By Alex Israel
Community Board 7 hosted an ‘open house’ style meeting with MTA representatives to discuss the upcoming closures at the 72nd, 86th, and 110th Street B-C stations due to the third installation of the MTA’s Enhanced Stations Initiative throughout the city. Despite calls for a delay from Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, the closures are expected to move forward as planned.
Following an enthusiastic introduction from CB7 Chair Roberta Semer and Transportation Co-Chair (and MTA board member) Andrew Albert, MTA representatives started by walking through a supplemented version of their existing presentation at Museum of Natural History’s Linder Theater. Then, they encouraged community members to visit separate stations set up throughout AMNH’s 77th Street Rotunda to ask questions with the appropriate representative.
The attendees, however, did not appear to be in favor of this format. As the theater presentation concluded, multiple people asked if the MTA would instead be willing to host questions on stage in front of the larger audience, to avoid overlap and to ensure everyone had access to all the information – but were firmly rebuffed by MTA NYC Transit Deputy Director of Government and Community Relations, Rob Marino.
Even when City Council member Helen Rosenthal stepped in to reiterate this request on behalf of the community, the MTA representatives and CB7 hosts insisted they follow the open house protocol, which, according to Marino, had been received successfully in their outreach efforts for other projects like the L train closures.
“Why would they agree to a format that does not serve the community’s interests?” asked a community member to another, blaming CB7 for acquiescing to the MTA on her way out to the rotunda.
During the presentation segment, Temoor Ahmad, Associate Principal at the consulting architectural firm, walked through some of the program’s objectives, which ultimately aim to modernize the stations through new entrances, control area dashboards, lighting, information content, platform dashboards, furniture, and art. He emphasized the implementation of “intuitive design” and “prescriptive signage” as some of the key wayfinding aids that will be introduced with the upgrades.
Despite the new design elements, community members expressed concern about the lack of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible enhancements. Bill Montanile, the Program Manager for this ESI, stepped up to explain some of the reasoning behind this. According to Montanile, the $111 million allocation for this project (which also includes work at 163rd Street) came from a capital program budget specifically designated for “renewals and components,” which is a separate pool of money from capital projects that incorporate ADA enhancements.
Community members were also concerned about the lack of notice, pointing out that this was the first and only meeting scheduled between MTA representatives and the public. While attendees were encouraged to leave comment cards for review, it does not appear that the MTA plans to do any additional community outreach for this project. Montanile shared that signage will go up to inform riders of the closures between 10 and 14 days before they are set to start. CB7 members invited the community to sign up for their newsletter, which also provides some notice around issues like this.
During the full CB7 meeting earlier this month, Andrew Albert shared that he was told “there will be extra M10 bus service” to supplement the closures. But during the open house, MTA NYC Transit’s Senior Director of Service Planning, Judy McClain, answered a number of questions about the planned service disruptions – some of which contradicted this earlier promise.
According to McClain, the MTA projects that the number of people who use the M10 or M86 buses for alternate service will be too insignificant to warrant increased service. However, they plan to have additional bus service available “as needed” if they measure a significant increase in ridership. Her projections show that, for most people, “the best alternative will be to walk to the adjacent station,” which could include a B-C station to the north or south, or a 1 station on Broadway.
She also confirmed that the projected diversions will call for express service between 59th and 125th Street, which will impact not only the stations receiving upgrades but everything in between. The diversions related to this ESI have already begun and will continue to occur during and after the planned closure window.
As the open house Q&A session wrapped up, Montanile pointed to the prior ESI projects in Brooklyn and Astoria as success stories in an attempt to ease fears that the Upper West Side closures will extend beyond their projected durations. He estimated that contractors can be charged around $20,000 a day in penalties for delays, and conversely, are incentivized to finish early. The project is slated to conclude by December 2018.