Transportation Nation

From The Archives: Big Storms, Climate Change Imperil Transit

Friday, October 26, 2012

As Hurricane Sandy approaches, we thought of this, our story from a year ago,  in which we reported that if the storm surge had been just a foot higher during Hurricane Irene, New York's east river subway tunnels would have been flooded.   An alarming prospect, but one the federal government warns could be increasingly common -- and costly.

Here's the story:

On the Sunday after Tropical Storm Irene blasted through the five boroughs of New York City, the city exhaled. Huge swaths of Manhattan hadn’t flooded, high winds hadn’t caused widespread damage. Perhaps no one was as relieved as then-MTA CEO Jay Walder, who had just taken the unprecedented step of shutting down the entire transit system.

“The worst fear that we had, which was that the under-river tunnels on the East River would flood with salt water, were not realized. We certainly dodged something there,” Walder said at a post-Irene briefing with city officials.

What the city dodged was the ghost of climate change future — higher sea levels, intense storms, and elevated amounts of precipitation, all of which could combine to cause widespread flooding of the subway system.

Here's the full story:

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In a Heat Wave, Don't Expect the MTA to Cool Subway Platforms

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Every summer, as the heat builds and the atmosphere in the subway acquires the texture of a hound dog's mouth, straphangers wonder why stations aren't air conditioned. If train cars are reliably cooled, the thinking goes, why can't something be done to cool customers while they wait for them?

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Transportation Nation

'Lost Subways' Goes Live At New York Public Library

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What might've been. (WNYC Map)

(New York, NY - WNYC) New York's Lost Subways loom large in the mind for things that aren't there.

Our January post, map and radio feature about the city's "ghost system" of never-built or abandoned lines sparked a robust public reaction. More than 5,700 TN readers talked them up on social media. And that fearsome cultural arbiter, New York Magazine's Approval Matrix, placed us not in the page's Lowbrow / Despicable quadrant -- where we always thought we'd end up -- but the Highbrow / Brilliant quadrant.

Best of all, New York Public Library took notice and invited us to cross the threshold of the esteemed Mid-Manhattan branch and give an illustrated talk about our lost subways research -- where they would've gone and why they weren't built -- and how tricky it was to come up with the post's cool interactive map.

The presentation happens this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. with Jim O'Grady, WNYC reporter and TN contributor, and John Keefe, Senior Editor for Data News & Journalism Technology at WNYC.

Come by to say hello! And comment below to let us know where you'd build a new subway.

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MTA Upping Service on L Train to Reduce ‘Sardine Crush’ of Riders

Monday, June 11, 2012


The chronically overcrowded L train is now running 98 more times a week. The MTA just finished installing a new radio-based signal system that allows trains on the line to travel close together and, as a result, more frequently.


Transportation Nation

Live NY Traffic Map...And Everything You Need to Know to Stay Sane on the Roads & Rails This Weekend

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Traffic started backing up on Thursday afternoon along the blocks approaching the entrance to the Holland Tunnel in Manhattan. (Photo by Kate Hinds.)

The American Automobile Association projects 34.8 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the four-day Memorial Day holiday weekend, an increase of 1.2 percent - or 500,000 travelers - from the 34.3 million people who traveled one year ago.  That's despite relatively high gas prices (though they're a bit lower than they were last year at this time.)

In the New York-NJ-PA region, some 3.7 million Americans are expected to drive to their Memorial Day weekend destinations, the AAA says.

NY-NJ Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman says that bi-state authority is "expecting about 5 million people to travel either by air or car thru our facilities, either the crossings over the Hudson River, or through any of our major airports." He said that's about a three percent increase over 2011 numbers.

Travelers will no doubt be fleeing New York by every mechanized means possible. If you live in the New York region, below is a handy guide for planning your escape.

If you're driving, the NYC DOT will show you just how agonizing your trip will be via its live traffic cams.

(While we're at, California readers can check here. )

The NY MTA will be adding extra trains for the Memorial Day weekend. For details, go here.  You can also subscribe to the authority's free email or text message alerts, or use Tripplanner+ (see top right hand column) to plan your ride ahead of time.

New York City Subway

Subway customers are reminded to use the A, C, D or Q instead of the B. They should also take the J instead of the Z.   Passengers can bring bikes on the subway, 24-7.

Metro-North Railroad

Beginning at noon on Friday, Metro-North will offer extra early afternoon departures from Grand Central Terminal on all three lines – Hudson, Harlem and New Haven.  No bikes on trains scheduled to depart Grand Central Terminal between 12 Noon and 8:30 PM on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend.

MTA Bridges and Tunnels

MTA Bridges and Tunnels will suspend all routine maintenance work beginning 1 p.m. on Friday through the end of the morning rush on Tuesday. Reminder: speed up your trip by using E-ZPass.

Long Island Rail Road

The LIRR will be adding extra trains on Friday.  No bikes on many LIRR trains this weekend (regulations here.)  Monday's train operate on a Sunday schedule.

Staten Island Railway

MTA Staten Island Railway will add extra trains on Friday beginning at 2:30 p.m. from the St. George Ferry Terminal. There will be one express train and one local train awaiting every boat until 7:50 p.m.

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will be suspending all routine maintenance work on its bridges and tunnels, and all of its toll booths will be at "full staff." Go here to sign up for travel alerts about traffic conditions at Port Authority crossings.

The agency’s airports are expected to carry 1.53 million passengers. New customer service representatives will be deployed at airports to help passengers navigate terminals and find things like rest rooms, bus stops and taxi stands.

Sign up here for Airport Alerts that send info about weather delays, parking lot capacity, and AirTrain service delays. 

The PATH train will run extra trains as necessary on Friday. On Monday, trains will run on a Sunday schedule. Travelers can also text their origin and destination on the PATH system to 266266, and receive up-to-date service information.

New Jersey Transit will suspend all construction on state highways from 6 a.m. Friday until noon Tuesday.


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Defects Found in Collapsed Crane That Killed Worker

Thursday, April 05, 2012


Engineers have found defects in the hoisting system of the construction crane that crashed down at a Manhattan worksite, killing a worker, according to the New York City Department of Buildings.



New Subway Cars Expected...In 4 Years

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The MTA is buying 300 subway cars to replace equipment on the C line that's nearing 50 years of age.

Comments [1]


House Plans to Revamp the Transportation Bill

Friday, February 24, 2012

A federal transportation bill that threatened to cut billions from mass transit budgets around the country has been scrapped.  But as lawmakers return from a congressional recess, new fears are emerging about what will replace that bill.

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Transportation Nation

New Fears Over Revamped Transportation Bill

Friday, February 24, 2012

(photo by Flickr user: IceNineJon)

A federal transportation bill that threatened to cut billions from mass transit budgets around the country has been scrapped.  But as lawmakers return from a congressional recess, new fears are emerging about what will replace that bill.

Republican leaders say they are revamping  the $260-billion dollar bill after an outcry from colleagues.  The bill included a provision that would have funded public transit with a one time grant, instead of through the federal gasoline tax.

Robert Healy with the American Public Transportation Association spoke with staff members on Capital Hill about the bill on Friday.  He said the Transportation Committee is retooling the bill.  “They are considering continuing the current structure of the Highway Trust Fund as it refers to mass transit, and that’s great, but they’re also considering a shorter term bill,” said Healy.  He worried that the new bill would reduce mass transit funding on an annual basis.  Healy said that could upend many mass transit systems around the nation struggling to maintain service and keep up with repairs.

In New York, the initial legislation would have cut $1- billion dollars from New York's mass transit budget.  Several GOP Congressman, including Bob Turner (NY-09) split with party leadership over the bill, and would not support it.  “There is still a lot of uncertainty about the future of the transportation bill. However, I will not support any bill that does not sufficiently address the unique transportation needs of New York,” said Turner.

Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-08) has been an outspoken opponent of the  Transportation bill.  He said he’s encouraged by reports that House Republicans have backed off their initial version of the legislation.  But he's still not satisfied that the revamped bill will protect mass transit.  “Even with the proposed fix to transit, I remain concerned about many other aspects of this bill,” said Nadler.

