Disability Access a Must for Subway Rehabs, Judge Rules

MANHATTAN (CN) – Slamming the years-long failure to build an elevator at a Bronx subway stop, a federal judge ruled Wednesday that disability access must be tackled every time New York undertakes a transit renovation.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman called the ruling a shot across the bow for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“The MTA is now on notice that whenever it renovates a subway station throughout its system so as to affect the station’s usability, the MTA is obligated to install an elevator, regardless of the cost, unless it is technically infeasible,” Berman said in a statement. “Individuals with disabilities have the same rights to use the New York City subway system as every other person. The court’s decision marks the end of the MTA treating people with disabilities as second-class citizens.”

Representing the group Bronx Independent Living Services, Disability Rights Advocates brought the suit here in 2016 over the MTA’s failure to include elevators when it undertook a $21.85 million facelift of the Middletown Road subway in the Bronx more than five years ago.

Granting the plaintiffs summary judgment Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos concluded that such alterations triggered obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The court finds that defendants’ renewal project, which involved the replacement of the stairways at the Middletown Road Station, clearly met this condition,” the 11-page opinion states.

Brett Eisenberg, director of Bronx Independent Living Services, applauded the ruling.

“This is a major victory for all New Yorkers who need elevators to access the subway, but especially for those in the Bronx where there are even fewer fully accessible stations,” Eisenberg said in a statement. “The MTA cannot continue to place the needs of people with disabilities last when planning improvements to the subway system.”

U.S. Attorney Berman had been appointed to his post just two months earlier by President Donald Trump when he threw the Southern District of New York’s firepower behind the disability advocates fighting the case last year.

The MTA’s chief external affairs officer Max Young affirmed more accessible subways would be on the horizon.

“The MTA is steadfastly committed to improving access throughout the subway, with a hard and fast goal of making 50 additional stations accessible over five years,” Young said in a statement. “We’re not wavering from that commitment.”

Michelle Caiola, director of Disability Rights Advocates, noted in a statement this afternoon that action is long overdue.

“This ruling highlights why the New York City subway system remains overwhelmingly inaccessible to people who cannot use stairs,” Caiola said. “If MTA had been complying with the ADA over the past 25 years by installing elevators when it performs station renovations, we would be closer to full accessibility today. Clearly, MTA must change its practices related to accessibility as soon as possible.”

Disabilities Rights Advocates estimates that fewer than 25 percent of New York City subways have elevators. The figure becomes more dramatic against a New York Times analysis that shows roughly 550,000 residents have difficulty walking, and two-thirds of them live far from an accessible subway station.

Putting their plight into stark focus, a Connecticut mother died earlier this year while trying to descend the stairs at a Manhattan station with a stroller carrying her 1-year-old daughter.

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