168th Street #1 Train Subway Station Renovations: Working Hard to Make NYC Worse?

168th Street Subway Platform With Open Vaulted Ceiling
168th Street Subway Platform With Open Vaulted Ceiling

Today I went down to the 1 train platform at 168th Street in Manhattan to catch the train to 137th Street City College for a Summer class I’m taking. I really love the station. There’s something cool about the high, vaulted ceiling and the old ceiling mount where it looks like an electric chandelier used to hang. I can almost imagine how it used to look, and how it might look if the vaulted ceiling were renovated and covered with murals depicting New York City’s past. But, even if they never renovated it (except for structural repairs) there’s just something cool about a subway station that has street lamps and pedestrian bridges that go over the tracks.

Steel girders covering the previously open vaulted section of the station.
Steel girders covering the previously open vaulted section of the station.

So, it was with great disappointment that I discovered earlier today that the city is renovating the station. By renovating, I don’t mean they’re improving on the already dramatic and exceptional appearance of the subway station. They’re covering the vaulted ceiling with a low ceiling instead. After the space and atmosphere the platform had, the low hanging girders make the space feel extremely claustrophobic.

Section of 168th Street Subway Station With a Low Ceiling
Section of 168th Street Subway Station With a Low Ceiling

One end of the platform already has a low ceiling and I always avoided it, because the vaulted ceiling helped me forget that I was so far underground I had to take an elevator to get there. This station has no stairs or escalators.

An old light fixture mount, probably for an electric chandelier.
An old light fixture mount, probably for an electric chandelier.

I suppose they’ll close in the pedestrian bridge and make it look like any other subway station pedestrian tunnel, with those cheap, small, public-restroom-yellow tiles. They’ll cover the vaulted ceiling and replace it with something low and plain. They’ll cover up a part of New York City’s history instead of bringing it into focus.

What are they planning on doing with that extra space? Are they just going to turn it into storage? Or seal it off completely? Sometimes things have to be done for the sake of progress, but I just don’t see the point here. It’s not like they have to minimize the space to install air conditioning. This isn’t Singapore or Japan, after all, and our fares are barely enough to pay the top executives, let alone improve the system in any meaningful way.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope they’re just setting up those steel girders for safety while they renovate the ceiling and improve the station, but considering how big the girders are and how they perfectly align with the bottom of the pedestrian bridge, I’m sure I’m wrong. Instead of improving the transit system, the city is only making my commute worse by turning a vaulted and spacious station into a low-ceilinged, claustrophobia-inducing crevice in the earth that I will have to endure daily during my commute. Isn’t it enough already that there are no stairs or escalators and we’re forced to use elevators to get out of the station?

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