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Advocacy groups, elected officials push for better subway accessibility

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Just 118 of the city’s 472 subway stations are accessible— that’s unacceptable

Max Touhey

New York-based advocacy group TransitCenter released the findings of a study on Thursday that identifies the 50 subway stations that should be included under the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Fast Forward plan in order to create the most outsized positive effect for riders with impaired mobility.

TransitCenter’s plan would serve to connect riders with impaired mobility with major cultural and civic hubs like universities and parks, as well as business districts. “All told this map would more than triple the potential station-to-station trips riders who rely on elevators can make using accessible stations,” TransitCenter said in a statement.

The Fast Forward plan, along with fast-tracking repairs of the system’s failing signals, puts emphasis on installing 50 new elevators with step-free access throughout the system over the next five years.

The TransitCenter conducted its study along with the United Spinal Association, Riders Alliance, Rise and Resist Elevator Action Group, and the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee of the MTA. The plan has also garnered the public support of City Council members Corey Johnson, Ydanis Rodriguez, Keith Powers, Helen Rosenthal and Assembly members Harvey Epstein and Linda Rosenthal, who appeared at the TransitCenter event on Thursday.

“For far too long, the MTA has failed to prioritize accessibility and in doing so has failed people with disabilities and parents with strollers alike,” New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement for Thursday’s event. “I was thrilled to see Andy Byford include major accessibility upgrades in his Fast Forward plan and I am proud to stand with TransitCenter here today to rally in support of making the subways more accessible and doing so in a thoughtful way.”

The map identifies the 50 stations TransitCenter has identified as critical to receive accessibility upgrades under Fast Forward.

The stations identified in the map include Lorimer Street-Metropolitan Avenue, Court Square-23rd Street, Lexington Avenue-59th Street and the partially accessible stations at Borough Hall and 14th Street-Union Square. TransitCenter released a map, at right, that outlines all 50 stations.

The falling death of 22-year-old Malaysia Goodson at the Seventh Avenue B/D/E station this week has galvanized public transit advocates, parents, and caretakers in a renewed call for increased accessibility across the city’s subway system.

On Monday, Goodson tripped while carrying her one-year-old daughter and stroller down the station’s steps, landing on the subway platform. She was pronounced dead at Mount Sinai West hospital that evening. (Goodson’s mother told the New York Times that her daughter is doing well.)

Just 118 of the city’s 472 subway stops feature elevators. A 2017 survey by NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management found that those elevators break down an average of 53 times per year. That’s about once a week that the lifts crucial to providing access to the subway for people with impaired mobility, the elderly, and parents hauling children and strollers are without access to the already paltry number of stations with elevators.

The New York subway fails so miserably at accessibility for a few reasons—its age, deferred maintenance, and lack of funding among them—but Chris Pangilinan, a wheelchair user and program director of TransitCenter, who previously worked with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on issues of subway accessibility, told Curbed in 2017 that the MTA simply lacks “the structure, resources, or accountability within the bureaucracy to make good change happen.”

Hopefully that’s changing. The MTA has certainly been too slow to commit to rectifying the issue, which has affected riders daily for decades. But on Wednesday, MTA managing director Veronique Hakim testified at a joint state legislative budget hearing on Goodson’s death that the agency has committed nearly $1.5 billion in its capital plan to make stations compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act under the Fast Forward initiative.

The MTA has secured funding for full accessibility upgrades for 26 city stations, but for none of the 50 stations eyed in the Fast Forward plan. Short of making every subway station accessible by 2034, the agency’s immediate goal is to ensure that riders are no more than two stations away from an accessible station, the Daily News says. However the agency’s lack of funding towards these dire accessibility upgrades remains its greatest obstacle.

Meanwhile, elected officials have taken to Twitter to call for reform: