In Forgotten NY’s early days, in 1999 and 2000, I posted a number of pages about subway archaisms and leftover signage and structures (go to Explore FNY on the left, open the Subways category, and scroll to the bottom for the older posts). I still have a fascination for them and duly post when I find something like that — I have some photos from the IRT Times Square Shuttle, which I used on a daily basis to get to a night job in April and May that I have yet to use.
In recent times I have posted about the new Second Avenue Subway (at this point, it’s a glorified northern extension of the Broadway Line as Q trains run along it, with the next extension not due fro completion until 2029). I have also explored the new 53rd Street station on the BMT 4th Avenue Line, which is one of three completed new stations there. It’s one of a number of “reimagined” subway stations. I’ve been critical of their necessity because the renovations mean completely closing them for what seem like cosmetic changes, such as new signage and wifi chargers. But, when I see the new stations when they reopen, I’m sold on the esthetics. Most infrastructure looks good when it first opens — the test will be in 5 years or so, after it gets battered by use.
I recently inspected the MTA’s recent remakes of the 30th and 36th Avenue stations, which necessitated the closure of both stations for several months. The 39th Avenue and Broadway stations are now closed for similar updates, and the Astoria and Ditmars Boulevard are also getting renovated, with the Ditmars station receiving elevators. Neither station will be closed, however.
One casualty of these renovations is that the old names of these stations have finally been jettisoned. Many Queens subway or elevated stations have, or had their older names appended to them; for example, Rawson, Lowery, Bliss and Lincoln on the Flushing Line are the 33rd, 40th, 46th and 52nd Street stops. The appended names served to alleviate confusion by neighborhood oldtimers because shortly after the els were built between 1915 and 1920, the Queens Topographical Bureau adopted a new street naming and house numbering system that assigned a number to the vast majority of Queens streets. On the Astoria Line, 36th Avenue was Washington Avenue…
39th Avenue was Beebe (pronounced b-b, as in BB gun)
… and 30th Avenue was Grand Avenue.
These brief glimpses of these stations reveal different methods of station construction in different eras. For example, tall metal windscreens in the 1980s, and low fencing and incandescent lighting in the 1960s. But the new plans of the 2010s are a different beast entirely.
One thing you notice right off the bat is that the 36th Avenue station somehow seems larger even though the basic footprint has not changed. Station renovations included, according to the MTA, “repairs to deteriorated concrete and steel structures, and rehabilitated entrances including staircases, railings and canopies; improvements and repairs to mezzanines and platforms; waterproofing; security cameras, glass barriers and railings for increased light and transparency; improved signage for easier navigation, including digital, real-time service information; and glass and wire mesh platform windscreens for added light and safety.”
A major change is that the back walls of the stations are no longer opaque for the most part. Thick glass panels have been installed, separated on occasion by black walls, but a clear view of the outside environs is now possible for the first time. Above is a look east on 36th Avenue, for which the station is named. The dots are probably graffiti-resistant mylar. At night, though, these screens take on a more opaque quality and the backlighting gives them a greenish hue.
Decorative wood paneling has been added to the station canopy roofs, while new wood benches have been added, as well as the smaller wood lean-to benches.
Notice something radically different about the ends of the platforms? The metal windscreens are gone, replaced by metallic mesh. This provides more views and airiness. It’s one aspect of the remakes I have an issue with because in the winter, these stations will be quite cold, open to the cold wind. There is a mitigating factor I’ll discuss a little later.
The new station lighting is bright white LED.
Subway and neighborhood maps are available on station platforms for the first time with the new station renovations; formerly, they were only mounted near the “token booths.”
In some cases the platforms were discovered to be crumbling or showed signs of instability. These have also been replaced.
Not only the station walls are glass. the staircase barriers are also glass. I don’t see any mylar coating here, so when the neighborhood youth set to work with magic markers, will there be a regular crew assigned to clean off whatever gets scrawled on them?
