NYC’s Lexington Avenue–63rd Street station

I took a tour with the New York Transit Museum of the artwork in the new Q-train stations. The artwork are all mosaics, but they are they are not all the same type of mosaic. This is the fourth of four blog entries to show some of the amazing mosaics.

The Lexington Avenue–63rd Street station is an expansion of an old station. The new area features mosaics by Jean Shin entitled “Elevated.” The mosaics are based on archival photos of the area. Some of the mosaics show people with a blue sky in the shape of the elevated train tracks that were removed decades ago to show how the sky opened up when the elevated was removed. At one of the entrances to the subway, the mosaic portrays the old elevated with all its steel beams and piers.

Elevated by Jean Shin

Elevated by Jean Shin

Elevated by Jean Shin

Elevated by Jean Shin

NYC’s 72nd Street station

I took a tour with the New York Transit Museum of the artwork in the new Q-train stations. The artwork are all mosaics, but they are they are not all the same type of mosaic. This is the third of four blog entries to show some of the amazing mosaics.

The 72nd Street station has a set of 36 mosaics by Vik Muinz titled “Perfect Strangers.” The people represent people that might be found at the station. They are delightful, wonderful, beautiful, and amazingly detailed. I think my favorite one, although I admit I haven’t seen them all, is one that is sort of hidden. The mosaic (photo below) of a workman on a ladder is hidden away by a set of elevators before passing the fare gates. It is sort of a hidden treat to see if you find it.

Perfect Strangers by Vik Muniz

Perfect Strangers by Vik Muniz

Perfect Strangers by Vik Muniz

Perfect Strangers by Vik Muniz

Perfect Strangers by Vik Muniz

Perfect Strangers by Vik Muniz

Perfect Strangers by Vik Muniz

NYC’s 86th Street station

I took a tour with the New York Transit Museum of the artwork in the new Q-train stations. The artwork are all mosaics, but they are they are not all the same type of mosaic. This is the second of four blog entries to show some of the amazing mosaics.

The 86th Street station has mosaics by Chuck Close titled “Subway Portraits.” There are twelve mosaics in different mosaics styles. Several mosaics are glass, and others are different types of clay tiles. While all the mosaics are lovely, there are some that are made with so many different pieces, I was awestruck by how much time it must have taken to put then together. There are two self portraits of Chuck Close, and the one in glass has slivers that must have required tweezers or some other type of tool to carefully put the pieces in.

“Subway Portraits” by Chuck Close: Kara Walker’s portrait

“Subway Portraits” by Chuck Close: up close view of Kara Walker’s portrait

“Subway Portraits” by Chuck Close: Philip Glass’s portrait

“Subway Portraits” by Chuck Close: self portrait

“Subway Portraits” by Chuck Close: self portrait, up close view

“Subway Portraits” by Chuck Close: self portrait, up close view

“Subway Portraits” by Chuck Close: self portrait

“Subway Portraits” by Chuck Close: self portrait, up close view

NYC’s 96th St Station

I took a tour with the New York Transit Museum of the artwork in the new Q-train stations. The artwork are all mosaics, but they are they are not all the same type of mosaic. This is the first of four blog entries to show some of the amazing mosaics.

The 96th Street station is essentially one big mosaic by Sarah Sze titled “Blueprint for a Landscape”. The art is supposed to portray the movement in the station, especially the air movement as trains come in and out. The piece consists of porcelain tile.

Blueprint for a Landscape by Sarah Sze

Blueprint for a Landscape by Sarah Sze

Blueprint for a Landscape by Sarah Sze

Blueprint for a Landscape by Sarah Sze

Blueprint for a Landscape by Sarah Sze

DSNY Manhattan 1/2/5 Sanitation Garage

A few weeks ago, I got a chance to visit the brand new DSNY Manhattan 1/2/5 Sanitation Garage with Open House New York. The multilevel building houses three different garages, one each for Manhattan districts 1, 2, and 5. Each garage has its own floor, and there is a shared area for vehicle repairs. The building has LEED certification and includes many green features including a wonderful green roof also. Across the street is a salt shed built to resemble salt crystals. Both the garage and salt shed have really nice, innovative architecture.

DSNY Manhattan 1/2/5 Garage on left, salt shed on right, with Holland Tunnel ventilation tower in back

Salt shed

View of garage from salt shed, all floors of garage are different colors to emphasize different garages and functions

Slats in gate turned to spell DSNY

View from office area looking south, metal fins help let daylight in but keep building cool. The Statue of Liberty can barely be seen on the far right in far background.

View from garage office area of Hudson River and Holland Tunnel ventilation tower

Garage area

Shovel and broom storage (there must be a story for the front broom with the metallic confetti)

Ventilation and other mechanical structures in the repair area

Parking in the garage area

Mechanical penthouse

Green roof with Hudson River in background

Green roof

View from green roof of salt shed

Salt shed packed high with salt

DSNY Central Repair Shop

A couple of weeks ago, I got the chance to tour the Department of Sanitation of New York’s Central Repair Shop with Open House New York. The shop is huge. It several stories high and a couple of blocks long. The place is amazing, and DSNY does everything in house. The repair all vehicles there: heavy duty trucks, cars, etc. They have a woodworking shop, metal shop, sheet metal shop, upholstery shop, and all other types of shops, as well as a vehicle emissions testing facility. No, it does not smell of garbage as all vehicles are cleaned before going to the shop.

There were vehicles of all sort there. DSNY has a wide variety of garbage collection and transport vehicles. This no doubt makes it more difficult to repair as the workers have to know how to repair a multitude of different vehicles. They also repair pickup trucks, cars, and as far as I could tell, anything with wheels. I can’t say if they repair bicycles though. It won’t shock me if they did.

Parked garage trucks

Vehicles are parked everywhere but allow for traffic

Duel collection and compactor vehicles on lift

The shop also appears to be where they store most if not all, of their heavy equipment, such as equipment like snow shovels only used in winter.

Snow shovels waiting for winter

Built in road treater for winter

Impressive parallel parking both width and height wise

I don’t know what the transport vehicle below transport, but I assume garbage. I have never seen one up close, and I liked how it has a built in conveyor belt to allow for removal of its contents easily. This is one of the reason I assume this is for garbage as opposed to sand for road. The sand would get caught in between the slats of the conveyor belt.

Garbage transporter

Up close view of garbage truck to show conveyor belt to allow easier off loading

In some areas of the shop, there are similar parts sitting around. I presume some are waiting repair and others have been repaired. Most are tagged. I couldn’t identify half of them, but they were all cool looking.

Big engines for repair

Parts waiting repair/disposal/use

In one of the metal shops was this very cool, high tech, precise machine with very cool bits.

Cool machine with fun bits

Bits of some type for this cooling looking machine above

Stacks of metal pipes and bars

Sheet metal shop

Metal shop

One surprising area that the shop had was a place after my heart, an emissions testing facility. When I was there, they had a MTA bus in the testing area. MTA pays them to test some of their vehicles, but DSNY does not test private vehicles. The testing facility had a huge roller that allows testing of their large, heavy vehicles in real life conditions. There something about the contrast of this very high tech testing facility in the middle of a building that in some areas has some rather low tech repair areas that I found amusing and surprising.

MTA bus on emissions testing machine that allows for real life conditions

Piped exhaust for emissions testing

Collated emissions for analysis

MTA Substation #13

I got to the MTA’s Substation #13 through the New York Transit Museum recently. The substation converts high voltage AC electricity from the grid and converts it to a lower voltage DC electricity that is used to operate subway trains via the third rail. The substation was originally built in 1904, and it fits into the category of “they don’t build them the way they used to.” The outside looks like a nice neighborhood building, and it has architectural aspects that I really wouldn’t expect from a substation. For example, an interior staircase has lovely decorative balusters.

Exterior of the Substation #13

Exterior of the Substation #13

Gorgeous stairwell inside the substation

Gorgeous stairwell inside the substation

Inside the substation are large rotary converters, specifically Westinghouse 1,500 kilowatt Rotary Converters. The rotary converters are what used to transform the AC electricity to DC electricity. Now modern solid state rectifiers are used to transform the electricity, and they are much more compact. The old rotary converters were used until 1999, when this substation was switched to the new equipment.

Convertor

Westinghouse 1,500 kilowatt Rotary Converter

Convertor

Westinghouse 1,500 kilowatt Rotary Converter

Convertor

Positive and negative brush arms of Westinghouse 1,500 kilowatt Rotary Converter

Our guide was retired general superintendent Robert Lobenstein, who showed us around. He also showed us how workers used to have to do normal work, like changing switches and listening for crackling to make sure a wire was not live.

