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NYC Alphabet Soup Confusion

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Subway Rerouting Leaves Many in Confusion


February 23, 2004

As the N train mounted the Manhattan Bridge on its way to Brooklyn yesterday afternoon and sunlight cascaded into the car, the people aboard glanced outside with a look of horror and pressed their hands to the windows, like roller coaster riders desperate to get off.

The most extensive changes to New York's subway routes in decades became a reality yesterday as service over the bridge was expanded, but many New Yorkers and tourists apparently didn't get the memo. They waited at the wrong platforms. They asked for directions and were misdirected by other riders. They backtracked. Oh, how they backtracked.

Some, armed with newly redrawn maps, weaved through stations to catch the D over the Manhattan Bridge for the first time. Others, still clueless, huffed: Where was the Q-diamond? (It is no more, replaced by the B and the Q-circle) What do you mean, the N doesn't stop at Whitehall? (It does, but only at night.) Why can't I take the W? (It has been replaced by the D in Brooklyn.)

The scene aboard one Brooklyn-bound N train was typical. While seasoned riders slept through the N train's new Manhattan Bridge crossing - it used to travel via an underwater tunnel to Brooklyn - others marveled at the crystalline views. Still others, finding themselves on the wrong side of the East River, stood up, checked the maps, waited by the doors and tapped their feet.

"Where are we now?" asked Amy Cacciola, furrowing her brow as the Brooklyn skyline approached.

"Let me out," said David Yarrow, a tourist from Toronto.

Despite the occasional squalls of confusion, service across the city operated smoothly, said James Anyansi, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The real test of the scrambled routes will come today during the morning rush, as larger numbers of the 600,000 riders affected by the changes try to navigate the new system.

Mr. Anyansi said M.T.A. employees would be dispatched at 17 stations across Manhattan and Brooklyn this morning, to hand out maps and offer directions.

"I expect that tomorrow, there'll be some level of confusion," said Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, a subway riders' group. "It's a tall order for people to understand, even if they're diligent. It's a lot of alphabet soup to swallow."

Even without the Monday crush of rush-hour commuters, many riders found themselves turned around yesterday afternoon.

There was Ms. Cacciola, who ended up in Brooklyn after trying to ride the N train to the Staten Island Ferry terminal. Or a former Manhattanite named Lani, too chagrined to give her last name, who said she waited for the W train in Times Square for 30 minutes before realizing she needed to take the D to get to her destination in Brooklyn.

There was Charlie Lacey, a tourist from Tannersville, Pa., who paced the corridors in the Canal Street subway station while his wife, Patty, stared at the signs as if she were trying to decipher hieroglyphics. "I guess we came at the wrong time, huh?" Mr. Lacey said as he searched for the W train.

And there was Mr. Yarrow and his companion, Pauline Spencer, who laughed as they examined a subway guide they had bought two days ago, now as obsolete as a subway token. They had wanted to take the N train to the World Trade Center site, but found themselves being whisked deeper and deeper into Brooklyn.

"Well, at least we get to see the Brooklyn Bridge," Ms. Spencer said. "Twice. It's a New York moment."

Others fared better, and some even exulted in the changes.

At the Canal Street station, Larry Anderson, 35 years old and fresh from church, grinned down at the train tracks. Most Sundays, he said, the train plunges under the river as it takes Mr. Anderson home to Flatbush. Not anymore. "I get to go over the bridge," he said.

On other platforms, police officers handed out new maps. On one Manhattan-bound N train, a man who understood the changes enlightened others.

For Cynthia Germain of Queens, mastering the new routes brought a surge of triumph. She had to drop off her friends at a Boston-bound bus in Chinatown, but with the Grand Street shuttle no longer in service, Ms. Germain, 27, was not sure what to do. She and her friends hopped on a downtown D train, and hoped for the best. After a few nervous moments, the train stopped at Grand Street.

"All right girls, we're good," Ms. Germain called out. "We're in it to win it."

And with that, she collected her bags, collected her friends and sauntered off into the afternoon.

From The New York Times

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I was just in NYC and noticed that it was confusing even before these changes. But for being the Nation's largest mass transit system, it sure does look bad compared to other similar cities. I hope this investment goes to improving the system so that it is more compariable to that in London.

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who wants london's system? nyc's is almost twice as big, has express trains, and operates 24hrs. Facts are, a big system, with express services, which allow 24 hr operation (by switching tracks while doing maintenance) is going to create a complicated system. could they do more to make it more user friendly? yes, but i'm not sure how other than better signage, and a nicer looking map.

And yes, NYC transit is twice as big as London. here are the stats:

NYC has 468 stations in service, London: 275

NYC has 660 miles of track in service, London: 253

NYC has 25 lines, London: 13

NYC has 1.4 billion passengers per year, London: 942 million

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:huh::ph34r: Whoa, that quite a lot of milage, stations and lines for one system! :unsure::wacko: I will get lost somewhere in that vast system! :sick::(

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Reading that makes me confused, lol. I'd hate to try and figure that out, but I'm sure it's not as complicated as it seems. Or is it?

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It is, too many lines and stations, ugh!!


No it's not. The confusion in this article is that everyone was used to the system as it had been for years during construction, the end of construction meant a final rerouting, lines going to different places is confusing, but it is easy to adapt.

People in New York don't know the entire transit system, they are simply familiar with the parts they need. They know several ways to get from their home to their work, and the best ways to get to the parts of the city they frequent. If someone lives in Queens, works in Midtown, and socializes mostly on the Upper West Side, then they know the routes that go to those areas, they have no need to learn about any of the routes in Brooklyn or the Bronx.

If someone does have to leave their comfort zone, say the person above is visiting a friend in Brooklyn, that friend will ask what line they use, say it's the N. The person in Brooklyn likely knows how to get to their home from the N so they will give directions such as take the N to the blah blah blah...

When I lived in New York I spent most of my time on the N, 7, F, V, and E lines. That was all I really needed to know about. If I left those lines, I got directions or looked at the map.

For tourists, they rarely leave Manhattan, so all they need to look at is the Manhattan sections, New Yorkers are friendly, they'll give a visitor directions if they are asked.

Think of it this way, look at a street map of any city. Confusing? Yes, does anyone really know all those streets, what they are called, what they connect to, if they are one way...? No. People learn the geography that applies to them.

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