Saturday, January 21, 2017

There's a New "Q" in New York Town


“So, what should I write about this week,” he said.

“The subway,” came bouncing back from his muse.  “The new Q-line.”

For what seems a decade we’ve been skirting around the massive construction project at the bottom of our Upper Eastside street that had necessitated leveling a couple of classic shops on East 72nd Street, and destroyed the business of several others.

The plywood barriers, construction trailers, five lanes narrowed to two, cranes, hardhat worksite dictates, and posted public relations assurances that the new Second Avenue subway would open on time had become part of the background to the neighborhood.

Then suddenly, on January 1, it opened!  Just as promised and (allegedly) within budget.  The streets were quiet, clean, and uncluttered again, while through an elegant, unobtrusive entrance streams of folks went in and out at all times of the day.

Until then, they’d had to march four blocks south and two west to catch the Lexington Avenue 6 train, a notoriously mobbed line running up and down the east side of Manhattan.

Now they had an alternative, one connecting the eastside with the west, as the first phase of construction promised to bring the same sort of relief to other neighborhoods.

On Wednesday night I had my first chance to use the Q. In two stops, and fifteen minutes door-to-door, we arrived at Carnegie Hall.  Thursday night we had Knicks basketball tickets and made it to Madison Square Garden in four stops and less than twenty minutes.  If we’d wanted to get off in the theater district, it would have been but three stops.

New York lost to Washington.

Bottom line: bye-bye taxis and Uber, and hello MTA.  Whoever came up with this new line deserves extraordinary credit for expanding and enhancing mass transit use.

But wait, there’s more. Descent into the bowels of Manhattan at my stop involves a six-story escalator ride down to the platform below. It’s a surreal experience, offering an elevator for the vertigo inclined.

It's a long way down...and if you want to ride, click on the film clip below

But what will blow your mind is the artwork adorning the new station walls (at 63rd, 72nd, 86th, and 96th Streets). It’s a museum worthy experience.  Here’s what the MTA has to say about its artwork.
Commissioned by MTA Arts & Design, the Second Avenue Subway’s Phase 1 artworks together comprise the largest permanent art installation in New York history. These art installations represent the vibrance and cultural diversity of New York—a city continually on the move.
Jean Shin – 63rd Street: Elevated, 2017, Laminated glass, glass mosaic, and ceramic tile
Jean Shin’s installation, Elevated uses archival photographs of the 2nd and 3rd Avenue Elevated train to create compositions in ceramic tile, glass mosaic, and laminated glass. The imagery is manipulated and re-configured and each station level provides a unique focus, palette and material. At the 3rd Avenue escalator, the view is filled with ceramic tile depicting construction beams and the cranes that dismantled the El in the 1940s. At the 3rd Avenue mezzanine, a mosaic reveals the sky where the train had previously been present, and features images of people from the era in this neighborhood transformation. The platform level features semitransparent and reflective materials showing vintage scenes of the neighborhood, while enabling contemporary viewers to see themselves in the cityscape of the past.

Vik Muniz – 72nd Street: Perfect Strangers, 2017, Glass mosaic and laminated glass
Perfect Strangers by Vik Muniz features more than three-dozen characters created in mosaic and installed throughout the mezzanine and entrance areas, populating the station with colorful images of all types of New Yorkers. The main station entrance features a laminated glass canopy at street level depicting a flock of birds, bringing art and nature to the busy location. Within the expanse of the mezzanine concourse, the life size figures provide bursts of color and visual interest and an opportunity for new discovery with every trip through the station.

Chuck Close – 86th Street: Subway Portraits, 2017, Glass and ceramic mosaic, ceramic tile
Chuck Close in Subway Portraits has created twelve large-scale works that are based on the artist’s painstakingly detailed photo-based portrait paintings and prints. His various painting techniques have been interpreted in ten works as mosaic, and in two as ceramic tile. The artworks measure close to nine feet high and are placed on the walls at the station entrances and the mezzanine concourse. The people portrayed are cultural figures that have frequently been his subjects, including Philip Glass, Zhang Huan, Kara Walker, Alex Katz, Cecily Brown, Cindy Sherman, and Lou Reed, as well as two distinct self-portraits.

Sarah Sze – 96th Street: Blueprint for a Landscape, 2017, Porcelain tile
Blueprint for a Landscape by Sarah Sze profoundly impacts the look of the station as her imagery is applied directly to nearly 4300 unique porcelain wall tiles, spanning approximately 14,000 square feet. The designs feature familiar objects – sheets of paper, scaffolding, birds, trees, and foliage – caught up in a whirlwind velocity that picks up speed and intensity as the composition unfolds throughout the station with references to energy fields and wind patterns. Each entrance features a different shade of blue and a blueprint-style vector line design, a visual theme that is integrated with the architecture.

I guess the bottom line to all this is simply that, despite everything we sense as wrong with our government, there are some things it gets right.  The Second Avenue Q line is surely that. Bravo New York City.

And thank you, BZ, for the suggested topic.



  1. Wow, the artwork is beautiful. And some of it so realistic. For a second, I was ready to swear that one of the figures was Barbara. How did she manage to get picked as a subject???

  2. On time, on budget, works, no floods, great artwork? Pity these people didn't build the Gautrain here which failed on all these points.

    1. To be fair, I should point out that Michael has never taken the Gautrain!

    2. To be fair, I have to point out that the above comment is false!

    3. Sound more like the "no-gotrain."

  3. How great, Bro. I can now get to your place in five stops. And without changing trains. And the vice is versa. Lasagna alla Bolognese will be on offer after mid-March.

    1. Morale: Where a subway runs, you cannot hide. :)

  4. Hmm, I wonder how London's cross rail compares ...

    Sounds wonderful, Jeff. Can't wait to experience it for myself. On one of my early visits to NYC, SJ Rozan very kindly shared the Secrets of the Subway with me, so now I ride it everywhere with great pleasure when I'm over there. People-watching is always fascinating!

    1. People watching for sure! And with this section of the Q (at least for now) you actually have a chance at getting a seat. As for Secrets of the Subway, sounds like a Phantom of the Opera knockoff.

  5. I have watched too many episodes of Law and Order and was terrified on the New York subway!

    1. That makes you just like a native New Yorker.

    2. Bro, BALONEY! Caro, Law and Order is fiction, written by guys who live in LA. Real NYers are not terrified, just totally annoyed when ever there are delays. Which are a lot less than you'd suspect given that the system moves 4+ million riders a day. It's one of the reasons why NYers per capita have one of the lowest carbon footprints of city dwellers anywhere.

    3. You may not be afraid, Sis, but everyone in the car with you is justifiably terrified.

    4. I am glad you are afraid of me, my brother. I certainly try to frighten you every chance I get. But I doubt all the other people in the car with me are terrified. My disguise as a harmless. little old lady works very well on the other 4,000,000 who are just playing with their phones, talking to their babies, reading their books and newspapers, and ignoring the crimal mind I hide so well on public transportation.