How workers used to change switches

How workers used to change switches

We got to go into the basement which had all sorts of old equipment.

I have no idea what this is, but it is cool looking

I have no idea what this is, but it is cool looking

We even got to go into a vault under the street where cables left the substation to go to the subway. The vault can be accessed through a door in the basement or through a manhole in the street. Normally this type of vault could only be accessed through a manhole. The cables go through conduits that are buried under the street. The cables are tagged, but it still looks like it would be difficult to find the right one if needed.

Cables leave the substation through the vault under the street with manhole access

Cables leave the substation through the vault under the street with manhole access

Inside a manhole. The manhole access is visible in the center of the ceiling.

Inside a manhole. The manhole access is visible in the center of the ceiling.

Back inside the basement, some of the equipment was still being used, but some was no longer needed, like some massive cables that were cut.

Old cut cables

Old cut cables

Branching cables

Cables come in from the ground from the grid and are then split before going upstairs to the transformation equipment.

We then went upstairs were the new equipment was, including the solid state rectifiers and the biggest breakers I have ever seen. The breakers are in the circuit with the third rail. They detect surges in the third rail and cut off power before a fire or some other damage can occur. There is a lot of redundancy with the circuit breakers. Our guide turned one off, so we could hear how loud it is, but because of redundancy, it had no effect on the subway.

Circuits connecting to breakers

Circuits connecting to breakers

Breakers for the third rail

Breakers for the third rail. The copper plates are the third rail.

The solid state rectifiers are very different in appearance, at least, from the rotary converters. [I understood very little about this.] What amazed me during the tour, was when I finally understood I was actually staring at the third rail. The long copper plates in the photos are the third rail, which leave the substation and go to the subway. The positive rail is the equivalent of the black or red wire in a house’s wiring. The negative is the equivalent of the white wire in a house’s wiring.

Third rail leaves converters

Third rail leaves the rectifiers. The positive rail “POS” goes to the subway. The negative rail “NEG” goes to a central location to complete the circuit.

Also upstairs was this amazing old series of electrical switches, dials, and gauges. None of this stuff is used anymore, but it really cool looking. I liked how everything was tagged out, never to have the tags removed again and be turned on again.

Old switches that are no longer used

Old switches that are no longer used

Gauges

Gauges

Finally at the end of the tour, they turned on the rotary converter for us. Below is a video if you want to see it in action. It is almost hypnotic. During a portion of the video, you will see five lightbulbs on a wooden board sitting on the floor. They are being powered by the converter. After it is turned off and slowly slows down, the lights dim and then turn off.

 

Treasure in the Trash

Last week, I finally got the chance to tour Treasure in the Trash, a collection I had heard about a few years back and was obsessed with touring ever since. Treasure in the Trash is a collection of items that former Department of Sanitation of New York worker Nelson Molina found in the trash as he worked his route picking up trash. Only a very small percentage of items in the collection were found by someone else. Also, Mr. Molina worked in the same garage, the M11, during his career, so almost all the items are from the same area in east Manhattan. The collection is housed on the second floor of the M11 garage, which for structural reasons can no longer be used for vehicles (vehicles on only park on the first floor now), so the collection has expanded in the void.

Framed posters and art

Framed posters and art

Glass, metal, rocking horses, etc.

Glass, metal, rocking horses, etc.

Once trash is put on the curb, it is property of the city. Mr. Molina picked items out of the trash, but as the items were kept in the garage, he never kept them, so he never violated any rules. He would have had to have stopped his habit of picking items out of the trash if it had ever slowed him down on his route. However he clearly is fast in his work, and he is also seriously skilled at knowing which bags might contain items of interest for the collection. He was present during our tour, and he told us that his picking habit started when he was a child, and it clearly is a skill. While it would be easy to find the larger items to pick, we were all amazed at how he found some of the small items that were in bags.

Nelson Molina created and curates the collection

Nelson Molina created and curates the collection

Mr. Molina not only created the collection, but he curates it. The items were all arranged in collections of sorts. He retired from DSNY, but he still comes by the garage often to curate the collection. The collections are well done and arranged. I also enjoyed how he prominently displayed a poster for Open House New York, which arranged the tour, and a poster from the City of New York telling people to “Recycle More, Waste Less!”

