastic panels would work better than tile. Seems the problem they need to address is drainage. Water shouldn’t be pouring down your walls like that.


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