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. “That’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.