Rich New Yorkers Are Crying 'Terrorism' to Prevent People With Disabilities From Having Elevators 


Were you on the hunt for a metaphorical stone with which to sharpen your non-metaphorical guillotine with today? Then I’ve got just the thing, via The New York Times: a dispatch from rich New Yorkers bravely fighting sorely-needed improvements to make the subway more accessible to people with disabilities.

At issue is a proposal to add two new subway elevators to the platforms of the J and Z lines at the Broad Street station in lower Manhattan. The developer, Madison Equities, took on the project to take advantage of a New York City zoning rule that offers developers an incentive to expand their project if they also make improvements to the subway station closest to the site. The elevators are slated to cost the developer $20 million but will allow for an additional 71,000 square feet at Madison Equities’ 80-story office building, according to the Times’ reporting.

This should seem like a no-brainer—particularly as an excellent return on investment for the real estate developer—but the plan has been a source of considerable trepidation among the wealthy residents in the neighborhood, who say they’re very worried about the increased potential for “terrorism” they see in allowing more people in wheelchairs to access the subway.

One of those residents is Claudia Ward, who lives at 15 Broad Street, in a building where you—well, almost certainly not you—could buy a one-bedroom apartment today for just over $2 million.

“The idea that people can then ride in on the subway with a bomb or whatever and come straight up in an elevator is awful to me,” Ward told the newspaper. “It’s too easy for someone to slip through. And I just don’t want my family and my neighbors to be the collateral on that.”

Linda Gerstman, the vice president of 15 Broad Street’s board of directors, shares this NIMBY-ism cleverly masquerading as a security concern, rhetorically asked the Times: “What does a giant glass structure become in the event of an explosion?”

Residents of the building went so far as to hire their own independent security analyst—someone employed to imagine whatever fiery hypothetical gets them paid—who determined that yes, the “glass and metal elevators” could indeed pose a security risk.

This is the absolute worst that rich New Yorkers—which is to say, those residents of an increasingly small number who control and increasingly larger portion of the city’s wealth—have to offer.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority runs one of the least accessible subway systems in the nation, where roughly only 20 percent of the city’s subway stations are accessible to the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who aren’t able to use the stairs. The Times points out the problem is particularly pronounced on the lines that would be served by the proposed project: only five of 30 J and Z line stations offer wheelchair access, and only one of those is in Manhattan.

Disability rights advocates see the residents’ trumped-up battle for what it is: an us vs. them battle for self-preservation.

“It’s ‘Don’t affect my property values, don’t affect my—I love this—my iconic view.’ I can understand that they paid a lot of money, I’m sure, but that does not abrogate my civil rights,” Edith Prentiss, president of the advocacy group Disabled In Action, who also relies on a wheelchair to get around, told the Times.

It’s also no coincidence that this is playing out in New York City, where the poverty rate has long been higher than the national average and extreme income inequality reigns, with the city’s richest 0.1% of residents raking in four times what the bottom half of earners make.

The very, very least they can do is not pretend that elevators—or people in wheelchairs just trying to get where they’re trying to go—pose a national security risk.

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