Greenpoint’s and Long Island City’s summer of their discontent came to end this morning as Transit restored G train service between Brooklyn and Queens. After shutting down the Greenpoint Tubes for Hurricane Sandy-related repairs in late July, the MTA celebrated wrapping the work on time this morning, and G trains will operate as they always do, sometimes more reliably than others, for the foreseeable future.
“Superstorm Sandy’s devastating impact on our Subway network posed a challenge never before faced by our organization,” NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco said in a statement. “However we rose to this challenge and are rebuilding our system better and stronger than before. The dedication of Transit personnel in rebuilding the Greenpoint Tubes and ensuring safe, reliable G train service for our customers is part of our continuing efforts to reinforce the system’s infrastructure and safeguard the most vulnerable areas of our subway system for decades to come.”
As the MTA has repeatedly noted, the Greenpoint Tubes suffered a considerable amount of damage during Sandy when three million gallons of salt water (and who knows what else from Newtown Creek) filled the tunnels that connect Brooklyn and Queens. Power cables corroded from the inside while rails and fasteners suffered significant damage. Ventilation, lighting and communications systems were all destroyed and still have not been fully restored. Still, service could resume today.
The shutdown, of course, was not without controversy or questionable conclusions by regular riders of the G train who bemoan service many view as unsatisfactory. In an amusing piece of person-on-the-street journalism, DNA Info reported that some G riders preferred shuttle buses to the subway. The shuttle buses, after all, ran far more frequently, albeit at significantly lower capacities, than the G train did. Business though in Northern Brooklyn and Long Island City are happy to see the subway connection restored even if the G will be undergoing a FASTRACK treatment next week.
Meanwhile, further south, the MTA is pushing to wrap up work on the Montague St. Tunnel by the end of October and will turn its attention to other East River tubes that suffered damage but will not require full shutdowns. As now, the MTA has simply said they will “will also address issues in other under river tubes to make the system more resilient.” Details should be forthcoming soon.
It’s been a while since a classic movie about, or even with scenes in, the New York City subway hit theaters. The 2009 version of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is something everyone would rather ignore, and 1995′s Money Train drew headlines more for alleged copycats than for the quality of the film. Still, the classics remain the classics with the 1970s a particularly iconic decade for subway movies, and in a few weeks, you’ll be able to catch the big names on the silver screen.
As part of an early fall retrospective, BAMcinématek will be hosting Retro Metro, what they’re calling a 16-film ride through the history of the New York City subway. The Big 3 — The French Connection, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and opening night’s The Warriors — get top billing, and joining them will be a rare showing of The Incident as well as a dozen other films inspired by or filmed on the subways. There will be no Ghost, but you can catch Saturday Night Fever, Midnight Cowboy, and Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. along with Vincente Minnelli’s The Clock and the Gene Kelly classic On The Town.
The films run from Friday, September 26 through Sunday, October 5, and the full schedule is available in BAM’s press release. I’m aiming to catch The Incident on October 3, The Warriors on September 26, and perhaps The French Connection on October 5. If there’s interest, I may arrange a quasi-official Second Ave. Sagas outing to see the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three at 7 p.m. on Sunday, September 28. If you haven’t seen any of these movies, or even if you have, check them out. This will be a great festival.
Meanwhile, we have more pressing matters to attend to. I’m out of town for the Labor Day weekend, but the work doesn’t stop. Your service advisories after the jump, and remember to pay attention to travel patterns on Sunday as the West Indian-American Day Parade always causes some localized changes. Read More→
Every now and then, New York City collectively remembers that Moynihan Station remains an idea slowly inching toward reality, and every now and then, Moynihan Station makes its way back into the headlines of the city’s newspapers. The project officially got underway in 2012 with a very modest Phase 1 build-out involving some staircases and access points to Amtrak platforms, and earlier this year, it seemed that forces were slowly aligning behind the long-aborning effort. Now, it’s back, with funding and a vengeance, and could be closer to reality than we think.
The latest comes to us from Charles V. Bagli of The New York Times. According to Bagli’s report, the station plans are nearly fully funded, and Senator Chuck Schumer is asking the feds and Amtrak to close the gap. We’ll get to that shortly, as, in the meantime, I find Bagli’s article telling for what it doesn’t say than for what it does.
