Home PANYNJ Quick Hits: Gothamist on subway slashings; City Journal on Port Authority reform

Quick Hits: Gothamist on subway slashings; City Journal on Port Authority reform

by Benjamin Kabak

The post-Super Bowl party clean-up got the best of me on Sunday. So I didn’t have time to write up a full post with additional reaction to the Brooklyn-Queens Streetcar and the realpolitik behind the mayor’s developer-backed initiative. As you might guess, that’s coming later tonight. In the meantime, two links for you to browse today.

Gothamist takes on subway slashings

If you listen to NYPD brass talk about the subway, it’s a dangerous place where too many riders are creating unsafe conditions because they keep jostling each other and also it’s not crowded enough at certain times. In other words, none of it makes much sense, and the contradictions are laid bare in this unsigned editorial that relies on anecdotes from unnamed police officers to make it sound like the subways are more dangerous than ever. They’re not, and in fact, despite a spate of recent slashings, the subways are safer than they’ve ever been. A small uptick in crime numbers this year and last hasn’t kept pace with massive ridership gains, and the crime rate underground is at a record low.

As I wrote last week, the NYPD refuses to get serious about sexual assault underground and instead are using slashing as a scare tactic. Over at Gothamist, Jake Dobkin tried to do away with this argument once and for all. As Dobkin notes, nearly all of the subway slashings have come about as a result of an argument between two passengers. These aren’t random attacks but rather avoidable incidents that shouldn’t be treated as a symptom of danger. Prior to another incident this weekend that arose from a fight between two passengers, he writes:

Sure, I understand that it’s annoying to get screamed at by a crazy person, but you have to be pretty stupid, insecure, or insane yourself to get upset by it. Take a deep breath, summon up some sympathy for the poor, afflicted soul who’s causing the trouble, and then feel lucky that you had the presence of mind to avoid a preventable altercation. Seven out of ten of this year’s subway stabbings and slashings happened because people ignored this advice! Don’t let that happen to you…Our subways and our streets are safer now than at any time in the last forty years.

By promoting the idea that the subways are somehow unsafe when they are not, the NYPD is, intentionally or not, undercutting public support for a vibrant subway system. That’s a dangerous, dangerous game to play.

City Journal takes on the Port Authority

For your weekly dose of Port Authority hate, check out Seth Barron’s magnum opus on the agency’s incompetence and corruption. For those who have followed over the years, Barron’s piece treads familiar ground: no accountability on either side of the Hudson, no ability to set priorities or control costs, and no real long-term vision all plague the Port Authority as it has deviated from its core mission. Barron toys with dismantling the Port Authority entirely but realizes there are considerable obstacles to such a plan. But no politician has an appetite for reform. It’s as close to an intractable problem as the region’s transportation structure has right now.

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Dizzy February 8, 2016 - 11:17 am

I dunno, man, that comes awfully close to victim-blaming. De-escalation is certainly good advice, but it does not follow that the only thing you need to do to avoid getting slashes is not get into arguments and to respond to mentally ill people with the perfectly-calibrated amount of distance.

Dobkin’s silly hyperbole about suffocating on a packed train being a bigger danger doesn’t help his case, since to my knowledge that has never happened, unlike said slashings/stabbings. And it’s hardly news, or somehow specific to subways, that violent crime gets more of a reaction and interest from people than traffic ‘accidents’ that are presumed to have no malicious intent. It’s the malice that drives the interest, rather than the maiming (plane crashes are a different matter, but those tend to have a much higher body count).

Anyway, Gothamist being Gothamist aside, your point still stands. NYPD’s public messaging continues to be dumb dumb dumb.

Common Sense February 8, 2016 - 11:34 am

Did you read about the slashing over the weekend where two men got into a fight because one man was hitting on the other’s girlfriend? Maybe we should be victim-blaming if people are going to be that dumb and dense on the subway.

SEAN February 8, 2016 - 12:04 pm

This thing with the NYPD is designed to cause an emotional feedback loop such that they will be allowed to do almost anything they want without a peep from the citizens mutch less the polls.

Bolwerk February 8, 2016 - 3:50 pm

Uh, that’s just nothing to get into a fight about. There should just be brothels for these types of men to visit so they don’t have to bother women who aren’t being paid for the displeasure of dealing with them.

I saw a delightful near-fight on an uptown 4 train a few weeks ago. Soul-patched white homey was listening to horrible rap music without headphones, pissing most of the car off, obviously street black dude asks him to turn it down, fuck you’s the response, black dude starts to get in his face, another black dude across the (very crowded) train car evidently likes the music and tells the white dude to come over to him for protection, black guy in white guy’s face eventually gives up because white guy won’t budge, black guy who gave up keeps mouthing vain insults/threats, other passengers start trading insults and/or telling each other it’s not worth it to do anything or to STFU or whatever, ….

I was trying not to laugh at the spectacle the whole time. When I got off at Grand Central, some actually imposing mick construction worker – a rather rare sight in NYC these days – finally stepped into the original instigator’s face, obviously scaring the shit out of him, but he still wasn’t smart enough to budge on the music. If it got physical after, I have no idea.

But the way it broke down over interracial lines? Beautiful!

Spendmor Wastemor February 9, 2016 - 12:49 am

“delightful near-fight”
“white homey”
“mick construction worker”

It’s great to have a resident racist wishing for a more violent city.

