The MTA, for all our complaints, does several commendable things. Its customer costs are relatively low, especially when accounting for its 24/7 service, relative train frequency, and extensive system. However, one area where they aren’t so great is on accessibility. Of the five largest subway/light rail systems in the country, two (San Francisco and DC) are fully accessible. Two more have far more than half of their stations accessible (Boston—only some Green Line stations non-accessible; Chicago—primarily some Blue and Red line stations non-accessible). This leaves New York. While there are 490 stations in the New York system (including Staten Island), barely more than 100 stations are accessible:
This is not entirely the MTA’s fault. The funding battles between the city, the state, and any number of other stakeholders can lead to, well, problems. Furthermore, since the entire MTA bus system is accessible, this is not as pressing a problem as, for example, where the MTA is going to find funding to keep an aging system even functional for the foreseeable future. For a city that is generally very unfriendly to people with disabilities, the bus system is a good start.
However, the bus system is set up more to complement the subway system than to handle standard commuting patterns, and it is generally neighborhood-based and might require multiple transfers to ride between boroughs. Those who already may need a little more time to take any trip are thus waiting even longer to get where they need to go.
It is interesting that Midtown Manhattan has so many more accessible stations than elsewhere (eighteen between 34th and 66th, as many as all of Queens and more than all of the Bronx)—while I understand that it is a focal point of the subway system to begin with, the people least likely to have the resources to find alternate means of transportation live in the outer boroughs (or in other corners of Manhattan).
Some other observations:
- The J/Z is already isolated. Losing Broadway Junction, however, is devastating for South Brooklyn access (and transfer access in Manhattan via the L).
- Also, the fact that the J ends at Chambers on the weekends means that there is no Williamsburg Bridge service on the weekends. The M terminates at Delancey/Essex, which is a noncompliant station with stairway transfers to the F, and the J does not have a single accessible stop or transfer in Manhattan, making Marcy Avenue effectively the last stop on either. This means that to get from Marcy or Flushing Avenues to Manhattan, you either take the M to Myrtle/Wyckoff to transfer to the L or the J all the way out to Jamaica Center to transfer to the E/LIRR. Either way, it’s likely a trip that will take way longer than an hour from Williamsburg/Bushwick.
- The 2/3/4/5 trains are also somewhat isolated from the rest of Brooklyn outside of Atlantic Center. However, the loss of Botanic Garden makes it much more difficult to get to other parts of Brooklyn from the neighborhoods served by those trains (which also no longer include Brownsville or East New York).
- Wanted to get to Astoria, Woodlawn, or South Brooklyn? Too bad.
- The only transfer station in the Bronx is Yankee Stadium. (The loss of Grand Concourse/149 Street by itself is not so bad since the 4/5/6 lines can still transfer at 125th, but since the 5 now usually terminates at East 180 Street, getting from Wakefield to anywhere else in the Bronx also becomes that much harder.)
- Note that while Broad Channel is still marked on the map, it is not itself an accessible station. It merely provides same-platform transfers between the Rockaway Park shuttle and the A. There is no way to switch directions, which means that traveling from Rockaway Park to Far Rockaway requires you to transfer at Broad Channel to an inbound A, then transfer to a Far Rockaway–bound A at Howard Beach/JFK.
- Haha the G train (whose only accessible stop is at Church, although I suppose I should have marked the ability to same-platform transfer at Hoyt/Schermerhorn to the A/C).
- The BDFM was already isolated from many of the other lines (as it does not run through the Financial District and doesn’t transfer to many other lines in Midtown). However, the elimination of the Bryant Park and 14 Street transfers make it even more difficult to get from the BDFM to other boroughs.
- Finally, it is interesting that some of the less central stops that still have access are in areas that are considered more typically upper-class or tourist-friendly, such as Lincoln Center (1) or Bowling Green (4/5).
For an account of my quest to break the Guinness World Record for visiting every MTA subway stop in the shortest amount of time, click here.