The bill had also called for widely deregulating domestic oil drilling and cut funds for biking and pedestrian infrastructure.  House leaders are expected to formally unveil their new plan after the House returns from a week-long recess.


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Transportation Nation

New York Republicans May Defect on Transportation Bill

Friday, February 10, 2012

(photo by: Flickr user: See-ming Lee)

Three New York City Republicans are expressing reservations about their party's transportation bill.

The legislation would stop funding mass transit through a federal gasoline tax for the first time in about three decades.  Instead it would provide mass transit with a $40-billion dollar one time grant.

But exactly where the money for that grant would come from is unclear, leading to a host of denunciations from Congressional Democrats, editorial boards,  and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, himself a Republican, who dubbed the legislation "the worst transportation bill" in decades.  The opponents say the bill could cost the New York area $1 billion in lost funds.

Congressman Bob Turner (NY-09), who won a narrow special election to succeed Congressman Anthony Wiener earlier this year,  could vote against his party’s bill.  Turner said in a statement he's concerned about how transportation funds will be allocated.  Turner said "it’s imperative that the necessary funding mechanism"  be in place to maintain and improve the transportation needs of the nation’s largest metropolitan population center.   “I will not support any bill that does not allow New York City to sufficiently meet those needs," Turner said.

A spokeswoman for Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm  (NY-13) said the Congressman is still reviewing the bill but "has concerns about it," and is working to amend it.  She did not mention the specific issues Grimm had with the legislation.

A spokesman for Hudson Valley Republican Nan Hayworth also express doubts about the bill in its current form.

And Congressman Jerrold Nadler says he has bi-partisan support for an amendment that would restore mass transit's funding stream. He says he'll introduce the amendment Monday.

Proponents of the legislation say drivers should not subsidize mass transit.  But opponents of the bill said it would drastically reduce the amount of funds available for subway, bus and train riders.

MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, a Republican, said projects like the Second Avenue subway and the Fulton Street Transit Center would be in jeopardy if the bill moves forward in its current form.  The Senate is developing a competing version of the bill.

The Transportation bill puts many area Republican lawmakers between a rock and an hard place:   over 50 percent of the region's commuters use transit to get to work, but  their party leadership is pushing another way.

Republicans Leonard Lance (NJ-07), Scott Garrett (NJ-05), Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11), and Chris Smith (NJ-04) failed to return calls and emails seeking comment.

In New York, Chris Gibson (NY-20), and Pete King (NY-03) also did not respond to requests for comment.

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Transportation Nation

MTA Announces App Contest Winners

Thursday, February 02, 2012

MTA App Winners (NY MTA photo)

A company that created an app to find transit directions that can be used in subway tunnels won the NY MTA's competition for the best Smartphone software app for riders

Embark NYC, can help NYC subway riders plan trips, see schedules for their particular route, and use an interactive map of the subway system.

David Hodge and Ian Leighton of Embark worked with two others to create the free application.  “It even works underground, while you’re in the subway,” said Hodge.

The second prize was awarded to Free NYC Subway Locator, created by Jordan Hill of Flatiron Factory.  His app lets users find the nearest subway stop to wherever they are.  But it only works on the iPhone.  Still, Hill said it took months to complete. “I’ll spend next summer developing the Subway Locator for the Android,” joked Hill.

The contest also featured winners voted on by the public.  The top spot for the popular choice award went to CityMaps, and app developed by Christopher Winfield.  It combines real-time information about local businesses with subway information about how to reach them.

One of the honorable mention apps, called Art by Subway NYC, lets iPhone or iPad users discover commissioned artworks within the subway system.  Another one, Annadale Apps links iPhone users with the Staten Island Ferry and Staten Island Railway schedules so that they become one seamless entity. All forty-two new apps can be found on the website

Winners received anywhere from $5-thousand to $500-dollars, and get to keep their intellectual property.  They were fêted at a ceremony at Grand Central Terminal.  But MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota  said: “It’s pretty clear who the real winners are: all of us—the riding public—the 8.5 million people who use our system every single day and now have more tools to make those trips easier and more rewarding,” said Lhota.




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Subway Survey Shows Subpar Platform Conditions

Thursday, February 02, 2012

A survey of New York City’s subway station platforms has revealed what most New Yorkers already know: some platform conditions are subpar.

Comments [2]

Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Transpo Bill Differences Heat Up, Gridlock Reigns Over NYC Skies, LeBron James Bikes To Work

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top stories on TN: a California lawmaker wants to put high-speed rail back on that state's ballot. For the first time ever, NYC gets a subway map that actually shows what trains are running late at night when three lines shut down. And: Why do some cities get car share while others don't?

(photo by Theo La Photo via flickr)

Amtrak funding, ANWR drilling, and the Keystone XL pipeline are shaping up to be the major differences between the House and Senate versions of the transportation bills. (Politico)

And: the House Republican version would spend about $260 billion over the next four and a half years -- and substantially increase the size of trucks permitted on highways. (AP)

NJ Governor Chris Christie defended recommending 50 people — including dozens with ties to his administration — for Port Authority jobs. (The Record)

Gridlock reigns in the skies over New York City. (USA Today)

Sam LaHood -- son of U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood -- is being sheltered in the U.S. embassy in Cairo after Egypt barred him from leaving the country. (Los Angeles Times)

The auto industry is taking a second look at diesel engines. (NPR)

A recent New York law designed to speed infrastructure projects will be put to the test on the Tappan Zee Bridge. (Bloomberg/BusinessWeek)

A 2010 federal audit of Atlanta's transit system raised safety concerns that included the death of a passenger, faulty third rail indicator lights, and a near miss between a train and a work vehicle in a rail yard. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The NYC intersection where a 12-year-old was recently struck and killed by a minivan has a shorter crossing time than 20 major intersections across the city. (DNA Info)

Why are Chinatown buses so popular? Riders liken it more to an "attractive cultural experience than to an objective travel choice." (Atlantic Cities)

A NY State Senator -- who has made the city's rodent problem one of his biggest issues -- wants to ban eating on subways. (WABC)

Olympic organizers want Londoners to change their travel patterns during the games to ease the strain on public transit. One recommendation: stop and have a beer on your way home from work. (Washington Post)

A program that uses police pace cars to reduce traffic congestion on Colorado's Interstate 70 in the mountains this winter was suspended after too many skiers and other mountain visitors jammed the highway, creating a bottleneck. (The Republic)

LeBron James: basketball player, bike commuter. '"You guys drove here?" James said to reporters after the game. "You guys are crazy."' (Wall Street Journal)

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Family of Brooklyn Man Killed By Train Sues MTA

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The mother of a 24-year-old Brooklyn man killed by a subway train last November says the MTA should have done more to save her son.

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Transportation Nation

MTA: Subway Blasting Not Creating Pollution

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Second Avenue Subway construction, looking south from East 79th Street (photo by Kate Hinds)


The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority says blasting for the creation of the Second Avenue subway line has not increased pollution.  But something else apparently did elevate some pollutants during the time the air was being tested.

The MTA commissioned the study from private firm Parsons Brinckerhoff. It did find elevated levels of three pollutants in the air.  But the MTA says the levels were not elevated while the agency was doing blasting.

According to the report, fine dust, sulfur dioxide and ammonia readings were above standard federal limits.

Most New Yorkers are thrilled at the prospect of a new subway line along Second Avenue, a north-south corridor along the city’s east side.  But residents in the area have complained for months about dust from construction fouling the air and degrading air quality.

The study was based on a monitoring program that collected data on ten pollutants at ten stations along Second Avenuefrom69th street to 87th street.  Monitoring began in September and lasted a month.  Additional details from the report will be presented at a meeting later this month of the Second Avenue Subway Task Force Committee.



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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Contract Talks With Union Delayed

Wednesday, January 04, 2012


TWU Local 100 president John Samuelsen and NY MTA executive director Joe Lhota before start of contract talks. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its main union have cancelled a bargaining session only ten days before their labor contract is to expire.

