Friday, 15 October 2010

About the title

Skips 49 St at all times.

By Tim Pierce, under creative commons license.

The title refers to the fact, posted prominently on signs in nearby stations of the New York City Subway's BMT Broadway line, that the Q train skips 49th Street at all times. It is linked to the title, which described the Broadway line up until earlier this year, when the Q was withdrawn.

While both the N express and R local switch to the local track and serve all stops to their respective termini, the Q remains in the middle past 49th Street, to its terminus at 57th Street, before reversing. The fact must be made clear because everything else stops at 49th Street; it isn't just a local/express thing.

The line it terminates on continues, disused, to a two-track station shared with the F train at 63rd St and Lexington Avenue. This used to be an important terminus for the BMT, in the days that the Broadway Line carried all trains to south-west Brooklyn save for the Culver Line (linked, as today, with the 6th Avenue Line). Going by old maps, all the expresses did that, while all locals stopped at 49th Street and went on to Astoria, Queens. It was just a local/express thing.

This invokes a few things, which have caused my to use it as the name for my blog.

Firstly, the little eccentricities of cities that bewilder new arrivals, and that one can require years of occupation to even know a fraction of. While those who use the Broadway Line just know what the N, Q and R do, those coming as tourists often struggle to get their heads around the very possibility of different calling patterns on trains that look the same on the map. I was walking with someone who had lived three years in the East Village a couple of years ago, who sounded utterly disgusted at overhearing the NQRW referred to as the "Yellow Line". "No one calls it that". It is the Enn-Que-Are-Double Ewe, spoken without gaps, and it's called that because people in New York call it that.

More widely, emerging from the subway tunnels and into the city beyond, this speaks of all of the intricate knowledge that can be gained with prolonged occupation of a city, if that city is half of the way it ought to be to be considered a living city organism. That knowledge can be fanciful, helpful, or sometimes downright necessary to get by there. I am still finding little corners of Leeds of which I didn't know, and when new students arrive every year and I get to know them through societies, I have a laugh to myself about the things they prove ignorant of.

Speaking of emerging from the tunnels, this is the station in downtown Queens to which the N emerges after leaving the Q, veering East and Crossing the East River, which I took through the rear cab window with a point and shoot camera:

Downtown (Queens)

Secondly, it shows history having put something there in a different way from the way in which you'd strictly have wanted it, perhaps through grand plans that never quite took place, and adapting whatever parts you can for your present needs. All the concentration on the Broadway Line came about because all the lines in Brooklyn were run by the Brooklyn Mass Transit, who owned the Broadway Line and none of the others. The disused line which the Q uses a bit of was meant to take all these Broadway trains into Queens, through various exciting plans including running into South-East Queens on what is now the LIRR Rockaway branch after passing through the 63rd Street Tunnel that the disused track almost connects with (the platforms are next to the F, but the tracks have never connected).

If and when finally the 2nd Avenue line in Manhattan is built, this will include a cord to connect with 63rd/Lexington station, and the Q will run though, proving a triumph for adapting the assets that history put there.

This is something I like, especially when I see suggestions of spending years' worth of a city's potential mass transport funding on a very expensive project - a metro in deep tunnel, perhaps, as in Catania, which cannot afford to fund reasonable frequencies on its urban bus services (not even taking routes every 22 or 23 minutes, or suchlike, and rounding down to 20 minutes with an extra vehicle). Said metro replaced existing street track, and is to be extended to the city's airport in preference for a station on the existing heavy rail line.

Given a decent manner of funding (and by that I mean not the British system of being required to prove economic benefits, which mostly come from monetising small journey time savings, are several times costs), I prefer by far the idea of reaching as much of the city as possible with good mass transport by cheaply getting as much as possible from its existing assets dealt to it by history - utilising disused trackbeds, viaducts and tunnels single track freight lines that can be doubled and shared with freight, passenger lines that could cope with more traffic, underused space on roads for turn lanes and such, or whatever else might be available. Such specific possibilities in my home city and elsewhere will be discussed at various points.

Finally, because I am something of a Jane Jacobs fanboy, and 57th Street, on which the Q terminates and turns, is one which she frequently refers back to, owing to the presence of the Carnegie Hall music center, which she argued acted as a catalyst for the busy life of the street throughout the day, and its diversity of uses. In fact, Carnegie Hall is almost immediately above the NQR station.

So there, in no fewer than a million words, you have the explanation behind my URL and title. Besides all this, it's nice that my blog reminds me perpetually of the Q; which I'd say pretty much with certainty is my favourite subway train, on a system I'm quite taken with the entirety of, in as nerdy a way as is possible.


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