Why It Costs So Much to Build Our Subways

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NY Magazine’s Curbed recently published an excellent new piece from Christopher Baranos. Baranos summarizes the key points of a recent NYU study, which looked at NYC’s subway system and its myriad of excesses and inefficiencies. While New Yorkers know there’s no easy answer to the subway problem, we are also a bit tired of hearing excuses! This piece actually gives a detailed assessment of the daunting discussion. Overall there seems to be a tremendous amount of in-fighting among city (and sometimes state) agencies.

Another reason discussed centered on design:

Their designs vary too much.

Some of this back-of-house bloat will be addressed in the next set of subway stations to be built, where spaces will likely be consolidated and shared. But that brings up another problem, which is that too much custom work goes into each one. The three stations built on Second Avenue “used two different escalator contractors and have a different number of exits, crossovers, and elevators,” thus forgoing economies of scale, the study explains. We do not necessarily want cookie-cutter stations — after all, the City Beautiful movement gave us IRT stops with distinctive finishes — but, as Goldwyn says, “in a utilitarian system, the industrial process can be good. In Copenhagen’s Cityringen, all the stations use the same form, and they’re beautiful. In Stockholm, often considered the most beautiful in the world, they’re relatively standardized. In a dense urban environment, it’s going to be harder to do that, but it’s not impossible.”

Read the full article here.

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