Yes, we complain: too slow, too hot or too cold, too crowded, way too expensive, ancient…and on and on. In summer the platforms are brutally hot, the cars–freezing! Don’t worry, comes winter, it’s totally reversed. Metrocard is an ingrained part of city life, and we apologize to visitors for sometimes creating frustration. Visiting with kids? Be sure to ride in the first car, with young riders pressed against the window, their eyes wowed as the train rushes through the underground darkness or along the elevated tracks. The New York subway system is, perhaps, the 15th wonder of the world. The facts pertaining to this transportation system are mind boggling.
Started in 1904, City Hall to Harlem, 5 cents a ride, and it stayed at 5 cents for 44 years. The elevated train system was already in place for 35 years then, but it was the underground engineering miracle that allowed our city to expand into the vast metropolis it became. New neighborhoods did not grow until the elevated train was built first. Beyond Midtown, modern Manhattan is constructed on solid granite, Manhattan schist. The engineers moved on as they extended the system. In construction right now, under Second Avenue, the new route faces that same mountain of granite. Incredible! Two terrible events brought us to a frightening reality about our underground system: the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, where two stations collapsed, and Super Storm Sandy in 2012. While major flooding (tracks to ceiling) occurred in some stations, the system restarted 48 hours after that destructive night.
The MTA Arts for Transit program has brought artwork to 225 subway stations, 70 others to be added. You can download the free app for iOS or Android phone. One truly extraordinary subway stations is right here at West 81st Street-Museum of Natural History, the closest station for Park 79 Hotel! Both levels of the station are palettes for fantastic mosaics come alive–prehistoric animals with unpronounceable names, butterflies, sea animals, geologic layers. Tiny crustaceans and giant dinosaurs. In Midtown, the corridors in the the 42nd Street and 51st Street stations are filled with brilliant tile art. 14th Street on the Lexington Avenue line, Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue in Brooklyn–incredible!
(photo: payvisit blog)
Must mention, “Music Under New York,” where 350 carefully selected talented musicians and groups cause travelers to stop and be delighted. Others just set up their presence on any station…and perform.
The Transit Museum in Downtown Brooklyn is the largest museum in the USA devoted to urban public transportation history, and one of the premier institutions of its kind in the world. The Museum explores public transit development in the greater New York metropolitan region: exhibitions, tours, educational programs, and workshops dealing with the cultural, social, and technological history of public transportation. A smaller outpost is at Grand Central Terminal. Consider seasonal nostalgia Tours. Nostalgia Rides can be a memorable part of a seasonal visit.
Many elevated stations now boast stained glass windows and interesting ironwork, even if the endless iron structures need real work. But they also boast magnificent views along their tracks and have been ongoing inspiration to our artists. Lines #1 (Harlem River Valley, 215-225th Sts.) #4 and #6 in the Bronx (Whitlock and Elder Sts.) As the #7 train travels east, Long Island City looms, and then, you ride atop one ethnic neighborhood after another. #J train to Williamsbridge. From the #A line there is the Atlantic Ocean in Queens!