Home Paratransit Disabled riders file suit against Dyckman St. rehab

Disabled riders file suit against Dyckman St. rehab

by Benjamin Kabak

A rendering of the refurbished Dyckman Street station.

When the MTA announced in July that they would be spending $45 million on the Dyckman Street station rehabilitation, the project drew the attention of disabled advocates because the plans did not include ADA upgrades. Now, these groups are filing suit. In a complaint filed earlier this week in federal court, the United Spinal Association charges the MTA with ADA violations and has requested an injunction halting the Dyckman Street work until it complies with federal law.

“If the MTA is not required to make the Dyckman Street Station accessible, it is unlikely that the people with disabilities will ever be able to use the station because once this major renovation is complete, no project of this scope is likely to be undertaken at the Dyckman Street Station for decades,” the complaint says.

The battle over this station first came up over the summer when Transit officials responded to complaints from disabled groups about the scope of the work. The MTA said that they didn’t have the money to install elevators or ramps at Dyckman St. and weren’t required by law to do so. At the time, they claimed that the station “does not fit the criteria for a key station” and is not on the list of 100 “key stations” to become ADA-compliant by 2020. The stop, Transit spokesperson Deirdre Parker said in July, is “not a terminal point, is not a transfer point to other bus or subway lines, is not near any major activity centers and ranks 185th out of 422 stations in ridership.”

The United Spinal Association disputes these claims. They say that even if Dyckman St. cannot be made fully accessible right now, the Americans with Disabilities Act still requires the MTA to spend 20 percent of the project budget on what they term access improvements. “By making incremental improvements to accessibility now,” the complaint says, “even great accessibility can be achieved when future projects are considered at the…station.”

Despite the United Spinal Association’s focus on the Dyckman St. rehab, their complaint touches upon issues more serious than that and stems from what many disabled riders believe is institutional neglect on the part of the MTA. When Congress enacted the ADA — an unfunded federal mandate — the New York Senate delegation, federal regulators and the MTA worked out a compromise. The authority signed a consent decree to make 100 key stations fully ADA accessible by 2020. So far, they’ve completed 73 key stations and 16 non-key stations.

Yet, advocates for disabled riders say this isn’t enough. “It is an absolute disgrace that twenty years after the ADA was passed, more than 80% of the subway stations in New York are inaccessible,” Julia Pinover, a lawyer with the Disability Rights Advocates who is representing the United Spinal Association in its case, said.

The MTA does not comment on lawsuits in progress, but in the past, the authority has spoken about issues of cost. The ADA is, as I mentioned, an unfunded federal law. Congress has required state and state entities to pay for these costly upgrades but has not provided federal dollars for the projects. When the MTA upgrades a station, it must include more money than it would to ensure compliance with the ADA. Even though the authority says it doesn’t have the money for upgrades to Dyckman St., the complaint — embedded below — makes a strong case for the plaintiffs.

In related news, the MTA plans to cut back Paratransit service to the minimum required by law. The service costs $470 million a year, and by eliminated some door-to-door service and cutting the driver rolls, Jay Walder believes he can save up to $80 million annually.

Advocates too are up in arms, but again, they recognize that the MTA’s fiscal problems are a high barrier. Still, they want the authority to do more. “The Americans With Disabilities Act,” Mike Godino of the Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled said to New York 1, “should be viewed as a floor, not a ceiling, to accesibility.”

After the jump, a copy of the complaint filed in United Spinal Association v. MTA.

Filed Dyckman Complaint

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Aaron October 15, 2010 - 2:06 am

The exemption to the ADA allows the MTA to take a lot longer than normally required under the ADA to do station renovation. Aside from the key station requirement and the negotiated number you described above (they interrelate), MTA is not obligated to do anything with small stations that it doesn’t modify.

