Eyes on the Street: The New 215th Step-Street Officially Opens Today

The 215th Step-Street, looking west from Broadway. Photos: Brad Aaron
The new 215th Step-Street, looking west from Broadway. Photos: Brad Aaron

Over a decade after the project’s first expected delivery date, the reconstruction of Inwood’s 215th Step-Street is complete.

West 215th Street crosses the width of Manhattan island’s northernmost neighborhood, from Inwood Hill Park to the Harlem River. Between Park Terrace East and Broadway, W. 215 is a step-street — one of many car-free street segments in Upper Manhattan and other parts of the city — connecting Broadway shops, buses, and the 1 train with residential blocks to the west.

Inwood history blogger Cole Thompson traced the origin of the double-wide staircase to 1915, when Broadway was paved with cobblestones and “the automobile was still a relatively new contraption.”

By the late 20th century, the long, steep staircase was in sad shape. Resident requests to renovate the stairs date at least as far back as the 1990s, and the city once pledged to get the work done by 2005. For years afterward, however, the step-street continued to deteriorate, requiring periodic repairs as locals contended with ice patches and busted street lamps. In 2007 a woman was injured when she tripped on a hole in the stairs.

The stairway in 2008.
The stairway in 2008.

After a series of promised deadlines came and went, the Department of Design and Construction finally fenced off the southern half of the staircase in January 2014 (one set of stairs remained open throughout the two-year construction period) and demolition of the old staircase began.

In addition to bike ramps, the new parallel stairways have seating, LED lighting, new plantings, and decorative step-count markings. It’s nice!

DDC and DOT bigs are scheduled to join State Senator Adriano Espaillat at 2 p.m. today, on Broadway at the foot of the stairs, for a press conference and official opening.

The view from Park Terrace East, looking toward Broadway.
The view from Park Terrace East, looking toward Broadway.
Each individual staircase, north and south, has a bike ramp.
Each individual stairway, north and south, has a bike ramp.
New tree wells between the stairways are surrounded by stonework.
New tree wells between the stairways are surrounded by stonework.
Wayfinding inlays were installed at the top and bottom.
Wayfinding inlays were installed at the top and bottom.
This Nelson Mandela quote really puts the climb in perspective.
This Nelson Mandela quote really puts the climb in perspective.
The summit, at last.
The summit, at last.
  • Some Asshole

    Very nice.

  • I am disappointed that there is no elevator. There are elevators for other hills in the neighborhood.

  • AMH

    This actually looks quite nice, although I wish the mature trees had been preserved, along with a bit more landscaping. Still, the design touches are very nice, and the ramps are great. A major improvement, and long overdue.

  • Jules1

    Where? There are elevators for the subways, but I don’t believe there are any standalone elevators in the neighborhood.

  • 181st (IND), 190th (IND) and 191st (IRT) all have elevators that are open to the public and also serve as subway access from the tops of the hills.

    Elevators are a mature technology and there is no reason why they must be placed in close proximity to subways.

  • Jeff

    With the popularity of SUVs, I’m surprised there hasn’t been any push to open stair streets around the city to motor vehicle traffic!

  • AnoNYC

    Agreed.

    Funicular elevator.

  • AnoNYC

    Not ADA compliant.

    Fail.

    All that planning yet some of the most vulnerable people in the community will still lack accessibility.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    this was a studio project in my Columbia Arch class back in 1978 , we came up with some interesting solutions

  • Emmily_Litella

    No planning needed, just an ‘in-kind’ replacement of a run of stairs. Anyone can go around the block and roll up the hill, its not a big deal. Look at a map before eagerly whining about failure. ‘Vulnerable’ people can get subsidized mobility devices from the State.

  • Emmily_Litella

    Really? Name one.

  • Tyson White

    You look younger in the pic. lol

  • Richard Garey

    This is a good start. However, there a still plenty of stair streets in the Bronx that are in severe need of TLC.

  • AnoNYC

    “Over a decade after the project’s first expected delivery date, the reconstruction of Inwood’s 215th Step-Street is complete.”

    Shall we wait another 10 years?

    Why should those with limited mobility go around the block? How about those carrying heavy items?

    Why should we not create a city with our most vulnerable users in mind?

    Poorly planned, like a street without sidewalks. We must invest in our pedestrian infrastructure if we want to maximize walkability.

  • An unfair critique.

    I agree with the notion that all subway stations should be ADA-compliant. But this is just a concrete stairway, with no moving parts. Surely you don’t expect the construction of an elaborate elevator or escalator mechanism alongside it.

  • For starters, the nice tunnel and elevator system from 190th & Broadway to 191st & St Nicholas. The tunnel was repainted last summer and given new LED lights; it offers a climate-controlled, rain and snow free way to get up and down the hill. This means that people with heavy bags or carts or strollers don’t have to struggle up or down in inclement weather; also bear in mind that along 187th and Fairview (main roads up/down the hillside there are long stretches of sidewalk that do not face onto buildings and thus suffer from poor compliance with snow removal.

