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Advocates demand 'safe and accessible' subway system after mother's death

Malaysia Goodson's death after a fall at the Seventh Avenue station steps may be "related to a pre-existing medical condition," the medical examiner said.

Dustin Jones of East Harlem, a board member

Dustin Jones of East Harlem, a board member of the Center for the Independence of the Disabled New York, joins other activists as they place flowers and signs Wednesday at the Seventh Avenue subway station, where Malaysia Goodson suffered a fatal fall down stairs Monday night. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

The death of a 22-year-old woman who fell down the stairs of a midtown subway station with her young daughter appeared to be related to a pre-existing medical condition, the city’s medical examiner said on Wednesday evening.

Malaysia Goodson of Stamford, Connecticut, fell down the stairs of the elevator-free Seventh Avenue B/D/E station, at West 53rd Street, on Monday evening. She was with her 1-year-old daughter and a stroller when she fell, but police said Wednesday that investigators preliminarily did not believe the little girl was in the stroller at the time.

Goodson was found unconscious and was taken to Mt. Sinai West, where she was pronounced dead. Her daughter was not injured and had been reunited with family, police said.

“While the cause of death is pending in this case, we can state that there is no significant trauma, and this fatality appears to be related to a pre-existing medical condition,” Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson said in a statement on Wednesday.

A GoFundMe page saying it was set up for Goodson’s daughter, Rhylee, had raised more than $12,000 as of Wednesday evening. Nearly 400 people had pledged funds.

An ‘avoidable’ tragedy

The medical examiner’s determination came hours after advocates gathered at the Seventh Avenue subway station to call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to expand the number of elevators and accessible features to the entire subway system. Accessibility advocates laid flowers outside the entrance to the subway station where Goodson died, saying her death was a signal that it is past time for Cuomo and the MTA to increase elevator access in the notoriously inaccessible subway system.

“Make the subway safe and accessible — that’s the way to avoid avoidable tragedies like what happened to Malaysia Goodson on Monday night,” said Joe Rappaport, the executive director for the Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled.

The governor’s office said Wednesday that the adoption of congestion pricing would generate revenue to expand accessibility.

“We 100 percent believe increased accessibility must be a priority, which is why the governor has proposed a congestion pricing plan to provide billions of dollars in necessary capital funding to the MTA,” said Patrick Muncie, a spokesman for the governor, in a statement.

Only 118 stations, or about a quarter of the MTA’s subway system, are accessible via an elevator. There are about 200,000 mobility-impaired residents in the city as well as another 340,000 seniors and 200,000 children younger than 5, according to a recent report from the city comptroller’s office.

While the MTA has proposed a plan to dramatically increase station accessibility, advocates said the authority must enter a legally binding agreement to do so.

The MTA has for decades fought pressure to increase accessibility in its subways and has struggled to keep the elevators it does have in working order. When MTA Transit president Andy Byford arrived at the authority last year, he pledged to make accessibility a top priority and included a blueprint to add elevators to more than 50 stations in the first half of his 10-year modernization plan called Fast Forward. That plan, however, remains unfunded.

At the same time, the MTA is entangled in multiple accessibility-related lawsuits with advocacy groups and has been accused of violating the city’s Human Rights Law.

“If the MTA wants to assure the public that this matter will be addressed finally and forever, they would come and put that down on paper with precise details and a timetable and one that is enforceable by the courts,” said Susan Dooha, the executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York. “They would not leave the air filled with promises that may never be realized.”

MTA president Pat Foye said the accessibility portion of the authority’s Fast Forward plan will be included in its next capital plan, a five-year spending blueprint estimated to cost around $60 billion. The capital plan has not yet been formally announced or funded.

“There is zero doubt that we need to expedite delivery of an accessible subway, a critical commitment of the upcoming capital plan and a milestone that will be largely achieved once dedicated funding — through congestion pricing and funding from city and state partners — can be secured,” Foye said in a statement. “Over the course of five years we will ensure that no rider is further than two stations away from an accessible subway and the ultimate goal is to maximize system accessibility after 15 years.”

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, a wheelchair user and plaintiff in a lawsuit against the MTA, said the elevators are vital not just to those who are disabled but also to commuters with young children, the elderly as well as others traveling with large packages.

“Malaysia Goodson’s family is paying,” he added. “Everyone who has to haul a stroller up a staircase; haul a suitcase or delivery cart — those people are all paying. We’re all paying every day.”

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