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Op-Ed: Fix DUMBO’s Dangerous Subway Station

12:02 AM EST on December 3, 2019

A rendering imagines what the F train York Street Station would look like with pulsating lights. Image: Delson or Sherman

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The York Street F train station in DUMBO  is overcrowded, dangerous and inaccessible to people with disabilities — all things that can and must be fixed.

But the MTA has no intention of doing so.

With only one exit, no elevator and no escalator, the station becomes so congested during rush hours, it is just plain dangerous. The only means of egress is a single stairway at the extreme north end of the subway platform, which opens at a single entrance at the sidewalk on Jay Street. The station's three turnstiles — crammed next to a token booth — accommodate more than 12,000 passengers a day.

York Street is one of the most dangerous subway stations in the city, but it failed to make the list of  48 stations the MTA plans to make accessible by 2024.

A number of huge residential developments are being built within steps of the station, which will bring thousands more residents and forever alter the neighborhood. DUMBO also has become a major tourist destination. The York Street station is the only transit stop serving the eastern portion of popular Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Given these developments, the need to alleviate the dire crowding at the station grows more urgent with each passing year. York Street is the only subway station in DUMBO. As of the 2010 census, the neighborhood had 4,000 residents and a working population more than double that. Since then, DUMBO’s population has grown by roughly 20 percent a year — and many people enter and leave through the station’s single, narrow passage.

The station, frustrating to use on a normal day, could become life threatening in an emergency. A fire or a bomb scare would turn the station into a corked bottle. What's more, huge columns on the platform block the view of the stairway; confused passengers often head the wrong way when exiting a train, stranding themselves at the platform’s dead end. The station urgently needs a second, barrier-free means of egress at the south end of the platform, at Jay and Nassau Street. To prod the MTA, we launched a petition that has garnered more than 600 signatures. The DUMBO Business Improvement District has its own petition.

To demonstrate to the city that the problem was readily fixable, our DUMBO-based architecture firm drew up plans in 2016 for a new entrance at the south end of the platform, which would open at Manhattan Bridge Small Park, an underused green space sandwiched on Jay Street between the car exit ramp and Sands Street. (see rendering below).

A rendering of a proposed new entrance for the York Street Station. Image: Delson or Sherman
Image: Delson or Sherman Architects

This potentially great park between DUMBO and Downtown — the fastest growing section of DUMBO — has three wide exits to Jay Street, the southernmost at sidewalk level. The new entrance would be fully accessible via ramps to platform level and an elevator to ground level.

Our plans also would fix the existing entrance at York Street, eliminating the choke points by doubling the number of turnstiles and relocating the token booth.

Other features of our design include:

  • Changes to the drab York Street facade, which is so undistinguished many visitors can't find it. We propose backlighting the louvered facade with slowly pulsating LEDs to identify the station and symbolize the energy of the subway system.
  • Restoring the now-closed public restroom near the existing entrance, and adding another restroom near our proposed new entrance. Both restrooms would be gender neutral.
  • Adding lighting rings to a little-noticed architectural gem, the massive columns of the Manhattan Bridge, which stretch between the current entrance and our proposed one. Ringing each column, the lights would beautify the underpass and enhance public safety for pedestrians leaving the station or walking through the area. See rendering below.

The Delson or Sherman proposal for lighting near the DUMBO F Train station in the passage under the Manhattan Bridge. Image: Delson or Sherman
The Delson or Sherman Architects proposal for lighting near the DUMBO F train station in the passage under the Manhattan Bridge. Image: Delson or Sherman Architects

Whether the MTA chooses our design or another, it can act now to prevent this disaster or do nothing and apologize for it later.

Jeffrey Sherman is a principal at Delson or Sherman Architects, located at 20 Jay St. in DUMBO.

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