I had some business to do uptown on my way back from Chinatown in Lower Manhattan and had to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the afternoon, so I decided to check out the new Q line stops along the new Second Avenue line. The Q line runs all the way from Coney Island with me picking it up on Canal Street. What an amazing trip!
The new construction of the subway lines has been in the works for almost a hundred years and has recently completed four stops along the Second Avenue line that make travelling to uptown Manhattan a real pleasure. The fact that not too many people have caught on to the line yet makes it even better as there is plenty of room to sit down on the brand new cars and you are not squeezing in like on the number 6 line. If you have ever been on the Number 6 subway in Manhattan at rush hour, you know what I am talking about. Sardines are not squeezed in like this.
I have been on the line twice since it has opened and what a pleasure it is to get a seat and relax instead of someone pushing into your back for a three stop trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The subway car is one of the new ones with the blue seats you do not have to squeeze into and you can see and hear all the announcements. The old joke of everyone is ‘mumbling’ over the speaker is still true on most subway cars in the city. With all the racket going on between the cars, the speakers and the occasional person singing and dancing in the subway car (I don’t think they have discovered them yet), you can’t hear a thing. It is so nice to read the paper in peace on this line.
It is interesting to note that they have been trying to build this part of the subway since 1919. This first phase of the subway route was conceived when it was realized that the ‘Fourth Avenue line’ was over-crowded and needed to ease the congestion. In 1927, a rapid transit plan was put out that called for a six-track Second Avenue subway line. These plans were abandoned with the Great Depression in favor for completing the IND line. It was revisited again in the 40’s then World War Two broke out.
In 1965, one year after the Urban Mass Transit Act mandated that federal funding be made available for transit programs, the MTA was founded. The Second Avenue Subway plan was proposed in 1968 with one two-track line stretching from 34th Street to the Bronx. The city broke down in 1972 when the city was granted $25 million in Federal funding. Construction started at East 103rd Street and Second Avenue but construction was halted in 1975 due to the Financial Crisis and the project was abandoned again with only three little tunnels between Chatham Square and Canal Street, 99th, 105th and 110th and 120th Streets. (New York Magazine and Gothamist.com 2016)
With Environmental Impact Studies done in 2004, the project was planned in four phases to be completed between 2004 and 2006. Ground was broken for Phase One in 2007 at 99th/101st Street and the project was to done in four phases with the first to go from 63rd Street to 96th Streets. Phase Two has been planned to start in 2019 with the line expanding to 125th Street with the last two Phases expanding down to Lower Manhattan. This will create the T Line while bringing back the W Line to Queens. All of this will alleviate the traffic on the 6 Line. (New York Magazine, Gothamist.com).
The best part of the subway line on top of the cleanliness is the artwork. The MTA Art & Design had four different artists create the work for the four completed lines. This creativity starts at 96th Street as you enter the subway with a combination of steel and blue lights and take the escalator down a futuristic tunnel down to the platform and you gaze upon the artwork of artist Sarah Sze. When you see the work from the subway platform, it almost looks like flying papers outside. When you walk the whole platform, you see what she is trying to achieve.
Her ‘Blueprint for a Landscape’ when completed with tile masters from Spain who used porcelain to produce the work. It takes a few walks around to see the true detail of the work. The work is made up of fragmented images of scaffolding, birds, chairs and leaves. It is like being outside in a wind storm. The main body of work on the platform you can see the papers flying around and as you take the escalator up, you see the blue and white scaffolding, which took me two trips to figure out what is was. Off to the side, you see the birds in flight. It is like seeing a day in New York City with the different aspects of the city flying by. The most touching part is the ‘Subway’ poem by Billy Collins (born 1941).
As you fly swiftly underground
with a song in your ears
or lost in a maze of a book
remember the ones who have descended here
into the mire of bedrock
to bore a hole through this granite
to clear a passage for you
where there was only darkness and stone
remember as you come up into the light
A touching poem to match the beauty of the art work.
At the 86th Street stop you will be dazzled by the artwork of one of my favorite artists, Chuck Close. I had marveled at his artwork when I lived in Chicago at the Contemporary Museum. You always know his work by the powerful real life images that he presents. He created 12 large-scale works that spread throughout the platforms. Really look at the artwork and you will see that they are made of tiny mosaic pieces.
It was also the detailed construction of these pieces and the work that went into creating them that is impressive. There are even two self-portraits of Mr. Close in the station proudly pronouncing his work to subway riders. Take the time to really look at the details of each piece even when security looks at you funny (as they did with me twice).
At 72nd Street, Brazilian artist, Vic Muniz has created a series called “Perfect Strangers” with portraits of real New Yorkers. There are portraits of men holding hands, a policeman holding a popsicle and a man chasing flying papers, who I have read is the artist himself. The artist created this work based on staged photographs on people he knows.
Again really look at the details that created these works. I almost immediately thought I was going crazy when I thought one of them was Daniel Boulud, the famous chef holding a fish in a bag until I read later on that it was him. To see him immortalized in a subway station artwork I thought was a real testament to him as a chef.
The 63rd Street station is not modernistic as the other three stations but still has a sense of newness to it. It is also kept so clean now to match the other stations. Artist Jean Shin work is featured at this station. You really have to go outside the station to see the just of her work which was quoted as being inspired by the idea of illustrating the demolition of the Second and Third Avenue elevated lines.
Her more geometric pieces really show the metal work of a different era as well as her work was based on when “she dug through archives at the New York Transit Museum and at the New York Historical Society and used photographs she found based on the images of everyday riders and pedestrians from the 1920’s through the 1940’s, along with geometric shots of elevated girders being dismantled” (New York Times 2016). It took some reading on my part to figure it out. Again you really have to walk the stop to get the feel of her work.
The best part of these new stops are how clean they are and how well-managed the people from the MTA keep them. The three nights I travelled the new Q Line, the gentlemen from the MTA are constantly mopping and sweeping the cars and the platforms. They take immense pride in taking care of ‘their’ station and it shows in their work. The MTA should proud of how well-maintained these new stations are and should take note for many of their other stations that could use the same TLC.
So this is your opportunity readers to see the subway stops on your way to the Met or the Museum of the City of New York, the Conservatory or even Central Park and see the marvel of how art, commerce and construction and immense creativity on the part of the MTA, the City Planners and dedicated construction workers put their best foot forward and gave the city a living, breathing ‘art museum’ to pass through every day.
But SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! We want to enjoy first before the tourist get there.
Update since this Blog: August 1, 2018
According to Our Town Paper of the Upper East Side, the ridership on the new Q line has exceeded expectations as it is stealing riders from the Number 6 line:
The Q/F Stop at Lexington & East 63rd Street: 20,893 riders
The Q/F Stop at East 72nd Street: 28,145 riders
The Q/F Stop at East 86th Street: 23,722 riders
The Q/F Stop at East 96th Street: 17,150 riders
This has eased the Number 6 line by almost 23% to 29% on most of the same stops. Right now there are plans to expand the line to East 125th Street with stops at East 106th Street, East 116th Street and East 125th Street that could be finished by 2029 if the funding from the government comes through. The cost could be around $6 billion; work on Phase One lasted ten years and cost $4.5 billion. The first phase took almost a hundred years to build with most being set up in the early 70’s before the money crunch of the City.
Money very well spent!
(Our Town Newspaper August 1st, 2018)