Home MTA Construction Poll: The least worst approach to shutting down subway stations

Poll: The least worst approach to shutting down subway stations

by Benjamin Kabak

It’s no small thing for the MTA to opt to shut down a subway station. New Yorkers hate disruption and love convenience, and when the MTA starts adding ten or 15 additional minutes of walking per day — an hour a week — subway riders start grumbling. After enough time, grumbling turns into complaints and complaints turn into resentment, and as Yoda once didn’t say, resentment leads to the Dark Side.

All of the talk lately of shutting down subway stations to improve the speed and efficiency of MTA work has led to a rigorous debate in various circles regarding neighborhood and rider preferences. During his remarks two weeks ago on the MTA’s plans to close 30 subway stations for extended periods of time to allow construction crews 24/7 access to that station, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast said his customers would prefer a shorter full-time shutdown rather than years of weekend uncertainty and inconvenience.

The matter is far from settled, and it will come up again over the next few months as the MTA attempts to determine how best to handle the looming L train shutdown. That work, related to Sandy recovery efforts, is far more extensive than a simple station rehabilitation, and the MTA has little choice but to shutdown the Canarsie Tubes for extended periods of time. It’s nearly impossible for this Fix & Fortify work to do anything other than wreck havoc on Williamsburg, Bushwick and points east, and as real estate speculators circle, the debate over the proper length of any shutdown will rage.

The poll I pose tonight focuses more on the 30 stations and less on the L train. As the MTA embarks on a yet another new way to strive toward a State of Good Repair, would you prefer to see stations closed entirely for 3-6 months or closed on weekends for three years? I’m not sure there’s a right or better answer yet, and I’m curious to hear from you, my riders. So vote in the poll and feel free to voice your opinion in the comments.

Which station rehabilitation option would you prefer?
View Results

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Alex January 19, 2016 - 1:22 am

For me it depends. My beef with the looming station shutdowns is that the work they’re talking about simply doesn’t sound extensive enough to warrant 6-12 month full station closures. You can update lights and signs while the station remains in service. Now if there’s much more to this station work that we haven’t yet heard about, that’s a different story. Bottom line is this: if they’re closing stations for months, the before and after had better be dramatic.

RH January 19, 2016 - 1:38 am

This hits the nail on the head. I think one of the big problems with these service changes is that to the naked eye, nothing really changes. Stations are still dirty, escalators frequently broken, etc. To make matters worse, when stations are out of service on weekends (i.e. when the 6 runs local bypassing Spring, Astor, etc.) it is rare to see anyone actually working on these stations as the train crawls by on the express track. There may be work being done, but to the casual observer, nothing is happening. This leads to further distrust, frustration and resentment.

Eric January 19, 2016 - 9:18 am

As always, it comes down to corrupt unions.

SEAN January 19, 2016 - 9:26 am

You are above that – aren’t you?

Jason January 19, 2016 - 11:37 am

It is clear cut they do not do much work. The current work rules means there is a ton of downtime with a crap load of them standing or sitting and doing nothing waiting for a tenth of their number to finish what they are doing. It is inefficient and a waste of money. This is not just in the subway MOW either. The stories I have heard about the LIRR and what they do at Morris Park and Hillside Facilities as well as the fact that currently they are actually fighting against mobile ticketing when other agencies across the country have easily implemented for their conductors is disgusting.

SEAN January 19, 2016 - 12:43 pm

The LIRR issue is unique & shouldn’t be the basis for drawing any conclusions or comparison.

Jason January 19, 2016 - 1:06 pm

*snort* No, it is not. One just simply need to look at the utter lack of work done by MOW crews in any part of the subway system as you pass at restricted speed on the express track. The work ethos in the two agencies goes hand in hand.

adirondacker12800 January 19, 2016 - 2:14 pm

Doing work on the track while the train is passing over it wasn’t even done in the 19th Century. As your train passes through they are going to be safe distance away. Many times that means they have to stop work and move away.

Brooklynite January 19, 2016 - 5:08 pm

How about when the train is passing on an adjacent track? Or when I’m waiting for the train and see a bunch of workers lounging around doing nothing? There are plenty of issues, and the MTA IG reports are just the beginning.

mister January 19, 2016 - 8:14 pm

Working on the tracks is nothing like working on your house. Often times, they have no choice but to wait until preparations are made to work safely. So yes, it does seem like workers are ‘lounging’, but that is a function of working in an area with restricted clearance and many job hazards. I’ve had my frustrations with the process in the past, but there has been some attempt to address some of this (FASTRACK for one).

