Home Brooklyn The persistence of accessibility complaints at Smith/9th Streets

The persistence of accessibility complaints at Smith/9th Streets

by Benjamin Kabak

Four months after the Smith/9th Sts. station has reopened, the MTA is still fielding complaints about accessibility issues. (Photo: MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann)

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.

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Stephen Smith August 26, 2013 - 12:17 am

I don’t know that the ADA is at fault here. When you can’t rehab a station and viaduct for less than $275 million (or whatever it ended up being? fun fact: the Millau Viaduct, the world’s tallest, was €394 million ten years ago), dropping things like elevators starts to make sense.

Nathanael August 26, 2013 - 10:09 pm

” sees ridership of under 5000 per day,”

This was probably the real reason why (a) the MTA violated the law, and (b) nobody bothered to sue.

VLM August 27, 2013 - 8:50 am

I admire the confidence with which you are wrong.

Berk32 August 26, 2013 - 12:26 am

the platforms are over the water. the street level station house isnt under the platforms – thats why there are crazy long stairs connecting the station house to the platforms.

it’s that simple.

Where the hell were they supposed to put the elevators?

BBnet3000 August 26, 2013 - 9:35 am

Only partially above the water. Parts of both platforms are above land.

As for the low ridership, if this area ever gets rezoned that will change. Obviously, thats out of the MTAs purview (though transportation organizations elsewhere have taken an interest in land use recently)

Nathanael August 26, 2013 - 10:11 pm

They were supposed to put the elevators on the east side of the station, east of the canal, over the EMPTY PARKING LOT. And build a new headhouse there, because the existing one’s location is pretty crazy, yes.

This sort of thing — headhouse relocation — has been done *routinely* by other cities when rebuilding stations to be ADA-compliant. The MTA simply didn’t bother because the MTA does not take the ADA seriously.

There is nothing wrong with the ADA. There is something seriously wrong with the MTA.

JJJJ August 26, 2013 - 12:54 am

You folks all realize that other accessible options exist besides a full enclosed vertical elevator?

Visit a historical building with stairways that have been accessible – they usually have a platform a wheelchair can roll onto that then moves up the stairways.

Berk32 August 26, 2013 - 1:09 am

and you think an option like this is practical for a transit station? (ignoring the maintenance casts, considering it will break constantly with nobody to supervise its use)

AMM August 26, 2013 - 11:56 am

There are also (fully enclosed) diagonal elevators.

Munich’s Marienplatz subway station has two on the north end of the U-Bahn platforms. Or they did when I lived there 30+ years ago. Granted, the USA is rather backward technologically, but one would think people here would have heard of the idea by now.

Joseph Steindam August 26, 2013 - 6:23 pm

These are being installed at the new 34th Street station and terminal for the 7 train. But these would only carry passengers to fare control, normal elevators would take over between fare control and the platform. I suspect a total of 3 inclinators would be needed to bring a passenger from street level to the platform (one for each direction and one from fare control to the underpass).

Smith & 9th doesn’t have particularly wide stairways though, and only has this entrance, so to include them would’ve involved widening the whole stairwell structure to ensure all other passengers could continue to enter and exit.

Frank B August 26, 2013 - 1:42 am

Did the MTA even contemplate the possibility that only 5,000 people per day use the station because it requires climbing hundreds of steps?

The elevators could have significantly boosted ridership.

Phantom August 26, 2013 - 9:38 am

Not true. This station has always had escalators.


Nyland8 August 27, 2013 - 5:54 am

WOW! That station has escalators? That’s more than my station has.

Tower18 August 26, 2013 - 11:24 am

Ridership at that station is so low because there are very few people living nearby who aren’t better served by Carroll St station, or staying on the B61 in the opposite direction to go to Jay St, if they’re not able to take stairs. The immediate area is all industry (or vacant) and once you get to denser housing to the north, you might as well to to the 2nd Pl entrance of Carroll St…and once you go south or west into Red Hook, most of those people take the B61 anyway.

I’m all in favor of accommodations for the disabled where it makes sense, but this is a station where it really doesn’t make sense, especially when a disabled-friendly alternative easily exists (B61 to Jay St).

Nathanael August 26, 2013 - 10:12 pm

As soon as the B61 has exclusive lanes and transit priority at streetlights, it might be an adequate substitute. It doesn’t and it isn’t.

