But for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, 75 percent of those stations are inaccessible due to a lack of infrastructure that supports those with physical disabilities, the elderly, parents with small children and strollers, or anyone else for whom stair usage is not possible.
As a part of its 2020-2024 capital program, the MTA has pledged to make 70 subway stations newly accessible, a project that would put the system on a path to being fully accessible by 2034 under NYC Transit’s Fast Forward plan.
Yet, with funding for the capital plan still in limbo, subway riders and transit advocates are calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to commit to delivering on-time funding for the promised accessibility improvements, which would cost $5 billion over five years (or 10 percent of the overall program).
Last Wednesday, representatives from various organizations held a citywide, multi-platform petition drive to put pressure on the governor in light of the MTA’s scaling down on its successful Access-a-Ride On-Demand pilot in the face of a financial deficit.
“When funds at the MTA are short, accessibility is one of the first things on the chopping block,” said Straphangers Campaign manager Jaqui Cohen at the day-of-action kick-off in front of the Hoyt-Schermerhorn Street subway station in Downtown Brooklyn.
Cohen was joined in her efforts by community advocates and groups like Riders Alliance, TransitCenter, Transportation Alternatives, AARP-NY and CUNY Association for Students with Disabilities in voicing the importance of elevator access.
“I can’t tackle a flight of stairs no matter how hard I try,” said Jessica De La Rosa of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, whose daily commute is affected by a lack of accessibility.
De La Rosa is in a wheelchair, but she doesn’t let that stop her from using the subway to get around the city, despite having to navigate often out-of-the-way routes that are dependent on stations with elevators. And when she arrives at one of those crucial elevators and finds it out of service, the feeling is devastating.
“It changes the whole pace of my day,” De La Rosa explained. “I have to reroute, I’m late or I can’t get there at all.”
Protestors pointed to a number of ongoing lawsuits against the MTA, which found the agency in violation of the city’s Human Rights Law, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Title II of the ADA requires that when a public transit facility is renovated in a way that impacts usability, it must be made accessible to people with disabilities “to the maximum extent feasible.”
Unsurprisingly to many of the advocates and riders at Wednesday’s rally, that has historically not been the case when it comes to the MTA.
“We’re easy targets,” said United Spinal Association’s Jose Hernandez, who is also wheelchair-bound. “It’s easier to make a station look fancy than to make it accessible.
“They spent almost $700 million on the paratransit system,” he continued. “If they would have decided to make the stations accessible when they implemented the paratransit system, we wouldn't even be here.”
Satellite petitions also took place throughout the rest of the day at stations in all five boroughs that are slated for elevators as a part of the capital plan. Petitioners collected photos and videos to be posted on social media as part of the “#AccessNow” campaign.
“NY is progressive in so many ways, and so far behind on transit accessibility,” said Christine Serdjenian Yearwood outside the Broadway station in Astoria. “That should be an outrage to people, and I think it is.”
Serdjenian Yearwood is the founder and CEO of UP-STAND, a movement that promotes improved accessibility for pregnant women and families across the country. Based in Astoria, much of the organization’s work revolves around transit advocacy.
“We find that a lot of people who feel like they have to buy cars or move out of the city are parents,” she said. “It’s hard to have kids in the city, so we want to make it so that people feel they can stay and participate fully.”
A mother of two young children and a two-month-old, Serdjenian Yearwood knows first hand how hard it can be to get around without available elevators.
She also knows that it is critical for those affected by accessibility issues, including the 10 percent of New Yorkers living with a physical disability, the 13 percent that are age 65 or older, and those starting a family, to speak out and let the governor know they are watching his next move.
“What we’re saying today is that this is a big project and it’s not easy,” said Serdjenian Yearwood. “But at this point we’ve won congestion pricing, we have the funding, we have the promises. Just do it.”
“I value the life that I think people should be able to live in New York,” she continued, “and either you value that too or your actions say that you don’t.”