For sure, there is a lot of inefficiency, but trying to judge how much work is getting done from a window of a passing vehicle is not really an accurate way to get an idea.

Brooklynite January 20, 2016 - 4:22 pm

While judging from the platform or passing train obviously isn’t all that accurate, it’s the best thing we, as passengers without inside info, can go by. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been near a worksite and seen >50% of the people there actually doing something. At what point does it stop being a passenger moaning after seeing a few anecdotal instances and start being a systemic issue?

adirondacker12800 January 20, 2016 - 5:01 pm

If they were to wait until the last instant and then leap between the tracks you wouldn’t see them at all. And then whine that no one was doing anything.

AMH January 19, 2016 - 10:44 am

You mean when the 6 runs express, right? Frequently those service changes close a bunch of stations (or platforms) just to allow work on a single switch or cable somewhere. There needs to be more coordination to get the maximum amount of work done during a given reroute, as is done during FASTRACK when station cleaning, track work, etc. happen simultaneously, but I think one factor is the shortage of construction workers (though that may be truer for heavy construction than for maintenance).

Alex January 19, 2016 - 12:04 pm

Yup. My station, Prospect Ave in Brooklyn, is on the list. The thing is, there’s nothing functionally wrong with it. It’s drab and lacks a PA system, but it’s difficult for me to see what would necessitate a 6+ month shutdown.

The most obvious work that station needs is to repair leaks that have been damaging the ceiling and tiles on the trackside curtain wall. But those aren’t things an individual station shutdown would expedite given trains would still be running through. Adding entrances (the Bay Ridge-bound side really could use another staircase) and elevators or platform doors might make such a shutdown worthwhile, but I don’t believe any of that is being considered here.

I get there’s some work that is structural and doesn’t necessarily make a big difference to customers and maybe that’s the case with this. But as you note there’s a lack of trust because all too often we see signs saying “XYZ is being done here” but it seems to take forever and frequently runs much longer than original time estimates. It shouldn’t take 4 months to redo a single set of stairs, and yet that’s our frame of reference for work like this.

Bolwerk January 19, 2016 - 10:45 am

Guessing they need to do a full inspection, probably need to tear out all tracks and components, shore up any deficiencies including potential flooding vectors for Sandy repeats, and then rebuild. I can see why that’d take months, and I think we should all rather they take months doing that rather than let a Sandy repeat make matters so much worse than fixing it takes years.

Also, might I suggest that this actually won’t be as apocalyptic as everyone says? Don’t get me wrong: it’s going to suck. But basically, between the A, C, J, M, Z, and G everyone will still be able to get to work. The apocalypse talk is probably because of a road traffic heuristic that makes people assume every little loss in capacity leads to dire consequences, which is of course true on a highway during the morning rush.

Alex January 19, 2016 - 11:42 am

I was referring to the 30 station revamps Cuomo announced in this case rather than the L train tube closure. My point of reference is my closest station, Prospect Ave, which is the only station along that stretch of 4th Ave in Brooklyn slated to be shuttered, so trains will still be running on the tracks there.

Bolwerk January 19, 2016 - 1:23 pm

Ah, sorry, it was the “dramatic” part that threw me actually. :-p

Evenso, the issue is probably similar. Both people using the station and trains passing through the station amplify the precautions that must be taken to rehab a station.

Joe January 19, 2016 - 1:14 pm

Yeah, this is the part I have trouble understanding as well.

Chicago has a similar “all at once” effort called Renew Crew, in which teams of workers from all different departments swarm stations and refresh them all at onceā€”deep cleaning, repairs, flooring, walls, tiling, lighting, signage, elevators, etc. simultaneously. However, they do not shut down stations with the Renew Crew, they just cordon off areas or entrances/exits as necessary and there are a ton of workers milling about while they’re working on it. It’s a little hectic/noisy at times, but they retain full service.

From what I saw when I lived there, it worked really well and stations would look dramatically nicer when they were finished and the program was well-liked.


SEAN January 19, 2016 - 3:21 pm

I just read the scope of the program & it’s quite extensive. Hope the CTA follows up regularly once station work is completed at each location.

Christopher January 19, 2016 - 4:46 pm

The CTA stations are in stellar shape. New platform decks, new signage. The Renew Crews are an effective system, and this is already a modification of the original system where they didn’t just shut down stations parts of entire lines. That didn’t work as well as they hoped in terms of customer service and so the CTA modified that system. This is ideally how you should operate, try something, measure effectiveness, adjust. Would be grand if the MTA would do the same instead of bouncing from one half conceived idea to another.

SEAN January 19, 2016 - 7:48 pm

I remember the original program that the CTA attempted on the Green line in the late 1990’s. It took several years to get the ridership numbers to return to preconstruction levels as the entire line was rebuilt from the ground up & caused massive disruptions. Today – ridership has risen well beyond 1998 levels the most recent peek.

It’s amazing how much the CTA has on it’s plate & getting it all done as compared to the MTA.

mister January 19, 2016 - 8:45 pm

Before we heap nothing but praise on CTA, let’s remember that they have a notable amount of trackage that has slow zones due to the rails not being in a state of good repair.

SEAN January 20, 2016 - 9:33 am

True – but if you refer to the link above & go to the projects page, that issue is in process of being resolved. Where they stand on it, I don’t know since the existing pages have been up for at least a year & a half.

mister January 19, 2016 - 1:40 am

Mr. Kabak, why are you and every other media member covering transit pretending like this is a new thing? Because Cuomo made a grand announcement?

You just made a blog post that included information about the shutdown of virtually the entire Sea Beach line in one direction at a time. We just saw stations on the Liberty Line shutdown in 2015 to accommodate station rehabs over there. Ditto for the Pelham line. As I mentioned in a comment on a previous post, the Early 90s rehabilitation of the Nevins street transfer point included station shutdowns. That was a major transfer point being completely closed.

This is not anything new. When NYCT can shutter a station to aid in the process of rehabbing it, they do so. Just because the governor is touting this as some kind of new way of doing business doesn’t mean that we should be buying into the hype.

pete January 19, 2016 - 12:14 pm

Franklin Avenue Shuttle in the 1990s was also full long term shutdown.

pete January 19, 2016 - 12:15 pm

Manhattan Bridge was a 20 year subway shutdown IIRC.

SEAN January 19, 2016 - 12:38 pm

But wasn’t that a total rebuild of not only subway infrastructure, but the bridge as well?

Benjamin Kabak January 19, 2016 - 1:57 pm

I’m not covering this as though it’s a new thing. In fact, in various outlets, I specifically stated this is not new, and right now, there are full station shutdowns along the 3 in Brooklyn and one-way shutdowns along the Sea Beach line. That said, doing so many at once and in high-ridership areas is a relatively new idea, and the purpose of the poll is for me to see what my readers prefer.

I’d also add that the new element of this concerns design-build and a public admission that shutting down stations can lead to more efficient and economical work. The new part is making a case for it all.

mister January 19, 2016 - 8:05 pm

I don’t see that any of these stations are a bigger impact than the shut down of Nevins was. Are they going to shut them all down at once, or is this part of a multi-year plan? Design Build has also been used by MTA before, although not on a Station Rehab that I’m familiar with. Everyone knows that full shutdowns are more economical, which is why they are done whenever possible.

I just don’t see that this is really a big deal. The bigger story is about the lack of a clear plan to fund any of the billions in obligations that Cuomo is rapidly accruing. Kudos to you for calling him on this before, but all this fuss over what is essentially a non-story is detracting from real issues: the lack of dedicated funding, the inaction on SAS phase II and the overall lack of commitment to mass transit that the current administration is displaying.

Tower18 January 19, 2016 - 3:07 pm

As you mentioned, previous station closures have generally been one direction at a time. Closing an entire station in both directions for months to do cosmetic work *is* a new thing. Whether it’s a good idea or not is relevant discussion, but this isn’t exactly the same as Brighton, Sea Beach, etc. past work.

Michael January 19, 2016 - 1:57 am

I don’t question the method of shutting down stations for 3-6 months, but I do question the choice of stations. I live off the Clinton-Washington C, and our station isn’t in particularly bad repair. They just installed entry gates so that the exit-only end of the Euclid Ave-bound platform is now also an entrance, and they completely redid all of the stairway entrances. I guess I don’t know what exactly they’re going to do that necessitates a 3-6 month closure.

AMH January 19, 2016 - 10:45 am

I also wonder what the criteria are for this list. They are not the stations I would have expected.

Maria January 19, 2016 - 3:10 pm

Same here. I also live on the C (Kingston-Throop, also on the list) and while it’s kind of a pit and the MetroCard machines suck, it ‘s not one of those stations that has the constant river in the tracks like some do when it’s not even raining. Bowery on the J, on the other hand: one of the most falling-apart and dilapidated stations I’ve ever seen, and not on the list.

Phantom January 19, 2016 - 5:21 pm

I do question the choice of stations

Could not agree more. The Bay Ridge Avenue station is my home station, and there is nothing serious that is visibly wrong with it.

I’ve seen stations in much worse repair, including 149 and 138 St Grand Concourse, Chambers St J / Z station, etc.

Its as though they picked these stations out of a hat

Eric January 20, 2016 - 4:00 am

Those are busier stations – more disruptive to close

John January 20, 2016 - 11:25 am

The Chambers Street J/Z isn’t on this list, but it is one of the items on the 2015-19 capital budget.

Larry Littlefield January 19, 2016 - 7:14 am

I prefer to get it over with. We can’t afford to do otherwise.

The question is, why does it take so long even so compared with how long it took to build things to start with?

And why does it always seem to be in the dead of winter, forcing people to walk further in the dark and cold? The last time they had shutdowns along the F in Brooklyn, the line was shut in one direction during the winter, the work took a break in the summer, and the other side was shut down the next winter.

anon_coward January 19, 2016 - 9:39 am

when they did this in Brooklyn around 5 years ago on another line they demolished the platforms and built new ones. Only complaint i had was i never saw more than half a dozen people working at one time.

Larry Littlefield January 19, 2016 - 12:29 pm

Just like residential contractors, MTA contractors grab business they can’t fully staff. Thus you have shutdowns that don’t work unless they are given change orders for even more work.

The aren’t going to do that to the private sector, because they would lose future work. But if the MTA disbarred all those who screwed them or screwed up, there would be no one left.

anon_coward January 19, 2016 - 12:48 pm

they finished the work on time, but i thought it was strange that coming back from work i would only see a few people working on a station. they probably had a lot more people do the major work like pouring the new concrete, but the finishing part that took months i never saw more than a few people at a time.

LLQBTT January 19, 2016 - 9:25 am

Can this work be done with an overnight shutdown weeknights and say weekend closures 1x/month? Any weeknight shuttle buses would run far better overnight, lessening inconvenience, than during weekday traffic.

The problem with a full shutdown is that MTA construction timelines cannot be trusted. What happens when 6 months turns into a year?

mfs January 19, 2016 - 10:20 am

It really really depends on the situation. If it means walking an extra 4 blocks in each direction, okay. If it means adding 30 minutes to rush hour travel, then it’s very difficult for many folks. And if it turns out to be +12 months instead of 3-6, then that’s a problem.

When they closed the Smith-9th Street station, I believe MTA said it would be for less than a year:

Didn’t reopen for at least 18 months, maybe 2 years.

In the meantime, folks crowded onto the inadequate B61, making what was a 10-15 minute (if you’re lucky) trip to the subway into a 30-45 minute trip.

If it means they get to rehab 50 stations instead of 20, then now we are talking.

JEG January 19, 2016 - 11:23 am

I think the MTA is slowly moving away from the idea that the subway system can be maintained while operating 24/7. My question, however, is whether this represents a smart, long-overdue management decision for how to maintain a mass transit system, or merely a concession that things have deteriorated to such a point, that the MTA has been forced to take increasingly drastic actions simply to maintain the system at current levels.

I always presumed that for the MTA to recover from a generation of disinvestment, it would take two generations of investment. But now have we reached some sort of tipping point in which the MTA has moved from off-hours work schedules, to Fastrack, to long-term station and tunnel closures simply to maintain the system, or are these programs actually going to put the MTA on a footing actually improve the system?

That to me is an open question. I think the system is much better than I recall in the late-1980s, for instance, newer cars, or superior communications systems in the station and in cars. But in many other ways the system has much farther to go, particularly the slow pace of station renovations, CBTC, etc.

pete January 19, 2016 - 12:26 pm

The shutdowns and detours will never go away at MTA and only get worse until the subway is open only during rush hour. So few people actually work during the work windows, lets say 60 feet of tie plates was replaced each night over a 6 hour “official” window, that they will never stop replacing tie plates each night, for the next 1000 years. For 1 mile, 60 feet of tie plates on 1 track each night, of a 4 track line, (5280/60)*4, means 352 night time detours/slow zones/GOs a year. The average branch in NYCT is 6 miles long. So you really need atleast ((5280*6)/60)*4=2100 days a year to avoid nightly shutdowns. Its like the mail, it keeps coming and coming, and you dont have to deliver it at NYCT, just sit in an orange vest on a subway bench and read the newspaper and get paid.

JJJ January 19, 2016 - 5:42 pm

This is the kind of thing MTA should be asking on a station by station basis. Let the actual users decide.

Duke January 19, 2016 - 6:52 pm

One thing we have in New York that works to our benefit in this case: a large number of stations that tend not to be spaced particularly far apart. This makes it considerably easy to do short term complete shutdowns.

Thus, I’m all about the “rip the bandaid off” method. Close the station, get in, do what has to be done, get out and move on. Cheaper and more effective than a futile effort to try and keep the disruption minimal. In New York in 2016, there is no point where you can close something and have it not be disruptive. Best to just get it over with.

That said, I will caveat this in one particular way: if a cluster of stations see large enough ridership (say, on the N/Q in Astoria), it may be problematic to start closing them during peak times not because people can’t deal with the longer walk to detour, but because the adjacent stations can’t absorb the displaced passengers without creating crush load problems.

For that particular case, I would suggest handling it by taking the outbound track out of service and rehabbing all of the outbound platforms at once, with temporary platforms over the outbound track at 39th, 36th, Broadway, and 30th to serve outbound trains running on the center track. Once done, repeat the process with the inbound side.

Michael549 January 20, 2016 - 2:27 am

From a previous message:

“For that particular case, I would suggest handling it by taking the outbound track out of service and rehabbing all of the outbound platforms at once, with temporary platforms over the outbound track at 39th, 36th, Broadway, and 30th to serve outbound trains running on the center track. Once done, repeat the process with the inbound side.”

On three track elevated stations with side platforms – just how do the passengers on the temporary platforms board or exit the temporary platforms with out the usage of the closed side platform? Overpasses above the trains? Shifting entrances & exits from the side under-construction platform as the work progresses? Just wondering.


Duke January 21, 2016 - 12:21 am

Use the existing stairways and keep part of the platform immediately at the top of them in service to serve as a connector to the temporary platform. Redo these spots and the stairs with shorter term (weekend) total closures.

Alon Levy January 20, 2016 - 4:03 pm

The most important question is what the MTA’s backlog history is. There should be a public backlog, with a price figure, and it should be visibly decreasing every year as the MTA spends more money on SOGR. Otherwise, it raises questions like “what has all the SOGR money of the last 35 years done?”.

AlexB January 21, 2016 - 11:46 am

In Astoria, they have 4 stations on the list of shutdowns that are all in a row: 39th Ave, 36th Ave, Broadway and 30th Ave. Granted these stations are decrepit and disgusting but WTF? That leaves no stops between Astoria Blvd and Queensboro Plaza. Sure, the Steinway and 36th St stops on the M/R can take some of the burden, but for anyone living west of 31st St, you’re basically screwed. The bus service in this area is poor; everyone relies on the N/Q. 31st St is a congested road with one lane of traffic in each direction, making it tough to provide adequate shuttle bus service. Even if you need to shut all these stations down, they could at least stagger them so people could still walk to a functional station somewhere. Close 39th Ave and Broadway, and then 36th Ave and 30th Ave after those are complete. Maybe that’s the plan anyway, but it’s not clear if so.

Pslopian January 24, 2016 - 3:28 pm

Seven Manhattan-bound platforms on the N line will be closed for six months for repairs; then the same thing on the outbound side, requiring passengers to ride up to six stops in the wrong direction, then cross over.

Would it not make more sense to close entirely alternate stations along this stretch, work on both platforms simultaneously, and then do the same on the rest? Wouldn’t most customers prefer to walk a few extra blocks to an open station to riding miles out of their way? I would.


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