When the revamped Bay Ridge Avenue station opened earlier this month, accessibility activists hijacked the ribbon cutting, using the exercise in back-patting to draw attention to the fact that, tens of millions of dollars later, those who can’t climb stairs still can’t get down to the platform in Bay Ridge to enjoy the interminable wait for the R train—the only subway line that services our community. The nearest accessible station on the R line is Atlantic–Pacific, more than four miles from the Bay Ridge Avenue station. (The Church Avenue F/G station is roughly 3.15 miles away, as is the Bay Parkway D station.)
Only 22 stations in Brooklyn are presently accessible, out of about 170—though the MTA has been committed to improving that, as compelled by law. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act, of 1990, required the MTA to make 100 more subway stations accessible over the following 30 years. We’re soon approaching that 2020 deadline, and “NYC Transit has taken this obligation seriously,” according to a letter from July to Community Board 10 by an MTA executive, Robert Marino. The agency has made the majority of these stations accessible, but 59th Street and 86th Street on the Fourth Avenue line still languish—among the final 11 of the original 100 stations to be refitted.
In this time, we’ve seen other improvements to subway stations along the R in Brooklyn, such as the recent refurbishing of the Bay Ridge Avenue, 53rd Street and Prospect Avenue stations. Also, in 2005, then-congressmember Vito Fossella earmarked $14 million in federal funds [almost $17.5 million, adjusted for inflation] for improvements to the 86th Street station, including that mosaic on the mezzanine level, as well as new tiles and a new ventilation system, which were completed around 2011.
But no elevator.
In the 90s, the MTA planned to make the 95th Street station accessible, but activists urged the agency to do 86th Street instead, as that station provides access to multiple bus transfers. These buses now pose a problem, though: building an elevator, as the MTA wants to do, beside the entrance on the southeast corner, in what’s now the street, will mean buses’ having to make wider turns at an already overcrowded intersection. The community board has asked the MTA to reconsider the position of the elevator, or to reroute the buses at this corner, but the agency at present plans to do neither; instead, it has said, it will address any issues as they arise. [Disclosure: the author is a member of Community Board 10.]
“The…buses at 4th Avenue and 86th Street are located there to create convenient transfers to the R train; convenient transfers among the various bus lines; and convenient access to the Bay Ridge business district,” Marino writes. “Relocating any of the bus lines out of the area would eliminate at least two of those benefits.”
The MTA is expected to start accepting bids for the construction this quarter—which means, by 2020, we should finally see an elevator at this station, however poorly positioned. (The convenience store in the station lost its lease at the end of February, to make way for infrastructure, part of the ADA upgrade.)
At the Bay Ridge Avenue ribbon-cutting, officials also announced that the MTA’s Capital Plan includes $40 million to add elevators to the 77th Street and 95th Street stations—the first time anyone in the community had heard about this. “This allowed Marty Golden to save face and act like a hero to the wheelchair users who showed up to the rally,” city council candidate Justin Brannan tells me, “even though he sits on the MTA Capital Review Board and has turned a blind eye to our needs for years.” [Disclosure: some research by Brannan, whom I have publicly backed for city council, provided background for this piece.]
But the MTA’s Capital Plan is not set in stone; projects are not uncommonly added to and removed from it. It’s been almost thirty years since the MTA said an elevator was coming to Bay Ridge; if two more are really coming, most of us likely won’t live to see them.