The MTA will install two elevators at the 14th Street and Seventh Avenue subway station to serve riders of the 1, 2 and 3 lines, expanding its existing commitment to build elevators at the connected Sixth Avenue station for the F and L lines, disability rights advocates announced at a press conference Saturday.
But the victory is subject to the Federal Transit Administration approving and releasing previously-allocated funds to commence the project, which Arthur Schwartz, president of the Legal Foundation Advocates for Justice, called on the federal government to act quickly on.
“Everyone should imagine what it is like not only for people in a wheelchair, but for someone like my own mother who uses a walker, or someone who is blind, or someone who has arthritic knees, and can’t walk along stairways to know that they do not have access to the subway system,” Schwartz said at the press conference outside the 14th Street station Saturday.
While the MTA had agreed to build four elevators at 14th Street and Sixth Avenue as part of a settlement to Schwartz’s 2018 lawsuit, the work was supposed to start by the end of December 2020, Schwartz said.
As that deadline came and went, Schwartz said he asked the MTA if legal action would be required again to get the project started. In response, a representative for the MTA proposed adding the additional two elevators at Seventh Avenue, and a request for bids was issued in February. But the MTA is still awaiting approval from the federal government to release the funding.
“Projects like MTA’s 14th Street elevator installations are key to modernizing the system and making the subway more accessible for the riding public, including New York’s substantial disabled community, which has long suffered from poor access to our region’s mass transit system,” Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer said in a letter to the FTA Friday.
Schumer said at the press conference he plans to also lobby for additional funding in the upcoming infrastructure bill that could potentially fix the inaccessibility of New York City’s subway system for good.
“Stop the stalling, release the money, let’s get these elevators built,” Schumer said. “And that will make New York a better place, as was said, for everybody.”
“FTA’s swift approval of this critical project will support the MTA in its steadfast commitment to advancing systemwide accessibility and ensuring no New Yorker is more than two stops away from an accessible station,” said MTA spokesperson Kayla Shults in a statement Saturday. The MTA did not respond to an inquiry of how much the elevator project is estimated to cost.
With the addition of these new elevators, expected to be finished by 2023, the L train line will now have elevator access at all Manhattan stations except Third Avenue.
The Biden administration’s stimulus bill included $6.5 billion for the MTA — still short of the $8 billion the MTA projected it would need to get through 2024 but enough to stave off the worst doomsday scenarios it had been projecting as recently as December.
The MTA is still litigating a number of other lawsuits over the accessibility of the subway system, including a lawsuit by the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled and other groups that argues the transit agency has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by renovating stations without adding elevators and failing to maintain existing elevators. They also claim an overall lack of subway accessibility is a violation of New York City’s Human Rights laws.
With reporting by David Cruz