September 7, 2018: Basically, Business Realities

On the morning of July 21, 2017, several of my colleagues and I were laid off from our jobs working for VICE Media’s sports website. Almost immediately I received a consolation email from occasional VICE Sports contributor Neil deMause, who was also the news editor for The Village Voice. The subject line: “well, fuck.”

“The minute that the Village Voice ever has a sports section again, I’ll let you know,” he wrote to us. “Until then, feel free to pitch me anything that can be framed as a news piece, since I can assign those.” He signed off with “in the bogglement at this new journalistic world that we live in, n.”

It took me a few hours to respond, but I did at 6:02 PM, while riding the B44 Select Bus towards Williamsburg to get plastered with my former colleagues. To be honest, I had already had a drink or two when I replied, “Can I cover the daily doom of the New York subway? Or do you already have a staff of 20 on that?”

As it turned out, the Voice had a staff of zero on that, because their subway reporter, Max Rivlin-Nadler, had just moved to San Diego, which is indeed an awfully appealing prospect after covering the subway. Neil asked me if I had ever covered transit before. I answered no, because I had spent the last three years covering things like the Olympics and anti-doping. I was unsure what this would mean for my prospects there.

Fortunately, it didn’t mean much. “Okay, cool,” Neil replied. To him, the fact that I had no experience covering transit just meant I had more work to do, not that I couldn’t do it. He sent me a bunch of reading material along with some potential topics to explore.

I’m telling you all this because last Friday I got another “well, fuck” email from Neil, this one with the subject line “Stick a fork in the Voice.” In case you haven’t heard, this was the first week in 63 years that The Village Voice has not published new articles. The owner, a billionaire named Peter Barbey, fired half the staff and kept the rest for an indeterminate amount of time to digitize the archives. He broke the news to the staff by calling it “kind of a sucky day” and said his decision was due to “basically, business realities.” Off we went to another bar to mourn another loss of another publication we loved.

If you’re reading this newsletter, the odds are you’ve valued my reporting on New York City transit over the last year, which I have done almost exclusively for The Village Voice. Neil—and everyone at the Voice, who all supported my work in every imaginable sense—gave me the most precious resource any freelancer could get: money. But before that, Neil gave me the other most precious resource any reporter could ever get. Neil, and The Village Voice, gave me a chance.

The Voice has been giving young writers chances for generations—in the early days, for sometimes less than noble reasons of not wanting to pay established writers more money—but it had the effect of, as The New Yorker put it, changing “the idea of what it was to be a journalist.” Transit wasn’t exactly a frequent beat for the paper, but of those young journalists, Mary Perot Nichols played a significant role in the charge against Robert Moses’s proposed plan to build a road through Washington Square Park. She was perhaps the only journalist of her time who saw Robert Moses for what he was. Perot Nichols, who died in 1996, made a name for herself at The Voice as so many would, becoming a columnist and the paper’s city editor before serving as president of WNYC. Her obituary, in addition to noting her coverage of Moses, captured a viewpoint that not only characterized her career, but The Voice’s ethos which changed journalism.

Today, in the post-Voice world, I look around New York City and despair at who is now going to give young writers chances. I do not despair for Aaron Gordon, Transportation Reporter and Proprietor of Signal Problems A Weekly Newsletter About What The Hell Is Going On With The Subway, but for Aaron Gordon, recently laid off sports journalist who wants to cover the subway crisis and the L train shutdown. It doesn’t take benevolence or charity to foster that climate, but it does take commitment and soul, a reason for existence beyond “basically, business realities.” It’s something vanishingly few publications still have.

Important stories don’t materialize out of nowhere. They require poking and prodding along the edges until something bursts. Somewhere has to cultivate that, keep us reporters afloat, sustain us as we dig deeper. For the last year, The Voice was that for me, and for several others who were let go from DNAInfo and Gothamist among other places. Which publication will be that place now?

Emma Whitford@emma_a_whitford

when one local news outlet dies, ideally, another steps in to absorb some talent + provide some freelance checks to writers who are still a bit stunned. @villagevoice was just that for @jangelooff, @scottheins, @DaveCoIon and I. every time we lose an outlet, the safety net thins

August 31, 2018
You may not have read The Village Voice as much lately. You may not have read it at all. But it mattered. It mattered to me, it mattered to you, and it mattered to this city. The impact of the stories never to be written will land, and land hard, but only when it is far too late. Like so many insidious harms, we won’t notice the damage until it is done. And it won’t just be The Village Voice’s absence we regret. It will be so many things. We have lost so much.