The heads of the union and the NY MTA were supposed to hold their first face to face talks on Thursday. But that probably won't happen until after NY MTA executive director Joe Lhota has his confirmation hearing before the State Senate on Monday.

Lhota is expected to be confirmed as chairman and CEO of the NY MTA. That should put him in a better position to strike a deal with Transport Workers Union Local 100 president John Samuelson.

Both sides say preliminary talks have gone fairly well. Gone is the animosity that Samuelson, a track worker, felt toward former MTA chief Jay Walder. One union official described the problematic relationship this way: "Walder condescended to John, like he still had steel dust under his fingertips. But John feels Lhota is genuine and honest."

At least that's the feeling for now. The two sides will probably need to agree that any pay raises over the next three years be offset by measurable productivity gains or benefit cuts.

For example, the NY MTA is asking the TWU to allow a combining of the train conductor and train operator jobs. New hires would be trained to do both tasks, allowing the authority to pay fewer workers to stand in reserve in case an operator / conductor misses work because of sickness or some other reason.

That's just one of many issues to be worked out in a negotiation that has begun well but which neither side expects to be easy.

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MTA Contract Talks With Union Delayed

Wednesday, January 04, 2012


The MTA and its main union have canceled a bargaining session ten days before their labor contract is set to expire.


Transportation Nation

Straphangers Campaign Top-10 Worst (And Best) NYC Transit Moments of 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) - In 2011, New York transit riders were beset by fare hikes, rats, the loss of garbage cans and a full-on closure because of Tropical Storm Irene.

But none of those events, according to subway advocacy group the Straphangers Campaign, was the No. 1 horrible thing that happened to transit this year.  What's the worst thing that happened?  A pair of maneuvers that make the financial structure of the nation's largest transit system more uncertain.

Here are the full list of best and worst transit events from the Straphangers' Campaign.

The top-10 worst:

10. A tax-free transit benefit may shrink in half next year. The program – which exempts up to $230 of wages used for transit from most taxes  – was increased in 2009. The parking benefit is slated to go up to $240, while the transit benefit will fall to $125 unless Congress acts.

9.  Passenger assaults on bus drivers and subway workers are up, 20 percent and 16 percent, respectively, this year.

8. Garbage can-less subway stations. As part of a larger initiative to address subway garbage disposal problems, a pilot to remove garbage cans from two stations got a poor response from the public.

7. Tropical Storm Irene. It could have been much worse. In stark contrast to the blizzard of late 2010, the City and MTA performed well here. But many New Yorkers experienced what the loss of transit service meant to the city that never sleeps.

6. Breakdowns increased and ridership decreased on city transit buses. The breakdown rate has worsened more than 11 percent and total ridership is 3 percent, as of September 2011. Reason given: an aging bus fleet and a December 2010 fare hike. The percent of city buses that were 12 years or older more than doubled in the past year.

5. MTA over budget and behind schedule on Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, say federal officials. The MTA said that ESA and Second Avenue will be done by September 2016 and December 2016, respectively, while the Federal Transit Administration puts their opening dates at April 2018 and February 2018.

4. Aged trains on C line will now remain in service through at least 2017. They will be 53-years old, well past the tenure envisioned upon their gleaming debut during the Johnson Administration in 1964. The reason: shortfalls in capital revenues.

3. MTA proposed to take on $7 billion of debt for capital projects. With little hope of new funds, the MTA is proposing more borrowing to pay for its key rebuilding program. The result: half a billion in added interest payments a year, fueling pressure for higher fares to pay it back.

2. The state legislature voted exemptions to the MTA payroll tax at an unknown cost to its riders.

1. The state swept a net $100 million from dedicated transit operating funds. For the second year in a row, state government diverted money from accounts created to fund mass transit. The cuts add pressure to hike fares and cut service. Legislation to make it harder to raid dedicated transit funds passed both houses of the state legislature, but then was watered down.


Top-10 best:
10. More countdown clocks appear around the subways. New York City Transit set as a goal to install these highly popular displays at 153 stations on the No. 1 through 6 lines by December 2011. Another 24 are on the L and a simpler version is at 32 stations on lettered lines.

