The city is fascinating—perverse, complex, sometimes maddening, sometimes startlingly beautiful, full of the middles of stories whose beginnings and ends you never see. It accommodates the press of its population by doing what it does quickly. This is a big source of visitor interaction problems. They expect that slow newbie-friendly graphical user interface they’re used to from suburban malls, fast-food chain outlets, and the interstate highway system. What they get is a Greek immigrant who expects them to rattle off “butteredpoppyseedbagel coffeelightnosugar” and not need to be told that now is when you pay for it. We’re not unfriendly. We just know there are people in line behind us.
(The other big tourist problem is failing to grasp that most shouts, honks, and comments from strangers are meant to be informative: Pray notice that you’re doing the wrong thing in an expert system.)
The city’s all about maintaining flow at maximum capacity. The ceaseless passage of people and money and traffic wears away at its fabric. New structures are built on top of the not-entirely-obliterated ruins. I think that’s a lot of the fascination: the expertise, the complexity, the constantly renegotiatiated balance of infrastructure and capacity, and the visible history of how that process has worked out in the past.It breeds passionate fannish interests. Consider the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s MTA Transit Page: fine in its way, but hampered by merely being official. What you want to dive into is the one done for love: www.nycsubway.org. It starts with the Subway Technical FAQ, a modest little display of transit-nerd street cred:
63rd Street Tunnel A Day in the Life…It follows this with links to its separate pages about every station on the IRT. And every station on the BMT. And the IRT/BMT Dual Contract portions of the system. And every station on the IND. And every kind of subway car. And subway maps, including fantasy maps which to my eye are indistinguishable from the real ones. Then it gets into the really technical stuff…
Abandoned or Unused Subway Tunnels or Connections
Completed Portions of the 2nd Ave. Subway
Disused and Abandoned Stations
Early Elevated Lines
Early New York City Transit Tunnels
Beach Pneumatic - New York Times 2/4/1912
Beach Pneumatic - Scientific American 3/5/1870
Elevated Portions of the Subway
Evidence of Demolished and Abandoned Lines
Ex-BMT/IND/IRT Line Designations
Facts & Figures
How Subway Cars Are Delivered
How To Identify Car Types
IRT - BMT - IND: A Brief History of the Subway
Index of NYC Subway Map Versions
Interconnections Between IRT and IND/BMT Divisions
Line Assignments - Number of Trains for Rush Hour Service
NYC Subway Accidents
Number, Letter, Color Code Systems
Photography in the Subway
Photography on Transit Systems
Subway Terminology Glossary
Three-Track portions of the subway
Touring the Subway
Train Marker Lights, 1976
Unused Express Tracks
Well Known Non-Connections
What is OPTO/ATO (One Person/Automatic Train Operation)
It’s obsessive. I have to respect that.
You might also check out The Other Side of the Rails, or the New York Subway Resources site, on the grounds that they might conceivably have some bits of information not available on www.nycsubway.org. Subway Web News is more a consumer resource than a history-and-tech site, but they do keep a great logfile of news stories involving the transit system. For the real newbie, there’s the New York Subway Finder. If you feed it a street address, it’ll identify the subway station closest to it.
OldNYC.com is about the old, sometimes vanished, sometimes persisting transportation infrastructure, organized as photographic virtual tours. It’s a good way to see the underlying logic of things. For example, you can follow tour #5, which maps the route of Robert Moses’ proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway. The LOMEX project would have gouged a multi-lane elevated freeway across lower Manhattan, taking out chunks of Chinatown, Little Italy, the Lower East Side, Soho, and Tribeca. Pay particular attention to the “urban blight” Moses wanted to replace with a nice new freeway. Then follow tour #6, Gowanus Expressway Viaduct, and see what happened when Moses pushed a similar freeway through a series of formerly thriving Brooklyn neighborhoods.
The great and mighty site for lost and vanished pieces of the city is Forgotten NY. Nothing that I can say about it is as good as just going there and exploring the site. It’s one of the jewels of the web.
Joseph Brennan, now, is a specialist. His thing is abandoned subway stations—and station levels, and platforms, and uncompleted works. I’ve caught glimpses of those myself, and I see the attraction. They look exactly like the other parts of the NYC subway system, only with no people in them and no trains coming and going. It’s unnerving. It makes you imagine that the known spaces of the subway system might be contiguous with another universe of empty, unused, alternate stations and tracks; and to wonder where they might be, and who uses them. It’s no accident that so many fantasies have been written about underground New York.
Brennan has a page about the unused Myrtle and De Kalb Avenue platforms, home of a wonderfully strange work of art called the Masstransiscope, by an artist named Bill Brand. My memories have been shifting and resettling in recent years, so I’m not perfectly sure that what I’m remembering about the Masstransiscope isn’t Moshe Feder telling me about it, but it seems to me that on some long-ago subway ride, when I was visiting New York but hadn’t yet moved here, I had the Masstransiscope pointed out to me as we rode past it.
It’s a clever thing—a sort of giant linear zoetrope that plays an animated cartoon made up of 228 hand-painted images. As the train goes past the Masstransiscope, you see the successive images through a series of slits, which turns them into an animated cartoon. Happily, through the magic of the internet you can see the Masstransiscope animation in all its original glory, and read about its construction too.
On the subject of strange forgotten art in the subways, I have to mention the thing I ran across one night in the convoluted depths of Canal Street station. This was back in the bad old days of stalactites and TAKI 183 tags, when untended station areas were often sooty and murky, and had pools of standing water along the track lines on their lower levels.
This was in one of those areas, a long platform you had to traverse to change from the #6 Lexington to the N/R lines. The tracks nearest the platforms were still in use, but not the center section’s old express tracks. It was late. The lighting was dim. And when I glanced toward the unlit center track section at the end of the station, I saw what looked like a half-size Viking ship, lying at anchor in the pool of standing water that covered the tracks.
I stopped. I blinked. I looked harder. The ship didn’t go away. When we’d climbed back up to the higher levels, I asked a station employee whether I had in fact seen a ship down there. “Yeah,” he said; “they’re not using those tracks until they get them fixed up, and they’re not going to start working down there for a while yet, so they let some artist do that.”Www.nycsubway.org turns out to know all about it. The ship was supposed to look like a Venetian gondola. It was the last survivor of five gondolas installed there. Probably it looked more like one when the lights were on and it still had its little awning. But it was still carrying out its intended function:
New York, NY—New York City’s Canal Street subway station will be host to an elaborate installation of a Venetian canal created by Russian artist Alexander Brodsky from December 4, through January 31, 1997. … Artist Alexander Brodsky describes the viewer’s surreal experience of the installation as one walks through the subway as “one of the millions of strange things that happen to you in the city. Passing through the long space, you suddenly see across the tracks a mirage—lights, water, boats—you see a canal. It’s both real and unreal at the same time. You stop briefly trying to understand why it’s here and then you go on with your life, keeping the mirage in your memory. You might come back another day to check.—was it a dream or not?”It worked.
A last bit from Joseph Brennan’s Abandoned Stations site is his page about everyone’s favorite ghost stop: fabulous City Hall Station. It was beautiful, but it never worked all that well as a station, and eventually the MTA closed it. You can read more about it here, here, and here.
Thus the subways. You can’t go any deeper than that without hitting bedrock, at which point you’ll want an overview of New York geology, with its many cool maps and diagrams. If you need a shorter, snappier explanation, try The Birth of Long Island, a.k.a. “How all your topsoil wound up in my neighborhood.” You can also contemplate the odds of NYC having an earthquake.
Back up to the surface, and another couple of devoted specialists. One is Frank Jump of Fading Ad Campaign, who collects old fading signs painted on the sides of buildings. The other is Jeff of Jeff’s Streetlights Site. There are many fine strange things on his site, but to my mind the best part is where he explains the personalities of different streetlight models. Also, Jeff thinks everyone should read Charles De Lint.
Fiborough Bridges is Transportation Alternatives’ guide to NYC bridges you can cross on foot, bicycle, or rollerblade. Their latest cheery announcement: As of Spring 2001, all of the Manhattan East River Bridges provide 24-hour bike and pedestrian access for the first time in at least 50 years. It’s like baseball stats.
Transportation Alternatives is very big on the rights of bicyclists, and has nothing, absolutely nothing, repeat nothing, to do with the purely spontaneous (yet recurrent) Critical Mass bicycle events. (Slogan: “We aren’t blocking traffic; we are traffic.”)
You should see the nighttime mass inline skating events. One skater is vulnerable. Twenty or thirty skaters own the road.Another good site for river crossings is Justin JIH’s United States: New York, New Jersey: New York City Bridges and Tunnels. It’s a terse, functional site, much of it in four languages, and it’s so logical that a Martian could use it. It begins:
This web page uses UTF-8 encoding.That guy doesn’t take anything for granted. Nycroads.com is just what it sounds like it is. It’s great when you need to know stuff like:
The United States uses right-hand traffic and the United States dollar (USD).
New York and New Jersey are UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) -04:00 from 02:00 on the 1st Sunday in April to 02:00 on the last Sunday in October but UTC-05:00 at other times.
ISO 6709 locates bridges and tunnels in the format of +DD.DDDD-DDD.DDDD/Postcodes are called ZIP (zoning improvement plan) codes in the United States.
(northern (+) latitude and western (-) longitude in decimal degrees). New York City is at +40.75-074.00/.
Examples: New York NY 10002 and Jersey City NJ 07310 (NY = New York, NJ = New Jersey).
No single-occupant cars are permitted on crossings entering Manhattan south of 14th Street during weekdays from 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM. Bridges and tunnels entering Manhattan south of 63rd Street are OPEN only to passenger cars with two or more occupants (HOV use), buses and trucks. Vehicles with official, medical (including EMT), press, disabled, medallion taxi (including TLC and livery) and commercial plates are exempt from the HOV restrictions. Motorcycles are also exempt from the restrictions. Manhattan-bound HOV restrictions apply 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM Monday-Friday (except holidays) on the following crossings: Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel (I-478), Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge, Holland Tunnel (I-78).And that’s not even getting into alternate side of the street parking regs. See what I mean about expert systems?
If you’re driving, there are two great sources of pertinent information. One is station 1010 WINS, purveyors of broadcast and online traffic alerts. You know these guys—“You give us twenty-two minutes, we’ll give you the world.” What they actually give you is just the top few AP stories du jour, repeated over and over, because they’ve only spent forty-five cents of their programming budget on news reporting and thrown the rest at Jam Cams and traffic-watch helicopters. They understand a great truth: nobody listens to them for pleasure. They’re the station you switch to right after saying “Oh, shit. Let’s see if we can find out what’s happening.”The other source of immediately pertinent information is Gridlock Sam, the really great traffic expert with the really wonky website. Skip that. Go instead to the New York Daily News site and track down Gridlock Sam’s column. It’s easy. Just look in the left sidebar for the link to “Traffic and Parking.” Here are some excerpts from this weekend’s traffic forecast:
Today and tomorrow, all city parking rules are in effect. On Sunday, no parking and no standing anytime rules remain in effect. On Monday, all city parking rules are in effect.That doesn’t give you the full Gridlock Sam experience. For that, you need his annual Thanksgiving column on how to get out of the city with the least amount of aggravation. Failing that, try Gridlock Sam Urges Fresh Start For NYC Tolls. It’s an article from Mobilizing the Region, the weekly bulletin of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
Football season is upon us, and the Giants will open Sunday at 1 p.m. at Giants Stadium against the St. Louis Rams. Expect the usual game-related delays on Route 3, Route 17 and the western spur of the New Jersey Turnpike.
The Latinos Unidos Parade takes place in Brooklyn on Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. along Graham Ave. from Broadway to Grand St., then Grand St. to Lorimer St.
Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Hoop It Up Basketball Tournament will close Water St. between Broad and Fulton Sts.; Front St. between Old Slip and Fulton St.; Fletcher St. between Water and Pearl Sts., and Gouverneur Lane between South and Water Sts.
Ninth Ave. between 23rd and 31st Sts. will be a no-go for drivers Sunday from 11a.m. to 6 p.m. so the Penn South Independence Inc. Street Fair can be held.
The Tomchei Torah Chaim Birnbaum Church Ave. Spectacular takes place Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Church Ave. between McDonald Ave. and Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn.
