Smith-9th Street station reopens to cheers and criticism

April 26, 2013 Heather Chin
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The Smith-9th Street station is back and shinier than ever, but the excitement is tempered by some mixed reviews from straphangers, who while happy to have their transportation hub back, almost universally lamented the lack of elevators to make the 87.5-foot high station — the highest in the world — handicapped-accessible.

At 11 a.m. this morning, the first F train to stop at the newly renovated station in two years was greeted at the above-ground platform with cheers and camera flashes. Riders getting off had had no idea what awaited them until their conductor told them in the moments before pulling into the station.

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“The conductor was so excited on the [train] loudspeaker, telling us that he had cut his hair to look good for the press,” laughed Carmen Crespo as she exited the station’s front doors onto 9th Street.

“I would add tiles on the floors like at Jay Street, but it is beautiful,” observed Anna Cruz of Red Hook. “After a while, you get used to walking [extra blocks] to Carroll Street, but now this will save me 10 minutes time every day.”

Having grown up in nearby Sunset Park, Crespo said she remembers commuting to John Jay High School and tackling the “ridiculous” stairs every day, until escalators were later installed. However, seeing the station interior for the first time, she declared that “for all those millions of dollars, it looks like all they did was paint and add information kiosks.”

Anthony Vega of East New York was glad for the improvements. “It used to look really bad: there was water dripping when it rains, the doors were all messed up, the escalators didn’t work,” he explained. “I come through every day for work and this looks better.”

Still, he said, “it’s okay, but it’s not wheelchair-accessible. Elevators are important.”

Lifelong resident Cindy Aloba agreed, expressing simultaneous delight at the station’s decorations and disappointment at having to use rely on her cane and a friend’s arm to help her get down the stairs.

Mom Alice Bonvicini from Carroll Gardens noted that she “was so excited this morning when I heard [it was reopening] but now I’m totally bummed.” As she and her mother carried the baby stroller down the stairs, she optimistically suggested that “hopefully, this [being open] will make the area better and safer at night.”

The two-year, $32 million renovation of the Smith-9th Street station brought a new, reflective metal exterior (which resembles a sleeker version of corrugated metal siding) for the above-ground enclosure, as well as two stories of replacement escalators, CCTV surveillance cameras, a public address system, a 14-foot tall mosaic in the lobby, and second-floor windows etched with historical images from the station’s and Brooklyn’s past.

The station is also the first active subway station to come equipped with Help Point information/emergency wall kiosks. The blue-glowing kiosks with a simple red-button, green-button display will be introduced to other stations, including the Fulton Street hub, over the next few years.

According to Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Kevin Ortiz in a statement to Gothamist, elevators were physically impossible to install due to “structurally unwieldy” layout.

The MTA also said that commuters could use handicapped-accessible stations at stations a few stops away at Jay Street-MetroTech and Church Avenue.

Despite the problems, however, “this is an extremely vital station for our [neighborhood], especially Red Hook, and serves as a gateway to the subway system,” noted Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman.

“There’s always hope for elevators, but is it likely? We have asked for a long time,” he said. “There is exciting progress in general in Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, and this whole area. This station will increase the amount of foot traffic, and residents and local businesses will benefit. Overall, this is a great day for us.”

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