Health-Promoting Stair Bill Passes in NYC

Research has shown that visibility of stairs increases their use [1] by promoting safety within the stairway along with knowledge of its location. The New York City Council recently voted to pass a bill that will increase stair visibility and promote additional stair use within buildings. The bill allows some stair doors to be held open by magnetic devices, which close automatically in case of an emergency. The Center for Active Design applauds this decision, which continues the tradition of evidence-based innovation in New York City.

Stairways are often relegated to back corners of buildings, making them difficult to find and use. Increasing visibility of these stairways is a simple method of enlivening corridors and making them easier to locate. Several buildings in NYC already use magnetic-hold opens, which in the past required special consideration from the Department of Buildings. For example, the Center for Architecture in New York City uses hold-open devices on the door of its main circulation stair. According to Rick Bell, Executive Director of the New York City chapter of the American Institute of Architects, “The Center welcomes 5,000 visitors a month, and of those visitors, ninety five percent take the stairs to reach our gallery spaces and lecture halls.” In this case, this simple hold-open device encourages visitors to naturally take the stairs and engage in physical activity without even recognizing it. The new stair bill will allow other buildings to incorporate magnetic hold-opens as-of-right, without undertaking the additional approval processes that were needed in the past.

New York City has introduced one other stair bill that has yet to be voted on by City Council. This proposed bill aims at ensuring that all newly constructed buildings provide occupants with stairway access to all floors within buildings. Currently, buildings are permitted to restrict access to a building’s floors from the stairs, leaving occupants without the option to use them. Drawing on extensive research [2], the bill also seeks to encourage stair use by incorporating fire-rated glass and point-of-decision stair prompts in at least one stairway in each building. For more information on how you can support this bill, please contact us.

Research shows that using the stairs regularly can help reduce an individual’s risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease [3], stroke [4], and obesity [5]. Many companies are now promoting stair use in their workplaces as an easy way to promote employee health, reduce absenteeism, and increase daily productivity. Encouraging regular stairwell use can also increase familiarity with its location in case of an emergency. As we look for ways to incorporate movement into daily routines, stairways should be recognized as a standard part of urban life and a simple method for increasing physical activity.

[1] G. Nicoll, Spatial measures associated with stair use, 21:4 Am J Health Promot. 346-52 (2007).

[2] Guide to Community Preventive Services, Environmental and Policy Approaches to Physical Activity: Point-of-Decision Prompts to Encourage Use of Stairs,

[3] Teh KC, Aziz AR. Heart rate, oxygen uptake, and energy cost of ascending and descending the stairs. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002;34(4):695-9

[4] Lee IM, Paffenbarger RS, Jr. Physical activity and stroke incidence: The Harvard alumni health study. Stroke. 1998;29:2049-54

[5] Zimring C, Joseph A, Nicoll GL, Tsepas S. Influences of building design and site design on physical activity: research and intervention opportunities. Am J Prev Med. 2005;28:186-93.

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    Hold-open devices keep the fire door open and make the stairway more visible at the Center for Architecture in NYC. Photo: Emily Young.