ASTORIA — Accessibility advocates and elected officials blasted the MTA Monday as the agency kicked off renovations at two local N/W subway stations, saying the $150 million project ignores the needs of disabled New Yorkers because the work doesn't include the installation of elevators.
The 30th Avenue and 36th Avenue stations will be shuttered for up to eight months for the work, the first of four stations on Astoria's N/W subway line getting completely overhauled under the MTA's "Enhanced Station Initiative."
But the project will not make the stations handicap-accessible, to the dismay of local leaders and disability advocates. There are currently no subway stations with elevators in Astoria, with the nearest accessible station being F train stop in Queensbridge or the 7 train stop in Woodside.
"For us, the subway has always been in a state of emergency, and these yearlong, multimillion dollar shutdowns are doing nothing to address that," said Chris Pangilinan, a program director for the transportation advocacy group TransitCenter, who uses a wheelchair himself.
"This would have been the perfect opportunity to add elevators," he said at a press conference outside the 36th Avenue station Monday. "This is unacceptable."
The "Enhanced Station" work that kicked off Monday will include structural repairs and renovated entrances, granite floors in the station mezzanines, digital information screens, train countdown clocks, glass-and-wire windscreens on train platforms and new staircases. New artwork, benches and trash cans will also be added.
MTA officials have said that the renovations will improve capacity and customer flow, though critics have scoffed that the pricey repairs are mainly aesthetic.
"Why are they spending hundreds of millions of dollars to put up art and beautify these stations instead of actually doing something productive with that money?" said state Sen. Michael Gianaris, who represents the area and has been pushing to reform the MTA.
City Councilman Costa Constantinides said locals have been calling for elevators on Astoria's subway line for years, long before he even took office.
The MTA is planning to install four elevators at the Astoria Boulevard station by 2020 —part of a separate project to make 100 "key stations" across the city ADA-accessible — but it isn't enough, Constantinides said.
"It’s a very small rock in a very large bucket," he said. "We need to reform the entire line and have elevators at every station."
Currently, 117 of the MTA's 472 subway stations are ADA-accessible. Adding elevators to the city's century-old stations is time-consuming and expensive, and some stations would require track realignment and other extensive work just to accommodate them, according to the MTA.
The agency's 2015-19 Capital Program includes $427 million to replace 42 elevators and 32 escalators, as well funding to make another 19 stations accessible.
"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 by 2020, as well as additional non-Key stations being made accessible in the next few years via the MTA capital plan," agency spokesman Shams Tarek said in a statement.
He also pointed out that the MTA's fleet of city buses are handicap-accessible, though activists said bus service isn't enough, especially since the subway is the main mode of transportation for New Yorkers.
"The buses themselves are slow," Pangilinan said. "It's not a substitute for the subway."
Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, a disability advocate who was partly paralyzed when he was struck by a falling tree branch in Central Park in 2009, said making the subways more accessible would improve transit for a number of New Yorkers, including parents with strollers.
"It's not just about wheelchairs," he said. "It will make the whole city work better. It will make the whole system work better."