Lots and lots of posters, including one for Open House New York, which arranged the tour

Lots and lots of posters, including one for Open House New York, which arranged the tour

The collection is amazing in its diversity, but it is really a statement about what we as a society throw away. So many things we buy now are “disposable” with the resources used to make them then just put into the trash when no longer desirable or useful. However with so many items, there are still resources that could be saved from the discarded item, if the item was discarded correctly. However in most places, it is difficult to discard of an item in a way that the resources could be retrieved from them. For example, metal recycling exists, but it is not always easy to get an item to a metal recycler. If you can though, you can actually make money from getting the metal to a recycler, like I did when I was renovating my house. [Side note: I don’t know the precise amount, but a decent amount of New York trash goes to Covanta Waste to Energy incinerators. After the trash is burned, Covanta’s process does capture metals to then send for scrap. However burning metals lowers the efficiency of the incinerator.]

Metal, mainly brass, collection

Metal, mainly brass, collection

Metal collectibles

Metal collectibles

Collectible metal home accessories, some of which look rather valuable

Collectible metal home accessories, some of which look rather valuable

Some of the metal in the collection though, like many other items in the collection, look like something, that someone else would eagerly buy. Some of the jewelry, china, and glass looked if not really valuable, good enough that someone would happily buy at a thrift store or on eBay.

White china collection, how all of it is unbroken was amazing to me

White china collection, how all of it is unbroken was amazing to me

Colored glass collection that was amazingly unbroken

Colored glass collection that was amazingly unbroken

Jewelry

Jewelry

A set of old seltzer bottles donated by another sanitation worker

A set of old seltzer bottles donated by another sanitation worker

Seriously, much of the collection features items that are the reason eBay was created and continues to thrive.

All the collectible comic book, movie, etc. action figures are her

All the collectible comic book, movie, etc. action figures are here

Trolls

Trolls

Pez dispensers

Pez dispensers

All types of Furby's

All types of Furby’s

Then there are other collections that feature items that would be right at home in a museum of some type.

The still and motion picture collection

The still and motion picture collection

Old cameras

Old cameras

Old typewriters

Old typewriters

Then there were the items like old televisions, phones, and other electronics, that not only contain valuable resources like rare earth metals but also contain material, including those same rare earth metals, that are hazardous if they get into the environment. With most modern technology hardware, retrieving those valuable resources is difficult because of the way the items are constructed. Further, often the items are sent to developing nations, where people retrieve the valuable material to sell, but they work in ways that is dangerous to their own health.

Old cell phones

Old cell phones

Other items are funny, random, and weird. Some items made me wonder why someone had the item to begin with. Other items made me sad, like a cross stitch that featured what was clearly a bride and groom and said “Yvette and Lance – March 16, 2007.” I am just guessing Yvette and Lance’s marriage did not make it.

This was one of my favorite collection with the fighting preying mantises and wooden "rubber" chicken

This was one of my favorite collection with the fighting praying mantises and wooden “rubber” chicken. On the left is a ThighMaster.

Art including many Mona Lisa's

Art including many Mona Lisa’s

I believe they said someone else found the Moon and saved it for Mr. Molina

I believe they said someone else found the Moon and saved it for Mr. Molina

Then there was this gem that welcomes you as you walk up the stairs to Treasure in the Trash.

Rat behind a fence in a hole in the wall in the stairwell leading to Trash in the Treasure

Rat behind a fence in a hole in the wall in the stairwell leading to Trash in the Treasure

The place was amazing. If you ever get the chance, go tour it. Also, many thanks to Open House New York for arranging the tour, DSNY for letting us in, Nelson Molina for talking about the collection, and Robin Nagle, DSNY’s anthropologist in residence, for her introduction to the collection and whose book “Picking Up” about DSNY is well worth the read.

Lowlife Lab

Many people are familiar with New York City’s Highline, which has become a really popular spot with tourists and residents. It it is really cool, and beautiful all year round, in the dead of winter and in bloom. Because of the Highline’s success, some people came up with the idea of the Lowline. The Lowline would make use of of the abandoned Williamsburg Bridge trolley terminal under Delancey Street, which is right next to the Essex Street subway station. However, the somewhat radical idea for the Lowline is that it would make use of sunlight to light the space, which is completely underground. To help design and work out issues with this idea, the Lowline Lab was created. It is now closed, but luckily about a month ago I got to tour it.

I encourage your to click the hyperlink to my photos of the Williamsburg Bridge trolley terminal under Delancey Street because in order to comprehend the challenge of this project, you really need to see the space as it is now.

