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MTA Plan Calls for More Accessible Subway Stations

Nina Samadashvili, 37, said the lack of elevators along the Astoria line was an inconvenience for parents, Sept. 16, 2019.
Nina Samadashvili, 37, said the lack of elevators along the Astoria line was an inconvenience for parents, Sept. 16, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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The MTA pledged Monday to fast-track subway access for people with disabilities by making 66 more stations easier to navigate as part of a new $51 billion, five-year spending plan.

Barely a quarter of the 472 subway stations are currently accessible. Now the MTA projects it will spend $5.2 billion on new subway elevators and ramps in its 2020-2024 Capital Program.

The promise comes as the MTA faces multiple lawsuits over the shortage of elevators in the subway system.

“For customers with disabilities, there will be a new world of transit at the MTA,” Chairman Patrick Foye said at a briefing to unveil the largest capital spending plan in the transit agency’s 54-year history.

The not-yet-funded blueprint was outlined ahead of its scheduled presentation next week to the MTA board, a process that critics said has been shrouded in mystery.

Three days after releasing the capital plan, the MTA identified 48 subway and Staten Island Railway stations that will be made fully accessible to riders with disabilities. The rest of the stations eyed for upgrades will be announced later.

Four of the projects will be funded through the MTA’s 2015-2019 Capital Program, while the others will be included in the next five-year plan.

Lawsuits Get Action

Making 66 more stations accessible would triple the number that had been tapped for Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades in the 2015-2019 capital plan. It also would top the 50 stations that New York City Transit President Andy Byford has targeted for ADA compliance as part of the 2018 “Fast Forward” effort.

“By the end of the 2020 to 2024 program, we will have surpassed the target of customers not needing to travel more than two stations to get to the nearest accessible station,” said Janno Lieber, chief development officer for the MTA.

The MTA is installing elevators at the Astoria Boulevard station, seen on Sept. 16, 2019.
The MTA is installing elevators at the Astoria Boulevard station, seen on Sept. 16, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Advocates who have pushed the MTA to accelerate accessibility upgrades greeted the news with cautious optimism.

“There is no doubt that lawsuits are, unfortunately, among the most effective ways of making changes when it comes to accountability,” said Joseph Rappaport of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, which is part of a class-action suit challenging the MTA over station accessibility. “And that is what has happened here.”

“The MTA has no choice but to create a more fully accessible system for riders,” said Colin Wright of TransitCenter, calling the 66-stations goal “ambitious.”

Accessibility Arriving Slowly

As THE CITY reported in April, plans to add elevators to Manhattan’s 68th Street-Hunter College station have dragged on for more than a decade, largely because of neighborhood opposition.

That accessibility project was included in the MTA’s 2010-2014 capital plan.

Rappaport said a “legally binding agreement” is needed if the agency is to meet its mark. “The MTA does not have the best track record of keeping its word,” he said.

Beneath the elevated tracks where N and W trains run in Queens, subway riders said they would welcome elevators.

There isn’t a single accessible station along that seven-stop stretch of the Astoria line, although the Astoria Boulevard stop has been closed since March while elevators are installed as part of a station overhaul.

“For people with kids and strollers, for the elderly, it would be so much better if there were more elevators,” said Nina Samadashvili, 37, a subway rider who has three children, including a five-month-old baby.

“Twenty years ago, no one gave much thought to this issue of accessibility, and this is part of a changing consciousness about the way to treat people,” said Ed Russell, 65, who was catching a train at the elevated Broadway station in Astoria.

Broadway was one of four stations in Astoria that were closed for months of renovations in the last two years — but whose upgrades did not include elevators.

The pledge to accelerate subway accessibility is one of the biggest chunks of the new capital plan. Also included are proposals to modernize ancient signals along stretches of six subway lines, to add 1,900 new subway cars and to replace more than 2,200 of the oldest buses in the MTA fleet.

The money also would cover extending the Second Avenue Subway north to 125th Street.

Still, the MTA must next lock in how to fund the plan, which faces a potentially lengthy approval process in Albany.

“We believe this, frankly, is a plan that sells and advocates for itself,” Foye said. “But obviously, we’ve got a great deal of work to do.”

(Note: This story was updated Sept. 19 to add information about the transit stations proposed so far for accessibility upgrades.)

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