Bolwerk February 9, 2016 - 4:19 pm

Yes, a regular Giuliani voter am I. Write his name in even when he’s not running. <3 Bill Bratton and Ray Kelly too. #tcot too!

Really, speak for your illiterate self. It was like a John Kennedy O’Toole cast set in 21st century New York. I’m allowed to laugh at the carnival of Ignatius Reillys around me. If I wanted it to be more violent, I would have gone to the pigs instead of shrugging it off.

Roger February 8, 2016 - 12:59 pm

Why there is not any form of transportation across Hudson River between Lincoln tunnel and GWB?

If there were enough funding, the next step after SAS Phase 2 should be a 125 street crosstown, and then a tunnel to Jersey which goes down the Hudson shoreline until Hoboken.

For all New Yorker’s disdain for New Jersey, a better integration across the Hudson is critical to NYC’s future. The Hudson River really feels like a Berlin Wall when you are looking at New Jersey from Riverside Park in UWS.

Roger February 8, 2016 - 1:03 pm

Or there could be some ferry service, at 72, 96,116,137 and maybe more. This will significantly alleviate the traffic of PATH trains and Lincoln tunnel.

Chuck G February 8, 2016 - 1:53 pm

Given the $6.25/trip difference between ferries and PATH, I’d like to know what you mean by ‘significant’.

Roger February 8, 2016 - 2:21 pm

Why does it have to be $10/trip?

Benjamin Kabak February 8, 2016 - 2:31 pm

Ferries aren’t a cost-effective way to provide transit across the Hudson, and the areas you’ve identified aren’t geographically or demographically prime areas for ferry trips.

SEAN February 8, 2016 - 8:00 pm

All of the NJ ferry terminals have dense development either adjacent to it or very closeby. http://www.nywaterway.com.

Roger February 9, 2016 - 11:55 pm

That’s a chicken and egg problem. If you don’t have any method to cross the river, how can there be any meaningful development in West New York/Cliffside park, etc?

Anyway it is simply wrong not to have any way to cross Hudson between 42th and 168th street because the British and Dutch drew some stupid border along the river 400 years ago.

adirondacker12800 February 10, 2016 - 1:51 am

The lava welling up into the existing sandstone, 200 million years ago, has more to do with it.

adirondacker12800 February 10, 2016 - 1:56 am

…and West New York is more densely populated than any of the outer boroughs.

adirondacker12800 February 8, 2016 - 2:25 pm

yes it does.


It makes it difficult to clamber down to the river.

Bolwerk February 8, 2016 - 3:52 pm

Doesn’t the C Train actually have provisions for crossing the GWB?

Eric February 8, 2016 - 4:37 pm

So I’ve heard (I’d like confirmation too).

However there’s not much to connect to on the other side. Mostly low density suburbs, except for Fort Lee.

SEAN February 8, 2016 - 7:52 pm

I wouldn’t call Palisades Park, Cliffside Park or Englewood low density even if it isn’t as dense as Fort Lee, Edgewater or Union City.

adirondacker12800 February 8, 2016 - 4:44 pm

the lower level was given over to cars in 1962.

Michael549 February 8, 2016 - 2:39 pm

“By promoting the idea that the subways are somehow unsafe when they are not, the NYPD is, intentionally or not, undercutting public support for a vibrant subway system. That’s a dangerous, dangerous game to play.”


There are times when messages can be sent – but those messages can take two forms – 1) what is being said overtly – clearly enough that many folks comprehend easily, and 2) under the surface messages whose meanings hit our emotions directly and not our reason immediately.

I think it is a different game being “played”. Police departments need to be seen as the “good guys” and to have the respect of the public. One way to do that is to send out the message, “we are keeping you safe”. There is also another message, “it is dangerous out there – so you need us.” and its related cousin, “Police work can be dangerous – you need us.”

Generally, it can be stated that issues of police brutality, un-armed shootings, corruption, etc. as a whole send out the message, “the police can also be dangerous.” That is a difficult message to combat for a police department – it directly clashes with the “we’re the good guys” message. What to do – simple – just let the good folks know, “it is dangerous out there” – “we are here to support you – the good people.”

All of those messages – “police as the good guys”; “it is dangerous out there”; “Police can also be dangerous”; “Police work can also be dangerous” can be argued and debated with various statistics and other facts thrown into the debate. That is if your trying to argue and send these messages to our thinking, understanding & rational brains.

Again, I’m not talking about the truthfulness of any of these statements, but only that they are messages. And as messages, they are being sent out. And that there are “counter” messages.

If you’re part of a police department, as a part of your reason for being – which messages are you’re going to keep sending out?

These appeals to the public – above board & subtle can easily affect things such as budgets, manpower, agency respect, political support, etc. In such a contest the MTA can fend for itself – by sending out its own set of messages – both above board & subtle.


SEAN February 8, 2016 - 3:34 pm

In linguistics, there are two interrelated terms worth noting- innotation & connotation. The former indicates what is actually being said vs the latter witch is being inferred. The NYPD is playing both sides of the message game & as noted by Ben & Mike, can be quite dangerous.

Christopher Stephens February 8, 2016 - 4:43 pm

The Port Authority is broken and beyond repair. I would be interested to see how the local transit bloggerati would seek to break up its functions in a way that would get them to function better, keep costs in check, and discourage the corruption and excess that has been the trademark of the Port Authority for too long. A little “blue sky” thinking, friends? Have at it!


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