Abigail Koffler


The MTA is in rough shape and New York State politicians are loathe to claim responsibility and invest in fixing it.

Andy Byford arrived from Toronto in January 2018 to lead NYC Transit, planning an ambitious overhaul of the city’s most important resources – Mayor Bill de Blasio has yet to meet with him, according to a profile in the New Yorker.

The list of improvements is long but accessibility is a priority. In Brooklyn, J/Z train riders only have two accessible stations– Marcy and Flushing.  Avenue M and L riders have three– Marcy, Flushing and Myrtle/Wyckoff for the M and Myrtle/Wyckoff, Wilson and Canarsie for the L. This represents only five subway stations with elevators on three major lines serving hundreds of thousands of riders.

The L train has roughly 225,000 weekday riders, the J/Z has roughly 190,000 and the M is at 90% of its capacity. In Brooklyn total, the average weekday subway ridership was over 1.2 million in 2017, according to the MTA.

John Morris, a triple amputee and creator of Wheelchair Travel, an international guide for disabled travelers, advises wheelchair users visiting New York, “take the bus.”

Many Bushwick and Ridgewood residents will be affected by the upcoming L train shutdown. They’ll be forced to rely on the J/Z and M lines, buses or bicycles for daily commuting and travel.

Walking the extra few blocks to a new station with more connecting lines isn’t going to be a huge hassle for able bodied residents, but for anyone who is older, in a wheelchair or temporarily injured, those extra blocks aren’t always an option. Neither is using a bicycle. 

Disabled New Yorkers already face enormous challenges on the subway – only 20% (117 of 472) of stations are accessible, according to Curbed. The city has been the subject of multiple class action suits due to the lack of elevators. In Brooklyn, 10.8% of the population, or 282,142 people are disabled, according to a 2016 report from the Mayor’s Office. 54% of this group has more than one disability and over 20% of the disabilities are ambulatory which directly affecting mobility.

Many disabled residents, especially those over 55, are unable to participate in the workforce.

To learn more about the issues facing this community, Byford and Finnegan took a tour with a group from Rise and Resist, a direct action group that advocates for accessibility. April Coughlin, a professor, shared her experience with the subways:

“Coughlin was paralyzed below the waist in a car accident when she was six. Radiating self-possession, she told horror stories of broken elevators, broken intercoms, of having to be carried up flights of stairs by kind strangers. “Last week, I rolled into an elevator and realized too late that the floor was covered with excrement,” she said. “My wheels were coated. I use gloves, but come on.” Broken elevators were the bane of her route planning, she said. “Sometimes I just give up and push fifteen or twenty blocks to my destination. I’ve become a frustrated rider.”

Buses, commonly suggested as the more accessible alternative for disabled new yorkers, have their own problems. Ridership has gone down. As Bushwick Daily Managing Editor Angely Mercado wrote for Citylimits, buses have slowed, leaving disabled and elderly riders stranded in inclement weather, late for medical appointments and forced to extreme measures, like wheeling themselves across the Williamsburg Bridge all to get from Point A to Point B. Across the city, weekly bus ridership was over 1.9 million last year.

Byford’s plan for modernizing the city’s transit is more ambitious than many previous proposals – what’s missing is the funding and political cooperation needed to make this happen.

Finnegan described the plan “full of tight deadlines and ambitious specifics: six hundred and fifty new subway cars within five years, three thousand more in the next five; a new fare-payment system by 2020; more than fifty new stations made wheelchair-accessible; redesigned bus networks in all five boroughs.

Ideally, all residents and visitors will have access to the full routes. This Guardian visualization shows the Subway map only with accessible stations, eliminating a great deal of it. Looking at the map, Morris advised riders to avoid the subways at all costs stating that getting around without elevators would be really difficult.

“The level of understanding one must have to navigate it is so high – and even someone who knows the system perfectly can be caught out by a broken elevator. It’s challenging,” he said.

Featured image by Adam E. Moreira via Wikimedia Commons.

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