As the L train project continues apace, the MTA celebrated a milestone on Monday morning when the agency finally — finally! — opened a new eastern entrance to the L train’s 1st Avenue stop. The staircase leads down to the Brooklyn-bound platforms and connects to the world above at Avenue A, finally opening the subway to the eastern reaches of the East Village and Stuy Town, 95 years and change since the BMT’s 14th Street-Eastern Line opened in June of 1924. A similar entrance on the 8th Ave.-bound side will open in a few weeks and elevators on both sides will be in service when the L project work wraps next year.
The MTA held a perfunctory opening ceremony on Monday morning complete with the requisite comments from local politicians. “The East Village and Lower East Side are some of the biggest [subway] deserts in Manhattan,” City Council Representative Carolina Rivera said, “and these new entrances are going to make a big difference for the thousands of residents who have to walk up to half a mile to reach this station. These accomplishments are helping to restore faith in our city and state’s ability to get big successful projects done right, and I can’t wait for the rest of the entrances, elevators, and the L train project to be completed.”
The mutual admiration society that accompanies these types of projects may seem rote, but it’s important. I’ll explain in a second. In the meantime, you can see some footage from the new entrance in the video embedded below, and the MTA posted a handful of photos on the agency’s Flickr page.
— Brian Camacho (@BrianC0125) November 4, 2019
While seemingly minor in the grand scheme of New York City’s transit needs, I think the opening of this new entrance is worth considering. First, entrances like this one are a key part of expanding transit access in the city and should be a normal part of the MTA’s year-to-year strategy. Because of the design of the L train station at 1st Ave. where all exiting and entering passengers are filtered through a small fare control area at the extreme western end of this station, this stop has long been a good candidate for a second entrance, and citing it at the extreme eastern end can held with crowd control while providing better subway access to thousands of riders coming from Stuy Town, Alphabet City and points east.
In fact, as East Side L train ridership has exploded over the past twenty years, it’s almost a scandal that the MTA hadn’t been planning an Ave. A entrance until the Sandy recovery work forced the issue. This is an entrance the city and MTA should have opened 10 or 15 years ago as the East Village population swelled and L train usage grew, and it’s hard to overstate how important it is for encouraging transit use to give people a notably shorter walk to the subway. It’s too bad the MTA’s current cost and construction productivity crisis meant that the agency couldn’t realistically work an Avenue C stop into its L train plans.
Furthermore, openings such as this one give politicians a reason to show up for MTA events. As we saw from the politicians’ statements, local pols like to milk these events as low-hanging, constituent-focused events, and the MTA could enjoy political support by aggressively identifying stations that could support new entrances or where entrances closed amidst crime fears in the 1980s and 1990s are reopened. Plus, as I mentioned, cutting people’s commute times to transit stops — especially when those commutes take potential straphangers past shuttered entrances — can help encourage transit use, and that’s a goal both the city and MTA should be pursuing these days. I’d suggest starting with this comprehensive list of unused station entrances and working from there. If the MTA truly hasn’t opened some of these entrances over ADA compliance concerns, the new push to drastically expand accessibility in the subway should also lead to the reopening of closed entrances.
Yet, not everything is perfect with this new entrance. As you can see from the video above, the MTA is still using the same turnstile design and still included emergency exit doors, both of which are under scrutiny as part of the hand-wringing over fare evasion. Testing new fare gate designs that make turnstile jumping harder and eliminate emergency exits which are easy to prop open could have been a part of the new entrances at Ave. A. Plus, the new turnstiles aren’t OMNY-equipped so another contractor will have to head down into the system in a few months to install the new readers.
These are minor gripes with a good project though, and the MTA should look for low-hanging, lower-cost fruit to help open up transit stations and reduce walking distances to station entrances above ground. It would take only a small political push and can pay immediate dividends for thousands.