Focus returns to the subway’s closed station entrances

By · Published in 2015

During the opening of the 7 line extension in February, I overheard one MTA official talking about the new station. Speaking of the vast hallways and open spaces underneath 11th Ave., this official remarked “I’ve spent my entire career closing these mezzanines.” For someone with decades of experience — and organizational philosophy — under his or her belt, this new station design represented a massive break from the past. While the old guard may still be wary of the safety elements of open spaces, New Yorkers aren’t fazed by areas that, by design, aren’t always crowded.

Over the past few years, meanwhile, the MTA has engaged in an effort that intentionally reduces eyeballs underground. As part of the 2010 budget cuts, station agents were reduced to the point where only one station entrance requires staffing. That is, if the northbound Union St. entrance underneath 4th Ave. in Brooklyn has a station agents, the southbound entrance doesn’t need one even if the southbound platform is separated by the northbound platform by four tracks and two walls. Most stations now have (and really always have) plenty of waiting areas that aren’t visible by station agents. Plus by removing the station booths at hundreds of locations throughout the city, the MTA ensured it wouldn’t face calls to bring back these agents were the agency’s finances to improve.

With this in mind, we return to shuttered station entrances. As the MTA struggles to cope with expanding ridership, station chokepoints and unhappy crowds, we continually return to access points no longer open. They dot the city, a remnant of an era of declining ridership and increasing crime when the MTA engaged in a short-sighted attempt to seal off areas of the subway system that agency officials deemed high risk. Not only would these entrances improve passenger flow at stations with increasing ridership but they would create more pedestrian paths to stations, a boon to both residents and business.

Lately, a new round of media coverage has focused on these entrances. amNew York ran a piece in October on closed entrances in Williamsburg and Bushwick and revisited the topic last week. As Rebecca Harshburger noted, one in four stations have closed entrances, and some grassroots organizers who have approached me for advice have begun to look at the issue on a granular level. These closed entrances are hyper-local issues of transit access.

Now, Kate Hinds and the data team at WNYC have delved into the location of the closed entrances. They produced the map embedded above, and the data is extensive. This isn’t of course the first time this issue has gotten attention. When I last looked closed entrances in January, I noted a 2001 PCAC Report urging action. After nearly 15 years, not much has changed, but the MTA, in comments to amNew York and WNYC, recognized these entrances as “something we’re very actively looking at,” at MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said to Hinds.

“The MTA has been setting modern ridership records almost every month, and as we try to accommodate more than 6 million customers on our busiest days, we’re looking at ways to expand capacity everywhere in the system — including analyzing whether some closed parts of subway stations could be reopened,” said spokesman Adam Lisberg.

It’s certainly taken a long time for the MTA to analyze these entrances, and again, I’m left wondering if there’s a short-term plan to disperse crowds and adjust to spiking ridership numbers. In reality, the MTA can open many of these entrances in the amount of time it takes to procure some HEETs, sweep and paint. While many have pointed to ADA requirements as a potential roadblock, the issues regarding accessibility requirements for long-closed entrances that are reopened remain untested and a potential risk to the MTA. I believe the agency could point to the 20% threshold in Section 202.4 in the 2010 ADA Standards as indication that they do not have spend prohibitive amounts of money to reopen these entrances, and one station could serve as a test case if the agency wants to pursue the action.

Rather, I’m left with a nagging suspicion that Patrick O’Hara on Twitter may be onto something. As he put it, “Accessibility requirements are also tend to be a convenient excuse to throw out when you don’t really want to do something too.” But we’re past the point of doing nothing. Reopening entrances can ensure compliance with NFPA guidelines on station egress times and can actually contribute to transit usage — something that should be embraced as a policy goal but may otherwise scare an agency whose trains are packed at all hours. The move can also ease chokepoints and commuter frustration. Why wait much longer? Transit should identify those entrances easy to open and start opening them. There’s no good reason not to.

66 Responses to “Focus returns to the subway’s closed station entrances”

  1. Roger says:

    Time to end the paranoia on security and stop treating subway stations like a jail.

    • Nathanael says:


      Regarding ADA requirements, reopening a shuttered station entrance which was just boarded up probably doesn’t even qualify as “new construction”.

      If the entrance was shut more comprehensively with walls built, concrete poured, and stairs demolished, reopening it might be significantly more expensive and qualify as new construction. But I expect that isn’t the case for most of these.

  2. Roxie says:

    I remember there being one exit to the Kingsbridge Rd Concourse line station that actually got completely removed and covered with concrete near the end of the 90s. Before that, it just sat dormant and unmarked. Even now there’s a little evidence of it having been there; the fence around Poe Park indents slightly at the corner where the exit was.

  3. Larry Littlefield says:

    Subway ridership is booming and fares have been increased by what turned out to be more than inflation.

    But the MTA is still broke. That’s what this is about.

    They are squeezing every nickel from the subway for the buses, the LIRR, the debts and the pensions.

    So it’s cut cut cut squeeze squeeze squeeze. But avoid that LIRR strike and keep borrowing for maintenance.

  4. Maggie says:

    Here’s what I think every time the subway drags its feet on ADA compliance. The ADA is 25 years old. There’s a generation of young American veterans who have had the act in effect their entire lives, volunteered in overseas engagements after New York City was attacked, come back home to the land of the free. Some are in wheelchairs or mobility-impaired. They deserve better than ‘we don’t want to spend the money for ADA compliance’ at the subway stops. These guys (the severely injured are mostly men) ought to have seamless access to NYC subways, and taxis too. Access for all is worth the money.

    And happy Veterans Day! Thank you to everyone who’s served.

    • Andrew says:

      “Worth the money” sounds all well and good, and I would not object to a specialized accessibility fund, to expedite accessibility improvements in general.

      But until that happens, ADA improvements come out if the same capital budget that pays for all of the other capital improvements. Which line items are you proposing to bump from the newly slimmed capital program in order to pay for the $4 million per elevator? The latest version of the 2015-2019 Capital Plan includes $561 million for ADA for the subway, out of $15.5 billion overall on the subway.

      • Larry Littlefield says:

        “The $4 million per elevator? The latest version of the 2015-2019 Capital Plan includes $561 million for ADA.”

        Assuming your figures are correct, are we getting 140 elevators in the next five years?

        • Eric says:

          Nope. It’s $61 million for planning and consulting, $300 million diverted to other projects, $40 million for elevators, $40 million for elevator cost overruns, $40 million for tearing out the elevators after they prove not to work, and $80 million for replacement elevators. Grand total: 10 elevators built.

        • Andrew says:

          No, ADA comprises a lot more than elevators.

          Here’s the cost breakdown by station. Some are much more expensive than others. A third of the total ADA component is being spent on the shuttle at Times Square, which seems incredibly wasteful to me, especially seeing as the 7, which makes the same stops as the shuttle, already meets ADA requirements. But the shuttle at Times Square is a key station, so it has to be done, wasteful or not.

          • Nathanael says:

            The MTA could renegotiate the key stations list. This is an allowable option.

            But they don’t *want* to. Because if they renegotiated the list, they’d have to satisfy the actual key station choice standards based on ridership and usage (currently they have a special exemption based on a previous lawsuit settlement), and they’d have to satisfy all the advocates who filed that original lawsuit.

            So they’d have to make a lot more stations accessible, and they’re trying to avoid making stations accessible. They’d rather burn large amounts on the Times Square Shuttle station than spend the same amount to make five other stations accessible. It’s a bad attitude.

            (For what it’s worth, it wouldn’t be too hard to make two of the Times Square Shuttle tracks accessible — just extend the center platform down the trackway. It’s that last track, track #4, which is the real problem. I think making two of the shuttle tracks accessible at much lower cost than all three would be a very reasonable solution, and advocates would be happy with this if the money were redirected to make other stations accessible.)

      • Maggie says:

        great question. I’m not well-versed enough in the capital plan to make a suggestion on line items. I know about the same as a guy in a wheelchair who wants to catch the train to Astoria or 116th Street.

        I’m only giving a rider’s point of view, that there’s a generational expectation for ADA compliance as the right thing to do.

        • Nathanael says:

          Yeah. Worth noting is that nearly every other urban rail system in the US is 100% wheelchair-accessible, even several of the “legacy” ones.

          There are 8 metro systems which aren’t (3 in NY, 2 in Philly, 1 Boston, 1 Chicago, 1 Cleveland), 7 light-rail systems (1 in Newark, 1 Philly, 1 Boston, 1 Cleveland, 2 in San Francisco, 1 Pittsburgh), and 9 commuter rail systems (3 going to NY, 1 Philly, 1 Boston, 2 to Chicago, 1 in San Francisco, 1 to DC).

          Out of all these systems, NYC Subway is clearly doing the worst on wheelchair accessibility.

          Philadelphia added dozens of wheelchair-access stations at once during reconstruction of their elevated lines. Chicago did the same thing with both elevated and “freeway median” lines. By unflattering contrast, New York reconstructed entire elevated lines in Brooklyn without adding wheelchair access to most stations.

          Boston MBTA has a plan for wheelchair access for every single station and is making steady progress, despite having far less money than the MTA. Chicago has plans for wheelchair access for nearly all the CTA stations and is making steady progress. Philadelphia is working on wheelchair access for City Hall station, which has the unfortunate distinction of being a two-level station with seven platforms located underneath the heaviest masonry building in the world and is therefore a very expensive project. Cleveland, underfunded Cleveland, has funded the conversion of the last station on its Red Line.

          The light rail systems are inaccessible mostly at the very large numbers of surface stops in the street median. These have posed special design problems, as they were mostly originally designed without platforms, and getting a full-width platform in can be hard; harder than dropping an elevator onto a subway platform, since it may require taking a lane away from cars.

          NYC Subway administration is simply showing a bad attitude.

  5. Andrew says:

    I see no reason to doubt the ADA issue – see, for instance, the comment on the WNYC article by DF from Manhattan.

    So why not start with stations that already have ADA? There should be no legal barriers at stations like Broadway-Lafayette.

  6. Chris C says:

    Make some of these exit only and that would make the existing accessible entrance / exits easier to use for those that really need it (and that can mean families with prams, people with luggage not just the physically disabled).

    Does the ADA say that every station entrance / exit needs to comply or just one per station?

    • Joe Steindam says:

      For transit systems, the practice is to make a single entrance accessible. That is mostly the case in DC, which predates the ADA, but was the first transit system forced to comply under predecessor legislation for accessibility (IIRC the courts prevented one of the first stations along the Red Line from opening because it’s elevators were not ready with the rest of the system for service).

      But making a single entrance accessible in NYC is more difficult. Because most stations are side platform stations stations, this requires 2 elevators (or more if there is an intermediate mezzanine at fare control) to provide full accessibility to trains in both directions. So even providing a single entrance that’s accessible at these stations is a major expense.

  7. Roger says:

    I always think of the trips I used to make from West 4th to 72nd on the C – entering the station from the rear of the train, walking to the front of the train to exit at 72nd, only to walk two blocks south to my apartment – when there is a perfectly good disused exit towards the rear of that station. Good for my fitbit, I suppose, but what a waste.

  8. eo says:

    Is there more information where these closed entrances are? I am surprised to see so many stations in Midtown with closed entrances given that security is definitely not a good excuse in that area and the crowds are generally enormous.

    For example, where is the closed entrance at Lexington and 51st? Or 3 at Lexington and 59th? I have never been able to identify any traces of any of them at street level.

    With all due respect to all people who need the ADA accessibility, it is absurd that we cannot reopen the existing entrances because of ADA. For new infrastructure or major renovations there is no question that we should provide ADA, but preventing us from using old existing entrances seems like a cruel and unusual punishment for the vast majority of the subway users. I wonder whether the issue can be forced the other way — sue the MTA for unsafe platforms/stations due to crowding violating egress requirements in case of fire or other emergencies (for example, active shooter).

