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Second Avenue Subway wows commuters in its first week of service

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Checking in on the first week of service on the long-awaited line

As of yesterday, the Second Avenue Subway is officially up and running for real, rather than in half measures—overnight service began on the line, making it a fully integrated part of the New York City subway system. It also coincided with one week of the line being open to the public, which seems as good a time as any for a look back at how things went during week one.

While the MTA doesn’t have ridership figures available for the first week of service, trips to the lines three stops at 96th, 86th, and 72nd streets prove—anecdotally, at least—that it’s been popular with both regular commuters and subway gawkers.

Undoubtedly the thing that is getting most people who don’t live on the Upper East Side out to the stations—aside from mere curiosity at what $4.5 billion and 100 years gets you—is the artwork. A quick perusal of Instagram shows that thousands of people have snapped shots of Vik Muniz’s portraits of regular New Yorkers (including plenty of selfies), Chuck Close’s mosaics, and Sarah Sze’s bright blue mural covering the 96th Street station.

Riders—including this editor—have also been impressed with the cleanliness of the stations (clean tracks! no desiccated wads of gum on the platforms! nothing is covered in spit!), if not necessarily the size. Larger platforms are good; enormous mezzanines that don’t seem to serve much of a purpose beyond newness, not so much.

The stations were the byproduct of a joint venture between AECOM and Arup, and were designed specifically for the Second Avenue line, so expect to see a similar design in the next phases of the line—assuming, of course, we see the second phase happen anytime soon. (The projected $6 billion price tag needed to build the next three stations hasn’t gone down easy.)

And that leads to a larger question: has the line truly been a boon for commuters? Opinions are mixed, based on conversations with people who’ve begun using the line regularly. Rory Halperin, an Upper East Side resident, says that her commute “has been cut more than in half,” with the line having more or less on-time service thus far.

“The new subway stations are nothing to complain about either,” she notes. “If you do have to wait for the subway, it's so much nicer than the older stations which are so dark and dingy!”

Vicki Loo, a publicist who lives in the neighborhood, agrees with that assessment: “So far everything is really clean—and I hope it stays that way. I plan to use this as my main mode of transportation downtown.”

Still, not everything is rosy: Some 4/5/6 riders have reported even worse delays on that line than normal since Second Avenue service began. Elevators to access the 63rd Street station broke down last weekend. And, perhaps inevitably, signal problems took the line down within its first few days of service:

And just a day after service began, MTA chairman Tom Prendergast announced that he was stepping down from the organization, a move that was long-planned (allegedly he’d stayed on longer than intended to meet the SAS deadline), but somewhat unexpected. While names have been bandied about for his replacement—who would oversee the expansion of the line—nothing concrete has happened there yet.

So that’s week one: some ups, some downs, some happy commuters, and three very pretty new stations.

As for week two of SAS service, it started off with Mayor de Blasio telling reporters that he doesn’t plan on using the line—despite the fact that the new 86th Street station is now a short walk from Gracie Mansion. (His reasoning? He likes to go to his gym in Park Slope in the mornings—but, y’know, the Q does run to Brooklyn.…) Perhaps that’s not the best way to endear yourself to New Yorkers—nor is admitting that you haven’t even been on the subway since mid-December. But we digress.

Additionally, Governor Cuomo is giving his State of the State addresses this week, and while there’s no guarantee that he’ll talk about the future of the Second Avenue line, it’s something we’ll be keeping an eye on.

And now for some subway photo goodness, courtesy of Max Touhey: