Home View from Underground Pondering the subway’s closed station entrances

Pondering the subway’s closed station entrances

by Benjamin Kabak

For the purpose of honoring history, the G train stop at the southern end of the Marcy Houses in Bed-Stuy is still called Myrtle-Willoughby Avenues. There’s no reason for the Willoughby part of the name to survive as the southern entrances to this station have been out of use for decades. Willoughby and Myrtle run parallel there, and it is, sadly, impossible to enter the station on Willoughby Ave. The name lives on though because it’s literally on the wall.

On Sunday, I went for a walk through parts of Brooklyn that have seen a lot of change in recent years. From the ramen restaurant on Vanderbilt Ave. on the edge of the Atlantic Yards Pacific Park development site to the upscale bread bakery at the corner of Bedford and Lexington Avenues, I strolled through neighborhoods that have seen ups and downs, have gone through social and political upheavals and are bound to evolve even more in the coming years. Twice, I walked past G train stations, and twice, I saw shuttered entrances. Had I kept walking a few more stops down the G train to Grand St. in Williamsburg, I would have one more entrance, closed since the 1990s.

I wish I had photographed the Willoughby entrances, but I didn’t think to snap a photo at street level and, mercifully, I had to wait only about 10 seconds for my G train to arrive. The photos on the Internet don’t do it much justice. You can see the now-deserted fare control areas on the Queens-bound platform. The photo of the street-level entrance on Wikipedia doesn’t do it much justice. The wood plans are looking much worse for the wear, and the staircase itself is jam-packed with trash. It’s a sorry sight indeed for a neighborhood that could use an additional subway access point.

I’ve discussed the closed entrances throughout the city and many of them are relics of another era, one where crime was rampant and declining ridership dictated that the MTA not use resources to keep auxiliary entrances open. In fact, at a certain point in time, the NYPD even asked the MTA to close high-crime areas — such as the passageway linking the Herald Square and Bryant Park stations underneath 6th Ave. — for the sake of public safety. Today, the fact that entrances along Queens Boulevard, in Park Slope and across the route of the G train remain closed seem more like stubbornness than policy.

We live after all in an age in which the MTA has engaged in a systematic elimination of station agents, when high entrance-exit turnstiles are the norm at various stations and where token booths live on in name and not function. Opening up closed entrances makes transit that much convenient as it reduces wait times and provides access points to areas that are a few blocks away.

A 2001 PCAC report once recommended reopening many secondary entrances not close to their stations’ primary entrances, but Transit has been slow to act. I’ve never had much success figuring out why. As the photo atop this post shows, some closed areas are used for storage, and although others would need repair and modernization work, this shouldn’t be cost-prohibitive. I’ve also been told that reopening old station entrances could trigger ADA requirements but haven’t received a definitive answer on whether that is indeed the case. It seems, in part, to be holding back the MTA at a few stations.

Spending money they don’t have on closed stations sadly won’t be a priority for the MTA right now. Yet, the presence of street-level structures reminds us that transit could be even more accessible than it is now, and the joy over the new L train entrance at Avenue A is indicative of the way New Yorkers crave access. Plus, Transit could right that nomenclature wrong. Call me silly, but shouldn’t he station that says Willoughby Ave. at least serve Willoughby Ave.?

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46 comments

Jason January 12, 2015 - 1:28 am

One station that comes to mind is Northern Blvd on the Queens Blvd line which I think the eastern end should be reopened to service the people who live in the middle of that station and 65 Street.

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Stan January 12, 2015 - 6:19 am

the myrtle-willoughby one hits home to me. I would LOVE that closed entrance to reopen because it would cut my walk on half in cold weather. There seems to be no reason to keep it closed.

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Larry Littlefield January 12, 2015 - 7:27 am

I’d love to see someone come up with subway schedules from the late 1940s, when ridership was last this high, and compare it with subway schedules today.

Bottom line, when those who work for the government become richer (mostly in years of retirement) relative to those who have to pay for them (Wall Street excluded, for now), those who pay for them can afford fewer government workers.

Unless rising productivity fills the gap, service cuts (sometimes referred to erroneously as productivity increases) will have to.

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tacony January 14, 2015 - 12:08 pm

The subway schedule was better on the day it opened in 1904 than it is today, let alone in the 1940s when ridership peaked. They needed to run them frequently, with such short trains.

