Elevate Transit: Zoning For Accessibility

Published on April 02, 2021, 4:16 pm
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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), in partnership with the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) and the NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD), today announced “Elevate Transit: Zoning for Accessibility” — a proposed citywide zoning change that would allow the MTA to leverage planned private development to achieve a fully accessible transit system faster while saving taxpayer dollars as the MTA faces financial challenges caused by the ongoing pandemic.

The new zoning proposal incentivizes private developers to design their buildings to incorporate public station accessibility projects or build the improvements at nearby MTA stations. Zoning for Accessibility will benefit all New Yorkers, particularly riders with mobility disabilities, seniors, parents of young children, and others who need accessible stations to use the system. Zoning for Accessibility will create a new set of tools – and strengthen existing ones – that build off the MTA’s unprecedented commitment of over $5 billion of funding for 77 accessible subway, Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad and Staten Island Railway station projects within New York City in the historic 2020-2024 MTA Capital Plan.

“Zoning for Accessibility builds on the MTA’s historic $5.2 billion commitment to accessibility projects by partnering with private developers to help make more stations ADA accessible — and to deliver them faster and cheaper than ever before,” said MTA Construction & Development President Janno Lieber. “Today, the MTA is looking to deploy new innovative approaches to attack big challenges, like making our entire mass transit system fully accessible.”

“Zoning for Accessibility will help the MTA speed up the rate at which we accomplish our goal of systemwide access for all New Yorkers,” said MTA Chief Accessibility Officer Quemuel Arroyo. “This joint effort with the city and private sector will drive the type of innovation we need to create a more equitable city where all New Yorkers, and visitors, have access to everything the city has to offer.”

“Big challenges require equally bold solutions, like Zoning for Accessibility – a path towards a more equitable, accessible transit system,” said NYC Department of City Planning Director Marisa Lago. “This proposal allows us proactively to plan for and complete much-needed station improvements in many more areas of New York City, resulting in easier travel for everyone.”

“Zoning for Accessibility will be a game-changer that will enable the MTA to go beyond the existing accessibility commitments in the 2020-2024 Capital Plan and add elevators throughout the transit system at an even faster pace—all while saving money in the process,” said MTA Board Member and Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Victor Calise. “This proposal was developed with input from disability, transit, and senior advocates as well as the urban planning and real estate communities. I am looking forward to the public review process, and seeing this make a difference in the lives of New Yorkers and visitors with disabilities.”

“Zoning for Accessibility will help ensure that developers, who build near our transit system, coordinate with the MTA to deliver new elevators and other improvements to expand equal access for riders with disabilities, seniors, and all New Yorkers,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “We must do everything in our power to accelerate the goal of system-wide ADA accessibility and the Council is proud of our role in helping facilitate this collaborative initiative between the Department of City Planning and MTA.”

The innovative proposal would allow developers to help deliver transit station accessibility throughout the city in two ways:

Easement Certification

This provision will require developers of sites adjacent to subway, Staten Island Railway, Long Island Rail Road, and Metro-North Railroad stations within New York City to consult with the MTA first to determine whether the MTA needs an easement (permanent access to a small piece of property) for future accessibility projects at the adjacent station. Easements can play a critical role in helping mitigate expensive, time-consuming barriers to constructing elevators such as underground utility relocations, and allow for station designs that better serve riders. If the MTA determines an easement is necessary, the developer would receive targeted zoning relief to compensate for the space needed for the easement.

Transit Improvement Bonus

This provision would expand the existing “transit improvement bonus” from central business districts to other high-density areas in the City. This program incentivizes private developers to directly fund and build new transit station access improvements, such as elevators or circulation improvements at already accessible stations. Developers in the highest density districts may qualify for a density bonus of up to 20% to help offset the cost of construction. Accessibility improvements attained through the bonus mechanism are achieved at no cost to the MTA and will be in addition to projects funded through the MTA’s Capital Plan. Each bonus application will still require a public review and approval process.

All parts of the city will benefit from Zoning for Accessibility, as the MTA will be able to make more stations accessible on a faster timeline, and provide more accessible routes for its customers.

Zoning for Accessibility will begin a formal public review process, including review by community boards and borough presidents, after referral by the City Planning Commission at its meeting on April 05, 2021.

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“We are in desperate need of systemwide accessibility within our subways. As subway ridership continues to steadily increase we need to make sure we’re accommodating for all individuals with disabilities,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Chairman of the Transportation Committee. “I will continue to work alongside Quemuel Arroyo, Chief Accessibility Officer, the leadership of the MTA, my colleagues at the Council, and advocates to ensure we make every subway station fully accessible.”

