New Yorkers have stepped up their criticism of the lack of elevators in city subway stations after the death of a young mother shed new light on the inaccessibility of the nation’s largest transit system.
Only a quarter of subway stations – 118 out of 472 – are accessible, leaving people who use wheelchairs, parents with small kids, and others struggling to get around the city.
“It’s tragic and absurd. It’s insane,” said Danny Pearlstein of the Riders Alliance advocacy group.
One of the hundreds of stops with no elevator is the 7th Avenue station in midtown Manhattan, where three subway lines converge. Malaysia Goodson, 22, from Stamford, Connecticut, died after falling down the stairs there this week with a stroller and her one-year-old daughter. Even though the authorities said on Wednesday that it now appeared Goodson’s death was related to a pre-existing medical condition, the problems with lack of accessibility to the city subway system are not going away.
Pearlstein said he’s struggled to lug his own 13-month-old child in a stroller up the four flights of stairs to the street at the busy station. “At some point in every New Yorker’s life, we need an elevator,” he said.
Disability rights groups sued the MTA in 2017, calling the subway system the least accessible in the nation. Even the elevators that do exist break down 25 times a day on average, the suit said – with the typical outage lasting four hours, and some lasting months.
Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, one of the plaintiffs, said he’s often forced to rely on the fire department or a “strong-looking stranger” to carry him and his wheelchair up the subway stairs when elevators aren’t working.
“It’s like a Russian roulette situation,” he said. “I could be dropped down the stairs … The tourist who’s nice enough to help me could fall down the stairs.”
He joined other activists Wednesday at the 7th Avenue station who brought flowers and held a moment of silence to mourn Goodson’s death. The cause of the woman’s death is under investigation and authorities believe it is possible she suffered a medical episode.
The advocates are pushing the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, to commit to an enforceable plan to make stations accessible.
“People in wheelchairs, older people, people with strollers – they’re less able to have jobs, to go to school, to do all those things,” said Blair-Goldensohn, an activist with the group Rise and Resist. “They have to plan on effectively having a smaller subway system. It’s needless. You go to other cities – other cities have done it. This is not rocket science. This is not asking for a nuclear-powered rocket to Pluto. It’s elevators. It’s elevators and ramps.”
There’s been little improvement in accessibility in the last few years – despite a push by Cuomo to renovate dozens of stations, which has closed down stations to make cosmetic improvements but not install elevators.
Andy Byford, a Briton who took over as president of the New York City Transit Authority a year ago, has made the issue a personal priority, appointing a new senior adviser who himself uses a wheelchair to spearhead accessibility plans.
Byford’s subway action plan calls for adding elevators to 50 more stations over five years, so that no one will be more than two stops away from an accessible station.
“There is zero doubt that we need to expedite delivery of an accessible subway, a critical commitment of the upcoming capital plan and a milestone that will be largely achieved once dedicated funding – through congestion pricing and funding from city and state partners – can be secured,” said the MTA president Pat Foye. “Over the course of five years we will ensure that no rider is further than 2 stations away from an accessible subway and the ultimate goal is to maximize system accessibility after 15 years.”
But that initiative, like the rest of Byford’s plan to fix the problem-plagued subway system, has not been funded.
There’s currently money in place to make 26 subway stations accessible, the MTA says.
“I’m absolutely personally fed up,” said Dustin Jones, who uses a wheelchair and is a board member at the Center for Independence of the Disabled.
“There is no reason why 100% of the MTA subway system should not be accessible. No one should have to take their life into their own hands,” he said. “This could happen to me. This could happen to anybody here.”