    • I’m in the process of reaching out to WNYC on these closed entrances. I think they overcount as certain of these stations have entrances that aren’t really closed as much as they were decommissioned. For instance, 96th St. and Broadway has a new headhouse that replaced the entrances on either side of Broadway. At this point, reopening those isn’t quite the same as reopening a bunch of the closed stations along the G or J/M/Z lines.

      • Chris says:

        They do indeed overcount. For example, Morgan Ave. on the L does not have any closed entrances — one of the two stairways from each platform to a street level entrance behind fare control is closed.

      • BoerumBum says:

        I’m pretty curious about the closed entrances at 86th and Lex… although I no longer live there, I used to wish that there were exits at the north end of those platforms around 88th Street.

      • tacony says:

        The problem with this data is that it includes stairs that have been entirely demolished when entrances were reconfigured, which would be a huge undertaking to rebuild. In general the move in the NYC subway has been toward fewer but larger entrances and larger stairways. The original subway had a lot of narrow little passageways and separate, narrow stairways. Many stations had multiple sets of separate “entrance-only” and “exit-only” stairs right next to each other– some of which remain despite providing both exit and entrance today.

        Talking about simply reopening stairways that were closed-off but otherwise left intact is another question. The cost to reopen them is low enough that the benefit is huge.

        • Tower18 says:

          It seems to perhaps also include platform-to-mezzanine stairs. There’s no way Hoyt-Schermerhorn is missing 8 stairs to street.

        • Nathanael says:

          Indeed. The ones where the stairs were entirely demolished — those are the ones were rebuilding the stairs would trigger the ADA requirements and require elevator construction.

          Where the stairs are all intact and they just locked or boarded up the doors, that’s not even new construction, really, it’s just maintenance work.

    • Eric says:

      “Cruel and unusual punishment for the vast majority, to suit the needs of a small minority” is a pretty accurate description of all of US politics nowadays. Of course the left and right wings work for different small minorities.

    • BruceNY says:

      There’s an exit at the southern end of the downtown 6 platform that has been closed the last two times I was over there (but that was on weekends–maybe it’s open during the week?).

      On a related topic–is there any progress on the proposal to add a new entrance at the uptown end of the 68th St. station on the Lex.? Or were the millionaire NIMBY brownstone owners on 69th St. successful in scaring off the MTA?

  9. JJJJ says:

    You can’t walk 5 feet in an MTA station and not come across 7 ADA violations. They blatantly dont give a shit, so citing ADA is the most ridiculous of excuses.

    Some stations don’t even have the tactile domes at the platform edge. Thats transit ADA 101!

    • Joe Steindam says:

      This is also true of DC Metro (even though every station is accessible when the elevators are working). They even have a webpage showing which stations have them:

      They also call them bumpy tiles.

    • Nathanael says:

      The MTA has been failing to comply with the ADA when they *completely replaced an elevated station including the structural steel*, which is totally illegal.

      So yeah, citing the ADA as a reason not to reopen locked gates is ridiculous.

  10. John says:

    Kosciuszko Street (J) is my station. Having to exit at the front (Patchen Ave/Broadway) adds 3 minutes to my walk home, so I use Myrtle Av-Broadway (J/M) instead, which is technically further away from my apartment but only adds a minute to the walk. The closed entrance at the back of the Kosciuszko station really grinds my gears!

  11. g says:

    I think it’s fairly obvious that there is too much institutional inertia on this topic and they’re just hiding it behind the ADA since they apparently won’t even consent to reopen closed access points at stations that are currently accessible.

    They simply don’t want to do it.

    • Nathanael says:

      Bingo. It’s part of the same customer-hostile institutional behavior which causes them to not comply with the ADA, actually.

