New Yorkers of all stripes are angry about the subway right now, as service continues its years-long nosedive. Just this week we learned that our subway’s reliability hit a new low, with only 58 percent of weekday trains arriving on time in January. On some lines – notably the F, C, 2 and A – only about one-third of weekday trains arrived on time. For the millions of us who must rely on the subway, it can be truly crazy-making.
For New Yorkers who can’t use stairs, though, things are much, much worse. And lately there seems to be a critical mass of outrage and activism among New Yorkers with disabilities about the chronic inaccessibility of the system.
You don’t need to look far to see why. Earlier this month, transit reporter Vincent Barone used the MTA’s own data to show that New York’s subway elevators – which are essential to wheelchair users and many other people who can’t climb stairs – were actually out of service more in 2017 than they were in 2012. That is, the reliability of our subway elevators actually got worse in the past five years!
Barone also recently reported that some of the elevators that are broken most often are those that are brand new – calling into question the value we’re getting for our transit improvement dollars.
On another front, there was more news about a $27 million renovation of a Pelham Bay area subway station in the Bronx that was completed a few years ago without making the station accessible for wheelchair users. Last week federal prosecutors announced that in carrying out this project the MTA violated the rights of people with disabilities despite having been repeatedly informed prior to the renovation that making the station accessible was mandatory under numerous laws, and despite having been told exactly how an accessible elevator could be included in the renovation.
In another brainless fiasco, many of us were appalled to learn recently that tenants of a luxury apartment building on Broad Street in lower Manhattan appealed to their community board to block a subway elevator from being built, claiming it would present a “terrorism threat.”
And perhaps most egregious, a $1 billion plan promoted by Governor Cuomo to upgrade almost three dozen subway stations, we learned, would not make even one of them accessible.
So where do things stand?
- Thanks to the advocacy of New Yorkers with disabilities, Community Board 1 voted to support the construction of the subway elevator over the Broad Street residents’ objections.
- Federal prosecutors joined a lawsuit that Bronx Independent Living Services had previous filed over the Pelham Bay area subway renovation that failed to include an elevator, strengthening that case.
- Still, the station upgrades supported by the governor are going forward – without elevators.
But, with perhaps the greatest potential to force system-wide improvements, a lawsuit that we told you about last spring challenging system-wide inaccessibility of the subway, is moving forward.
Arguments took place in New York State Supreme Court on March 5 and the courtroom was packed with New Yorkers in wheelchairs – including ICS members – who, prior to the scheduled arguments, rallied on the courthouse steps chanting, “Let us ride!”
While this case will presumably be decided based on the lawyers’ arguments and the judge’s reading of the relevant laws, the importance of having dozens of people with disabilities there cannot be overstated.
As one of the plaintiffs, Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, noted the next day, it sends a strong message. “Someone across the street [spotting the rally] could say ‘Oh, there’s something going on here about disability. Those people are demanding their rights. They’re pissed about something and they are saying something has to change.’”
Many thanks to New York photojournalist Erik McGregor, who generously shared his photographs from the March 5 rally for this post.