96th Street is one of the Original 28 IRT subway stations that opened on October 27, 1904 between the old City Hall station and 145th Street, #1, 2, 3 trains stop here, and this is your last chance to transfer from the express service to the local if you wish to proceed up Broadway toward Washington Heights, Inwood, Marble Hill and Riverdale; stay on the #2 and 3, and you’ll tunnel beneath Central Park and go up Lenox/Malcolm X Boulevard in East Harlem. I consider it something of a design flaw that express tracks couldn’t be placed under Broadway north of here, but perhaps there were technological/budgetary problems with that in 1904.
Like 72nd Street, there are island platforms, but there is the added attraction of two disused short side platforms. From 1904 to 1957, motormen, sorry, train operators opened doors on both sides, and there were exits on the center and the side platforms. (A hallmark of the original IRT is that it was built very close to the street, and the IRT advertised minimal steps to the street, unlike the old els, where Olympic-level stair climbing was the norm in the days before widespread elevators and escalators. Thus, Old Sol can illuminate some Broadway el stations all by himself.)
According to Joe Brennan at his invaluable Abandoned Stations, the 96th Street side platforms were disused not when the station was lengthened (that doomed the old 91st Street station) but when the Transit Authority introduced new cars that made it inconvenient for train ops from opening both sets of doors.
Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped the MTA from installing safety strips on the side platforms (just in case they ever want to restore service), though they did add fences in the 1980s, just so no one is fooled into thinking you can get off or on there.
The original 96th Stret tilework can be seen on the side platform, but here’s a pair of commendable new mosaics installed during station renovations a few years ago.
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