A young mother carrying a baby and stroller died after falling down NYC’s subway stairs. Accessibility advocates took to the streets to say MTA needs more elevators.
On a Manhattan sidewalk on Wednesday, about 30 protesters gathered in silence, holding white tulips. They laid the blooms outside the 7th Avenue subway station, to mark the death of Malaysia Goodson, the 22-year-old mother who was killed on Monday evening falling down the station stairs. She was carrying a stroller and holding her 1-year-old daughter, who survived the fall. The station does not have an elevator, and only has escalators going upwards.
Organized by Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID) and Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY (CIDNY), the rally took aim at a glaring, systemic issue on the New York City subway: the lack of adequate elevators in the mass transit system. Only 24 percent of the subway’s 472 stations are accessible via an elevator, according to a report by the City Comptroller’s Office. Half of the city’s subway-served neighborhoods qualify as “ADA transit deserts,” meaning they lack a single station that someone using wheels could easily use. Nearly 640,000 New Yorkers are dependent on these inaccessible stations.
“[The subway] needs elevators for those of us with disabilities, who use wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, or canes, or are simply too fatigued or too disabled to climb up and down the stairs,” Susan Dooha, executive director of CIDNY, told the crowd. “If we had these elevators, mothers and children in strollers would not have to be climbing up and down the stairs, risking their own lives and the lives of their children.”
Even when stations have elevators, they’re often out of service; each elevator breaks down an average of 53 times per year. These outages often last overnight, spanning days or even weeks, according to Sarah Kaufman, associate director at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation and Policy Management.
In 2015, the Rudin Center mapped every single elevator and escalator outage, and found nearly 40,000 in total. Escalator outages are planned for preventative maintenance or cleaning about 70 percent of the time, but elevators, which are much more vital to accessibility, have more sporadic outages. Often, passengers aren’t aware of outages until they arrive at the station and it’s too late. The MTA’s website has a section to check escalator and elevator outages, but even if passengers check ahead of time, outages can still happen by the time they arrive.
The worst-performing station is the 168th Street-Washington Heights stop, which racked up more than 750 elevator outages in 2015 alone. Eight of the top 10 stations with the most elevator outages are in Manhattan (mostly in Washington Heights), the other two in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Some affected stations garner huge traffic in key city centers: Grand Central Station’s annual ridership of 47 million faced more than 380 elevator outages that year.
New Yorkers who rely on these elevators don’t have many options outside of the subway. Buses require that parents fold up strollers before entering the bus and remain folded for the entire trip, a difficult feat for anyone trying to juggle a heavy stroller and a baby while keeping a hand free to swipe a MetroCard or hold onto a rail. Those with wheelchairs can use door-to-door Access-A-Ride, but rides must be scheduled 24 hours in advance, and trips are often extremely late and lengthy.
The MTA is facing a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act for failing to include more accessible stations during recent construction. In a statement, MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek called Goodson’s death “a heartbreaking tragedy” and pointed to the agency’s “Fast Forward” plan from 2018. It proposes to build at least 50 accessible stations within five years, so riders are no more than two stops away from a station with an elevator. But construction is lengthy, and two stops is still far to travel.
At the rally, organizers held a moment of silence, and called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to make a change.
“If we had these elevators, mothers and children in strollers would not have to be climbing up and down the stairs, risking their own lives and the lives of their children,” Dooha said. “There was no need for her to die in that way.”