In 1980, through the first eight months of the year, the crime-riddled New York City subway system witnessed 15 murders, up from ten over the first eight months of 1979. Saturday morning’s murder on the D train was just the second such incident of 2009. It’s no wonder, then, that three days later, the city’s news outlets are still buzzing with features and stories about the underground killing.

While we explored the lessons riders could learn from this murder, the police response to an on-board crime in a subway car filled with people has led to some debate as well. After Gerardo Sanchez allegedly stabbed Dwight Johnson and the subway conductor and police were alerted to the crime, the subway car doors were sealed. Passengers were left inside with the killer for a few minutes until police could secure the area to ensure that Sanchez would not be able to escape.

Yesterday, facing some criticism over the decision to leave innocent bystanders in a car with a knife-wielding killer, NYPD Commissioner Tom Kelly defended the decision:

Kelly said the NYPD took the right steps early Saturday morning to contain Gerardo Sanchez, a Bronx man accused of stabbing Dwight Johnson to death over a subway seat on the D train. “They [the passengers] pulled the alarm, they stopped the train between stations. As a result of that, when the train pulled into the station, officers were there, they got on the train and arrested the individual,” Kelly said.

The decision to keep all of the train doors locked except one while police took a few additional minutes to arrest the alleged killer as about 30 horrified passengers looked on was met with questions about police policy and procedure..

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the train was immediately met by police — and he dismissed questions that police left passengers locked in the subway car with a murderer — again noting that a passenger had pulled the emergency cord that had briefly stopped the train in the tunnel. He said police boarded the train through one open door in the front as soon as it was in the station. “Opening all doors and letting everybody run in every direction and having a murderer back out on the streets doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” he said..

Meanwhile, the Daily News did one of its person-on-the-street stories, and those quotes featured for print all were critical of the decision. Just one person — a lawyer, to boot — defended the MTA. “It shows people in the future that if you commit a crime on the train, you’re going to get caught,” Leo Genn said. “My instinct is they did the right thing.”

The Post takes a more critical approach. The problem, the paper alleges, stemmed from the person who decided to pull the emergency brake. In a statement to Gothamist, Charles Seaton clarified Transit’s view on the pulling cord. “Use the emergency cord only to prevent an accident or injury…” the Transit spokesman said. “But if your train is between stations and someone aboard becomes ill, do not pull the emergency cord. The train will stop, preventing medical professionals from reaching the sick passenger. A sick person is better off if the train goes to the nearest station where police and medical services will be waiting or can be quickly summoned, without interruption.”

With crime down in the subways, riders are accustomed to police responses and emergency brake procedures. Murders almost never happen underground these days, and the attention this one has garnered is just proof positive of the progress the city has made in combating subway crime over the last 30 years. I think the police acted expeditiously to catch a killer, and I hope the 20-30 people in the D train on Saturday morning recognize that. Still, it must have been one terrifying experience.

Categories : Subway Security
Comments (20)
  • More details emerge on Saturday subway slaying · Earlier today, I offered up my take on what we can learn from Saturday’s senseless subway killing. As the day has worn on, more details about both men have emerged (Daily News, Post). The alleged killer was an exterminator who suffered a fall a few weeks ago and had been on pain medication. The victim was an extreme germaphobe who used his bag to act as a buffer between him and the outside world. These were two people who were not well, and both ended up at the wrong place at the wrong time.

    The most recent details focus around the conflict. We know that Gerardo Sanchez, the alleged perp, asked Dwight Johnson to move his bag, but while earlier reports said that Johnson started the physical fight, eyewitnesses say that Johnson complied after pointing out other open seats. Sanchez then started yelling at Johnson and stabbed him in the neck, severing the carotid artery and killing him instantly. As passengers gathered to one end of the car, Sanchez sat there in a stupor.

    Clearly, then, if this account is accurate, we can see how any outside interference was nearly impossible in this situation. One man snapped, and a few seconds later, the other was dead. No one else could have stepped in to be a hero, and the fact that Sanchez had a knife and no gun and did not turn on anyone else in the car is a relief. · (1)

Earlier today, I appeared on a story on Marketplace about the Second Ave. Subway and subway construction in general during tough economic times. You can listen to the story via the player at right or you can find it online right here. Jeremy Hobson and I spoke at length about the economics behind the Second Ave. Subway and the ongoing construction on the East Side, and his story explores why this economic downturn hasn’t yet killed the Second Ave. Subway as the downturn in the 1970s did.

To summarize my thoughts briefly, the issue comes down to both the politics and mechanisms of the current funding. Much of the money for the project was secured before the economy went south, and the federal dollars are specifically earmarked for the Second Ave. Subway construction. In the 1950s, the transit agency could siphon funds away from the project to invest in other areas of maintenance while in the 1970s, the costs were funded through a scheme that resembled a pay-as-you-go structure. The Feds ensured that the money would be there this time around, and the MTA can continue to work through a bad economy.

Additionally, the Second Ave. Subway, while not a stimulus-funded project, acts as one anyway. By continuing work, the MTA continues to employ contractors and construction crews. Constant investment in this decade-long project creates constant jobs, and to kill it now would be politically ugly and economically unwise.

In the end, as I said to Hobson, I am uncertain of the future of Phases III and IV of the Second Ave. Subway. Phase II relies on preexisting tunnel, and Phase I, I believe, will finish. But beyond that, the money and the timeline remains ever so out of reach. For now, though, construction continues apace along Second Ave.

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On early Saturday morning, for just the second reported time this year, a man was murdered on New York City Transit property. Although the details remain vague, a 37-year-old Bronx man named Gerardo Sanchez was arrested for the murder. I don’t want to be put too much stock into just the second incident this year, but we can see a few lessons for riders in this rather senseless death.

Yesterday evening, the Village Voice’s Runnin’ Scared blog summed up the various accounts of the murder:

According to the either dozen, two dozen, or nearly thirty other passengers in the car, Sanchez asked another passenger, Dwight Johnson, 36, to move his bags to free up a seat. Johnson refused, a decision the News calls “understandable” (the News went with both “a half-filled car” and a “nearly empty car”).

Sanchez, who per the Post is either “hulking” or a slightly-built 5’6,” argued with Johnson, at least six inches taller, until Johnson punched him in the face. At that point Sanchez pulled a steak knife and stabbed Johnson repeatedly in the hands and neck.

A passenger pulled the emergency cord and notified the conductor, who contacted police. He was told to seal the car, with a number of other passengers trapped inside, until police arrived at the…station five minutes later. Sanchez managed to slip the knife out of the train door, but it was retrieved from the tracks later.

Runnin’ Scared reported that the police arrived at Rockefeller Center to make the arrest while pictures showed Sanchez removed from the subway at 59th St./Columbus Circle. Other reports had the police at the 7th Ave. stop. Still, the crime happened in the blink of an eye between Rockefeller Center and 7th Ave.

Lesson #1: Do not place bags on the seat next to you

Although the <em>Daily News said that “no right-minded person” would demand a fellow passenger to remove a bag from a seat and that Johnson “understandably” declined, the reality is that Johnson was violating New York City Transit regulations. Section 1050.7 (j) of the Transit rules says that a person may not occupy more than one seat “when to do so would interfere or tend to interfere with the operation of the Authority’s transit system or the comfort of other passengers.”

Lesson #2: If someone asks, just comply

It’s often tempting — especially in half-full trains — to spread out and take it easy. Yet, we never know much about other riders. When someone asks to sit down, the best response is to simply remove your bags from the empty seat and allow them to sit down. If you get a vibe from the other passenger that perhaps you don’t want to be sitting next to them, get up and move. I know this approach seems to run counter to our normal sense of personal space and etiquette, but it falls under the “safe than sorry” category.

Lesson #3: Don’t pick fights with homeless riders

According to some reports, Mr. Johnson may have been a homeless rider on the subway. If so, this makes Mr. Sanchez’s decision to start this fight even more perplexing. One of my rules of the rails is to avoid any sort of confrontation with indigent riders. Nothing good can come of it, and I’ve seen far too many fights between homeless riders and other straphangers or amongst groups of homeless riders who feel others are invading their turf.

Lesson #4: Is there a collective action problem?

This one isn’t so much a lesson as it is a thought piece. A few people noted in the comments on Saturday’s short post about this incident that the other riders in the car should have come to Mr. Johnson’s defense. I err on the side of avoiding confrontations on the rails, especially those that involve knives. I can understand other people’s attempting to separate two men fighting, but this incident spiraled out of control in the two minutes it takes a train to go from Rockefeller Center to 7th Ave. Should we really expect passengers to step in? I don’t think so.

