SEPTA station in Mt. Airy poses hurdle

West Mt. Airy resident Laura Young, a nonprofit fundraising professional, is a regular rider on SEPTA’s Regional Rail. Since she walks with a cane because of a back injury, Young was happy that her old train stop Allen Lane Station was being renovated.

“I thought, great!” Young said.  “Don’t they usually install elevators when they do a major revamp like this?”

When she got to the station in early October, she noticed that the station had new canopies, shelters, and doorways, as well as a complete reconstruction of the pedestrian bridge built in the 1930s. No elevator, though.

But crossing over that bridge to get to the Center-City-bound platform wasn’t easy. Neither was getting down the steep stairway on the other side. She wondered: “Is this gonna get better when it’s completely done?”

The answer: Not in the way Young would like..

SEPTA engineers designed this renovation as part of a 75-station upgrade, funded by federal transportation funds, which includes stations as far away as Wayne Junction and as close as Queen Lane.

“We’re always looking at access issues” in these renovations, SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch told Newsworks.  By law, receiving federal funding for station renovations mandates compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This issue was in the news earlier this year, when a federal judge declared SEPTA’s renovation of the City Hall station was not in compliance, since the nearest elevators are blocks away in Suburban Station (a decision SEPTA is still fighting). But in the case of Allen Lane, where tracks are far closer to street level, “I don’t think an elevator is needed,” Busch said.

Busch added that both new high-level platforms were designed at  “four feet above Top-Of-Rail elevation” throughout the station, an ADA-compliant standard.  The last phase, he said, includes completing the platform panels and guardrails, installing the remaining lighting, touching up the paint through out and “completing the ADA-accessible ramps.”So does that mean the station’s ADA-accessible? “We look to see if they’re compliant with the ADA’s overall guidelines,” said Rocco Iacullo, staff attorney with the Disability Rights Network. “The high-level platform needs to be level with the train car, though they are allowed to use bridge plates for wheelchair users if they need to. And they need to provide ramps to the station and the platform.”Iacullo told Newsworks that Allen Lane is not considered a “key station” by the Federal Transit Administration, which means these renovations receive less strict federal scrutiny. But when any station is renovated and new platform approaches are built, there now must be a ramp or slope that does not rise more than an inch for every 12 feet of space traveled.The Allen Lane wheelchair-friendly ramps are still under-construction. When they’re completed, a wheelchair-user will be able to access the both train platforms from the street level.For Laura Young the ramps won’t solve her problem.  “Ramps?  That doesn’t really help me,” she said. “People who use canes — even a gentle slope can be trouble, especially if you’re in a hurry.Which brings us back to where we began: to the shiny new pedestrian overpass, its fresh paint barely dry. The steps are tricky for almost anyone to navigate quickly. And as difficult as the bridge was for Young and some others, it’s obviously impossible for those with more severe impairments, including people in wheelchairs.SEPTA’s Busch points out that they can cross over the tracks by leaving the station and using the Allens Lane bridge and use the soon-to-be completed ramps to get to other platform.Practically speaking, said Iacullo of Disability Rights Network, “It’s up to the person to plan their trip. SEPTA has to put on their website which stations do have elevators.” The agency does have an extensive system of CCT Connect vans as an alternative.But other advocates say that’s not enough. “If it’s not technically feasible [to put in a ramp that crosses over the tracks], that’s different – but you have to say why,” said attorney Steve Gold, who has helped Disability in Action bring actions against SEPTA in the past.Gold pronounced himself satisfied with the planned ramps, but said that the bridge is a serious unanswered question: “Why can’t the bridge not accessible for more people?”

We want to know what you think about this. Do you think Laura Young is asking too much? Do you think SEPTA should have built elevators on both sides of the pedestrian bridge so wheelchair users could use it too?

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.