OPINION: A subway station and an industrial canal

May 28, 2013 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The other day, I took a trip to Carroll Gardens, and since I had some time to kill, I took the F train one more stop to the newly renovated Smith-9th Streets station, which reopened about a month ago. Not only is Smith-9th Streets one of only two elevated stops on the IND division of the transit system, it’s the highest elevated rapid-transit system in the city, and by some accounts, in the world.

The station looked very impressive, just as it did in the photos released the MTA.  The outdoor part had an impressive ironwork design of alternating half-circles above a chest-high concrete barrier. The original mosaics, darkened by years of neglect, have been restored, and futuristic new lighting fixtures have been installed overhead.

The “main” part of the platform is made of completely new concrete, with plastic windows that contain a wire mesh. Many years ago, all elevated stations had glass windows. But over the years, the windows grew cracked and dirty and were eventually covered up with an aluminum surface. This restores the windows, and they are a welcome edition.

Going down to the mezzanine, there are more windows, these of just clear plastic. While the escalators are brand new, I was a little disappointed that they only come up to the mezzanine, and people have to walk the one flight of stairs to the platforms. Still, the new escalators are a great improvement over the old ones – in the old days, at least one of them always seemed to be out of service.

One word about the complaint that the renovated station isn’t disabled accessible. There are varying degrees of “disability” – not every disabled person needs to use a wheelchair. Some are able to walk, although slowly and with a cane. While it’s somewhat unfortunate that the new station was built without an elevator, there are many other people (including me, who often gets out of breath while walking up many flights of stairs because of my asthma) whom the new escalator banks will help substantially.

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My only real complaint about Smith-9th Streets concerns not the station, but what you see from it. The new windows are a double-edge sword – you can see outside, but what do you see? In some places, mainly the western, open platform area, you indeed can see north to Downtown Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. But if you look out the window almost everywhere else, you’ll see that the Gowanus Canal needs a LOT of work!  The day I was there, it was raining, and the water in the canal was covered with a layer of floating, yellow-green sludge. If the “flushing tunnel” was doing any flushing that day, I sure didn’t see it.

The view of the banks of the Gowanus wasn’t much better. Sure, Lowe’s is a nice store. But elsewhere, the view mainly consists of oil containers, a huge scrapyard where a crane was moving scrap metal in and out of a barge, a group of low-rise industrial buildings, and an almost-empty concrete factory, where several trucks and some outdoor fixtures were still visible. The much-talked-about “Public Place” was visible, too, but at this point it still resembles a huge, overgrown vacant lot.

Yes, the subway station has now been restored to its full glory. Very soon, the cleanup of the Gowanus Canal itself will begin. Let’s hope that all this work will result in a more attractive scene on the banks of the canal as well.

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