This is an expansion of an earlier post explaining my inspiration for this project.
Citi Bike finally arrived on Memorial Day. More than 38,000 (and rapidly growing) annual members and an untold number of visitors now find swaths of lower Manhattan and northern Brooklyn within much closer reach.
But for the city’s disabled, the options for getting around appear static for the foreseeable future. Of the nearly 500 stations in the New York City subway and the Staten Island Railway, only 99 can be used by wheelchairs, with 19 more conversions planned through the end of 2020.
The stations were chosen as part of the Key Station Plan, which New York City Transit put in place in 1994 to prioritize conversions in the nearly-century-old system. According to Sam Forde, an analyst in the NYCT Office of ADA Compliance, NYCT graded every station on five categories: ridership level, transfer between lines, transfer between different modes of travel, proximity to major activity centers, and whether it was at the end of a line. Key Stations “are the ones that met most of the criteria, and the disability community supported” to be converted, said Forde.
After selecting candidates, the Compliance team reviewed them to see whether installation of elevators was possible. They deemed infeasible several high-volume stations, including the Lexington Avenue Line at Union Square and Broadway Junction. (The 4/5/6 at Union Square is on a curve, making it impossible for the edge to comply with ADA specifications; Broadway Junction’s various lines are too far apart, and platform clearance is insufficient.)
Costs for conversion vary widely, but Forde was unable to confirm hard numbers. “It depends on so many different things,” he said. “Configuration: where exactly it comes out on the street level. We might have to purchase property. You don’t know what utilities you’re going to run into. There are so many variables.”
The federal government funds these conversions. But money is scarce: NYCT had to cancel a training program for disabled users due to personnel issues, said Forde. The eleven-member Compliance team has not begun thinking beyond 2020. (Much of that will depend on what money is available, which won’t be known until the end of this decade.)
There are alternatives to subway transit, of course. All MTA buses are fully ADA-compliant [p. 124], and the MTA offers a door-to-door option for disabled persons, Access-A-Ride. But buses don’t always serve convenient routes, and many find the personal service unacceptable.
“[Access-A-Ride] is undependable if you have to arrive somewhere at a particular time,” said Arthur Krieck, 63, who is legally blind and uses a guide dog. “They often arrive late at your pick-up spot and you have no idea when you’ll arrive at your destination.” Krieck, like Jason DaSilva, refers to the service as “Stress-A-Ride”.
NYCT is working to ensure its customers with disabilities can use the rail system, but it faces perception issues. While elevator availability in subway stations increased to 97.7% in 2012 from 96.2% in 2011, only 76% of customers found the service satisfactory. (Imagine getting to your destination only to find the elevator out of order.) It also expanded the Access-A-Ride program to taxis – but only in Manhattan. “Our Paratransit Division is looking at ways to extend the service to the outer boroughs,” said MTA spokesperson Deirdre Parker.
It’s one thing to read that it’s tough for wheelchair-users to get around on the subway, but quite another see it visually. For that reason, I edited the Vignelli MTA map to show current accessibility and planned conversions.
Many of us take public transportation for granted, so imagine you were to wake up tomorrow disabled. Would the subway work for you? Or would you have to find an alternative? (Click to enlarge.)