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Mother’s fatal fall exposes the shame of the NYC subway

People around the world were heartbroken when a young mom died falling down the stairs of a Manhattan subway station. But New Yorkers with small children or disabilities were hardly shocked.

New York is an elevator town. But NYC ranks dead last of all major cities for disability access in its public transit system, namely the lack of elevators at subway stations. Maylasia Goodson died because she had little choice but to carry her infant’s stroller down the subway stairs.

Lack of subway elevator led to a deadly accident

New York’s subway system is one of the largest and most efficient at connecting people and places. Unless those people need an elevator to access the train. While Washington, D.C.’s subway system is approaching 100 percent accessibility, New York is still hovering around 25 percent. In some parts of the city, residents are 10 stops away from a handicapped-accessible platform.

When Maylasia Goodson got to the station at Seventh Avenue and 53rd Street, she did what many parents are forced to do every day. She picked up her child in the stroller and started down the stairs. Slipped? Pushed? Medical emergency? Moot questions if she’d simply had the option of an elevator button.

The subway accessibility situation is inexcusable

In 2017, Disability Rights Advocates filed dual lawsuits against the Metropolitan Transit Authority, alleging that the MTA is woefully out of compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act:

  • Only one-fourth of New York’s 472 subway stations have elevators. It is a huge hardship for people in wheelchairs, parents with strollers and others with mobility issues to get to the platform. The city’s own comptroller says that more than 200,000 residents with disabilities lack an accessible station in their neighborhood. That doesn’t count another half-million seniors and young children in those neighborhoods.

    The alternatives are to (a) wheel many blocks to the nearest station that has an elevator or (b) to summon Access-A-Ride or Uber, which are painfully slow and unreliable.
  • The few subway station elevators are constantly broken. The class action lawsuit says the MTA also fails miserably to service its elevators. One survey revealed that the average subway elevator is out of order 53 times a year. Another survey said on any given day about 25 elevators break down and it takes on average four hours to get them running again.

    People who depend on those scarce elevators are either stuck for hours when they malfunction or rely on the kindness of strangers to carry them up or down the stairs.

Property owners are responsible for elevator access and safety

The ADA requires property owners to make reasonable accommodations to make their buildings and grounds handicapped-accessible. This includes not only installing elevators or wheelchair ramps, but regular maintenance and inspection.

Private and public property owners, including the City of New York and the MTA, are liable for failing to comply with the ADA, and for injuries resulting from malfunctioning or unsafe elevators. However, any lawsuit against a government entity is subject to a 90-day notice of filing. Failing to give notice prior to the deadline nullifies the right to sue.

The MTA has a five-year plan to upgrade at least 50 subway stations so that no resident is more than two stops from an accessible platform. It’s a start, but it’s not nearly enough. Hopefully, the Maylasia Goodson tragedy -- and the voices of parents and people with disabilities -- will spur a greater commitment to bring all of NYC’s transit system into the 21st century.

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