THE COMMUTE: Last week I described my harrowing trip home from a Broadway play due to detours and inadequate road signage. This week I had a similar experience returning from a play on the Upper East Side of Manhattan using the subway.
The play would end at approximately 10:00 p.m. and I needed to know the time the last B train would arrive at the Broadway-Lafayette station. Missing that train would necessitate an extra transfer that I wanted to avoid late at night. I knew that the signs at Broadway-Lafayette would not indicate the time of the last train, as they only state the B operates “weekdays and eves,” so I asked my friend to use the MTA Trip Planner on her smartphone during intermission.
We plugged in a start time of 10:15 p.m. and received three options:
Itinerary 1: Take the #6 train to the #4. Get off at Franklin Avenue and Eastern Parkway and walk to Bedford to get the B49. That option was 20 minutes longer than the other two options and involved a long bus trip.
Itinerary 2: The second option requested I change from the #6 at 59th Street for the Q to Brighton Beach and then take the B1 bus. Well, if I could get the Q at 59th Street (in addition to the N), I could also get the B express at Broadway-Lafayette saving even more time. So I opted for the third option.
Itinerary 3: Take the #6 to Broadway-Lafayette to the B. However, I was still skeptical if I would be able to catch the last B train. An obvious question was why Itinerary 3 was the best choice and Itinerary 1 was the worst one?
I did not take note how close it was to 10:15 when I arrived at the 77th Street station. However, I arrived at Broadway-Lafayette at 10:37 p.m. and a D pulled in at 10:40. If I had missed the last B, I probably would have had to wait another 20 minutes for another D, so I figured it would be most prudent to take the D and make the inconvenient transfer at Atlantic-Barclays Center for the Q if I had to. No announcement was made if B passengers should board the D, but at Grand Street, it was announced that the next stop would be DeKalb. That was good news because, although it meant I missed the last B and would have to take the Q local instead, at least it would be an across-the-platform transfer.
Now why couldn’t an announcement have been made at Broadway-Lafayette, and at all prior stations in Manhattan while the doors were open, that B passengers should board the D and transfer at DeKalb since the signage does not indicate the times of the first and last B?
After I got home, I decided to consult the schedules to determine if the trip planner had given correct information. It had, but barely. I should have boarded the #6 at 77th Street at 10:21 p.m. and arrived at Broadway-Lafayette at 10:34, according to the schedule. The last B was scheduled to arrive at 10:35, which meant that anyone not riding in the first car of the #6 would not have had enough time to catch the last B train.
I waited 15 minutes at DeKalb for the Q after two N trains arrived five minutes apart, the first one skipping DeKalb and the next one stopping at DeKalb. Each of the 10 subway cars on the Q arriving at DeKalb had approximately 50 standees. Not seeing a bus I walked home from the subway to arrive just before midnight, making it a one hour and 40 minute trip — at least an hour longer than the trip would have taken by car. However, the confusing information did not end there. Although I was on the first Q train after the last B, the automated announcements at all the Brighton express stations still advised riders that a transfer to the B was available.
Inadequate Signage For A Temporary Detour
One of my friends who attended the play with me had her own problems getting home, also due to the lack of proper signage. She stopped off at the Atlantic Center to do some shopping on her way home at approximately 11:15 p.m. She could have walked down Fort Green Place to Fulton to get the B25, B26 or the B52 bus to complete her trip, but decided to walk down Hanson Place to S. Portland to Fulton instead, a decision that, in retrospect, was unfortunate.
When she arrived at Fulton Street, the area was ablaze with lights and trucks and workers. There was a repaving project and Fulton Street was completely blocked off, so it was obvious that no buses would be stopping along that stretch of the street.
As she approached the bus stop on Fulton between S. Portland and S. Elliot, there was no signage as to where to catch the bus or where the bus was rerouted to. A man suggested walking back along Fulton Street until she found a bus stop where the buses were stopping. That strategy required her to walk back two blocks to Lafayette Avenue with heavy bags. Again, there was no signage at that stop either stating the alternate routes the buses are taking.
As she approached the stop, a B26 was just pulling in and although she was frantically waving, the bus operator pulled away without waiting. He surely must have realized that passengers were in all likelihood experiencing some challenges due to the repaving project and bus re-routings, but that didn’t stop him from pulling away. An SUV, whose view was blocked by the bus and in a hurry, just missed hitting her. She boarded a B25.
Another Signage Problem
A few days later, I boarded at Atlantic Terminal where there is a combined entrance for the subway and the LIRR. When you enter you see two stairways in opposite directions with no signage indicating which one is for the subway and which one is for the LIRR. Only one sign is visible, in the distance, in front of an elevator for certain subway lines. The specific routes cannot be read until you get closer. Although I did not require an elevator, at least I knew it went to the subway. The 2, 3, 4, 5 and B trains were listed on the sign. Additional routes after B appeared to be cut off by a wooden construction wall.
When the elevator arrived, I saw two buttons, “S” for “Street” and “P” for “Platform.” However, when getting off, I was not on a platform but on the mezzanine in front of fare controls for the 2, 3, 4, 5, D, N and R and another set of controls for the B and Q, which I entered. This led to a long down staircase of about three floors. Afterwards, there was another staircase. Luckily I wasn’t in a wheelchair expecting to be let off on the platform level. So why does the elevator indicate “Platform” rather than “Mezzanine”?
If you want people to choose mass transit over driving, you should solve the problems that are easily solvable. One should not have to guess which is the best route to take because of confusing information on the Trip Planner or where to board a bus when it is rerouted.
Millions of dollars were spent on automatic train announcements and electronic signage on the new subway cars. The advantages were supposed to have been clarity and consistency as well as the ability to easily adapt the signage for reroutes and to alter the announcements for different times of the day as services change. Instead, we get announcements with incorrect information when much of the electronic signage in the new subway cars was not working at all soon after the cars were delivered.
Eliminate misleading signage and announcements that confuse, improve the Trip Planner, and have signs provide necessary information rather than just stating “weekdays and eves.” Efforts must be made to make mass transit as attractive as possible within financial constraints. Incomplete signage not stating when the first and last B trains arrive, incorrect signage in the elevator at Atlantic Avenue, signage blocked by construction, missing signage regarding bus detours, and overcrowded subways near midnight all point to poor customer service and a lack of caring by MTA management.
Many times, because management did not provide them with pre-printed signage, I have witnessed ad-hoc, handwritten signs put up by field personnel stating that bus stops have been temporarily moved due to a detour. In my friend’s case, handwritten signs were not even available. “Use Mass Transit” needs to be more than just a slogan if the goal is to lure drivers out of their automobiles.
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA / NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).
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