Home MTA Absurdity An Internet meme derails Transit’s new signage

An Internet meme derails Transit’s new signage

by Benjamin Kabak

At 14th St., the new signs express how many feel about the MTA’s upcoming service cuts. (Photo courtesy of Twitter user @kc2hmv)

Back in March, as the MTA announced the impending end of the short-lived V train, we remembered its origins in what was at the time a rather innocuous post. The comments to that post predicted the future though, and this week, the MTA is finally realizing what happens when Internet humor and sign changes mix.

As we discussed the V train, we started pondering how the new signs would read. As I said then, “The [new] FML combination at 6th Ave. and 14th St. is my favorite.” Because the MTA groups its subway bullets via trunk line on all of its signage — hence, ACE BDFM at West 4th St. — the signs at 14th St. where the L stops at 6th Ave. would all read FML, or Internet shorthand for, well, you know.

“Oh man, FML is priceless,” frequent SAS commenter AK said in March. “It is particularly apt for those poor souls on the 1,2,3, who get off at 14th believing there is an easy transfer only to find out that the transfer requires a 1100-foot walk. FML indeed.”

This little bit of online humor was all well and good in March, but apparently, no one was paying attention at the MTA. Over the weekend, as the new bullets went up at 14th St., the Sixth Ave. local/BMT Canarsie line combo signs all read FML. Immediately, New York City-based blogs, those bastions of maturity, had a field day with Transit’s profanity-laden gaffe. Take a peak at City Room or CNet or the Huffington Post or The Village Voice or Guest of a Guest or DNA Info. Ha. Ha. Ha.

By the end of the day, the MTA had already promised to change the sign. Apparently, juvenile Internet humor that relatively few riders will understand runs policy over at Transit. “As soon as we became aware of it, we were going to change it,” Charles Seaton, an agency spokesman, said to The Times. “We thought there was a certain population out there who might recognize it, even though we didn’t, obviously.”

Transit claims the costs will be low because the new signs will simply involve rearranging cheap vinyl stickers. Generally, the L will move to one side or another, and the signs will either say LFM one one line or feature two rows of bullets with the L under FM. The FML fiasco will be lost to transit lore. What makes this whole saga particularly absurd, though, is the fact that, according to Transit, the blogger outrage forced them to make the change. No rider had complained; a few had probably chuckled; but only the blogs had noticed, said Seaton. When the Internet denizens of New York picked up on something that was, three months ago, a faux pas waiting to happen, a change had to be made. If only Albany would respond that quickly to New Yorkers’ demands about their transit system, then perhaps we wouldn’t be suffering through service changes at all.

While we’re on the subject….

Since we’re nitpicking Transit’s new approach to signage by public fiat and the trials and travails of the new Sixth Ave.-bound M train, I wanted to take a minute to bring up something that’s been bugging me about the new map. Take a look at this section:

Now, as I noted above, the MTA’s practice in the past has been to group subway bullets at train stations and on the maps by trunk line. It helps riders understand which platforms they want and where particular subway routes go. But when the MTA released the new map a few weeks ago, the six stations the M will soon share with the J and Z violated that convention. Instead of listing the trains as the J/Z/M with the two Nassua St. routes grouped together, the old J/M/Z alphabetic listing ruled the day. It should not.

Either the M should be on the other side of the lines from the J/Z bullets or the M should precede or follow the brown lines. Anything else is just inconsistent. Or as the mapmakers might say, FML.

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Cap'n Transit June 15, 2010 - 2:04 am


John Paul N. June 15, 2010 - 2:15 am

To what? The big deal over the initialism or the oversight over it? Here, I agree it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Andrew June 15, 2010 - 7:19 am

FML? Never heard of it before it hit the media two days ago. (Who uses it?)

As for JMZ vs. FML, the signage convention and the map convention differ. See Queens Blvd.

Christopher June 15, 2010 - 7:22 am

There’s an entire FML tumblr. That’s how I first heard it, then it started appearing on Twitter. But think it’s also common in general SMS speech. I

Andrew June 15, 2010 - 8:11 am

Oh, I never got into Twitter, and I’m too old for SMS. Maybe that’s how I missed out.

Benjamin Kabak June 15, 2010 - 8:18 am

As for JMZ vs. FML, the signage convention and the map convention differ. See Queens Blvd.

Here’s what Queens Boulevard looks like on the new map. It fits the MTA’s convention of grouping bullets with their Manhattan trunk line colors. Only along the Brooklyn part of the J/Z/M route does Transit eschew that grouping.

mdh June 15, 2010 - 10:23 am


I had noticed the same thing on the new map for the JMZ, and it bothered me, too. But Andrew is correct, with regard to the notations on the “current” subway map — you’re looking at the “new” map. On today’s current map, along the E Train route between Jackson Hts.-Roosevelt Ave. and Forest Hills-71 Ave. the F and V are not together.

