The New York subway system is dangerously inaccessible

Chambers Street subway station. Image: Getty.

On 28 January, Malaysia Goodson, a 22-year-old daycare worker from Stamford Connecticut, was carrying her one-year-old daughter in a pushchair down the stairs of a New York City subway station when she fell. She was found unconscious at the bottom of the stairs and rushed to hospital, where she died. Her daughter was not seriously hurt.

Her story has haunted me. Having spent many months carrying my daughter, who is almost two, up and down steep subway stairs this tragedy felt grimly inevitable. On Facebook groups for New York mums the story was shared and commented on dozens of times, with many women expressing a similar sentiment: it could have happened to any of us.

Recent news reports suggest that Goodson may have died as a result of an underlying medical condition, rather than because of her fall, but her story has resonated because it highlights how inaccessible New York’s subway is for people who use a wheelchair or have limited mobility, or for parents with young children.

Less than a quarter of the city’s subway stations have an elevator, and the elevators that have been installed are so old and poorly maintained that they often breakdown. According to one study, the average subway elevator breaks down 53 times a year.

I have lost count of the number of times I have carefully plotted my subway route to use stations with elevators, only to find it is not working and I have no choice but to carry a heavy bag, a baby and a pushchair up several flights of stairs.


I have not lost count of the number of times someone has helped me with the buggy (twice) or the number of times a commuter brushed past me so violently that they almost knocked me down the stairs (once, and she didn’t even look back as I tumbled down a step before managing to brace myself).

That said, the problem isn’t really a matter of public politeness or etiquette. Help would be nice, but all New Yorkers deserve to be able to navigate their city’s public transport without having to rely on the kindness of strangers.

I am aware that I am comparatively fortunate: I can carry my daughter if a sling if I need to, I am able to lug a pushchair up three flights of stairs, I can walk thirty blocks, I can afford a taxi, I live in Manhattan and not in an outer borough where the distances between stations are much bigger. Many New Yorkers experience of navigating their city is very different. Here’s a good visualisation of what the New York city subway map looks like for people who require elevators.

In May 2018, the president of New York City subway, Andy Byford, launched a plan to modernise the subway known as Fast Forward, which included a proposal to make over 50 more subway stations accessible in the next five years so that all subway riders are no further than two stops from an accessible station. It would also make improvements to other services, such as Access-a-Ride, which provides transportation for people with disabilities. (Here’s more detail on how poorly that is functioning.)

Byford’s proposal (which includes other modernisation work) could cost $40bn over ten years, and has not been funded. At present, the NYC subway is in a funding “death spiral”, with its deficits expected to reach $1bn by 2020 and disgruntlement rising over patchy service and regular delays. And yet, accessibility shouldn’t be seen as a luxury, something to be funded if there is money to spare. A vital part of proposal for public transport is that it should be accessible to all members of the public.

The Metropolitan Transport Authority, which runs the subways, may yet find it is forced to divert funds to improving public accessibility. In 2017, a group of disability organisations sued the MTA for discriminating against people with disabilities, arguing that New York City’s public transport is one of the least accessible in the country. The suit is seeking better procedures to deal with elevator maintenance and a long-term plan to improve accessibility. Here’s to hoping that it’s a decision in the courts, and not another tragedy, that finally pushes the MTA into action.

Sophie McBain is a US correspondent for the New Statesman, where this article first appeared.

 
 
 
 

There isn’t a war on the motorist. We should start one

These bloody people. Image: Getty.

When should you use the horn on a car? It’s not, and anyone who has been on a road in the UK in living memory will be surprised to hear this, when you are inconvenienced by traffic flow. Nor is it when you are annoyed that you have been very slightly inconvenienced by another driver refusing to break the law in a manner that is objectively dangerous, but which you perceive to be to your advantage.

According to the Highway Code:

“A horn should only be used when warning someone of any danger due to another vehicle or any other kind of danger.”

Let’s be frank: neither you nor I nor anyone we have ever met has ever heard a horn used in such a manner. Even those of us who live in or near places where horns perpetually ring out due to the entitled sociopathy of most drivers. Especially those of us who live in or near such places.

Several roads I frequently find myself pushing a pram up and down in north London are two way traffic, but allow parking on both sides. This being London that means that, in practice, they’re single track road which cars can enter from both ends.

And this being London that means, in practice, that on multiple occasions every day, men – it is literally always men – glower at each other from behind the steering wheels of needlessly big cars, banging their horns in fury that circumstances have, usually through the fault of neither of them, meant they are facing each other on a de facto single track road and now one of them is going to have to reverse for a metre or so.

This, of course, is an unacceptable surrender as far as the drivers’ ego is concerned, and a stalemate seemingly as protracted as the cold war and certainly nosier usually emerges. Occasionally someone will climb out of their beloved vehicle and shout and their opponent in person, which at least has the advantages of being quieter.

I mentioned all this to a friend recently, who suggested that maybe use of car horns should be formally restricted in certain circumstances.

Ha ha ha. Hah.

The Highway Code goes on to say -

“It is illegal to use a horn on a moving vehicle on a restricted road, a road that has street lights and a 30 mph limit, between the times of 11:30 p.m. and 07:00 a.m.”

Is there any UK legal provision more absolutely and comprehensively ignored by those to whom it applies? It might as well not be there. And you can bet that every single person who flouts it considers themselves law abiding. Rather than the perpetual criminal that they in point of fact are.


In the 25 years since I learned to drive I have used a car horn exactly no times, despite having lived in London for more than 20 of them. This is because I have never had occasion to use it appropriately. Neither has anyone else, of course, they’ve just used it inappropriately. Repeatedly.

So here’s my proposal for massively improving all UK  suburban and urban environments at a stroke: ban horns in all new cars and introduce massive, punitive, crippling, life-destroying fines for people caught using them on their old one.

There has never been a war on motorists, despite the persecution fantasies of the kind of middle aged man who thinks owning a book by Jeremy Clarkson is a substitute for a personality. There should be. Let’s start one. Now.

Phase 2 will be mandatory life sentences for people who don’t understand that a green traffic light doesn’t automatically mean you have right of way just because you’re in a car.

Do write in with your suggestions for Phase 3.