New Yorkers know one of the worst places to be during a heat wave is a subway platform. The problem, of course, is that millions of people need to use the subway every day no matter the weather. When the temperature below ground is hotter than the extreme temperatures above ground, waiting on a subway platform can pose serious health risks.
Last summer, RPA measured temperatures across dozens of NYC subway platforms. And this past weekend, the scorching heat wave gave us a good opportunity for round two. We measured temperatures in the city’s 10 busiest stations and the New York Daily News came along for the sweltering ride.
|14 Street-Union Sq||99||3:22 PM||4/5/6 Uptown|
|34 Street-Herald Square||96||12:37 PM||N/Q/R Downtown|
|Columbus Circle||95||12:20 PM||N/Q/R Downtown|
|Times Square-42 Street||94||12:05 PM||1 Uptown|
|Penn Station||92||11:59 PM||2/3 Uptown|
|Chambers Street World Trade Center||92||11:48 PM||A/C/E Downtown|
|Fulton Street||91||11:49 PM||4/5 Uptown|
|Lexington Avenue-51 Street||91||12:49 PM||6 Uptown|
|Grand Central-42 Street||89||12:41 PM||4/5/6 Uptown|
|59 Street||89||8:05 AM||4/5 Uptown|
We also measured a few other platforms. Just like last year, we found the highest temperatures at Brooklyn Bridge City Hall and 14th Street Union Square at 96 and 95 degrees, respectively, on Friday July 19. When we went back out on Saturday, these stations topped out at 101 and 99 degrees.
|Brooklyn Bridge City Hall||101||3:12 PM||4/5/6 Downtown|
|Bleecker Street||96||3:00 PM||4/5 Downtown|
|Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center||95||2:15 PM||B/D Downtown|
|28 Street||92||8:58 AM||A/C/E Uptown|
|47-50 Streets-Rockefeller Center||90||1:05 PM||A/C/E Uptown|
|42 Street-Port Authority Bus Terminal||90||3:03 PM||A/C/E Uptown|
Why is it so hot on the platforms? When lines are running poorly, it starts a vicious cycle, as outlined in our 2018 report Save our Subways. Lines become congested, forcing cars to brake and accelerate more often, which is where most of the generated heat comes from. Dwell times increase, holding cars in the station longer as they discharge hot air conditioning exhaust onto the platform. What’s more, the stations are not well ventilated.
We need to invest in infrastructure that brings down platform temperatures, like improved station ventilation, regenerative braking systems, and subway cars that consume less energy. We should first focus on the overall customer experience. If riders enter the station and immediately board trains, hot platforms become less of a health risk. Instead, customers are crowding onto platforms, maybe after carrying a stroller down two staircases, and waiting 10 minutes for the next train.
By moving riders in and out of subway stations more rapidly we’ll curb the conditions that contribute to hot platforms. By building more elevators, wider staircases and better wayfinding infrastructure we’ll enable customers to cool down once they’re inside stations. Many of these improvements have already been proposed in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Fast Forward Plan. But for this plan to become a reality, it must be fully funded and truly prioritized.
Heat waves are tough – and sometimes dangerous – reminders of the subway system’s shortcomings. When Manhattan’s north-south numbered lines shut down during rush hour on Friday, even temperatures in subway cars – normally air-conditioned oases – were hitting 90 degrees.
These shortcomings may make for good twitter content, but the challenge lies in fixing them. Fortunately, through the MTA’s Fast Forward plan, fixes for our steaming platforms already exist – they just need to be fully funded.