New York City Subway

Each time I ride the New York subway, I gain a little more respect for this vast vast system. At first, the grittiness and intimidatingly large stations and maps had me put off. But that grittiness and complexity are so very representational of the city that lies directly above it. And just as getting to know the city leads to more comfort with being in it, so it goes with the subway. You quickly learn that if you miss your initial transfer station, there's another route to get where you're going. You learn what time of day which trains will be packed and running behind and know which ones to take instead. You learn the pre-walk, positioning yourself in the correct car so as to most easily access the exit at your final station.

For being such a vast system, it strikes me by how inexpensive it is. It's a one-far system, rather than tiered by distance (like D.C. or Tokyo). Just $2.25 gets you underground or there are all sorts of passes and extra deals for multi-riders. If you had just a day in NYC and only $2.25 to spend, seeing the city's underground might not be a bad option.

Of how many cities can one say that every one of its residents has a shared bit of culture? In New York, people don't not use the subway. It's not really an option. That culture—knowledge, etiquette, opinions—creates a bond between New Yorkers, one that I can't say I've seen in cities like Seattle or Denver. This wide usage also makes for trains full of everyone imaginable, from $900 suits to children in soccer outfits, the nanny with a double stroller to the guy just looking for a warm place to sleep.

I could go on and on about the variation in the modernity from one line to the next, the lonely one-line station vs. the mega transfer ones, the lore associated with the A-train for example, or anecdotes about the random people I see down there, but the only way to really understand is to get to know it yourself. A city's public transit says a lot about the city itself, and it is one of my favorite ways to get to know it.
Tuesday November 2 2010File under: travel, transportation

Toggle Comments (2)comment?
on Tue 02nd Nov, 2010 06:24 pm PDT Saxtor said:
HEY! That's my stop! You're at my stop*!
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on Fri 05th Nov, 2010 10:14 pm PDT Wren said:
After I made this post, I had an awesome subway experience that I just have to share. It is called the A/C or B/D game and it is played at the Canal street station.

Often times, there are multiple lines that will get to you to your destination. In most places, those lines will run on the same or adjacent rails so you can just wait in one spot. At Canal Street, however, the B/D runs on rails one floor lower than the A/C. For much midtown travel, however, any of those lines will work.

The way A/C or B/D game works is you gather a couple of strangers who are in the same dilemma and create a bucket brigade type chain from one set of platforms to the next with the purpose of passing info on when a train is arriving. If the B or D comes first, the person on that platform passes the word, and up the chain it goes, allowing everyone waiting on the A/C platform to rush down the stairs to make the B/D.

Many thanks to Mark for teaching me this insider's hint.
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