Getting from the Island to the Upper East Side just got a little bit easier.
With Sunday’s opening of the Second Avenue Subway, riders can now travel from the Roosevelt Island station to East 96th Street – without ever having to brave the elements.
The extension, which includes three gleaming new elevator-accessible stations at 72nd, 86th, and 96th Streets, has been a long time coming. The new line was first proposed in the 1920s, but the Great Depression and other obstacles prevented it from getting built until now. The project is the subway system’s biggest expansion in 50 years, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
It also brings a treasury of artwork to the transit system, with installations from Chuck Close, Vik Muniz, Jean Shin, and Sarah Sze.
First Train Out
The Second Avenue Subway is an extension of the Q line, which now heads north from the overhauled Lexington Avenue-63rd Street station instead of continuing east to Queens. Islanders can take the F train one stop into Manhattan, then head downstairs from the platform for northbound Q trains or simply cross the platform for southbound Q trains.
The Second Avenue Subway’s debut on New Year’s Day drew throngs of transit buffs and shutterbugs. (There was an inaugural run for the governor and other officials the day before, but January 1 was the public debut.) When the first train pulled into the southernmost of the three new stations – at 72nd Street – riders cheered. One man yelled, “Touchdown!”
The conductor promptly announced signal delays, drawing laughs from the crowd. On its first day, the shiny new Second Avenue Subway was already just like every other line.
Exploring the Stations
A subway expansion is exhilarating, in part, because it combines something new with something so familiar. The swipe of a MetroCard feels the same; the trains are no different on the inside; and Charlie Pellett’s voice still warns you to stand clear of the closing doors.
And yet, suddenly there are three new dots on the subway map. It’s as if you woke up one morning and found an additional bathroom in your apartment.
Also, the new stations are gorgeous.
The 72nd Street station is decorated with Muniz’s beautiful and lighthearted mosaic representations of New Yorkers: a cop holding a melting popsicle, a mom holding her baby, a man chasing windswept papers from an open briefcase, a guy handing out balloons to an excited child, and dozens of other characters. The station should provide much easier access from the Island to the many medical facilities in the area.
The next stop is 86th Street, which is only a few blocks from the existing 4-5-6 station at Lexington. This station probably isn’t going to open up a new area of the city to subway-riding Islanders, but the hope is that having two lines along this corridor will bring relief to one of the most congested parts of the transit system.
The new 86th Street station features works from Close, an artist famous for large-scale portraits. The giant mosaics include depictions of Philip Glass, Lou Reed, and the artist himself.
First Train Out
Finally, there’s the 96th Street station. It’s decorated with Sze’s 14,000-square-foot installation, called Blueprint for a Landscape, which uses porcelain wall tiles to create a dizzying scene. The work shows paper, trees, and other objects seemingly caught in a windstorm.
Of the three new stations, Muniz’s whimsical mosaics appeared to be the crowd favorite on Sunday. People of all ages posed against the figures, attempting to become part of the art.
All of the stations are worth a visit, even if your normal commute doesn’t take you in that direction. Depending on how easily you make the connection at 63rd Street, you could get there in 10 to 15 minutes from the Island.
It’s almost enough to make Roosevelt Island feel like a true part of Manhattan.