Pols decry ‘L’-ack of handicap access in subway shutdown

Councilmember Carlina Rivera called it “disgraceful and shameful” that 75 percent of the city’s subway stations lack elevators. Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, standing behind her, accused the M.T.A. of “poor planning” for not including adding elevators as part of its L shutdown plan. Photos by Lesley Sussman

BY LESLEY SUSSMAN | Politicians, L train riders, community group leaders and transit advocates converged in the rain at 14th St. and Third Ave. last Thursday morning to demand that the M.T.A. make the L train stations there and at Sixth Ave. fully accessible to people with disabilities, handicapped senior citizens and parents with infants ahead of a planned shutdown of the line next year for extensive renovations.

These stations and others along the L line from Bedford Ave. in Brooklyn to Eighth Ave. in Manhattan are scheduled to be shut down beginning in April 2019 for 15 months in order to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy to the line’s Canarsie Tunnel under the East River. The L line serves an estimated 275,000 riders daily and is one of the busiest lines in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s subway system.

Although all the L stations that would be affected by the shutdown are being upgraded as part of the project, at least five of these would not have handicapped elevator access and thus may not comply with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. Two of these stations are along 14th St. at Third and Sixth Aves. The A.D.A. is a civil-rights law passed in 1990 that prohibits discrimination based on physical disability.

The politicians and transit advocates at last Thursday’s rally demanded that the A.D.A. regulations be enforced immediately.

New Assemblymember Harvey Epstein and state Senator Brad Hoylman opened the press conference by encouraging attendees to chant, “Let us ride!” “Where’s the plan?” and “Stranded by Cuomo!”

Epstein then went on to tell the street-corner crowd of about 20 people that while there was a pressing need to make all the city’s 472 subway stations accessible to all New Yorkers, this re-construction project was the perfect time to bring the 14th St. stops up to par.

“This is an opportunity to modernize some of the most heavily used subway stations” and get them into compliance with the A.D.A., he said.

“This press conference is an attempt to bring the city’s attention to the issue of inaccessibility in our transit system,” Epstein said. “Millions of people have physical disabilities or have babies in strollers or are senior citizens with physical impairments and they all need access to our transportation systems, like everyone else.”

“This is an example of poor planning by the city,” he accused. “The M.T.A. is saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to close this subway down for a year and a half, and when we reopen it, it’s not going to be accessible.’  More importantly, this is a moral issue for our city,” he stressed.

Hoylman attended the press conference with his daughter, Lucy, who was in a stroller.

“There are so many New Yorkers who need access to subway transportation — from seniors to the disabled — and they’re being locked out,” he declared.

“Less than a quarter of our subway stations are accessible,” he added. “Less than a quarter have elevators. The M.T.A. needs to do better. There are many [subway station] elevators not working throughout the city and they all need to be repaired.

“We’re here today to tell the M.T.A. that they need to do better. We need elevators here on Third Ave. and also in my district on Sixth Ave.,” Hoylman said. “What they’re doing is spending millions on sprucing up subway stations. That’s like spending money to put down carpets in your house when you don’t have a roof.”

Disabled activists at the rally outside the Third Ave. L subway station said the city is denying them fair and equal access to transportation.

District 2 City Councilmember Carlina Rivera, also spoke at the press conference.

“It’s disgraceful and shameful that for more than a decade an entire community has been overlooked,” she said.

Echoing Hoylman, she said, “We have less than 25 percent of subway stations handicapped accessible.

“We’re here to demand in writing from the M.T.A. and from all of their partner agencies that they will take advantage of this unique opportunity to install elevators at L stops at Third and Sixth Aves.,” Rivera said. “The First Ave. [L subway] stop is getting brand new elevators. Why are we being overlooked? A public transportation system is no good when it is not accessible to 100 percent of the entire public.”

Also attending the press conference were members of various activist groups, including the Riders Alliance, the Straphangers Campaign and the 504 Democratic Club. The Regional Plan Association was also represented, and several local community board activists also attended.

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, a wheelchair-bound member of the Elevators for Everyone campaign, said the M.T.A. is guilty of dragging its feet for decades on this issue.

“Subways are a civil right,” he proclaimed, “and for more than 30 years, the M.T.A. has violated the civil rights of handicapped people.”

The M.T.A.’s shutdown proposal outlines enhancements that would be made at four stations along the L train’s Manhattan leg. The First and Third Aves. stations would be closed for the duration of the 15-month shutdown, while portions of the Union Square and Sixth Ave. stations would also be under construction to implement planned station improvements. However, as Rivera noted, only one station — First Ave. — is slated to become A.D.A. accessible, with the installation of new elevators.

The Eighth Ave. station already has an elevator, while Union Square has an elevator from the street level to the station’s mezzanine level — but only to some of the platforms within the station.

A lawsuit filed by attorney Arthur Schwartz against the M.T.A. and three other agencies on behalf of Village and Chelsea residents and disabled advocates charges that, under the A.D.A., all the stations in the shutdown zone must be made fully handicap accessible. The lawsuit also argues that the agencies have failed to do a legally required environmental impact statement, or E.I.S., for the shutdown plan.

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