nyc subway station lights

ok, so i’m pretty used to seeing the pokemon ball looking lights at the stop of the stairs at most subway stations, usually red on top, white on the bottom. but then i noticed the L train has green lights, and i think i’ve seen other color combinations, like all red, or all white.

so what’s the code? is green east west only? all red or white an express stop? or are they just for looks?

I’ve read that green used to be used for stations that were open 24 hours a day, but I’m not sure if that’s still the convention.

I always thought that red meant closed, and green meant open. At least it was always that way in practise. (But I have been away for a while…)

From the Forgotten NY website:

“The green bulb above the sign signifies that this entrance is always open. It’s a relatively recent development, having been placed there in the early 1980s.”
They were referring to a ‘stencil’ style Subway sign in Inwood [North Manhattan] which had been erected in the 20s, and meaning the bulb had been attached much later.

Personally, I prefer to rely on the large White on Black signs which states when the particular entrance they’re mounted over (or on) is open, or else the locked gate at the bottom of the landing.

[Different topic, but the subject line still fits]

I’ve noticed that some (all?) subway platforms have several fixtures above them (just at the edge of the platform) with three colored light bulbs in a row, either orange or green. Anyone know what they’re for (I’m not talking about signal lights; these don’t have lenses on them)?

Forgotten NY is a really fun website. I believe they host tours occasionally as well.

I do use the red/green bulb system. Especially around stations with multiple entrances like Columbus Circle, Union Square, Antlantic Ave, etc. When I’m drunk, it’s late at night and it’s raining or incredibly cold and I can see two subway stations that are equidistant from my position…it is nice to know which of those stations is open ALL THE TIME. How many times before learning this system did I choose one of the two entrances and walk over to it, only to discover that awful locked gate at the bottom of the stairs or the dreaded no-metrocard-or-token-taking-unmanned turnstile? Then not only did I waste my time and energy walking to the stupid closed entrance but I have to haul my butt all the way over to the other entrance. The half red and white bulbs mean that the entrance is open on Sundays (red bulbs aren’t open at all on Sundays) but only at certain times. When in doubt, go to the green bulb even if it is further away.

As for those orange and green lights on the platforms… I’ve seen transit workers take them down and use them for illumination on the tracks. Whether this is their actual use is debatable, but I have seen them used in this fashion.

It’s sad to think about, but when every subway entrance is outfitted with the Metrocard turnstiles and gates, the lights won’t really mean much anymore.

As far as I know, every station is fitted with Metrocard gates. That doesn’t mean all stations will be open 24/7; many rarely-used entrances are closed at night so they can clean them and not pay for staff. (There are usually other entrances to the same station open in that case.)

BTW: Here’s a really good site for info about the NYC subway:

friedo–Bleecker Street on the six may be the one exception to what you said. It has two entrances at either end of the platform–one is a twenty-four hour booth, and the other is an exit only. The lights at the entrance to the exit only side are all red, although it’s fitted with the Metrocard turnstile which essentially makes it a twenty-four hour (green light) entrance if you have a Metrocard.

After twenty or so years of taking the subway, I’ve noticed that the three orange lights turn on when a train is about to leave a station. A good place to see this is at the end of a line. When the train is about to pull out, you’ll hear a bell sound. If you look up, you’ll see the lights go on, and then turn off again once the train has left the station. My only guess is that it’s a visual cue to the conductor that the tower has cleared the train to leave.