Yes, It's 'Accessible.' You Just Can't Get There.
July 23, 2002
By RANDY KENNEDY
When people speak of having a bad subway day, it is
generally understood that the day in question took place in
For Anthony Trocchia, this is not exactly the way it works.
In fact, he explains, having trouble in the subway - on the
subway, dare he dream - would be a kind of minor victory,
something to be savored while stuck in the tunnel.
It was just after 9 a.m. yesterday, and he was explaining
this in a humid corner of the Jamaica Center subway
station, laughing the way people sometimes laugh to
emphasize how thoroughly unfunny something is.
This was because Mr. Trocchia had found himself, once
again, in the role of the subway Moses.
Not to conflate platforms with the promised land, but if
you make your way around New York in a wheelchair, as Mr.
Trocchia does, and you would like to do so in the subway -
using the 38 stations that transit officials have spent
hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last decade to
make accessible for disabled riders - reaching the platform
is the minimum requirement.
Mr. Trocchia would not be able to do that yesterday
morning. He would look down a short staircase and see the
platform stretching out in front of him. He would see the E
train pulling in. Then he would look at the elevator door
in front of him, the one with the ragged red plastic tape
stretched in front of it.
And he would slowly turn his motorized wheelchair around
for a trip back to the street.
"Welcome to my life," he said, "and all its dysfunction."
In the interest of full disclosure, Mr. Trocchia, 33, who
has muscular dystrophy and has been unable to walk since he
was 11, is not just any guy in a wheelchair trying to use
the subway. He is president of an advocacy group, Disabled
in Action of Metropolitan New York, and he had invited a
reporter to meet him in Jamaica yesterday to explore the
workings, or nonworkings, of the subway from the
perspective of a wheelchair seat.
He had not set out hoping to find dysfunction. In fact, Mr.
Trocchia - who regularly rides city buses and praises how
well they work for passengers in wheelchairs - had chosen
one of the most accessible stretches in the subway, three
stations in a row along the E line in Jamaica.
Before he left his home in Brooklyn, he had called the New
York City Transit hot line that provides information about
broken elevators and had learned that no problems had been
reported at any of the three stations.
And indeed, at Jamaica Center around 9, it seemed as if
things had improved since the last time he had tried, and
failed, to use the subway: The elevator from the street
worked when he pushed the button. (Mr. Trocchia rolled into
it with the caution born of experience. "You never know
what the odor du jour is going to be," he warned.)
But the mezzanine, and the all-too-literal red tape before
the entrance, turned out to be a kind of harbinger for the
rest of the morning.
Stoically patient, cracking jokes in a musical voice, Mr.
Trocchia made his way back to the street and rolled eight
blocks down Archer Avenue to the Sutphin Boulevard station,
which is listed as being wheelchair accessible on New York
City Transit's Web site (www.mta.nyc.ny.us). And indeed, in
theory, one might concede that it is accessible, except
that the elevator is in the middle of a construction
project and has been shut down for several months.
Mr. Trocchia began buttonholing employees to see if they
knew of another elevator, but his question was met mostly
with blank stares. A helpful New York State Police officer
offered to get a partner and carry the wheelchair down the
stairs, until he was told that it weighed 300 pounds. "Oh,"
he said, and then added, when asked about the elevator
situation: "I have no official comment."
Mr. Trocchia rolled on. ("Thank God for Paxil," he said.)
His last attempt was made at the Jamaica-Van Wyck Station,
where the elevator was working, but the button at street
level was not. Mr. Trocchia waited for the elevator to be
brought up from the mezzanine, where the button did work.
But upon reaching the platform - at 10:20, more than an
hour after he started trying to take the subway - he was
finally defeated by the obstacle he had known he would
When E trains arrived, their thresholds were about 4 inches
higher than the platform, making it virtually impossible
for Mr. Trocchia to enter the train without his chair
flipping over backward. A platform riser, which has been
installed in some other accessible stations, was absent at
Van Wyck, meaning that the elevator did little more than
provide a sightseeing trip to the platform.
Mr. Trocchia, smiling a little sarcastically, mentioned
that an elevator was scheduled to be installed in the
subway station nearest his home in Williamsburg.
"I think it's supposed to be done in 2012," he said, his
smile widening. "I guess I'll put my plans on hold until