In Battle Over FiDi Subway Elevators, Advocates for Disabled Win the Day

Ivan Alevante was among more than a dozen people who spoke out at this month's full board meeting of Community Board 1 in favor of the installation of elevators at the J/Z line at Broadway and Exchange Place. Rendering shows the proposed elevator bulkhead in front of 30 Broad Street. Urbahn Architects (rendering); Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib (Alevante)

Jan. 25, 2018

Rights activists for the disabled declared victory on Tuesday in their fight for future subway access near the New York Stock Exchange.

Community Board 1 voted to support developer Madison Equities' proposed deal with the city to pay for construction of two subway elevators in exchange for additional floor area for their super-tall tower, set to rise at 45 Broad Street

The elevators would connect to the J/Z lines at Broad and Exchange Place.

The plan pitted the advocates, who called elevator access their "civil rights" against residents of 15 and 30 Broad Street—the two buildings adjacent to the proposed elevators—who said the elevators would provide easy street entry for a terrorist into the “frozen zone” around the New York Stock Exchange.

CB 1’s Land Use, Zoning and Economic Development Committee considered the proposal in December and got an earful from the residents, who had collected some 270 online signatures opposing the elevators. The committee was sympathetic but delayed a vote until MTA and NYPD experts could weigh in on the safety concerns.

In the meantime, the disabled community read the Trib’s account of the meeting and many showed up when the committee reconvened this month. They said the elevators would not only add to the city’s limited number of subway elevators (one wheelchair-bound woman called Lower Manhattan “a bit of an elevator desert”), but also help provide more equal access to employment in the Financial District. And they dismissed the residents fears.

“I shouldn’t have to come to a two-hour board meeting to fight for my civil rights,” said Jennifer Bartlett, one of the disabled activists at the meeting. “The case against terrorism is totally illogical.”

That position got a boost from the MTA, who reported to CB 1 that the elevators “can’t in anyway significantly increase the risk of an incident.”

The NYPD also studied the plan. “Counterterrorism isn’t ignoring or discounting these concerns,” they wrote. “It’s simply that our review focused more narrowly on whether the elevator installation would impact the original security plan [established to prevent car bombs] and they’ve determined that it doesn’t.”

Linda Gertsman, vice president of the 15 Broad Street board of directors, said she was not persuaded. “I'm sorry, any risk of terrorism in front of my building is more than I can handle,” she said. An analysis commissioned by her building concluded that the elevators “unnecessarily present additional security concerns to the area and recommend that an alternate location outside of the Frozen Zone be found.”

But an alternate location apparently is not possible. The consultants on the subway project presented a detailed analysis of the physical limitations to siting the elevators anywhere in the area other than in front of 15 and 30 Broad Street. And according to a zoning law, the developers must make improvements to a subway station adjacent to their building in order to get their special permit from the city.

In the end, the committee voted unanimously “not to oppose” the elevators.

Taking no chances, more than a dozen activists for the disabled showed up at the full board meeting on Tuesday to voice their support for the resolution, and it passed handily. No opponents showed up.

But the proposed elevators did not fully get a pass. Several members decried the look of the structures, saying they were especially wrong for the historic area. Added to the resolution night was a call for the developer and the MTA to come up with something more suitable to the neighborhood. The Landmarks Commission had approved the elevators in 2016.

The City Planning Commission will rule on the developer's application following a 60-day comment period, which ends next month.