The MTA’s Accessibility Gap

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:

ADA Subway Map
Click for full-size

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

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17 thoughts on “The MTA’s Accessibility Gap

  1. Interesting, nice job. Kingsbridge Rd B/D is also ADA compliant, and the J does have an accessible station in Manhattan (Fulton St), which will soon have weekend service. There are also a few accessible platform transfers at non-accessible stations besides Broad Channel–Queensboro Plaza (much simpler than a transfer at Times Sq), Broadway Junction A/C, Franklin Av 2/3/4/5, Hoyt-Schermerhorn A/C/G, Nevins St 2/3/4/5, Myrtle Av (important at night). The MTA should add this map to their website.

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  2. It would also help to know how many steps or flights of stairs are necessary to enter/exit a station. Many people can handle a few steps or max one flight of stairs but couldn’t possibly climb multiple flights. Or maybe on a good day someone feels up to handling a flight of stairs but not several. But MTA and this article persist in defining accessibility only in terms of wheelchairs. And good luck finding out how many flights of stairs are necessary without actually going to the station and then it’s too late and you’ve strained your body and will be left in pain for days or weeks. This just happened to a family member. But MTA won’t give out this information. The people at the accessibility info lines only have info about this all-or-nothing definition of accessibility. I’m tired of it.

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    • @Peter

      Accessibility is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, not by the MTA. It would be nice to have that information though. I’m sure someone will design an app eventually to allow you to choose stations with escalators, etc.

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      • I find Tom’s comment troubling and logically flawed. The MTA is not forced to stick with the minimum requirements of the ADA. It could exceed them. The attitude that someone will eventually develop an app seems flippant (as though this were some fringe need). Also, many seniors (the example given) use the internet but not apps.

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  3. Great work! Adding to this is the fact that sometimes one shows up to a station and the elevator’s broken, or simply inoperable? That’s happened multiple times with me and my partner. What is one to do, if one has planned one’s trip around accessible stops? So frustrating.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. @Peter @Tom Love this post! Check out my website and app, NYC Accessible. It helps users determine which stations have elevators/escalators, shows the location of those machines, and allows users to sign up for alerts (email or text) when those machines go in or out of service.

    Check it out here: http://www.nycaccessible.com

    Shoot me an email at andrewglass1 (gmail) if you’d like to chat.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m surprised the official map doesn’t show it, but that free transfer between Port Authority and Times Square is barely able-bodied accessible. I feel like I’m gonna slip every time I head downhill.

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  6. I appreciate this. I started making one of these a while ago, but gave up in horror.

    I appreciate that you went through SIRT, PATH, LIRR, and Metro-North as well.

    It’s worth noting that there are very few systems in the US which aren’t 100% accessible.

    For urban transit, apart from Chicago and Boston, which you’ve already mentioned, there are:
    — Philadelphia (city) which is over 50% accessible and increasing fast
    — Philadelphia (trolleys in the western suburbs) which have rather low accessibility
    — Pittsburgh, which is well over 50% accessible
    — Cleveland, also over 50% accessible and increasing
    — Baltimore, about 50% but not making progress
    — Newark, which is a bit less than 50% accessible, with no recent progress

    If you want to look at Canada,
    — Toronto is at about 50% (and getting better).
    — Montreal is near 0% and dreadful.

    For commuter rail, there are a few more:
    — Metra (Chicago commuter) which is far more than 50% accessible
    — Caltrain (San Francisco commuter), about 80% accessible
    — South Shore Line (Chicago-South Bend commuter) which is far more than 50% accessible
    — MARC for the Maryland suburbs of DC, a little more than 50% accessible
    — Philadelphia (“regional rail”), a lot less than 50% but making fast progress
    — NJT, a lot less than 50% and not making progress

    Again, if you look at Canada,
    — Toronto commuter rail is near 100% (three or four stations left)
    — Montreal commuter rail is near 0% (terrible).

    New York is the center of awful in the US when it comes to inaccessible transit systems. Montreal is nearly as bad, but nowhere else in the US is even close to as bad. NYC Subway is terrible, LIRR is bad, Metro-North is mediocre, PATH is bad, NJT Rail is bad, Newark Light Rail is bad. I can criticize Maryland for not making any progress. Everyone else in the US is pretty good and improving.

    There is an attitude problem in the NY metro area.

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    • Just heads up with Toronto Canada, ( I am a full time power wheelchair user, also legally blind ) I have to correct you, vast parts of Toronto are not accessible whatsoever without long treks on horribly busted sidewalks, only 1 of the 10 streetcar lines are reliably accessible, also it becomes inaccessible outside the hours of 6am-10pm wkdays & 9am-10pm weekends, also bus drivers attitudes toward ppl in wheelchairs sucks, there are daily hassles even getting on 1 bus, let alone several.

      I have a dream of visiting Chicago & NYC, though being as poor as I am, it likely will (never happen)

      I really enjoyed your article & map..

      I have been an accessibility advocate for nearly 25yrs.

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      • Sidewalks I knew about — sidewalks are a whole ‘nother ball of wax and a major problem everywhere.

        Streetcars — well, again, at least Toronto’s making *progress* with them.

        Becoming inaccessible outside “daytime hours” is *weird* — does the subway close or do they just close the elevators? (I would assume that the latter is illegal under the ODA.)

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  7. Oh, btw, Montreal Canada has 7 stations that ARE w/c accessible, also ALL BUSES are accessible..

    One station that is sorely lacking is the on for the central rail station, where VIA RAIL (sorta like amtrak) goes.

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    • Because it’s pretty close to worthless. People only use it if they are absolutely forced to — it is extremely slow and very unreliable.

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  8. Why are the non-MTA entrances to the subway system not mentioned? You can get on the uptown 6 at 59th Street on the Lexington Avenue Line through Bloomingdales and on the downtown 6 at Astor Place through Kmart. What is really egregious is that there is no accessible metrocard entrance because they are not “officially” accessible.

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  9. There’s not much of a need to take the subway from one end of the Rockaways to the other. The Q22 bus does that much more effectively, even from the point of view of an able-bodied rider.

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  10. I live off of this map (I am a motorized wheelchair user) and wish this could be updated. I hate when the MTA tells you to use the “accessible transfer points” because if you get to that station and there is a change in tracks, lines, etc.. What are you supposed to do?? Fly down the stairs? Also, even if the stations are accessible, does not mean that you can get on to the actually subway car. Their boarding areas are not always tall enough. I can get to the A, C, E train, but the A train is so much higher than the platform that it is pretty much a step, therefore unusable. I can get on the 2 train at Atlantic Terminal, but only if I gun it really fast. The twice I didn’t, my chair swerved and I got my rear tires stuck in the gap. Forget the train at Woodhull Hospital, if a friend and a stranger weren’t there to help me, I would have fallen flat on my face with a huge motorized chair on top of me. The MTA does not follow the law because they can get away with it. When they rebuilt the WTC station, they did not make it accessible. Until the government holds them accountable, they will continue to do this.

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