MTA commits to making 95% of subway stations disabled-accessible

For years, disabled advocates pressured MTA for faster pace

June 22, 2022 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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“We could have installed elevators for the disabled in 10 or 12 subway stations with what we spent on those color ‘light shows’ on the Kosciuszko Bridge,” said a longtime MTA employee, criticizing former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Apparently, many people agree with these sentiments, as Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday announced that the MTA and accessibility advocates reached a class-action settlement agreement that commits the transit agency to add elevators or ramps to provide a “stair-free path of travel” at 95 percent of the currently inaccessibly subway stations by 2055. 

The agreement, which was a settlement resulting from several class-action lawsuits, still needs court approval. 

Even before the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, the MTA in the ‘80s, under pressure from disability advocates, agreed to include accessibility upgrades with station upgrades. 

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

After the act was passed, the transit agency, after some complicated negotiations, decided to focus on installing elevators, ramps and other improvements at certain “key stations.”  Since 2020, the MTA has completed accessibility projects at 15 subway stations, but advocates for the disabled have argued that this wasn’t enough.

MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber said, “There will be 81 more projects in progress by the end of the 2020-2024 capital plan, which includes a historic $5.2 billion dedicated to accessibility upgrades. These commitments, combined with recently enacted zoning that incentivizes private developers to incorporate station accessibility projects into their buildings, will help us achieve a fully accessible transit system much faster than ever before imagined.” 

Joe Rappaport, executive director of Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled said, “Hallelujah! Finally, some good news! This extraordinary agreement ensures that no one will be shut out of the fastest, best way to get around town. For BCID, like the other plaintiffs and our attorneys, this is the culmination of years of advocacy, both in and out of the courtroom. We’re immensely proud we and the MTA have reached this day.” 

The MTA has 472 subway stations and, including 21 Staten Island Railway (SIR) stations, has 493 stations in the transit system. Of those, 131 are fully accessible to customers with disabilities, via elevators and ramps. There are more than one million people with a disability living in New York 

Among the Brooklyn stations that are slated to get accessibility upgrades during the current (2020-2024) capital plan are 8th Avenue (N train), Bay Ridge-95th Street (R train), Lorimer Street (L train), Metropolitan Avenue (G train), Sheepshead Bay (B, Q trains), Borough Hall (4, 5 trains), 36th Street (D, N, R trains), 18th Avenue (D train), Kings Highway (F train), Jefferson Street (L train), Nostrand Avenue (A, C trains), Avenue I (F train), Neptune Avenue (F train), and others.

One well-publicized upgrade that took place in 2021 was the installation of a ramp at the Q train’s ground-level Avenue H station, whose landmarked wooden station house dates to 1906. This was a $14 million project. For this project, a 20-inch water main and an 8-inch gas main had to be moved to accommodate the winding design.

Another fairly recent project, in December 2020, was the installation of an ADA-compliant elevator and a widened staircase at a much more high-profile station — Eastern Parkway, near the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Public Library’s main branch. 

Here, the ADA improvements included a street-to-mezzanine elevator on the Brooklyn Museum side of the station, along with two more elevators from the mezzanine to both the Brooklyn and Manhattan-bound platforms.

“We are elated to have a new accessible station on the doorstep of Brooklyn Botanic Garden. All New Yorkers and visitors should be able to access the Garden, Brooklyn Museum, Prospect Park and the other cultural, commercial, and residential amenities this neighborhood offers, and ADA-compliant public transit options are fundamental to ensuring that access,” said Brooklyn Botanic Garden President Adrian Benepe at the time.

The opening of this elevator at the Eastern Parkway subway station in December 2020 was good news for visitors to the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Prospect Park. MTA photo by Marc Hermann

The MTA won’t necessarily do it alone. At Brooklyn’s Hoyt-Schermerhorn Streets subway station several years ago, the MTA announced “Elevate Transit: Zoning for Accessibility,” a program to partner with private developers to design their buildings to include new elevators, new entrances and other accessible features leading to subway stations.

Briefly speaking, the developers who include elevators and other accessibility improvements would get the right to build denser, or higher, buildings than they would normally be able to build under zoning restrictions. In the highest-density district, this “density bonus” to offset the cost of construction could be as much as 20 percent.

In return, the builders would have to provide an easement, or permanent access to a piece of property that would give the MTA access to work at the site. Because of the access that the easement provides, the city would be spared the huge costs of temporarily relocating underground pipes, cables and so on, according to the MTA.

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