New York City’s 469th subway station at 34th Street and 11th Avenue opened this past Sunday, extending the 7 train line and providing commuters from Queens better access to midtown Manhattan. Not only is this the first subway station to open in NYC in 26 years, but it is also the first station to have funicular elevators, which run from the turnstile level to the lower mezzanine. The funicular elevators, commonly known as inclined elevators, run along a 27-degree slope, unlike standard vertical elevators.
The elevators were constructed to comply with the Americans with Disability Act of 1990, which requires that all new subway stations constructed in New York City must be accessible for those with disabilities. However, the 34 St- Hudson Yards station presented a unique challenge. The station extends 125 feet, roughly 10 stories, below the surface. In addition, the street access point and the actual platform are “quite a distance” apart, according to Richard Mulieri of Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Capital Construction.
Given the station’s dimensions, installing a vertical elevator was undesirable for a number of reasons. First, an additional tunnel would have had to be constructed from the elevators to the platform, since vertical elevators would have to be placed beneath the station’s access point. Handicapped passengers would then have had to make the trek from the elevators to the trains through the passageway, requiring additional ventilation and security, whereas two sets of long escalators bring able-bodied passengers to the lower mezzanine.
In addition, excavating the tunnel and a shaft for the vertical elevators would have been much more expensive than simply installing an elevator that could occupy the same space as the escalators. The two 80-foot inclined elevators are situated alongside the escalator that brings passengers from the upper mezzanine to the lower mezzanine, separated by glass walls.
“What we’ve tried to do here is give disabled passengers the same kind of experience that others are going to have,” said Mulieri. “This was what I think is a very creative solution to the issue of the entrance point not being at the top of the tracks.”
Inclined elevators are typically cheaper to construct than vertical elevators, largely due to the absence of tunneling and excavation costs. However, according to Mulieri, it was the desire to provide handicapped passengers an experience similar to able-bodied passengers, rather than the cost of construction, that guided the decision.
“Cost really didn’t come into play so much as how are we going to get disabled people from the entrance to where the trains are in the safest, most efficient way possible, and the inclined elevator was the answer to that,” said Mulieri.
The resulting inclined elevators are the first in the New York City subway system, and were manufactured by Italian company Maspero Elevatori. The station has four elevators in total. In addition to the two inclined elevators, a vertical elevator runs from the street level to the upper mezzanine, and another connects the lower mezzanine to the platform.
Though designed with disabled passengers in mind, an MTA worker at the station said that he had yet to see a handicapped person ride the inclined elevators. However, their novelty has attracted the attention of many riders.
“It’s like a carnival ride!” exclaimed Joani Fiore during her first ride on the funicular. Fiore, on her way to the Javitz Center, said that the station’s long escalators scared her, but she enjoyed her trip on the inclined elevator.
For others, the elevators at the station were the destination. Michael Danon, an elderly gentleman sporting a cane, was originally traveling to the 7 train’s 42nd Street stop, but decided to visit 34th St-Hudson Yards after reading about the station all week. The inclined elevators, he said, were “very slick,” and worth the trip.
Regardless, Mulieri predicts that inclined elevators will not be adopted as the standard model of subway elevators, despite the saved tunneling and excavation costs, and the curiosity they attract from passengers. Geography dictated the choice to build inclined elevators for the 34th St-Hudson Yards station. Many stations were built using a “cut and cover” method, meaning that the station was constructed by first building a trench in the ground. Thus, many older subway stations are very shallow, and do not even have an escalator. Not only are these stations too shallow for an inclined elevator, but the only possible locations for an elevator would be in the buildings surrounding the station, which are likely privately owned.