Tag Archive | "transportation"

Despite years of reform, NYC subways remain inaccessible

A man in a full-length leg cast and crutches about to make his way up two flights of stairs at the Mt. Eden Ave. station.

On a Wednesday afternoon, a woman wearing glasses and holding a cane struggled up the steps of the elevated Morris Heights Mt. Eden Ave. 4 train platform. Just ahead was her 9-year-old daughter, who heaved a huge empty metal shopping cart slowly up each step. Sweat rolled down her face.

“Come on!” the daughter shouted to herself.

Both Marisol Rivera and her daughter stopped frequently for breaths.

This is the daily reality of getting to and from the station, which has no elevator, for Rivera.

This isn’t the only station where  disabled residents of the Bronx struggle. Of the 14 subway stops on the 4 train line running through the borough, only two are accessible by wheelchair, according to a Metro Transit Authority (MTA) subway map

Rivera, who suffered a bad fall on slippery stairs back in 2005, has since endured long-lasting pain in her lower back, hip and legs. She relies on a walking cane to support herself.

Her child assists with carrying items like a grocery cart up the dozens of steps. But she only has the strength to lift it, empty, upwards. On their way down, when the cart is full, Rivera has to lower it herself, she said.

A lack of elevators poses a problem for mothers with babies, too. Laurie Hernandez, 22, explained whenever her mother takes the train with her baby, she meets her at the station to help carry the stroller, sometimes multiple times a day. 

Leonara Delmoral, 57, is a transplant patient who relies on a walking cane. In the 20 years she has lived in her neighborhood, Mt. Eden Ave. and other stations in the Bronx have not been accessible.

“It’s not fair. It’s two flights going up to the third floor, and then when you get in, you gotta walk upstairs, too… If you’re in a wheelchair or walker, it’s very hard,” she said. 

As of last Friday, the MTA listed 35 stations as having at least one elevator or escalator out of service. Two stations had their only elevators out of service. 

Last year, the city approved rezoning plans that are expected to increase the population of University Heights, according to the area’s community board spokesperson Remi Bola. According to Bola, University Heights’s Community Board 5 has redoubled pressure on the MTA since then, as well as the Department of Transportation (DOT) and local elected officials to add elevators at Burnside Ave. on the 4 line. But the DOT, which is in charge of issuing permits related to construction affecting sidewalks state-wide, denied the request to install elevators at Burnside Ave.

“That proposal–they did not even let it see the light of the day,” Bola said. “We need infrastructure to be able to support [the rising population].”

Assemblyman Pichardo, of District 86, works with Rider’s Alliance, a nonprofit organization that lobbies for better transportation and riders’ rights, to increase community engagement and government awareness. 

“Transportation and wheelchair accessibility is a huge problem in the Bronx, especially on the 4 line,” he wrote in a statement. “It makes it nearly impossible for handicapped individuals to have proper access.”

While Pichardo is not aware of any current legislative proposals in the Assembly aimed at resolving the issue, he said he is open to them.

As alternative handicap transportation, the MTA offers its private cab service, Access-A-Ride. But it requires ordering a day in advance, providing specific times and locations and is slower than a train.

Delmoral said she never applied for Access-A-Ride because she’d seen first-hand, the extreme wait times while working at a private doctor’s office in Manhattan.

“In my experience with Access-A-Ride, you’ll be stuck there waiting the whole day,” she said. 

As soon as a patient was dropped off at her office by the service, Delmoral knew to call Access-A-Ride immediately to schedule the patient’s ride home. But even then, the patient would be seen by the doctor well before the service arrived to take them home, according to Delmoral.

Last spring, MTA President Andy Byford launched an initiative called Fast Forward, which featured proposals ranging from redesigning bus routes to improving station access. New York’s transit system is the largest in North America. However, only a quarter of its 472 stations are wheelchair accessible. The MTA released a proposal on Monday with plans to install new elevators or escalators at up to 66 stations within the next five years.

But for Rivera, Delmoral and others like them, the planned changes can’t come soon enough. In the meantime, they must resort to what little is available. 

