The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has announced that it has moved the installation of new elevators at the 57th Street subway station entrance in Manhattan to the entrance on 55th Street, a change of plans that will shave off six months of construction time.
MTA spokesperson Adam Lisberg said that installing the elevators on 57th Street would have been “enormously complicated.” The bustling station located on Seventh Avenue between 55th and 57th Streets has two entrances. The one on 57th Street doesn’t have enough sidewalk space, he explained.
The transit authority had been working on the project “internally for more than two years,” but announced in August that construction on the 55th Street entrance would be better.
The installation of elevators at various New York City subway stations is part of the MTA’s goal to install 100 elevators by 2020. In 1990, the United States Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which outlined the minimum standards of compliance to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities were met.
The MTA then launched a plan called 100 Key Stations, a list of the busiest subway stations in New York City that would be upgraded for ADA compliance. According to a report released by the MTA, 57th Street station had 8.4 million riders in 2014 and is ranked as the 43rd busiest station out of 468 stations across the five boroughs. So far, the transit authority has completed upgrading 85 Key Stations.
John Morris, founder of wheelchairtravel.org, a website that provides travel guidelines for wheelchair-bound commuters, said that capping the number of stations at 100 was problematic because the number accounts for only a quarter of all stations. Increasing the number to 200 will democratize the transit system and ensure that people with disabilities can enjoy greater access to public transit, said Morris.
The MTA will now spend the $50 million originally budgeted for 57th Street upgrades on two ADA-compliant elevators, an extension of the station’s mezzanines, and relocation of the utility and transit duct banks on 55th Street.
The upgrades will not only make construction more efficient, but will also improve the station’s ability to serve the high volume of commuters with ambulatory disabilities who are forced to use the Columbus Circle station on 59th Street, which is already ADA-compliant. Construction, which started last week, will take 37 months to complete.
Brooklyn-born Andrea Dalzell, this year’s Miss Wheelchair New York, a beauty pageant for women in wheelchairs, said that although the project was a step in the right direction, the problems come after the projects are finished.
“A lot of the time, you will be at an ADA-compliant station and find that the elevators aren’t working and you are then forced to re-route your commute,” she said. “The [MTA] website is meant to alert us about broken-down elevators but often the updates are delayed.”
Last winter, the 27-year-old arrived at a station to find the elevators not working. Because of the heavy snowfall, she had difficulty wheeling herself to the next bus stop, she said. When she asked an MTA agent for help, Dalzell said the person refused and she was forced to call the fire department to assist her down the stairway.
Sosamma Joseph, the station manager at 57th Street, said that MTA employees are not trained to offer physical assistance to disabled passengers. The only misstep the agent made was in completely refusing to help Dalzell.
“The correct protocol that agents should follow is to advise them on an alternative route to getting to their destination,” said Joseph. “If that doesn’t work, then the agent should use the emergency calling system to call the fire department on behalf of the commuter.”
William J. Peace, an adjunct professor at Syracuse University and a former New York resident, said that after more than a decade of “unreliable” subway service for people with disabilities, he no longer takes the train when he is in New York.
“I think there isn’t enough direct action from people with disabilities to force the subway to change,” said Peace. “Often people in my community just give up and take the bus – which works well but is slow.”
With more than half a million people with ambulatory disabilities in New York, Peace said he found it disappointing that the cries of such a large community for a more efficient subway went unheard.
“All we want is to be treated like ordinary people. I want to go work, visit friends and move around as I like but that’s still not possible today,” he said.