For all the daily slights visited upon NYC transit riders, the presence of a locked subway entrance may rank among the most tauntingly inexplicable. You likely pass one every day—a perfectly good staircase that's been bolted shut as long as anyone can remember, for reasons that no one can explain—tacking on another block or three to your commute. Reopening these entryways would seem like an easy win for a transit agency committed to improving accessibility and saving customers seconds—and yet, progress remains elusive.

One city official is trying to fix that. In a letter delivered to the transit agency on Wednesday, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer demanded the MTA develop and publicly release plans for restoring the long-shuttered entry points.

"At a time when many subway stations are severely overcrowded and commute times are creeping upward—particularly for low-income New Yorkers—the abundance of unavailable entryways is problematic and ill-advised," wrote Stringer, addressing his concerns to NYC Transit President Andy Byford.

The comptroller notes that many of those staircases were first blocked off in the 1970s, as an effort to save money amid plummeting ridership. But as the number of daily riders has grown drastically in the ensuing decades—reaching nearly 6 million last year—there's been no commensurate effort to restore the former entrances.

When the MTA last made its figures available in 2015, there were still 119 closed entry points spread across the system's 472 stations. In the half decade since, just eight of those stations have seen access reestablished, according to the comptroller. He's given the MTA until February 15th to compile a "detailed roadmap" for reopening the remaining 111 stations.

In a statement to Gothamist, MTA spokesperson Tim Minton said the agency was "happy to work" with Stringer, adding that it has "opened both previously used and new entrances in multiple boroughs during the last year." But the spokesperson would not disclose which entrances, and how many in total, have been reinstated.

The slowness to reopen the entrances may have something to do with a potential legal liability posed by the MTA's enduring handicap accessibility issues. Back in 2011, a federal appeals court determined that Philadelphia's transit authority should have also installed elevators when it made upgrades to stations. Apparently fearful of running afoul of that ruling, the MTA has been careful to describe its renovation projects as "station renewals," even when it's spending $100 million on a major revamping that does not include a single elevator or ramp.

According to some experts, the same legal jujitsu may account for the agency's reluctance to reopen staircases, as such improvements could potentially open them to further legal action under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

In practice, that means you're more likely to see dormant staircases reopened at stations that already have elevators. For the more than three-quarters of stations that aren't accessible, their shuttered entryways will likely remain locked, teasing you as you pass, until, like all city ruins, they are eventually swallowed by trash.

One of several locked staircases off the J train in Bushwick

Maybe one day....

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Maybe one day....
Chris Maj