Lesson #5: Alert the driver or conductor

Late at night, it’s far safer to ride in either the front car or the middle car of the train. That way, the conductor or driver will be around in case of an emergency. Although the driver did not see the incident — probably because the new wider drivers booths often have blacked out front windows — he responded quickly once alerted to the emergency by another passenger. These workers will respond in case of a problem but often need to be told of the problem.

* * *

In the end, I am generalization from something that happens approximately twice every 1.5 billion underground trips. It can by psychologically crippling to walk around underground fearing a murder, but we can be smarter passengers for it when one happens.

Comments (18)
  • A Second Ave. Sagas media alert · Just a heads up for my loyal readers: Based on how Jeremy Hobson, a reporter with American Public Media’s Marketplace, edits his story for Monday morning, I may be on the air. As a special Marketplace Morning Report, Hobson is looking at the progress of the Second Ave. Subway in light of the current economy. The segment airs in New York at 6:50 a.m. on 820 AM and at 8:50 a.m. on FM 93.9. Check it out, and I’ll link to the story later in the day on Monday when it hits the website. · (0)
  • A late-night murder on the D train · Subway murders are rare these days. In fact, prior to last night, there had been just one recorded murder in the subway system this year and only two in 2008. But at around 2 a.m. on a Bronx-bound D train, a 37-year-old man, identified by The Post as Geraldo Sanchez, got into a fight with a 36-year-old and stabbed him repeatedly in the face and neck. The 36-year-old is dead, and Sanchez was arrested after a conductor heard the scuffle and locked the train doors.

    According to reports (Post, Daily News), the deadly confrontation happened in the first car of a train with approximately 24 other riders. Sanchez reportedly asked the victim to move a bag off a seat so that he could sit down, and the victim refused to do so. Sanchez reacted with deadly force. So take a lesson: When one passenger asks another to move a bag off a seat late at night, it’s probably a good idea to do it. · (25)

Planning on transferring from the 2 or 3 at Fulton St. to another subway line this weekend? Well, don’t.

As part of the work on the Fulton St. Transit Center, the ramp and passageway connecting the 2 and 3 platform with the IND Fulton St. stop at Broadway/Nassau St. (A/C) and the Lexington Ave. IRT trains (4/5) will be closed. A press release from Transit has more:

Customers will not be able to transfer between the 2/3 and A trains [at Fulton Street]. They may transfer between the 2/3 and the uptown A at Park Place-Chambers Street. Brooklyn-bound A trains will operate on the F line between West 4th Street and Jay Street this weekend. Travelers wishing to make a transfer between the uptown A and the downtown 4/5 must ask the station agent for a transfer ticket, exit the station and reenter at Broadway.

In addition, there are no transfers at Fulton Street/Broadway Nassau Street between 2/3 and 4/5 trains. Customers should plan to transfer between the 2/3 and 4 at Nevins Street in Brooklyn. Signs announcing the service changes have been posted on trains and station platforms and pamphlets are also available at the station booth. Station personnel and platform conductors will be on hand to help riders with directions. Announcements will be made on the affected trains and at the station. We apologize for any inconvenience to customers and urge them to allow extra time for travel.

Yikes. Anyway, don’t forget to check out our map from Subway Weekender that shows just how the subway changes impact travel. Download this week’s version right here or by clicking on the image below. Remember: These weekend service changes come to me from the MTA and are subject to change without notice. Check signs in your local station and listen for on-board announcements for up-to-the minute changes. The specific alerts follow.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 23, there are no transfers at Fulton Street-Broadway Nassau Street between 2/3 and 4/5 trains or between 2/3 and A trains due to Phase II construction of the Fulton Street Transit Center. Customers may transfer between the 2/3 and 4 at Nevins Street in Brooklyn and between the 2/3 and uptown A at Park Place-Chambers Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 23, downtown 1/2 trains skip 66th, 59th, and 50th Streets due to tunnel lighting installation.


From 12:01 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., Saturday, November 21 and Sunday, November 22, overnight 3 trains operate to and from 34th Street-Penn Station due to tunnel lighting installation.


From 1 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, November 22, downtown 4 trains run local from 125th Street to Grand Central-42nd Street due to signal cable pull.


