Goodson died in the crowded Seventh Avenue station, a hub that connects Midtown to the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, Pearlstein says. As with roughly three-fourths of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s nearly 500 subway stations, the Seventh Avenue stop lacks an elevator. Meanwhile, many of the elevators that do exist are dysfunctional, or otherwise suffer from conditions—from cramped spaces to inconvenient locations—that discourage people from using them, according to The New York Times. A survey conducted by NYU professors including the transportation scholar Sarah Kaufman found that each of New York City’s existing subway elevators breaks down 53 times a year on average.
Read: The transportation barrier
In response to Monday’s accident, multiple city officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, lamented the circumstances and called for reform. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has partial authority over the MTA and controls much of its funding, also condemned the accident: “We 100 percent believe increased accessibility must be a priority, which is why the Governor has proposed a congestion pricing plan to provide billions of dollars in necessary capital funding to the MTA,” Patrick Muncie, a spokesman for Cuomo, told me in an emailed statement.
The MTA’s limited accessibility is the subject of a pending lawsuit, whose plaintiffs include a group of disability-rights organizations and the Justice Department; the suit contends that the MTA is in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA, the federal civil-rights law passed nearly three decades ago that prohibits discrimination based on a disability. The ADA requires that public facilities provide “reasonable accommodations” for individuals with a physical or mental condition that “substantially limits one or more major life activities.”
Monday’s accident, however, showed that the problem of accessibility extends beyond ADA violations. The incident sparked a flurry of visceral reactions from fellow moms and dads who, like most New Yorkers and many residents of other large U.S. cities, use public transit nearly every day. “EVERY New York City parent has experienced having to carry a stroller by themselves into the subway because of the appalling lack of elevators,” tweeted the New York Times journalist Dana Goldstein. In an email, Amanda Freeman, a sociologist at the University of Hartford who studies gender and poverty, observed that when she was a single mother of a baby, passers-by often offered help to pregnant women, but they were less inclined to support those “toting crying, wiggling, screaming babies on the subway.”
Pearlstein, of Riders Alliance, recalled a recent experience when, after celebrating his daughter’s 13-month birthday with family in Brooklyn, he found himself struggling to carry his baby and her stroller up the Seventh Avenue station’s numerous flights of stairs. As one of the MTA’s relatively new stations (it opened in the early 1930s), the Seventh Avenue stop is built almost like a Jenga tower: The platform for trains heading uptown is at the lowest level, Pearlstein told me, while the level for trains heading in the opposite direction sits just above that; on top of the downtown level is the platform where riders enter via turnstiles, which connects, after another flight of stairs, to the street.