Raising Expectations: A New Elevator for San Francisco’s Castro Station
San Francisco has its own unique vibe, as anyone who has visited the city knows. What most visitors don’t realize is that the city also has its own unique building code, with specific requirements for proprietary equipment and for the employment of contractors. Such limitations deter some elevator manufacturers from doing business in the city. And that makes the work of vertical transport designers that much harder.
But “harder” does not mean “impossible,” emphasizes Michael Garceau, a member of Syska’s vertical transport team. He cites a project underway at Castro Municipal Railway Station in the city’s LGBTQ district as an example of creativity that blends user needs and aesthetically pleasing design – within the strict limitations of the city’s building code.
“It had to fit in architecturally with the rest of the building.”
Michael, who serves as the project manager, says that plans call for a glass-and-steel elevator that stops on all four levels of the station. The elevator will serve as the centerpiece of an $11.5-million project intended to improve safety and accessibility at the station and surrounding plaza. The new elevator supplements an existing three-stop elevator on the street across from the station’s main entrance, which is less convenient for the disabled. Furthermore, whenever the original elevator undergoes repairs, the new elevator offers a convenient alternative.
Syska’s involvement in the project stems from an on-call service agreement with San Francisco’s Department of Public Works to support its elevator installations and modernizations. This agreement has been in place for several years.
Most elevator manufacturers produce machine-room-less elevators, but those are not common in California because of code requirements. The usual alternatives are hydraulic elevators, which operate by employing “a piston at the bottom of the elevator to push it to different levels,” according to The Constructor, which notes that an “electric motor forces oil or any hydraulic fluid to move the piston.”
But hydraulic elevators are best suited to distances of only two or three stops. Because the Castro station elevator will make four stops, the team decided to use a roped hydraulic elevator, which combines ropes and pistons, allowing it to travel through longer distances than a traditional hydraulic elevator.
Roped hydraulics are rare: Michelle Baratta, Syska’s principal in charge of the project, estimates that they represent only five percent of the elevators that the vertical transport group designs. One reason that they are so uncommon is that installation is labor-intensive, which manufacturers wish to avoid. Adding to the complexity of the Castro project is the need for a new machine room to be housed within the existing machine room for the station’s other elevator.
For aesthetic and practical reasons, the team opted for extensive use of glass for both the cab and the hoistway. The glass enhances safety for passengers and enables station agents to see the elevator from their booth. To protect the cab, which is exposed to the outside, the team added weatherproofing and vandal-resistant features. Another consideration was context: “It had to fit in architecturally with the rest of the building,” says Michelle, who notes that Syska worked closely with the architect to achieve this balance.
Construction has begun, and soon workers will begin digging below the subway tracks while the station is in use. Michael is excited that the team’s efforts are finally coming to fruition. “The proposed upgrades to the station, including the new elevator, went through several rounds of public review, which took years,” he says. “Thanks to the upgrades, commuters will have better experiences traveling to and from the station. Area residents are as excited by these improvements as we are.”