Ridgites flocked to the newly updated Bay Ridge Avenue subway station on Friday when it finally reopened after nearly six months of renovations.
The more-than-century-old station now offers Ridge riders new digital displays, better lighting, WiFi connectivity, and phone charging stations — but locals said they were less concerned with the flashy new perks than about train reliability and station accessibility.
“Right now, it’s beautiful,” said Claria Pereira, a Ridge mother of two. “I use the station a lot, and I use a stroller, so the work that they did is beautiful, but still, there’s a lot of people who use a stroller. I think we need more work to get an elevator.”
Many Ridgites echoed Pereira’s sentiments, including a group of wheelchair users who attended the opening to protest the lack of an elevator at the new station, which is one of three on the R line — along with the 53rd Street and 86th Street stations — that were shut down between March and June to receive extensive upgrades and renovations valued at $72 million — but which did not include elevators.
One Ridge-based wheelchair user who attended the opening said that she likes the aesthetic updates in the ancient station, but that the lack of an elevator means that she cannot even appreciate them, let alone access the trains.
“I think the improvements they’ve made are nice, but I can’t use them, and tons of New Yorkers can’t use them,” said Mahalah King-Slutzky, who has been using a wheelchair full-time for the past year. “It seems to me like a waste of money until everyone has access.”
There are currently no wheelchair-accessible stations servicing the R line south of the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center station, and the only other wheelchair accessible Southern Brooklyn stations in the area are at Bay Parkway, which serves the D line, and Coney Island-Stillwell Ave., which services the D, F, N, and Q lines. King-Slutzky said she has been using a manual wheelchair while her power chair is being repaired and that she regularly has to push herself all over the neighborhood — sometimes for up to an hour to get to a doctor’s appointment — because the closest accessible subway station is between four and five miles away, at Barclays Center.
But the Metropolitan Transit Authority announced on Friday that it allocated $40 million this past summer to make two Ridge stations — the 77th Street and Bay Ridge-95th Street stations — fully accessible. And the stations at 59th Street and 86th Street are slated to receive elevators by 2020 and 2019, respectively, as part of separate projects announced within the past year.
When agency officials announced the plans to add elevators to the 86th Street station, local officials and residents complained that one of the two planned elevators would reduce already limited parking in the area and make traffic more dangerous.
King-Slutzky said she’s not confident that the elevators will ever be added to the stations, and that even if they are, it will be a long an unnecessary wait.
“If they happen, great, but they’re not going to come for a number of years,” she said. “I just don’t understand why when these renovations were happening no money was allocated to make them accessible.”
Another Ridgite who has used a wheelchair since 1995 said she was protesting because access to public transportation is a right that everyone is entitled to.
“It’s a civil rights issue,” said Jean Ryan, the vice president of public affairs at Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York, a group that champions the rights of people with disabilities.
Ryan said that, like King-Slutzky, she also regularly has to wheel herself around the Ridge — and not just because of the lack of accessible subway stations, but also because of the nabe’s unreliable busses.
“I wheel everywhere in Bay Ridge,” she said. “I don’t take buses, they’re too slow and they never come. They don’t come when they say they do.”
King-Slutzky said that more New Yorkers — and workers at the transportation agency — should try to put themselves in the shoes of wheelchair users to imagine the daily difficulties they face when they consider the issue of subway accessibility.
“I think part of the problem is until you’re in a situation where you have a disability or you’re in a wheelchair or whatever the case may be, you probably don’t notice how inaccessible the city really is,” she said. “I had no idea all the barriers to access that existed. I just didn’t see them until I was in that situation.”
Another Ridgite who doesn’t use a wheelchair said that she agrees with the protesters that the station should have an elevator — and said the trains should be more reliable.
“I’m more concerned with how the trains run than how things look,” Zuna Maza said. “And there should be elevators. I’m with [the protesters].”