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NYC Subway Scramble in '04

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Revised Subway Map (and Alphabet) Awaits Riders in '04


December 25, 2003

Like the "easy to assemble" train set wrapped in a bow under the Christmas tree, New Yorkers will get a gift early in the New Year that requires reading the instructions carefully.

Verrrry carefully. And you still might not get it.

The rehabilitation of the Manhattan Bridge is finally coming to an end after nearly two decades, which means that four subway tracks, instead of two, will be in use over the 94-year-old span for the first time since 1986.

The changes, scheduled to take effect on Feb. 22, will be the most substantial alteration to the subway map in decades, and it means New York City Transit must now gear up to try to explain the changes to the riding public. As anyone who have ever furrowed a brow over a garbled announcement in the subway knows, communication has not always been so clear underground.

The first posters announcing the changes came out recently but are vague: "B, D, M, N, Q, R, W," it reads. "New subway service. Early 2004. Good news: New and improved subway service over the Manhattan Bridge. More than you have had in more than 20 years. Look for posters and a special brochure in stations soon."

Writers are completing the language for literally "thousands of pieces of literature," said Charles F. Seaton, a spokesman for the transit agency. Clearly, with the alphabet soup they are working with, they have their work cut out for them.

Try this potential line, for example: "The Brighton line, currently the Q, formerly the D, and soon to be the B, will now go up Sixth Avenue."

Or: "The W, currently the only line to Coney Island, will now terminate at Whitehall Street, but will be replaced by the D, which used to be where the B will be."

As part of a huge publicity campaign, transit officials will place newspaper ads, issue new subway maps, post signs in trains and hand out brochures. Employees will also be posted in stations to guide commuters.

"It's going to be a full-court press," said John McCarthy, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The bottom line, according to transit officials, is that the changes represent a huge improvement over the convoluted system now in place for 600,000 riders between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The current scrambled map, in place since 2001, was spurred by design limitations in the Manhattan Bridge that prevented trains from just switching over to the opposite tracks during repair work. As a result, when work was finally completed on the southern side after more than a decade, and workers shifted their attention to the north, a complicated rerouting was required.

Back then, ominous signs warned riders: "It's too much to explain on a poster."

Riders may see similar signs this time around, but no more after this, transit officials promise. Planners have studied how best to handle the new ridership patterns that have emerged since 1986, the last time they had four tracks available.

Among the winners in the reworked system: those who live in outlying areas of southwestern Brooklyn, like Bay Ridge, who will get back an express train to Midtown, the N, after nearly 20 years of waiting. Suddenly, they will be 15 to 20 minutes closer to Manhattan.

"It's as if their neighborhood is moving up to where Park Slope is," said Gene Russianoff, a lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, a transit advocacy group.

Other winners include users of the Brighton line (see above: currently the Q, formerly the D, soon to be the B). They will now have more choices heading into Manhattan. Previously, they had only the Q-circle (the local) and the Q-diamond (the express), which both headed up Broadway. Now, they will still have the option of the local Q up Broadway or they can take the B train up Avenue of the Americas.

Finally, residents and merchants in Chinatown, battling for economic survival since Sept. 11, 2001, will get back full B and D service into the Grand Street station.

Even so, the changes will take some getting used to. The swapping of the old B and D lines is especially confusing to longtime residents, many of whom remember growing up near the old lines and have to switch things around in their heads.

Krista Kolanovic, 23, a paralegal in downtown Manhattan who lives in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, was riding a Q train toward Brighton Beach yesterday.

"If you take the Q line, which used to be the D line, and call it the B line, which is now the W in Brooklyn, that could confuse a lot of people hopping on the wrong train," said Ms. Kolanovic, before pausing to question her own recollection of the lines she had mentioned.

"Q becomes B," she mused. "That's like calling the F train the A train. It doesn't make any sense."

That's why you have to read the instructions.

From The New York Times


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OMG, just looking at the map is confusing. I love how the trains (and cabs) are the easiest way to get anywhere in NYC but they are a bit bewildering even when they aren't switching the letters around!

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I'd be completely lost trying to navigate around NYC trying to use that subway map! I've heard that it doesn't take real long to figure out the subway system though.

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It's actually not that difficult. All you have to know is your line and what intersects with your line. Usually you don't ask for directions from your home, but from your subway line, i.e., you wouldn't ask how to get to someplace in Brooklyn from Queens, you would ask how to get there from say the N line. Likely, the person at the other end will know where the N intersects with their line and be able to tell you how to go.

Also you need to know that the 1/2/3/9 (red) is the West Side, the 4/5/6 (green) is the East Side, and the N/R/Q/W (yellow) is Broadway. That's really all you need to get around Manhattan. Basically, if you are in the right section of the island (east, west, middle), all you have to do is get off at the cross street you need, and you can walk from there. Of course if you are on the West Side and need to be on the East Side, you got a lot of walking to do, that's when you hail a cab.

This service change is big because it affects lines in all 4 boroughs served, and it is restoring service that has been in disaray for 20 years. Some people still refer to these lines by the letters they were known as 20 years ago, and they are not actually returning to exactly how they were 20 years ago because the needs of the transit system have changed over 20 years. It's also likely that in 6 months to a year, they will need to tweak this slightly to make it work properly and most effectively.

One big change is that the N train has brought people to Lower Manhattan, the World Trade Centre, City Hall... for years, now it will bypass all that by taking the bridge, and you'll need to be sure you are on a Broadway W or N to get Downtown.

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