"I’m gonna signal your ass outta here!"

After last week’s edition about the L rehab alternate service plan was published, NYCT president Andy Byford provided the following statement to Signal Problems:

“As the person accountable to New Yorkers for the safe and reliable operation of this revised plan, I will insist on whatever measures and whatever operational flexibility I need to achieve that objective."

The plans are still being finalized, but advocates aren’t letting up. On Wednesday, members of Transportation Alternatives raced the M14 bus, which runs across 14th St in Manhattan, and called for keeping the 14th St busway during whatever version of the L shutdown we end up getting. The race took place at 8:30 AM and the bus beat walkers by about five seconds.

Getting stuck on severely delayed trains is one of the great communal New York experiences. The powerlessness, mild-to-severe claustrophobia, and blame of others responsible for your fate combines to make the rage so good and pure. All you have is to share the anguish with the people trapped with you. Everyone’s there, muttering or shouting obscenities at an enemy that can’t and won’t hear them.

It’s also the setting for some of the best expletives I’ve ever encountered, and as much as I respect the work so many MTA employees do every day, I *also* have tremendous respect for a good expletive.

So it was with much delight I came across this R train tale from Wednesday’s nightmarish commute:

The best expletives should be so fueled by such pure anger that it prevents the formulation of proper grammar and syntax. “I’m gonna signal your ass outta here” is an all-timer for me. It’s right in that sweet spot between expressing how we all feel and making no sense. Sheer perfection.

Cuomo’s office released budget amendments, the most noteworthy of which is an “expert panel” overseeing the MTA that will have a bunch of important responsibilities, including:

  • Review and approve both the capital and operating budgets

  • Review and approve a nebulous MTA reorganization plan (which is being required under a different statute)

  • Determine congestion pricing toll amounts “which shall include a variable pricing structure”

  • The duty to dejargonify “assess fiscal and programmatic risk and improve workforce management” and then do it

  • Oversee performance and financial audits

That’s a lot of important stuff! Which makes all the outstanding questions about it even more important.

Who will be on it? Six unpaid people with “an extensive background or executive experience” in: auditing; public finance; engineering; transportation; transit; management; corporate restructuring, or risk management. Why would six people working in lucrative white collar industries volunteer for this demanding yet thankless job? Who knows!

Who will appoint the members of this panel? To be determined!

How will this panel fit in with all the other MTA governance boards, overseers, inspectors, and auditors? Good question!

Considering the latest budget amendments don’t have any provisions for eliminating these other oversight bodies, such as the Capital Plan Review Board, the MTA board, the State Comptroller’s oversight duties, or the MTA Inspector General’s office just to name a few, it sure seems like this is yet another bureaucratic hurdle plunked down onto the list of other bureaucratic hurdles in order to get anything done. But I also doubt this will be the last word on the subject.

Another amendment worth noting would limit MTA board member terms to the term of the elected official who appointed them (they currently serve fixed terms). It’s hard to see how this would accomplish anything other than politicizing the board even more than it already is. It’s almost as if someone is purposely trying to weaken the board through a carefully choreographed series of events in order to justify its elimination.

A wooden plank fell off the elevated 7 line track in Queens and crashed through a windshield of a moving car almost killing someone. That’s bad!

Although Van Bramer’s tweet says this was a piece of track, it was not. Track is steel, and this is clearly wood; rotting wood, at that.

So, what happened here? When the crew arrived to answer that exact question, they quickly determined the track was safe, but found about a half-dozen other planks of rotting wood on the steel girders supporting the elevated tracks. A track inspector informed them the wood had been installed to support work being done “some time ago.” But the wood was obviously never removed when the work was done, so it rotted, then fell, and ended up directly through the passenger seat of an SUV.

The MTA is now inspecting the rest of the line to make sure no other rotting wooden planks are dangling over passing motorists like the sword of Damocles. The MTA said in a statement provided to, well, every news outlet that asked, “We take this incident extremely seriously, are conducting a full investigation into what happened, have personnel ensuring the rest of the area is safe, and are relieved that no one was injured.”

CUNY PhD candidate Jessica Murray, who is studying mobility and transportation, detailed several ways in which the MTA’s stats of “accessible” stations don’t tell the full story.

The Governor’s office told The Times’s Emma Fitzsimmons that it will not seek to hire a permanent replacement for MTA Chairman Joe Lhota until after the budget is passed, likely by April 1.

Whenever he does get around to appointing a leader to the region’s transportation authority, more than 20 public interest groups co-signed an open letter urging the state Senate to hold open, public hearings for the position. For some weird reason they think a secret 20-minute Skype interview conducted at 9:30 PM, which is how Joe Lhota was appointed in 2017, is not in the public interest.

While numerous other vacancies on the MTA board have languished for years, Cuomo moved quickly to nominate a replacement for Scott Rechler, who resigned because his real estate company is co-developing a $3 billion property adjacent to Grand Central. Cuomo chose Sarah Feinberg, who has spent most of her career in communications at various political offices (with a brief stint at Facebook) before serving at USDOT and as the head of the Federal Railroad Administration during the Obama years. The state Senate must approve the nomination, but I personally don’t foresee any issue there.

I know it’s always a fun question of how much board members actually use the MTA system, so, for what it’s worth, I happened to speak to Feinberg earlier this winter about an unrelated topic and she mentioned she rides the subway most every day.

