New York Shitty, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Oct 1 2014 @ 2:21pm

A reader sends an ominous view from his East Village window yesterday morning:

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Another New Yorker pounces on my recent snark over the subway:

Really, your pique about New York merely makes you look like an idiot. It’s like a bad breakup that you can’t get over. Well, try.

You would also have a stronger case if you didn’t live in a city where the Metro stations look like the set of a science fiction film about the dystopian future. Every time I’m there, I half expect someone to come running into the Dupont Circle station screaming, “Soylent Green is people!”

Several more dissenters have the floor:

I can’t believe I am writing once again to rail against your railing against NYC, but here I am. Yes, the subway is different from the London Underground. I found the tube-medium-zonedUnderground dizzyingly different when I first encountered it. But yes, it is cheap, and all the millions of people who ride it to school or work really appreciate it! One price takes you to wherever you want to go, no matter how far you have to go, unlike the Underground, which had me standing in front of the map longer than I wished, wondering which zone I will be in if I went here or there. But I just assumed it is just one of many different ways in which seeing the world teaches us to adapt and adjust. If I whined every time a city didn’t live up to my dream image of it, I would never leave my house!

You hate NYC, so you left. Good for you! But can you please remember that it is still home to many, many people and we don’t appreciate someone bashing it again and again, even after he has left, and even if we may actually agree with some of your opinions about it? Please give it a rest!

If I am so inclined, I can find faults with and rail against every city I have lived in or visited, but I accept that every city is what it is! Yes, NYC is a chaotic city; yes, it has all the faults of a giant sprawling city, and yes!, some people have bad experiences there, but tell me in which city all these things are not true!

And no, even in your own dramatic heart of hearts, you know that Lagos is not more civilized than NYC. Sorry for the rant, but your last jab at it actually made me think one more post like it will make me give up my subscription, despite the cool Dish t-shirts I’ve been sporting.

Another isn’t as threatening:

I’ve been a constant reader since, I don’t know, 2001. And I’m a subscriber, too. Maybe due to re-up right about now.  And I will.

I admire and appreciate so much about The Dish – up to and including your self-confessed hysteria sometimes. I mean – go for it. Leave the hand-wringing for the rest of us. Still, you threw me one that rankles tonight.

I’m sorry you hated New York City. That sucks. Lots of people hate it. I lived there from 1997 to 2003, and I was aware every day that there were so, so many people having a hard time of it. People getting just crushed. Or less dramatic than that, people getting worn down by the endless indignities. People in all corners of the economic tangle getting pummeled by this city. My partner at the time was one of them, even though it was she who insisted we move there. I didn’t want to. I didn’t give a shit about New York.

Until I got there. I fucking loved that city. And I had lived in so many places – in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Latin America. But somehow it felt like it was New York that blew my horizons open. Go figure.

I live in San Francisco now, and it’s a lovely town. But the rest of my life I’ll be hoping I get to move back to New York some day.  And every time I visit, I feel it instantly. Put me in the bustle of mid-town, the crush of a  subway, the off-kilter alleys below Houston, the tiny tangle of shelves at your neighborhood bodega – why do I love this shit? I don’t know. I have some ideas. But I don’t think you’d be interested in them.

I can say this. Even most of the people I know who have had a hard time in New York, who even hated New York, at least know what they still love about the place. You, on the other hand, left in a hurry and keep throwing shit over your shoulder at people who are dumb enough to imagine they like living there. A “cult”? Jesus, Andrew. Why the schoolyard insults? For a man of your age, experience, stature and maturity, it’s amazing how sometimes, you still just need to grow the fuck up.

Another circles back to the subway-underground showdown:

As a regular user of the subway in NYC and an occasional user in London, I can’t let yesterday’s shot at NYC signage and route complexity go unchallenged.  There are lots of things to hate about the NYC subway sytem, but I don’t think this is one of them.

In brief, both systems have to come up with a visual means to communicate that many of their lines fan out into branches at their distal ends.  If you board a train in the city center, you can ignore all this if your destination is in the center.  But if you’re headed for the distal fringes, you need to know which branch this train is going to follow.

New York does that by giving each branch a name (a number or letter) and grouping the related branches that share a common trunk by color. Within each color family, the routes may also be distinguished by whether they are all-stops locals or skip-stop expresses.

London names the whole group of lines the same, but you need to know London pretty well to know which train to board, since the only clue you will get is a sign on the train with a destination that the visitor has probably never heard of.  Do I really need to get on a train marked “Barking” to get to a spot only a few stations to the east?  Personally, I find the NYC system easier to remember. This system hardly applies in the rest of the US, since our transit systems are so underdeveloped that most rail lines elsewhere have few branches or none at all.

As for signage in London, could someone please explain to me why the Circle Line isn’t actually a circle, and why the direction of travel isn’t simply indicated as clockwise or counter clockwise?

Update from a reader, who might have our Email of the Day:

I’m so envious over all y’all fighting over subway systems … I wish we (Houston – 4th largest city in the US) had a mass transit system to bitch about.

But another reader demonstrates that I’m not alone:

I lived in NYC for two years before moving to London for the past three, and I have strong views on this subject. First, let me dismiss the comparative advantages of map designs outright. If you are visiting either city, and you don’t understand something, ask for help or spend an extra minute using your brain. Within a handful of journeys on either subway you probably know enough to navigate the system without a major blunder. If you don’t, it’s really your own fault. It’s a fucking subway map, not your tax return.

Second, living in London has opened my eyes to what an impact the subway system can have on your entire day-to-day experience. While some lines are better than others, the veins of the London Underground are an absolute marvel, humming along like a well-oiled machine. The average wait time is a few minutes at most. Even late in the evenings the reduction in service is marginal, adding one or two minutes on average. I am able to pick up the phone, agree to meet someone, and estimate with incredibly accuracy the time I will arrive.

The NYC subway? Not a chance. I had to take the 4/5/6 to and from work each day from lower Manhattan to Midtown, and I can’t even count the number of times I worked myself into an homicidal state pacing on the platform. During rush hour the range of wait times was anywhere from one to twenty minutes, and I am not joking. This incredibly important line under Lex was constantly behind schedule, or more likely, just under serviced. During the endless “waits” between stations, we’d be given cookie cutter updates that you knew were bullshit. I think this patronizing approach towards its ridership is the ultimate difference between the attitudes of the MTA and the Tfl.

New York City is a tough city, without a doubt, but it doesn’t help itself. The subway is a mess, and you don’t ever get the feeling anyone is trying to make it better. Can you imagine a New York City with the Underground beneath it? I’d move back tomorrow. I much prefer London in terms of the level of stress it requires from me. The apologists for the New York subway are either ignorant or not being objective.