As the MTA rehabilitated and renovated Smith/9th Sts. along the Culver Line in Brooklyn, the plans did not include accessibility. For the MTA to eschew adding elevators to a station undergoing full renovations is rare indeed. But Smith/9th wasn’t one of the 100 Key Stations, and the agency has secured some exemptions from full compliance in extenuating circumstances. While the MTA fielded complaints about this part of the project when the station reopened in April, the story hasn’t yet gone away, and it highlights an accessibility problem and the shortcomings of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
When the station reopened in April, the MTA addressed questions surrounding accessibility. In a statement, the agency said: “The design for ADA elevators at this station was structurally unwieldy and financially prohibitive due to the station’s layout.” An MTA spokesman explained to me that, as the station sits partially over the Gowanus Canal, is nearly 90 feet above street level and sees ridership of under 5000 per day, the MTA determined that elevators were cost-prohibitive, economically inefficient and nearly impossible at places.
It was — and still is — unclear how the MTA avoided legal requirements, but in the five years of planning and construction, the agency faced no lawsuits over the decision. That’s not definitive legal proof that the MTA complied with law, but it’s strong circumstantial evidence as disabilities advocates have not been shy in forcing the MTA to court to amend or revise projects that don’t comply with ADA requirements.
This weekend, State Senator Eric Adams took the MTA to task for the issues surrounding Smith/9th Sts. With an elderly rider standing near him, Adams expressed his displeasure with the project. “The Smith and 9th Street station is the highest station in our city, yet we don’t have an elevator after doing a state-of-the-art renovation,” he said.
Here’s the full story on Adams’ press conference:
Adams complained [that] the station has been left inaccessible to thousands of straphangers, and even fit riders are worn out after climbing all the stairs. The woman who joined Adams has been visiting from Israel, and has been unable to use the Smith-9th Street station because of the stairs, Adams said in a statement. He called on the MTA to implement a shuttle to the Church Avenue station, which is fully accessible and serves both the F and G lines.
“The free shuttle can be similar to what we have now, which is called the Access-a-Ride, but they have to pay for that,” Adams said. “And we don’t believe a handicapped or disabled person should have to pay an additional fare to gain access to the public transportation system that their tax dollars help build and maintain.”
Adams said with no options at the Smith-9th Street station and no easy transportation to another stop, the MTA is failing to serve the entire public. “Our public transportation system is supposed to be accessible to the entire public, and those who are part of the disabled population are included in having accessibility,” he said.
Adams’ idea to run a bus to Church Ave. seems unnecessary. There’s already a bus that runs from the Smith/9th area to Jay St./Metrotech, a fully accessible station, and unless ridership shows a clear need to get from the Carroll Gardens area out to Coney Island, the bus would just be an empty one. But the fact that Smith/9th Sts. isn’t an accessible station remains deeply problematic.
The MTA’s system on a whole represents a significant barrier to those with impaired mobility. Routes through accessible stations are circuitous and timely, and other issues — platform gaps, uneven boarding areas, unhelpful employees — abound. Meanwhile, the MTA sinks millions of dollars that could go toward accessibility improvements into Access-A-Ride because the ADA mandates such service without funding it. It’s one giant mess that no one is any closer to solving.