Why I’m Protesting the MTA Tomorrow

I’ve covered a lot of protests in my life and taken part in my share of actions — I traveled to D.C. for an anti-Iraq War protest, once upon a time — but tomorrow, I’ll be attending a protest in a new capacity: not as a journalist or bystander, but as a candidate for State Senate.

The MTA is reopening the Bay Ridge Avenue R station after six months of renovation. There will be a ribbon cutting of sorts, and Joe Lhota, the MTA chair, is slated to attend. In theory, this should all be exciting. Many construction workers have worked incredibly hard and they should, rightfully, be commended for what they have done. The R station is going to look much prettier. There will be a nice countdown clock, tiles, modernistic benches, and the station will be much less dank.

But I don’t imagine too many people in my neighborhood, Bay Ridge, will care, because ultimately the trains are about one thing, and one thing only: getting you where you need to be, on time. And this doesn’t just mean making trains show up. This means ensuring everyone can use the station.

The new Bay Ridge Avenue R station will not have an elevator. It is not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. In fact, a vast majority of subway stations in the five boroughs, since they were built before the passage of the ADA in 1990, do not comply. As my friend, the disability rights activist and journalist Michael Harris has told me, riding the subway for anyone in a wheelchair or with any kind of physical challenges is nightmarish. Most subway stations are simply off limits. Trips must be planned well in advance and gamed out to the MTA’s fickle maintenance schedule. The message from the MTA is simple: if you are a person with disabilities, you aren’t welcome here.

This isn’t something the South Brooklyn Progressive Resistance, the group I am joining tomorrow, will tolerate, and neither should you. The MTA apparently has hundreds of millions of dollars for “tunnel towers” (yes, these are real) and gaudy bridge lights that do nothing but stroke the ego of our governor. Imagine if the resource were invested in elevators for the hundreds of subway stations that remain inaccessible to a significant share of New Yorkers.

On one hand, it’s understandable that not every one of the subway system’s 400-plus stations has an elevator yet, though universal access for people with disabilities must be the ultimate goal. What’s disturbing to me is that the MTA shows little interest in getting there, and our political leaders have been mostly silent on this issue.

Anyone with a wheelchair or a difficulty with mobility knows how daunting living in this city can be. Sidewalks are perilous. If subways have elevators, they often don’t work. Access-a-Ride and buses are too slow.

The incumbent state senator, Republican Marty Golden, doesn’t care. Public transit was never a priority for him. Our transportation infrastructure decays by the day and it seemingly makes no difference to him. Luckily, we voters will get a chance next year to make him understand what exactly is happening in Brooklyn.

Running for office has exposed me to issues that are too often overlooked. If you have time tomorrow, and you’re in Bay Ridge, stop by at 11:30 am. Let Marty and the MTA feel your wrath.