If the city’s subway service weren’t already abysmal enough for residents looking to ride into Manhattan, it’s actually about to get even more complicated.
Beginning Jan. 5, uptown and downtown 1 trains won’t stop at the West 168th Street station for at least the next year because the group of elevators that connect the 1 to the outside world — including both the A and C trains — is being replaced. Four new elevator cars will be installed at the station, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, plus structural upgrades to elevator shafts and stairways, as well as mechanical component replacement.
The station has suffered a great deal of water intrusion and decay over the years, which has reduced the reliability of the elevators.
“Because of these factors and the fact that these stations are located so far beneath the ground, the work is very complicated and can’t be done just during overnight hours,” said MTA spokesman Andrei Berman in a statement.
While it’s hard to argue the elevators are old and need work, it’s also undeniable the project adds yet another hiccup to thousands of riders’ daily travels to jobs, doctor’s appointments and downtown cultural hotspots during a particularly frosty stretch of the year. But to say these particular stations (and elevators) are old is an understatement. Three out of the four elevators shafts are more than a century old, according to Berman, and much of the elevator machinery is nearly there.
Yet, new elevators at West 168th are a welcome upgrade to Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the council’s transportation committee, who’s been fighting for them since he was elected in 2009. But now that work is finally set to begin, Rodriguez said, ensuring riders have alternative travel options is key.
The MTA says renovations will benefit 35,000 daily riders by providing more reliable elevator service and better passenger flow. In the meantime, as an alternative, riders can use the A or C train at West 168th, or the 157th Street stop on the 1 line before transferring to an M5 bus.
Although Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz appreciates the much-needed renovation, he also hopes the MTA can shorten the construction time, if even only by a little bit.
“I’m not happy that it has to be that way, but the work is necessary and I hope that there is a way for them to do it more quickly,” Dinowitz said. “It certainly is going to be a big inconvenience for a lot of people, but the elevators that are there now are old and unreliable, and I don’t doubt that work has to be done.”
When the work is all finished, the elevator doors will open at both the front and rear of each of the four elevators, while the rear passageway behind the elevators that meet the 1 train will be reopened after years of closure. Improvements also will include the renovation of emergency stairs, a lighting upgrade, concrete repairs, and the installation of new handrails.
Rodriguez also would like to see the MTA improve accessibility by installing a ramp from the elevators to the subway platform. Residents, workers and patients of New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s West 168th Street campus all rely on the elevators at the heavily trafficked station, the councilman added.
Inconvenient as temporarily shutting the station down may be, repairs are sorely needed, said MTA board member Charles Moerdler.
“It’s one of the three deepest subway stations” in the city’s system, Moerdler said, “where the walk upstairs is, for many people, just intolerable. The elevators have been a real problem, and when they break, the people complain.”
Smoke seeped into subway tunnels just a few months ago, Moerdler added. Evacuating riders proved difficult, and the ancient-like elevators didn’t help matters.
“There were a lot of people complaining, saying, ‘You’ve got to fix or replace those on an ongoing basis,’” Moerdler said.
“And if that is so, it takes a long time to do it.”
Of course, Marble Hill, Kingsbridge and Riverdale residents — so often plagued by inferior, inconvenient public transit service — aren’t the only ones affected. Jeremy Thomas, a resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, rides the subway just about every day to get to his advertising job in Herald Square. He boarded a rickety downtown 1 at West 168th late Monday night after visiting a friend who lives in the neighborhood.
Thomas isn’t looking forward to the yearlong shutdown — he’ll probably visit less frequently, he said, while urging his friend, who also depends heavily on the stop, to venture south more often. At the same time, however, he realizes the work is necessary.
“If it’s elevator replacement, that’s structural maintenance that needs to be done,” Thomas said. “It’d be nice if there were stairs or some other way to get to it without shutting the whole station down. But the subway system is pretty (expletive), so (the MTA needs) to do a lot of work on it, one station at a time.”