In reintroducing The Times’ readership to Moynihan Station, Bagli runs through the litany of folks lining up to support the project. Calling it a “$1 billion proposal to create a grand annex to Pennsylvania Station,” Bagli notes that Moynihan is “a favorite project of civic organizations, developers and politicians.” Notice who’s missing: planners and transit advocates. That’s because it’s not really a favorite project for that group. The Farley Post Office is west of 8th Ave., a full avenue block away from the IRT lines and two avenues from the BMT and IND at Herald Square. Unlike Penn Station, which straddles two subway lines, it’s not particularly well located to serve as a centralized train station, and the building design, with sweeping staircases, isn’t luggage-friendly. Still the project marches on.
One small step nearing completion is the enlargement of the existing concourses serving the train platforms below the blocklong post office and the expansion of a passageway beneath Eighth Avenue to Penn Station. And on Tuesday, Senator Charles E. Schumer, long a proponent of what is known as Moynihan Station, called on Amtrak and the Federal Transit Administration to provide the remaining money necessary for the next phase: building a skylit, intercity train hall in the post office for Amtrak. “After years of dreaming and work, Moynihan Station is on the precipice of success,” Mr. Schumer said. “Let’s access available federal money — from the F.T.A., Amtrak and elsewhere — to get it done now.”
…The state’s Moynihan Station Development Corporation is overseeing the $300 million first phase of the project, which is expected to be completed next year…But state officials have a $700 million construction budget for building the train hall, where postal workers once sorted mail, and retail spaces. The hall would be roughly the same size as the great hall in Grand Central Terminal.
…Mr. Schumer said that the development corporation had pledges for $500 million, from the city and two developers chosen in 2005 to create the Moynihan transit hub. That leaves a $200 million shortfall, which Mr. Schumer said should be filled by federal funds.
Bagli rehashes how various plans to move Madison Square Garden have fallen through, and he even drags a perfunctory quote out of Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia. “Although our resources are limited, we think this is an important project. We’ll do everything in our power to make it a reality,” he said. “Right now, the most important thing is to serve the rapidly growing demand for train service along the Northeast corridor.”
But the largest problem with the project remains firmly in place: For $1 billion, the Moynihan Station Development Corporation is creating a nicer waiting room for Amtrak without contemplated or expanded train capacity through the station. There’s no denying that Penn Station needs fixing. It’s not a pleasant place to be, and that inevitably will lead some people to eschew train service. But as dollars for transit are scarce, the priority should be expanding trans-Hudson capacity.
The Times reserves this inconvenient truth for the kicker of the article. By paraphrasing Bob Yaro, outgoing head of the Regional Plan Association, Bagli notes that without another Hudson River tunnel or an expansion of Penn Station to the south, Moynihan Station is simply a nicer shell for an older problem. Gateway, anybody?
Public transit subsidies are always a rather thorny issue when it comes to politics. There’s a compelling argument to be made that public transit should be subsidized to some degree or other as it allows people who can’t afford to live in downtown/center city areas relatively cheap access to job and cultural centers as well as other social services. There’s also an argument to be made that transit users should cover the operations and capital costs of the system, but until the nation’s drivers start footing all the bills for road maintenance and expansion, I have a tougher time buying into that argument.
In New York city, after years of divestment by state and city officials, riders carry most of the burden of their subway system. New York City Transit still enjoys the benefits of the MTA, but subway riders foot around two-thirds of the cost of a subway ride these days. Based on recent studies, in fact, the per-passenger subsidy is around $1. As far as American transit systems go, that’s a tiny subsidy, and we need look no further than our own city to find a transit network that seems to bleed money.
As Business Week explored recently, the Port Authority’s PATH system is woefully inefficient. PATH, noted the magazine, is more expensive than any comparable system and shouldn’t even be compared to Transit’s subway network. According to recent studies, the per-passenger cost of a PATH ride to Port Authority is $8.45, and the average fare of just under $2 doesn’t even cover a quarter of these costs. The New York City subway on the other hand relies on subsidies of around $1.11.
Business Week tried to explore why these cost discrepancies are so pronounced. As Port Authority auditors and watchdogs grow increasingly wary of the unruly agency, the money PATH is bleeding is coming under increased scrutiny. Martin Z. Braun reports:
The agency faces challenges across its portfolio of operations. Spending on policing has doubled since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and now consumes almost a quarter of the agency’s operating budget, Bloomberg News reported in June. Last year, its marine terminals lost 2 percentage points of market share. PATH has been a financial millstone around the Port Authority’s neck since it took over the bankrupt Hudson & Manhattan railroad in a 1962 trade between New Jersey Governor Richard Hughes and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. In exchange for getting the Port Authority to take over the H&M Hudson Tubes, as the rail line was known at the time, Hughes allowed Rockefeller to use the Port Authority to develop the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan…
While public officials and transportation analysts have pointed to the railroad’s low fares and its lack of state and federal aid to explain its strained finances, less attention has been paid to expenses. The 2012 national transit data include the impact of Hurricane Sandy, which struck Oct. 29 and knocked out PATH service. Even so, PATH’s cost per hour the year before was also higher than the New York subway system’s, by about two-and-a-half times. Federal Railroad Administration regulations, higher maintenance costs and round-the-clock service have boosted spending compared with other transit systems, Port Authority officials say.
A major difference between PATH and the New York subway system is that the trans-Hudson rail is regulated by the FRA while the Federal Transit Administration oversees the subway. The FRA imposes stricter safety standards and labor requirements, imposing higher costs, Port Authority officials said. Before each run, PATH workers must test a train’s air brakes, signals and acceleration, Mike Marino, PATH’s deputy director, said in a telephone interview. When a train gets to its terminus, workers repeat the test. In addition, every 90 days all of PATH’s rail cars undergo a three-day inspection at a facility in Harrison, New Jersey. Brakes, lights, communications, heating and air conditioning, signals and odometers are all checked, Marino said. “It’s a very intense inspection on every piece of rolling stock,” he said.
According to Business Week, PATH has tried to lobby for a move to the FTA rather than the FRA, but the FRA has resisted the switch as PATH “runs parallel to high-speed trains operated by NJ Transit, Amtrak and freight-line CSX Corp.”
The real question is what comes next. New Jersey officials seem keen to dump PATH on the MTA, but that wouldn’t solve the cost problem. It’s not clear that New York would accept sole responsibility for a bi-state rail system, and without the FTA assuming oversight, the MTA wouldn’t readily embrace taking on a money-losing proposition that’s committed to an unnecessary multi-billion-dollar Newark Airport extension.
New Jersey Transit too remains a possible destination, but that could lead to service reductions — a scary thought for a system that has helped drive renaissance efforts in Jersey City and Hoboken. New Jersey politicians do not view an NJT merger as a solution either. This too seems simpy to shift the problem from one agency to another.
PATH’s cost issue is clearly not sustainable, but it can operate with some level of subsidy. The question now focuses around how to reduce that subsidy without decreasing service or significantly upping fares. Anyone have any brilliant ideas?
It’s been a long time since New York City’s last major collision involving two subway cars and multiple injuries. Despite a few recent high-profile derailments, the 1995 Williamsburg bridge incident in which a motorman on the J trail likely fell asleep and rear-ended a stopped M train in front of him was the most recent deadly crash. The motorman was killed, and scores of passengers were injured. Earlier this month along the 8th Avenue line, Transit avoided the potential for a far worse accident.
The story, as Pete Donohue reported it yesterday, is dramatic and scary. Essentially, an A train operator missed a switch and started heading uptown on the downtown express tracks north of Canal St. and south of West 4th. The failures mounted and only quick thinking down the line and a clear view down the tracks averted disaster. Donohue writes:
A subway operator on the A line recently piloted an express train uptown — on a downtown track — for several minutes before coming to a stop, according to sources. A dispatcher tried to contact the crew by radio after realizing the train had pulled out of the Canal St. hub on the wrong track, and was moving against the regular flow of traffic. But the crew later told authorities they never heard the emergency radio broadcasts, the source said.
The operator only halted the A train after she already had passed through the Spring St. station and spotted the headlights of a southbound express idling ahead of her at the next station, W. 4th St., the source said…
Luckily, the screwup happened on a stretch that, for the most part, is a straight track with good visibility, a veteran motorman said. If the train operator had been going around sharp curves, and wasn’t hearing or receiving dispatchers calling out on the radio, this could have ended with a serious crash, the knowledgeable old-timer said. “She could have had a head-on collision,” he said. “That’s the only way to say it. There’s no nicer way to put it.”