In fact, if you look at the small call-outs indicating the transfers available at a few of the Queens station, there is a similar lack of the conventional grouping (see: Queensboro Plz., Jackson Hts.-Roosevelt Ave., Forest Hills-71 Ave.). The same is true for the call-out at Broadway Junction in Brooklyn where the ACJLZ converge, and even the call-outs in Manhattan at Times Square and Herald Square.

These situations are all resolved in the new map, except for the Broadway Junction call-out at the ACJLZ.

Andrew June 15, 2010 - 8:20 pm

Actually, where I’m wrong is on Central Park West, where the map has ACBD rather than ABCD.

rhywun June 15, 2010 - 8:05 am

Never heard of it either. The MTA should have ignored it rather than fueled it. Oh well.

Scott E June 15, 2010 - 8:11 am

Add me to the list of those who had to click the “well, you know” link because, well, I didn’t know. But obviously, many do. I still can’t see how the L will fit underneath on some of the signs, particularly this one.

The JMZ always looked odd to me with the orange bullet in the middle. Now I understand why.

Grzond June 15, 2010 - 8:34 am

You REALLY have to ask why they don’t want there to be a JZM train? I think that one might be more juvenile and apparent than FML…..

Kid Twist June 15, 2010 - 9:59 am

My inner 12-year-old finds this hilarious.

Josh June 15, 2010 - 8:41 am

They got rid of the useless V train that used to show up when I was waiting for the F train, and they replaced it with the useless M train that will show up when I’m waiting for the F train. FML.

Kid Twist June 15, 2010 - 9:10 am

OMG! ROFL at MTA over FML. IMHO it’s CYA BS.

Benjamin Kabak June 15, 2010 - 9:12 am

Hah! That never occurred to me. How about M/J/Z instead?

John June 15, 2010 - 9:57 am

Yeah I’ve been using the internet forever and hadn’t heard of FML. It’s not as ubiquitous as some sites are implying.

bb June 15, 2010 - 11:29 am

I distinctly remember there being JZM train signage back in the early 90s. My friends and I used to joke about that. AWe were also amused by the signs for the BD train, or as I commented, the BD Train gives a whole new definition to the term “strap hanging”.

SEAN June 15, 2010 - 12:32 pm


BG June 15, 2010 - 7:33 pm

What bugs me, on the topic of signage inconsistency, is the fact that there are two orange lines on the map for the Queens Boulevard line. Anywhere else on the map, if two subway lines that have the same color run together, only one line appears on the map (including on the 4th Avenue Line in Brooklyn, Queens Boulevard’s closest complement, where the N and R appear as the same line). The new map does not change this exception. Perhaps the MTA is trying to make Queens’ meager amount of subway service look more substantial than it is.

Ron June 15, 2010 - 10:11 pm

They split it because the express runs a different route under northern blvd than the local from 36th St to 65th St. Not sure why it’s important to the everyday person, but I find it interesting so I’m glad they do that.

rhywun June 16, 2010 - 12:19 am

I don’t like that either – it just looks sloppy. I couldn’t care less that the express takes a shortcut (and why isn’t the similar express shortcut on the F depicted?).

Ron June 16, 2010 - 9:25 am

It is. It’s shown alongside the E. That’s why the F and V (or M) have 2 different lines on the map.

Andrew June 17, 2010 - 7:29 am

If you mean the express in Brooklyn, it isn’t used in regular service – so why would it show up on the map?

Poingly June 16, 2010 - 12:02 am

They just don’t want it to spell “JZM.” Think about how that’s pronounced phonetically: jizzum. Yeah, it’s gross. Just sayin’.

From FML to something mundane :: Second Ave. Sagas June 17, 2010 - 12:01 pm

[…] had a good chuckle on Tuesday when the FML Internet meme popped up on Transit’s new subway signs. Predicted as a possibility in late March, with the M destined for 6th Ave., the BMT/IND connection […]

FML! New York Subway Managers Show Remarkable Web Savvy | Peter Kafka | MediaMemo | AllThingsD June 17, 2010 - 4:18 pm

[…] “FML” in texts, IMs or tweets, then you may be the kind of person who was aware of a recent change to the New York City subway system, which resulted in this sorta-funny […]

bananafishtoday June 18, 2010 - 2:36 pm

I live off the J and the stickers they put up at Myrtle to cover the “JMZ” signs read “JZM” now.

14th St. Signs Sagas :: Second Ave. Sagas July 13, 2010 - 4:16 pm

[…] part of a month now. In mid-June, as New York City Transit prepped for service changes, the agency accidentally displayed an Internet meme on the new FML signs. A day later, the less vulgar LFM took its turn atop the signs, but not all of […]

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