Williamsburg, Bushwick subway entrances sealed despite ridership spike

Closed gates at the entrance to the J train on Broadway at Kosciusko Street in Brooklyn, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. This closed gate is at the corner of Broadway and Dekalb Avenue
Closed gates at the entrance to the J train on Broadway at Kosciusko Street in Brooklyn, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. This closed gate is at the corner of Broadway and Dekalb Avenue Photo Credit: Ben Nugent

More commuters are flooding into the subway system in the booming neighborhoods of northern Brooklyn, but many station entrances remain permanently locked up. Residents and workers want the MTA to open them to get riders in and out of stops faster, as well as to boost nearby business and property values.

Entrances at stops like Flushing Avenue in Williamsburg and Halsey Street in Bushwick were shuttered so long ago that the MTA does not know when they were shut down or the circumstances behind the closures.

Officials believe the closures, which happened on or before 1980, were for security reasons and to save money on staffing. The area at the time was run-down with rampant crime.

Laramie Flick, a 38-year-old from Bushwick, lives near the closed J train entrance at the Halsey Street station, where ridership has grown almost 21% between 2009 and 2014. He has often walked past the two closed entrances on Jefferson Avenue and Broadway as the elevated train rumbled overhead toward the station.

“The J train entrance is three and a half blocks away and there’s no time to sprint and catch it,” he said. “I just watch the train leave and spend the next ten minutes hating the MTA.”

Local businesses near the shuttered entrances say they have suffered from the lack of foot traffic. The area around Jefferson Avenue and Broadway is a boarded-up wasteland, while businesses are bustling near the station’s open entrances on Broadway and Halsey Street.

“Having access to that entrance would allow businesses at this end to flourish,” said Steven Gonzales Marin, who owns the contemporary Bushwick art gallery I.M.A.G.E. “I know that firsthand, every day. Having more foot traffic would absolutely help.”

Ridership has been rising for years in northern Brooklyn as neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Bushwick have revitalized and crime has plunged. At the Hewes Street station in Williamsburg, riders have spiked almost 26% between 2009 and 2014. At the Chauncey Street station, the number of straphangers has grown about 15% during that period.

Northern Brooklyn isn’t the only part of the city where riders have to navigate around shuttered entrances. Most lines have a station with closed entrances — such as Seventh Avenue on the B and Q lines in Park Slope and 163rd Street on the C train in Washington Heights.

But riders in Bushwick and Williamsburg say the elevated J line has a high percentage of the closed-off staircases.

“I’ve been here since ’88, and it’s been closed this entire time,” said Freddy Liz, 52, who manages a Williamsburg furniture store called Town of Bargains near a closed Flushing Avenue entrance. “When I got here, this neighborhood was much more dangerous, but a lot has changed. If we had more people, we’d have more business.”

Longtime Bushwick resident Jay Taylor, 51, said he remembers when the Dekalb Avenue entrance was closed for security reasons to protect riders at the Kosciuszko Street stop on the J train. “But now the crime is down, so I think they should be open again,” he said. The station has seen an almost 16% boost in passengers between 2009 and 2014.

The Kosciuszko Street station straddles Bushwick’s 83rd precinct, where the murder rate has dropped 50% over the past 5 years, and Bedford-Stuyvesant’s 81st precinct, which has had an 81% plunge. Almost 4,800 people now use the stop daily on a weekday.

The MTA has been testing out strategies to help it move its sky-high ridership, which has been hitting record levels and causing overcrowding delays.

Spokesman Adam Lisberg said the MTA is “looking generally at ways to expand capacity throughout the subway system, so we can accommodate surging ridership, and surveying closed entrances is part of that.”

The MTA could add high-entry and exit turnstiles, which can’t be jumped over and cost less to operate and maintain than standard turnstiles.

It has been experimenting with platform conductors and boxes that tell riders to step aside at stations, as well as staging workers to handle problems like signal malfunctions. In the long-run, the MTA is modernizing its signal system to run more trains.

Flick said that opening the closed entrances would make a big difference.

“It’s such a relatively cheap and simple way to make commuting better for a lot of people,” he said.

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