With new Government Center, MBTA takes another step toward accessibility

The new station will be wheelchair-accessible.

After major renovations, the Government Center T station has a new glassy look, more room for entry, and some swanky new flooring. But the primary reason the station went offline for two years was to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act by making it wheelchair-accessible.

The renovation has created two elevators each for the station’s Green Line and Blue Line platforms. Additionally, the platforms will be sloped to better allow for accessibility, according to Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority General Manager Frank DePaola.

Government Center is the last of the stations linking two or more lines to be made accessible. It had, until now, been the most heavily used station lacking in accessibility, according to T data.

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“It will be the first time I’ll be able to get into that station since I was a child,’’ said Jim White, chairman of the Access Advisory Committee to the MBTA. “This is a real milestone. Government Center is a real key position. It’s City Hall.’’

Several years ago, the MBTA settled a class action lawsuit involving the Boston Center for Independent Living, committing the agency to improving services for disabled riders. In the decade since, White said, things have improved significantly, both in terms of access to transit and in terms of staff training to assist and better serve disabled riders.

A 2009 New York City report about transportation access in the Big Apple said the T’s post-settlement actions “set the standard’’ for other older transit systems implementing accessibility measures. It described the T’s accessibility efforts as “the most aggressive in the country,’’ and favorably compared the percentage of accessible MBTA stations (at the time, 65 percent) to New York’s figure (18 percent).

Philadelphia’s primary lines are about 35 percent accessible, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. In Chicago, about 70 percent of stations are accessible. All stations in Washington D.C. are accessible, according to its transitsystem’s website.

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On the T today, 71 percent of T subway stations and 76 percent of commuter rail stations are accessible. The T’s buses are all accessible, and the agency says its elevators are operational 99 percent of the time.

Laura Brelsford, the MBTA’s assistant general manager of system-wide accessibility, said Government Center was the last of the stations the T classified as “essential’’ to be made accessible.

Now the agency is planning for the future, considering and prioritizing the 69 remaining rapid transit and commuter rail that are inaccessible. The process of developing a “Plan for Accessible Transit Infrastructure’’ will involve surveying disabled riders and developing conceptual accessibility plans, Brelsford said.

’’Once we gather all the data, we are going to work on – how do we make as many improvements as quickly as possible,’’ she said.

Brelsford said it is premature to say how the priorities may take shape. But she said achieving 100 percent accessibility on the Green Line’s underground stations might be an achievable goal. Three underground stations would need changes to get to that point—Boylston, Symphony, and Hynes. At Hynes, a proposed private development could result in station renovations and accessiblity measures in a few years.

The majority of the 37 inaccessible rapid transit stations are located on the above-ground western portions of the Green Line.

Brelsford said the most challenging stations are on the Green Line’s B branch, because the platforms are narrow.

“Even if we raised the platforms up,’’ Brelsford said, “they’re not wide enough for somebody using a wheelchair to turn off of the trolley and on to the platform. Making those stations accessible requires widening the platform.’’

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And widening the platform requires not just work on the part of the T, but collaboration with the city of Boston to adjust roadways and sidewalks as a result, Brelsford said. One portion of the line is already slated for such a maneuver. The T is planning on making two stations accessible as part of a project that will see four of the B branch’s many stations along Commonwealth Avenue consolidated into two.

In a presentation to the T’s board last year, Brelsford said accessibility and station repair work often go hand in hand.

Some accessibility projects might serve to bring portions of the station into a state of good repair. Alternatively, some repair work on inaccessible stations — depending on how much money is spent and on what aspects of a station — can trigger state and federal requirements that the station be made accessible.

“If there is no plan for access, MBTA will be faced with not repairing [state of good repair] issues at inaccessible stations or closing those stations,’’ the presentation said.

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