They come from the midwest, the southeast. They come from up north and out west, from Boston and Maine and from St. Louis and San Francisco. For a bunch of jaded grad students and bright-eyed 18-year-olds, the last week in August marks the ever-popular orientation period while recent grads, through with their summers away from the grind or backpacking trips through Europe, often decide that now, before Labor Day, is the best time to arrive in the city for that grand experiment in New York life.

Those of us who have lived our lives in the city, those of us born in Mt. Sinai or Kings County Hospital, are nonplussed by these new waves of American immigrants coming to the shores of our fair city. Mostly, they’re in the way. They invade our neighborhoods; clog up our local watering holes; and just can’t seem to get out of the way fast enough. Clearly, there is something of a love-hate relationship at work. These new New York residents — and I’m not quite ready to call them New Yorkers — love the city while millions of natives hate them.

Today, in its typical fashion, The New York Times looks at the lives of these recent arrivals. Cara Buckley, the beat writer for young people in the city, looks at when these New York residents finally feel like New Yorkers. While most of them wax poetic about seeing the skyline on return flights from home states such as Texas and Oklahoma, a common theme unites a lot of the comments Buckley and The Times printed.

A resident of New York — a new one, recently arrived from somewhere else in the vast America that we all view with a wary eye — feels most like a New Yorker when he or she finally masters the city’s complex subway systems. I bet you didn’t see that one coming.

“Learning the transportation is sort of what I’m working on right now. I’m pretty good with the subways now, but at night it’s a little weird, and I don’t really know how that works,” Boris Chen said to Buckley. Chen wasn’t the only one bemoaning our complex subway sytem.

And that’s where it begins and ends. If someone living in the city can navigate the hot spots — the so-called Central Business District of Manhattan — without the aid of a subway map (except during the weekends), then a New Yorker that person shall be. If someone can, by and large, get from his or her local subway stop to just about anywhere else in the city, if that person would even be so bold as to offer lost tourists subway directions, then a New Yorker you will be.

Of course, a subway rider isn’t the only thing that makes up a New Yorker. I went to elementary school and high school with life-long New Yorkers who, by the time they were 11, had ridden the subway just a handful of times in their entire lives. But that is more a testament to the culture of New York City private schools than it is to the role of the subway in the city.

We don’t have five color-coded lines as they do in DC. We have a mash of subway lines and bullet colors that run all over the place in a way that, to the untrained eye, makes little sense. Master that map, and the city is yours to explore.

For me, I have my own story about newly-arrived New Yorkers. I started law school orientation this week, and after a law school-hosted party and a few more drinks at a local bar, I ventured home to Brooklyn well after midnight on Sunday night. One of my fellow classmates — from North Carolina — asked me the next day if I have a cut-off time for taking the subway. “Do you still ride it at four a.m.?” he asked me.

I just laughed. Of course, I’ll ride the subway at four a.m. I’ll ride the trains at any hour of any day. But then again, Cara Buckley isn’t writing about me; I was born with the subway gene.

That wacky and crazy subway map up there comes to us via The Panopticist who says it’s a product of Marc Grubstein’s.

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  • Goethals Bridge renderings unveiled · Eight days ago, I told you about plans to include space for transit on the new span set to replace the Goethals Bridge replacement. Yesterday, Mobilizing the Region presented background on the transit aspects of the plan and a fancy set of renderings for the project. While construction isn’t set to begin until 2011, we should still applaud the way the Port Authority’s thinking for the bridge evolved to include public transit lanes. If only we could retrofit some of the other, more lacking river crossings as well. · (3)

Rare are the days when I, as a blogger, venture into the world of partisan politics. Those grounds are covered by people with more time for blogger than I have, and I like to keep my focus on news and views from the subway. Sure, most regular readers have probably picked up my liberal leanings, but in New York, we operate in our own political world.

So pardon my intrusion while I look across the country to Denver where, in a few days, a train man will accept the Democratic Party’s nomination for vice president. On Wednesday night, Sen. Joe Biden from the great state of Delaware will issue that evening’s speech, and while his love of and reliance on commuter trains may not make it into his introductory remarks this week, it’s sure to come up between now and Election Day.

Biden, you see, is a bona fide commuter like the rest of us — or almost like the rest of us. The Senator travels back and forth from Washington, DC to Wilmington, Delaware, every day during the Senate sessions. While some people may opt to make that round trip via a chauffeured car, Senator Biden relies on Amtrak for his round trips. His monthly ticket costs over $1000, quite a bit more than our Unlimited Ride Metrocards with or without another fare hike, but it’s still rail travel.

So then as rail fans and transportation-minded writers everywhere are excited about Biden’s potential rail advocacy, we can play the “What If?” game for New York. What if Biden, via the Obama ticket, earns his spot in the next presidential administration? What sort of transportation gains can we expect?

