Outrage and Empathy After a Mother’s Death on Subway Stairs
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Two days after a 22-year-old woman with her 1-year-old daughter in a stroller fell down the steps of a Manhattan subway station, the city’s medical examiner suggested that the woman’s death was not caused by the fall but “appears to be related to a pre-existing medical condition.”
The chief medical examiner, Dr. Barbara Sampson, did not provide details except to say that there was “no significant trauma” in the death of the woman, Malaysia Goodson. She said the cause of Ms. Goodson’s death had not yet been determined. Ms. Goodson’s daughter Rhylee, who was tucked in the stroller, survived.
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For much of the day before the medical examiner’s announcement, the incident prompted an anguished dialogue about life in New York City — about how people rarely offer to lend a hand to those with strollers, about how so many subway stations lack elevators, about how the elevators in stations that have them are so often broken and about how the limitations of the city’s old and creaking transportation system create obstacles, not just for people with small children but for older passengers and people with disabilities.
More than any other, the idea of stopping and helping someone echoed through the conversation on social media and on the subway lines of the country’s busiest and biggest public transit system.
“Sometimes strangers will offer to help,” said Aurora Nona-Barnes, 35, “but not as often as you think.” Ms. Nona-Barnes, who was riding the B train on the Upper West Side, had her 2½-year-old son in a stroller and said she was eight months pregnant with her second child.
Outside the station where Ms. Goodson died, several people, including some in wheelchairs, left flowers at a makeshift memorial for Ms. Goodson. And in Albany, the managing director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority told state lawmakers that the agency would consider making the station accessible. It opened in the 1930s and has escalators that only go up. It has no elevator.
Online, there were efforts to raise money for Ms. Goodson’s family. One page on GoFundMe.com was set up by Ms. Goodson’s brother Dieshe to help pay funeral expenses because the family does not have the money. “If you could help me please lay my sister in peace,” he wrote, it “would help me be at peace knowing I did” what “she what have done for me.”
Another campaign on GoFundMe, set up by the daycare center where Ms. Goodson worked, is raising money for Rhylee’s education.
“This has heavied a lot of hearts,” her brother wrote.
As her family mourned, a reader who identified herself on nytimes.com only as E wrote that she “thought back on the times I tried to get myself, my toddler and my stroller down the steep, uneven, and poorly maintained stairs, with others rushing and pushing by.”
“Those who stopped to help were godsends,” she wrote, adding: “I always worried I’d break a leg or my child would fall and hit his head.”
But like so many New Yorkers who navigate the subway system every day without realizing how treacherous it can be — or how quickly something could go unstoppably wrong — she said she never imagined that she would die. “I am so sorry that this happened to this woman and to her family,” she wrote.
She wrote that she tries to assist others, but she is older and “it is harder now that my knees have given out and I need to lean on the railing.”
Ms. Goodson’s daughter was conscious and was treated at the scene. Her mother, Tamika Goodson, said on Tuesday that Rhylee was reunited with her father and grandmother in the city and was doing well.
Others had memories of disturbingly close calls.
“I used to commute by subway from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side, where I worked, carrying my infant son in a chest pack,” wrote Lynn Somerstein. “I fell down the subway stairs once, too, but was able to twist around and take the fall on my right shoulder while holding my son’s head away from the concrete stairs.” He was unscathed, but, as she added, “We were lucky.”
Last year, Andy Byford, the subway chief, proposed a sweeping rescue plan for the failing system that included adding enough elevators by 2025 so that no subway rider would be more than two stops from an accessible station.
That is an ambitious goal for a system in which only about a quarter of the city’s 472 subway stations are wheelchair accessible, one of the lowest percentages of any major transit system in the world.
The rail networks in Boston and Chicago, like New York’s subway, are century-plus old systems. Yet they have more than twice the station accessibility, which means they offer more opportunities for passengers who cannot navigate stairs.
Some 71 percent of Boston’s subway stations and 69 percent of Chicago’s rail stations have been made accessible. Both cities have concrete plans to reach full accessibility.
The transit agency in New York says the ultimate goal is full systemwide accessibility, and it has been conducting a systemwide survey, assessing accessibility in every remaining station that needs it. On Thursday, Veronique Hakim, the managing director of the transit agency, told state lawmakers that the agency would consider making the station where Ms. Goodson died accessible.
Advocates for the disabled said that accessibility helps everyone. “A more sensitive policy recognizes that at some point in everyone’s life, they’re going to need greater measures of accessibility,” said Danny Pearlstein, the policy and communications director for the transit advocacy group Riders Alliance.
That includes parents with strollers as well as people carrying packages or suitcases or people with injuries that temporarily limit their mobility.
Another group, Disability Rights Advocates, is involved in three class-action lawsuits against the transit agency that involve accessibility. One challenges the agency’s failure to install elevators in every station. Another focuses on elevator breakdowns and alleges that elevator maintenance problems have the effect of excluding people with disabilities from the subway.
At many stations in New York where elevators have been added, the elevators often carry as many parents with strollers as people with disabilities.
Diego Perez, 44, said he had noticed how limiting the subway system was, especially for parents — but then he developed a hip problem that forces him to walk with a cane.
“It’s just difficult getting up and down the stairs,” he said, standing outside of a station in Astoria, Queens, that does not have an elevator. “And people rush to get in front of you.”
Buses may be more accessible, but there is a problem for disabled people, parents or travelers with suitcases. “The buses are packed,” he said, as he leaned on his cane and winced from knee pain.
Some subway riders said they try to help parents with strollers. Tony Mitchell, 55, figured that he does so three times a month — the last time on Monday, at the station at 103rd Street on the Lexington Avenue line.
He said the mother was trying to go down the stairs backward with the stroller, which could have been dangerous for the child. But especially on days like Wednesday, with the temperature at the freezing mark and an icy wind piercing by, the bus, he said, was not a suitable alternative for parents with strollers.
“You can’t feel the cold down underground,” he said. “With the bus, you’re right in the open with a baby. And that’s not right.”
Rosie Navarro, 38, went through the usual routine, lifting her son Rodrigo out of his stroller and hoping that someone would carry it or him. Sometimes someone offers to assist, sometimes not, she said as Rodrigo began to cry.
Ms. Navarro said the stations near where she lives in western Queens lack accessibility. The closest accessible station in one director is at Queens Plaza, two stations from the one in her neighborhood. In the other direction, she said, the closest station was four stops away.
Walking to either station with a stroller could take a half-hour, she said.
“It’s difficult,” she said. “Without elevators, it’s just difficult.”
Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Michael Gold, Derek Norman, Nate Schweber and John Surico contributed reporting.
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