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Getting around: NYC transit

November 3, 2009

I’m finally getting the hang of public transit here. I’ve always found the subway pretty easy to manage, but I still feel the need to check the map now and then. Occasionally I find myself wishing I had one handy on short notice when I walk into a station, a train is pulling up, and I’m unsure of its trajectory since I typically take another line that runs on the same track, or intersects at the same station. More than once, I’ve stepped onto a train assuming one thing and find myself hurtling east instead of south, or going express when I needed local. There are still some stations that confuse the hell out of me, but those are few, and if I’m not in a rush I can decipher the signage and get where I’m going.

One of the most baffling things has been the exit signs. They are very usefully labeled with the intersection and direction, like “SW.” However, this is only relevant if you know which street runs north-south and which runs east-west. Now that I have my bearings better, these signs actually help me walk the right direction on the first try when I exit a station. Miraculous.

I’ve never been a fan of buses, but I have started to see the light. Now that I have to get to the upper east side every week, and sometimes multiple times a week, I have found buses to be invaluable. When one has to cross Central Park, it is good to also have an alternate that goes around it. That place is an event magnet on weekends. I now have routes to the church from the north, south and west.

Contingency plans are essential with transit. Particularly when you live at the top of the island. Sometimes it seems like MTA doesn’t care that people live above 168, or even 125. It’s like we don’t matter, we don’t need good ways of getting further south or getting around our own neighborhood. Track work is always happening, causing delays and service interruptions. Stations close and they bring out the shuttle buses. I understand that the system is a big one that needs constant attention, and it’s far better to have to take a shuttle bus than have faulty equipment or dangerous track. But sometimes I think they do it to save money so they don’t have to pay the station attendants or buy the fuel needed to power the trains to those extra stops. Thank goodness we live between two different subway lines. We have options.

Still, it’s a system that is perpetually underfunded, but required by most of the residents of the city. It’s a monopoly, and we need it. Rates keep going up. Trains break down. Buses don’t run on time.  Trains are creaky and loud. Compared to mass transit in other cities, it’s great, mostly because it runs all night. It will take you where you need to go, but it might take a really long time. I’ll trade that for clean stations and shiny seats, but it’s by no means perfect.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Julia Bates permalink
    November 3, 2009 8:38 pm

    As we all adjust to a different kind of energy future, NYC has many lessons to teach us about organizing life around transportation. YOu guys have put yourselves in a position to learn a lot about life in the early decades of the 21st century. YOu do it with such grace. The rest of us will adapt, kicking and screaming! Julia

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