Home Brooklyn Great Moments in Transit Reporting: A fake scandal on fake signs

Great Moments in Transit Reporting: A fake scandal on fake signs

by Benjamin Kabak

The ugliness of these temporary signs has struck a nerve at the Daily News. (Photo via MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann)

As Second Ave. Sagas skips toward its seven anniversary, I’ve seen transit beat writers across the city come and go, and right now, we’re in a bit of a golden age of transit coverage. From Matt Flegenheimer at The Times and Ted Mann at The Journal to Matt Chaban at Crain’s New York and Stephen J. Smith at The Observer, a bunch of smart, open-minded reporters are tackling the city’s transportation beat, and they’re doing a great job of it. Yet, some coverage in other papers makes me slump my shoulders in defeat or throw my hands up in disgust.

Today’s Daily News features one of those pieces, and although the story is a minor one, it’s worth a few minutes of our time. The piece in question comes to us from not one but two reports, and it focuses on obviously temporary signage at Smith/9th Sts. and the way the signs look. The sub-hed on this groundbreaking piece of reporting tells us all we need to know: “Fake signs are only temporary. But they are ugly.”

At issue are some identification signs at the ends of the Smith/9th Sts. platform. At some point, the MTA will install proper mosaics in these locations, but to ready the station for passenger service after years of delay, the agency posted temporary paper signs designed to mimic tiling. “The signs were fabricated and installed as a temporary measure for the station reopening and will be replaced by the contractor with new mosaic tile signs,” a Transit spokesman said.

Meanwhile, in typical man-on-the-street fashion, two Daily News reporters even managed to track down someone to complain. This is, after all, still New York. ‚ÄúThat’s pretty terrible considering the amount of money that went into renovating the place,” said Dennis Nemirovskiy, who likely hadn’t even noticed the signs let alone dwell on them before the reporters approached him. (Another rider had a more practical take. “Unless it’s going to improve the service it really doesn’t matter,” she said.)

And that’s the key to the Daily News article. Even though I’ve spent 300 words discussing it, it really doesn’t matter. The MTA is facing myriad problems that actually matter. It’s recovering from a crippling hurricane that has drastically reduced the expected lifetimes for key pieces of equipment. It’s heavily in debt with no end to the borrowing in sight. It can’t get out of its own way on capital projects and can’t garner political support for needed expansion efforts. And the Daily News is making a scandal out of a temporary sign.

When everyday New Yorkers bemoan the state of the subways, think back to this article because this is why. It’s lowest common denominator coverage that leads to politicians who don’t know how the subways are run or why services are constantly being threatened or cut. It’s why two sets of books has persisted for ten years. It’s great for instant outrage and absolutely terrible at generating a modicum of support transformative, long-range solutions to regional transportation problems.

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John-2 May 23, 2013 - 1:54 am

If they really want to do a story about bad station conditions, the Daily News could start by walking 100 yards from City Hall and downstairs to the J/Z Chambers Street station. Way more of an outrage than temporary signage at Smith/9th.

sajh May 23, 2013 - 9:17 am

How about the entrance to Chambers St A/C/2/3/E. Where it is actually Park Place for the 2/3 so many people including myself, forget that there is no 1 train at this station due to the poor signage at subway entrances.

Tower18 May 23, 2013 - 10:09 am

I have never seen a subway entrance that didn’t have the lines serving it indicated on a sign. The signs at Chambers St/Park Place clearly indicate that only the 2/3 stop there, in addition to the A/C/E.

Chuck May 23, 2013 - 2:51 pm

Are you saying the entrance signs at Chambers St IND are poor because they don’t say “The (1) train does not stop here?”

Jerrold May 23, 2013 - 4:28 pm

One example of signage that is designed to prevent a confused person from making a mistake, is at Roosevelt Ave.
The signs on the Manhattan-bound platform include the information that the F does NOT stop at Queens Plaza, and that the E stops at Queens Plaza.

It may be a very good idea, when designing signage, to take into account the mistakes that are easy to make.

Peter May 23, 2013 - 9:32 am

Sure, it’s a minor thing, but Isn’t the bigger point that after all the money spent and all the delays to this project it still hasn’t been done correctly?

I admit, I didn’t notice the signs when I used the station recently. I was probably distracted by the fact that one of the escalators didn’t work!

Benjamin Kabak May 23, 2013 - 9:34 am

No one has said those signs are permanent though. When the MTA opened the station for passenger service, they said in all of their press materials and at the ribbon-cutting that work remained. Should they have omitted station name panels because the temporary solution is ugly? Seems far less customer friendly to me.

SEAN May 23, 2013 - 9:57 am


What else would you expect from the Daily News or the Post? You said it yourself, “the lowest common denominator.” That’s where those papers are aimed so of corse you’re going to get that reaction.

Patrick May 23, 2013 - 11:47 am

Imagine if the MTA came out in a press release and said that the opening of Smith-9th Streets is being delayed because the tile mosaics weren’t ready yet…imagine the commotion that would cause.

The MTA just can’t win no matter what they do in so many regards. It’s really a shame.

~ Patrick @ The LIRR Today

Peter May 23, 2013 - 12:11 pm

Good point. I’m still shaking my head that they actually had the audacity to have a ribbon cutting for this station.

Jerrold May 23, 2013 - 4:37 pm

Also, what I think would make more sense at THAT station would be to have the signs where the A train stops to say only “Chambers St.”, and for the signs where the E trains stops to say only “World Trade Center”.
Vesey St. and Chambers St. are five blocks apart.
It’s a little ridiculous to ignore that fact in the signage.
If it were like I said above, then people would be more likely to choose which train to take to go there, based on whether they want the Chambers St. area or the WTC area.

BDavinci May 23, 2013 - 5:03 pm

I was wondering if someone in subwayblogland was going to notice this!
I have a photo a of a real Smith & 9th Streets Sign. (Albeit very old and taped up!) Link: http://bit.ly/18lOq5z

Chris C May 23, 2013 - 5:35 pm

Given that it was discussed here


On April 24th it had already been noticed and discussed.

MaximusNYC May 23, 2013 - 7:36 pm

Chris C, thanks for linking back to that thread! I’m surprised it’s taken this long for the media to catch on to what I noticed the first weekend the station was open. It’s like they left right after the ribbon-cutting ceremony, without giving the station a once-over.

Kevin Walsh May 27, 2013 - 11:29 pm

The MTA has done a poor job replicating IND-type signage at 14th and 34th Streets on the A/C/E, so I’m hoping — perhaps futilely — that they’ll do a good job with them here.

I wonder why the old mosaics had to be removed in the first place. That part of the platform wasn’t he problem with the Smith-9th station.

Patrick May 28, 2013 - 1:19 pm

And, after all, signs are just signs. If they give you the information you need, what more can you ask for? All that’s really important is that the trains show up and take you to where you need to go.

~ Patrick @ The LIRR Today


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