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  new york - mark mcclusky

underground web

The man had a baby in a carrier on his back and a sour look on his face. Craning around to look at his kid, he said, "Hey buddy, this train smells like death."

The train in question was a Brooklyn-bound N train on my way to work one Thursday morning, and it didn't smell like death; more accurately, it smelled like vomit. When I got on, it seemed too good to be true -- the car was nearly empty. After the doors closed, I realized why. At the other end of the car was a puddle of puke, and the stench was suffocating. This was frustrating, though nothing like New Year's Eve, when the New York subway system is a mine field of bodily fluid.

I wasn't around in the days of the Wild West Subway system in the late 70s and early 80s, when ridership plummeted and you took your life in your hand on the trains late at night, although I can still see some of the famous graffiti from that era at the Art Crimes site. Now, the subways are remarkably safe, and I find myself on them at 2:30 in the morning, rarely worried.

No city in America relies on public transportation more than New York does. The crown jewel of that transportation system, which also includes regional railroads and busses, is the NYC Subway - 714 miles of track connecting an almost unimaginable 469 stations.

But near me on the Upper East Side, there is only one station, the 4-5-6 stop at 86th Street. There is probably no area of Manhattan that has worse subway service than the Upper East Side, with only one subway line running through it. This leads to the crowds that jam the cars each morning as I try and make my way to work.

I'm faced with a navigational choice as I try and take the train to work. I can either take the 4-5-6 to 59th Street, transferring to a N-R to 49th Street and 7th Avenue.; or I can take the 6 to 51st Street and Lexington Avenue, and then walk five blocks crosstown to my office.

I decided to check out the Subway Navigator, a site in France that provides direction on various routes in subway systems around the world. This site is a subway fan's dream, covering systems from Australia to Atlanta. Not only are maps available for many of the systems, but if you enter the station you wish to start at and the station you want to go to, it will tell you how to get there.

Unfortunately, the Subway Navigator has obviously never been on a train in New York, because it suggested a route for me (down to Grand Central and back north on the N-R) that no sane rider would use. Obviously, the technology on the Subway Navigator needs a little tweaking.

The technology is fine, however, at the king of all web sites about New York Subways, the New York Subway Resources page. This page has every map and photo you could ever want of the subway system -- and also an exhaustive history of the system, including a 1904 book that details the building of the first parts of the system and historical maps that show the growth of the system, growth that was mirrored by the development of many areas of the city, especially the Upper West Side, which sprang up once transportation to the business district was available.

But the area of the New York Subway Resources page that interested me most was the maps of the track system, as opposed to the stations. Looking at the maps, I realized that I was using the Internet to look at one of the most complex networks of its time, a network in the physical world that still gets me to work each day. May the Net be so durable.


jenb said:

I'm still a long way from taking the leap to calling myself a San Franciscan. I still feel like I'm just visiting, and I'll always be a New Yorker. My good use for a displaced NYer? Well, that's easy! A displaced NYer can always be counted on to give it to you straight when everyone else is doing the placating, non-confronational, "don't forget to breathe" schpiel.

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I realized that I was using the Internet to look at one of the most complex networks of its time, a network in the physical world that still gets me to work each day.

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