Sunday, August 31, 2014

Update: "Is this why we hate the gummint?" -- the sequel


Again, pay no attention to the "NO BICYCLE RIDING IN SUBWAY TUNNEL" sign. After all, no bicycle riders did in the time the sign was up. It's gone now.

by Ken

I just wanted to provide a quick update on the situation ("Closed for repairs that aren't being made: Is this why we hate the gummint?," December 10) at the entrance to the three-block-long pedestrian tunnel that links my stretch of upper Broadway (roughly at what would be 190th Street) to the IRT 191st Street station of the no. 1 train to the east, which lies far below St. Nicholas Avenue -- it's the deepest station in the subway system -- running north-south atop Fort George hill.

It's a tunnel of considerable historical -- and present-day -- importance, providing acess fromt the north-south valley in which Broadway runs, between the Fort George hill and the Fort Washington hill to the west -- to mass rapid transit. (Later, when the IND train that's now the A was dug beneath the Fort Washington hill, shorter pedestrian tunnels were built to join the valley to its 181st and 190th Street stations.)

At the entrance from Broadway, as I tried to explain, there is an immediate descent of about a story to the grade of the tunnel, which is managed two ways. The width of the opening is split in half, the left half as you face the tunnel being a stairway, the right half a fairly steep concrete ramp.

Last month, flimsy wooden barriers suddenly appeared at the top and bottom of the stairway, with cryptic signs stating that it would be closed for necessary repairs from 7/12/14 to 8/12/14. Well, what are you going to do? Necessary repairs are, you know, necessary. (A commenter on my original post contributed the helpful information that "actually, one of the steps is broken.") And, after all, we still had access to -- and egress from -- this vital tunnel via the ramp. Or at least access/egress of a sort; the incline is pretty steep. For some of us, it's manageable but not easily so. I imagine that for others it's just plain not manageable.

The thing was, though, that as days and weeks passed, and 8/12 began to become closer than 7/12, there was no evidence of any attention of any kind to these famously necessary repairs. ABout the only development was a gradual accumulation of trash on the orphaned steps. As the supposed reopening date of 8/12 approached, there was still no indication of any of this necessary repair work being begun. No doubt there were other necessary repair projects around town deemed more necessary -- not to mention conceivable others on the to-do list that weren't getting much more attention than ours.

What's more, it wasn't at all clear where one might complain, or inquire. The pair of signs at the head and foot of the steps didn't indicate who had closed off the steps, or who could provide information. I should explain that jurisdiction in the tunnel is always problematic. Since it's officially mapped as a street, New York City Transit, which operates the subways (itself a division of the MTA, the Metropolitan Transportation Association), always points out that it's under the control of the NYC Dept. of Transportation. For such cleaning of the tunnel as is done, DoT hands off to the Dept. of Sanitation. On the signs, no agency claimed, er, credit for the planning and accomplishment of the necessary repairs. Meanwhile, one recalled tales told of street-connecting stairways around town -- there are some pretty big hills in parts of NYC -- remaining closed and unrepaired for eons.

I first wrote about this situation, with 8/12 on the horizon and still no evidence of the start of work. This led me to wonder whether this sort of thing isn't why we hate government? Then 8/12 came and went. Still nothing.

Until one day -- maybe ten days ago, as I recall -- the lower "barricade" (really just a wood frame held up by police-activity-type yellow tape) was down. Literally down, lying flat on the floor of the tunnel at the foot of the steps. A day or two later the upper barricade was down too! At which point intrepid pedestrians began stomping over the downed barricades to resume use of the now-heavily-trash-littered steps.

A couple of days later, both barricades could be found leaning against the wall of the tunnel, leaving free access to the steps! And then, one day earlier this week, they were gone, vanished! And the steps themselves had been swept, perhaps the most miraculous occurrence in the whole business. Cleaning of the tunnel is always a rarely practiced and highly contentious affair, with NYCT, DoT, and Sanitation pointing "Who, us?" fingers. I'm embarrassed to say that many of my fellow tunnel-walkers are wicked bad litterers. (I just noticed that Wikipedia says "the passageway . . . is maintained by the Parks Department rather than the MTA." Okay.)

And this is where the matter stands. The steps are once again freely accessible, still in need of those necessary repairs. (I really must remember to look for that broken step.) Where the barricades came from and where they went remain a mystery.

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At 2:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the riders of mass transit who normally use the 191st Street station, how far out of their way did they have to go to access transit while the stair barricades were up?

John Puma

At 12:01 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

John, for those who were unable to use the steep ramp, it's an enormous walk-around to get up or down what is pretty much a cliff, either by roundabout city streets or a pretty steep path in a park over the tunnel. It's a tough walk if you're exiting the station to Broadway, when it's all downhill; if you want to get to the station from Broadway, it's a heavy-duty workout.

That's why the tunnel was built in the first place. When the IRT subway was extended to Washington Heights, this stretch of upper Broadway down in the valley still wasn't developable -- until the tunnel was dug through.



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