Debate over subway elevator framed as epic struggle between counterterrorism and civil rights

Two elevators will be placed on either side of Exchange Place and Broad Street for access to the Broad Street station for the J/Z lines. Above is the east side of Broad Street, which would provide an entrance to the northbound platform. But some locals fear that their presence inside the NYSE “frozen zone” would make them tempting targets for terrorists.
Urbahn Architects PLLC.


After an impassioned hour-long debate pitting public safety verses civil rights, Community Board 1’s Land Use Committee unanimously voted to endorse the construction of two elevator entrances to the Broad Street J/Z subway station, at its Jan. 8 meeting,

The glass elevators, which would sit at the intersection of Broad Street and Exchange Place, would allow for access to both north and southbound trains, in compliance with the American with Disabilities Act.

Madison Equities, the developers behind nearby 45 Broad Street, came to an agreement with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission that, in exchange for building the elevators, the planned-skyscraper could build an additional 70,000 square feet inside.

The many accessibility standards required for ADA compliance mean the best location for these elevators is down the block from 45 Broad Street, in front 15 Broad Street — which is directly across from the New York Stock Exchange.

But the proposed position near a known terrorist target has raised alarms for some more safety-conscious locals, who fret that a big glass box in a heavily trafficked business and tourist area could be all too tempting to a lone-wolf bomber.

“We aren’t even allowed to put a planter outside our building because they say it creates shrapnel everywhere,” said 15 Broad Street resident Claudia Ward. “Our real fear is that someone goes into this big glass and metal box and sets off a bomb, spreading shrapnel everywhere.”

At the request of CB1, the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Division examined the risks of the site, and in an email read out loud at the meeting the division honchos doesn’t “recommend against the installation of the elevators” and doesn’t think, “the addition of an elevator at this station in any way significantly increases the risk of an incident.”

Linda Gerstman, a resident and member of the Board of Managers at Downtown Condominium of 15 Broad Street, said she still isn’t convinced that it would be safe enough to place the elevators in front of her building.

“What I heard from the NYPD statement is the word, ‘significant,’ ” she said. “Which to me, I’m sorry, any risk of terrorism in front of my building is more than I can handle.”

Out of dozen or so members of the public who spoke, the majority were people with a range of disabilities asking for these elevators to be built.

Jennifer Bartlett, a New York Times writer with cerebral palsy, explained that the nearest elevators for these lines is on Fulton Street — up a hill, two subway stops away.

“It goes without saying that I should not have to cancel all my plans to come to a two hour board meeting to fight for my civil rights,” Bartlett said. “What you are attempting to do here is oppression. You are pretty much setting yourself up for a lawsuit.”

A few board members, including Tammy Meltzer, agreed about the security issues. She said that while the NYPD addressed concerns of terrorism using car bombs, that won’t stop a determined person.

“It’s not the car that’s driving into the elevator, it’s the guy with the suitcase that’s unscreened because he can just walk down the street and now you put somebody with a suitcase down through the elevator,” she said.

Photo by Rebecca Fiore
Monica Bartley, who does community outreach at the Center for Independence of the Disabled in NY (CIDNY), is a wheelchair user who has meetings every week in the Financial District, and she said she has had to spend more an three hours trying to navigate the subway lines in search of a working elevator.

Michael Ketring, of CB1, disagreed that the existence of the elevators poses a greater threat to the community’s safety.

“Whether you are wheeling a suitcase down the street or whether you are coming up through the elevator, it’s pretty much the same thing,” he said. “The benefits to the disabled community having this far outweigh that.”

Many members of the disabled community told the board lined up to convince the board that by far the biggest effect this elevator would have is a dramatic improvement in the quality of life for tens of thousands of New Yorkers

Monica Bartley, who does community outreach at the Center for Independence of the Disabled in NY (CIDNY), is a wheelchair user, and she said she has meetings every week in the Financial District, and having that elevator would make a big difference to her.

“What Google says is a 15 minute ride can take me anywhere from three hours to get to that location,” she said it there’s a broken elevator, for example, forced her to figure out where the nearest working elevator is.

Susan Dooha, the executive director of CIDNY, which serves about 36,000 people citywide, said that the number two reason why people with disabilities are unemployed is lack of access to public transit — right behind discrimination.

All 13 board members and two public members voted in favor of the elevators with stipulations including asking for a more comprehensive security report from the NYPD and expressing general displeasure with the aesthetics of the elevators.

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