CASE STUDY// Transit Museum


Address: Corner of Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn Heights

Institution type: Museum

Operating Hours:
MON: Closed
TUE-FRI: 11am to 4pm
SAT-SUN: 11am to 5pm

Contacts:  Gabrielle Shubert (Director and President) and Elyse Newman (Education Manager)

Adults: $7
Children and Senior Citizens: $5

Mission: The mission of the New York City transit museum is to showcase the “history, sociology and technology of the New York City transportation services” since the beginning of its time. In order to do so, the museum collects, exhibits, interprets and showcases various pieces related to the history of public transportation. Additionally, the museum offers extensive educational programs that make the collections more “accessible and meaningful” to its audience. It is one of the very few institutions in the world that is solely dedicated to the history of public transportation

Photo Credit: Ensam Lee

Photo Credit: Ensam Lee

History of institution: The idea of the Transit museum was conceived in 1976 as a part of the United States Bicentennial Celebration. It was originally named the New York City Transit Exhibit. The exhibit highlighted the role that public transportation played in the development of New York City. It was also a way acknowledging and flaunting the largest mass transportation system in the country. In 1999, the museum opened a second exhibition branch with a retail store in the newly renovated Grand Central Terminal therefore offering yet another location to educate people about the importance of public transportation in the development of a city. The museum now operates under the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Photo Credit: Ensam Lee

Photo Credit: Ensam Lee

Other facts:

  • While the New York City Transit Museum was originally conceived in 1976 for United States Bicentennial Celebration as a way to show off accomplishment of the nation’s largest mass transportation system, the exhibit soon became extremely popular and therefore the authorities decided to make it permanent.
  • In addition to being one of the very few museums dedicated to showcase the significance and history of mass transportation, this exhibit was the first of its kind in the world.
  • The first branch of the museum is located inside a 1936 IND Court Street subway station in Brooklyn Heights. The subway station was originally intended to function as the “western end of a shuttle service- the HH local line- to the Hoyt-Schermerhorn Street station three blocks away.” The Court Street station was closed in 1946 because of infrequent use and comparatively high maintenance cost.
  • The subway station is not only used as a museum, but also office and public spaces.Photo Credit: Ensam Lee
Photo Credit: Ensam Lee
  • The museum encompasses an exhibit of old train cars at its actual platform level which makes the experience all the more exciting. It also has other exhibition spaces to showcase other means of mass transportation like buses, Long Island Rail Road, etc. Additionally the museum also a working signal tower that is open to its audience to look at.
  • In order to make the museum open and accessible to public, keeping it safe and healthy became necessary. Several safety precautions that complied with zoning laws had to be taken in order to do so.
  • Tools like fire alarms and smoke detectors had to be installed. Additionally, iron dust from the rails was becoming a health hazard for the employees of the museum and therefore air conditioning became necessary to keep the inside air clean and hygienic. In order to install air conditioning systems, and avoid the infiltration of iron dust, the rail tunnel had to be enclosed.
  • Another concern for the subway system is pumping water out during storms and natural disasters.Photo Credit: Ensam Lee
Photo Credit: Ensam Lee
  • The problems for the Transit Museum did not just stop with architecture and safety concerns however. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority – the institution that supported the New York City Transit Museum – had a financially low year and therefore had to cut the funding for the Transit Museum.
  • Since then, the New York City Transit Museum has been funded by the money that they earn or receive in donations. There is $7 fee for adults and $5 for children and senior citizens to enter the museum. Additionally, the museum offers various spaces for rental throughout their facility, “including the platform level where people may board over 20 vintage and elevated cars,” for rent.
  • The institution also receives a large portion of their funding by making their facility available for film, video, and photo shoots.
  • Moreover, the museum had a program called Nostalgia weekend where operable train cars are taken out of the museum and on excursions for people to ride. The interior of the train cars is fully furnished with vintage advertisements and maps to complete the period experience. The tickets for these rides are sold months in advance. This is also a great source of funding for the museum. A similar program is the museum’s annual “Bus Festival.”Photo Credit: Ensam Lee
Photo Credit: Ensam Lee
  • The New York City Transit Museum is comprised of several departments including administration, collection and exhibition, retail store and licensing, as well as an education department that offers extensive interactive programs and exhibits for various age groups to increase awareness about the workings of mass transportation systems in New York City.
  • In 1993, the Transit Museum opened a new branch in the main concourse level of the newly renovated Grand Central Terminal. The new branch housed a gift shop as well as exhibition space that showcases rotating exhibitions. The annex in this branch of the museum houses a working model of the New York City Subway.
  • In 2001, the Brooklyn facility of the museum went under renovation. With its reopening in 2003, the museum was able to provide additional facilities like a classroom, computer room and more exhibition space for its audience.Photo Credit: Ensam Lee
Photo Credit: Ensam Lee

Photo Credit: Ensam Lee

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