“Covid has revealed once again the stunning disparities in our city and one of the gaps that we do not talk about as much is our accessibility gap. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorker’s cannot navigate our public transit system because of limited mobility. We have to do more and this proposal is an important step. I look forward to working with the MTA and my community to continue to identify ways we can make our city and our subways accessible to all New Yorkers,” said Rafael Salamanca, Council Member and Chair of the Land Use Committee.

“We have a responsibility to ensure everyone can safely access and navigate our transit system and we are falling short. I want to thank the MTA and the advocacy community for recognizing that and working together to craft this proposal. I look forward to a day when we will have full system wide access for all New Yorkers,” said Council Member Francisco Moya, Chair of the Zoning & Franchises Committee.

“All New Yorkers deserve equal access to safe and reliable public transportation. I thank the MTA for their work in advancing this proposal, and I am hopeful that this public-private partnership will help us meet our goal of achieving ADA access city-wide,” said Council Member Margaret Chin, Chair of Committee on Aging.

“As we are painfully aware, our public transit system is not equally accessible to all New Yorkers, especially people with mobility disabilities who are effectively denied access to over two-thirds of our subway system. We have already seen the potential for partnerships between new properties and the MTA in creating new station entrances and elevators, but these have so far been limited to locations such as Downtown Manhattan. The MTA’s “Elevate Transit: Zoning for Accessibility” plan will expand these opportunities throughout the five boroughs, serving as another stepping stone towards a 100% accessible system. Every station made accessible matters, as it helps New Yorkers who have historically been ignored, and quite literally locked out of a system that millions of us could not live without,” said Council Member Farah N. Louis, Chair of the New York City Council Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction.

“Less than 30% of our subway system is accessible. As new buildings go up, we have an opportunity to make critical investments in subway accessibility, something I have long advocated for. I look forward to working together with the MTA to expand ADA access in my district and across the City,” said NYC Council Member Keith Powers.

“ZFA makes a great deal of sense.  Having developers — whose properties gain incredible value by proximity to transit facilities – contribute to making the system more accessible to more riders is a good partnership and value for all,” said Andrew Albert, MTA Board member and Chair of the MTA Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee.

“The Zoning For Accessibility program is exactly the kind of innovative policy solution that can speed up the MTA’s progress in building a modern world-class transit system. Prioritizing transit improvement projects, particularly those with an equity focus, is crucial for ensuring that New York City’s pandemic recovery is both fair and environmentally sustainable. We commend Mayor de Blasio, NYC Council, and the MTA for committing to expand transit accessibility on a faster timeline and for less money,” said Liam Blank, Policy & Communications Manager for Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

“Using zoning for improving transit accessibility makes a lot sense. This effort will provide the necessary resources for bringing ADA accessibility to more stations while encouraging a stronger nexus between our transit system and future development,” said Tom Wright, President & CEO of the Regional Plan Association.

“Zoning for Accessibility offers a chance to speed up system-wide accessibility by 1) requiring developers who build next to subway stations to provide the MTA with an easement for more accessible and cost-effective entrances, and 2) leveraging bonuses for developments within 500 feet of stations to build elevators. We are encouraged to see the MTA pursuing innovative approaches that increase efficiency and accelerate progress toward a fully accessible subway system and urge them to invest the money saved from privately-built elevators into other projects to make stations accessible,” said Jessica Murray, Chair, Advisory Committee on Transit Accessibility (ACTA) and Organizer, Rise and Resist Elevator Action Group.

“The Zoning for Accessibility initiative by the MTA is a good way for private developers to help pay for certain accessibility features at nearby subway stations in high density neighborhoods. This will hopefully result in more funding for subway accessibility in the outer boroughs such as the Bronx where I live. This will also hopefully help the MTA reach 100% accessibility in the subway system faster and in a more cost-effective way,” said José Hernandez, NYC Advocacy Coordinator, United Spinal Association.

“Architects have long advocated that NYC’s transit system be redesigned to be more accessible for all New Yorkers. AIA New York strongly supports this effort, which can help the MTA not only meet, but exceed the accessibility goals in its Capital Plan,” said Ben Prosky, Assoc. AIA, Executive Director, American Institute of Architects New York.

Image caption:

The MTA, NYC Department of City Planning, and Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities make an announcement about private investment in front of the 210 Schermerhorn Street elevator at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts Station on Friday, April 02, 2021.

Pictured left to right: Marisa Lago, Christopher Greif, Quemuel Arroyo, Jessica Murray, Victor Calise, Janno Lieber, Jose Hernandez.

Image courtesy: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

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