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Accessible subway station numbers in Manhattan are inflated, report says

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The Manhattan Borough President’s office reviewed conditions at 42 accessible stations in a new survey


The MTA is jumping the gun by declaring more than 100 subway stations accessible when some only provide accessibility options to trains in one direction, according to a new survey by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s office.

Staff with the borough president’s office surveyed conditions at 42 Manhattan subway stations that the MTA has deemed accessible. Each stop was judged on criteria based off of constituent complaints and conversations with advocates, including functioning elevators, station signage, and appropriate features for vision-impaired riders such as raised braille and bright paint that delineates stairs.

But of those stations several lacked basic accessibility options to both train line directions including at the Dyckman Street station on the 1 line, the 50th Street stop on the C and E, and the 49th Street station on the N, Q, R, and W lines.

“The MTA’s assertion that they currently operate 114 accessible stations, an already-low number, has itself been inflated as some stations are not fully accessible,” the report charges.

“Moreover, ruling out stations that provide accessibility in only one direction, as well as stations that do not provide accessible transfers between other lines, would reveal a true percentage of accessible stations that is substantially lower than 24 percent [of the city’s 472 stations,]” the report continued.

The survey found that 81 percent of the elevators were missing travel-alternative information, that just over 37 percent of the stations require new signage, and that some 16 percent of the stations were missing bright paint on stairs meant to aid visually-impaired straphangers.

Common issues among station signage included missing plaques, unclear signage directing riders to either elevators or accessible boarding areas, and a lack of detail or entirely misleading information within elevators, according to the report.

The experiment found a total of 28 elevators unavailable during the four day review—with one day where 10 elevators were out of service—and 54 percent of the surveyed lifts required better cleaning, most often to eliminate odors from urine and vomit. It is a frustrating reminder of the daunting task before the MTA to make the system fully accessible, according to one transit advocate.

“Those findings don’t surprise me,” said Colin Wright, a senior advocate associate with TransitCenter who oversees the group’s ongoing Access Denied campaign. “There are a number of accessibility challenges in so called ‘accessible’ stations—we have some of the worst elevators in the country—and then other things like platform gaps that prohibit users from accessing trains with wheelchairs and a whole array of issues that impact the hearing and visually impaired.”

Inconsistent accessibility measures at stations took on renewed urgency after last week’s tragic death of Malaysia Goodson in a fall down the stairs of the elevator-free Seventh Avenue station on the B, D, E lines last week. Disability and transit advocates called for greater subway accessibility in the days following her death. The city’s medical examiner said autopsy results point to a medical episode as the cause of Goodson’s fall.

Last week, TransitCenter released a study recommending 50 stations where advocates say the MTA should install elevators next. Out of the subway system’s 472 stations, only some 24 percent are wheelchair accessible.

The MTA has faced years of scrutiny to improve that figure and is in the midst of conducting a feasibility study to determine which new stations will receive elevators. Improved accessibility is also a critical part of NYC Transit President Andy Byford’s Fast Forward plan, which looks to add 50 accessible stations to the system in a five-year span and make the subway fully accessible by 2034. The cost is estimated at $40 up to $60 billion.

Transit advocates call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature to fund the plan by passing congestion pricing, in addition to other measures.

“As we saw last week, the lack of an accessible subway is a safety issue,” said Danny Pearlstein, the policy and communications director with the Riders Alliance. “Accessibility is a funding challenge and the government and the legislature need to create a path forward.”

The MTA did not return requests for comment.