New construction isn’t exempted from the ADA, and I think what they’re arguing about here is that substantial renovation in general also triggers a requirement that something be made accessible. It’s basically that the drafters of the ADA endeavored to avoid a situation where someone could take a building apart and put it back together, but say “it’s not new construction, we didn’t have to make it accessible.” I’m oversimplifying and the exact law is summarized nicely in the complaint, but unless the allocation of expenditures is far more complex than presented, the MTA has problems here.

As a logistical matter, I’m not quite clear why they didn’t on their own accord include accessibility in a refurbish of this extensive scope and cost – installing an elevator is a little more complicated than changing a tire and it’s a hell of a lot easier to do when the station is already shut down or under construction – the place is already torn up and paths of travel are already obstructed, may as well do it all once.

SEAN October 15, 2010 - 10:37 am

Based on what I read on the ADA, you are correct. This is a complete rehab is it not? If it is a total rehab job, then elevators & other elements such as tactile worning strips, autogates & signage are required.

The MTA is going to end up in serious legal trouble. The DOJ are going to ask you made other stations accessable, so why not this one. If the MTA’s responce is we cant aford it, that’s not going to fly with the DOJ.

SEAN October 15, 2010 - 10:39 am

That should read The DOJ is going to ask…

Nathanael October 16, 2010 - 6:07 pm

You’re correct, Aaron.

I’d like to criticize the author of this article for failing to do the research. There’s too much he-said-she-said and not enough facts. Thank you, Aaron, for putting the facts in.

Example of bad reporting:

The United Spinal Association disputes these claims. They say that even if Dyckman St. cannot be made fully accessible right now, the Americans with Disabilities Act still requires the MTA to spend 20 percent of the project budget on what they term access improvements. “

The fact is that United Spinal is simply correct on this point, and a very small amount of research would have shown this to the article author.

For further information, when it’s not issuing misleading press releases, the MTA is actually making several claims to try to avoid the ADA new-construction requirements:
(1) $9 million dollars isn’t enough to make access improvements. (But the MTA didn’t consider ramps, so how do they know?)
(2) This isn’t really major new construction. (A laughable claim.)
(3) The MTA can consider each station separately when figuring the 20%, even when rehabbing a dozen stations at once, and reject elevators at each of them based on that, even if 20% of the total budget would have allowed for elevators at SOME of the stations. (This one might actually hold up in court, though I consider it fundamentally dishonest and against the intentions of the ADA.)

Nathanael October 16, 2010 - 6:25 pm

It is worth noting regarding “cost” arguments: if the MTA (or any other agency, this isn’t MTA-specific) doesn’t upgrade or do a major rehab to a non-key station, they are *never* required to make it accessible. Except for key stations (and Amtrak, oddly) there is no general requirement to upgrade. The ADA requirements are triggered by major construction.

So if they want to save money, they can just choose not to rebuild Dyckman St. Just keep doing routine maintenance. If they *do* choose to do giant shut-down-and-reconstruct projects, then like everyone else, they are supposed to devote approximately 20% to accessibility, and they’re also legally obliged to prioritize wheelchair access. Even if 20% isn’t enough to provide wheelchair access, they’re required to spend 20% providing as much wheelchair access as possible so as to make it cheaper to provide wheelchair access in the future — the regulations are actually much more specific and finicky than my description, but that’s the gist of them.

JoshKarpoff October 15, 2010 - 3:01 am

When I was doing engineering work for NY State, I was always told by supervisors that a major renovation is any project that works on more than 40% of the building. This, I was told, is why the state would rather leave the beautiful old State Psych Hospitals to rot, rather than try to re-purpose them: just doing the basic lead paint and asbestos abatements would mean that it was over a 40% renovation and thus EVERYTHING would have to come up to code. So even though we have a serious problem with homelessness among veterans, these giant, historic, tranquil, soothing buildings are left to rot.