Well, on the surface, the gains will be tough to achieve. As with any politically-oriented goal, Congress will have to approve an effort by Vice President Biden to increase funding for, say, Amtrak or Amtrak-oriented development. But perhaps Biden would begin to push for more money for the beleaguered national rail company. Perhaps, we’ll see funds heading our way for the ever-planned Moynihan Station. Perhaps other rail-oriented efforts will earn more respect — and funds — from the federal government.

In the end, it is of course far too early to speculate on the transit advances that should come out of Washington, DC, when the next administration takes over. But any rail fan should think long and hard about supporting the Obama-Biden ticket. It is, after all, the one with the rail-friendly fellow running for Vice President.

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A reader writes:

Need your help, want to get a gift for my Friend’s dad. He worked for MTA and in the 50’s and 60’s rode the #5 Dyre Ave line to his Aunts. Would you know what model subway ran that line. Was it the Lo-V’s or the R26…They have models of these cars and I want to make sure I get the right one. Hope you can help. Thanks.

Anyone know the answer to this query?

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In last week’s issue of the Downtown Express, Laura Latzko examined handicapped access and the subways. As we know, many subway stops aren’t very handicap-accessible, and Latzko’s story highlights how many key hubs are lacking in amenities and how handicapped riders have to change their routes to get around the city.

More important, though, is Latzko’s hints at things to come:

By 2020, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has promised to make 100 key stations accessible, as part of a plan it developed after the Americans with Disabilities Act was adopted in 1990…

Funding issues also contribute to the system’s inaccessibility. [NYC Transit spokesperson James] Anyansi said that it costs on average $5 million to $7 million to put an elevator in a subway and $15 million to $20 million to make a station accessible, with mezzanine and street elevators.

So therein lies the rub. The MTA knows its system is not handicap-friendly, and the authority knows that every time it renovates a station, it must make that station ADA-compliant. But adhering to those ADA measures costs up to $20 million. It is, in other words, cost-prohibitive for the MTA to make its system handicap-friendly.

Over the next decade, come funding hell or high water, the MTA will overhaul a bunch of key stations. This set of stations will include the Broadway-Lafayette/Bleeker St. hub with the B, D, F, V and 6 all merging at a common point. The agency will also try to work out their handicap-accessibility at many other key stations.

But again, this is an issue that relies on funding. Until the MTA can receive adequate funding, yet another sub-population in New York City will be left with sub-par subway access. This sounds like a very common refrain these days, and hopefully, one day soon, our elected representatives will begin to tackle these funding problems. I am not holding my breath.

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What happens when the subway ends? That’s what Andy Newman wonders in The New York Times today. Newman journeyed to the ends of every subway line, and what he finds is a complex study in the people and places that make New York City tick. The resulting article is a great piece of New York City journalism, and the accompanying interactive feature is just as fascinating. For those of you interested in whatever lies beyond New Lots Ave. or Dyre Ave. in Eastchester, this is your chance to find out.

The Overhead Wire notes that the Obama/Biden ticket seems to be the best transit-oriented choice for 2008. What that means for New York City and its beleaguered MTA, however, is entirely up for the grabs. I don’t think anyone should expect the Feds to bail out the MTA, and I’m not so sure a third Bloomberg term would be the way to go either.

Finally, the Launch Box has another round of images from the construction site along Second Ave. Just six more years until Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway is complete!

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Weekend service advisories

By · Comments (2) ·

You know the drill. The trains are runnin’ wacky this weekend. Subway Weekender has your maps.

1 trains run in two sections:

  1. Between 242 and 137 Sts
  2. Between 137 St and South Ferry

Aug 23 – 25, 12:01 AM to 6 AM Sat,
12:01 AM to 7 AM Sun, 12:01 AM to 5 AM Mon

Uptown 1 and 2 trains skip 79 and 86 Sts
Aug 23 – 25, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

Free shuttle buses replace 2 trains between 241 and East 180 Sts
Aug 23 – 25, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

Free shuttle buses replace 4 trains between Woodlawn and Bedford Pk Blvd
Aug 23 – 24, 4 AM Sat to 10 PM Sun

Uptown 4 trains run express from Grand Central to 125 St
Aug 23 – 24, 12:01 AM to 5 AM Sat and Sun

No 5 trains between 149 and East 180 Sts
Take the 2 instead
Aug 23 – 25, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

5 trains run in two sections:

  1. Between Dyre Av and East 180 St
  2. Between Bowling Green and 149 St-Grand Concourse

Aug 23 – 25, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

Uptown 6 trains run express from Grand Central to 125 St
Aug 23 – 24, 12:01 AM to 5 AM Sat and Sun

Manhattan-bound A trains run on the F from Jay to West 4 Sts
Aug 23 – 25, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

Downtown A trains run local from 168 St to Euclid Av
Aug 23 – 25, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

Uptown A trains run local from West 4 to 168 Sts
Aug 23 – 25, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

No C trains running
Take the A instead
Aug 23 – 25, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

D trains run local between 36 St and DeKalb Av
Aug 23 – 25, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

