She minds the gap: Activist says there’s too much space between trains and platforms

Michele Kaplan is frustrated and often struggles in her wheelchair to get over the large gap between the train car and the platform.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Midwood straphanger Michele Kaplan often gets stuck on the train, but unlike many commuters, it’s not delays or track work that slow her down — it’s the space between the subway car and the platform.

Kaplan, who uses a wheelchair, says too-steep gaps at certain stations purported to be “accessible” to disabled passengers are actually impassible, leaving her trapped part-way over the tracks if she isn’t careful.

“It is an incredibly scary experience, and I am pretty fearless in my chair,” said Kaplan, who documents her struggles commuting at her blog MindTheGapMTA.tumblr.com.

Kaplan is one of 60,000 handicapped straphangers who she claims are constantly inconvenienced by the inconsistent spacing between trains and platforms — and advocates for disabled commuters say the problems abound at supposedly wheelchair-friendly stations including Borough Hall, Atlantic Avenue–Barclays Center, DeKalb Avenue, and the Kings Highway B and Q stop, among others.

The Americans With Disabilities Act stipulates that the difference in height between a train and the platform cannot be more than 5/8 of an inch — but the difference can be as much as three inches at the Borough Hall station, according to disabled rights attorney and Metropolitan Transportation Authority critic Martin Coleman.

“It’s breaking the law,” Coleman says. “This is a situation they know about, and they will not take steps to address it.”

On the Long Island Rail Road — where a teenager died after falling into the gap — MTA workers help disabled passengers board trains and even lay out sturdy ramps at problematic stations.

But not the case in the subway system.

MTA spokeswoman Deidre Parker says “there should be no need for assistance” at “accessible” stations, so long as disabled passengers enter and exit the train in a designated zone marked by signs.

Conductors can assist riders if they need it — but only at 19 “accessible” stations out of the 157 stops in the borough.

“It is important to note that not every station can be modified to permit [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant gap tolerances at every train door,” Parker said.

But that’s no consolation for Kaplan, who after taking one fall too many, started a petition imploring the MTA to mend the gaps.

“This is an issue of safety,” the petition notes. “If the MTA lists a station as ‘Wheelchair Accessible’ then it needs to be wheelchair accessible, but it’s not consistently so.”

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