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Gounardes pushes MTA to make subways wheelchair-friendly

Fewer than 25 percent of the 472 subway stations in the New York City Transit system have elevators, ramps or other accommodations for the physically disabled, according to state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who said he is introducing legislation to force the MTA to increase accessibility for riders.

Gounardes said his constituents are adversely impacted by the lack of accessibility. “Currently, none of the stations in my district have an accessible entrance,” said the senator, who represents a sprawling district that covers a wide swath of Southwest Brooklyn.

Gounardes is the Senate sponsor of a bill written by Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz that is working its way through the State Assembly that would establish clear targets for the MTA toward making the subway system fully accessible to people with disabilities and other mobility limitations.

Gounardes and Dinowitz recently held a press conference with advocates for the disabled to announce the bill.

The proposed legislation also seeks to improve the MTA’s compliance with the federal

Americans with Disabilities Act.

“For decades, the MTA has renovated stations at a cost of billions, blatantly evading the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Joe Rappaport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled.

Among other things, the bill would codify the accessibility goals laid out in New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s “Fast Forward” plan.

The proposed legislation would codify “Fast Forward” goals aimed at full accessibility at 50 stations within the next five years and another 130 stations in the following five years.

The bill would also require the MTA to:

  • Include accessibility improvements in work being done during subway station closures or during renovations longer than six months.
  • Create criteria for public review on which stations to prioritize for accessibility improvements.
  • Accelerate the installation of platform safety features such as tactile strips and reduce platform gaps.
  • Revise maintenance practices to provide uninterrupted elevator service at all times.
  • Provide real-time data at all elevators.

“New Yorkers deserve nothing less than a transit system that is completely, 100 percent accessible. This legislation will codify the ambitious goals of the Fast Forward plan and ensure that no New Yorker is deprived of access to our mass transit system,” said Gounardes, a Democrat who represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and several other Southwest Brooklyn neighborhoods.

There is currently a project under way in Gounardes’ Senate district to make a subway station accessible: the construction of an elevator at the 86th Street R train station in Bay Ridge.

Dinowitz, a Democrat whose district includes parts of the Bronx, said New Yorkers deserve better transportation accommodations. “It is an absolute travesty that for so long, many New Yorkers have been excluded from our transit system. Accessible subways help New Yorkers of all stripes — whether they use a wheelchair, walker, cane, stroller, shopping cart, and more,” he said.

Danny Pearlstein, policy and communications director for the Riders Alliance, said the accessibility issue must be resolved.

“A 21st century city needs an accessible transit system. Over a lifetime, every New Yorker will need an elevator to reach a train platform. That’s why it’s so important that a robust congestion pricing program bring in billions in new revenue to modernize the subway,” he said.

MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek said the agency does the best it can with the resources it has.

“We welcome all the support we can get from elected officials to fund a modern subway system and help us improve accessibility, starting with ensuring that the next MTA capital plan is fully funded,” Tarek told this newspaper in an email.

The MTA has invested nearly $5 billion to make subway stations accessible, according to agency officials.

The recently-approved congestion pricing plan, in which drivers will pay a toll to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street, “is a huge step forward,” Tarek said.

Under the congestion pricing plan approved by the state legislature, revenue generated by tolls will go to the MTA.

“There are many challenges to a fully accessible system which we are fully committed to taking on, and we look forward to discussing this with legislators and the public,” Tarek said.

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