Columbus Circle was a stop on the original subway and gets what the transit agency calls a “K1” handrail. This was introduced on the IRT and the BMT before 1918 and “reflects the late 19th-century Beaux Arts tradition,” according to the official transit design manual. The lamppost rises from an almost Classical plinth and culminates in a kind of stripped-down Corinthian capital.
The 42nd Street station was built later and, as such, requires the “KA” handrail, based on an Independent system prototype. The manual calls this “an Art Deco design consistent with the Modernist spirit of the 1930s.” Note the zigzag pattern along the balustrade and X-shapes on the lamppost that could be a faint echo of the George Washington Bridge.
“These rail prototypes shall be used to give an identifiable street presence for the transit system and will express the line differences,” the manual says. It is a pleasing and subtle way to honor history, permitting anyone with a keen eye the joy of a small discovery.
While I am not a big fan of a lot preservation projects these are the kind of things I generally support. Tasteful, not super-expensive, and they don't interfere with a persons property rights.