Just how accessible is the New York City subway?

Note: You can find my follow-up post – including a map of the entire subway as it appears to disabled persons – here.

Last night I attended An Evening with New York Times Op-Docs at IFC Center in the West Village. IFC had curated nine videos that had been featured in the Times‘s opinion section in recent months. The pieces ranged from the serious (Branko – Return to Auschwitz) to the playful (the Gregory Brothers’ autotuned The War on Drugs is a Failure).

Somehow straddling both extremes was Jason DaSilva’s divine The Long Wait. Jason, a filmmaker in Williamsburg, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 25, and now uses a wheelchair most of the time. (The opening scene shows photos of him doing things I did as a wide-eyed post-grad in the big city.) He frames the film around a race from Williamsburg to a favorite coffee spot in Union Square.

The piece is funny and sweet and charming – just like Jason, whom I had the pleasure to meet after – but contains a hard truth: it’s tough for disabled persons to get around our city. Within the first minute, just by showing single steps in the entryways of local stores, he had my attention – and sympathy.

In the race, Jason’s friend Steve takes the L train the three stops from Bedford Avenue, while Jason runs us through his four options: bus, Access-A-Ride, subway, and the East River Ferry. After showing us his reasoning (in a very amusing manner, I might add), he determines the ferry – plus two buses on the Manhattan side – is his best bet. He loses by an hour and a half.

When I spoke with Jason, I told him it took me five years to master the subway – for an able-bodied person. I’d never really paid attention to the little wheelchair symbols on the map, except in cases when they sported the bizarre “uptown only” or some derivation. (‘Really?’ I’d think. ‘They couldn’t put an elevator on both sides of the street?’)

So I resolved to find someone who could put the handicapped subway diagram in graphic form, perhaps as an overlay to the “full” diagram. I did find one such example from 2008, but the MTA has made several improvements since then. Always game for a challenge, I decided to take it on myself.

Behold: Manhattan south of 125th street, with only the wheelchair-accessible stations pictured. Vignelli-style, of course.

2013 accessible NYC subway stations below 125 St

No Q-to-4 transfer at Union Square. No local stops along Central Park West. No Times Square Shuttle. Nothing south of Houston except on the Lexington Avenue Line and Chambers Street on the 1-2-3.

And this is the good service area. I’ll get to mapping the full city eventually [updated: here’s the full map].

This is not intended as a criticism of the MTA; they are dealing with a century-old system, and have made strides since 2008. (They’re only required to make stations compliant with ADA when they renovate them.) They’ve also expanded the Access-A-Ride program to taxis – at least in Manhattan.

As for Jason, he’s made the best of his situation. In the last year alone, he made this film, and launched an app called AXS MAP for locating and rating accessible stores, restaurants, houses of worship, and so on. Both really cool ways to call attention to an often-overlooked issue.

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