I’m sure most of you don’t subscribe to Signal Problems for my thoughts on the journalism industry, so here’s a subway-related observation.

Recently, I’ve noticed the @NYCTSubway account will announce a delay, say service has resumed, and then hours later announce a very similar issue at the same location. I highlighted one example in last week’s edition, the switch problems on the 7 line. Here’s another from Wednesday. At 6:26 AM, NYCT announced that due to Signal Problems at West 4th St, B/D trains were running with delays:

NYCT Subway@NYCTSubway

Southbound B and D trains are running with delays because of signal problems at W 4 St-Washington Sq.

September 5, 2018
At 6:48 AM, service had resumed:

At 2:40 PM, they announced delays once again for the same lines at the same place because “a train’s brakes were automatically activated,” which is a symptom of an issue, not a cause. A train’s brakes can get automatically activated, for example, due to a faulty signal.

NYCT Subway@NYCTSubway

Southbound B and D trains are running with delays because a train's brakes were automatically activated at W 4 St-Washington Sq.

September 5, 2018
But at 2:58 PM, just 18 minutes after the delay was announced, service resumed as normal…

…until 4:27 PM, when Signal Problems once again delayed B/D trains at West 4th St…

NYCT Subway@NYCTSubway

Southbound B and D train service changes & delays because of signal problems at W 4 St-Washington Sq. See https://t.co/vhZQ2kZ2vb

September 5, 2018
…and once again opted for the full re-route:

NYCT Subway@NYCTSubway

Service Update: Some southbound B and D trains are stopping along the C line from 59 St-Columbus Circle to W 4 St-Washington Sq, and then along the F line to Coney Island-Stillwell Av.

Expect delays in A, B, C, D, E, F, and M train service.

September 5, 2018
Which stayed in effect until the regularly-scheduled planned work began at 11 PM:

NYCT Subway@NYCTSubway

Service Update: B and M train service have concluded for the evening as planned work has begun along the 6 Av line affecting B, D, F and M trains. Details at https://t.co/EyOa8lGFu7

September 6, 2018
Naturally, it happened again Thursday morning for good measure:

NYCT Subway@NYCTSubway

B and D trains are running with delays because of signal problems at W 4 St-Washington Sq.

September 6, 2018
This is probably due to the cut-over of the W 4th Street interlocking to modernized switches and signals, which is part of an $89.5 million project scheduled to be completed this fall. I’m told the cut-over from the old signals to the new is happening right now, so these issues likely stem from this process. If you ask me, it would do @NYCTSubway well to simply tell us that, since I think everyone affected would be much more forgiving if they knew it was part of a modernization process. But from the official announcements, it looks like any old delay, which only increases the frustration.

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

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

This week's estimate: June 2022

Change log (the links are where I explain the change):

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.

Weekend:

  • 3 – No service between 96 Street and Harlem-148 St

  • 4 – No service between Bowling Green and New Lots Av

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

  • 5 – No service between E 180 Street and Dyre Av

  • A C – Brooklyn-bound service runs via F line between W 4 Street and Jay St

  • D – No service between 34 St-Herald Sq and Coney Island

  • E F – All service is local-only between Roosevelt Av and 71 Avenue

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

  • J – No service between Hewes St and Broad St

  • M – No service between Myrtle Av-Broadway and Essex St

  • N – multiple diversions

    • No service between Queensboro Plaza and Ditmars Blvd

    • All service runs via D line between 36 St/4 Av and Coney Island

  • N Q – Manhattan-bound service runs via R line between Atlantic Av and Canal St

Late Nights:

  • 2 – No service between Franklin Av and Flatbush Av

  • A – All service is express-only in Manhattan

  • D – All service runs via C and F lines between 145 Street and Coney Island

  • E – No service between Briarwood and Jamaica Center

  • F – multiple diversions

    • All service runs via Q and D lines between Lexington Av and Coney Island

    • All service is local-only in Queens

  • J – No service between Chambers St and Broad St

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World

David Roth’s Esteemed Subway Rider of the Week

“So: a man got on the train on Sunday wearing flip-flops, smallish olive green shorts, and one of those string backpacks. He was not only not wearing a shirt, although he was not wearing a shirt. He didn't even have a shirt with him. In his backpack was what might have been a folding hammock. He held in his hands a child's plastic skateboard. While the train was moving, he would attempt to stand on one foot for as long as he could, and routinely nearly toppled onto other riders. He got on the L with us and we shared a brief and jarring moment of eye contact and I felt high for 20 minutes as a result.”

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 aaron.wittes.gordon@gmail.com.

Photo credit: Rosemary Bolich

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 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.