Home Fulton Street At Fulton St., a photo of a broken escalator worth at least a few hundred words

At Fulton St., a photo of a broken escalator worth at least a few hundred words

by Benjamin Kabak

When I was touring around the Fulton St. Transit Center last Sunday, I noticed some of the escalators making funny noises. Considering the MTA’s track record with escalators, I should have asked someone about it, but the moment passed. Fast forward to Thursday when I spotted the following photo on Instagram. Need I say more?

Open three days and the escalator is broken. This is why we can't have nice things.

A photo posted by Kate (@librariankate7578) on

If you’d like some of those 1000 words to go with this photo, The Daily News has you covered. Pete Donohue ran a news item on the problems, and the paper’s Editorial team was not impressed. The MTA has pointed some fingers at Westfield Group as the party responsible for elevator maintenance, but MTA Capital Construction had control of the new building until last weekend. The buck stops somewhere.

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Brian November 17, 2014 - 2:35 am

Opens years behind schedule and breaks 3 days later. This might be the most MTA thing ever.

Nathanael November 19, 2014 - 12:17 am

Shades of the Tweed Courthouse.

Other cities have corruption and inflated prices in construction… but the resulting construction *works*. Only in New York do they fail to finish the project. Only in New York does it just *not work*.

Escalators and elevators are always maintenance-intensive, but this is ridiculous. Someone should compare this with (for example) Chicago or Boston. I’m pretty sure New York is somehow getting worse escalator results.

Andrew Fan November 17, 2014 - 6:56 am

Not surprised

Brandon November 17, 2014 - 7:21 am

The buck stops somewhere.

It ought to but I’m not so sure that it does.

John T November 17, 2014 - 7:42 am

Sadly, not surprised either.

But this will happen if the escalators run 24/7, some weak link will break. The Fulton Center has lots of escalators, and this wasn’t the only broken one (the other was the down escalator by John St from the Corbin building).

BruceNY November 17, 2014 - 2:01 pm

Why aren’t we seeing more escalators which automatically stop when not in use (and start up again when a person approaches)? Seems it would save a lot of wear and tear during quiet hours, and also lower energy consumption.

John-2 November 17, 2014 - 2:48 pm

The Transit Authority had those in at several sites around the system in the 1960s, with the “Please Step On Treadle” notification above the escalator. I’m assuming they also had problems, which led the MTA to eliminate them about 20 years ago, though you’d think that some sort of infra-red sensor similar to what’s used to open automatic doors at stores nowadays could be put in for similar purposes at the top or bottom of any escalator.

Kai B November 17, 2014 - 7:02 pm

Looks like there was also a generation of these in the late 80s. You see them at 50th St (C,E) and Court Square, for example (the ones with the big green / red signs over them – “Enter to Start”). They seem to have been reprogrammed to always run now though.

Only a few years ago a model was introduced that slows down to a crawl when not in use. 34th St / Herald Square received a few:

Duke November 18, 2014 - 12:48 am

Because building codes prohibit this type of operation. See https://law.resource.org/pub/us/code/ibr/asme.a17.1.2007.pdf

Section on page 232 of the PDF:
Automatic starting by any means, or automatic stopping, except as required in 6.1.6, shall be prohibited.

The code says such out of safety concern. Allowing an escalator to stop and start automatically creates the potential for it to do so while someone is on it, which in turn creates the potential for injury. The escalators such as those at Lex/51 that were installed with this feature had to have it disabled in order to comply with the building code.

John November 18, 2014 - 10:54 pm

What a load of crap. Automatic escalators work brilliantly in many places all over the world. NYC should be no different. Shame on the DOB.

Phantom November 17, 2014 - 8:01 am

See below link

As discussed by a few of us, the sign wordings are sloppy, and in this case incorrect.

Was anyone in charge of this project?


Canuck November 17, 2014 - 4:44 pm

Your Blog headline is wrong.

Phantom November 18, 2014 - 10:04 pm


The blog headline is -” R Train- Cortlandt Street Signs Are Wrong ” —

The signs are at the ( Dey Street Tunnel ) entrance to the Cortlandt St. R Train station

What’s wrong with the headline?

Canuck November 20, 2014 - 9:36 am

“Signs” You say the signs are wrong, but then you point out one sign that is missing the elevator information. Are there more incorrect signs? That would go a long way to figure our whether this is a simple omission or a greater ADA wayfinding issue.

Was anyone in charge of this proofreading?

Phantom November 20, 2014 - 10:11 am

The blog headline has been changed to say that the sign is wrong.

If you’re going to bellyache, be specific, which will lead to more rapid corrections.

It is also noted that the sign pointing to the westbound Dey Street tunnel has a large ” straight ahead ” arrow for elevator the street at Dey / Broadway. But the sign should direct passengers to a sharp left right after that sign – the elevator is actually before the tunnel.

LLQBTT November 17, 2014 - 9:49 am

Same old, same old.

Must be rocket science to keep a subway escalator working.

