What comes to mind when you think about the aesthetics American infrastructure? Pleasing to the eye? Perhaps well maintained? The verdict: Not guilty on both counts. But seriously, I guess one thing most could say about the subject is that it repetitively sports an aging utilitarian motif. Case in point, the New York City Subway, an infrastructure system that was designed to be functional without much aesthetic flare. The years of grime and neglect however, have given it its own well known character. Any of you that have been regular readers of this blog for any given amount of time wont be surprised to hear that its a character I find fascinating.
To compliment this theme, I have compiled 'The Dirty Dozen', a collection of the 12 grittiest, grimiest, and strangest stations in the New York City Subway system. I base the results here on my experience and some may undoubtedly have different experiences in stations I may not have mentioned here; I would really love to hear other perspectives on stations.
Station: Lexington Avenue-53rd Street
Location: Midtown Manhattan
Service: E,M Train with transfers to the 6 Train
Grit Qualifications: Grime, Rusted Steel Beams, and dangerously narrow platform.
Since this more of a celebratory post, lets get my gripes out of the way first. This could quite possibly be one of my least favorite stations in the New York City Subway system. The Lexington Avenue-53rd Street station plays host to the E and M trains and provides transfers to the 6 train. Its a deep, narrow station with a slim platform that makes for nightmarish rush hour commutes. MTA places people with flashlights every rush hour as a form of crowd control, but the sheer volume of people operating under their own agendas makes this effort somewhat futile.
Station: Court Street
Location: Brooklyn Heights/Downtown Brooklyn
Service: R, N Train with transfers to the 2,3,4,5 Train
Grit Qualifications: Grime, Rusted Steel Beams, decades of accumulated conduit, and decaying tile
One feature of this station even the most unobservant person would take note, would be the snake pit of conduit running along the ceilings of the corridors. Closer inspection will unveil a hodgepodge of varying styles of replacement tiles, used during renovation or repair since the 1920's.
Station: Bay Pkwy
Location: Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
Service: D Train
Grit Qualifications: Aging, graffiti'd 19th century buildings encasing the station with old splitting railroad ties.
Typical of many of the elevated stations within the outer reaches of Brooklyn, these are some of the oldest stretches of track and stations still in operation. With that being so, the architecture and development along the right of ways tend to be quite old. I have found myself riding these lines down to Coney Island just to look at this unique perspective of Brooklyn from these elevated trains. Plenty of grittiness and graffiti to be seen from this station and the entire line in general.
Location: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
Service: G Train
Grit Qualifications: Plentiful peeling paint, lively rodent population, and a marked odor of creosote.
Perhaps my views of this station are clad in bias, for this is my station; everyday, I enter the New York City Subway system by walking down the very stairs you see above. Since this is the G train, I spend quite a bit of time down here waiting; this gives me the opportunity to engage in a passing hobby of mine: rodent watching! I don't know why, but I am fascinated by watching rats foraging the tracks and platforms. It also amuses me how afraid people are of these little beasts. Sure, they're filthy vermin, but people run at the site them as if they are being pursued by a madman with an axe.
Station: 190th Street
Location: Washington Heights, Manhattan
Service: A Train
Grit Qualifications: A deep-vaulted, bomb shelter feel.
The geologic layout and history of Manhattan is quite interesting and would love to discuss it with you sometime, but for sake of brevity, lets just say it has tons and tons of bed rock in the form of granite and Manhattan schist. This makes it possible for the iconic skyscrapers that Manhattan is known for and of course stations like this. Although, I bet this was quite an obstacle for the engineers of the day. This station is deep into bedrock and is equipped with large elevators to take you up to surface level. It also has a tunnel to take you out to the lower levels of the Washington Heights neighborhood.
Station: 8th Avenue
Location: Dyker Heights, Brooklyn
Service: N Train
Grit Qualifications: Ancient station with plentiful graffiti, vines and ivy, and plenty of conduit.
This station sits on the BMT Sea Beach Line, an old open cut right of way that terminates at Coney Island. Like the elevated lines of outer Brooklyn, it has history and it shows. Along with rust and graffiti, which are stock visuals for stations like this, vines and ivy have began to envelop the area as if Mother Brooklyn is reclaiming her territory.
Station: 21st Van Alst
Location: Hunter Point, Queens
Service: G Train
Grit Qualifications: Massive damage, courtesy of natural water spings.
This is one of those stations where you don't even need to exit the train to know this station isn't well. Where's the public transit version of Jesus when you need him to come and cure this station of leprosy. Putting thoughtless, insensitive, and sacrilegious statements aside, it seems that MTA has forsaken this one.
Station: 20th Avenue
Location: Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
Service: N Train
Grit Qualifications: Graffiti, rust, and large amounts calcification.
Like the 8th Avenue station above, this also resides on the open cut BMT Sea Beach Line. The archways and architectural style is somewhat telling of its age, 95 years as a matter of fact. Some modernizations have been done, such as the installation of fluorescent lighting, but the original incandescent fixtures are still there. Miniature stalactites are also calcifying on the ceiling of the station.
Location: Bower/Lower East Side, Manhattan
Service: J,M,Z Train
Grit Qualifications: Grime, visible abandoned sections, and obligatory Bowery bums.
The neighborhood has its own historic reputation of punk music and the 'Bowery Bum' who call the streets home, but that image is rapidly becoming antiquated due to sweeping gentrification. This station has one minor unique point to it; the arches within the dividing wall, although minor, are a rarity. If you take the time to look through the archways, you will see an abandoned section of the station complete with a defunct platform that has become a large graffiti canvas. Aside from what appears to be the walls of a crime scene, the mood of the station is very dark; especially during hours when its a ghost town.
Station: Chambers Street
Location: Downtown Manhattan
Service: J,Z Train
Grit Qualifications: Grime, visible abandoned sections, and archeological layers of trash.
This could be one of the ugliest and smelliest stations in the system, but why do I love it so? I have previously done extensive photography in this station. It has layers of grime, has virtually been untouched since the 1930's, and and smells like urine and bleach. I suppose it fascinates me because it allows you to step back in time; there are stations significantly older than this one, but they have had enough work done to them to eliminate the original feel, but that's not the case with this station. Its pure and raw.
Station: Hoyt-Schermerhorn Streets
Location: Downtown Brooklyn
Service: A,C,G Train
Grit Qualifications: Grime, peeling paint, abandoned platforms, water leaks, bad lighting.
This station is huge! Its six platforms wide on one level, which, as far as I know, is the only one of its kind in the system. The two outer platforms are not in use, and have the historic distinction of being used to film the music video to the Michael Jackson song Bad!. Like the Bedford-Nostrand station, I possess a bias toward this one due to the fact that I spend a considerable amount of time here. The abandoned platforms are covered with layers from years of dirt and grime, complimented by pieces of the ceiling that have landed there. Recently, there was a broken pipe that spewed water onto the track and each G train that arrived at the station; this happened for a few weeks until it was repaired.
Location: Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Service: G Train
Grit Qualifications: Grime, Rust, courtesy of water springs
Like the 21st-Van Alst station, Broadway has suffered damage at the hands of natural water springs. As a matter of fact, a small stream trickles down the tracks at all times.