Nyland8 August 26, 2013 - 5:40 am

“There’s already a bus that runs from the Smith/9th area to Jay St./Metrotech, a fully accessible station, – ”

Shouldn’t this be the end of the story?

Berk32 August 26, 2013 - 8:40 am

Not when it comes to pandering local politicians

Phantom August 26, 2013 - 9:41 am

This is one of the many manufactured controversies, one of the reasons why nothing big gets done in this town anymore.

Frauds like Adams pay no attention to costs, and to the fact that we can’t do everything.

The MTA used their resources wisely in this project.

Nathanael August 26, 2013 - 10:14 pm

The MTA wasted their resources — spending far more than can possibly be justified for an “exactly like before” rebuild — and it violated the ADA while it was at it.

But go ahead, believe what you want. NYC is the only city in the world which is not making a serious effort to make its subways accessible. Keep it up, you can ride it straight to economic decline. I’ll visit Boston and Philadelphia and DC and Chicago in preference.

SEAN August 26, 2013 - 8:40 am

TECHNICLY the MTA is in vialation of title II of the ADA, but the wavor gives them legal cover. The wavor should NOT have been granted based on the scope of the work required to bring that station to a state of good repair. Since this station is not ADA accessable, therefore a bus that does serve an accessable station from Smith/ 9th should have a frequency increase, even if it is only shortturn runs to that particular station.

John B August 26, 2013 - 9:40 am

Off topic but I’ve been wondering after months of reading your comments but are all the misspellings on purpose?

SEAN August 26, 2013 - 9:51 am


Well at least I spelled that correctly.

David Brown August 26, 2013 - 10:10 am

Sen. Adams (a former 22 Year NYPD Officer) is so anti-Cop and anti-Development he makes Al Sharpton and John Liu look like “Dirty Harry” and Donald Trump, so right from the start, the source must be considered (and that applies to the “Rights of the Disabled” and everything else). If this issue was so important, where was he before Smith & 9th was renovated (this should of course, include making sure proper MTA funding was there for the Disabled to get the elevators)? But of course, he does not care about the disabled (certainly some of whom will be at the mercy of the criminals he protects with his anti-Cop stance), any more than he does at adding a (3)Train (Junius St) and (L) Train (Sutter Ave)connection in his own District (think that might help people in need in Crown Heights?). He could be a bridge to the MTA and the disabled (and others in need of better transportation alternatives), like he could be to the NYPD and the various Communities in The City, but that would actually take spending political capital, but offering nothing positive is far easier, so he does just that.

Nathanael August 26, 2013 - 10:14 pm

When a former cop is anti-cop, you have to suspect he knows what he’s talking about.

John-2 August 26, 2013 - 10:19 am

If there anything planned for the lot on the NE corner of Smith-9th, between Smith Street and the Gowanus? If you have future development there, the builder could be required to install an ADA elevator from the street to the fare control level of the station, which would leave the MTA responsible for the two elevators from fare control to platform level.

Phantom August 26, 2013 - 6:44 pm

Sure, expensive requirements like that will encourage development.

It being the most desirable plot of land in NYC and everything.

Nathanael August 26, 2013 - 10:15 pm

Nope. Nothing planned. Would have been an easy place to install an elevator and a second set of stairs. If done correctly with a ground-level headhouse, it would require only one elevator, unlike most stations.

The MTA *didn’t even try*.

John August 26, 2013 - 10:24 am

Are there escalators at this station? If not, why were they not implemented? The same reasons as the elevator problems?

Benjamin Kabak August 26, 2013 - 10:26 am

Escalators service part of this station, but you can’t take an escalator all the way from bottom to top.

Phantom August 26, 2013 - 12:30 pm

So what?

You can take the escalators up most of the way, maybe 90 percent of the way.

I remember as a young juvenile delinquent ” riding ” the escalator handrail down the long, long way to the bottom.

stan August 26, 2013 - 10:50 am

“state-of-the-art renovation”?????

has he actually looked at what was done???

Nathanael August 26, 2013 - 10:15 pm

Indeed. Money for nothing.

marv August 27, 2013 - 8:54 pm

ADA – How much do you spend per user? Do you allow cost to become so prohibitive that reconstruction is not done? If so, who wins? How much are we willing to have our fare go up to make this station compliant? How much are we willing to have our fares go up to make all stations compliant?

As always, people want everything but forget that we have to pay for it.

Laws such as ADA tend to create non budgeted costs.

Let’s budget amounts for ADA retrofitting each year and then spend it in the smartest/most productive fashion.


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