February 27 2012

Universal Design and the User-Designer Gaps in the New York City Subway System

Only 53 out of the 468 stations in the NYC transit system are wheelchair accessible. For the most part, these stations are major transfer hubs. With 468 stations and 842 miles (1355 km) of track, the New York City subway is one of the most extensive public transportation systems in the world. The layout of many of these stations prevents riders with motor, auditory, and visual disabilities from accessing these facilities with ease and thus creates a user-designer gap. Visually impaired riders encounter additional challenges in being unable to view the maps that are posted in most subway cars and on the platform.  Broken elevators and the lack of wheelchair accessible subway stations also pose serious obstacles to riders. In fact, there are only elevators in 53 out of the systems 468 stations in the NYC transit system. Typically, these wheelchair accessible stations are located at major transfer points. Otherwise, wheelchair accessibility is severely limited.

A 1979 settlement with the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (now the United Spinal Association) mandates that the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) expand its infrastructure to include 100 accessible stations by 2020. However, the age and complexity of the subway system makes attempts to correct problems through urban planning and urban design arduous and expensive.

Universal design principles may assist architects, urban planners, engineers, and transit authorities in increasing transit access for all New Yorkers. The Universal Design Alliance (UDA) defines universal design as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” Strategies such as equipping infrastructure with tactile and auditory feedback and providing route instructions and information in alternative formats will provide riders with the information that they need to plan their trip.  In addition to expanding the number of wheelchair accessible stations, it is crucial that information regarding broken elevators be frequently updated on the MTA’s website. Universal design principles can provide affordable and effective solutions to correcting the user-designer gap in the NYC subway system.

Does the public transit system in your town or city provide universal access? In what ways does it succeed or fail to?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Christine Camilleri

Christine Devon Camilleri blogged for the GRID from October 2011 to May 2012. She is a Graduate student studying City and Regional Planning at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. She also holds a B.S. in Human Development from Cornell University. She has lived in New York City for the majority of her life, and currently resides in Brooklyn, N.Y. Prior to joining Global Site Plans she worked as a grassroots political organizer. She is especially interested in New York City’s post-industrial waterfronts and the implications of participatory planning processes for community development initiatives.

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This entry was posted on Monday, February 27th, 2012 at 3:15 pm and is filed under Architecture, Infrastructure, Social/Demographics, Transportation, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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