The signs of impending service cuts

By · Published in 2010

Thousands of signs throughout the subway system will have to be changed in advance of the June service cuts. (Photo by flickr user TheTruthAbout…)

When Monday, June 28 rolls around, New York City commuters will be plenty confused. The MTA’s service changes will knock out hundreds of bus stops and two subway lines with another — the M — being rerouted up Sixth Ave. To make sure the system is telling people where to go, New York City Transit will have to change approximately 2750 signs at 154 stations. We know how the bus stops are being phased out, but what of the signs underground?

Today, Michael Grynbaum takes us inside the sign shop as Transit prepares for a station overhaul. The guys in that division, Grynbaum writes, have to ready 25,000 maps to go along with the 2750 signs that will start to be put in place two weeks before the cuts go into effect. Nothing with the V or W bullets or the current brown M train is too small to be forgotten.

The replacements range in size and price. A small vinyl M decal, newly orange, may cost the agency about $25 to produce. A giant porcelain sign, like “42 St — Times Square,” costs about $300 to make. All told, the cost of the new signs and maps is expected to reach about $800,000. Some of that money was already budgeted, the agency said, since new maps are printed every year.

All traces of the V and W trains, two of this year’s casualties, must be struck from the system, while decals for the rerouted M line — it will head north on Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan, replacing the V — must be added to signs and entrances at dozens of stations. Even more minor changes require dozens of replacements. The Q line, for instance, will now terminate in Queens, not Midtown Manhattan, which means every station along its route must advertise “Q to Astoria” rather than the current “57 St — 7 Av…”

Some of the changes will start as slapdash: The circular logos for the V train — known in-house as bullets — will get an M decal taped over for now, and will later be replaced with a permanent sticker. A small station may need fewer than a dozen signs replaced; a major transfer point, West Fourth Street, which will now be a stop for the M instead of the V, requires 147 new signs. But don’t expect new signs at big stations like Herald Square or Rockefeller Center until just a few hours before the changes. “Anything in Manhattan, we try to wait until the last minute,” Mr. Montemarano said.

A mid-2008 sign change caught on camera. Photo by Benjamin Kabak

For the most part, reports Grynbaum, the changes won’t occur until the weekend before the day the service cuts go into place. Then, he writes, “a phalanx of maintenance workers is poised to fan out across the system — ladders and fresh signs in tow…The idea is to minimize confusion and allow breathing room for any last-minute revisions: In 2009, the entire service-cut package was avoided by an 11th-hour Albany bailout.” That bailout won’t come, but the signs need to change.

The signs though aren’t the only things to go. Subway and bus maps that live throughout the system must be switched out as well. Approximately 7000 bus maps will be changed, and 1800 in-station subway maps are to be replaced. With a system as massive as New York City’s, the scope of this project is massive.

When the last remaining vestiges of the W and V trains are removed, when no sign proclaims an M to Bay Parkway, Transit will attempt to sell off the old pieces of metal. Some collectors will buy the signs for wall decorations, some will end up in the Transit Museum’s collection and the rest will be lost to the history of an ever-changing subway system. After all, nothing — not even the short-lived V train — is forever.

18 Responses to “The signs of impending service cuts”

  1. Josh says:

    How does it cost $25 to make a sticker?

    • Scott E says:

      That probably also includes the labor to travel to the site, put caution tape around the area, set up a ladder or scaffold which won’t topple over by the wind rush from an approaching train, etc.

      What I can’t understand is why a temporary decal gets taped up, to later be replaced by a more permanent decal. I mean, I understand if it would be replaced by a new sign, but another sticker?

  2. SEAN says:


    How do you take a MTA sign & end up turning it into a rap star?

    Hint hint, look back at the photo at the top of the post.

    • Jerrold says:

      Have it say something “dirty” like “ENTER A CROSS BROAD”?
      (Remember, “cross” can mean “in a bad mood”.)

      • Jerrold says:

        Sean, was I right?

        • Nope. He was referring to the fact that eliminating the M will create stops with the J-Z train as there are throughout Brooklyn, and Jay-Z is a famous hip hop artist and producer who grew up in Marcy in Brooklyn.

          • Jerrold says:

            I must have been “reading too deep”.
            I’m not a rap fan to begin with, but now that you’ve reminded me, I HAVE heard of the artist J-Z.

            • SEAN says:

              You have a dirty mind! One more remark like that & you will be skinned! LOL

              The prior phrase is a reference to the ABC show “V”, it’s my new favorite program. At least this V is sticking around.

          • SEAN says:


            It hit me when I took a second look at your photo.

        • Jerrold says:

          Here’s another one similar to that:

          To me, graffiti usually looks very ugly, but this was one that really make me laugh good.
          Some years ago in a subway station, there was a white-letters-on-black sign that included the words “use underpass to exit”.
          Somebody had blacked out the u, the n, PART of the d, and
          the p.
          So the sign now said “use her ass to exit”.

          • Josh says:

            Speaking of hip-hop artists, I got a chuckle when I saw a “WET PAINT” sign that someone had, er, redacted (that is to say, tore the ends off of) so that it said “T PAIN”.

  3. Joe from SI says:

    It’s going to be weird going back to school next semester and not seeing the W at South Ferry. It is just going to be like an open void with that third track empty.

  4. jfruh says:

    Is there anywhere online that has a map of what the system is going to look like after the cutbacks?

    • Not yet. I’m waiting for one, but I believe the map designers are still working on it. Basically, will look similar to the current one but the M will be orange and go up Sixth Ave. via the Chrystie St. Cut instead of to Bay Parkway and the Q instead of the W will go to Astoria.

  5. It’s funny, I have yet heard anyone mention how the new (M) on 6th Avenue, though following the same exact route of the current (V), will be significantly more crowded. Consider this: The (V) currently runs a full set of cars, 8 R46’s or 10 R32’s/R160’s. The (M) can only handle the operation of 8 R160’s as the East New York BMT platforms are only that long. If you currently take the (M) in south Brooklyn along 4th Avenue/West End Line, the train is clearly shorter. Such will be the case, except along the 6th Avenue, 53rd Street, and Queens Boulevard corridors, all lines with significantly higher volume.

    Those with seats on the (V) might have to forget about getting a seat on the new orange (M).

    • Rhywun says:

      Yeah, getting a seat was nice while it lasted on my R. The new cars we got a few weeks ago with 1/3 less seating are toughening us up for the even more crowded conditions to come with the elimination of the M. No more catnaps before and after work 🙁

  6. Paul says:

    A couple years ago, when the CTA in Chicago introduced the new Pink Line, they of course had to replace a lot of maps. Somehow, someone accidentally changed the station name for Belmont (on a completely different part of the map) to “Bemont” on the in-car signs. And somehow, they went to print without anyone noticing. They went up in the cars for a while because it was more important to have the Pink Line correct than to worry about a small but annoying–and expensive–typo. When they finally got taken down, they became something of a collector’s item among Chicago L fans.


  1. […] a companion piece to his take on the changing Transit signage, New York Times scribe Michael Grynbaum profiled the MTA’s color schemes this afternoon. He […]

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>