Access denied

Dinowitz bill would put elevators to subways on track

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Lack of elevators at northwest Bronx subway stations is just the first on a list of complaints among local commuters.

Even if the West 231st Street station’s elevators are working, riders with disabilities, those with limited mobility, and even parents with strollers find just one out of every four of the city’s 427 subway stations are also equipped with a way to return to street level without being forced to use the stairs.

“People with disabilities and the elderly have the right to a fully accessible system, just as everyone else,” Iffat Mahmud-Khan wrote in an email to The Riverdale Press in response to a reporter’s questions. She has been a vocal advocate for transportation equality citywide, but especially in the northwest Bronx.

A state bill authored by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz will require the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to install elevators in 50 subway stations citywide within the next five years, and make every station fully accessible by 2034. The bill codifies the accessibility timeline set by the New York City Transit’s “Fast Forward” plan, estimated to cost at least $40 billion, which its chief Andy Byford introduced last spring.

The push to make stations accessible for people with disabilities isn’t new. A 1994 legal settlement agreement mandated the MTA to add elevators to 100 key stations throughout the city by 2020.

“The proposed new bill in the state Assembly on behalf of the MTA will finally enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act enacted on the federal level on July 26, 1990 — nearly three decades after the fact,” according to Mahmud-Khan.

Dinowitz’s bill, introduced in the state Assembly last month, sets accessibility benchmarks for the MTA. It begins with the first 50 by 2024, and another 130 stations are to be fully upgraded by 2029. All subway stations will be made accessible within 15 years — if the bill becomes law.

The bill requires the MTA to prioritize station improvements based on demographics, transfer options, annual ridership volume, neighborhood data for senior and disabled populations, poverty, residential density, and proximity to important destinations like hospitals and cultural hubs.

It’s uncertain when, under the bill’s criteria, stations within Community Board 8 would receive accessibility upgrades. They include  1 train stops at West 225th Street, West 238th Street, and West 242nd Street at the end of the line, leading into Van Cortlandt Park.

Elevators aren’t the only goals of the bill. It also calls for revising maintenance practices to ensure “continuous uninterrupted elevator service during all passenger service hours.” Platforms would be outfitted with tactile strips and smaller gaps between the platform and the train. The MTA also would be required to provide riders real-time updates about elevator outages or other disruptive work system-wide.

“Another part of the bill is that we want to make certain is that when major renovations lasting longer than six months are done on the stations, the MTA puts elevators in the station as well,” Dinowitz said. “You’ve had situations where they’ve done major renovations where they didn’t make it handicapped-accessible, which is just crazy.”

In March, U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled the MTA must install elevators in any station that undergoes renovation. Ramos presided over a case brought by Disability Rights Advocates that alleged the MTA violated the ADA when it didn’t install an elevator in the Bronx’s Middletown Road station in 2014.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled his enhanced station initiative two years later that dedicated $1 billion to modernize 32 stations with amenities like Wi-Fi, video screens and cosmetic enhancements. What the initiative failed to include was better accessibility for people with disabilities.

The program ended last year after work was completed at just 19 stations.

Disability Rights Advocates filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of several plaintiffs, including the Bronx Independent Living Services, against the MTA in May. It alleges the agency deliberately discriminated against disabled commuters by neglecting to install elevators in stations during renovation.

Most senior citizens and people with disabilities live in the outer boroughs, the suit states. Only 11 out of 68 Bronx subway stations have elevators.

“In contrast, Manhattan, with the lowest percentage of people with disabilities and the lowest percentage of people living in poverty, has by far the highest percentage of accessible stations in the system — 35 percent,” the suit states.

As a result, most city residents who rely on elevators and accessibility are “forced to take long, time-consuming detours to reach a station they can use … an arduous and costly daily process that no non-disabled riders need to endure,” according to the complaint.

The additional hardship shouldn’t continue to be ignored by transportation officials, Dinowitz said.

“There are people in this city who can’t use the subway who would like to,” the Assemblyman said. “It’s not just people in wheelchairs, it’s older people, parents with baby carriages — it’s a number of people. And why should people be closed out of using the subway system? It’s just not fair.”

Such sweeping change comes with a cost. Cuomo stated in early June he would approve just $30 billion for the MTA’s next five-year capital funding period — $3.3 billion less than was allocated for the period ending this year.

“Right now I’m not sure the MTA has all the money it needs to do all the elements of the Fast Forward plan in the first place,” Dinowitz said. “I think that’s something we’ve got to make happen.”

Advocates just hope the added pressure of legislation will finally be the impetus to make long-needed transportation changes a reality.

“Why has the Bronx been ignored with respect to access to subway stations for people with disabilities as well as the elderly?” Mahmud-Khan said. “In our area, it has taken over two decades for the realization of inclusion, awareness and acceptance, which are key components towards independence and empowerment for people with disabilities and the elderly.

“I guess three decades really is how long it takes for things to happen, especially when it comes to accessibility.”

Dinowitz’s bill remains in committee, with the Assembly’s legislative session set to end June 19.

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