No Holiday Embargo for 86th Street Elevator Work

Bay Ridge’s busiest shopping street is about to get a bit busier.

Construction on an elevator at the 86th Street subway station on the R line will continue through the holiday shopping season, despite prior agreements with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to suspend the work for the holiday season, Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann has confirmed.

The purpose of the “holiday embargo” is to ease congestion around the holidays, when locals and visitors alike flock to the Ridge’s largest shopping strip, but, due to “unforeseen utility conflicts,” Councilmember Justin Brannan said, the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued a waiver on the hiatus, to keep the 26-month-long project on schedule.

“Originally we told the MTA they would need to button things up and hit pause in time for Thanksgiving because 86th Street gets even more chaotic around the holidays,” the pol explained, adding that, contrary to the earlier agreement, the contractor will maintain regular weekday work hours.

Construction began on June 1, and has already wreaked havoc for local businesses, Beckmann told this paper.

“I’ve never experienced a waiver of a holiday embargo and I think that the impact this is going to have on local residents and businesses is going to be huge,” she said. “Those merchants there, especially on Fourth Avenue, have already lost so much because of construction, and because of the relocation of the buses.”

Holiday shopping aside, Beckmann said, the board is also worried about winter weather amidst construction.

“Our concerns here at the board are certainly for the businesses and even for snow removal, which would be a concern near that intersection no matter what, but now, with construction, is even more so,” she said. “Making sure the streets are clear and accessible to pedestrians is even more difficult with the staging and construction remaining in place through the holidays.”

The 86th Street Business Improvement District (BID), Beckmann said, is working to try and address some of the merchants’ concerns on the ground.

“We certainly support their efforts,” she said.

The project – slated to last into the summer of 2020 – technically dates back to 2004 when the neighborhood’s 95th Street station was chosen as one of 100 key stations to become Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible. However, 13 years later, the MTA decided, instead, to transform the hub one stop over.

In total, the project consists of two elevators, one connecting the street and the mezzanine on one side of the turnstiles, and another connecting the mezzanine to the train platform on the other. It will be done in phases, with a controversial bump-out coming to the southeast corner of 86th Street and Fourth Avenue (where the elevator will sit) to create a barrier between moving traffic and riders.

On the other side of the street, a new staircase will be built. Once it opens, the existing staircase at the foot of Mocha Mocha will be made over, the better to accommodate rider traffic on the commercial corridor. This is the first phase of the project, during which buses that stop there will be located one block ahead. It will take approximately six months.

Next, Melissa Farley, assistant director of Government and Community Relations at the MTA told community residents prior to the start of construction, workers will reconfigure the sidewalk across the street and implement a curb extension and another new staircase.

Finally, way underground, two new staircases to the train’s platform will be built (they need to be relocated, Farley said, to accommodate the upgrade better), with the coming elevator to be installed in between them.

As a whole, the project will take about two years and end with a total of five entry points, including the elevator.

This is just the beginning of elevator installation at stations in southwest Brooklyn. State Sen. Marty Golden announced earlier this summer that an elevator at 95th Street as well as another at the multi-line 59th Street station are also coming down the pipeline.

The two new elevators, he said, are a part of a capital amendment which also includes funding of more than $300 million for signal and track work critical to enhancing service reliability as part of the Subway Action Plan, first approved by the MTA board in December, 2017.

Despite the inevitable inconvenience the holiday construction will cause, Brannan is looking at the bigger picture and hoping the end will more than justify the project’s means.

“Any big infrastructure project will bring unavoidable disruptions during construction so it’s important to assess the long and short-term impacts, both good and bad,” he told this paper. “I saw how the extended tunnel construction on the Second Avenue Subway in Manhattan wreaked havoc on nearby small businesses.

“While the 86th Street elevator project is much more limited in scope, it has already been quite disruptive so it’s something we must keep an eye on,” he went on. “That said, the ADA is a civil right statute and our subway stations absolutely must be made accessible to all. We’ve been waiting decades for these elevators. In the end, I’m confident the permanent benefits will outweigh the temporary burdens.”

Brannan added that any businesses facing challenges because of the construction should contact his office for assistance.

When contacted for comment, a spokesperson for the MTA told this paper, “This is work aimed at bringing fully accessible station access to the area. It’s essential that we do this to keep the project on schedule.”

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