I had heard and read about the nightmares of the subway system in NYC; even though I am a seasoned pro at navigating public transportation, even in other languages. And yet, I was nervous.
It was apparently difficult to navigate, not stroller friendly, trains are always late and dirty. Because of this, I wanted to make sure that I was as prepared as possible before our trip. In addition to the stroller, I packed our baby carrier. This wasn’t an ideal scenario but if we needed to travel around and found it difficult with a bulky stroller, this was the next best option.
Fortunately, I found a really useful tool in Google Maps that enabled us to prioritize travel with Baby in the stroller!
Google Maps has a “Wheelchair Accessible” feature. If you choose this option, your route will be changed to one that accommodates a wheelchair or in your case a stroller! You may need to walk a bit further to an accessible station as opposed to the closest station but this is worth the ability to travel with Baby comfortably during your long days of site seeking.*
Using Google Maps
Search where you would like to go - for this example we will be going from Rockefeller Center downtown to One World Trade.
Once you have your directions, go to “Options” in the right-hand corner and then click “Wheelchair Accessible” before going back to the directions page.
To the right is a video showing how to navigate Google Maps from Rockefeller Center to One World Trade. It also shows how to choose the "Wheelchair Accessible" option which can also be seen in the images below.
Once you choose your route from the options, “Recommended Route” is usually the best, then click on that option.
Getting to the Station and Finding the Elevator
In order to find the station, follow the map on google maps and take the recommended walking route until you reach the station. Unfortunately, the map does not always tell you exactly where the elevator is and stations are quite large so you may need to look around, across the street and such, in order to find the elevator.
Some are in glass buildings others can be in an enclosed structure. Below are a few pictures as examples of what to look out for.
Navigating the Subway Station
Once you find the elevator, go ahead and press the button to go down. It will open out on the mezzanine where you can purchase tickets outside of the fare collectors.
You will need to purchase tickets from the ticketing machine. They are easy to use, all you need to do is just follow the directions on the screen. You can buy a reusable ticket with a certain amount of fare or you can purchase day passes. That is up to you to decide what you think is best based on how long you will be traveling or how many times you pl an to use the subway.
If you plan on taking the subway more than once, you will likely want to purchase an MTA card and upload money onto that card ($2.75 per trip). If you run out of money on the card at a later point, you can always add more.
For more information on fares and each ticket option, you can visit the MTA website.
Once you have bought the ticket, you want to find the “Accessible Entrance”. It will not be a turnstile entrance but more likely a door option with a wheelchair sign. The card reader in order to open the door will be on the right side. You can enter the card, it will return the card back, and then head on through with your stroller.
When you are done and through, anyone else with you can repeat the process and also enter.
When you get through the fare collector, you will need to find the second elevator to take you down to the correct platform. There will be at least two elevators, if not more, so be sure to get on the correct one. There are signs above each elevator indicating the direction of travel.
Finding the Correct Platform and Train using Google Maps
When you navigate to the station on google maps, it also tells you which train you need to take, the direction you will travel, and the platform you need to find.
#1 on the below image is the station that you want to enter. It gives you an approximation of where to find the elevator but this is not always accurate. It also gives you the direction of travel and the signs you need to follow in the station (i.e. Downtown Express 2 3)
#2 is the train you need to take and the time of arrival (approximately, but they are often not accurate). The front of the train has the number, while the side of the train has the final station. In this image, you want to take Train 3 towards New Lots Av. (final station) in the direction of Downtown.
#3 is your departing station. Just above is how many stations you will stop at before you depart. Many stations have multiple exits so just below the station is the direction you should exit. You should follow the signs accordingly.
Finding the Correct Platform and Train in the Station
It is important to follow the signs for particular directions of travel. If you are on the island of Manhattan you will likely be traveling Downtown (towards One World Trade, Brooklyn Bridge, etc.) or Uptown in the opposite direction. You will look for the same direction signs above the elevators.
For the sign below, the 1, A, C, B, and D are the train options. It is also important that you board the right train as some platforms are the same for multiple trains and routes. You can find the train that is arriving on the arrival screen on the platform or on the front of the train as it approaches. Just be sure to always follow the signs.
For this example, if you are traveling to One World Trade from Rockefeller Center you are traveling downtown. Find the elevator with the sign that says “Downtown” in order to get to the correct platform.
Once on the platform, you can find the screen that tells you which trains are arriving and when. Be sure to board the correct train.
Departing the Train and Finding your Exit
There is usually an announcement for each station but if you don’t hear it you can also find signs on the platforms as you arrive (i.e. Chambers St.)
When you depart the train you will need to find the elevator to head up to the main level and out the exit. This is not always easy and there are not always signs. As a general rule, you can follow the flow of traffic to the exits and then just keep walking until you find the elevator instead of walking up steps.
You will then take one elevator to the main mezzanine and exit the station but this is not yet the elevator to take you outside. You will need to leave the fare section of the station using the “Service Exit” and go outside of the gates before finding another elevator in order to get outside. The elevator exit will have a sign that tells you where you are leaving the station. (i.e. image of elevator stating "Elevator to 4 Av & 86 St)
The key to the whole system is to follow the signs and take your time. It is better to wait another 8 minutes for the next train than to try and rush through the process if you are not used to it.
I hope that this helps and give you some BME (Big Mom Energy) to get you through. Traveling is such an amazing experience to have with littles and it is worth every trial you meet along the way.
*Google Maps does have a disclaimer to “Use Caution - Wheelchair accessible directions may not always reflect real-world conditions.” Elevators can break or be out of order. So it is important to remain flexible and have a plan in these cases although we did not have this problem when we traveled.
Additionally, bulky strollers take up a lot of room on the subway. Consider bringing smaller or more compact strollers, especially if you end up traveling during rush hour or have multiple children.