The Ups and Downs of NYC Subway Elevators

Outdoor stairwell leading to the NYC subway with a sign displaying that there is also an elevator available on the avenue.
Data Clinic social good hackers jump-start analyses to better understand New York City subway elevators.

As several high-profile stories have highlighted this year, accessibility — especially in the NYC subway system — is on a lot of people’s minds. After connecting with several advocates for increased accessibility, the Data Clinic team read the MTA’s plan to expand accessibility efforts in their latest Capital Program for 2020–2024. We reflected on what the experience of navigating NYC’s underground mass transit when reliant on elevators might be and were curious if data might be able to better support this segment of New Yorkers.

These questions inspired us to bring together about 20 people from across Two Sigma for an internal Hack Day to tackle this very issue earlier this month. The Data Clinic team prepared some key datasets in advance: turnstile data indicating traffic in and out of stations, elevator outage data, and a mapping between subway lines and stations. The questions we posed to our colleagues was could we tie these datasets together to uncover a nuanced understanding of the relationship between outages and subway users?

We split into a few teams that focused on three elements of this puzzle:

  • Decrypting the underground labyrinths.
  • Breaking down outages by people impacted.
  • Understanding outages along common journeys.

Excitingly, this is just the beginning. Could these analyses help optimize scheduled maintenance? Help elevator users plan alternative routes? Inform future system improvements?

The rush-hour crowd shuffles through a designated accessible boarding area.

One lesson we all came away with: New Yorkers feel a certain sense of pride about the grit needed to live in this city — to deal with the sidewalks packed with tourists, the exhaustion of the last set of stairs in a fourth-floor walk-up, the rush-hour sardine-packed subway cars… but the mettle needed to be a New Yorker when the world isn’t so easy to navigate? Being wheelchair-bound, pushing a stroller, temporarily on crutches, dragging a heavy suitcase? These New Yorkers know grit.

We look forward to sharing our research, including data and code that we’ll open source, and hope it will be a helpful resource to all civic hackers. Stay tuned!

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