Older NYers to governor, lawmakers: Ensure MTA’S Fast Forward plan fully funds subway accessibility

New York should be a great city to age in: you don’t need to drive to get places. But because three quarters of subway stations are only accessible using stairs, New Yorkers find themselves increasingly immobile and isolated as they age.

To make New York’s transit system function for the city’s rapidly aging population, AARP joined transit advocates Friday, Feb. 22, to urge that the state legislature ensure that the MTA’s Fast Forward plan is funded sufficiently to meet its goal of adding elevators at 50 stations in the next five years and at every station in 15 years.

Only three of the 35 naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs) designated by the NYC Department for the Aging are within a quarter-mile walk of an accessible subway station, according to an analysis by TransitCenter.

More than half of non-drivers over 65 don’t leave home most days, partly because of a lack of transportation options.

Unless the state legislature fully funds the subway accessibility goals of the MTA’s Fast Forward plan, this is what all New Yorkers can look forward to as they grow older and subway stairs become increasingly difficult to climb.

“The writing is on the subway wall: fewer New Yorkers will be able to get where they need to go if the state doesn’t keep pace with our aging population and make sure everyone can actually access the subway,” said Chris Widelo, associate AARP state director for New York City. “Boston’s and Chicago’s transit systems are more than twice as accessible as ours. It’s time for the greatest city—and state—in America to step up for all of our residents.”

“It’s no secret our city is rapidly aging,” said Colin Wright, senior advocacy associate at TransitCenter. “The lack of accessible options for older riders is a worsening crisis. State lawmakers need to step in now. Funding Fast Forward is the only way current and future older New Yorkers will have an accessible subway they can rely on.”

AARP and TransitCenter also released a new video in which seniors discussed their daily struggles on the inaccessible MTA subway system and why the state should fund Fast Forward.

“Sometimes, I want into go to the city, but because of all of the subway stairs I have to go up and down, I say, ‘No, I’m not going,’” said Lorraine Assent, an AARP-NY member from East New York. “Sometimes I see senior citizens going shopping, and they come back and look at the stairs and turn around. Or you see people with canes, you know, trying to get up the stairs, and it really is hard. I would like to tell the state legislature that we should make stations accessible.”

Nearly a million people 65 and older live in the five boroughs––a number that’s projected to grow from 13 percent of the city’s population to 18 percent in the next two decades. Their transit options are limited––subway stations with stairways that are too taxing or buses that too often crawl along at walking speed.

The MTA’s Fast Forward plan promises to deliver a better transit system for older New Yorkers by rapidly expanding the construction of subway elevators and making bus service faster and reliable via improvements like citywide all-door boarding. It’s up to the state legislature to ensure that the plan is funded and that seniors get the transit system they deserve.

“I’m getting older and my knees can’t take me down the subway stairs much longer,” said Elaine Chen, an AARP-NY member from Jamaica, Queens. “At my station there is an elevator, but it’s difficult to use because it is in the worst condition that you can imagine. I would like [the MTA] to put in some clean elevators and escalators.”

“There are stairs and I’m glad I can use them,” said Kitty Ruderman, an AARP-NY member from Forest Hills, Queens. “I look at all of those people who can’t, and I feel grateful that I can still do it. I hope the city works with us, because I love my city, and I love what it has to offer, and I just really can’t picture being any place else.”

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (Northwest Bronx) said: “Our mass transit system is woefully inaccessible to a significant portion of our population, especially in the Northwest Bronx. It is shameful that important priority stations do not have a tangible timeline for full compliance with state and federal accessibility guidelines. Accessibility improvements at places like the Mosholu Parkway-Jerome Avenue station would go a long way toward rebuilding trust between the MTA and the riders who have waited for these changes for a very long time. We must fund NYCT President Byford’s Fast Forward plan beginning this year. Thank you to TransitCenter, AARP New York, and everyone who rallied in support of this essential goal.”

Danny Pearlstein, director of communications for the Riders Alliance, said: “New York’s seniors need congestion pricing. Congestion pricing will speed up buses, clean our air and make our streets safer. And it will do all of those things while paying for a reliable and accessible subway. After so much talk about seniors getting to the doctor and other appointments, our governor and legislature need to fund the transit system our seniors overwhelmingly depend on to get around. Congestion pricing is the fair, sustainable, and progressive way toward the transit system all New Yorkers and especially the seniors who built this city so heartily deserve.”

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein said: “For seniors, people with disabilities and people pushing infants around the city who live or work in my district, most have to walk a half a mile or more to reach an accessible subway station. And if for whatever reason that elevator is out, their options are slim. This is unacceptable. We must make our public transportation system work for all New Yorkers. Fully funding the Fast Forward plan is the answer to ensuring we make more stations accessible.”

“Nearly 30 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, New York City has the least accessible large subway system in the country. With less than one quarter of the subway network accessible, persons with disabilities and many older New Yorkers are told that a separate and unequal para transit system is their best option. We must implement the Fast Forward plan as soon as possible, and at long last we must make accessibility a top priority for transit planners,” said Assemblymember Richard N. Gottfried.

“It’s unconscionable that New Yorkers can live and work in this city their entire lives, and can build a home and a community here, and then they can’t use the subway as they age because our system is so intolerably inaccessible. A whopping three-quarters of our subways are inaccessible to people with disabilities, the elderly, people with strollers and many others. I join Transit Center, AARP New York and older New Yorkers in calling for funding for NYC Transit’s Fast Forward plan for an accessible subway system,” said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon.

“Every single New Yorker, regardless of age or ability, is entitled to an accessible public transit system that gets them where they’re going when they need to get there, not one that gets them close by or leaves them stranded. For too long, we’ve heard excuses about why the system can’t be made accessible—the work will be expensive, disruptive and time-consuming—but time is finally up. For too long, seniors, people with disabilities and pregnant individuals have been locked out of the system; it’s time we prioritize accessibility and fully fund and implement the Fast Forward plan,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan).