Disability Advocates Complain B, C Renovations Ignore Accessibility

The United Spinal Association’s Jose Hernandez — flanked to the right by Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and to the left rear by TransitCenter’s Colin Wright — speaks at a May 7 rally outside the B, C subway station at 72nd St. and Central Park West. | SYDNEY PEREIRA

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | The six month-long closure at Central Park West’s 72nd St. station began Monday, May 7 — making it the third station along the B and C lines on the Upper West Side to shutter for the summer. Transit groups, disability advocates, and State Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal rallied outside of the station, which was surrounded by a plywood gate blocking it off, construction workers already hammering away.

The station closures are a part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s “Enhanced Station Initiative.” For Upper West Siders, the renovations will bring welcome upgrades to stations at 72nd St., 86th St., 110th St., and 163rd St., including more countdown clocks, Wi-Fi, USB ports, and better lighting.

But elevator installations are missing from the $111 million plan, and the MTA has no set plan or timeline for accessibility improvements along this section of the B and C lines.

“The station behind me is being closed for 180 days,” Rosenthal said at Monday’s rally. “The MTA will spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars renovating the station. Hundreds of days, thousands of hours, millions of dollars and not a single elevator to show for it.”

The nearest stations along those lines with wheelchair accessibility are at 59th St.-Columbus Circle and 125th St. The 1 line has wheelchair accessibility at the 66th St., 72nd St., and 96th St. stations, which runs along Broadway serveral blocks west of the B and C lines.

Just weeks prior to the closures, some straphangers were unaware of the upcoming closures, as Manhattan Express reported last month. Currently, 110th St. and 163rd St. are closed until September, and the 72nd St. station until October. The fourth and final station due for an upgrade — at 86th St. — will close June 4 through October. The lack of awareness among riders is what Rosenthal, who represents the 67th Assembly District, aims to address in legislation introduced in March.

On May 7, workers were already busy beginning renovation of the 72nd St. station. | SYDNEY PEREIRA

The bill (A-10179) requires the MTA to hold public hearings when a station is due to close for longer than 90 days. Notifying community boards, said Rosenthal, is not enough.

“It needs to be widely broadcast, and while the MTA says they notify the community board, we need a more widespread notification — plus, the MTA has to listen to the riders,” she said after the rally. “That’s who the MTA’s constituents are — the riders. And perhaps they would have heard an earful about how these stations need to be made accessible when major renovation takes place.”

Advocates had three key demands for the MTA.

“We’re here this morning with a clear message for the MTA,” Colin Wright, the advocacy associate at TransitCenter, said at the rally. “Stop overhauling stations without adding elevators, and show riders a plan for 100-percent accessibility.”

He explained that his group is demanding the MTA make a plan for systemwide accessibility, spelling out which stations will be prioritized as well as an aggressive timeline; make accessibility the core of every major renovation; and improve elevator performance. Wright added the few elevators at the 72nd St. station on Broadway were closed for days and weeks at a time.

“This is unacceptable,” he said.

Nearly three decades after the federal Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, the city’s subway system lacks elevators at nearly 75 percent of its stations.

“The MTA has ignored the disabled community time and time again,” said Jose Hernandez, program specialist at the United Spinal Association. “The MTA has closed 72nd, 86th, 110th, and 163rd St. to make all of these renovations and has not made one ADA- compliant station. You would figure one out of the four maybe, but not one of the four are going to be made accessible.”

Elevators at subway stations are just one half of the problem — the other half is ensuring elevators are operational. Hernandez recalled a time he was returning home from Washington, DC. After arriving at Penn Station, he took the subway to three different stations with elevators; the first two stations’ elevators weren’t operating. Rather than a 30-minute commute from Penn Station to his home, it took an extra two hours.

The fear of broken elevators can keep wheelchair users from using the subway altogether.

Madeline DeAddio, a Bronx resident who attended the rally with the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID), said she hasn’t used the subway system in five years. Instead, she relies on bus service — which often doesn’t move much faster than a person walking — and Access-a-Ride, a van service the city provides that often leaves residents waiting hours and requires advance planning. Using the subway isn’t worth the trouble for DeAddio, since she often won’t know if the elevator is out of order until arriving.

Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, who sponsors legislation to require public hearings before lengthy subway renovations are started, speaks to the rally. | SYDNEY PEREIRA

“It’s a nightmare,” DeAddio said, adding that it’s scary and a total nightmare. “We’re supposed to be such a great city, but it’s not that great.”

If someone in a chair gets stuck below ground, the Fire Department has to come and carry the person up the steps. With power chairs, which are much heavier than manual wheelchairs, that isn’t even possible, added Tonya Capers, a Manhattan resident who also attended the rally with BCID.

“That’s why we’re also here,” said the United Spinal Association’s Hernandez. “We want to be able to to go to movie, grab a drink, and get to a local subway station and not worry about it being broken — and more importantly — about it being accessible.”

Right now, those opportunities are lacking, he said.

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