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Accessible Public Transportation and Housing, a Need for People with Disabilities in Major Cities




Even though over six billion people—nearly one billion of whom will have disabilities— are expected to live in urban centres by 2050, many of the world’s major urban cities have a long way to go before their infrastructure becomes inclusive for people with disabilities.

As the world’s population ages, in 2050, more than 20 percent will be 60 or older, making urban accessibility an urgent need, according to a report by the Disability Inclusive and Accessible Urban Development Network (DIAUD).

But some major cities, like New York, have a long way to go before their infrastructure becomes inclusive for people with disabilities.
The report Service Denied: Accessibility and the New York City Subway System, published in July, revealed that 24 percent of the subway stations in the city were not accessible to people with disabilities. In addition, 62 of 122 New York City neighbourhoods with subway lines did not have stations accessible under the ADA, most of them located in the Bronx, Brooklyn or Queens. Despite the city government’s efforts to ensure public transport accessibility, the subway seems a hard battle.

“New York City is a great city with a lot of history behind it, unfortunately much of its iconic infrastructure was constructed before anyone considered the needs of people with disabilities. Today it can be difficult for a person with a disability to navigate our century-old subway system,” Victor Calise, commissioner of the mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities in New York City, told IPS.

Since the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006, which was seen as a human rights and development advancement, accessibility has gained momentum.

Also, the approval of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, and its consecutive implementation and amendment in 2008, ensured city government’s focus on inclusion. Although public transit, access to restaurants or office spaces, employment and education are some of the issues that urban accessibility includes; public infrastructure and housing remain the most important barriers in some major old cities, such as New York.

“The fact remains that to be a truly inclusive city we must continue the work to make our subway system equally accessible for all. Without equal transportation people with disabilities struggle to get to school, doctor’s appointments and their places of employment,” he added.

Asked what the current options, besides the subway, are for people with disabilities, Calise replied: “There are some alternatives in place, including a 100 percent accessible bus system, an increasingly accessible taxi fleet and a subscription-based paratransit service that costs the same as a subway ride.”

He explained that since mayor Bill De Blasio took office, improvements have been made, especially in the subway system.

“First, every subway system that is being built new (most recently the 2nd Avenue subway line) is being built with accessibility in mind. Second, with major renovations being done on subway stations we are also making necessary installations of elevators and other accessibility features while the work is being done.”

A further improvement has come from the taxi industry. “The TLC [New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission] has also expanded its Accessible Dispatch programme— previously only providing pick-ups in Manhattan—to all five boroughs to connect people with disabilities to yellow and green taxis as they need them, and also advocated for greater accessibility in the for-hire vehicle sector.”

The subway accessibility problem does not only exist in New York City. Other major urban centre like Paris and London also struggle to keep their subway stations accessible: 15 out of 303 stations in Paris are wheelchair-accessible, and 71 out of 270 in London are fully accessible, according to an article at The Guardian.

However, Los Angeles (LA) and the District of Columbia (DC) have done a surprisingly good job at making their public transportation system accessible for people with disabilities: all of their subway stations are fully accessible (91 in DC and 93 in LA).

Thus, their current improvements are going a step further. The spokesperson from Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti’s office told IPS: “We all have a role to play in breaking down barriers between communities with disabilities and the larger public.”

He shared with IPS what the city government has worked on during the last months: “The mayor issued Executive Directive 10—Vision Zero— to reduce traffic fatalities and make our streets safer for everyone, particularly for children, the elderly, and people with physical disabilities. We also issued Executive Directive 17, Purposeful Ageing LA, which is an innovative, multi-year effort to enhance the lives of older adults with improvements such as additional bus benches and transit shelters for elderly and disabilities individuals to use while traveling throughout the city.”

“These directives have helped Los Angeles become one of the most welcoming and accessible cities in the world,” he added.

In terms of housing accessibility, New York still struggles, due to its layout and antiquity, whereas DC takes the lead.

“An additional pitfall of the historic nature of NYC is its buildings. People with disabilities have difficulty navigating inaccessible building infrastructure; getting into restaurants, office buildings and finding housing units that are accessible for them,” argued Calise.

Asked what the strategy is to make housing accessible, he replied: “To combat this we are focused on ensuring accessibility in everything new that is being built by reinforcing and adding to the NYC building code. In addition, there are a multitude of renovation programs that modify a person’s home to make it more accessible.”