So it does surprise me that the MTA somehow feels that doing a full rehab on the entire station, means that they don’t have to bring the facility up to all modern code requirements. I agree with the plaintiffs in this particular suit: if it isn’t done now, it probably won’t get done for many, many decades. If our mass transit system were truly ADA compliant, then the MTA wouldn’t have to provide costly para-transit services to disabled customers (or at least not nearly as much). On top of the fact that elevators are really convenient for even those of us who aren’t officially disabled. I injured my knee at one point and while I could walk around with a limp, stairs were a major problem. Elevators made my life significantly easier. This sort of a project is really one of those instances where Albany needs to step up and allocate the funding.

Nathanael October 16, 2010 - 6:18 pm

Transport for London takes the view that elevators and ramps are an enhancement for everyone, to be enjoyed by the disabled, the temporarily disabled, and people with strollers. Every new elevator gets advertised this way.

In contrast, New York’s MTA doesn’t seem to know how to make lemonade out of the ADA requirements.

Nathanael October 16, 2010 - 6:28 pm

You know, it doesn’t cost THAT much to bring a building up to code, even including ADA. And the most expensive part *is* toxics abatement, unless there’s a major structural fire code issue (in which case there is a good argument for knocking the buildings down).

The old state psych hospitals generally already *have* elevators. They’re old enough to have the wiring in conduit. A few entrance ramps and a rewiring, sprinklers if necessary, added to the asbestos removal, lead removal, and repainting, and you have yourself an up-to-code building, surely? More expensive than new build, but not THAT much.

Scott E October 15, 2010 - 8:12 am

Just wondering… were these 100 key locations chosen based on overall ridership, number of Access-A-Ride calls to the neighborhoods they serve, or on ease and feasibility of retrofitting these stations? It makes a difference.

Sharon October 15, 2010 - 9:49 pm

AAR was not a consideration when the list was put together. NYC not the mta operated aar at the time.

The cost benefits of the policy should be reviewed especially for outdoor station where it is far less expensive to install elevators

Nathanael October 16, 2010 - 6:16 pm

The list was chosen by negotiation (!) between disabilities groups at the time (the 1980s being the time), the MTA, the City, the State, and the Feds when the list was enlarged in the 1990s.

It’s a political list.

Joe October 15, 2010 - 9:09 am

From what I understand, the MTA could basically hire cabs for all its disabled riders for 100 years at the same price as upgrading all its stations to be ADA-compliant.

Nathanael October 16, 2010 - 6:15 pm

You understand wrong. For starters you haven’t figured in the disabled people who would be riders but give up in disgust at the MTA.

Also, “just hiring cabs” would be blatantly illegal. You haven’t figured in the problem that *cabs* in NYC aren’t accessible (contrast London); this is a fight United Spinal has been taking on. You haven’t figured in the fact that the legally MTA is required to provide *comparable* service, which means that the cabs aren’t allowed to get stuck in traffic (how much to build special “cab-only express” lanes and cab priority lights for interboro travel?)

Access-A-Ride is phenomenally expensive, *and is not actually complying with the ADA*. Every other city in the US (Chicago, Boston, Philly to give comparably old examples) has concluded that it’s much cheaper in the long run to just provide accessibility at every station.

There is a compromise solution which saves money quickly (rather than over the multi-decade timeframe of making the entire system accessible): once you get enough of the system accessible, say every interchange station and every fourth station on each line, then providing “shuttle service” between the non-accessible stations and the accessible ones can be arranged more cheaply than providing express cab rides all over NYC, and can be made time-competitive. Several cities provide their paratransit in this form (“only to and from nearest accessible station”) but NYC can’t because it’s got so few accessible stations (and will have absurdly few even when the “key stations” are finished).

BrooklynBus October 15, 2010 - 10:23 am

What’s the purpose of having 100 key stations if they are going to upgrade non-key stations as well before all 100 key stations are upgraded? Since some non-key stations have already been upgraded, I think the MTA just blew a hole in their argument that Dyckman Street is not a key station. It seems foolish to me for the MTA not to make this station accessible. It is in the upper 50% of utilized stations. Perhaps, the MTA is just trying to get someone else to help with the funding.

