One of the deepest subway stations in one of the hilliest parts of New York City is now home to an underground walkway.
All three escalators from 181st Street station on the A Line, which is 80 feet below ground, have been out of service since Monday. They were taken out of service as part of a planned outage and won’t be back up and running until February, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said.
At the station this week, the escalators were walled, with orange signs at the top and bottom informing riders they had two options: take one of the three elevators on the other side of the platform, or climb six flights of stairs. – a total of 89 steps.
“This is just not acceptable,” Miryam Lakritz, 27, said as she carefully descended the stairs.
Of the subway system’s 85 escalators, 32 are currently closed for repairs, said Tim Minton, an MTA spokesman. The agency says the closures will allow for upgrades to an outdated system.
The escalators at 181st Street, a busy station in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, have long been spotty, said Jamie Torres-Springer, the agency’s president of construction and development. All three were only in operation about 85 percent of the time, he said, and one of them only worked about two-thirds of the time.
But they are all powered by the same engine, which means that to fix even one of them, all three have to be stopped at the same time.
The station’s elevators, while functional, are located on the north side, at 184th Street and Fort Washington Avenue, requiring riders to walk up to three blocks to use them. Above ground, they are on top of a steep hill, so it’s a hike to get to them.
As a result, many New Yorkers choose to simply take the stairs — a maddening journey that they will now have to endure for the next nine months, assuming they are physically capable.
The New York City State Subway
Riders made the climb at varying speeds during Thursday’s commute, with some running up the stairs with ease and others clinging to the railings and pausing to catch their breath.
The escalator failure points to a wider problem in a metro system that has long been criticized for being inaccessible to people with disabilities. The system’s lack of accessible stations has displaced thousands of riders with mobility issues, lawyers said.
“I get it, there are a lot of problems on the MTA’s board,” said Jennifer Van Dyck, a member of the Rise and Resist Elevator Action Group, which has called for greater wheelchair accessibility in the city’s public transit system. “The fact is, accessibility is constantly being pushed to the bottom of the list.”
On 181st Street, even with the escalators working, the station is not particularly accessible. To reach the escalators or the elevators from the platform, you have to climb a flight of stairs, an impossibility for some with physical disabilities.
Riders driving through the station on Thursday said they were shocked by the magnitude of the escalator failure, reported by NBC New York.
“I read somewhere that it was coming, but I didn’t realize they had to do all three at once,” said Cade Calder, 46, a musician, as he came down the stairs with his 6-year-old daughter, Ellington. †
“It was hard enough getting on the platform,” he added. “A little more notice would have been helpful.”
Mr Minton said the MTA first began posting signs about the upcoming construction on May 11. But he and other officials said they agreed they could have reported more ahead of time.
“This communication was not up to our standards,” said Mr. Torres-Springer. “This is part of improving the way we work. That is justified criticism, and we are sorry that we did not spread the message sooner.”
Those who could easily take the stairs said they were looking for silver linings.
“I see it as a big step forward,” said Timothy McGonagall, 51, as he made his way to the train.
But others said the outage posed unnecessary challenges for those with mobility issues as well as anyone juggling errands or small children.
Ms. Lakritz, a teacher, said she usually commuted to school with papers, exercise equipment, and a packed lunch.
“I’m coming on this as an able-bodied person,” she said. “This is already very hard, carrying all the things I need for work and going up the stairs.”
Craig Clarke, 39, slowly pushed his daughter Isla, 3, down the stairs with one hand as she struggled with her pushchair in the other. Reaching the bottom, Isla leaned against the wall to rest, excited from the descent.
They actually live closer to the entrance with the elevators, he said. But having grown accustomed to taking the escalators over the years, he had forgotten that morning they would be out of order.
“If it broke a lot, it’s a good thing they fix it,” he said. “But I don’t know why it’s taking so long.”
He and other regular riders said they knew the escalators had been unreliable for years, but expressed their dismay and disbelief at the timeline for the repairs.
“Why does everything take so long in New York?” said Sonia Kemp, a 32-year-old resident of the neighborhood. “February? Really? Is the part from Germany? What’s the problem?”
Mr. Torres-Springer described the nine-month timeline as “typical” for the type of repairs being done. The old engine will have to be scrapped and removed from the station for replacement, he said. Once construction is complete, each of the escalators will have independent motors.
But the MTA, which is trying to lure back the riders it lost during the pandemic, will likely scare people away with disruptions like this one, said Danny Pearlstein, a spokesperson for the Riders Alliance, a public transit advocacy group — especially if it doesn’t. the case is. t inform them about alternative public transport options.
Rather than tell straphangers their only choice is to find the elevators or take the stairs, he said, the MTA could have put up signs explaining riders can consider other routes, such as getting off at 175th Street or transferring later at a bus stop. The agency should make it clear that New Yorkers can still use the system to get where they need to go, he said, rather than leaving riders with limited options so uncomfortable that they can choose to forego it altogether. public transport.
“That should be the MTA’s priority — not losing people to taxis or Ubers, or isolating people because there’s a detour on their route,” he said.
Ana Ley reporting contributed.