From Summer of Hell to Summer of Extreme Subway Heat

New Yorkers know one of the worst places to be during a heat wave is a subway platform. The problem, of course, is that millions of people need to use the subway every day no matter the weather. When the temperature below ground is hotter than the extreme temperatures above ground, waiting on a subway platform can pose serious health risks. 

Last summer, RPA measured temperatures across dozens of NYC subway platforms. And this past weekend, the scorching heat wave gave us a good opportunity for round two. We measured temperatures in the city’s 10 busiest stations and the New York Daily News came along for the sweltering ride. 

Station Temperature Time Platform
14 Street-Union Sq 99 3:22 PM  4/5/6 Uptown
34 Street-Herald Square 96 12:37 PM N/Q/R Downtown
Columbus Circle  95 12:20 PM N/Q/R Downtown
Times Square-42 Street 94 12:05 PM 1 Uptown
Penn Station 92 11:59 PM 2/3 Uptown
Chambers Street World Trade Center 92 11:48 PM A/C/E Downtown
Fulton Street 91 11:49 PM 4/5 Uptown
Lexington Avenue-51 Street 91 12:49 PM 6 Uptown
Grand Central-42 Street 89 12:41 PM 4/5/6 Uptown
59 Street 89 8:05 AM 4/5 Uptown

We also measured a few other platforms. Just like last year, we found the highest temperatures at Brooklyn Bridge City Hall and 14th Street Union Square at 96 and 95 degrees, respectively, on Friday July 19. When we went back out on Saturday, these stations topped out at 101 and 99 degrees.

Station Temperature Time Platform
Brooklyn Bridge City Hall 101  3:12 PM 4/5/6 Downtown
Bleecker Street 96 3:00 PM 4/5 Downtown
Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center 95 2:15 PM B/D Downtown
28 Street 92 8:58 AM A/C/E Uptown
47-50 Streets-Rockefeller Center 90 1:05 PM A/C/E Uptown
42 Street-Port Authority Bus Terminal 90 3:03 PM A/C/E Uptown

Why is it so hot on the platforms? When lines are running poorly, it starts a vicious cycle, as outlined in our 2018 report Save our Subways. Lines become congested, forcing cars to brake and accelerate more often, which is where most of the generated heat comes from. Dwell times increase, holding cars in the station longer as they discharge hot air conditioning exhaust onto the platform. What’s more, the stations are not well ventilated. 

We need to invest in infrastructure that brings down platform temperatures, like improved station ventilation, regenerative braking systems, and subway cars that consume less energy. We should first focus on the overall customer experience. If riders enter the station and immediately board trains, hot platforms become less of a health risk. Instead, customers are crowding onto platforms, maybe after carrying a stroller down two staircases, and waiting 10 minutes for the next train. 

By moving riders in and out of subway stations more rapidly we’ll curb the conditions that contribute to hot platforms. By building more elevators, wider staircases and better wayfinding infrastructure we’ll enable customers to cool down once they’re inside stations. Many of these improvements have already been proposed in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Fast Forward Plan. But for this plan to become a reality, it must be fully funded and truly prioritized.

Heat waves are tough – and sometimes dangerous – reminders of the subway system’s shortcomings. When Manhattan’s north-south numbered lines shut down during rush hour on Friday, even temperatures in subway cars – normally air-conditioned oases – were hitting 90 degrees. 

These shortcomings may make for good twitter content, but the challenge lies in fixing them. Fortunately, through the MTA’s Fast Forward plan, fixes for our steaming platforms already exist – they just need to be fully funded. 


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