  12. Jason says:

    Between 65 Street and Northern Blvd on the Queens Blvd line, they should reopen the latter. Better ridership numbers and one stop closer to Manhattan. Unfortunately, I am pretty sure they have turned the areas there into office/storage space, but then we should just tell them to get it all out and return it to what they used to be.

    • Tower18 says:

      Yeah the “converted to storage” thing seems lame to me. Except for spaces converted into signal relay rooms, etc., what is being stored in there that didn’t need to be stored in there 30 years ago?

      • AMH says:

        There is so much “storage” space filled with crap. Take a look at the north end of the uptown platform at Bleecker Street. Stations are for passengers, not garbage.

  13. Berk32 says:

    It’s a shame they aren’t taking advantage of an opportunity to add an entrance and/or exit in some places.

    For example, SE corner property on 80th/Broadway was recently demolished. The 79th St 1 train station could really use another exit at the northern end of the northbound platform, and with the sidewalk shut down for the foreseeable future at this spot – would have been a perfect opportunity….

    • TH says:

      I agree with this. Currently at Bedford Ave on L, there is a large hole in ground from a stalled development project at the corner across from where the entrances are, which is a great opportunity to add a third entrance to Bedford Ave. That station constantly has wait times just to exit.

  14. mister says:

    First of all, there are many places where closed exits have been completely dismantled, or have had something else built in their place. Reopening these entrance/exits is not going to be practical.

    Secondly, for everyone saying “the ADA excuse is BS”, it’s not. Yes, you may walk into a station and see many ADA violations, but that’s because said station is not compliant yet. When a station gets ADA upgrades, then it gets ALL of them. Until that time, it will continue to be deficient. This doesn’t mean that when performing upgrades to a station MTA can flout ADA

    Lastly, for anyone who is paying attention, it’s clear that the MTA is indeed interested in reopening some entrances. In fact, they had started doing just that; Fulton St on the G had its northern end entrances reopened after decades of being closed. What changed was this: ( If an escalator replacement triggers ADA, knocking down walls to open an entrance likely will as well.

    • JJJ says:

      “When a station gets ADA upgrades, then it gets ALL of them. Until that time, it will continue to be deficient. This doesn’t mean that when performing upgrades to a station MTA can flout ADA”.

      Bullshit. One is not required to add elevators when they add tactile domes for example. Likewise, MTA has added many ADA complaint hand railings without adding any other features. You need to take one trip on the subway to see that youe statement is false.

      And then you have the connected stations. Both Port Authority 42nd and Times Square are listed as ADA compliant (Ill take their word on it) …. and yet the ramp connecting the two is not.


      Under your/MTA excuse, they would have had to redo the ramp when adding elevators to make the entire complex ADA accessible.

      And yet they didnt.

      It’s an excuse.

      • mister says:

        I suppose I should have been more clear. A station that has not been rehabbed (or ‘reconditioned’) is going to be deficient. When a station is on the list to get accessibility upgrades, it gets them all.

        Yes, MTA can upgrade a single component, and bring that component into compliance with ADA. They cannot upgrade something and not make it compliant. When adding vertical access, what do you think they would be required to do to make it comply with ADA?

        You may feel that this is an excuse; it’s not. When I still worked there, I was told by multiple departments that since the case I mentioned, FTA has said that opening a new entrance (even one that previously existed) would trigger ADA, similar to how opening a new station would trigger ADA. You can choose to believe this or not, but blaming the “MTA” for it is just beating on the whipping boy, the same way that politicians do, without addressing the real issue.

        • Duke says:

          Okay, so the whipping boy then is the unfunded federal mandate that is ADA. And the fact that it applies in situations that are not new construction and not even a major renovation, but simply reopening access to something that already exists.

          There are some entrances that could in effect be reopened to the public by an act as simple as unlocking and opening a couple gates. If even THAT can’t be done without upgrading it to ADA compliance, then we’ve got some serious bureaucratic hogwash going on up in here.

