The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is the blessing and the curse of life in New York. Our transit system makes the city a livable place considering its population density. If everyone who works in New York City drove to work, we would be in a state of surreal permanent gridlock.
What the city has seen over the last several weeks has been the MTA at its worse. While the weather has been cold with a lot of snow and ice, nothing we’ve seen this winter is without precedent. It snows in the Northeastern United States. A winter without ice and snow is a rarity. We can understand a lot of traffic delays in the ice and snow, but the train lines should not seize up the way they have over the last several weeks.
We can’t blame the city and state for the steps they took in the face of the January 26 blizzard. The authorities have to go with what the weather forecasters say and err on the side of caution. The forecasts were dire and while the storm didn’t amount to the “snowpacalypse” that was predicted, better safe than sorry. I managed to catch one of the last express trains anywhere in the system on the afternoon of the 26th apparently. The city banned all but emergency transit, including car traffic, after 11 p.m. that night.
Where I live in Queens, on Union Street in Flushing near where it becomes Willets Point Boulevard, is usually a heavily trafficked street. It is close to the Whitestone Bridge, near a shopping center and along three or four city bus routes. Even in the quiet of the early morning hours, it is usual to see regular traffic on the road. The night of January 26th saw the streets deserted in a very strange yet beautiful snowscape. I walked right up the middle of the street and stood right in the middle of the usually busy intersection of Willets Point Boulevard and Parsons Boulevard and so no cars moving anywhere. I did see two cars driving during the time I was outside, whether they were violating the travel ban or were emergency workers I couldn’t tell. They were civilian cars risking a fine and having an accident on roads that were by then heavily snowed and sparsely plowed.
But while the travel bans were quickly lifted, the transit system is still seizing up at the slightest hint of bad weather. The MTA operates in New York City with maddening inefficiency and malfunction. Commuters’ hearts regularly break when they arrive on their train’s platform to find it mobbed with people trying to board much-delayed trains.
I must take two of the most congested and delay-prone lines in the system: the 7 train and the 6 train.
The 7 train is actually among the higher-rated train lines by the Straphangers Campaign, which is a commentary on the MTA. The 7 train can only handle express service in one direction at a time, and that express service is often canceled or delayed. Every train is standing-room only when it leaves the Flushing-Main Street stop on weekday mornings. Trains on the 7 local line often pull into local stations so packed that no one can get on them. People try to push on anyway, passengers argue, and trains are delayed further. Conductors make obnoxious announcements blaming passengers for the delays the MTA caused.
During one of the more recent abominable mass delays on the 7 line, an umbrella on the tracks caused the entire line to go into mass chaos. An umbrella. I’m sorry, but if the worst thing that falls onto the tracks in a day in an umbrella, we should be lucky. Unless this was some kind of James Bond-type bomb umbrella that Al Qaeda managed to toss onto the tracks, there is no excuse for this. A neighbor of mine was stuck on a 7 train with no heat for two and a half hours.
And it’s not just the 7 line. That same evening almost all of the subway lines were facing massive delays. Other rail systems like the LIRR and Metro North were delayed as well.
This recent winter weather should not have wrecked our transit system, but it did. New York is in need of a massive transit overhaul. We can’t shut down at the first sign of snow.
(What you have to do to to make the trains run on time. Photo: Robert Shaw in The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3)