Signal Watcher October 17, 2010 - 10:19 pm

BrooklynBus, did you not consider that some, many, or all of the non-Key stations that were ADA upgraded were done so with private money as part of “renovate the nearby subway station and we’ll let you build a bigger building” type zoning deals?

JAR October 15, 2010 - 1:00 pm

I hope the Spinal Association wins. Two outdoor elevators, or two outdoor ramps: the MTA is not required by law to build the Hoover Dam here.

Dam it October 15, 2010 - 1:13 pm

But if they were, you can bet they’d try to find a way out of making it ADA, too…

Nathanael October 16, 2010 - 6:15 pm

Apparently the MTA did not even consider ramps.

Ramps tend to be cheaper than elevators.

Nathanael October 16, 2010 - 7:03 pm

For reference regarding the disgraceful situation at NYC Transit:

In Boston, with an even older system, key stations are long finished, and plans are in place to make practically every station accessible, as well as to add additional redundant and improved elevators to some of the stations. I believe Valley Road (very low ridership) and Boylston are the only non-surface stations which do not yet have accessibility plans in progress. Surface stations have pretty good coverage as well.

In Chicago, with another old system, they are also trying for complete accessibility. They already have 91 accessible stations (MORE than NYC’s 89 — that’s right, more in absolute numbers), which is 63% of the system.

Now, they did do a crappy job; the elevators keep breaking down (same in NYC, though) — and they made a major stupid failure to install automatic doors at supposedly accessible stations, but that’s pretty cheap to remedy.

But they’re *trying*. Future plans include making most of the rest of the stations accessible as part of a North Main Line (Red and Purple) rebuild, and *separate* City of Chicago plans to make all the subway stations accessible, plus some other individual station schemes. This would leave only a smattering stations without access, all non-rehabbed stations. The only rehab they’ve done without adding elevators is entirely privately funded by Apple and therefore probably exempt from the ADA.

Brian S. February 16, 2014 - 10:09 am

I know it’s extremely strange to reply to a thread that’s over 3 years old, but I wanted to clear up a major misconception regarding private entities and the ADA.

Apple was not exempt from the ADA in the renovation of North/Clybourn station in Chicago. Nearly the entire scope of the renovation was on the station house and a then-newly built plaza between the station house and the Apple store, using land formerly occupied by a bus turnaround loop. Platforms and the means of ingress/egress to them as far as I can tell just received a paint job. However, as far as I can tell, the station house itself is fully compliant.

The ADA, in all non-key station renovations, requires that 20% of the budget goes towards improving accessiblity features, unless less than 20% gets you full ADA compliance. Apple only spent $3 million on this renovation, meaning that $600,000 would have come up far short in the quest to make this rather complex station fully accessible. Heck, $3 million in accessibility improvements probably would have been short as well.

For the disabled, confronting an inaccessible system :: Second Ave. Sagas November 30, 2010 - 11:31 am

[…] fall, a group of advocates fighting for the rights of disabled New Yorkers made headlines when they filed suit against the MTA over plans for the Dyckman St. station rehab. The suit, which alleges an overall failure on the […]

Dyckman St. accessibility suit settled :: Second Ave. Sagas July 21, 2011 - 1:13 pm

[…] the stations on their original list of 100 for ADA compliance — the United Spinal Association filed suit to halt the project until it was deemed ADA-compliant. Today, the U.S.A. announced a settlement in […]

On Smith/9th Sts. and ADA compliance :: Second Ave. Sagas April 30, 2013 - 12:36 am

[…] as well. Disabled riders and their legal advocates are not shy about flexing their muscles. They successfully sued for ADA upgrades at Dyckman St., and the MTA’s settlement included promises of an elevator. […]


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