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Op-ed | Making a more accessible NYC subway system for all

Interim New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg.
File photo/Mark Hallum

If the last time you rode the bus or subway was before the pandemic, you might not recognize the transit system as it exists now more than a year later. There have been visible improvements, like our unprecedented disinfecting program, but not all the changes are so obvious.

Some New Yorkers may not realize that the MTA opened a record 12 new accessible stations in the last 17 months. To put that in perspective, only 11 accessibility projects were completed in the entire seven-year period from 2012-2018. 

We finished our latest project last week at the 57th St-7th Av N/Q/R/W station. This hub – located just a short walk from attractions like Central Park, Carnegie Hall, and City Center– is now fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We installed three brand new elevators and reconstructed six staircases; the mezzanine was also expanded, and ADA features like raised boarding areas, tactile warning strips and new railings were added to the platform. 

With the completion of this project, there are now 137 accessible subway stations. It’s clear we have a long way to go to tackle the rest, but we are fully committed to this mission. The MTA is on track to maintain an accelerated pace in 2021, having awarded $576 million in contracts to build out another 13 ADA stations — more than double the amount from the year before.

Ten of those 13 new projects are part of our historic multi-year Capital Plan, which calls for an unprecedented $5.2 billion investment in accessibility at 70 stations. 

We know New York needs accessible mass transit to power its recovery from the pandemic and bring millions back to work, school, cultural centers, entertainment and more. It’s vital that New Yorkers and visitors with disabilities be part of that revival.  

A more inclusive system is good for everyone and can help draw new riders to the subways at a time when we need them more than ever. I am proud to see that Transit ridership is finally starting to tick up again.

We hit a pandemic-high record of more than 2.35 million daily subway riders late last month, while our buses have regularly carried more than one million people a day for months. I’m excited to build on this momentum and welcome more and more customers back in the weeks and months ahead. 

After such a grueling and difficult year, every milestone feels like a celebration– perhaps none more so than the return of our Music Under New York program last week. Almost every subway rider can speak to a moment when the beauty and power of a performance made them stop and smile during their commute. We’re thrilled to hear from these musicians once again after 14 months of silence to help bring much-needed joy back to our daily routines. 

I’m confident there will be more victories to celebrate, both big and small this summer as offices reopen and life gets back to normal, and New York City Transit will be there every step of the way. We just need to stay on track together — so please, keep wearing your mask on mass transit and get vaccinated when you can.

Sarah Feinberg is interim MTA New York City Transit president.

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