“Schedule of Trains for the Subway Out,” NY Times, October 25, 1904:

LOCAL TRAINS, FIVE CARS EACH

5:30 A.M. to 12 midnight, three-minute headway.

12 midnight to 5:30 A.M., from five to ten minute headway.

EXPRESS TRAINS, EIGHT CARS EACH

6:30 to 7 A.M., five-minute headway.
7 to 9:30 A.M., four-minute headway.
9:30 A.M. to 2:30 P.M., varying from five to ten minute headway, the trains running most infrequently around noon time.
2:30 to 4:30 P.M., five-minute headway.
4:30 to 8 P.M., four-minute headway.
8 P.M. to 12 midnight, Five and six minute headway.
12 midnight to 6:30 A.M., no express trains at all.

The Times then prints the General Manager’s response to whether this schedule would be permanent:

“Nobody knows how many people are going to patronize the road. I wish someone would tell me, so that I might know how to fix a permanent schedule. We shall be prepared to increase the number of trains to suit the demand. If it is necessary, we’ll run them on a one-minute headway.”

We lengthened the trains to meet increasing ridership demands, and then later decreased service on those same long trains when ridership declined. Still waiting on those 1-minute headways.

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Bolwerk January 14, 2015 - 2:02 pm

It’s always strange to think how people in the 1920s probably had better transportation options than people in the 2010s.

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BoerumHillScott January 12, 2015 - 8:28 am

I think that re-opening closed entrances would have a small but real impact on system performance and capacity, since more entrances means passengers are more spread out on platforms, and therefore less dwell time.

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Tower18 January 12, 2015 - 8:41 am

Storage is a lame reason, they’re storing maintenance materials there. When those exits were open, somehow they stored those same materials elsewhere.

However, Bedford-Nostrand’s closed exits have to be possibly the lowest possible priority, as they are only 2 of the 4 stairs at Bedford. 2 of the 4 at Nostrand are also closed, but at least there are exits at both ends. You could make the argument that they should be reopened because they still exist in good condition, but it’s a lower priority than Myrtle-Willoughby (Willoughby), Metropolitan (Grand), Nostrand A/C (Arlington, Bedford), and any other IND station that was built this way. Generally that was the IND’s idea–wider spacing of stations, with exits at each end, to balance the distance between stations.

I don’t think a second exit was ever in place at Broadway Junction on the IND level, but that would CERTAINLY be useful. The current exit on the Eastern end of the station, is directly opposite where anyone lives in the area, and really serves transfers only. All the housing is to the West.

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LLQBTT January 12, 2015 - 9:34 am

The MTA seems to have forgotten about these, too. And the Mayor, too as part of the Vision Zero campaign. Why have pedestrians take unnecessary risks and cross additional streets when they could access the nearest subway entrance?

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BoerumBum January 12, 2015 - 9:52 am

That might be a potent lobbying point.

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Bolwerk January 12, 2015 - 10:08 am

If there were a pro-transit rider lobby. :-O

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JebO January 12, 2015 - 9:57 am

Thumbs way up to the MTA for reopening the 70th Street entrance to the 72nd Street B/C station at CPW a few years back. That one annoyed the heck out of me.

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JJJJ January 12, 2015 - 10:23 am

The MBTA has near a dozen entrances that are closed for no reason at all. I can only presume the management hates their customers and would rather no one would ride transit at all.

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BrooklynBus January 12, 2015 - 11:00 am

This has been one of my pet peeves for a number of years and I have often mentioned it. They are spending much money to expand select bus service to save riders a few minutes. Reopening closed subway stations can also save riders minutes and is low cost, once the initial expenses are expended which are also minor. However, the MTA has refused to do this. I once suggested proposed legislation that would require the MTA to open a closed entrance every time a station agent is eliminated.

Ben, i’m surprised you didn’t mention your own station, 7th Avenue, as a potential candidate.

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Benjamin Kabak January 12, 2015 - 11:10 am

I did! At least offhandedly in the 4th paragraph. Reopening that entrance toward 8th Ave. would do wonders for the rush hour backups on the staircases.

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Pat L January 12, 2015 - 11:14 am

In about the same area, you can add several stations along Broadway on the J to that list as well.

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Mike G January 13, 2015 - 10:44 am

Here here!

I live between between the Flushing Ave and Myrtle/Broadway stations, and have to walk all the way to – and across – Flushing Ave to get on the train. The intersection at Flushing and Broadway is acute and feels dangerous, with sidewalk space taken with vendors, turning trucks, and an excess of pedestrians. Opening the Flushing Ave stop’s entrance at Fayette St would do so much to ease congestion at the intersection, and make the area safer for pedestrians.

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Alan Minor March 20, 2015 - 12:08 pm

Can you shoot me an email at first name dot last name at gmail dot com?

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Rob January 12, 2015 - 11:28 am

Re-opening the entrances is not just a time issue, but a safety one. Transit users are getting mowed down by motor vehicles while crossing dangerous streets to reach the still-open entrances.

There are a number of stations where people are put at risk of death or injury due to closed entrances, and these should be prioritized for re-opening:
* Under the El’s. These are crazy streets due to the pillars and shadows.
* Center-island entrances

Personal favorite: Flushing Avenue station on the J,M in Bushwick is an elevated stop with closed entrances on one end of the platform that should be open. Ridership is way up on these lines, and somebody is going to get killed here.

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John January 13, 2015 - 12:14 pm

Agreed. This station and the intersection scares me. I now ride the B43 to and from work and do a hail mary every time it makes it through this intersection without mowing someone down.

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TOM MURPHY January 12, 2015 - 11:47 am

I remember some time back using a not-so-used revolving gate exit at Fulton Street in lower Manhattan only to find I had trapped myself in an impromptu homeless dormitory they had created by locking the gate to the stairs to the street. Yes, they were easily coaxed to allow me to leave; however, it proved to be a lesson to stay on the proven path.

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John January 13, 2015 - 12:15 pm

That is truly terrifying.

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SEAN January 12, 2015 - 12:10 pm

I don’t believe the ADA plays a roll in the station entrance closures since just reopening them wouldn’t triggare access requirements. If the entrance is substantially remoddled, then ADA provisions kick in. However the MTA might attempt a wavor of such requirements.

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cynflor January 13, 2015 - 11:49 pm

Wow, learn to spell before you post or at least let your spell-check do its job.

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Charles Krueger January 12, 2015 - 12:39 pm

One of the things PATH has done right is to open the other end of the Grove Street Station in JC.

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bens January 12, 2015 - 8:30 pm

It’s going to close soon, though, as a new hotel is built literally on top of the Marin Blvd end of the station.

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Tower18 January 13, 2015 - 11:13 am

Why would it need to close? That building is already 20+ stories with the entrance operational.

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Nathanael January 12, 2015 - 2:04 pm

“I’ve also been told that reopening old station entrances could trigger ADA requirements but haven’t received a definitive answer on whether that is indeed the case. ”

This has never been tested in court. Largely because NYC Subway is the only agency with large numbers of closed station entrances!!!

It probably wouldn’t require *full* accessibility in any case.

The ADA provisions come into effect when a station is renovated or remodeled. Some remodeling would probably be needed to reopen the old entrances. The remodeling would have to be ADA-compliant. So, if installing new turnstiles, they’d have to include an accessible gate, certainly not new “iron maiden” turnstiles. If they replaced handrails, they’d have to replace them with ADA-accessible handrails. If they repaint, they have to use the ADA-approved contrasting colors. Etc.

However, any improvement which would cost more than 20% of the total project cost is considered cost-prohibitive and not required. So if the cost of the remodeling project is less than 5 times the cost of an elevator (say, a million dollars), there would be no elevator requirement.

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Benjamin Kabak January 12, 2015 - 2:08 pm

Thanks, Nathanael. This is a more definitive answer than anything I’ve heard so far. Do you happen to know where this is codified? The FTA’s ADA website has devolved into a mess of broken and recursive links these days.

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SEAN January 12, 2015 - 3:18 pm

It probably wouldn’t require *full* accessibility in any case.

Ben,

The above line basicly sums it up. As far As I know, everything Nathanael says is correct.

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Brooklynite January 12, 2015 - 8:31 pm

I must say, the ADA argument sounds like a rather moot point, given that the MTA has ignored it at will over the last few years. Brighton, Pelham, and the Fulton El at the very least should have elevators at every station by now, given the scale of work that was performed there.

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Nathanael January 13, 2015 - 9:26 am

Or at least at 20% of the stations, given the “disproportionate” rule. (The MTA provided elevators at far, far less than that.)

Nathanael January 13, 2015 - 9:34 am

…FWIW, the MTA has walked itself into some serious liability by noncompliance on the elevateds. If they did noncompliant alterations, they can be forced (by any affected citizen suing) to redo the alterations in a compliant fashion. They are simply required to spend the money, regardless of what services they have to cancel in order to do so. I bet they haven’t budgeted for that.

Brooklynite January 13, 2015 - 10:14 am

In fact, I’m surprised no lawyer has taken this up yet. Isn’t this case really easy to prove MTA wrongdoing on?

VLM January 13, 2015 - 10:31 am

Isn’t this case really easy to prove MTA wrongdoing on?

Yes — which is why I’m skeptical it’s as cut-and-dry as Nathanael makes it out to be. The MTA is making its 100 key stations accessible and there’s a lot of gray area surrounding the rest.

Brooklynite January 13, 2015 - 12:08 pm

I don’t know… the law (linked below, more complete version found at http://www.fta.dot.gov/12876_3906.html Sec37.43) sounds pretty clear to me.

Each facility or part of a facility altered by, on behalf of, or for the use of a public entity in a manner that affects or could affect the usability of the facility or part of the facility shall, to the maximum extent feasible, be altered in such manner that the altered portion of the facility is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities

Does demolishing a station and rebuilding it from scratch count as affecting the usability of the facility? None of the exceptions seem to apply: it’s not structurally impossible nor overly expensive to build an elevator.

Long story short, I’m actually really curious what we’re all missing. There has to be something, or else some lawyer would have had a field day by now.

Nathanael January 13, 2015 - 9:24 am

Good citation. That part of the Code of Federal Regulations has the core regulations.

Other things to google include “ADA Accessibility Guidelines” or ADAAG, which is what to watch for updates to the regulations.

Also,
the actual ADA law itself is quite short and (I think) easy to read. It’s part of the US Code and you can read it on Cornell University’s website or the House of Representatives’ website.

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Patrick O'Hara November 11, 2015 - 12:07 am

That rule is part of section 202.4 in the 2010 ADA Standards (found towards the bottom of page 55 of this PDF).

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Italianstallion January 21, 2015 - 7:31 pm

MTA rebuilt the Mosholu Parkway #4 station to restore the south mezzanine a few years ago. I don’t believe it was made ADA accessible.

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Simon January 12, 2015 - 2:29 pm

I totally agree. It’s so frustrating to have to walk in the wrong direction underground, then backtrack above ground (or vice versa). With so many existing access points it’s really low-hanging fruit.

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Martin Cruz January 12, 2015 - 3:09 pm

At least we have no significant issues with closed entrances in the Bronx. On the D Line many stations with two entrances remain open, although some stairways between uptown and downtown platforms are closed.

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Walter January 13, 2015 - 3:56 am

Though it does suck the Fordham Road IND station only has a part-time entrance at Fordham Road. And having to exit at 188th instead of Fordham Road at 2 a.m. isn’t much fun.

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Eric January 12, 2015 - 4:20 pm

Somewhat offtopic: some absolutely stunning pictures of Manhattan from the air.
It would be interesting to overlay the subway lines on this…
https://www.storehouse.co/stories/r3rcy-gotham-7-5k

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j.b. diGriz January 12, 2015 - 5:31 pm

In a similar vein, I don’t understand why First Avenue L train station only has the one exit on each platform. If any win was easy it’d be to put an exit on at least one of those platforms by Avenue A. I’m sure it’s not technically a slam dunk, but moving cabling/pipes is far for the course, and improve the 15 year bottleneck that’s been there. Even when I was a kid going to high school off that station, it seemed obvious that it should be a priority. Setting aside expense and inertia, is there another reason not to build an entrance on Avenue A?

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Benjamin Kabak January 12, 2015 - 5:36 pm

In fact, as part of the Sandy recovery work, the MTA is indeed adding an entrance at Ave. A to the L train’s 1st Ave. stop. Your wish will be granted.

Prior to Sandy, the issue was shutting down a very busy train line to do the necessary work.

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Bronx January 12, 2015 - 8:07 pm

I would like to see the Lincoln Avenue entrance to the 3rd Avenue-East 138th Street #6 subway station opened. The area to the west was recently rezoned and the oncoming gentrification is going to require this stairway at some point.

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