man standing at edge of new york city metro mass transit subway platform

New York City’s MTA to Improve Subway Transit ADA-Compliance by 2055

In New York City, amidst its bustling streets and sprawling transit network, a less spoken narrative exists. While the city brings in dreamers, creatives, and those with amazing ambitions, it also chases away a vital community that makes up its boroughs—people with visual and physical disabilities.

The numbers tell a sobering story:

  • 27% of the system’s 472 stations are deemed accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • A 2019 New York Times analysis revealed that of the 550,000 individuals in the city experiencing difficulty walking, two-thirds resided far from an accessible subway station.
  • ~4% of the city's 8.3 million residents were largely excluded from the subway system.
  • 1 out of 15 New Yorkers has an ambulatory disability.
  • 2.6% of New Yorkers have vision difficulties.
Sources: Where the Subway Limits New Yorkers with Disabilities, New York Times, 2019; 2022 United States Census Bureau.

For the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers relying on elevators and ramps for mobility or auditory cues vs. visuals, much of the city remains inaccessible.

Facing Class Action Lawsuits

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) faced multiple state and federal lawsuits in the last six years, including one filed by three disabled New Yorkers asking to close the gaps between platforms and trains that prevent many wheelchair users from safely boarding and exiting the subway.

According to New York Curbed, “Many transit agencies have what’s called universal-level boarding, where all train floors are completely flush with all platforms. Washington D.C.’s Metro, for example, is generally lauded for its platform-to-train accessibility. In New York, due to variables in rolling stock and station design, the MTA would have to standardize all its train platforms and train cars line by line in order to achieve this.”

The latest ruling by a Manhattan federal judge marks a turning point, addressing a longstanding demand for a more inclusive and accessible city.

Landmark Settlement

U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos's recent approval is nothing short of monumental. MTA is now equipping 95% of subway and Staten Island Railway stations with either elevators or ramps by 2055. It's a commitment that underscores a vision to transform New York’s transit system into one that's both expansive and inclusive.

The settlement ensures this goal, setting benchmarks like making 81 more stations accessible by 2024 and allocating 15% of New York City Transit’s future funding for accessibility enhancements.

Several advocates, like Jean Ryan and Dustin Jones, have spent years battling for this day. Their experiences highlight not just the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities but also the city's evolving perspective. Ryan recollects the days when subway station renovations meant "just fancy tiles" without actual functional improvements, such as elevators.

The Journey Ahead

While the recent settlement is undeniably a leap forward, it’s just the beginning. True change will come from a collective effort where entities like the MTA, advocacy groups, and solution providers come together to achieve the city’s accessibility goals.

The road to a fully accessible transit system could look like implementing a comprehensive plan that considers the diverse needs of all its users. Innovations can range from intuitive signage for those with visual impairments to tactile floor systems guiding the visually impaired or even advanced technological solutions to provide real-time updates on elevator and ramp statuses.

If you’re in city planning, transit development, or any industry seeking to enhance accessibility, join us in our mission. Our TekWay High-Performance ADA Systems are designed to ensure that everyone, regardless of visual disability, can navigate the urban landscape safely and confidently. Let’s make our cities open, welcoming, and navigable for all. Email to see how we can partner in paving the path to a more inclusive future.


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