USP wants to modernize Union Sq. station

The Union Square Partnership proposed a few technological enhacements for the subway station at a Community Board 5 meeting. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The neighborhood BID for Union Square wants to help make the chaotic station more navigable for commuters and tourists alike and this week offered some suggestions to Community Board 5. Union Square Partnership director of economic development Monica Munn said that the impetus for the plan is partially due to the changes the neighborhood will be undergoing with the upcoming L train shutdown but also is a push to generally modernize the station.

“(The L train shutdown) is not just about changes happening above ground,” she said, referring to the planning related to bus and street improvements to mitigate the 15 months without the L train. “We’re thinking about what needs to be done to mitigate that as much as possible but we also want to think about modernizing as much as possible.”

Representatives from the Partnership presented the suggestions to members of Community Board 5’s transportation and environment committee this past Monday.

“We were interested in their thoughts and feedback about the recommendations because Community Board 5 has experience in dealing with issues in complex subway stations,” Munn told Town & Village. “We would love to hear how it resonates and hear about priorities members have more broadly.”

The Partnership identified multiple challenges for the station, including the complex layout, congestion at entrances and transfer points and the uneven utilization of space, and offered recommendations that Munn said would be relatively cost-efficient.

“Our hope is that signage and behavioral nudges are primarily capital-light,” Munn said. “We’re trying to identify things that don’t require large amounts of money to implement.”

The background information for the recommendations comes from discussions the Partnership has had with transit advocacy groups, think tanks, people previously working at city agencies such as the Department of Transportation and other experts.

One suggestion from the Partnership includes updating signage in the station to include a coding system for exits, which would give riders more information about how to get to specific landmarks above-ground before leaving the station.

“Signage is a major pain point in Union Square,” Munn said. “We want to help transfers be as seamless as possible. Knowing how far it is to a transfer point and which stairway to go to for specific exits could be really helpful for riders.”

Munn added that additional countdown clocks for train arrivals could alleviate stress about transferring as well.

“There are multiple lines that all converge at Union Square but the platforms only have countdown clocks for the lines that you’re on,” she said. “There’s no information for other lines on individual platforms and that information could be really helpful for people.”

Another recommendation intended to reduce congestion would be to install overhead chaser lights or other directional cues in high traffic corridors to indicate where pedestrians should go. The Moynihan Train Hall in Penn Station currently has this kind of light art installation that provides behavioral nudges for pedestrians.

One of the more expensive proposals was prioritization of upgrades to accessibility for the disabled in Union Square, as well as elevators for the Sixth Avenue and Third Avenue L stations.

“Citywide, insufficient ADA accessibility at stations is a huge issue,” Munn said. “We’re hoping to contribute to the push and raise awareness to make sure that transit is as accessible as possible.”

While the MTA has full jurisdiction over any upgrades to the station, Munn said that the Partnership’s hope is that the agency will take some of the suggestions into consideration and there is a possibility of the two organizations working together to implement some of the improvements.

“We have partnered with the MTA in the past so there is precedent for that type of work,” she said. “The MTA did some work on the mezzanine in the station (in the 1990s) and we contributed some funding for those station enhancements.”

The MTA did not respond to a request for comment on the suggestions and while the Partnership showed the presentation to the committee at this week’s meeting, a representative for the Community Board said that members did not have a chance to discuss the plans or give feedback yet.

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