E. Fordham Road between Morris Ave. and E. Kingsbridge Road and Valentine Ave. between 188th and 192nd Sts. is the location of the Bronx Council for Economic Development Festival, scheduled for Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.The northbound Harlem River Drive at E. 155th St. (including the entrance ramp) will have one lane closed Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The TSTC is “an alliance of regional transportation experts, planning organizations and environmental groups working to improve transportation throughout the metropolitan region.” That doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but if you want to see how one policy tradeoff interacts with others in a complex system, this is the place to read about it. The site’s full of databits like “motorists [in NJ’s cities and towns] suffer a total of 1.6 million person-hours of delay in traffic jams every day.”It also has a fairly honest reek to it. I theorize that this is because its members all hail from areas where issues like “excessive automobile dependence” aren’t theoretical, and because they’re all specialists in figuring out when some piece of sleek-sounding language actually translates as “Your neighborhood is going to get dumped on.” Here they are on a recent round of fights over the development of the old West Side rail yards—in this case, rezoning proposals (including that perfectly insane proposal to build a giant sports arena in Manhattan) that are being snuck in under cover of plans to extend the #7 subway line:
We agree with many others testifying here that the uncertainty of funding for the Number 7 extension project raises a strong likelihood that the project will end up competing with other major NYC projects for MTA capital funds and for federal mass transit aid. We believe the Number 7 project, which will underwrite new real estate development and possibly major sports facility construction rather than solve existing transportation problems, is a lower priority than projects such as the Second Avenue Subway, LIRR access to Grand Central Terminal, a Cross-Harbor rail freight tunnel, and a second commuter rail tunnel connecting New Jersey and Manhattan.If you can’t see why any of that is interesting, I can’t see why you’re trying to write science fiction.
We ask that the DEIS contain a section on funding feasibility that takes these issues—the No. 7’s place within the MTA and NYC capital programs—into account.
We also especially urge members of the city Congressional delegation and state legislators to be on guard against the No. 7 project depleting funding and slowing this other essential work to expand our transit system and better balance our means of moving freight in and out of the city.
Traffic and parking: We appreciate that the scoping document for the subway extension and far west side development proposal emphasizes “transit oriented redevelopment” and sets one of the plan’s goals as “[minimizing] energy consumption, non-transit vehicle miles of travel and congestion on City streets…”
However, the parking and traffic sections of the scoping document do not give us confidence that this goal will be met, or will even be seriously considered beyond the extension of the subway line. Instead, the proposal seems to anticipate major increases in parking capacity and car trips within the study area.
The traffic and parking discussions in the scoping document heavily reflect the standard “predict and provide” school of traffic engineering that has done so much to foster and extend automobile dependence in our society. This is essentially a passive stance toward vehicle trip generation and parking requirements. Transit-oriented planning would accept that supplies of road capacity and parking will be major determinants of auto use in the development area, and plan accordingly to promote maximum use of transit and other alternatives. Instead, the scoping document appears to emphasize the anticipation of the likely maximum number of car trips and providing sufficient parking and road capacity for them.For instance:—The scoping document says the DEIS will “determine the general area’s capacity to accommodate additional parking.”Development of the study area will not be “transit-oriented” if parking supply sees a marked increase. Every study done on this issue has shown that parking supply is a key determinant of urban auto use. Major additions of parking to the area will inevitably foster a higher level of car use there and on connecting highways, avenues and streets.
—It notes that street widening is a likely “mitigation” measure for traffic congestion.—Zoning amendments described in the scoping document appendices state that developments in the area will be required to create a minimum number of parking spaces. For commercial development, “Accessory parking would be required for all commercial development based on a square footage rate. For residential, “Accessory parking would be required in high-density areas.”—The current parking inventory should be compared and contrasted in detail to the forecasted amount of parking for the study area based on the recommended zoning changes and anticipated facility construction in the DEIS. —Capacity, congestion and pollution analyses for Route 9a and other streets in and connecting to the study area should emphasize the demand that development will induce based on the growth of parking within the study area, not base its estimates on generic “background” traffic growth factors.Stadium construction: A west side football/Olympic stadium will likely require huge additions of parking in the study area and be a huge traffic generator. An 80,000-100,000 seat venue, even if it achieves an impressive 90% transit access rate, will require 8,000 to 10,000 parking spaces. Obviously, the DEIS road capacity, congestion and pollution analyses will have to account for this parking construction and traffic generation by sporting and convention center events. Traffic generation estimates for times when there are not sporting events or convention center events should also anticipate that travelers to the study area will base transport mode decisions in part on the availability of all of this parking. The DEIS should develop its traffic generation analyses accordingly.
There’s much, much more out there, but I have to stop now. That’s normal. I always run short of me before I run short of New York.