Delancey Street with Williamsburg Bridge in background. Essex Street subway station entrance can be seen on left. Abandoned trolley terminal is right below street.

Delancey Street with Williamsburg Bridge in background. Essex Street subway station entrance can be seen on left. Abandoned trolley terminal is right below street.

Sunlight collectors on roof

Sunlight collectors on roof

Sunlight brought in from smaller vertical tube and reflected into sideways tube

Sunlight brought in from smaller vertical tube and reflected into sideways tube

Sunlight brought in vertically from roof collector and then reflected in sideways tube

Sunlight brought in vertically from roof collector and then reflected in sideways tube

Ceiling with tubes outputting sunlight and reflectors below

Ceiling with tubes outputting sunlight and reflectors below

Display of plants and ceiling reflecting sunlight

Display of plants and ceiling reflecting sunlight

Display of plants, including vertical plant elements, and ceiling reflecting sunlight

Display of plants, including vertical plant elements, and ceiling reflecting sunlight

Display of plants and ceiling reflecting sunlight

Display of plants and ceiling reflecting sunlight

Plants that may be used

Plants that may be used

Nostalgia Ride

During the summer, the New York Transit Museum offers Nostalgia Rides, when they put some of their vintage subway cars back into service and bring a train full of passengers to some fun destination. Today I went on the Nostalgia Ride to Rockaway Beach. The train we rode on was two types of 1910’s and 1920’s BMT cars. The cars were complete with wicker seats, ceiling fans that “are machetes” according to the numerous warnings we got from MTA employees, and normal looking lightbulbs that are evidently powered straight from the third rail, which we were also warned not to touch. The ride is generally more exciting than the destination, and once we got to our destination, they offered some more rides back and forth for those who didn’t want to get off.

One of my favorite parts of nostalgia rides are the people in the stations we pass. They can generally be described in four different groups. The first, a small group, are those that see the train coming through but don’t seem anything abnormal about an antique train passing through. The second group, possibly the most common, are the ones that start smiling and waving, and grab their camera and start taking photos. The third group are those that just stare open mouthed or with a look that can only say, what the heck is that? The fourth and tiniest group are those that know we are coming and already set with photo and video cameras, sometimes with tripods. I once asked a Transit Museum employee about them, and she said they seem to know the route that the nostalgia ride will take before the museum does. Clearly there are transit fanatics spies about.

Another great part of these rides and a reason why I love New Yorkers, is when the nostalgia ride is ending. We all get on at the same location, but at the end, they stop at several large subway stations, so you can get off wherever is easiest. The train pulls into a station and stops. Normal subway riders start lining up to get on because a vintage 1920s subway train running on the A line is evidently a completely normal thing to New Yorkers.  [To be clear, you don’t have to be a subway aficionado to know that these trains look very different from the regular modern trains running.] New Yorkers are just so nonchalant about it. A subway train, of some sort, has arrived at the platform. They must get on. They have places to go, and a train has arrived to take them there. MTA employees have to stand in front of each door and say “off loading only”. Some of waiting passengers will ask why. Some waiting passengers start peering in, and normally either MTA employees or nostalgia ride passengers will have to explain. This part of the ride always makes me laugh.

One final note about the nostalgia ride, the train runs wonderfully. My sincere compliments to the MTA employees who keep the vintage cars maintained. Maybe they don’t run like they were built yesterday, but the ones we were on were 100 years old. To me it is amazing that they are still running at all.

Vintage BRT train used for this nostalgia ride in station

Vintage BRT train used for this nostalgia ride in station

Signs on the vintage cars

Signs on the vintage cars

In between rides, MTA employees cleaned the windows

In between rides, MTA employees cleaned the windows

While at the Rockaway Station, the train was in the station long enough for everyone to take photos, including a few police officers who boarded to check it out.

While at the Rockaway Station, the train was in the station long enough for everyone to take photos, including a few police officers who boarded to check it out.

Swing bridge to Rockaway open during one of our trips

Swing bridge to Rockaway open during one of our trips

Going over the swing bridge that was previously open

Going over the swing bridge that was previously open

One of the bridges to Rockaway

One of the bridges to Rockaway

View from train of Jamaica Bay with JFK Airport in background

View from train of Jamaica Bay with JFK Airport in background

Coast side of Rockaway Beach

Coast side of Rockaway Beach

View from bay side of Rockaway

View from bay side of Rockaway