Pondering the subway’s closed station entrancesBy
For what I can assume are reasons of history, the G train stop at the southern end of the Marcy Houses in Bed-Stuy is stilled 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.?