I angered the Subway Gods yesterday. When I wrote last night about my fast, efficient and painless rides between Manhattan and Brooklyn, someone up there — one of those subway watchers in the sky — decided to enact some vengeance, and when retribution came on Thursday, it was slow and painful.
On Thursday morning, during the tail end of rush hour, I had to venture again from Grand Army Plaza to Yankee Stadium/161th St. in the Bronx. This two-borough, two-subway ride usually isn’t too terrible. I find the 2 or 3 arrive fairly frequently, and switching to the 4 at Nevins St. is about as painless as it can get. But yesterday, my experiences on the 4 were dreadful.
The first part of the ride — the transfer — went about as smooth as can be. I caught a Manhattan-bound 2 as it arrived at Grand Army Plaza and made it to Nevins St. five minutes later. While the first train that pulled up on the express tracks was a rush hour 5 making stops in Brooklyn, the train right behind it was a 4. Little did I realize the trouble that 5 would present.
Since I didn’t feel like switching again at 149th St.-Grand Concourse for a Woodlawn-bound 4, I let the 5 pass me and boarded the 4 well ahead of the time I need to get to the Stadium. The 4 swiftly traveled to Borough Hall and then utterly crawled from Borough Hall through the Joralemon St. Tunnel and up the supposed express tracks underneath Lexington Ave. At no point did this rush hour 4 train seem like an express, and in fact, I could have taken the 6 from at least 86th St. — and probably 59th St. — and still beaten my 4 to 125th St.
At every station, the automated male voice would announce that the train was moving slowly “due to train traffic ahead of us.” Every five minutes, the automated announcer would “apologize for the unavoidable delay.” As the minutes ticked by, I sat there silently fuming, knowing that my ride was taking a good 10 minutes longer than it should have.
While Wednesday’s rides showed how the subways could be if the trains ran so frequently as make waiting times seem negligent, today’s rides showed what happens when subway lines are running trains at capacity. The East Side IRT lines are, by far, the most crowded lines in New York. That is, after all, why the MTA is working to build that ever-promised Second Ave. Subway. To address the crowds, the MTA has added train after train until we arrived at our present situation: a subway line packed with trains.
While completely saturating the Lexington Ave. Express line makes for a slightly less crowded commute, it also makes for the most sluggish express ride you’ll ever take. It makes for an express ride so slow that the local trains seem to be zooming by. While yesterday I had to urge more funding for trains, today, I have to wonder if the MTA has overdone it on the East Side IRT. Is it better for passengers, psychologically, to be on trains that actually go at express speeds or is it better for them to have the illusion of space at rush hour?
Thursday’s ride also, for me, highlighted the need for the proposed flip seats that would be in the up position during rush hour. If these flipped seats allow New York City Transit to decrease the train load on the IRT in order to speed up the trains, I’m all for it. Otherwise, the trains will fill up with passengers frustrated by one too many unavoidable delays.