From 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sunday, November 22, downtown 5 trains run local from 125th Street to Grand Central-42nd Street due to a signal cable pull.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, November 21 to 10 p.m. Sunday, November 22, Manhattan-bound 7 trains skip 111th, 103rd, 90th, 82nd, 74th, 69th, 52nd, 46th, 40th, and 33rd Streets due to track panel installation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 23, Manhattan-bound A trains run local from Euclid Avenue to Canal Street, then express to 59th Street-Columbus Circle, then trains run local to 125th Street. The work being done on this line includes the Chambers Street Signal Modernization, station rehab at 59th Street-Columbus Circle, and a track chip-out at 163rd Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 23, uptown A trains run express from 125th to 168th Streets due to the track chip-out at 163rd Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 23, Brooklyn-bound A trains run local from 168th Street to West 4th Street, then on the F line to Jay Street, then resume local A service to Euclid Avenue due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project.


At all times until January 18, 2010, the Far Rockaway-bound platforms at Beach 67th, Beach 44th, and Beach 25th, are closed for rehabilitation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 23, there are no C trains running due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project. Customers should take the A instead. (Note: A trains run local in Manhattan and Brooklyn with exceptions. See above.)


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 21, to 5 a.m. Monday, November 23, uptown D trains run local from 125th Street to 145th Street due to the track chip-out at 163rd Street.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, November 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 23, there are no D trains between Pacific Street and 34th Street due to construction of the free transfer passageway from Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street. N trains and free shuttle buses provide alternate service.


From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, November 21, Manhattan-bound D trains skip 167th, 161st, and 155th Streets due to track cleaning.


From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday, November 22, Bronx-bound D trains skip 155th Street due to track cleaning.


From 8:30 p.m. Friday, November 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 23, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to track maintenance. Customers should take the E or R instead.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 23, Coney Island-bound N trains run express on the D line from 36th Street to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue due to NYC DOT repair work on the 65th Street bridge.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 23, Coney Island-bound N trains run local from Pacific Street to 36th Street due to due to installation of communications equipment at DeKalb Avenue.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 23, Manhattan-bound N trains run local from 59th Street (Brooklyn) to Pacific Street due to installation of communications equipment at DeKalb Avenue.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 23, Coney Island-bound N trains run on the R line from Canal Street to DeKalb Avenue due to installation of communications equipment at DeKalb Avenue.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 23, Manhattan-bound N trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from DeKalb Avenue to Canal Street due to track maintenance in the Montague tunnel.


From 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, November 21 and Sunday, November 22, free shuttle buses replace N trains between Ditmars Blvd. and Queensboro Plaza due to switch maintenance and Amtrak bridge repairs at Ditmars Blvd.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 23, Coney Island-bound Q trains run on the R line from Canal Street to DeKalb Avenue due to track maintenance in the Montague tunnel.


From 6:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday, November 21 and Sunday, November 22, Manhattan-bound R trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from DeKalb Avenue to Canal Street due to track maintenance in the Montague tunnel.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, November 20 to 5:30 a.m. Monday, November 23, free shuttle buses replace R trains between 36th and 95th Streets due to NYC DOT repair work on the 65th Street Bridge.


From 10:30 p.m. Friday, November 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 23, free shuttle buses replace S trains between Rockaway Park and Beach 60th Street due to station rehab work.

Categories : Service Advisories
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  • Satirizing the MTA, 140 characters at a time · For those of us into both the subways and Twitter, the popular microblogging platform just got a bit funnier. Earlier this week, a new Twitter account called FakeMTA debuted, and it’s quickly becoming one of the more entertaining satire feeds out there. The tone is perfect, and the message amusing. “All passengers looking for IRT, BMT or IND lines will be directed to nearby bus stops,” said one earlier this week. For more serious public transit-oriented tweets, you can also follow Second Ave. Sagas on Twitter or New York City Transit’s Subway Scoop. · (5)

Earlier this week, I ran a story about some troubles with Access-A-Ride. My story focused on a FOX 5 report about people abusing the system and a driver literally asleep behind the wheel of an idling van.