  • Well said, bear in mind also that the entire 1810 foot distance is subject to the whims and vagaries of property owners when it comes to cleaning and maintaining sidewalks.

  • Toddster

    You realize many subway stations, especially elevated ones, are just concrete (and metal) with no moving parts yet we make them accessible.

  • Every subway station, be it underground or elevated, has extensive infrastructure onto which an elevator can be added. (And, in fact, we don’t make enough subway stations accessible.)

    But this is just a bare concrete stairway. I struggle to conceive of a way in which it could be made accessible — short of not having the stairway there at all and building an escalator or elevator in its place, which is an entirely different question.

  • One option is the funicular elevator shown on another post on this page.

    A second option would be a short tunnel from the middle to an elevator that would reach Park Terrace East. Room in the street could be sacrificed for the elevator entrance.

    A third (rather grandiose) option would be a walkway from Park Terrace East to a level above the 215th St elevated station; that could have elevators to street level along 10th Avenue next to the elevated structure.

    A fourth option would be to have a roof over the darn staircase as is. Roofing the staircase would keep snow from falling on the stairs and make a big difference to accessibility.

  • AnoNYC

    The city could remove one of two stairwells available and install a funicular elevator. This should be commonplace citywide.

  • AnoNYC

    This is what happens when certain kinds of users are overlooked. It’s too long been culturally acceptable to lack provisions for those with limited mobility. An elevator installed along a stair street is not groundbreaking or elaborate and has already been successfully implemented in locations with similar topography internationally.

    We must design our cities with all users in mind.

  • Joe R.

    I kind of agree but we should have at least put in a ramp.

  • Joe R.

    I think the issue here is more the number of potential users than anything else. Had this been in an area with heavy foot traffic, I’m sure an elevator would have been seriously considered. As things stand now, suppose you go through the expense of building an elevator ($1 million+ easily with today’s inflated construction costs), and you get two people a day who actually use it. Now assume the elevator lasts 25 years before needing replacement. $40K per year plus ongoing maintenance costs to serve under 1,000 users annually. That’s not a good use of limited city funds. And then you have the fact this is NYC, with its wonderful track record of maintaining things. I’ll bet the elevator would be out of service 300 out of 365 days.

    ADA requirements were well-meaning but really more suited to a world where we have virtually unlimited funding for capital projects. Building expensive accommodations which might only serve a tiny number of people means those funds can’t be used elsewhere. Even in really dense areas, it seems these things don’t get much use. For example, I’ve never once seen the elevator at the Main Street subway station being used by anyone.

  • The whole thing might be too steep for that; but, if the grade allows, then yes, a ramp should have been included.

  • That priniciple is undoubtedly correct. And anything built now would surely be constructed so as to provide universal access.

    But, with respect to this particular existing stairway, to ask that it be retro-fitted with an elevator or an escalator is a bit much, I think.

    Joe mentioned a ramp. As I said in response to that comment, the grade seems a little steep for that. But, if the grade is manageable, then a ramp should have been included.

  • Joe R.

    It looks like there would be room to do a ramp with two switchbacks. Yes, the grade is much too steep to do a ramp without switchbacks. It’s a 63 foot climb in only about 250 feet. But with two switchbacks you increase that distance to about 750 feet. That puts the grade right around 1 in 12, which incidentally is also the maximum for wheelchair ramps.

  • AnoNYC

    Well then we have an issue. This obviously will not surprise anyone but we need to find a way to keep costs down. Infrastructure construction is so outrageously expensive that it is preventing us from building a city for the people.

    And I strongly agree with a covering of some type as well.

  • AnoNYC

    Our construction costs are out of control, no surprise to anyone here. These small projects would really bring NYC to the forefront of population equity. Unfortunately, our economic system, our culture, and our will to change these things does not enable that.

  • jon

    The elevator at woodside and

  • neroden

    If this were Hong Kong, they would have installed a public escalator.

  • neroden

    There is enough room for a ramp. It would have to be a switchback ramp… but the street is wide enough to accomodate a switchback ramp.

  • neroden

    That’s just MTA incompetence. Ask Chicago how long it takes to replace an elevator and how much it costs.

  • I am trying to contact the photographer, Brad Aaron, but cannot find his phone number or email. Can you help me?

  • Miles Bader

    Switchbacks dramatically increase the amount of space consumed, and on a long slope like this you can’t easily just have a small number of long switchbacks because they’d need a massive amount of construction …. the first level would have to burrow deeply into the hillside, and subsequent levels would need to be elevated high above the ground at the lower end.

    So here you’d basically need a series of many, many, short switchbacks working their way up the slope.

    Maybe there’s room for those in that center space, but it looks pretty marginal to me. It would be very reasonable to ask if it’s really necessary, and whether alternative routes up the hill are enough.

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