Beginning Oct 23, the 30th Av and 36th Av stations on the Astoria-Ditmars Blvd line in Queens will close for extensive renovations. When they reopen in June of next year, commuters will be met with granite floors, in-station USB charging ports and new benches and leaning bars. However, disabled riders still won’t be able to make it past the stairs.
The improvements are part of Governor Cuomo’s Enhanced Station Initiative, a $993 million station modernization project aiming to “dramatically improve” the travel experience for subway riders. The 30th Avenue and 36th Avenue stations are slated to receive renovations ranging from infrastructure work to cosmetic fixes and the addition of passenger amenities, but elevator installations are not among the planned enhancements.
The MTA has allocated $966 million in capital improvement funds to bring 33 key stations up to Americans with Disability Act standards by 2020, but the stations selected for the Enhanced Station Initiative are not among them.
Elevator installations can cost the MTA between $5 million and $10 million, depending on the surrounding terrain and a station’s depth underground. Hydraulic elevators alone generally cost between $50,000 and $75,000. At present, the agency is reserving such expensive improvements for new station construction and stations where elevator installation is mandated by the ADA.
Still, riders would like to see elevators included as an enhancement to the 30th Avenue and 36th Avenue stations. None of the seven N-line stations in Queens is currently accessible.
“It’s very inconvenient,” said Tony Valles, a Queens resident and father of two young children.
Valles and his wife, who live near the 36th Avenue station, regularly carry their youngest son’s stroller up stairs to reach the N-line platform.
“To spend the amounts of money that they’re spending on the Enhanced Station Initiative and to not address accessibility seems like a missed opportunity,” said Jamison Dague, director of infrastructure studies at Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit organization which monitors the City and State’s allocation of financial resources. “In order to really enhance stations, it behooves the MTA to make sure that everyone has the ability to use those stations.”
According to Bill Hixson, senior director of rehab at VISIONS, a 90-year-old organization that provides services for the blind and visually impaired, some of the planned enhancements would make a difference for blind and visually-impaired New Yorkers, if they had access to the stations.
Hixson cited upgraded communications systems, new stair finishes, LED lighting and improved station signage as examples of improvements that will benefit disabled riders. The Enhanced Station Initiative also includes clear announcements, signs with high-contrast colors and tactile inlays, or bump-textured paths running through the station, to help blind and visually-impaired passengers find their way safely to the correct platform.
But without elevators, many disabled riders won’t make it past the stairs, leaving these features unused, said Hixson.
“They’re inconveniencing entire neighborhoods for six-plus months and yet not adding something that will be useful in the long-term such as accessibility,” said Mel Plaut, a program analyst at Transit Center and the lead author of Access Denied, a report about inaccessibility in New York City’s subway system. “If you’re a wheelchair user or a parent, you can stand at the top of the stairs and try and catch a wi-fi signal, but you can’t get down there and take the train.”