MTA announces much-needed elevator upgrades at multiple subway and train stations

Going Up

MTA announces much-needed elevator upgrades at multiple subway and train stations

Concept rendering of newly installed elevator (Courtesy MTA)

It’s about to get easier for people in wheelchairs to get on the train at 23 commuter rail and subway stations across New York City’s metropolitan area.

Last week the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced it will install or replace 48 elevators at nine Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) stations and 14 subway stations. In a separate project, the agency is upgrading accessibility at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall Station, adding a three new elevators (the station is already partially accessible).

These upgrades are sorely needed to improve subway and train access for the more than 550,000 New Yorkers with ambulatory disabilities. What we now know as the subway was once a train system operated by three private companies, long before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) mandated universal access in public spaces. Varied station designs across the aging system make upgrades challenging, but advocates have long contended that the MTA can and should be doing more to improve accessibility: The city has one of the lowest percentages of accessible stations of any major transit system worldwide. Of New York’s 472 subway stations, only 126 (27 percent) are accessible via an elevator or ramp. These accessible stations serve about half of the system’s daily ridership.

For every project but the one at Borough Hall, the MTA is using a public-private partnership (P3) to make eight inaccessible stations—Church Avenue, Sheepshead Bay, Rockaway Boulevard, Kings Highway, Woodhaven Boulevard, Steinway Street, Junius Street, and Mosholu Parkway—fully accessible. Under the P3 model, the developer will partially finance the project, with equity repaid only if the elevators and other improvements are built and maintained to the MTA’s standards.

“MTA Construction and Development is always innovating as we advance systemwide accessibility better, faster, and cheaper,” said MTA Construction and Development President Jamie Torres-Springer in a statement. “This latest package of subway station ADA upgrades includes the MTA’s first Public-Private Partnership. This new method of contracting allows us to get the best value for money, as our delivery partner will finance the work and maintain the elevators and then receive payments only if they meet our high standards. And it’s not just the subways–we are replicating these cost-saving lessons at LIRR stations by bundling stations together to help us get the most for each dollar.”

A full list of accessible subway and commuter rail stations can be found here.

Accessible transit doesn’t just benefit people who use mobility aids: they also benefits seniors, caregivers lugging strollers—there are 553,000 young children in the city—visitors with heavy suitcases, and people who are just plain tired. In June of this year, as part of a settlement agreement in two class-action lawsuits, the MTA promised that by 2055 it would install ramps and elevators to 95 percent of subway stations. In October, three plaintiffs filed another class-action lawsuit against the MTA that urges the agency to fix open spaces between trains and platforms that make it difficult for visually-impaired or wheelchair-using passengers to get on and off the train.

With an annual budget in excess of $19 billion, the MTA is always undertaking major capital projects. Perhaps the most newsy of late has been the redesign of Penn Station, the Midtown transit hub that serves New Jersey Transit, Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road, and (soon) Metro-North Railroad. In September, New York Governor Kathy Hochul and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) announced the architecture and engineering team that will lead the effort to redesign the station. After a request for proposals sent to over 100 firms, the state chose FXCollaborative Architects and WSP USA, in collaboration with London’s John McAslan + Partners , to lead the project.