In DC, the mayor has also improved housing accessibility.“Mayor [Muriel] Bowser has devoted over USD100 million to the District’s Housing Production Trust Fund designed to develop accessible and affordable housing units both in new and existing apartment buildings,” Matthew McCollough, director at DC’s Office of Disability Rights, told IPS.

“This has led to the delivery of 3,606 affordable units, and there are 5,000 more affordable units in the pipeline,” he concluded.

The spokesperson from LA’s mayor’s office claimed: “As a city, it’s our job to ensure that all city facilities, programs, services, and activities are accessible to individuals with disabilities. But creating a more welcoming and accessible city goes beyond our infrastructure – we want every resident to feel safe and cared for by their community.”

Accessibility beyond city government

Although local governments are responsible for public infrastructure and, thus, for making it accessible to all citizens, civil society and the private sector also have a role to play that goes from lobbying to actually implementing solutions.

From NYC, Calise argued: “The role of the private sector is to realise the enormous benefits of accessibility in your business.”

“If your facility is accessible you are not only expanding your business to someone who uses a wheelchair but friends and family of people who use wheelchairs, parents with strollers and others. Accessibility is not only the right thing to do but it’s the smart thing to do in order to benefit your business.”

As for civil society, Calise stated: “The role of civil society is to be conscious of people with disabilities and the enormous benefits of inclusive design.”

Thus, they should move from consciousness to action: “With this knowledge, civil society should be conscious of how they can make their own homes, workspaces, websites etc. accessible and usable for all. In addition, when utilising these services of accessibility be mindful of those who really need them.”

The spokesperson from the LA office agreed and argued in favour of a comprehensive strategy: “It’s our job to help spread awareness around the needs of our disabled communities so that both the public and private sectors can proactively incorporate their needs into everyday decisions around services and infrastructure. As people with disabilities face disproportionally high unemployment rates, it’s also imperative that local civil society and the private sector work to create a more inclusive workplace by proactively recruiting individuals with disabilities.”

He concluded: “This holistic approach to actively identifying and incorporating the unique needs of individuals with disabilities helps ensure that everyone in our city is able to live vibrant, active lives.”


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New York went an entire weekend without a shooting or homicide for the first time in 25 years





New York City had its first weekend without a shooting or a homicide in 25 years, the New York Police Department announced Monday.

“We went Friday, Saturday, Sunday without any shootings and homicides,” NYPD Chief James O’Neill told reporters. “That’s the first time in decades, and that’s something not just the NYPD, but all New Yorkers can be proud of.”

The last Friday-Saturday-Sunday time period during which no shootings occurred across all five of New York City’s Burroughs happened in 1993.

In 2017, New York City saw fewer than 300 killings for the entire year, the New York Post reported at the end of December, marking the fewest of those crimes in nearly 70 years.
There were 292 murders in the New York City in 2017, down from the 334 murders that occurred in 2016.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio lauded the department for that in January: “No one believed it was possible to get under 300 murders,” he said, referring to the 2017 numbers. “The NYPD reached the goal that no one thought possible.”

For 2018, the number of murders in the nation’s largest city is on the rise, The Wall Street Journal reported in June.

New York City saw 147 murders between January 1 and June 30, 2018, an 8% increase from the number of murders during the same time period last year, The Journal wrote, citing data compiled by the city.


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Is New York City ready for the e-scooter revolution?





The micromobility revolution that has permeated cities across the U.S. has yet to arrive in New York City, but—having conquered the West Coast through a combination of rule-breaking and eventual cooperation—electric scooter companies are now looking to make their mark in the five boroughs.

As The Verge has pointed out, there’s money to be made there; Bird, one of the leading scooter companies, has reportedly been valued at $2 billion in recent months. And New York City, with its more than 8 million residents—more than half of whom regularly use public transportation—could be a “tremendous scooter city,” according to Gil Kazimirov, the general manager of Lime, the micromobility start-up.

But before that money can pour in, there’s a skeptical populace to win over, some of whom see e-scooters on the same plane as Thanos. There are also laws that must be changed and streets that need to be made safer for the more rugged version of the push-assist scooters that Bird wants to bring to New York.

