Volume 18 • Issue 13 | August 19 - 25, 2005

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

The Rector St. N,R stop.

Signs of subway confusion

By Josh Rogers

Downtown straphangers, get ready for the weekend.

If you’ve gotten used to the weekend disruptions to the 1, 4 and 5 lines, prepare to add the closing of the Cortlandt St. station and changes to the N, R and W trains to your list. There are advisories and signs all over stations and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Web site, but don’t count on them to give a clear picture of what’s going on.

“We admit sometimes it’s going to be confusing,” said Deirdre Parker, spokesperson for New York City Transit, part of the M.T.A.

The agency’s Web site (http://www.mta.info/nyct/service/advisory.htm) and station signs report that the Cortlandt St. (N,R,W) station will be closed starting Aug. 20 and suggest picking up the lines at Rector St. or going to Fulton St. (4,5) as two possible alternatives.
The problem is other signs and other parts of the Web site say Queens/Uptown-bound N and R trains will skip the Lower Manhattan stops below Canal St. (Whitehall, Rector, Cortlandt and City Hall) this weekend and suggest trying one of four Downtown stops on the 4 (Bowling Green, Wall St., Fulton St. and Brooklyn Bridge).
That would work out great as long as you don’t believe the official advisories saying the 4 stops will also be closed all weekend and next. (Believe them.) The 5 will also be shut down from Bowling Green to Grand Central Saturdays and Sundays until Aug. 28 despite what the Cortlandt station advisory might have you believe.
If you fear that a vicious cycle of false alternatives goes on forever, fear not. The suggested J train alternatives to the 4 will be open this weekend, and the Cortlandt station advisory will be mostly accurate after the weekend — at least until the next service change. The station will be closed until February to build an underground tunnel connecting the Fulton Transit Center under construction to the planned World Trade Center PATH/subway hub, where construction is supposed to begin this month. The 1 stops between South Ferry and Chambers will be closed once again this weekend for continued construction of the new South Ferry station.
The $3.2 billion or so for the three Downtown station projects are funded out of post-9/11 federal transportation funds and require service disruptions in addition to the normal repair work N.Y.C. Transit schedules during the weekends when ridership drops.
Ernie Markezin, 48, who moved to the southern half of Battery Park City in 1993, said he is excited about the future Fulton Transit Center and its underground connection to the World Trade Center PATH commuter line and subways, but he wishes fewer lines would close on weekends.
“It’s not a dinky population down here anymore to not have any service for the entire weekend,” he said. “You don’t have the 1, so you walk another block to the R, you don’t have that so you walk another block to the 4,5, and you don’t have that....
“In scheduling things for these projects, somebody has to step back and take a big picture look at what’s the impact on the entire neighborhood,” said Markezin, who checks the M.T.A. Web site weekly to plan his weekend subway trips with his wife.
Looking at the overall picture for Downtown projects is part of the idea for the new Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, but that office is geared to strengthen coordination between the various agencies and developers building Downtown, not to improve communication within one, said Jennifer Nelson, the construction center’s spokesperson.
“Ultimately the agencies are responsible for managing their own projects,” she said.
Transit’s Parker said M.T.A. officials are constantly meeting to coordinate their projects and discuss the best ways to get information out to the public. She said one problem with getting accurate signs is striking the right balance between providing concise information that can be read quickly and laying out all of the details that may be accurate but would also add to the confusion.
Judy Duffy, assistant district manager of Community Board 1, said there is a common sense solution to avoid using too much text: “A simple map. Just black out the places where it’s not going to go. Then I could understand it a little. Unless you have an intimate knowledge of every train line and where it runs you can’t figure it out. A picture is worth 1,000 words.”
She said the M.T.A. information is hard to decipher because it is separated for each line rather than combined in neighborhoods with lots of changes like Lower Manhattan. Since 9/11, Duffy has met regularly with city and state officials to discuss traffic changes, has sifted through weighty environmental impact statements and developers’ applications, yet it is the M.T.A. advisories that she finds confusing.
She said the subway changes have had the biggest effect on people living in the south end of B.P.C. and the southwest part of the Financial District. Perhaps part of being a New Yorker is complaining about the subway, and interviews with a handful of residents exiting the Rector St. stations or the Wall St. 4, 5 stop on their way home from work Tuesday, revealed it was hard to find anyone who had something positive to say about the subways or that didn’t have a recent hard luck subway story Downtown.
Marsha, a 32-year-old therapist who like most commuters interviewed declined to give her last name, said she checks for service change signs every Friday. She said a few weeks ago she walked down the stairs to the Wall St. station during the weekend only to find the station was closed, despite the lack of signs on Friday.
“I feel stranded here,” she said. The shuttle buses to replace the 1 run infrequently, she said. “The bus doesn’t ever come,” Marsha said. “There are always scads of people [waiting] on Chambers St.” She said one time when she did get a bus, the driver agreed to drop her off near her home on Rector St. only to kick her off the bus four blocks north at Liberty St., insisting it was actually Rector. She said she called the M.T.A. to complain but the person she spoke with did not seem interested.
Markezin said he never bothers to wait for the shuttle buses. He also sees tourists walking down to the closed Rector St. 1 platform and up again every weekend. Parker said N.Y.C. Transit keeps stations open even when no trains are running so people can buy MetroCards and get directions from booth clerks.
Two 30-year-old attorneys stopped to complain to the booth clerk as they were leaving the Wall St. 4, 5 stop Tuesday. The couple, who are engaged and live in B.P.C., said they tried to exit one end of the station only to find the exit was closed. They had to spend $4 on two MetroCard swipes just to get back into the station and exit a different way.
“Luckily, I had money on the card, otherwise we would have been trapped,” said the man as he walked home with his fiancée.
Some were willing to cut the M.T.A. just a little slack. Ben, a 27-year-old public relations rep who lives on Greenwich St., said the 1 closing was only a “minor pain in the [butt]” because he takes the N or R instead. He had not heard he wouldn’t be able to take it this weekend. “Then it would be a major pain in the [butt].”

Josh@DowntownExpress.com


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