FORT GEORGE — A dark and dilapidated three-block tunnel that leads to the 1 train at 191st Street will get some long-overdue improvements — including better lighting, increased signage and possibly new artwork to replace a graffiti-scarred mural, officials said.
Residents have complained for years about the conditions in the 191st Street tunnel, which leads underground from Broadway to the 1 train station several blocks away on St. Nicholas Avenue. After fielding concerns about graffiti, poor lighting and cyclists who ride through the tunnel illegally, the Department of Transportation announced plans last week to upgrade the tunnel, which is technically considered a street.
Margaret Forgione, the Manhattan Borough Commissioner for the DOT, announced the improvements at a walk-through of the tunnel on Friday. She said the agency plans to replace all of the current lighting with LED fixtures that give off a brighter glow by this fall.
In addition, the DOT will paint the floors and walls of the tunnel, as well as reinstall signage that warns bikers they must dismount when entering the tunnel in the coming months.
Forgione said that the agency also plans to work with local Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who helped organize the walk-through in conjunction with Community Board 12, to explore the possibility of adding new artwork to the space. The tunnel's current mural at the Broadway entrance has been heavily covered in graffiti.
“Imagine this tunnel to be on the Upper East Side. Image it on the Upper West Side or Riverside Drive,” Rodriguez said. “We will get this tunnel to the same condition as if it was in an upper-class community.”
While locals have also complained about the tunnel being dirty, a representative of the Department of Sanitation, which is solely responsible for cleaning the tunnel, said crews are there three days a week.
“This entire tunnel is cleaned Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week,” said Iggy Terranova, a community affairs staffer for the Sanitation Department, during the walk-through. “Our interns clean it and not just for a few hours. They are here for the entire day.”
Nonetheless, Rodriguez said he would like to see sanitation crews there more often.
“I want sanitation in here cleaning five days a week,” said Rodriguez, who is chairman of the Council's transportation committee.
Other problems may prove more difficult to solve.
Many residents said the cyclists who speed through the tunnel pose a safety threat, but the DOT noted that the size of the tunnel and the needs of pedestrians make the issue difficult to fix.
“We can’t put in some sort of anti-bike device because we need people with walkers and strollers to be able to go through," Forgione said. "Plus, it’s perfectly allowable for people to walk their bikes through the tunnel."
She also noted that the tunnel was likely too narrow to support a bike lane, as some community members had suggested.
Forgione mentioned speed bumps as one possible solution, but there are no immediate plans to install them.
“We’ll have to get creative,” she said.