…The A train originally was traveling south when signal problems started causing extensive delays in the system. Dispatchers began rerouting service, and the A train operator was told to was told go back uptown from Canal, sources said. The proper series of steps would have been to empty the train of passengers, pull into a spur track just south of Canal, and then maneuver through a switch to the northbound express track, authorities said. Instead, operator simply went north on the same southbound track, apparently thinking she would soon encounter the crossover switch she needed by going in that direction.
All well’s that ends well. The A train was traveling only slowly northbound and was able to stop well before reaching any oncoming train, and dispatchers were able to halt southbound service as the problem was sorted out. But as the B Division trains — the lettered lines — doesn’t enjoy the same tracking system as the A Division, it’s easy to see how this could have been much, much worse.
It isn’t immediately clear how the TO missed the switch. There’s already an extensive thread on Subchat debating just that question, and many have questioned why the train operator was not more familiar with the set of switches or the fact that she had ended up on the wrong track. Additionally, the failure of the emergency radio broadcasts is a big concern as well. For now, the TO has been assigned to desk duty, and the MTA is investigating. If anything, this incident underscores the need for modern signal and communications system, something the MTA has wanted, but hasn’t been to afford, for years.
When the MTA unveils its next five-year capital plan later this fall, the biggest ticket item will likely be a significant investment in Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway. It likely won’t, as I’ll discuss later this week, include funding for Staten Island projects that have been on various planners’ and advocates’ wishlists for years, and it won’t include any money for Triboro RX, that circumferential line proposed nearly 20 years ago by the RPA and talked up extensively by Elliot Sander six years back. These are projects without the right champions, but what if we took the Second Ave. approach?
For better or worse, the Second Ave. Subway is a multi-phase project, broken into bite sized pieces due to the whims of politicians who couldn’t stomach a $20 billion price tag for the full line. Instead, we have four phases — only two of which are useful together. Phases 3 and 4, the southern extensions south of the connection to the 63rd St. Tunnel, wouldn’t work independently whereas Phase 1 on its own would be successful and Phase 2 an added and much needed northern bonus. The multi-phased approach leads to higher costs and redundant work, but it also means parts of the subway line will come into service much sooner than otherwise expected.
As New York City struggles to expand its high speed, high capacity transit network, I wonder if the phased approach could work elsewhere, and I’m not alone. Cap’n Transit has picked up in this thread, in a way, in some posts on the Triboro RX line. What, he asked in a recent post, could be done now with a minimum amount of newbuild? The answer is plenty.
Reviving a 1969 plan the MTA put out during its infancy, the good Cap’n advocates for an O train that would use some of the Triboro RX right of way but would be a more feasible route. He writes:
Under this proposal, the L train would be split into two routes. At Broadway Junction (or maybe Halsey Street) they would diverge, with one continuing to the L current terminus in Canarsie. The other branch, which I’ll call the O train, would travel parallel to the L within the right-of-way of the Bay Ridge Branch, skipping a few stops but connecting to the 3 train at Junius Street. It would then follow the Bay Ridge Branch west through past Brooklyn College (with a transfer to the 2 train), terminating at the Brighton Line with a transfer to the Avenue H station.
This is only one possibility. Another way to handle it would be to run the B trains 24/7, turning them east on the Bay Ridge Branch to Broadway Junction – although riders in Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay would probably complain about losing express service. A third would be to have the O and B trains overlap, providing more frequent service.
That seems to be all that can reasonably be done with the existing trackage without sharing tracks with freight trains or pouring lots of concrete. There is a four-track section between Broadway Junction and Fresh Pond Yard, but there’s not much reason to send L (or J or C) trains up there. If you’ve ever taken the M to the end of the line you’ll understand why – it’s not much of a destination.
Running trains on this section would bring train service to a large section of Brooklyn that currently has none, and provide access to potential sites for new housing in these areas. There is no need to wait for a full build of the “TriboroRx” line – that was just somebody’s idea. It should be explored now.