“We do what we got to do,” Rivera said. 

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Former Featured, Southern BronxComments (0)

City Seeks Bronx Residents’ Views on Greenways

Cyclists get ready to survey the Bronx. (Sonia Paul/ The Bronx Ink)

Groups of cyclists aren’t a common sight in the South Bronx, especially on a blistering, late-summer day.

But on Aug. 26, community advocates from the Bronx River Alliance, Transportation Alternatives, Bronx Health Reach and other local organizations gathered on the corner of Whitlock Avenue and Westchester Avenue with helmets on their heads and their bicycles by their sides.

Their mission was to document the conditions on the roads linking Hunts Point Riverside Park, Concrete Plant Park and the soon-to-be-opened Starlight Park. For years, these groups have been asking the city’s Departments of Transportation and City Planning to improve the greenways within the parks. Now, city officials finally seem to be paying attention — and in an ongoing series of meetings, they’ve been asking the community firsthand what they want for the greenways.

Concrete Plant Park has been open to the public since 2009, and Hunts Point Riverside Park since 2007, but the community groups say both parks need upgrading.

View Current Conditions on the Bronx River Greenways in a larger map

“A part of the issue is that the on-street connections haven’t been properly connected,” said Devona Sharpe, greenway coordinator for the Bronx River Alliance. “And the condition of the street itself, it’s not inviting to users.”

The most direct path connecting the three different parks follows a north-south route along the Bronx River, with a U-turn around the busy Bruckner Expressway. From Hunts Point Riverside Park to Starlight Park, pedestrians and cyclists have to navigate through difficult terrain simply to get from one street to the next, as well as from one park to the next. Tree roots pushing through cracked sidewalks, shards of glass on the road and nonexistent bike lanes are just some of the physical barriers on the roads.

Though greenways exist inside the parks, they don’t fit into the grander scheme of urban planning in the area, said Linda R. Cox, executive director and Bronx River administrator of the Bronx River Alliance, at a community meeting on Sept. 6, after the cyclists documented the conditions on the roads.

“The greenway isn’t just about the parks,” she said at the meeting. “It really is about what we do on the streets.”

Staffers from the city’s Department of Transportation were also present to show their plans for the greenway and take comments and suggestions. According to Scott Gastell, spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, city planners have been working on a greenway proposal for the past three years. Their priority is to make the greenway more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists, but they must consider the large number of vehicles that cross the area every day.

Figuring out how to negotiate access for pedestrians and cyclists is a growing issue in the Bronx, where vehicles dominate the roads. In 2010, 169,550 vehicles traveled daily in both directions on the Sheridan Expressway, according to traffic volume reports from the state Department of Transportation. The number of vehicles passing through Westchester Avenue the same year was 108,770. To get to Starlight Park, which is scheduled to open this fall, residents and visitors must navigate both roads.

At the Sept. 6 meeting, representatives from the Department of Transportation said they are planning to visit local community boards in the next couple of months to gather more opinions on their greenway proposal before they submit it for official city approval.

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Southern Bronx, TransportationComments (0)

Feds seek to solve impasse over Bronx bridge, NY Daily News

A Bronx bridge project, which has languished for years due to a legal fight between Amtrak and New York State’s Department of Transportation, could finally become a reality,  thanks to the intervention of the federal government.

According to the NY Daily News, the bridge over an Amtrak rail line will eventually connect two new waterfront parks located in Hunts Point and West Farms Square. It will serve pedestrians and cyclists in the area.

Rep. Jose Serrano (D-South Bronx) asked the the U.S. Department of the Interior to broker a meeting between the state transportation office and Amtrak, which has reportedly refused to cooperate with the project, now costing taxpayers $150 million.