Those first two necessities are what Bird, the company most prominently trying to enter New York’s market, seem to be focusing on at the moment. The start-up, which is based in Santa Monica, has been courting politicians on both sides of the aisle, though neither Eric Ulrich (a Republican who’s pushed for unfettered competition among bike share companies) nor Robert Cornegy (a Democrat who participated in Bird’s recent Bed-Stuy demo) would comment about their feelings on e-scooters. Bird even snagged one of the city’s most prominent street safety advocates, making clear that it’s approaching New York City expansion in a responsible fashion not usually embraced by “break shit, apologize later” disruptonauts.

Bird has also tried to win over skeptics with demonstrations of how its service works—there was one in Bed-Stuy in September, and one earlier this month that was meant to show how e-scooters could be a key component of the looming L train shutdown. Bird donated scooters for a mass ride from the Myrtle-Wyckoff station to the Grand Street stop, which will be a departure point for a series of Brooklyn-to-Manhattan SBS routes. The demo offered not just a look at how the scooters work but also a proof of concept of how they could help get people around if trains are packed to the brim.

The group ride seemed to win over Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who liked his scooter enough to throw it in his SUV and show up with it at another press conference that morning in Brooklyn Heights. Before the Bird ride started, Adams told the assembled crowd in the Myrtle-Wyckoff stop’s pedestrian plaza—itself a symbol of reclaiming the streets from cars—that “too many car riders are making decisions for millions of New Yorkers who are not in vehicles. Selfishly, they think that they have to drive alone.” While Adams doesn’t have the power to vote for the impending bill to legalize e-scooters, he did at least give rhetorical support to their legalization.

That effort is being spearheaded in part by City Council member Rafael Espinal, who announced his support for scooters in a Daily News op-ed earlier this year, and is currently working with Transportation Committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez to introduce a bill legalizing them. Espinal’s interest in the scooter issue is driven not only by their potential usefulness during the L train shutdown, but also as a way to include his district (he represents parts of Bushwick, Brownsville, and Cypress Hills) in a transportation system that Citi Bike has yet to meaningfully reach.

“What I’d like to see is an expansion of modes of transportation—not only in Manhattan, but in the outer-outer-boroughs,” Espinal tells Curbed. “We have Citi Bike, but it hasn’t made its way out to East New York and other neighborhoods on the outskirts of the outer boroughs. We have to make sure this transportation is available to everyone.”

But while scooter companies can stage events and work with elected officials, the issue of safety—and aggressively redesigning the city’s streets—is what will no doubt determine how widely adopted scooters become in New York. While their top speed of 15 miles per hour make them inherently riskier than bikes, a Washington Post article about the rise in scooter-related emergency room visits notes that the number of bike lanes in Washington, D.C. was one of the reasons the city didn’t see the same rate of increases in injuries as other American cities.

Bird itself has put a huge emphasis on bike lanes, telling Curbed that “protected, well-maintained bike lanes are part of our vision for a safe future for all road users—be they on foot, bikes, or scooters.” The company has also pledged $1 per scooter per day in each city it operates in to help cities pay for more protected bike lanes, but at least in New York, opposition to bike lanes has had less to do with price and more to do with parking spots. And on that front, radical thinking seems to be in short supply.

Cornegy, whose district mostly encompasses Bed-Stuy, told Streetsblog that he would “stand up for more protected bike lanes” when he was at Bird’s Bed-Stuy event, but he was also a high-profile opponent of the Classon Avenue bike lane, which was installed in response to a cyclist’s death in 2016.

The city’s addition of bike infrastructure has not stopped opposition from community boards; new bike lanes and other improvements are still at the mercy of the right combination of political pressure. Even Adams—who’s called for something as ambitious as a Flatbush Avenue bike lane next to Prospect Park—was ambivalent about the relationship between community boards and the need to quickly shift space away from cars.

“We should never count out the voices of people,” Adams said after the Brooklyn Heights press conference. “[Community boards’] advisory status helps as we carve out bike lanes, because bike lanes are personalized to those communities. It doesn’t mean a community board should be able to have veto power if it’s unreasonable. Allow community boards to have their space to voice their concerns; but at the same time, don’t allow anybody in government to get in the way and stop progress.”

Espinal says that when it comes to New York’s existing network, “the city can be doing more to make sure that bike lanes are acceptable and not being blocked,” though said he’d rather see the results of a scooter pilot program before committing to any type of radical street redesigns.