Unfortunately, some of the FOX story — and thus my report — contained some incorrect information, and the MTA has issued a statement with a correction. Although a sleeping driver in an idling van is against regulations, this driver was not shirking other duties. Says Transit:

The driver took a scheduled lunch break between 8:45 and 9:45 a.m. Last minute changes were made to this driver’s after lunch route by the contractor’s dispatcher because of the traffic alert in Manhattan due to the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. The changes resulted in the unusual occurrence of a further 45 minutes of elapsed time before his next scheduled pick up. In this case, there were no other routes in the vicinity that required assistance.

MTA NYC Transit in no way condones excessive engine idling or sleeping while on duty. We have and will continue to direct the private transportation carriers to enforce the prohibition on engine idling. Maggies will proceed to discipline the driver for conduct unbecoming (sleeping in the vehicle), unsafe operation of the vehicle and arrival to the pick- up location earlier than five minutes prior to the scheduled pick up time.

In the end, the problems with Access-A-Ride stem from its mandate and purpose. It is a federally-required program, but it is also an unfunded mandate. The city and state have to pay for it without any assistance from the federal government, and they have to do so while meeting some stringent ADA requirements. The total cost this year is estimated to be $451 million.

In a way, then, we can take a lesson from this program and apply to the feds’ desires for more oversight over local transit safety. If that effort ends up as another federally unfunded mandate, transit agencies and local governments may have to foot some pretty expensive bills at a time when they can least afford to do so.

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MetroCardPoster

A collage of MetroCards with messages for everyone. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Since its introduction in 1993, the MetroCard has become a ubiquitous symbol of New York City. On the front, the familiar yellow-on-blue gave way to its current blue-on-yellow design. On the back, well, that’s a different story and one featured in the news today.

Recently, the MTA has begun to circulate MetroCards that say, simply, “optimism” on the back. The word is printed in the familiar Akzidenz-Grotesk font, the Helvetica precursor that permeates the Massimo Vignelli-designed MTA signage. It is a simple but complicated statement, and in today’s Times, Michael Grybaum delves into the philosophy behind MetroCard optimism. I’ll excerpt, but read the piece. It’s a prime example of excellent news-features writing.

On the back of seven million MetroCards distributed this fall is a single printed word: “optimism.” Composed in clean, bold, sans-serif letters, it floats in a sea of white just beneath the boilerplate fine print. Another seven million are on the way early next year.

At first glance, the word appears simple and unassuming, a non sequitur easily overlooked amid the blur of travel in the city. Even its creators acknowledge that many subway and bus riders may never see it.

But as unemployment in the city reaches a 16-year high, as corporations close and deficits mount, optimism has become a scarce commodity, aboveground and below. New York, it seems, could use a chance to restock…

Not all that the “optimism” project suggests is, well, optimistic. The word on the card can be read as an encouragement, a command, a taunt, an aspiration. “I like that people can digest it in any way they choose,” [artist Reed] Seifer, 36, said. “I accept all praise and criticism. I love artwork in which people perceive things beyond the intention of the artist.”

And so Grynbaum’s words got me thinking about the MetroCard. The Internet is a haven for old cards. Collector’s item MetroCards pop up on eBay on a daily basis, and there is even a site dedicated to collecting every MetroCard back the MTA has issued since 1994. The Winter Garden at the World Trade Center was among the first of the cards issued.

Over the years, numerous images have filled the cards. I have one from 2004 when the MTA celebrated 100 years of the subway system. This card has a picture of the first ride snapped on Oct. 27, 1904 at the now-abandoned City Hall Stop. I also have a few Green MetroCards from 2008. Otherwise, though, my collection of expired MetroCards feature mostly mundane warnings about subway safety. I remember the Subway Series cards from 1997 but no longer have any.

Of course, the oft-overlooked backs of the MetroCards aren’t used only for pithy statements and iconic images. As Grynbaum relates, the MTA sells the backs of these cards. (Spin City, anyone?) So far this year, the MTA has earned $165,000 from MetroCard ad sales, double the total from 2008. Yet, ads appear on just three percent of the 120 million MetroCards printed so far this year. Mostly, the backs of these cards remain firmly hidden, pressed up against credit cards and business cards buried in a wallet somewhere. Optimism, it seems, won’t always see the light of day.

Still, if just a few riders notice, it will be worth it to Christopher Boylan, the MTA official in charge of the “optimism” project. “God knows people want to feel good, they want to feel up, they want to feel positive,” he said to Grynbaum. “If I can make a couple of customers smile a day, that’s nice.”

Categories : MetroCard
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