Illuminated signboards are frequent on the platforms but not overly intrusive. Advertising has always been a part of station walls since the first IRT train ran in 1904; while ads are pasted on the walls on the new underground stations that have been renovated (Prospect and Bay Ridge Avenues and 53rd Streets) they’re electronic on the elevated stations.
Greek-language signs have also appeared. Astoria, especially in the north, is still home to thousands of Greek immigrants and their descendants.
One innovation that should be included in every station? Arrival clocks right next to the turnstiles. You can make a decision to swipe or not to swipe depending on what kind of wait you’re looking at.
The new element most visible to the public is the new station artwork, arrayed along the entrance/exit staircases, partially visible from 36th Avenue. As a rule up to now, new station artwork, often stained glass, was placed in openings in the opaque backgrounds on station platforms. Since the new stations feature clear glass background walls, the artwork has to go elsewhere. At 36th Avenue, the kaleidoscopic design is by Maureen McQuillan, titled “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” As luck would have it, the 1969 Tommy James and the Shondells hit is playing on internet radio as I write this!
By far the biggest innovation, in my book, is the addition of “station lounges” or waiting rooms, repeating the artwork. The rooms face the countdown clocks, so passengers might opt to use these rooms instead of standing on the windy platforms no longer protected by windscreens. I never knew there was enough room in the old station for these, pre-renovation.
The MTA will have to strive mightily to prevent these “lounges” from becoming homeless havens in the cold months.
The new entrance/exit canopy features a flat black top; in this, it resembles the new kiosks at the renovated stations on the 4th Avenue Line. The steps feature openings in the metal so passengers can see if there are approaching miscreants. The railings repeat the glass motif.
On July 19, 2018, when I shot this, the exit gates at 30th Avenue were only open part of the time as the station was not yet completed. The renovated stations are also getting extra exit gates and staircases, this one leading to Newtown Avenue a block north of 30th.
Once again, a look at the helpful station and neighborhood maps seen on platforms for the first time. Subway maps are still based on a 1979 design by John Tauranac, replacing an earlier more abstract design by Massimo Vignelli. However, the MTA does use the Vignelli map as a base for its Subway Weekender website and app that delineates weekend service which is often quite different from weekday.
A look south toward Long Island City from the new 30th Avenue station.
Electronic route maps, as well as subway maps, appear on the platforms. The N train runs from Astoria Ditmars to Coney Island, as an express in Manhattan and Brooklyn as far south as 59th Street. Stations between 8th Avenue and 86th Street are also undergoing renovations with closures on the southbound side in mid-2018, but these renovations are not as drastic as seen on the Astoria elevated. The W is a local form of the R, duplicating the N in Astoria and stopping at R stations as far south as Whitehall Street. The W, in use on the 4th Avenue and West End routes until 2010, was revived in 2017 when the Q was routed up the new 2nd Avenue extension. The R, W, N and Q have the yellow bullets of the BMT Broadway trunk line.
While the 30th and 36th Avenue stations were rebuilt on the same template they’re not identical. For example, this view of 30th Avenue from the platform appears from the down staircase, so it’s not as easy to pause and ponder it, as it is of 36th Avenue from that station.
The illuminated boards are, of course, always chockablock with service changes and interruptions.
I call it the “station lounge” but it’s officially the waiting area. Again, I’m surprised there was enough space in the station for these.
The commissioned artwork at the 30th Avenue station is by Stephen Westfall and titled Perasma I & II; Dappleganger.
This is the remake of the entrance/exit staircase at 30th Avenue; new ones have been added on Newtown Avenue a block north. Once again, very convenient placement of the train arrival clock. Though these clocks have now been installed on all “lettered” subway lines (the old IND/BMT), joining previous clocks that had been installed about a decade ago on the numbered IRT lines, the MTA has been quite stingy about them, placing only one clock per platform. The newly rebuilt Astoria Line stations have several.
Though I’ll reiterate that I think the MTA should be spending its money on updating signals and restoring full service on weekends, I can’t argue with the esthetics of these new stations. I wonder how modern they’ll seem 20 years from now, though. Technology marches on…