The 4 escalators leading up to MetLife from GCT are models of efficiency. They’re serviced promptly, maintained regularly and half are taken out of service during off peak hours.

Someone needs to get a hold of that contract and management protocol and dump it at the doorsteps of the MTA & Westfield bigwigs!

SEAN November 17, 2014 - 9:49 am

The escalators aren’t broken – they’re still stairs… right?

Alon Levy November 17, 2014 - 11:21 am

Not if they’re blocked for maintenance!

SEAN November 17, 2014 - 11:52 am


I ment that as a funny.

tacony November 17, 2014 - 10:10 am

This is especially problematic now that we’ve entered the era where all new subways apparently have to be built so far underground to go beneath all the existing stuff in the ground.

It seems clear to me that while I’m in no way excusing the MTA’s incompetance at maintaining stations, escalators and elevators are inherently going to break from time to time. The WMATA in DC is also derided for its broken escalators. We need to build stations in such a way as to reduce reliance on this stuff wherever possible. And maybe build in redundancy? If one escalator breaks, have another separate one next to it? It needs to be a consideration in the design process.

Larry Littlefield November 17, 2014 - 11:07 am

“This is especially problematic now that we’ve entered the era where all new subways apparently have to be built so far underground to go beneath all the existing stuff in the ground.”

That is TBD. I’m stunned that the MTA is considering not using already built cut and cover segments on the upper portion of the SAS, perhaps so they can avoid building cut and cover stations.

John-2 November 17, 2014 - 2:56 pm

They are using the section between 99th and 105th streets for tail tracks for the 96th street station. Since the next section starts only five blocks to the north and runs for almost a half-mile, unless they’re planning to use at least part of that section as the mezzanine of the 116th Street station, to abandon it completely seems like the ultimate spend-money-like-a-drunken-sailor mindset, especially given how much current MTA projects are running over budget.

Nathanael November 19, 2014 - 12:22 am

The obvious, and cost-effective, thing to do is to simply build the 105th-110th section cut and cover, including the planned 106th St. Station, and connect it immediately to the next segment of already-built tunnel from 110th-120th St. There is no excuse whatsoever for doing anything else.

Worry about the area north of 110th St. later!

John November 17, 2014 - 2:22 pm

I’m not sure it’s feasible to have fully redundant escalators. Maybe a third one that could be set to go up or down depending on time of day (or if one is broken), but otherwise I think all escalators have regular stairs as well as elevators as backup. At least the ones I’ve seen have.

Jerrold November 17, 2014 - 12:11 pm

At least the picture shows that they were WORKING on it!
Broken escalators in some subway stations sometimes “sit there”
for some time.

Jeff November 18, 2014 - 9:57 am

Actually impressed by the attention Westfield is paying to this, considering its generating zero revenue for them at this point.

Just past by yesterday on the way back home, and saw several people busying scrubbing the floors and keeping things clean. You don’t see that anywhere else in the subway system.

Phantom November 17, 2014 - 12:32 pm

I just passed through the Fulton St $1.4 billion thingie, and the escalators were all working.

Bolwerk November 17, 2014 - 12:49 pm

How many vendors are there for escalators?

minderbender November 17, 2014 - 5:35 pm

A few relevant links:

1. Plans to use “variable-speed” escalators.

2. A NY Times investigation into the poor state of the MTA’s elevators.

My understanding is that the city has used various vendors over the years, with incompatible replacement parts etc., and that this has contributed to the difficulty. At any one moment it may be tempting to go with the cheapest vendor, but in the long run it may be better to use the same vendor for everything.

adirondacker12800 November 17, 2014 - 5:51 pm

The escalators in the big mall run all the time. and the escalators from another vendor in the medium sized mall down the road run all the time. And the escalators in the small mall. And the elevators in the buildings in between them all from different vendors. With different parts because they were installed at different times. Going with the lowest cost maintenance contract may not be the wisest thing.

Phantom November 17, 2014 - 7:31 pm


During the time the R tunnel was being rebuilt, I typically transferred at Court St.

The escalators there – both the ones near the R shuttle and the ones by the 2/3, were not working near half the time.

I have grave doubts about any new stations that make us more dependent on escalators, a technology, like on time construction, things that NYC does not do well.

adirondacker12800 November 17, 2014 - 7:58 pm

The Port Authority manages to keep them running at the World Trade Center. Last time I looked the World Trade Center is in New York City.

Dustin November 18, 2014 - 11:35 am

I assume you mean the PATH escalators. Two were out this morning during rush hour. The difference here, of course, if that there’s a bank of 10 (12?) so if one or two or four are not working, there are others to pick up the slack.

Phantom November 18, 2014 - 9:03 am

The One WTC that opened two weeks ago?

Well, bravo!

JJ November 21, 2014 - 12:50 pm Reply
Phantom November 25, 2014 - 1:00 pm

The elevator that goes up to the southbound R platform makes squeaky noises that a brand new elevator should not make.


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