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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New York Subway System Mocks Hyperbole

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York:

The New York subway system, much like the city itself, mocks hyperbole.  The tracks, if stretched end to end, would travel from New York City to Chicago.  It has its own police force of 4,250 employees, larger than that of Atlanta of Boston, and it has 469 stations.  Forty-six percent of New Yorkers use it to travel to work and Wall Street would cease to function without it.

The book recounts the numerous physical and political barriers that need to be surmounted in accomplishing the huge feat.  It's hard to overestimate the impact the system had on the city which relied on surface transport provided mostly by horse=drawn trolleys, making at best three to five miles per hour.  The streets were incredibly congested. Crossing the street was a risky proposition.

Beyond the edge of transportation availability was a rural wasteland, and much of the impetus for building the subway network was from those who feared the middle class might leave New York City. Land surrounding the new stations became quite valuable and -- no surprise -- many fortunes were made by those who knew the routes ahead of time and could purchase land before the prices skyrocketed.

The New York City Transit Authority was created to reconcile the conflicting desires of the public:  low fares yet high quality service. The NYCTA was supposed to bring management principles and eliminate the need for public subsidies. Ironically, Hood blames the systems decline during the sixties on "the ideology of business management, insulating transit management from the public, and lessening the accountability of top elected officials for transit decisions."

This is a fascinating book that illuminates the  political and engineering feats required to complete the system.

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