Manhattan-bound F trains run on the V from Roosevelt Av to 47-50 Sts
Aug 23 – 25, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

Jamaica-bound F trains run local from 21 St-Queensbridge to Roosevelt Av
Aug 24, 12:30 AM to 5 AM Sunday

Manhattan-bound F trains run local from Roosevelt Av to 21 St-Queensbridge
Aug 23, 12:01 AM to 5 AM Saturday

No G trains between 71-Continental Avs and Court Sq
Take the E or R instead
Aug 22 – 25, 8:30 PM Fri to 5 AM Mon

G trains run every 20 minutes between Court Sq and Smith-9 Sts
Aug 22 – 25, 11 PM Fri to 5 AM Mon

J trains run in two sections:

  1. Between Jamaica Center and Essex St
  2. Between Essex and Chambers Sts

Aug 23 – 25, 1 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

Free shuttle buses replace M trains between Metropolitan Av and Myrtle Av-Broadway
Aug 24, 6 AM to 6 PM Sunday

Manhattan-bound N trains run on the D from Stillwell Av to 36 St
Aug 23 – 25, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

N trains run on the R from Canal St to DeKalb Av
Aug 23 – 25, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

Q trains run in two sections:

  • Between 57 and Pacific Sts
  • Between Atlantic and Stillwell Avs
  • To continue your trip, walk through the passageway between Pacific St and Atlantic Av
    Aug 23 – 25, 12:01 AM to 5 AM Sat to Mon

    Categories : Service Advisories
    Comments (2)

    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.

    Comments (13)

    On Wednesday, I took two subway trips along the same lines that illustrated to me how the subways work when everything is perfectly in sync. I can’t help but wish the subways would always be so obliging.

    My first trip took me from Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn to the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall stop in Manhattan. At around 20 to one, I sauntered down the stairs at Grand Army Plaza and had just enough time to make my way to the back of the train when a Manhattan-bound 3 pulled in. Three stops later, at Nevins St., I had to wait all of a minute before a 4 arrived.

    By 1:05 p.m., I had reached my destination at Foley Square. It was a stress- and wait-free subway ride, and I couldn’t help by tip my cap to the Subway Gods who seemed to be smiling on me. Little did I know that they would pay a repeat visit a few hours hence.

    Five hours later and running a few minutes late, I again sauntered down those very same steps at Grand Army Plaza, hoping for a train to start me on my way to Astor Place. This time, the 2 pulled in before I had a chance to reach the platform, and again, I was off. At Nevins St., the 4 again came after a barely-noticeably wait, and as I stode on the platform at Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall, the 6 obligingly showed up on time. When another 6 pulled in on the other side of the loop, I knew we would not be long for the terminus, and two minutes later, that Bronx-bound 6 pulled into Canal St.

    I would arrive at Astor Place less than 25 minutes after I boarded at Grand Army Plaza the first of three trains I would need to take. It was a subway trip from heaven, and too rarely does that happen in New York.

    As I contemplated this ideal day of subway travel, two thoughts filled my head. The first was on the inherently selfish nature of New York City subway riders. We’re happy only when we don’t have to wait at all for a subway ride, but if that train takes three or five or eight minutes to arrive, passengers grow irritable and impatient. New Yorkers are happy to arrive at movie theaters a full 40 minutes before show time, but heaven forbid that we wait ten minutes for our $2-per-ride subway train.

    But I also thought about the nature of our subway system and not just the people who ride the subways. My trips yesterday were as the subways should always be. I didn’t have to wait longer than two minutes for a train, and the connections were smooth and quick. I know I was riding along the popular IRT lines during peak hours, but should that excuse the relatively poorer service along other lines? Should that excuse sluggish late-night service and inconsistent weekend service?

    As always, these desires boil down to funding. If the MTA had access to limitless monies, we could enjoy a subway system that runs as often as Transport for London can run the Tubes. At 11:45 p.m., we could see trains come through the tunnels every five minutes instead of every fifteen minutes. But the money isn’t there, and the will to produce more money to simply maintain the current state of the system doesn’t seem to be there either.

    Maybe one day, we’ll have the transit system we need and deserve. For now, I’ll just keep riding the trains during the day and thinking about how blissful life is underground and how quick the subways are when I don’t have to wait long for the trains. It’s always nice to dream.

    Comments (15)
    • Paterson appoints MTA skeptic to fill Board vacancy · When Francis H. Powers passed away in June, Gov. David Paterson received the opportunity to appoint someone to the MTA Board. Yesterday, he named Allen P. Cappelli, lawyer and longtime Democratic supporter, to fill the vacant seat.

      Cappelli, as William Neuman reports in The Times isn’t an unbiased observer. “I have been very mistrustful of the M.T.A. as an agency,” he said. “Dealing with straphanger groups and commuter groups over the years, and citizens with their complaints — whether it be with unsafe conditions, cleanliness issues, cost of the system, increases in fares — I’ve become very skeptical of the M.T.A.’s operations.” I think that’s a good sign. Maybe. · (0)
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