New MTA Grates Double as Seating, Bike Racks

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Not to steal anyone’s thunder, but the MTA has rolled out the second of three prototype grates designed to keep stormwater out of the subways while doubling as street furniture. The first design, though incorporating a bench, is more artful and less functional than the prototype shown above, which includes seating as well as bike racks. Fifteen of the bench/bike rack prototypes will be coming to Lower Manhattan, along West Broadway between Chambers and Leonard Streets, and on Varick Street between Leonard and Franklin.

Said DOT Commish Janette Sadik-Khan via an MTA press release: "The fact that this new street furniture does more than double-duty as protection from stormwater by providing seating and bike racks shows that good design can turn problems into assets."

Indeed, the MTA deserves credit for this innovative project (the grates were developed in conjunction with DOT, the Public Design Commission of the City of New York, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and the Municipal Art Society). However, as Second Avenue Sagas points out, the new designs will consume already scarce sidewalk space. The ideal combo: multi-purpose grates plus wider sidewalks, especially for pedestrian-packed areas like Lower Manhattan.

Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Rob Wilson

  • Ian Turner

    Wider sidewalks are certainly the right way to address limited pedestrian space. That said, this design seems to encourage pedestrian-bicycle conflicts; it puts bench-sitters within a few inches of parked bikes, which will be especially difficult when bikes are being parked or retrieved.

    There are multiple ways to address this issue, but one is to set the height of benches so that bench-sitters face away from the bikes. You can emphasize this orientation by adding backs to the benches.

  • J

    I’m confused. Are these going to be installed flush with the sidewalks like all other subway grates? If so, Ian, people will be able to sit on either side of the benches, and they will seem to occupy less sidewalk space that they do in the picture above. Also, benches perpendicular to the street appear to be a new addition to the city. Every other bench I’ve seen has been parallel to the street, I believe in order to keep the sidewalk clear.

  • I agree that the bench-sitters and the bicyclists will tangle over this design. Plus the prototype lacks the obligatory cleats or other raised element designed to discourage people from lying down on the bench.

  • I applaud the effort, but think agree that this puts bench sitters and bike lockers uncomfortably close. The bike rack design looks good though, for front and back wheels. We need many of these on a street corner, not just two of them flanked by benches!

  • Streetsman

    I think you have to visit the thing to see how it works:

    -It will always remain above the surface of the sidewalk – that’s what prevents stormwater from draining into the grates.

    -The height of the benches and the presence of a step makes it extremely conducive to sitting on the side that faces away from the bike racks. The bench is so low the if you are standing on the grate you would not want to sit facing in – your knees would be to high.

    -The angle of the bench and lack of a back I think would make it very difficult to sleep on.

    That said, I think the whole grate could make a very comfortable little out-of-the-way sleeping area with warm air blowing up in the winter. But it’s no reason no to try these out and see what happens.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Now this is an innovative design!!! I was somewhat hoping that the NYCDoT bikerack contest would bring out something this cool.

    Bike / Ped conflicts?!?! You’re all kidding right? Just sit facing away from the bike racks.

    Also, subway grates are usually placed flush with the sidewalk so I’m still wondering if this is intended to be raised as shown. However, this may be done on purpose to prevent water from going into the subway (the water pumps cost a lot of money for MTA to run). The benches and bikeracks would eliminate the obvious tripping hazard a raised subway grate would cause if it didn’t have the extra amenities.

    Great design!

  • Phil

    I think they left out the wireless connection boosters and the coffee machines.

  • Andy, the sitter-bicyclist conflist is not imaginary. The sitters will not necessarily sit facing outward. Given the inward curving design of the bench, folks are more likely to sit facing inwards if they want to talk to each other. Shorter sitters like kids would do better with the raised floor of the interior of this structure, where their feet can touch the ground. If you’ve got a backpack or bag over your back, and your are engaged in the usual ritual of applying multiple locks to your bike that is necessary in NYC, your bag will be hitting or almost hitting the sitters, or at least making them feel crowded. If the rack is fully occupied (looks like it takes 4 bikes), you are definitely cheek to jowl with the sitters.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Well, I’ll give you one thing, the rack further away from the camera (the one without the bike) is only inches away from the bench. I missed this the first time.

    I still think its an excellent design. With just a couple of small modifications to reduce ped/bike issues it could be perfect.

    Also, I was thinking about this last night, why not place a clear glass gabled canopy above the whole thing that leaves all four sides open? You would then have sheltered bike parking, a sheltered bench and it would help prevent an even greater amount of water from getting down into the subway!

  • Streetsman

    I get what everyone is saying about the sitter vs. bike conflict, but you have to see this thing in person. I checked it out yesterday and it is extremely inviting to sit facing away from the bikes, but if you walk up onto the grates the bench is so low you wouldn’t want to sit down. Also, the location of the bike rack attachments are right where your legs would go if you sat facing the bikes. I saw people using it and everyone sat facing away from the bikes.

  • christine

    WHAT ABOUT THE PEDESTRIANS? I am getting really upset.

    This is a perfect illustration of the car wiinning the battle by making pedestrians and biccylist fight over the crumbs whiel they keep 75 5 of hte street sapce..

  • gecko

    Interesting design. Perhaps the MTA would go further and consider permeable surface cycle tracks as grated medians on upper Park Avenue and Broadway as year-round partial “Summer Streets”.

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