Yesterday evening, at around 6:40, I had to get myself from 44th St. between 5th and 6th Aves. to 55th St. between 8th and 9th Aves. I could have walked, but I had been carrying around a really heavy backpack all day. So as I walked by 47th St., my Unlimited MetroCard and I decided the subway it would be.
I knew that the B or D at Rockefeller Center would get me over to 59th St. in short order, and that two-block walk, after exciting through the Hearst Building, is much less painful than negotiating midtown at the end of rush hour with a backpack and an eight-pound book on contracts. Little did I realize how wrong I would be, and in taking this short, two-stop trip, I remembered and observed why so many New Yorkers have such a love/hate relationship with the subway.
The first warning sign came when I arrived down on the IND platform. While not particularly crowded, the few people standing there seemed to be peering expectantly into the tunnel. It was 6:41 p.m. As the minutes ticked by, the crowd grew denser and less patient. The looks down the tunnel grew more frequent, and a few passengers were agitatedly looking at their watches. Fifteen minutes later, at 6:56 p.m., a crowded D train arrived at Rockefeller Center, and the lights of a B train, directly behind that one, were visible in the tunnel.
In this little exchange — a fifteen-minute wait — the love and hate for the MTA came out all at once. We love the trains because, for a swipe of an unlimited card or for the $2 that no one really pays, we can go anywhere in the city at any time of day.
But the hate. Oh, the hate. We wonder why New York City Transit can’t install message boards, as they have just about everywhere else, telling us when the next train is due to arrive. Barring that, we wonder why station agents can’t make announcements warning of delays or why the subway scheduling gods can’t find a way to leave a little more lead time between trains. It’s not really a matter of disliking the transit system itself as much as it is disliking the features and technology it doesn’t have.
Later in the evening, as I traipsed back through Columbus Circle en route to the B train that got me home very speedily, I glanced around this station. As we know, the Columbus Circle station is undergoing a never-ending renovation, but as the end results in certain areas are coming into focus, I’ve wondered about the timing and approach to the project.
In various parts of the station, the “new” floors and walls have long been in place, but since the rest of the station is under renovation, the new parts already look 20 years old and in need of a good polish. The walls are bucking in parts; holes in the new tiling have already been paved. It all just looks so used and not in a good way. Why they didn’t wait on the floors until the rest of the project was completed, as much renovations do, I don’t know.
Again, it’s an issue of operations and approach. We love the subways for where they take and how quickly, when they arrive, the rides are. I was back in Brooklyn 30 minutes after my train picked me up at 59th St. But everything else around just needs an overhaul. We love it; we hate it; and it — the trains, the MTA, New York City Transit — is always there for us when we need it most.