14. The Purpose of Colored Subway Globes

The colored globes that top subway entrances are more than just decoration or light fixtures, as they may seem. The colors on the globes relay certain information about the subway stations they adorn. The color coded system was originally created in the 1980’s, when tokens were still used as fare, and employed a traffic light color scheme of green, yellow, and red. The different colored globes let riders know whether a specific subway entrance was open 24/7 with a token booth, open with a part-time token booth, or closed all the time with no booth (serving only as an exit point). This system proved confusing to riders, especially when yellow globes were replaced with red ones and the introduction of the MetroCard in 1994 turned some “Exit Only” stations into entrances equipped with full-body entrance-and-exit turnstiles.

Today, globes are just either red or green. Full green and half green globes indicate that a specific station entrance is open. A red or half red globe signifies that the station is exit-only, that it’s permanently closed, or that it is a privately-owned easement entrance. It is also common now to see subway stations with signs specifying them as “No Entry” or “Exit Only,” in addition to the red globe. There is no distinction between full and half-color globes. Newer station entrances that don’t have globes, still have colored markers that are either green or red.