Malaysia Goodson was just 22 when she died. She fell down a flight of stairs in a Midtown Manhattan subway station on Monday evening and was found unconscious and unresponsive at the scene, her 1-year-old daughter—who’d been tucked in a stroller and was still alive—beside her.
As of Thursday morning, the cause of Goodson’s death was still unknown, though a spokeswoman for the city’s medical examiner wrote in an email that a preexisting health condition appears to have contributed to her fall. Regardless, the accident has drawn attention to a problem disability-rights advocates from New York to San Francisco have fought for years to little avail: The country’s public-transportation systems provide few accommodations for those who struggle to navigate the city in which they reside, for whatever reason. Maybe someone has a musculoskeletal disease that forces him into a wheelchair, or a mental-health condition that makes getting around safely difficult; maybe a person is blind or deaf or simply feeling off. Maybe someone is a manual laborer tasked with transporting unwieldy packages, or a disoriented traveler lugging around a large suitcase. Maybe the commuter is a parent, like Goodson, who simply needs to travel from Point A to Point B with a baby in a stroller.
“My daughter [started riding the] subway when she was two days old—that’s typical, that’s normal in New York City,” says Danny Pearlstein, the policy and communications director for a New York City rider-advocacy group called Riders Alliance. “And every time, it’s a struggle for us [parents] … The crisis of inaccessibility is an invisible crisis.”
Goodson died in the crowded Seventh Avenue station, a hub that connects Midtown to the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, Pearlstein says. As with roughly three-fourths of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s nearly 500 subway stations, the Seventh Avenue stop lacks an elevator. Meanwhile, many of the elevators that do exist are dysfunctional, or otherwise suffer from conditions—from cramped spaces to inconvenient locations—that discourage people from using them, according to The New York Times. A survey conducted by NYU professors including the transportation scholar Sarah Kaufman found that each of New York City’s existing subway elevators breaks down 53 times a year on average.