Building out new stations and retrofitting existing ones for a parallel train service wouldn’t come cheap; you can take a look at the state of the ROW in an old Forgotten NY post. But then again, neither will building out the entire Triboro RX, and the political and economic barriers currently preventing any real planning work will exist into the foreseeable future.
But by chopping this project up into pieces, it’s easier for local champions to carry the torch, and it’s easier to find the money to make it one step closer to a reality. As Cap’n Transit noted, there’s no need to wait until some faraway time when Triboro RX becomes a priority (because that time is, more likely than not, never). Let’s start working on smaller pieces today.
In a little bit more than a week, G train service between Queens and Brooklyn will resume. Riders won’t notice many changes, but the MTA wants its customers to know what work is proceeding apace. The agency released this video yesterday to highlight the construction. Take a peak. The rest of this weekend’s light service changes follows.
From 11:00 p.m. Saturday, August 23 to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, August 24, and from 11:00 p.m. Sunday, August 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 25, New Lots Av-bound 4 trains run local from 125 St to Grand Cantral-42 St due to CPM cable work south of 125 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 22 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, August 25, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point Av to Parkchester due to MOW track tie block renewal south of Whitlock Av and track panel installation north of Elder Av.
From 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, August 23 and from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Sunday, August 24, 6 trains run every 16 minutes between 3 Av-138 St and Pelham Bay Park due to MOW track tie block renewal south of Whitlock Av and track panel installation north of Elder Av. The last stop for some 6 trains headed toward Pelham Bay Park is 3 Av-138 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Saturday, August 23 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 25, Inwood-207 St-bound A trains are rerouted on the F line from Jay St-MetroTech W 4 St Wash Sq, then run local to 59 St-Columbus Circle due to CPM air quality testing and preparation for Hurricane Sandy Work.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday, August 24, 168 St-bound C trains are rerouted on the F line from Jay St-MetroTech W 4 St Wash Sq, due to CPM air quality testing and preparation for Hurricane Sandy Work.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 22 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 25, Coney Island- Stillwell Av-bound D trains are rerouted on the N line from 36 St to Coney Island-Stillwell Av due to MOW rail and plate renewal south of 36 St.
From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, August 23, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 25, E trains run local in Queens due to CPM signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Av and Kew Gardens-Union Tpke, and MOW track maintenance and rail repairs between Queens Plaza and 65 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 23, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 25, F trains run local in Queens due to CPM signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Av and Kew Gardens-Union Tpke, and MOW track maintenance and rail repairs between Queens Plaza and 65 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 22 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 25, N trains are suspended between Lexington Av/59 St and Queensboro Plaza due to MOW track and plate work in the 60th Street Tube, chip and pour south of 5 Av/53 St, and switch work south of Queensboro Plaza. Take the 7 train for service between Manhattan and Queens.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 22 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 25, Coney Island-bound Q trains run express from Kings Hwy to Sheepshead Bay due to MOW track work at Sheepshead Bay.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 22 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 25, Q trains are suspended between 57 St-7 Av and Times Sq-42 St due to MOW track and plate work in the 60th Street Tube, chip and pour south of 5 Av/53 St, and switch work south of Queensboro Plaza. Take the NR instead.
From 6:30 a.m. to 12 midnight Saturday, August 23, and Sunday, August 24, R service is extended to Jamaica-179 St due to MOW Jamaica Yard lead switch reconstruction.
From 6:30 a.m. to 12 midnight Saturday, August 23, and Sunday, August 24, R trains are rerouted on the F line both directions between Manhattan and Queens due to work in the 60th Street Tube, chip and pour south of 5 Av/53 St, and switch work south of Queensboro Plaza.
Thanks to some messed up mid-day headways on the IRT express on Wednesday, I had a few minutes to kill at Chambers St. following some meetings downtown. As I waited for the next uptown train to arrive, I had the opportunity to soak in the sights at a key transfer point between the express and local trains. Tourists tend to congregate there to and from Battery Park City, and Tribeca is directly overhead.
At the northern end of the uptown tracks, the wall is a mess. That’s what the photo atop this post shows. From a combination of runoff, water damage and who knows — or wants to know — what else, the wall has taken on a mulit-hued tone nearly reminiscent of art. If the MTA slapped a brass plaque on the wall, you could confuse this mural for an Arts for Transit installation, but the damage to the old mosaics showing Kings College as it used to be are a dead giveaway.
