A cold, wet afternoon didn’t seem to bother the animated group that gathered in front of the 149 Street/Grand Concourse Ave. subway station on Dec. 10, to celebrate. Some 40 people applauded the results of a three-year campaign to pressure the MTA to replace the elevator at the Bronx’s fourth busiest station.
“The victories are very few and far, but this is one we could say we accomplished,” said an emotional Julio Munoz, president of grassroots group, the South Bronx Community Congress. The group held multiple rallies, spoke out at public hearings, recruited Hostos Community College students to circulate petitions and met with elected Transit Authority officials to keep the pressure on.
The MTA recently announced it will allocate $45 million from its 2016 Capital Budget to replace the old elevator, and build a new one on the east side of the Concourse.
When the station opened in July 1905, it was the Bronx’s first, and helped mark the first time the subway rode under the Harlem River.
The Mott Ave. Station, as it was called—the original mosaic-tiled sign is still visible in front of the Hostos Community College campus—was serviced by two elevators, each able to hold up to 20 people at a time. At 50 feet below street level, the elevators were state-of-the-art at the time, but they were shut down 40 years ago and never reopened.
Three years ago, a group of seniors from the nearby Michelangelo Apartments approached Mott Haven activist and one-time State Assembly candidate, Maximino Rivera, asking for his help persuading the MTA to reopen it. Rivera and his fellow activists with the Community Congress saw the cause as an important one and took it on.
For Roberto Williams, 50, who works as a College Assistant at Hostos, his alma mater, the news is overdue. Williams, who has lived nearby since 1993, uses a mobility scooter and rides the bus to work.
“Finally I’m going to be able to use the subway here, after all these years,” he said.
The New York City subway system is by far the largest in the nation. According to data provided by the US Dept. of Transportation, it’s also the least accessible for handicapped riders. Only about 20 percent of the 469 working stations are fully accessible. Chicago’s system, the nation’s second largest system, is almost 70 percent accessible. Washington DC and San Francisco, the third and fifth largest systems, respectively, are fully accessible.
Twenty-five years ago, Congress passed the Americans with Disability Act to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities. The new law called on the MTA to make 100 “key stations” accessible by 2020, and allocate 20 percent of its budget to enhance accessibility. According to the MTA’s Office of ADA Compliance, 84 of those projects have been completed.
The MTA says it will begin design work on the elevators in 2016, and expects to have them up and running by 2018.