A new report from the office of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has revealed that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is giving New York City residents an inaccurate depiction of the subway system’s accessibility.
According to the MTA, 114 of the Big Apple’s 472 subways stations provide options for those who cannot use stairs in the form of ramps, elevators, or escalators. Brewer’s staff surveyed the 42 stations in Manhattan that the MTA has qualified as accessible and found a plethora of problems that indicate otherwise. The surveyors visited these stations on four separate days at different times of the day.
Among these supposedly accessible stations in New York City’s central borough, Brewer’s office found a lack of signage, accessible travel in only one direction, and a lack of options for people with visual impairments. Common issues with station signage included unclear directions for riders to get to elevators or accessible boarding areas and a lack of detail or complete lack of information within elevators.
Over their four days of surveying, Brewer’s team also found that an average of 5.2% of the stations’ elevators were inoperable. On average, 28 elevators were out of service and on the worst performing day, 10 were unavailable.
This statistic indicates the difficulty people who use wheelchairs in New York City must face every day. Public transportation is meant to be an affordable way for people to traverse a city, but they can’t use it if elevators at multiple stations do not work. With two million new wheelchair users in the United States every year, the need for functioning accessibility options will only grow.
People who cannot use stairs not only need working elevators, but they need them to be clean. The report found that 54.3% of elevators in Manhattan subway systems were visually unclean and 53.5% had very unpleasant odors. Surveyors saw litter, gum stuck to floors, and pools of liquid that were likely urine or vomit. They also smelled a range of unsavory smells, most notably urine, that made riding the elevator difficult or nearly impossible.
These conditions not only affect people who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices, but those who have bicycles, strollers, and other wheeled objects. Globally, there are about one billion bicycles. This sustainable form of transportation is popular in New York City, a metropolitan notorious for gridlocked traffic and crowded streets.
In January, the inaccessibility of Manhattan’s subways may have lead to the death of Malaysia Goodson. While trying to maneuver her daughter’s stroller down the steps of the Seventh Avenue station at 53rd Street, Goodson fell down the steep flight of stairs. While her daughter was nestled in the stroller and survived the fall, Goodson did not.
With no elevator at the station, Goodson’s struggle to get her child, her stroller, and herself safely down the subway stairs is one many New York City parents face. Authorities have said that Goodson’s death was related to a pre-existing condition, but the accident has highlighted the real danger an inaccessible system in any city poses to its users. Across the country, staircase accidents are the second leading cause of accidental injury, just behind motor vehicle accidents.
Advocates in New York City have since been pushing officials to make widespread changes and Brewer’s report represents one of the first steps in addressing the problem.