By Amanda Glodowski
This story has been revised to reflect that the MTA Capital Plan has not been finalized and that the agency said it plans to renovate 22 as yet unannounced stations.
Sunnyside is home to zero wheelchair-accessible subway stations and residents with disabilities are waiting to see how the MTA’s new capital plan will accommodate their needs.
The MTA recently published its 2020-2024 Capital Plan, a $51.1 billion proposed investment that includes $5.1 billion to fund station renovations so that commuters are never more than two stops away from an elevator. Sunnyside’s four inaccessible subway stations are not yet included in the renovation plan, however.
The neighborhood is serviced only by the No.7 train, and while Court Square station in Long Island City is one of the nearest accessible stations, it only offers an elevator to the No.7 train — not the G, E or M trains. A commuter must then travel six stops — more than two miles — to reach the next accessible station on the No. 7 line at 61st Street in Woodside.
“It’s horrible to get anywhere. I feel like I live in another country. I live in Queens,” said Lisa Forsee, 57, a Queens resident with a permanent mobility disability.
To get to her various doctors’ appointments in Manhattan, Forsee said she must make her way four blocks to the nearest bus stop and take the Q103 to the 21st St-Queensbridge F train station, where there is an elevator. The detour adds at least 45 minutes to each of her commutes.
“And that’s if everything is running on time.” Forsee said. “It’s humiliating not to be able to take care of yourself and go where you need to go.”
The MTA in September announced the first 48 stations that will receive accessibility renovations. Four stations, all outside Queens, have been fast-tracked for completion in the existing 2015-2019 Capital Plan, “reaching the immediate goal of having nobody ever be more than two stops away from an accessible station,” said MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek.
The MTA will soon announce another 22 stations that will be made accessible.
“We look forward to taking input from advocates, public officials and our customers as we move forward to bring unprecedented accessibility to the subway system,” Tarek added.
Beach 67 Street, Briarwood, Broadway, Woodhaven Boulevard., Steinway Street and Rockaway Boulevard were the Queens stations that will receive elevators in the first round of renovations. Advocates say the accessibility issue is particularly acute in Sunnyside, however.
“The lack of accessible stations is extremely concerning, especially in Western Queens, which has a large proportion of families and a large proportion of elderly residents — all people who have a need for the convenience of public transit,” said Melissa Orlando, cofounder and executive director of Access Queens.
Sunnyside’s exclusion from the first round of renovations was not a surprise for Emily Steelenfreund, an attorney at Disabilities Rights Advocates.
“I think they have historically not taken into account the needs for the community,” Steelenfreund said. “They prioritize Wi-Fi and [a] fancy swiping system over people’s ability to just get on the train and live in the city like everyone else. It’s discrimination, plain and simple. It’s a lack of empathy, and a flagrant disregard for the law.”
Earlier this year, disability rights advocates filed a lawsuit against the MTA for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by renovating subway stations without installing elevators or other stair-free routes.
Accessibility renovations come with a hefty price tag of $5.5 billion across 70 stations, as noted in the Capital Plan. While the improvements will boost the subway station accessibility rate from 25 percent to around 40 percent, the subway will remain one of the least-accessible public transportation systems in the country. In contrast, 71 percent of Chicago’s rail stations are accessible, and Washington, D.C.’s Metro is fully accessible.
“Ideally, it would be that every station is accessible,” said Orlando. “It’s not enough, but it’s a step in the right direction.”