On a rainy Monday afternoon, the day after New Years, I hopped on the F train in Brooklyn. I wound my way up through Park Slope and Carroll Gardens and under the East River. I slinked through the Lower East Side, Greenwich Village, and Midtown. All for the sole purpose of transferring to the uptown bound Q-train at 63rd and Lexington. The uptown Q—the Second Avenue Subway—alive and ready for travelers after its inaugural run on January 1st.
The transfer from the F line to the Q line, was admittedly a bit undramatic, because all I had to do was walk across the platform. The spectacle came later when I got off at 86th Street. When I pulled out my phone and started snapping at every flashing and cool thing I saw along with my fellow New Yorkers and tourists.
It was pretty obvious that most of the people wandering the platform and in the station at 86th Street on the Second Avenue Subway, were there to see it just like me. They weren’t all transit nerds, eager to welcome in a new subway. They were art enthusiasts drooling over the beautiful mosaics. They were locals introducing their children to the new ride in town. People literally hopping from station to station to check it out, after waiting years in anticipation.
Without the wear and tear of thousands upon thousands of daily commuters, the station is clean. There’s no trash or broken tiles. No leaking roof or derelict movie posters from 10 months ago. It’s clean. Almost disturbingly so. And the combination of the perfectly working florescent lighting, concrete, and cleanliness give it a sense of being less a subway station in New York City and more a beautifully decorated underground bunker or furniture warehouse missing the furniture. You feel a sense of perhaps being in the London Tube—except the trains aren’t as nice and don’t run as fast—it doesn’t feel like New York.
It doesn’t feel like New York, but that’s not a bad thing. A lot has been made over how expensive the art installations were in the stations. But one thing is for sure—of the two stations I saw the art was completely impressive and decidedly added the same character that other mosaics in other stations created decades ago.
The big plus, the thing that rocked me out of my socks and put a skip in my step though were the escalators. It’s not something you see very often in New York. In fact, in terms of handicap accessibility, the New York metro system is near the bottom, with few stations having elevators, let along escalators. So seeing escalators running from the lowest platforms to the street was a wondrous, happy sight. (I’ll pause here for a second and vent by saying that there were still some accessibility problems. The 96th Street station had 3 escalators running between the walkway and the train platform, all going up—so sorry to all the folks who have mobility issues that hinder their ability to go downstairs. The same station, though it has an elevator, also requires you take 3 steps up in order to get to the initial escalator at the street level—why New Yorkers seem to see no problem with this is beyond comprehension. But, this is not that article and the fight for accessibility planning will have to be wrought another day). It may only be four stations, but it’s a pleasant sight to see escalators finally becoming a part of subway life.
With the Second Avenue Subway still in its infancy, there’s no real way to measure what success will look like. It’s already predicted, and rightfully so that the cost of living along Second Avenue and to the east will go up—as a neighborhood once relatively protected from rising rents due to lack of accessibility, now has a way to get around the City without walking five super blocks. The Second Avenue Subway Q line only covers four stations on the Upper East Side, requiring many individuals to transfer to get to their points of destination downtown. So the real question will be whether ridership is successful once the hype and freshness of the new stations dies down. I was there on a Monday, the day after New Years, surrounded by people not commuting but goggling at the new fancy thing in the City. If I’ve learned anything living in New York for over three years, however, its that New Yorkers love options. Even if the stations do not result in sky-high ridership, people will use it, because it’s another way to get to wherever it is you’re going.