Toward the end of December as his days in office dwindled away, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg rode a 7 train from Times Square into the still-unfinished station at 34th St. and 11th Ave. It was the first — and so far the only — train to make the ride, and while it wasn’t quite a ribbon-cutting, it was a valedictory ride. If all had gone according to plan, the mayor would have inaugurated the station he funded while still in office, but all did not go according to plan.
Since late 2013, all we’ve heard about the 7 line extension are delays. Completion was pushed back from 2013 to early 2014, then mid-2014, then late summer, early fall and now before the end of the year. The MTA is so close to wrapping this project, but with around $60 million worth of work remaining, the finish line has remained frustratingly out of reach. Last week, Matt Flegenheimer explored a source of the delays in a Times article that focused on the station’s incline elevator.
Because the new station had to burrow underneath the 8th Ave. IND, Port Authority underpinnings, the Amtrak tunnel into Manhattan and the Hudson Yards, and the Lincoln Tunnel, the station at 34th St. is very deep. Most riders will be surprised by just how deep it is when they first arrive there, and to build out the station to ADA specifications, the MTA has gone with incline elevators. This is hardly a new technology, but it’s new to New York. That is a recipe for problems, and the elevator failed initial testings last summer. Here’s Flegenheimer’s take on the tale to date:
This is the anatomy of a transit delay — pocked with tales of an ambitious plan, the vagaries of an Italian summer, an unusual funding model and a complex elevator design that had roots in a global landmark and a pyramid-shaped casino, but not in New York’s transportation system…The station, and its unusual elevator, provide a useful case study in the difficulties of capital construction in the city. The idea for a diagonal elevator — two, actually, to go with the station’s escalators and vertical elevators — dates to the project’s genesis more than 10 years ago, the authority said. Angling the structures at an incline was thought to be less expensive than tunneling in relatively straight lines, down and across.
It would also prove a boon to wheelchair users, officials said. A traditional vertical elevator from the upper to the lower mezzanine would have left such passengers about 150 feet from a second elevator that could take them to the platform. But because the incline elevators run parallel to the escalators, Mr. Horodniceanu said, “you are providing a similar experience, irrespective of your handicap.”
Before construction began, the transportation authority led an international search for elevator manufacturers, recommending two companies to Skanska, the project’s general contractor: Maspero and Huetter-Aufzuege, in Germany.
Maspero’s résumé was impressive. Its angled lifts, calling to mind Jetsons-style transport pods, have been chosen to climb slopes in the French Riviera, the Kek Lok Si Temple of Malaysia and a Renzo Piano building in Genoa. The company was selected for the New York elevators. But project administrators preferred that the software and other components come from American companies with whom they were more familiar. (The authority said its contractors, not the agency itself, made these decisions after being presented with performance specifications.) The controller was made on Long Island. The speed governors, or limiters, came from Ohio. Other pieces, like buttons and speakers, were manufactured in Queens.
Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, head of MTA Capital Construction, calls this elevator a “mutt,” and officials have subsequently blamed winter, Italian summers and time for delays in retesting. (It is not the only cause of the delay though as tunnel ventilation tests are delayed and fire protection tests await.) Still, this elevator the description raise some concerns. Though the MTA tells me the “hodgepodge” approach shouldn’t impact maintenance or reliability, there sure are a lot of cooks stirring the soup. It’s concerning that something as relatively simple as an elevator should be so problematic.
Meanwhile, the 7 line can afford this delay. Though some 27,000 daily riders are one day predicted to arrive at this station, that number is dependent upon the completion of the full Hudson Yards project. It’s still years away, and no one will really notice if this station opens now or in 10 months. (In fact, in twenty years, no one will care, but that’s besides the point.)
I bring this up though because uptown and to the east, another subway is growing, and this one is more complicated. It features three new stations and one retrofitted old one. It too will have relatively deep stations, modern ventilation structures and the requisite fire proofing. The Second Ave. Subway is due to wrap in December of 2016, just 31 months from now, and the MTA has vowed to stick to that date. But one would be forgiven for casting a skeptical eye on the Upper East Side as the issues with finishing the 7 line station on time come to the fore.
It’s tough to cross that finish line. We saw a platform gap a few centimeters too wide at South Ferry, and now we’re seeing incline elevators fail testing at Hudson Yards. What troubles await the end of the Second Ave. Subway? Eventually, we’ll find out.