A Promise Deferred: An Examination of Accessibility’s Intersection with Race/Ethnicity in the Philadelphia Transit System and the New York City Subway

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Henry Goldberg, J.D. Candidate, 2023, Columbia Law School; B.A., 2020, Vanderbilt

Over thirty years after the passage of the Americans with
Disabilities Act, Philadelphia’s rail and trolley networks and New
York City’s subway system are still terrible for accessibility. In New
York, a mere 24–28% of stations are accessible. For people with
disabilities—particularly mobility disabilities—this makes the
accessible parts of the two cities’ transit systems invaluable for
everything from economic prosperity to general connectivity to the
rest of their communities. Thus, one might wonder who has access to
this vital resource. Is station accessibility split up along racial/ethnic
lines? If so, what remedies might exist under Title VI and/or the ADA
to fix that?
This Note employs an empirical analysis in order to answer
the first question, relying on geospatial data paired with
corresponding Census demographic data. The results of the linear
and logistic regressions indicate that race is indeed correlated with accessibility levels. In Philadelphia, stations are less likely to be
accessible when located in areas with higher concentrations of Black
residents, and in New York City, they are less likely to be accessible
when located in areas with higher concentrations of Latine and, in
particular, Afro-Latine residents. The Federal Transit
Administration’s forthcoming revised Circular offers an opportunity
to correct this problem. Failing that, however, there is likely enough
evidence to warrant at least the filing of an administrative complaint
under Title VI.

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