A cabal of Brooklyn city and state reps called for the MTA to permanently institute the service changes to the R from 2013-14 when they repaired the Montague tunnel. These changes split the R in two sections, terminating the Brooklyn section at Court St. (The letter got off to a bad start when it began with, “Dear Chairman Byford,” even though his title is President.)

This is some Galaxy Brain shit—make service better by making it worse!—and it is not a good idea. There are real problems with R train service in Brooklyn, where, because upstream merges with the W in Manhattan and the M in Queens, headways can be quite long in Brooklyn where only the R runs. Especially with all the development occurring along 4th Ave, this is a problem that needs to be solved. But creating a mandatory two-seat ride to Manhattan, which would also severely cut local Manhattan service along the Broadway line, doesn’t strike me as a good way to solve it.

Also, while I’m here, the letter repeats a line I’ve heard before that I’d like to address:

As per the MTA’s Fast Forward Plan, South Brooklyn is not scheduled to receive signal upgrades for over a decade. Putting South Brooklynites through another ten years of a commuting nightmare is simply not an option.

It’s true that the R in Brooklyn is not scheduled to get signal upgrades as a part of Fast Forward. This is because, as everyone who uses the line knows, trains come so rarely that the tracks aren’t crowded enough to justify signal upgrades before other segments. But that doesn’t mean R riders won’t benefit from signal upgrades on other parts of the same line in Manhattan and Queens, which will get upgraded. If two-thirds of the line gets modern signaling, which will enable trains to run more efficiently and reliably, trains in Brooklyn will run much smoother, too.

A man died on the 7 train platform at Grand Central under somewhat mysterious circumstances. He was hit or somehow dragged by a departing train but it’s still unclear exactly how the tragedy unfolded.

In better news, I like this edition to the Fulton 4/5 platforms:

Transit advocates and the Transportation Workers Union Local 100 are calling for the B41, which runs up and down Flatbush Ave, to get a dedicated bus lane, which seems like a no-brainer to this transit reporter.

Whether to arrest a fare evader or merely issue a fine is entirely up to the discretion of the NYPD officers on the scene, a noteworthy policy considering 90 percent of those arrested in 2018 were black or Latino, versus about 65 percent of the summonses issued.

Weirdos doing weird things on public transportation is one of my favorite things about the subway. But I rarely, if ever, post photos or videos of such behavior because it can often go too far and veer into public shaming, which I don’t think accomplishes anything of value. This question of when public shaming is justified, if ever, for bad LIRR behavior was the topic of a recent Newsday article.

Your Upcoming Service Advisories, Provided by Lance from Subway Weekender

Note: the service advisories reflect the most disruptive changes. Be sure to check the maps or the MTA website for a full list of service changes.


  • 4 – Reduced service between Burnside Av and Woodlawn

  • 4 6 – Downtown service is express-only between Grand Central and Brooklyn Bridge

  • 5 – Significantly reduced service

  • 7 – No service between Queensboro Plaza and 34 St-Hudson Yards

  • A C – Uptown service is express-only in Manhattan

  • E – No service between Briarwood and Jamaica Center

  • E F – All service is local-only in Queens

  • F – No service between Church Av and Coney Island

  • L – No service between Broadway Junction and 8 Avenue

  • N – No service between Queensboro Plaza and Ditmars Blvd

Late Nights:

  • 1 2 – Uptown service is express-only between Chambers St and Times Sq-42 St

  • 4 6 – Downtown service is express-only between 125 Street and Grand Central

  • D – No service between 161 St-Yankee Stadium and 205 Street

  • E – Uptown service runs via M line between W 4 Street and 5 Av-53 St

  • F – All service is local-only in Queens

  • L – No service between Broadway Junction and 8 Avenue

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World

  • Citymapper is launching a subscription service in London that gets you unlimited Tube and bus trips in Zones 1 and 2, the city’s bike share, plus two rides a week on Citymapper’s taxi-like service. I certainly like the concept of unifying several key transport options into one payment card, but it costs less per week than just a Zone 1 and 2 pass from TfL, which makes me nervous, because typically private companies prefer to make money rather than lose it.

  • Related, but Berliners now have a single app to manage all their transportation needs: pay train fares, hail a car, use the city bikeshare, all of it, in one place. This comes less than a year after the MTA released a new app that doesn’t even integrate all the capabilities of their own existing apps, much less those of other transportation services.

    Of course, the MTA built myMTA because riders were apparently “asking for a consolidated app,” according to managing director Veronique Hakim (although one would think they meant a consolidated app that does all the things the other app does). After eight months, myMTA still feels like an app designed to address complaints someone would have made about smartphone apps five years ago, not a forward-thinking software designed to integrate a complex urban transportation landscape into one experience. Hopefully that changes!

Dog in a Bag

MTA Rules of Conduct Section 1050.9 Subsection (h) Paragraph 2: no person may bring any animal on or into any conveyance or facility unless enclosed in a container and carried in a manner which would not annoy other passengers.

Have a dog in a bag photo? Reading this on the subway and see a dog in a bag? Take a picture and send it to signalproblems@substack.com.

Photo credit: Jessie Singer

This has been another edition of Signal Problems, a weekly newsletter helping you figure out what is going on with the subway, made every week by Aaron Gordon, freelance transportation reporter. Read on the web or view the archives at signalproblems.nyc.

If you’re enjoying this newsletter, please share it with others. It’s the best way you can say thanks.

As always, send any feedback, subway questions, or Dog in a Bag photos to signalproblems@substack.com. I’d love to hear from you. As someone on a stalled Q train once told me, we’re all in this together.