June 29, 2018: Breathe Our Air

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The first time I saw Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign ad, I knew something was different about her.

Aside from being a great ad regardless of your political persuasion, it caught my attention for a pretty obvious reason. The main character is Ocasio-Cortez, but the supporting actor is the subway. I count eight shots of her in or around the subway. One image in particular stuck with me. The one where Ocasio-Cortez is changing her shoes on the subway platform. I can’t recall seeing a political ad that makes a point of showing a candidate as a person, in transition, between phases of herself.

It’s such a stark juxtaposition to Crowley’s ad, which mostly comprises of him driving around and shaking people’s hands.

I don’t believe Ocasio-Cortez won one of the biggest upsets in this state’s political history because she takes the subway and Crowley does not, or that she featured public transportation in her campaign ads and he didn’t. But it’s emblematic of why she won. The mere invocation of the subway is one of shared experience and commonality, of being normal.

It’s also a symbol of democratic values. There’s a reason the “I VOTED” sticker handed out at polling stations invokes the subway map. Bronxville residents Marie Dagata and Scott Heinz designed the sticker, and said upon winning the design contest, "All the people of the boroughs meet together, pass each other, need each other in the subway and the voting booth.” I don’t agree with them about the voting booth—turnout numbers in our fair city remain pitiful—but it it’s much closer to truth about the subway.

Everyone seems to be looking for The Big Lesson about Ocasio-Cortez’s victory. What does this mean for DSA candidates? For old, white incumbents? For the state Senate races? Who’s on the hot seat now? What candidates should we be taking seriously? They’re all fine enough questions. I’m no political analyst. But in one two-minute spot, she accomplished what some politicians spend decades trying to carefully cultivate. A vote for her felt like a vote for your neighbor. There’s a reason for this, and a reason so many politicians embarrassingly fail at it. She is their neighbor.

When Ocasio-Cortez says in her ad that Crowley doesn’t drink their water or “breathe our air”—one of the most affecting and damning lines of the spot—it is during a shot of Ocasio-Cortez taking a deep breath, where millions of us do every day. On the subway.

News You Probably Can't Use, But About Which You Can Certainly Brood

  • Last week I mentioned that the LaGuardia AirTrain hasn’t gotten nearly as much shit as it deserves. As if on cue, Cuomo held a press conference for a bill signing about the LaGuardia AirTrain which prompted the media to, well, give it as much shit as it deserves. Here was my take on it, but I was hardly alone.

  • Last Thursday’s major signal malfunction on the BDFM at Herald Square was due to a Solid State Interlocking failure, similar to the issue that plagued the Bergen Street F/G a few months ago. SSIs are more efficient when they work, but when they don’t, they fail harder than older, manual switches which are easier to bypass. That’s why that SSI failure delayed 165 trains and cancelled 65 across 10 lines as opposed to being a minor slowdown like most signal problems. NYCT’s technical competence and ability to, as Byford always says, “get the basics right” will only become more vital as it installs more sophisticated technologies.

  • I have been seeing increasing reports that J train countdown clocks consistently show massive headways (like, 20-30 minutes during peak periods) only to have a ghost train arrive during that gap. Intriguingly, those ghost trains are, almost always, the new R179s currently getting put in service on the J line. The way these new Cuomo Clocks work are each station has bluetooth transponders at each end of the station, and the front and back of each train have beacons that log when they enter and exit. It seems the R179s may not be equipped with the necessary beacons to show up on the countdown clocks, or some other technical glitch is occurring. Either way, it’s not a great look and renders the countdown clocks on the J mostly useless.

    Jason Rabinowitz@AirlineFlyer

    @NYCTSubway @SarahMeyerNYC The countdown clock was wrong, BTW. An R179 J train pulled in seconds later. Why are these new trains not appearing on the countdown clocks?

    cc @A_W_Gordon pic.twitter.com/l7i7Z9gn7s

    June 26, 2018

  • I would like to think finishing a major station renovation includes tightening the nuts on the steel support beams, but apparently that’s not the case.