Over the years, I’ve seen these walls go from bad to worse, and today, it’s hard to find a patch of white tile untouched by the destructive elements. Unlike the long patch of black soot that remains on Grand Central’s ceiling as a reminder of what once obscured the majestic mural, this damage is simply a matter of the never-ending battle to achieve a State of Good Repair. Until the tiles fall off the wall, the damage is merely cosmetic and doesn’t interrupt transit operations, but there’s something to be said for a clean presentation.
Today, Chambers St. is a strange of amalgam of a station. The mezzanine level, replete with ADA-compliant elevator ramps and an open view of the trains entering and leaving the station from the south, is a gem, and the floor exists as part of a long-forgotten 2009 pilot program to combat the scourge of gum spots. It was to be cheaper and easier to maintain, but after five years, only one station has ever seen the floor arrive. The platform levels though haven’t been renovated in some time, and the wall shows its age.
In a sense, presenting a nicer station is akin to the Broken Windows theory of transit ops. Tiles are purely aesthetic but serve as signals to passengers. If the station looks nice, maybe riding the rails won’t seem to be as much of a burden as many New Yorkers make it out to be. Maybe they’ll be kinder and gentler to the subway system. For now, though, it makes for a dramatic photo. State of some repair indeed.
For more scenes from our subway system and more, check out Second Ave. Sagas on Instagram, and give me a follow there.
Every few years, politicians from Rockland County drum up some outrage over their inclusion in the MTA, and every few years, they demand something — usually more — while bemoaning having to pay more. It’s an odd little dance that isn’t entirely without a sound basis in fact, but it also underscores the inherent contradictions in New York State politics and how no one is ever held responsible for them.
The latest come to us from Rockland County Legislative Chairman Alden Wolfe and Legislator Harriet Cornell who is the Chair of the Special Committee on Transit. As part of the MTA
Every One Has a Pet Project Commission Reinvention Commission, the two sent comments with their views on reinvention. Wolfe’s words were fairly neutral. “Rockland has documented for years the disparity in the tax revenues generated from Rockland,” he said, “which far exceed annual expenditures made by the MTA to serve the County: it’s a $40 million value gap.”
I delved into that study back in 2012 when Rockland started making noises about leaving the MTA. It was not without merit, and SAS commenters found it to be at least discussion-worthy. I thought it didn’t quite account for the positive benefits of regular, if sporadic, train service.
Cornell used her statement as a soapbox. “Institutional, intergovernmental and jurisdictional barriers are at the heart of MTA’s insufficient attention to Rockland’s transit needs,” she said. “Rockland on the west side of the Hudson is a transportation orphan, long overdue for substantial new investment in our transportation infrastructure. The MTA has not met customer needs!”
Most New Yorkers west of the Hudson would love to be as “orphaned” as Rockland which, as I noted, has regular, if sporadic, service. But maybe Rockland deserves an improvement. Let’s see what happened when the state last tried to raise revenue for transit service. If you guessed “complain about the payroll tax,” well, you’re the next contestant on “The Gripe Is Right.”
In 2009, when the state approved the MTA Payroll Tax as a funding measure for the cash-starved MTA, the same two Rockland County legislators complaining this week led the charge to oppose the payroll tax and agitate for withdrawal from the MTA, a threat that seems to disproportionately impact only themselves. Perhaps Rockland needs to learn a lesson in politics: Sometimes you have to give first if you want to receive later.
Ultimately, Rockland does seem to draw a shorter end of the straw than the rest of the MTA counties, but moaning about improvements on the one hand while objecting to funding schemes five years earlier isn’t productive policymaking. It is though business as usual when it comes to transit politics in New York. How frustrating.
For those New Yorkers of a certain age and certain background, the concept of an “authentic” city experience always seems just out of reach. We live in the era of super-tall buildings with $50 million apartments, brownstones in Bed Stuy that trade for $2 million, and a designer clothing store inhabiting the former home of the Ramones, Talking Heads and Misfits. Immigrants dressed as superheroes and cartoon characters are a far cry from Times Square’s halcyon days of strippers and drug addicts, and the East Village embodied by Jonathan Larson’s Rent is a distant memory. The Bronx is booming, not burning.