9. Cell phone service comes to six underground subway stations. Not everyone will agree that his is a good step.  In a recent Straphangers Campaign opinion poll, riders voted 54 percent to 43 percent that this was a good idea. It’s important to note that riders for years have used cell phones at hundreds of stations above ground.

8. $1 fee on purchase of a MetroCard postponed. Supporters say it would reduce litter. Opponents see it as a fare hike and it’s not popular. The agency will hold off until 2013.

7. MTA adopted the 511 number for one-stop telephone help. Coupled with, this has the potential of providing better customer assistance at lower cost. But it still needs to be streamlined.

6. The southbound Cortland Street station on the R line re-opened. There was a grim time after 9/11 that a plywood, handwritten sign on the Cortlandt station in the shadow of the World Trade Center warned train operators, “Do Not Stop Here.”

5. Riders can now track the location of some bus routes by cell phone. “Bus Time” – which allows riders to get information on the location on buses on their cell phones – started on the B63 in February.  By year’s end, it comes to all Staten Island bus routes.  It’s convenient and encourages people to use buses.

4. MTA launched Weekender site. When you go to on Friday afternoons through Sunday evening, it becomes the Weekender, with easy-to-understand maps describing what most weekend visitors want to know: how will my commute be affected by transit construction and repair projects

3. Some of the service cuts from last year were restored in 2011. Weekend M50 bus service in midtown was re-instituted, as was the X36/38 express bus from Bay Ridge to Manhattan.

2. Faster bus service arrived on the M34. This year, M34 passengers got to pay their fares before boarding, speeding up service on this notoriously slow route – if there’s good rider education on the new fare system.

1. There was no subway, bus and commuter fare hike after three years-in-a-row of increases. The fare went up in 2008, 2009 and 2010 – but not in 2011. That was good news for cash-strapped riders in a harsh economy.  But the MTA already says it needs a higher fare by the end of 2012.

The MTA declined comment.

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Top-10 Worst (And Best) Transit Moments of 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011


In 2011, straphangers were beset by fare hikes, rats, the loss of garbage cans and a full-on closure because of Tropical Storm Irene.   
But none of those events, according to subway advocacy group the Straphangers Campaign, was the No. 1 horrible thing that happened to transit this year.

Comments [2]

Transportation Nation

NY MTA Launches Weekender Website (Again) to (Re)Clear Up Info Clutter

Friday, December 09, 2011

The faded lines (B, D, Q,) indicate there is no service this weekend on the new(ish) MTA special weekend website the Weekender.

The NY MTA unveiled another redesign for weekend service announcements today, The Weekender website 1.5. If that sounds familiar, it's because it is. This version of the special weekend edition of website is a revamp of the a previous Weekender launched in September.

Before that it had been paper announcements posted in stations that took about as long to decipher as a crosstown bus ride. The problem: the list of trains out of service for weekend construction projects is long, massive, ever changing, and perpetually perplexing to riders.

So the MTA is making a concerted effort to assuage ride anger at confusing weekend service disruptions. This quick iteration adding design tweaks is a sign the agency is taking messaging more seriously than in years past.

In the press release announcing Weekender 1.5, the MTA touted that it had responded to rider criticism of the first edition and incorporated some of the suggestions that poured in. There is now a searchable station box to find info on your station faster, more zooming, and some color changes--though it's still hard to notice out of service lines and stations if you're not that astute at noticing coloration.

In the image above the shading indicates that the B, D, and Q lines are out of service for instance. Below, you can see the Dyckman street station on the 1 line is out, it flashes on the web version, but is still easy to miss. (Arrows ours)

The best part about the website though has nothing to do with planning your trip. You can dive in to a beautiful triumph of design and scroll around a modified version of the iconic Massimo Vignelli 1972 subway map, a treat for graphic designers, cartophiles, and transit buffs alike!

If this interface doesn't suit your fancy, there's still third party apps like HopStop that integrate the same service disruption information in different formats that might be more useful.

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