As spate of subway deaths continue, calls for new look at platform barriers
A rash of subway deaths this year -- from people being pushed onto the tracks to suicides -- is reigniting calls for the MTA to move toward installing safety barriers and take other steps to protect straphangers.
The agency is set to discuss platform safety at a board meeting today, as yet another person jumped in front of a train yesterday in an apparent suicide. And last week, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer was joined by politicians and an MTA board member in asking the agency's inspector general to investigate the cause of the spate and the feasibility of installing the barriers.
"Another attempted suicide cannot become a common-place occurrence in one of the largest transit systems in the world," Stringer said of yesterday's incident, in which a man jumped in front of an R train in Brooklyn. The unidentified man died last night.
"This is a troubling and dangerous trend with serious implications for the millions of commuters who ride the subway each day," Stringer said.
This year, seven people have died after being hit by subways, and Stringer's office projects a record-breaking 100 deaths in 2013 if the trend continues. In 2012, 55 people were killed after being struck by subways, out of 141 total who were hit. In 2011, 47 died out of 146 struck.
The agency has looked at installing platform barriers in the past. In 2007, Crown Infrastructure Solutions, an architectural and engineering firm, began talks with the agency to build out a full network of barriers with no charge to the MTA or straphangers, in return for being able to sell advertising on built-in screens. The barriers would have been see-through and extend from the platform to the ceiling, with sliding doors that line up with the doors on the subway cars.
But after about four years of on-and-off talks and a full proposal from Crown, the project stalled, and the firm has since moved on to other transit systems, according to Michael Santora, president of the company.
"The MTA really just never moved forward on their part. We got as far aswe could," Santora told amNewYork. "We never got any negative feedback from them that it wasn't a good system, it's just that no one's ever made a real move for it," he said, estimating that the project would've cost about $1.5 million to $2 million per station.
Santora said that he hopes the increased focus on subway safety might reinvigorate interest in New York.
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz declined to say whether the barriers would be discussed at today's meeting, and he declined any comment for this article.
John Samuelson, president of the MTA workers' union, said the union is "willing to explore any options to end the rash of rider deaths, including barriers," but that there are safety concerns that come with them.
"If something catastrophic happened, like a train entered the station while workers were on the tracks and it's a perfect storm of many redundancies failing, the only option is to jump up on the station platform," Samuelson said. "With the barriers, that avenue of escape wouldn't be possible."
Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, said barriers should be given a serious look, but that there are many obstacles.
"Obviously their cost and how feasible is it to put them in 468 stations, many, many of which have different designs," Russianoff said.
He added: "My bottom line is that people being struck or killed on a subway platform is a serious problem that deserves a serious answer."
Some commuters said they supported building the barriers.
"People have the tendency to cross the yellow line here and it would stop them from falling," said Marjan Adarkwa, 26, a Baychester straphanger.
Lin Lee, 27, of Flushing, agreed.
"Absolutely," Lee said of building the barriers. "It's kind of scary to listen to that kind of news so it makes sense."