Subways repairs start, no elevators planned

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Renovation work at 72nd, 86th and 110th Street stations should have included accessibility improvements, advocates say


  • Work at the B and C train stop at West 72nd Street was underway as transit advocates rallied to call on the MTA to install elevators during future station closures. Photo: Michael Garofalo

  • Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal and transit advocates rallied at the B and C train stop at West 72nd Street to call on the MTA to install elevators during future station closures. Photo: Michael Garofalo

“There is no better time to construct elevators than when stations are already closed for renovations”

Colin Wright, TransitCenter

As MTA employees worked to shutter the subway station at West 72nd Street and Central Park West for six months of renovations on the morning of May 7, transit riders and advocates gathered nearby to protest the transit authority's failure to install elevators as part of the station improvement project, which also includes extensive work on three other Manhattan stops.

“We encourage investment in our subways, but when you make repairs and renovations you must do elevators as well,” said Linda Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side in the New York State Assembly and organized the rally.

Dozens of attendees, a number of whom used wheelchairs or pushed strollers, huddled in front of the boarded-up station entrance and called on the MTA to expand elevator service in the city's subway stations, roughly 75 percent of which are inaccessible to riders who cannot climb stairs.

Hilda Caba, a Bronx resident who uses a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury, said she traveled to the rally by taxi because no subway stations near her home have elevators. Caba, like many disabled riders, relies primarily on bus service, which she said is often slow or unreliable. “It's not the same as the train,” she said.

“It's frustrating,” Caba said of MTA station renovations that don't include new elevators. “Why are they not including us? I think that's not fair, because we are also citizens. We have the same rights as everybody else, and I think they should have more funds for these issues.”

The work at 72nd Street is part of the MTA's Enhanced Station Initiative, a repair and renovation project championed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The initiative, originally slated to include improvements to 32 stations citywide, was later reduced in scope after the transit authority ran through most of the $936 million budget with only 19 stations completed or in progress.

Along with the 72nd Street station, the B and C train stops along Central Park West at 86th Street and Cathedral Parkway-110th Street will each close for the summer and are scheduled to reopen by this fall. This four-station phase of the Enhanced Station Initiative, which also includes the 163rd Street-Amsterdam Avenue station in Washington Heights, is expected to cost $111 million.

The primary purpose of the station closures, according to the MTA, is to perform necessary structural repairs to deteriorating infrastructure. The renovations will also include the installation of arrival boards, Wi-Fi and improved lighting, but do not include accessibility improvements, which are funded from a separate pot of money in the MTA capital budget.

Colin Wright of the public transportation advocacy group TransitCenter said that accessibility measures should have been included in the scope of the project. “There is no better time to construct elevators than when stations are already closed for renovations,” he said

Andy Byford, who named improved accessibility as one of his top priorities when he took office as president of New York City Transit in January, has directed his staff to study the feasibility and cost of installing elevators in every station. At a recent meeting on the Upper West Side, Byford told transit riders that the station closures were necessary to complete essential repairs in the “quickest, most efficient way.”

“Had the [Enhanced Station Initiative] just been about aesthetics, I would have vetoed it,” he said. “It isn't.”

Christine Yearwood attended the Upper West Side rally with her two-month-old son and a stroller. Yearwood founded the group Up-Stand three years ago, after the birth of her first child, to advocate on behalf of women and families, who she said are often forgotten in conversations about accessibility.

Yearwood said that the scope of MTA ridership impacted by accessibility issues is underappreciated, and encompasses “sectors of society that almost all of us will be part of at some point.”

“It's riders who are pregnant, disabled, elderly, parents — that's almost everybody,” she said. “So when you talk about access, some people might move in and out of those groups at different points in life, but it's almost all of us. If this is public transit, we should be servicing all of the public.”

The MTA is engaged in ongoing litigation with the federal government, which alleges that the transit agency violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to install elevators as part of an earlier station renovation project in the Bronx.

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