          • mister says:

            The question is are these entrances that are easy to open also useful? An examples:

            50th st/8th avenue station. The station has MANY closed entrances. The Uptown platform in particular has two closed exits up to the street, and there is only ONE point of access to the LL platform. The Entrance at the north end of the station could be easily reopened as an exit, and with some relatively minor work, could be reopened as an entrance too. However, it wouldn’t serve the Lower platform, and was projected to serve relatively few riders. On the other hand, the 49th street entrance could serve both platforms, but would require an extensive amount of work.

          • Demosthenes says:

            It’s true: look at PATH for example. After 9/11 when PATH halted service to WTC and had to radically modify its routes, PATH reopened an eastern entrance/exit at its Grove Street Station in Jersey City to accommodate the additional riders entering and exiting.

            Not long after, disability advocates sued arguing that it was more than a simple reopening, that it was a major alteration that triggered ADA. The advocates won that case, and you can see the compromise that arose from the legal proceedings. Currently PATH is installing two elevators (street to mezzanine, mezzanine to platforms) in Grove Street’s western head house.

            This is the reality of ADA: any potential reopening of a closed entrance/exit that requires work could trigger ADA because it is an alteration. And it won’t become clear until disability advocates sue in court and potentially win a judgment.

      • SEAN says:

        It’s an excuse. Not completely – although the Times Sq station has elevators & ramps, the MTA could have received a waver on the ramp requirement if they can show to the access board that replacement causes an undue burden or was to difficult to construct.

  15. beebo says:

    ADA is one thing — keeping entrances clean is another thing, as well as the surface area of what transit police has to patrol. Not to mention, reopening entrances now puts you (back) on the hook for setting up manned ticket booths.

    I can see they’re being reticent over the whole thing.

  16. h_wander says:

    I’m curious- wasn’t it alluded to (if not in this post, then in others) that there is a closed underground passageway linking 34th St- Herald Square station to Penn? Though I don’t know where said passageway leads (either to the 7th ave line, or Penn Station proper), I’d be curious to learn more about it, considering how heavy pedestrian traffic is on the blocks between Herald Square and Penn during rush hours. Heck, if stakeholders are willing to partially close a street to improve pedestrian space (as was done this summer on… 32nd?) then one would think re-examining the potential of an existing underground passageway would be a no-brainer. Anyone know more about this?

  17. Andy In NYC says:

    I’m still annoyed they closed the 17th street exits–and completely removed all evidence of them–at the 14th st. station on the 8th Avenue line in Manhattan, some time in the 1980s I believe. There are 2 or 3 high schools, and at least one junior high school, on 17th and 18th street, and all those students have to walk down to the 16th street entrance, which creates a real logjam on the sidewalks when they all get out of school at the same time.

  18. Christopher says:

    Everyone is “disabled” at some point. Or rather, impairments exist at periods throughout our lifetimes, “disability” and being “disabled” is when the environment doesn’t allow space for our impairments. Whether that impairment is the result of war, or aging, or just a temporary problem like a broken bone, ADA is about access a building environment that supports aging and changing and shifting abilities. It’s not just the morally right thing to do, it is the customer-centric thing to do.

  19. Dennis says:

    The 103rd Street station on Central Park West (B,C) has only one entrance and one stairway. Not only is it overcrowded at rush hour (and other times) but, more importantly, having only one way out (other than fleeing down the tunnels) in an emergency is a fire and safety hazard. All of this is because some time ago the two entrances at either end (102 and 104) were closed off and there is no obvious trace now of the entry points at street level. This suggests they may have been covered by subsequent construction creating additional hurdles to future efforts toward eventual re-opening of those entrances. A hazard and a pain!

    • AMH says:

      The 111th Street exits (and one of the 110th Street stairs) in the 110th/CPW IND station are closed, and the patched-up tilework clearly shows where they used to be. It’s so annoying to crowd up the single set of stairs at the back of the train, exit at 109 St, and then need to cross the traffic circle to go north.

  20. 22r says:

    Why on earth would MTA close subway entrances and then not reopen them?

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