By Bill Parry
As fencing went up around the 36th and 30th Avenue N/W subway stations in Astoria Monday, the MTA began the first day of an eight-month shutdown for a $150 million four station overhaul. Outraged elected officials joined accessibility advocates and railed against the project.
The state-controlled agency will make structural repairs to the mezzanines and platforms and install new turnstiles, digital screens, LED lights and staircases. But there are no plans for elevators, a move which ignores disabled riders, families with strollers, travelers with luggage and seniors.
“There are few examples of the MTA’s misplaced priorities as glaring as its Enhanced Station Initiative,” state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. “At a time when we face a crisis of subway reliability and accessibility, the MTA chooses to spend hundreds of millions of precious dollars on cosmetic improvements that will do nothing to improve subway service or access ability. Even worse, the MTA recently diverted over $1 billion from signal fixes and new subway cars to pay for this initiative. While it will be more pleasant for subway riders to stare at more beautiful stations while they wait longer and longer for delayed trains, the MTA’s inattention to the larger problem is bordering on scandalous.”
There are currently no subway stations with elevators in the neighborhood, with the only accessible stations nearby an F line stop in Queensbridge and the 7 train stop at 61st Street in Woodside.
“For us, the subway has always been in a state of emergency,” TransitCenter Program Director Chris Pangilinan said from his wheelchair. “This would have been the perfect opportunity to add elevators to help people with disabilities gain access, but in his infinite wisdom, the governor decided against it. Instead he’s shutting down these subway stations for WiFi and artwork.”
City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) was incredulous.
“They’re spending $150 million on these renovations to give us WiFi? These stations are above ground,” he said. “The cry has been consistent since before I was in office. We need elevators.”
The MTA said adding accessibility to a subway system that is 113 years old in which almost all stations were built without regard to accessibility is very time-consuming and costly. In some stations, the agency pointed out it is physically impossible to install ADA-compliant elevators without complete reconstruction and track realignment, due to station layout and structural issues like platform clearance.
“Increasing accessibility is a priority for the MTA and elevators are being added where possible through the ‘Key Stations’ plan to make 100 major stations accessible via the MTA capital plan,” MTA spokesman Shams Tarek said. “In Astoria, new elevators will be added to the Astoria Boulevard station, and the MTA’s fully accessible bus fleet provides strong service across the neighborhood, including connections to accessible stations nearby.”
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) called for reform at the MTA while Gianaris set his sights higher.
“The MTA is a state agency and next year is a state election so people better start listening,” he said.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr