From Harlem To Hollis Adopts Zoning Rules To Advance Transit Accessibility

October 7, 2021

Mayor Bill de Blasio, the New York City Council, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced the approval of Elevate Transit: Zoning for Accessibility.

A collaboration between the MTA, City Council, the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) to boost New York City’s push to make its transit system fully accessible. The initiative will 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.

Zoning for Accessibility incentivizes private developers to design their buildings to incorporate public station accessibility projects or build the improvements at nearby MTA stations. It creates a new set of tools – and strengthens existing ones – that build off the MTA’s 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 2020-2024 MTA Capital Plan.

“Building a recovery for all of us means making public transportation accessible to everyone who rides it – especially seniors, young families, and New Yorkers with mobility disabilities,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “I’m proud to work across government to drive greater investment in these accessibility improvements, and I look forward to collaborating on more creative ideas to make our city fairer and more equitable.”

“Elevate Transit: Zoning for Accessibility is an important step in advancing a fair and equitable recovery for all New Yorkers. These zoning levers add another tool in our toolkit to meet our accessibility goals and better serve people with mobility disabilities, senior citizens, and transit riders as a whole,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Vicki Been. “We thank the City Council, the MTA, and all the city agencies involved for their collaboration and leadership to make this creative idea a reality.”

“Everyone deserves access to our transit system but unfortunately only a third of New York City’s train stations are easily accessible for people with disabilities. We can do better, which is why in my 2019 State of the City address, I outlined a plan for developers to help build new elevators and take other measures to make more subways and train stations ADA compliant. This is a game-changer for millions of New Yorkers, including seniors, disabled people, parents of young children, and anyone who has a harder time getting around. I’m proud of the Council’s role in helping bring together the Department of City Planning and the MTA to advance this proposal. This success shows the Council’s effectiveness in convening solutions to complex citywide problems and I hope it’s something we do more in the future,” said Speaker Corey Johnson.

“Zoning for Accessibility builds on the MTA’s historic $5.2 billion investment in making our transit system more accessible, by using private development to accelerate ADA upgrades,” said MTA Acting Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “This initiative reflects Governor Hochul and the MTA’s shared commitment to all New Yorkers — particularly riders with mobility disabilities, seniors, and parents of young children — to modernize the entire transit system as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

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“The approval of Zoning for Accessibility is a significant milestone in our efforts to make New York the most accessible city in the world,” said Victor Calise, Commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and MTA Board Member. “The MTA is already working hard on the design and construction of additional accessibility projects.  With the introduction of new private dollars through Zoning for Accessibility, the MTA will be able to complete more accessibility projects on a faster timeline.”

“The passage of Zoning for Accessibility is an exciting moment in the MTA’s efforts to expand accessibility to all New Yorkers across the entirety of our transit system,” said MTA Chief Accessibility Officer Quemuel Arroyo. “This legislation will harness the power of public-private partnerships to speed up accessibility enhancements and create a more equitable city for all New Yorkers and visitors alike.”

“Zoning for Accessibility is a major win for all New Yorkers. With this joint planning initiative, we’ll make life easier and fairer for those with disabilities, parents of young children, senior citizens and so many more,” said DCP Director Anita Laremont.

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

Easement Certification

This provision requires developers of most mid-or-high-density 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 to reduce expensive, time-consuming barriers to constructing elevators, such as underground utility relocations, and allow for station designs that better serve riders. If an easement is necessary, the developer would receive targeted zoning relief to offset the creation of an easement.

Transit Improvement Bonus

This provision expands 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 other circulation improvements at already accessible stations, in exchange for a floor area bonus of up to 20%. 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.

These provisions will help free up funds for the MTA to make more stations accessible on a faster timeline and provide more accessible routes for its customers. Today, only about 30% of the 493 subway and Staten Island Railway (SIR) stations in New York City are fully ADA-accessible.

To learn more about Zoning for Accessibility, visit

“Whether it’s a senior commuting to get their meals, a person with a disability getting to work, or a family traveling to and from a medical appointment, transit in NYC is an economic and health necessity for so many New Yorkers. Advancing transit accessibility through these zoning rules will help better reflect the needs of New Yorkers and ensure that our city is set up to serve all. This is an example of how agencies across the City and State can partner and deliver for our communities,” said Council Member Francisco Moya, Chair of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises.

“Thank you to Speaker Johnson for envisioning Zoning for Accessibility, which will ensure that developers work with the MTA to deliver desperately-needed elevators in an efficient and cost-effective manner. I am grateful for the MTA, MOPD and DCP’s extensive outreach with the community, which has clarified the purpose of the amendment: to improve systemwide accessibility. I urge the MTA to track and invest the money saved from easements and privately-built elevators into making the system more accessible for people with visual, hearing, and cognitive disabilities, too,” said Jessica Murray, Ph.D., Chair of Advisory Committee on Transit Accessibility (ACTA) for New York City Transit and member of the Rise and Resist Elevator Action Group.

“Zoning for Accessibility will greatly help the MTA advance its efforts to provide a broadly accessible transit system. AIA New York has long advocated for updates to building regulations to facilitate accessibility, bringing our city into the 21st century. We’re happy to see this proposal get approved, one that will pave the way for a more equitable subway and a more equitable New York City,” said Benjamin Prosky, Assoc. AIA, Executive Director of the American Institute of Architects New York.

“The Zoning For Accessibility plan is exactly the kind of innovative policy solution that will speed up the MTA’s progress in building a modern, accessible, 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 with less dependence on cars. 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 Felicia Park-Rogers, Director of Regional Infrastructure Projects, Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

“Zoning for Accessibility (ZFA) will bring much-needed accessibility throughout New York City subway system. This will make getting around with a mobility disability much easier within MTA’s mass transit system. Also, a more accessible transit system will make New York City a much more inclusive city not only for its residents but also for its disabled visitors,” said José Hernandez, President, United Spinal Association, NYC Chapter.

“The passage of Zoning for Accessibility (ZFA) is a crucial step in realizing a more accessible transit system across all MTA operating agencies. Over 70% of subway stations are currently inaccessible to people with limited mobility, leaving many New Yorkers without reliable and accessible transit options. Working with developers to help build, maintain, or leave space in their developments for the installation of elevators and other station access improvements will help elevate transit for all MTA riders and take much-needed financial pressure off the MTA’s Capital Program,” said Lisa Daglian, Executive Director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA (PCAC).

“By helping create opportunities to make more subway stations accessible, more quickly, Zoning for Accessibility has the potential to be life-changing for families who use strollers and other mobility devices to get around the city and for pregnant people. As someone who has advocated for better access to public transportation for these populations, I am encouraged/excited by the passage of this in favor of ZFA’s forward-thinking proposal and the integrated planning processes it will foster,” said Christine Serdjenian Yearwood, Founder & CEO, UP-STAND.

“Using zoning for improving transit accessibility makes a lot of 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, Regional Plan Association.

“A generation after the historic passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, New York still has a largely inaccessible subway system. With all the challenges facing the MTA in this critical period of pandemic recovery, finding new means to make the subway more accessible more quickly should be a top priority. We look forward to Zoning for Accessibility being used to make many important stations accessible to many more New Yorkers,” said Riders Alliance Policy and Communications Director Danny Pearlstein.

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