The Metropolitan Transit Authority needs to stop pumping money into flashy rider perks like phone chargers and new digital displays and start making Southern Brooklyn platforms accessible to the elderly and disabled, residents checking out one newly refurbished station said this week.
“I just think it’s a little ridiculous to put all of the resources into revamping these stations without the basic consideration of making them handicap accessible, with elevators,” said Mitchell Brodsky, a Bay Ridge resident.
The 53rd Street Sunset Park station re-opened on Monday after a renovation that began in March. The station is the first of three on the R line — including Prospect Ave. and Bay Ridge Ave. — that closed for a $72-million renovation between March and June. The station was also the first to receive extensive upgrades and renovations, including new mosaic tiles, better lighting, and Wi-Fi as part of the agency’s plan to modernize 33 stations throughout the city.
Riders said that they appreciate the updates, but elevators were still the most important improvement on their radar.
One new Bay Ridge mother said that the difficulties posed by carrying her stroller up and down the steep subway stairs have made her more inclined to drive her car than take public transportation.
“I think it will definitely encourage us to use the car rather than the subway, which is unfortunate,” said Rebecca Goldberg, Brodsky’s wife. “We were hopeful that it would at least have an elevator.”
Her husband agreed, even though he said he liked the updated stations.
“I think it’s a good thing that the aesthetics are being updated so we can at least feel good about going into the subway, and it’s nice to feel good about your surroundings when you’re commuting,” said Brodsky. “But when we think about going places outside of Bay Ridge, even with the parking hassles, is still easier than thinking about going into the subway.”
But Goldberg said that accessibility was more important to her than flashy features, because carrying the stroller up and down the subway stairs adds a fair amount of stress to her daily commute.
“It’s scary, frankly,” she said of the challenge. “It’s heavy, and I fear the day I have to do it by myself.”
The renovations will not change the fact that there aren’t any wheelchair-accessible stations that service the R line south of the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center station. The only other wheelchair accessible Southern Brooklyn stations in the area are at Bay Parkway, which services the D line, and Coney Island-Stillwell Ave., which services the D, F, N, and Q lines.
The Department of Transportation’s Code of Federal Regulations state that new stations built after 1992 must include access for people in wheelchairs, and that station renovations done after the same year should ideally include elevators.
The transit agency wrote on its website that it chooses the stations that receive elevators and other accessibility updates based on its own analysis of which updates would benefit the highest number of riders. An agency spokesperson said that the city’s subway system has 248 elevators and 224 escalators spread throughout its 472 stations, and that 117 stations are accessible. But he pointed out that the agency is spending more than $1 billion for upkeep on those stations and plans to make 19 more stations accessible in its current capital plan. And the 59th Street and 86th Street R-train stations are slated to receive elevators by 2020 and 2019, respectively, as part of a separate funding and construction effort. But when officials announced those plans, local officials and residents charged that elevators at those stations would reduce already limited parking in the area and make traffic more dangerous.
A local group that seeks to improve the quality of life for disabled Brooklyn residents is one of a few organizations that hit the transit agency with both a federal and state lawsuit earlier this year for failing to maintain elevators and failing to adequately increase the city’s number of accessible stations. The executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled said that the group and others like it have been disappointed with the city’s limited station accessibility for people in wheelchairs, which becomes even more visible following station renovations.
“There have been plenty of renovations but those renovations have not necessarily always included wheelchair accessibility,” said Joe Rappaport.
A Sunset Park resident said that the neighborhood’s population indicates that elevators would be huge assets to residents, and that the renovations are a waste of time and money without them.
“Around these areas there’s a lot of people, especially those who are much older, who need the federal assistance,” said Adriana Torres. “No elevators make the whole renovation useless.”