After two years of construction, the Smith Street station on the F/G lines will re-open this Friday. Notable for being—at a height of 88 feet—the world's highest subway station, the stop has been undergoing a complete overhaul that F/G passengers have been privy to as their trains have rumbled out of the tunnels and onto the elevated tracks that arc over the Gowanus Canal like the knobbed spine of a brontosaurus skeleton. From what I've been able to see, the renovations are a vast aesthetic improvement and will render the Smith St stop into one of the nicest ones in Brooklyn.
Which, for the most part, subway stops are only ever really noticed if they're particularly nice or particularly terrible. Most stops aren't really anything except rat-infested way stations where we spend the seemingly endless minutes waiting by reading saved tweets or perusing two-month-old New Yorkers or avoiding eye-contact with the creepy guy sporting a cell-phone holster who advises, "You sure are lucky they caught that cannibal cop, you're just his type." Or maybe that's just me. Maybe that's just what I do.
Anyway, the point is that most subway stations are the same—uniform in their relative dilapidated states, without being exceptional one way or another. The following stations, though, are unique for better or for worse.
Best: 2/3 Clark Street
Although this station isn't necessarily so terrific once you're on the platform, which is narrow and always crowded, it's unique because its entrance is actually in the Hotel St. George. Getting to the trains requires an elevator trip! This is exciting. All secret things are exciting. And this is no exception.
Worst: A/G Hoyt/Schermerhorn
This station is dark and cavernous and has several unused platforms which add to its general sense of disrepair and abandonment. It also features a really annoying transfer from the A to the G because, instead of a quick hop across the platform, in order to transfer to the train that's still going in the same direction that you were already traveling in, you need to go up and down stairs. Annoying. The only thing going for it, is that this is where Michael Jackson's "Bad" video was shot. But, well, that was a super long time ago. And that transfer is still really annoying.
Best: L/G Lorimer/Metropolitan
There seem to be so many more stations in Manhattan with elaborate mosaics and inspirational quotes and what have you. Well, that's fine. Manhattan can keep all their "art." But, here, at the Lorimer/Metropolitan station in Williamsburg, Jackie Chang's 1999 work "Signs of Life" is actually the most perfect artistic addition to any station that I've ever seen. Comprised of several different pieces, "Signs of Life" makes you pause as you haul ass from the G to the L, and makes you think about your place in this station, in this city, in this world. And then you go on your way. Where are you going? It doesn't really matter. You're going somewhere. Possibly, it's Roberta's. Probably it is.
Worst: R 9th Street
This platform is terrifying because it is approximately 18 inches deep. That is an exaggeration but only a very, very slight one. If it is at all a busy time of day, this platform gets so full of people—most trying to stay close to the wall—that it really seems inevitable that someone will just get bumped off the edge. I get the chills just thinking about it.
Best: 2/3 Grand Army Plaza
This station has a couple of things going for it. One, when you ascend from the station, you are greeted with one of the more impressive sights in Brooklyn—Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Park, and the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Not too shabby.* But my favorite thing about the station is this 1995 art installation by Jane Greengold, titled Wings for the IRT: The Irresistible Romance of Travel. I mean, the title says it all right there, doesn't it? There's nothing more irresistibly romantic than subway travel. At least, not that I've found.
*A close runner-up is the 2/3 Eastern Parkway stop, where, if it's spring, you are greeted with cherry blossoms and the Brooklyn Museum. Beautiful.
Worst: F Ave X
Yeah, so this station? Feels like it's going to collapse. It's an elevated station and the platform itself feels relatively secure, but getting to the platform? Scary times. The staircases are steep and rickety—the wood steps are worn through in many spots. Everything looks like it's on the verge of collapsing. It probably will one day? Hopefully you won't be on it when it does.
Best: D/F/N/Q Coney Island
This station was completely re-hauled about a decade ago and now features solar-powered panels which serve as canopies over all the tracks. For a terminal stop in a heavily-trafficked neighborhood, this station is always bright and clean and easy to navigate. It also has lots of ramps, making it one of the most wheelchair-accessible stations I've frequented. Plus, it takes you to the beach. THE BEACH. Man, I'm ready for summer.
Worst: L Bushwick/Aberdeen
It's a shame about this stop, it really is. It should be on the best list, you know? It has a somewhat secret entrance, seeing as how it's in the middle of a CAR DEALERSHIP. Which, how weird is that? Very. And it has some pretty cool mosaic tiling details once you're inside the station. But it's so rundown—so rundown—that it's impossible to feel at ease in this potentially awesome station. There's trash and crude graffiti everywhere. Barbed wire lines the fences of the car dealership, making for a pretty unwelcoming exit and entrance. All in all, I want to like this station. But I can't. It's depressing.
Best: S Botanic Garden
The whole length of this subway line is four stops. And the subway itself only has two cars. It's like the subway itself is a secret, and this secret subway takes you to a secret garden. Well, ok, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden isn't much of a secret, but it's still really great. Ride this shuttle back and forth—it only takes seven minutes to go from the beginning of the line to the end—and get lulled by the swaying motion of the train. Get off at the Garden and don't tell anyone how you got there. Keep this subway a secret.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen