^ That temporary entrance has been open for a good while now.
Taking the Adventure Out of Fulton St. Station
The station’s arrows and U-turn signs confuse tourists and New Yorkers alike. A renovation project is expected to ease navigation.
By C. J. HUGHES
January 30, 2009
The Fulton Street subway station might be a good spot for M.C. Escher to set up an easel, if the surrealist artist were still alive and sketching.
Ramps double back on themselves. Stairs twist down around corners. Passengers weave through a maze where there is no clear way forward.
“I come here every two weeks, and every time I get lost,” Khana Fraser, 34, a student from Far Rockaway, Queens, said as she paced a ramp near the A train platform, trying to find a street-side exit.
And if locals have problems decoding the station’s perplexing U-turn arrows — are they telling passengers on the way to another subway connection to make a left, or to do an about-face? — imagine how much like hieroglyphics they seem to tourists.
But the struggles with the layout quirks of this station, a bottleneck of nine subway lines, may soon cease. On Thursday, the executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced that $497 million in federal stimulus money is expected to go toward renovating the station, a project that began in 2005 and stalled as it ran over budget.
Members of the Bain family, visiting from Belmont, N.C., and on their way to catch a ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, were among the many passengers mystified by the Fulton Street station’s signs on Friday.
“It’s a good thing I was wearing my contacts,” Matthew Bain, 15, said after he spied far-off green circles for the No. 4 and No. 5 trains while he stood at the same Bermuda Triangle of a juncture where Ms. Fraser had gone off course.
Matthew then alerted the other members of his family, so they could correct their direction.
Still, to get where they were going would require descending 19 stairs to the A train platform, jostling through a crowd of debarking riders, climbing 19 steps on the other side and traversing a dim, narrow hallway.
With the federal money, the transportation authority will put up a new glass station on the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street, which is now a fenced-in dirt lot, according to Elliot G. Sander, the agency’s executive director.
The authority will also go ahead with a plan to build a bypass hallway in the area where the A and C lines stop, said Kevin Ortiz, an authority spokesman.
“We will be able to eliminate the maze of ramps,” Mr. Ortiz said of the station, which recorded 66,293 MetroCard swipes in December 2007, the most recent month for which statistics were available, making it the seventh busiest of the city’s 468 subway stops.
Factoring in all the commuters who transfer between trains there, Fulton Street serves about 225,000 riders a day, Mr. Ortiz added.
While new hallways will be welcome, a few decent signs would drastically improve matters in the meantime, said Mark Sanders, 34, a student from Staten Island, who was aimlessly loping through the station before a reporter helped him with directions.
“When you’re rushing, you don’t see these little signs,” he said. Indeed, the one he missed, a tiny rectangle caked with dirt and bearing a streak of white paint, was the only indication at the top of a staircase that travelers should make a 180-degree turn to catch an uptown No. 5 train.
If passengers think the spaghetti tangle of passageways at Fulton Street is hard to navigate now, they should have visited during the mid-1930s.
Back then, two private companies and the city operated the station’s subway lines, and riders would have to pay additional fares and often had to go outside to transfer, said Peter Derrick, an archivist at the Bronx County Historical Society who has written about the subway system
It was not until 1940, when the city took over the entire system, that those transfer fares were phased out, Mr. Derrick said, adding that Fulton Street is still the most head-scratching station to get through in Manhattan.
“It’s a confusing mess, especially for somebody from out of town,” he said. “Any improvement will definitely be a good thing.”
Not everyone, though, is happy. Mun Lee, 38, of Palisades Park, N.J., who works as a tattoo artist in a shop one door over from where the new glass station building is scheduled to go up, said it would mean more years of disruptive construction.
“People think big building, big windows, it looks good,” said Mr. Lee as he finished adding Asian characters to a customer’s forearm. “But I can’t help thinking about my own business.”