Posted in NewswireComments (0)

MTA Pulls Ticket Agents from Subway Stations

Bars of steel cover this ticket desk in East Tremont

Bars of steel cover this ticket desk in East Tremont. Photo by Fred Dreier

by Fred Dreier

Inside the cavernous north entrance to the 174-175th Street subway station, an emergency-door alarm blares, a ticket machine is jammed and two men walk in and jump the barriers with ease. The station’s ticket booth, which used to house two station agents, is barred  and empty, blindly facing the turnstiles it once patrolled.

It’s a different scene at the south entrance to the station, which is not connected but serves the same B and D metro lines in the Morris Heights neighborhood. Customers queue up to functioning ticket machines. An MTA station agent, who asked to be identified only as “Joshua,” mans the booth and flips off the alarm when customers open the emergency door.

“If people see you, most of the time they are not going to jump over the barrier,” Joshua said.

The 174-175th Street stop is one of eight in the Bronx to lose its station agent in the latest round of cost cuts done by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. On Sept. 20, the MTA trimmed 99 of the positions — called Station Customer Assistants — from 86 stations spread throughout the city’s five boroughs. It was the first wave of slices in a long-range plan to replace 772 positions with automated ticket selling machines by the middle of 2010.

According to spokesman Charles Seaton, the MTA cut personnel from lesser-used stations. The 174-175th Street station had 1.5 million visits in 2008, making it the 285th busiest out of the city’s 421 stations. In contrast, the city’s busiest station, 42nd Street-Times Square, saw more than 60 million riders year.

“Station Customer Assistant jobs are being cut because they do not sell fares,” Seaton wrote in an email. “The integration into the system of high-entry turnstiles, MetroCard vending machines and express machines has actually increased station access.”

Seaton said the agents themselves would not lose their jobs, but would be reassigned to other MTA jobs. Station agent positions, Seaton said, will gradually be phased out over the coming years.

But replacing human beings with machines isn’t a step in the right direction, says Dave Katzman, a spokesman for the Transportation Worker’s Union Local-100. Katzman added that the plan will actually cost the MTA more money than it saves.

“If the kiosks are dismantled, there will be additional costs,” Katzman said. “Despite the claim to be savings driven, this approach is ideological.”

The MTA cuts come despite a recent subway fare increase and a $2.3 billion emergency bailout from the New York State government in May. But the MTA faces falling revenues and $26.8 billion in debt, and Seaton said the cuts are needed for the agency to simply balance its 2009 budget.

Not all customers are feeling safe with the new changes. Dave Cisneros is a part-time cameraman whose apartment building is 100 yards from the 174-175th Street station. Cisneros said he does not enter the station at night.

“It’s just a big empty corridor down there and you’re a sitting duck,” Cisneros said. “People get robbed around here; it happens. When you see someone inside the subway, you feel safer.”

Delia Madera, 19, said the station agents provide a basic level of support when the ticket machines break down or the turnstiles malfunction.

“I see it as more of an annoyance,” Madera said. “If I’m in a hurry, maybe I won’t take the subway.”

The loss of agents also affects how law enforcement patrols the subway. Sgt. Tim Casey works with the New York Police Department’s transit district, which is located inside the 161st Street-Yankee Stadium subway station. The precinct patrols the subway system in the Bronx with officers in uniform and plain clothes.

Casey called the station agents the “eyes and ears” for the transit cops.

“We have a huge problem of theft in the stations, with people swiping MetroCards,” Casey said. “When station agents are there it is down to a minimum because they shoo the thieves away.”

Casey said his precinct had not drawn up a strategy for operating without the agents at select subway stops, but said that they will be missed.

“The overall picture doesn’t look good, Casey said. “It’s going to rear its ugly little head later on. When you replace people with machines, it doesn’t always work.”

The agents also manage problems with the ticket machines. Joshua said that with the closure of the ticket booth at the north entrance, he now receives constant intercom calls from customers complaining about broken ticket machines or jammed turnstiles. He or a coworker must walk over to the other entrance to fix the problems.

His repair work only lasts for so long. After a few hours of traffic, he said, the south entrance is usually back to its dysfunctional state.

“It does not make sense,” Joshua said. “It is now the customer who is at risk.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, CrimeComments (1)