New York City’s new math: 100 years, $4.5 billion, 3 subway stops.
New Year’s Day 2017 saw the ribbon cut on the first phase of the Second Avenue subway, the locally-mythic train touted to alleviate the overburdened east side subways since the late 1920s. A Great Depression, a world war and a City bankruptcy interfered with its execution. After nearly 10 years of actual construction and neighborhood misery, three airy, clean and art-filled stations opened for business.
Originally planned to run the length of the Manhattan island, the Second Avenue subway is being operated as an extension of an existing “Q” subway line from the south, ending at East 96th Street to the north. Design work for a second phase to extend to Harlem is supposedly in a near-future capital plan. Long range plans call for a third phase to run south to Houston Street and a fourth on to the Financial District. Given that the ground-breaking ceremony for this present phase occurred in 1972, the City’s collective breath is not being held. (That expansion funds depend upon Trump’s whims adds a frisson of uncertainty.)
The actual construction of the subway was made possible by a large borer that ground its way under this heavily populated area. For nearly a decade, local residents and businesses lived through the noise and dirt of a construction site, with storefronts sealed off by plywood and cyclone fence barriers. Real estate values plunged. In typical New York fashion, now articles speculate about higher prices.
At the moment, the new stations are a minor tourist destination, one that is making locals smile, at least. The aesthetic of the new stations builds upon previous ones, and with visual connections between levels, creates a sense of openness the old stations couldn’t attain. With its escalators, stairs and elevators, these stations are more accessible than most. A mechanical cooling system, which is not quite air-conditioning, is supposed to reduce the station’s overall temperature in the summer.
At two stations, white tiles (in this case porcelain panels not traditional ceramic subway tiles) are punctuated by large-scale mosaics created by well-known artists. Vic Muniz (72nd Street), Chuck Close (86th Street) and Sarah Sze (96th Street) were chosen by the MTA’s Arts & Design department from a pool of 300 applicants and were each given an entire station to work with. Most of the artwork is on the mezzanine and entrance levels, not on the platforms. Only the 96th Street station breaks out of the traditional approach. Here the art and the walls are one.
Starting from 72nd Street (for slide show, click on any image):
All photos by Carol Berens