But Curbed’s urbanism editor Alissa Walker, who’s written previously about how micromobility give cities a huge opportunity to move away from being so car-centric, said that instead of reacting once scooters are being used, street design “needs to be a part of the conversation at the same time.” Without being comfortable on the streets, people either won’t ride scooters, Walker says, or wind up taking to the sidewalks—which simply wouldn’t work in New York City.

One idea the city can embrace is instituting the Vision Zero Design Standard, a series of pedestrian, cycling, and mass transit improvements that are implemented whenever a road needs to be fixed. “It traditionally takes longer to build protected bike lanes than it does to, say, empty a truckload of scooters onto the street,” says Transportation Alternatives’ Joseph Cutrufo. “The best way to accommodate more people on bikes and scooters is to make safer street redesigns part of regular repaving projects. This way, every time a street is repaved, we have the opportunity to make our streets more accommodating for New Yorkers on two wheels, and, more to the point, to save lives.” While Cutrofo says the idea has been endorsed by a majority of members on the City Council, it hasn’t been instituted in any street repavings yet.

As a scooter agnostic/skeptic, Bird’s demonstration earlier this month certainly worked on me: The mass of riders didn’t seem to have any huge problems with Bushwick’s streets that are barely habitable to bikes in some stretches, especially the heavily-trucked and pockmarked stretch of Knickerbocker and Morgan Avenues north of Flushing Avenue. If you squinted, you could see a vision of the future where people used the scooters in peace, although they had some good fortune in clear bike lanes and a dearth of double-parked cars on side streets.

And while some might worry about scooter companies “imposing their will” on the city, the fact remains that car companies have already imposed their will on New York in a way that e-scooters could never possibly match. Besides, if you’re out on the street, you can already see the scooters are there. The same afternoon as the Bird demonstration, I saw a scooter rider salmoning on Ann Street, just blocks from City Hall. Later, I came across an e-scooter rider named Mike while I was walking down Flatbush Avenue.

“It’s convenient, you can slip between cars,” Mike said when asked what he liked about his push-assist scooter that he bought online. He also sees larger benefits for the city if it embraces the scooter revolution. “I feel like you can definitely help the environment, and even start new businesses. Cars suck, and you could open a bunch of mom and pop shops to service the scooters and sell scooters, and just help with the transportation system.”


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nyc driver incident

A taxi driver in New York reportedly beat a 62-year-old Hasidic Jewish man on Sunday as he walked to synagogue in Brooklyn, police said.

Lipa Schwartz, 62, was walking in broad daylight on his way to synagogue in Borough Park when he was allegedly brutally attacked by a cab driver. Farrukh Afzal, 37, was driving toward 46th Street and 13th Avenue in Borough Park around 7:30 a.m. before he slammed on his brakes and jumped out of his car. He then proceeded to beat Schwartz, police said.

Surveillance video captured Afzal over the victim in the middle of the intersection while pummeling Schwartz in the head. The victim suffered a split lip, a cut ear and other injuries, according to the blog BoroPark24, which first reported the incident.

“I feared for my life,” Schwartz told the blog. “I knew it was either fight my way out of this or I might be dead.”

In an interview with WABC, Schwartz said he asked Afzal, “What did I do to you that you tried to murder me? Tell me.” Afzal did not respond.

Schwartz told WABC that he did not know why Afzal attacked him, but said he believed it was because he was Jewish. Authorities initially said hate crime charges could be filed, but the investigation led detectives to conclude the attack occurred due to a road rage incident.

Afzal’s lawyer claimed Schwartz punched the vehicle’s window as he crossed the street, prompting his client to fear for his life, the New York Post reported. The two men reportedly began yelling at each other after Afzal honked at Schwartz for walking too slowly, prosecutors said. Schwartz then punched Afzal’s car window, prompting Afzal to jump out of his car and allegedly commit the assault.

The attacker was not licensed by New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). The TLC did not immediately respond to Newsweek’s request for comment.

However, in a statement to WABC, the TLC said, “The driver is not licensed by the TLC, and has been summoned by the TLC in the past for unlicensed operation of an unlicensed vehicle and being an unlicensed operator.”

Afzal, from Staten Island, was arraigned on charges of second-degree attempted assault, third-degree assault, menacing and harassment. None of the charges included a hate crime component, WABC reported. He was being held in lieu of $15,000 bail.

Police said Afzal had eight prior arrests.


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