by Rachel Zhang and Lauren Hakimi
MTA representatives presented a plan to Manhattan Community Board 8 on Wednesday evening for long-awaited updates that would make the 68th Street-Hunter College station compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The plan, which was originally proposed in 2012, still must be approved by the Federal Transit Administration and NYC Department of Transportation before construction begins.
The accessibility updates include three new ADA-compliant elevators and two new stair entrances to the subway. An elevator on the northeast corner of 68th Street and Lexington Avenue would connect the street level to the mezzanine, and two additional elevators would connect the mezzanine to the northbound and southbound subway platforms, if the plan is approved.
Two new staircases would ease congestion on the four existing staircases, which are at the four corners of 68th Street and Lexington Avenue. One would be at the southwest corner of 69th and Lexington, and the other would be at the east side of Lexington between 68th and 69th streets, through the footprint of the Imperial House, an apartment building.
Under the proposed plans, a curb bump-out would be constructed at the northeast corner of 68th Street and Lexington to widen the sidewalk and accommodate the new street-level elevator at that corner. The existing staircase at this corner would be widened slightly and reconstructed to be located on the bump-out. This extension would be constructed in the parking lane next to the sidewalk. Currently, the parking lane is designated only for police department vehicles. Curb ramps at all four corners of the intersection would make it easier for people with disabilities to cross the street.
Richard Wetherbee, a representative from the NYC Transit Authority who presented the updated plan, said that the MTA anticipates that construction will begin by summer, street-level construction will wrap up by summer 2023, and construction as a whole could be complete by summer 2024.
Part of the reason the project has taken so long is because the MTA has found it difficult to negotiate with CUNY, according to Marcus Book of the New York City Transit Authority. “Negotiating with CUNY has been an interesting prospect from the beginning,” Book said.
Originally, the plan was to build an elevator within the footprint of the East building at Hunter so that the elevator fit snugly under the building rather than jutting out onto the sidewalk and requiring a sidewalk extension. But because of structural challenges, plans for an elevator right outside the library were scrapped in favor of the northeast corner elevator location.
The original plan also included widening the staircase at the southeast entrance to the station, but this is no longer part of the plan since it was deemed too complicated to engineer. Wetherbee said the MTA still hopes that it will be able to work with CUNY in the future to widen the staircase, which is on university property.
Community board members at Wednesday’s meeting expressed disappointment about the failure of the MTA and CUNY to come together to put an elevator at the East building and widen the staircase. “It seems to me like the easiest and most common-sense thing to do is that if we’re talking about increasing accessibility and capacity, that we do all this construction at one time,” said board member Tricia Shimamura. “It makes no sense to me to move forward with this project and not widen those stairs at the same time.”
Community board member Marco Tamayo said the elevator to the mezzanine should be in the footprint of the campus, not on the sidewalk, because the sidewalk is narrow and the area around the elevator could become a site of public urination and littering. “The original proposal inside of the Hunter College premises, it makes a lot of sense,” he said.
CUNY media relations did not respond to The Envoy’s request for comment.
In response to community board members’ concerns, Book said the project isn’t worth delaying any longer. “I think that people at this stage would like to see an ADA project happen,” he said.