Local Leaders Say Subway Barriers are Needed, Call for a Pilot Project at Busy Stops

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine announces his push for platform barriers alongside elected officials and advocates.

By Jeffrey McNerney

On Thursday morning in a cold Times Square, just a few blocks north of the subway station where UWS resident Michelle Go was tragically killed after being pushed onto the tracks, Manhattan’s leaders called on the MTA to respond to the incident by installing platform barriers at the system’s busiest stops.

“Hundreds of people every year wind up on the tracks,” said Borough President Mark Levine, who led the press conference. He began his remarks by reading a list of cities around the world (and JFK Airport), which already have screen doors in their subway systems, saying “this is not a new technology…this is a technology that addresses many problems currently afflicting the subway system.”

The event accompanied a letter sent last week to the MTA and Governor Kathy Hochul and signed by all City Council Members representing Manhattan. This week, the MTA released a 4,000 page feasibility study from 2020 that emphasized the challenges of implementing the technology in the system, citing ADA concerns, fire safety issues, and the technical complexity of installing screen doors along New York’s older tracks which are frequently curved. The agency says that 128 stations would be physically eligible for the measure, and put the price tag at $6-7 billion for those stations alone.

The 1 train arrives at 42nd-Times Square Station on a straight track, making it a potential candidate for platform barriers.

BP Levine acknowledged the difficulty in implementing any system-wide change, but suggested they should start where the measures are possible. “We’re not demanding that this installation happen immediately in all 472 stations,” said Levine, instead asking for a pilot project in at least one major station as soon as possible and a detailed study on how the technology could be rolled out to more.

The Borough President was joined by State Senator Brad Hoylman and several City Council Members, including CM Shaun Abreu of District 7, representing Manhattan Valley and Morningside Heights, who said in English and Spanish that safety measures will bring more riders back to the subway. “No commuter should feel unsafe because of their identity,” he emphasized. Council Member Gale Brewer, representing District 6 in the heart of the UWS, also signed the letter but was not present at the event.

Other leaders put additional pressure on the agency. “The MTA needs to take decisive action now and launch a study of platform doors,” said Hoylman, arguing that it would build the “confidence that riders need to get back on the rails now.” Council Member Christopher Marte, who represents the Financial District and Lower Manhattan, said his district always asks, “What is the city doing to protect us?” and urged officials to not wait until there is another death before taking action.”

Dr. Sharon McLennon-Wier speaks about potential benefits for the visually impaired and other disabled New Yorkers.

Responding to a question about competing initiatives like elevators that are important to riders with disabilities, Levine argued that pitting priorities against each other was the wrong approach. He noted the size of the MTA and New York State budgets, and standing alongside Executive Director of the Center for Independence for the Disabled Dr. Sharon McLennon-Wier, who also spoke at the press conference, framed the track barriers as an asset for the visually impaired and other vulnerable New Yorkers.

The elected officials acknowledged that there are many issues contributing to subway safety, reiterating the need for mental health services and security measures. “Every single person who spoke today is deeply committed to the fight to improve how the city handles the crisis of mental health,” said BP Levine, “but we also have to build for the long term, and this is technology that has so many benefits.”

Council Member Julie Menin of the UES agreed. “These things are not mutually exclusive,” she said. “We have a crisis of public safety right now in our subway system. We need to use every tool in our tool belt…and that includes installing these platform doors.”

 

NEWS | 25 comments | permalink
    1. Otis says:

      Having more police in the subways – and allowing them to do their job properly – will be much cheaper and far more efficient than installing barriers.

      • Kevin F says:

        I assume that you are aware that there were 2 officers on the platform where Ms. Go was pushed onto the tracks and more than 6 officers in the Times Square-42nd Street station. This was by all accounts a ‘bang-bang’ event which happened in a very short period of time. The police clearly could not have done anything in this situation and platform doors are the only solution.

        • Linda says:

          I ride the subway quite frequently, and the police are now almost always just inside the stations and almost never down the stairs and on the platforms.

        • Bob Lamm says:

          Thank you, Kevin F. The comment by Otis is clueless. Police officers could be standing five feet away and watching helplessly as a sudden move by a disturbed individual leads to a horrific death.

      • ben says:

        I see that MTA took a page (literally?) out of the lawyers’ playbook of ‘bury them in paper’.

      • AC says:

        I agree Otis. But even more importantly, the traveling public needs to be more vigilant and aware of their surroundings. Police cannot be babysitting people 24/7. Passengers need to bear some responsibility here as well. Stay away from the edge, be aware of your surroundings, and if you don’t feel safe, move. Implementing all these safety measures will easily make a one way fare 4 dollars by 2027!

    2. Steven Barall says:

      They can put up railings along the edges of the platforms with space left open for access to the doors. No space age technology necessary and it won’t cost fifty billion dollars and take twenty years. What’s wrong with having a cost effective attainable goal?

      • Eckersley says:

        I agree with Steven Barall: simple railings would reduce the length of platforms that are open, even when accounting for the 3’ tolerance needed by the uncomputerised controlled trains.
        Railings would also worked on curved platforms.

      • Steevie says:

        The problem is that people would line up at the spaces and could still be pushed in front of the train.

      • larry littlefellow says:

        good idea

      • EdNY says:

        Wouldn’t accomplish much since there would still be large gaps where the doors are. Plus, the majority of the system’s stations have two distinct types of cars – 60-foot and 75-foot where the doors do not line up. If you had to leave gaps for both types of equiment, it would be pointless to do it at all.

    3. 72RSD says:

      I think people underestimate why it would be so expensive… it’s not just the usual MTA union feather bedding but the fact that NY subways unlike other systems don’t have computerized systems that allow subway cars to stop at the exact same spot on the platform. Each train has a “range” of three feet on any side where the door might be from train to train. Without completely computerizing the system and changing signals we can’t build doors because trains will mis align.

      Also this story describes the Times Square subway as a “Metro”? Hahaha.

      • SadforUWS says:

        Agreed re cost. Perhaps at select stations like Times Square and Penn Station but that’s it. Can’t be done at even a fraction of NYC stops without it going into the millions of $

      • EdNY says:

        Good point about inability to guarantee precise stopping locations. In addition, the B Division (letter trains) currently has two types of train cars with doors at different locations. I doubt any other system has this issue – that would require building something much more complicated than anything that currently exists. I believe the money can be better spent on other things within the system. And we’ve gone over 100 years without platform gates – and there’s always been crime. How about doing something to stop fare evasion, which undoubtedly lets lots of potential perpetrators into the system too easily?

    4. Carlos says:

      What happened to Ms. Go is a horrible tragedy and I am not intending to trivialize it. But spending billions of dollars to prevent something that is very rarely an issue is not an optimal use of resources.

      Money does not grow on trees. Spend it on helping the mentally ill. Build treatment centers for them. For those who are clearly severely impaired, don’t give them a choice. It is for everyone’s good.

    5. denton says:

      This is so stupid. This will cost billions and take decades and will never work right. And of course those who wish to do people harm will just stab, beat, or shoot them. How about we spend the money to get people off the street and house and treat them?

      • lynn says:

        I agree that we should address the homeless problem first. I rode the subway for 40 years but stopped shortly before Covid because there was already an issue with mentally ill homeless men at the 72nd & B’way station. That being said, the station has a narrow strip of platform between two sets of tracks, with no wall for passengers to stand next to, so “if” the city wants to experiment with gates then it might be a good testing ground.

    6. Danielle Remp says:

      We would all benefit, both on the surface and underground if, instead, the real problem was addressed — homelessness and mental illness.

    7. dc says:

      Wondering if they could get a waiver for some of the ADA issues in this case. Regardless, it’s just one part of the solution. Deranged people don’t belong in the subway, preying on riders. How to prevent that, I don’t know.

    8. Adam says:

      When all you have in your toolbox is technology: every problem looks like it needs a gadget or gizmo.

    9. Bob A says:

      I moved from the UWS to So Cal just before the pandemic but as an octogenarian who takes meds and at times relies on a cane (and who liked taking subway trains and misses them), I often worried about suddenly losing my balance and falling. So if the proposed barriers would provide some safety for us older riders I’m all for them. Perhaps a good number of elderly NYers may feel the same.

    10. Molly Warner says:

      Educate people to stand towards the wall when the train is coming into the station. Barricades are for mindless cows and sheep.

    11. JTB4Life says:

      NO Subway Barriers! Please do not stand on platform edge. Problem solved.

    12. Alan says:

      This costly solution solves the symptom and not the problem … politicians refusal to add more subway police and refusal to remove mentally disturbed homeless and criminals