For long-time New Yorkers, the city has lost some of the je ne sais quoi that made it special. Sure, it’s safe, and anyone who bought an apartment 30 or 40 years ago is sitting on a valuable investment indeed, but the grittiness of Old New York is no longer with us. It’s too safe; it’s too sterile; it’s too much of a playground for the rich. The cleanup efforts that started under Rudy Giuliani culminated in a 12-year Bloomberg mayoralty, and today, New York is a big booming city that’s pushing gentrification into areas that, 10 of 15 years ago, seemed impregnable and immune to the coffee shop-and-kale expansion.
Nothing quite encapsulates New York’s rebound from the depths of Drop Dead 1970s quite like the subway. Today, nearly 6 million people per day ride the subways, but in the nadir of the 1980s, Crime — not of the “Showtime!” variety — breakdowns, track fires and derailments were the norm. The Bernhard Goetz shooting came to symbolize an era of unrest when subway ridership was sparse, and on one would ride late night through certain neighborhoods. Ridership in 1982 was 938 million; ridership in 2013 was 1.708 billion. We ride at 2 a.m. without thinking; thirty years ago, this was unimaginable.
For younger New Yorkers, for transplants, for children of the late 1980s who came to New York for that authentic experience, it’s gone. The L train has new rolling stock and is packed to the gills 24/7. The J and Z trains ride through some gentrified and gentrifying neighborhoods, and a trip through East New York is simply a means to get to JFK or the beaches in the Rockaways. This is the New York of the 2010s; this is not New York of the movies. Kurt Russell escaped, and the city hasn’t been the same.
Still, that desire for authenticity persists which leads me to Shaina Stigler, a 25-year-old performer who, according to reports, moved to New York in 2007 and this past weekend tried to recreate an era for which she wasn’t alive. When the Daily News first reported on the 1980s recreation set for a G train on Friday, I was inherently skeptical. While I’m no fan of the bank-ification of Manhattan real estate, development and growth should be encouraged, and for many reasons, I find fetishizing nostalgia highly problematic. It focuses on the image of grittiness without exploring what were deep-rooted crises and social ills plaguing the city.
Stigler’s piece though was ostensibly art and a means for self-expression. In one sense, that drive to create and perform has been a part of New York through good times and bad and will always be an undercurrent in the life of the city. And yet, in reading, Sarah Goodyear’s wrap up of the subway takeover, I had the distinct sense that this was the 1980s through the lens of the privileged class of 2014 New Yorkers. Stigler claimed she wanted to recreat what Goodyear termed the “grimy, traumatic, and glorious ’80s,” but from the photos, this was heavy on the glorious, low on the grimy and traumatic.
To recreate the scene, Stigler decked out a car in plastic wrap and had a graffiti artist create the illusion of a tagged car. They even enjoyed the company of old Guardian Angels, though none of them faked any crimes on Friday. It seems and sounds surreal. “My generation romanticizes that time,” Stigler said to Goodyear. “I think as artists in particular, we are definitely feeling a lack of authenticity in the city. As it gets cleaned up and made more beautiful, it’s lost a lot of what made it great to begin with. Back then it was more of a life or death thing. It was, How much are you willing to risk to be an artist or whatever you want to be? Through that adversity and through that struggle, amazing, beautiful things can happen.”
The 1980s in New York were not a rough time for everyone, but the adversity that Stigler mentions today involves waiting a few extra minutes for a G train that, thirty years ago, the crowd celebrating on Friday would never have ridden. The adversity of the 1980s included a crack epidemic and the AIDS crisis. It featured parents so overly concerned for their kids’ safety that some of my friends — native New Yorkers at that — took their first ever subway rides when we went to Yankee Stadium to celebrate my 10th birthday. This ain’t no party, David Byrne once sung, and it wasn’t.
But we can remember through nostalgia too and hold onto parts of forgotten New York that made people want to come to the city in the first place. If we forget, do we lose that part as well? Dwelling on the negative without celebrating the positive will make us forget why we’re here and why so many people wanted to be here. Authenticity is ultimately what each person makes of it, and it’s a balancing act. Maybe there is no authentic New York and maybe there never was. Maybe authentic New York is what each person makes of it every day.