  • DOT finally released more details about the 14th St busway during the L train shutdown. It will be bus-only from 5 AM to 10 PM seven days a week, which isn’t quite the 24/7 activists were demanding, but close enough. However, there will exceptions for pick up/drop off and delivery vehicles, which, depending on how strictly it’s enforced, could undermine the whole concept.

  • In short: Joe Lhota can have multiple jobs including heading the MTA because Joe Lhota says so.

  • NYCT is postponing a pilot to test platform screen doors at the 3rd Ave L station so it can use the money to install elevators at the 6th Ave L stop. My initial reaction is that this is a wise choice, but it’s frustrating to be presented with this trade-off thanks to decades of the MTA ignoring proven technologies under the guise of mythical New York Exceptionalism.

  • Some readers took slight exception to my characterization last week that the Clark St tunnel project on the 2/3 was finished on schedule because the original completion date was “Spring 2018.” In fact, the project finished a few days into summer, and was only able to make that deadline after extending closures to weeknights for over a month in addition to weekends. A few also pointed out closures on the 2/3 are extending into the next few weeks, which resulted in suspicion the project wasn’t really done. But this new work is Subway Action Plan stuff (track replacement, specifically) that couldn’t be done during the tunnel work, because they had to use scaffolding to install new cables which prevented the train carrying the new tracks from accessing the area.
    TL;DR: characterizing the project as “on time” is misleading due to the extended weeknight closures and technically incorrect because it was finished three days into summer, not the spring, but I’m calling it “close enough” for a project of that scale.

  • Th subway line with the most Big Dick Energy is the J and I won’t hear anything else on the subject.

In Which I Make An Educated Guess About When Things Will Get Better

This week's estimate: June 2022

Change log:

May 25, 2018: June 2022

March 30, 2018: 2030

March 16, 2018: 2024

February 2, 2018: 2021

January 20, 2018: 2020

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.


  • 1 - No service between 137 St-City College and 242 Street

  • 4 - No service between Brooklyn Bridge and New Lots Av

  • 4 5 - All service is local-only in Manhattan

  • 5 - multiple diversions

    • No service between E 180 Street and Dyre Av

    • No service between Grand Central and Bowling Green

    • Limited service

  • 6 - Pelham Bay Park-bound service is express-only in the Bronx

  • E R - Manhattan-bound service is express-only in Queens

  • F - Brooklyn-bound service runs via E and C lines between Roosevelt Av and Jay St

  • G - No service between Bedford-Nostrand Avs and Court Sq

  • J - No service between Crescent St and Jamaica Center

  • L - Limited service between Broadway Junction and Rockaway Pkwy

  • N - No service between Queensboro Plaza and Ditmars Blvd

 Late Nights:

  • 2 - No service between Chambers St and Atlantic Av

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

  • E - Manhattan-bound service is express-only in Queens

  • F - Jamaica-bound service runs via E line between 5 Av-53 St and Roosevelt Av

  • G - No service between Bedford-Nostrand Avs and Court Sq

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World

David Roth’s Esteemed Subway Rider of the Week

So given that the last week has included both Pride and the World Cup the subways were insanely lit. I think I overloaded my circuits to a certain extent on that. But there is one performer who stood out to me. I had some qualms because I didn't want to reinforce bad behavior. But any other answer would be dishonest.

So: I was on the F in Queens and a kid stormed away from his mom, who kind of lazily yelled something after him. But he strutted down the midway in that weird way that three-year-olds strut. He had a bruise on his forehead. And he grabbed the pole and swung around on it, and then did some kind of Hammertime footwork, and then did some sort of grandiose upper body thing that ended with him dropping, from his outstretched right hand, a previously invisible combination lock onto the foot of the person sitting nearest to the pole. At which he said "sowwy" in a very studied way and ran back to his mom without picking up the lock.

Dog in a Bag

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 aaron.wittes.gordon@gmail.com.

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, transit reporter for the Village Voice.

If you’re a new or prospective subscriber, head over to the Subway Knowledge Base page for an introduction to the state of the subway and peruse the archive here. And 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 by replying to this email (or email me at aaron.wittes.gordon@gmail.com). I’d love to hear from you. As someone on a stalled Q train once told me, we’re all in this together.