The Clark Street Station in Brooklyn Heights (serving the 2/3 line) is an unusual one among our city's subway system, as it is only accessible by elevator, yet not ADA compliant. (Along with 168th Street, it is one of the the deepest stations to rely solely on elevators, according to the MTA.) To reach the platform at Clark Street, riders have no choice but to take one of three very old elevators (followed by one flight of stairs).
The Clark Street elevators are hot, no matter the season, and they often break down; during rush hour particularly, they become a claustrophobic's nightmare. Recently there have been numerous outages, incidents of riders having to pry the doors open, and last summer a group got stuck in one of the elevators for an hour, waiting for the FDNY to come to the rescue. One passenger told us that during the hellish experience "many men and women [on board] were crying and scared." Anyone who takes these elevators regularly knows the fear that settles into one's soul upon those doors closing, and last year even Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams declared the system "a public safety threat." It's no surprise they're having problems, given the elevators have not been replaced since they were installed—two in 1919 and the third in 1931.
Replacing these dilapidated elevators has been on the MTA’s to-do list for a while, and now plans are finally moving forward to fix the problem. At a town hall forum hosted just a few blocks from the station on Monday night, the MTA addressed the issue with New York City Transit Authority President Andy Byford on hand to present three potential work plans, including their favored plan of fully shutting down the station for eight months.
In a phone interview Tuesday morning, Byford stressed that a plan has not been finalized, and the MTA is still seeking community input: "I presented three options for the replacement... everyone knows that the job needs to be done. It's how we do it. No decision has been made about the precise methodology." However, Byford added that "we were up front on pitching what we believe is the best option, which is a full closure of the station for eight months."
Upon completion, the station will have more reliable elevators, but it still won’t be fully accessible. Byford told us “that’s very challenging for now.” At last night's meeting he cited one challenge: the platform is too narrow and would not accommodate an elevator, and making the stairs a ramp would still not accommodate everyone.
If the full station shutdown plan is chosen, it's worth noting the area has other transit options, including the Borough Hall 2/3 station which is a seven minute walk away. Byford also told Gothamist he would consider a shuttle bus — "I'm certainly not ruling that out for maybe for peak hours."
The move would not be unprecedented; the station was shut down previously for elevator repair in 2000. (At that time they "replaced component parts of the elevators and repaired the motors," we are told. Whereas the upcoming project would be an elevator replacement, "replacing everything.") The NY Sun had recalled that previous shutdown in 2007, when the elevators were experiencing problems again.
The original freight-style elevators at Clark Street were built with leftover parts from a World War II aircraft carrier [which does not fit the elevator installation timeline], according to a former City Council member who represented the neighborhood, Kenneth Fisher. "Eventually there was no one left alive who knew how to repair them," he said in an interview. "The wind created when trains came into the station discharged metal shavings into the elevators, and they were constantly breaking. The only way to fix them was to replace them." The MTA closed the station for four months in 2000 for a $3.5 million elevator renovation, but has not yet managed to overhaul their faulty service.
The other plans for the upcoming project, laid out above, would take 22 to 24 months, with two elevators operating during peak service. One of the issues with these plans is that every time an elevator or two goes out (which, as we know, is entirely possible), trains will be bypassing the station anyway. Each would also cost $6 million more than the eight month plan. (The MTA cannot make public the option 1 cost at this time due to the RFP process.)
No matter what plan is chosen, Byford says work will get "started in late fall of next year... So we've still got time." And in the meantime, he says the elevators are in working order — "They are increasingly unreliable and that's the reason why we need to replace them. They're very old. [But] they're safe."
The next steps, he told us, are for the local elected officials to run a survey "to see what which of the three options people like best." He added, "I was encouraged by a number of people coming up to me at the very end of the session to say that our argument was persuasive and compelling and that they'd actually changed their mind and they would go with" the full shut down option. "So let's see what the survey says at the end of the day."
Adams told Gothamist on Tuesday that he was “glad we were able to hold this community forum to get answers from the MTA on the needed repairs to the elevators at Clark Street station. I’ve been clear that repairs must be fast-tracked at this station, and the timeline by the MTA needs to be communicated in an open and forthright manner, so commuters and small businesses know how to plan for the upcoming construction."
The shorter timeline would likely benefit those local businesses at Clark Street Station's street level, who stand to lose customers during the repairs. Byford told us, no matter which route they go, "We stressed that they would still be able to remain open. We'd keep safe access to those tenancies and we'd advertise that they were still open."