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?
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 thinsAugust 31, 2018
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:
Southbound B and D trains are running with delays because of signal problems at W 4 St-Washington Sq.September 5, 2018
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
Southbound B and D train service changes & delays because of signal problems at W 4 St-Washington Sq. See https://t.co/vhZQ2kZ2vbSeptember 5, 2018
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.
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/EyOa8lGFu7September 6, 2018
B and D trains are running with delays because of signal problems at W 4 St-Washington Sq.September 6, 2018
News You Probably Can't Use, But About Which You Can Certainly Brood
Last week, I promised you more on the BQX, and behold, here is more on the BQX, which I wrote about for Curbed NY.
In which Governor Andrew Cuomo blames subway delays on whoever it is that’s been Governor for the last eight years.
The LIRR is on pace to have its worst annual on-time performance in two decades.
The Atlantic Ave-Barclays Center elevator is down about half the time, and the Daily News editorial board has had enough of it.
MTA/DOT are going to host yet another L shutdown town hall meeting, this time on September 17 in the East Village.
Speaking of meetings, MTA is also holding community forums in the Bronx for the re-imagined bus network. If you live in the Bronx, I highly recommend going to one of these if you can.
Cynthia Nixon released a subway-focused campaign ad lambasting Cuomo for spending $4.5 billion on the Second Avenue Subway while ignoring the needs of the system. It’s certainly an interesting choice for the campaign to target the Second Avenue Subway, which was budgeted for long before the subway crisis began, rather than more recent questionable projects like the billion-dollar Enhanced Station Initiative.
The G is going to shut down every weekend this month and again for one weekend in November for station enhancements and track repair. None of these weekend closures will overlap with the weekend L train shutdowns coming up before the big L train shutdown coming up.
The MTA opened a second entrance at 34th St-Hudson Yards, which was very much needed as Hudson Yards gets hyper-developed.
As mentioned last week, Cathedral Parkway finished its Enhanced Station Initiative makeover. It looks like every other ESI makeover, which is nice enough, but, once again we’re left wondering why there was money for this but not more elevators.
I can never get enough of old subway photos, and this collection of photos from the 70s and 80s by Willy Spiller is mesmerizing.
The Times endorses Cuomo but roughs him up a bit over subway stuff.
The MTA added an official tribute to Aretha Franklin at the Franklin Ave stop, although it’s not clear whether it will be permanent.
Google Maps appears to be incorporating weekend service changes into the icons on the map itself when you zoom in on a station. For example, the E ran along the F last weekend, and 2nd Ave shows the E and F symbols at that station. This will probably be noticed by roughly seven people, but I thought it was neat.
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.
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
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
Crossrail has been delayed nine months. Does that mean we can no longer breathlessly cite it as an example of what New York is not capable of? No? We still can? Oh good.
SEPTA riders from Philadelphia have reported they can use their transit card in other tap-to-pay cities like Chicago and London, although it doesn’t seem to deduct any fare from their balance, in effect giving them free rides. Apparently, Mastercard ends up footing the bill.
Residents of Surabaya, Indonesia can pay for bus rides by recycling plastic bottles, which both reduces the amount of plastic waste and increases public transit usage.
Vancouver is making the Broadway subway a reality.
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 email@example.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.
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As always, send any feedback, subway questions, or Dog in a Bag photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you. As someone on a stalled Q train once told me, we’re all in this together.