UWS Subway Renovation Plan Is Blown Opportunity, Officials Say

download.pngBy Brendan Krisel

UPPER WEST SIDE, NY — City officials and accessibility advocates rallied at the site of an Upper West Side subway station that was closed for renovations Monday to decry the MTA's failure to address subway service and accessibility as part of the renovation.

The West 110th Street B/C station in Frederick Douglass Circle was shuttered Monday as MTA workers began a renovation project that will take at least six months to complete. The station is one of three Upper West Side stations that will close this spring and summer for renovations as part of the MTA's Enhanced Stations Initiative. The Enhanced Stations Initiative includes structural repairs and cosmetic fixes such as new stairs, floors, countdown clocks and LED lighting.

The station is a crossroads for the Upper West Side, Morningside Heights and Central Harlem neighborhoods, and failing to improve subway service or installing an elevator at the station represents a "huge wasted opportunity," City Councilman Mark Levine said.

"This kind of renovation is done once a generation if you're lucky," Levine said. "And we're blowing this opportunity to do it right."

Levine called on the MTA to make a plan to improve accessibility on the stretch of the B/C lines that runs up Central Park West on the Upper West Side. Currently, not one station between Columbus Circle and West 125th Street is accessible to people in wheelchairs, Levine said Monday.

"Nothing is being done here at 110th street or any station along this line to fix this. It's a huge, huge wasted opportunity when we're spending untold hundreds of millions of dollars," Levine said. "We are not going to accept this. We are here to demand that this is done right, that our community is treated with respect."

One reason why the communities affected by the shutdown feel disrespected is the lack of community outreach done by the MTA. State Senator Brian Benjamin, who's district mostly covers Central Harlem but stretched into parts of the Upper West Side, called the MTA's outreach efforts "awful" and "completely terrible," on Monday. 

Benjamin said that the community isn't against renovations to its subway stations, but is against a process that limits community input. The state senator said Monday that he plans to introduce legislation that would require transit authorities to give local community board's 90 days notice for any plan that would shut down stations.

Community outreach would have spared residents the jarring experience of arriving at their subway stations only to find out it's closed for six months, Democratic District Leader Cordell Cleare said Monday. Cleare arrived at the station as early as 6 p.m. Monday to find residents confused about their transportation alternatives.

In addition to educating residents about the closure, more outreach could have solved many issues with the renovation plan, Benjamin said.

"If we had community input and communication at least with six months in advance, we could have discussed some of these issues and said 'listen we really need an escalator, we really need an elevator' and we could have had a back and forth dialogue," Benjamin said. "Instead [this plan] is being shoved right down out throats."

City officials admitted Monday that with renovations already started at West 110th Street it may be unlikely that the MTA will change its plans for the station. While officials would love the transit authority to put its work on hold, pieces of legislation like Benjamin's are being introduced to spare future renovation projects from becoming wasted opportunities.

Stations at West 86th and 72nd streets will also be shut down for renovations under the MTA's Enhanced Stations Initiative. The West 72nd Street station will close May 7 and the West 86th Street station will close June 4, according to the MTA. One other station, located on West 163rd Street in Washington Heights, closed in March as part of the initiative.

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