New York Transitting

“You’ve been following the museum’s Twitter account for nearly four years and you don’t even live in the country??” 

It was at this moment that I realised one of my hosts did not fully appreciate the level of my public transportation geekdom. Yes, I had been following @NYTransitMuseum since 2011. No, I had not been to NYC since 2009. No, I did not think this was weird. [They post archive photos and tidbits of American transit knowledge – plus, every so often they have a chat with the @ltmuseum!]

Obviously, a trip to the museum had to be included on my travel itinerary, and by fortunate twist of fate, it happened to be only ten minutes walk from my hosts’ apartment in Brooklyn. Incredibly, they hadn’t visited in the year that they had been living in the neighbourhood! I mean, seriously?? But both felt like it was a suitable post Sunday brunch activity, and joined me in the transport geekery fun.

Three have fun in the NYC Transit Museum

For anyone who has experienced the multiple levels of the London Transport Museum, the New York version is on the small side. However (and it’s a big however) New York’s museum is only in a FLIPPING DISUSED SUBWAY STATION!!! Hello ultimate geek heaven! Transit history AND a disused station?? My goodness!

The disused (but still live) platforms are put to great use, housing a history of subway carriages – which, quite honestly, was a highlight for everyone. Carriage design doesn’t seem to have changed too dramatically in recent decades, but the adverts certainly have. I think we got as much joy out of their bizarre-ness and political incorrect-ness as a little kid dressed in his own MTA uniform had jumping on and off the carriages! [Seriously, I wish I’d asked to take a photo of him – it was clearly a clever home-made job for a transport mad 3 year old. Soooo cute!]  A selection are below, without comment…

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What the museum does a great job of is charting the progress of some pretty iconic NYC transit things – like the train carriages. We appreciated the collection of historic turnstiles and subway tokens immensely – working out which ones would have been functioning on previous visits to the Big Apple, and (obviously) discussing the relative merits of New York’s turnstiles and MetroCards versus London’s ticket barriers and Oyster cards. [Clearly London wins on that front, although NYC gets bonus points for not needing to touch out.]

Special mention should also be given to the current featured exhibition ‘Bringing back the City’, featuring three different disasters in recent years (9/11, Hurricane Sandy and a power outage that none of us had heard of!), their impact upon public transit, and the MTA’s response. The 9/11 section was particularly fascinating, partly because the impact was huge (some of the network still isn’t functioning properly) and partly because the response was incredible. Did you know that up to 40 new transit maps were issued PER DAY in the first days after the attack?? In a pre smartphone world, these, plus staff with loud hailers, were the only way in which to get information out to passengers.

My only regret about the visit was that my stay in NYC didn’t coincide with any of the tours they give of another abandoned station – the beautiful City Hall station which closed in 1945. It would have been worth a membership fee for the museum and the $50 ticket for that experience!

Borough Hall Station

Fortunately, the station I used the most (Brooklyn’s Borough Hall) is considered another excellent example of subway design…