Subway escalator failure at 181st Street gives passengers a six-flight hike

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One of the deepest subway stations in one of New York’s hilliest neighborhoods is now home to an underground hike.

The three escalators at the 181st Street station on the A line, which sits 80 feet underground, have been out of service since Monday. They have been taken out of service as part of a scheduled outage and will not be operational again until February, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said.

Inside the station this week, the escalators were bricked up, with orange signs at the top and bottom informing passengers they had two options: take one of three elevators at the opposite end of the platform – form or climb six flights of stairs – a total of 89 steps.

“It’s just not acceptable,” Miryam Lakritz, 27, said as she cautiously descended the stairs.

Of the subway’s 85 escalators, 32 are currently closed for repair, according to MTA spokesman Tim Minton. The agency says the closures help modernize an aging system.

The escalators on 181st Street, a busy station in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, have long been uneven, said Jamie Torres-Springer, president of construction and development at the agency. All three only worked about 85% of the time, he said, and one only worked about two-thirds of the time.

But they’re all powered by the same engine, which means that to fix even one of them, all three must be stopped at the same time.

The station’s elevators, while functional, are at its northern end, at 184th Street and Fort Washington Avenue, requiring riders to walk up to three blocks just to use them. Above ground they are at the top of a steep hill, so reaching them involves a hike.

As a result, many New Yorkers are opting to simply take the stairs – a maddening hike they will now have to contend with for the next nine months, assuming they are physically able.

Riders made the climb at varying speeds during Thursday’s morning commute, some leaping easily up the stairs and others clutching the railings, pausing to catch their breath.

The escalator breakdown highlights 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 kicked out thousands of cyclists with mobility issues, advocates said.

“I get it, there’s a lot of issues on the plate at the MTA,” said Jennifer Van Dyck, a member of the Rise and Resist Elevator Action Group, who called for greater wheelchair accessibility in the transportation system in city ​​common. “The fact is, accessibility is consistently relegated to the bottom of the list.”

At 181st Street, even when the escalators are running, the station is not particularly accessible. Reaching the escalators or elevators from the platform involves climbing a flight of stairs, an impossibility for some physically disabled.

Passengers passing through the station on Thursday said they were surprised by the scale of the escalator outages, which were reported by NBC New York.

“I read somewhere that it was going to happen, but I didn’t know they had to do all three at once,” said Cade Calder, 46, a musician, as he walked down the stairs with his daughter 6 year old Ellington. .

“It was hard enough to get on the platform,” he added. “A little more notice would have been helpful.”

Mr. Minton said the MTA began posting signs about the upcoming construction on May 11. But he and other officials said they agreed they could have provided longer notice.

“This communication did not meet our standards,” Mr. Torres-Springer said. “It’s part of improving the way we work. It’s a fair review, and we’re sorry we didn’t post the review sooner.

Those who were able to climb the stairs smoothly said they were trying to look for silver linings.

“I consider this a solid step,” Timothy McGonagle, 51, said as he walked towards the train.

But others said the outage posed unnecessary challenges, both for people with mobility issues and for anyone juggling groceries or young children.

Ms Lakritz, a teacher, said she usually goes to work with papers, gym equipment and a packed lunch.

“I come to this as an able-bodied person,” she said. “It’s already very difficult, carrying everything I need for work and climbing stairs.”

Craig Clarke, 39, slowly led his daughter Isla, 3, up the stairs with one hand while struggling with her stroller with the other. Reaching the bottom, Isla leaned against the wall to rest, panting from the descent.

They actually live closer to the entrance with the elevators, he said. But having grown accustomed to riding the escalators over the years, he had forgotten that morning that they would be out of service.

“If it broke often, 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 passengers said they had known the escalators were unreliable for years, but expressed dismay and disbelief at the timeline for repairs.

“Why does everything take so long in New York?” said Sonia Kemp, a neighborhood resident for 32 years. “February? Really? Is the piece from Germany? What’s the solution?”

Mr. Torres-Springer described the nine-month turnaround as “typical” for the type of repairs carried out. The old engine must be demolished and removed from the station to be replaced, he said. When construction is complete, each of the escalators will have independent motors.

But the MTA, which is trying to bring back passengers it lost during the pandemic, will likely drive people away with disruptions like this, said Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group. public transport – especially if they don’t inform them of public transport alternatives.

Instead of telling straphangers that their only choice is to find the elevators or take the stairs, he said, the MTA could have put up signs explaining that passengers could consider alternate routes, such as getting off at the 175th street or catch a later bus. stop.

The agency needs to make it clear that New Yorkers can still use the system to get where they need to go, he said, instead of leaving riders with limited options so inconvenient they can choose to forgo altogether to public transport.

“That has to be the MTA’s priority — not losing people to taxis or Ubers, or isolating people because there’s a detour in their route,” he said.

Ana Ley contributed report.

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