Streams

New York Transit Strike's Fifth Anniversary.

Monday, December 20, 2010 - 06:11 PM

NYC Transit Strike, Second Day. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and supporters walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. (Getty Images)

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) It was a colder day than it is today.  I'd hardly slept -- waiting as I was, for word of whether there would be a transit strike. Negotiations went up to midnight, and then beyond.  I was quite sure there wouldn't be a vote to strike. How could there be?  And then there was. The trains and buses -- hundreds and hundreds of miles of them, had stopped. Stations were locked.

My assignment:  cover the Mayor, then, as now, Michael R. Bloomberg.  So sometime before 5 a.m. I was up, and out, pulling on the layers.  I rode my bike on dark streets over to the Brooklyn Bridge, looking to lock it up before crossing the East River into Manhattan. This was pre-PlaNYC, and there were almost no bike paths. No one but messengers and the insanely devoted rode bikes on New York City streets in those days. Especially not when it was 10 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

Before I had to a chance to lock up my bike at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Mayor and his entourage were upon me.  This was no Ed Koch-like stroll, asking New Yorkers how they were doing.   It was a grim, unsmiling forced march.  Between my bike and my recording equipment I could hardly keep up. At one point, my bike toppled over. "Can't you do something about that, miss?" the Mayor snapped.   He was not a happy man. The thermometer as we crossed the bridge hovered in the teens.

NYPD direct traffic at a checkpoint on 96th St. and Lexington Ave. (Getty Images)

As the day wore on, cars, trucks and buses crammed the streets. Passengers negotiated to share cabs, or hitched rides over the bridges, but the traffic hardly moved. Most normal days, we complain about the transit system. On this one, we realized, how, without it, the city would stop. It practically did.

Commuters wait in line to board trains outside Grand Central Terminal during the evening rush of day two. (Getty Images)

The Mayor's fury boiled over at several points during the three-day strike.  He won punishing fines against the Transport Workers Union. The sub-freezing temperatures did not abate. I biked from our offices in Lower Manhattan to downtown Brooklyn, where the court cases were being heard.

By day three I was dreading all the clothing I had to wear, and the 5 a.m. calls from our assignment desk. I was cratering, and so was the city. And then, just when I was sure another day would break me, the strike ended. The transit system -- dirty, crammed with delays, stuffed with people, the source of tsuris every day -- up and running again, seemed like the train from heaven.

After three days, commuters at the Jay Street subway station return to mass transit. (Getty Images)

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Comments [2]

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Feb. 11 2012 10:29 AM
Eric

That day, I had the pleasure of riding my bicycle to work for the first time, down 5th Ave with no traffic (it was closed for emergency traffic I think?). If not for the strike, I might not be riding to work everyday now. Thanks TWU!

Dec. 21 2010 11:42 AM

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