The LIRR station in Queens Village serves about 1,000 customers on an average weekday and the same amount over each weekend. Soon the depot will be able to move more commuters as construction has begun to make the location handicapped-accessible, according to the MTA.
The $8.5 million improvement project, funded by the MTA capital plan, will include the installation of two elevators, platform railings compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, new platform lighting and tactile warning strips along platform edges, according to the MTA. It will be completed before the end of 2013.
The landmark station on Springfield Boulevard between 219th Street and 97th Avenue was built in 1924. It was selected for the upgrade because of its close proximity to major roadways and bus routes. The platforms are situated on a high embankment now accessible only by stairs.
Until the Queens Village project is completed, the LIRR hub in Jamaica is the only facility in Southeast Queens that can accommodate the disabled.
“The LIRR deserves to be commended for the improvements to the Queens Village station,” said Julia Pinover, a spokeswoman for Disability Rights Advocates. “Every step made in this area is progress for people with disabilities.”
Pinover said overall the accessibility of mass transit in the city for the disabled is inadequate, stating that 80 percent of subway stations and 98 percent of taxis cannot accommodate these commuters. While all buses are equipped to handle wheelchairs, they do not travel to all parts of the city and are often slow, Pinover said.
Susan Dooha, the executive director of the Manhattan-based Center of Independence for the Disabled, New York, which has an office in Flushing, expressed similar sentiments.
“Buses and paratransit are not substitutes for a fully-accessible transportation system, because they can’t get people to places in the proverbial New York minute, when people need to socialize with friends or take advantage of cultural opportunities at a moment’s notice,” Dooha said.
There are 26 LIRR stations in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan — 13 of which are wheelchair accessible, according to Salvatore Arena, a spokesman for the MTA. There are 22 stations in Queens — 11 are equipped to accommodate the disabled. There are 124 stations systemwide and 104 are handicapped-accessible — some with ramps as opposed to elevators.
Arena said under the ADA the LIRR only needed to upgrade 18 stations and it reached that number in 1999.
“We are not obligated to make all the stations wheelchair-accessible,” Arena said. “We have met the federal requirement, but ADA accessibility is always a consideration when we are renovating a station and something that we like to do.”
Robert Schoenfeld, executive board member of Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York, a nonprofit advocacy group, is pleased that the Queens Village station is being upgraded because he said many handicapped people rely on public transportation and not only those in wheelchairs.
Schoenfeld, who suffers from heart and breathing problems, said there are a whole range of people with health issues, including the elderly, who could benefit from the handicapped-accessible features.
“I am extremely pleased,” he said of the Queens Village station enhancement. “There are a lot of bus lines that stop there, so people can transfer easily to trains that can take them to Manhattan and elsewhere.”
Some Queens stops along the LIRR line from Queens Village, however, are not handicapped-accessible, including the Hollis and Bellerose stations on the main line, St. Albans and Rosedale locations on the West Hempstead branch and Laurelton and Locust Manor stops on the Far Rockaway branch.
“Unfortunately, in the resource environment in which we find ourselves ... we must sometimes choose the best choice from a list of possibilities of which none are perfect,” Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) said in an email. “In essence, Queens Village was chosen for its hub-like centrality for all forms of surface transportation available to South Queens residents.”