Coney Island Yard

Even subway trains need a place to rest when they’re not working. For many NYC subway trains, that place is Coney Island Yard.

For a taste of how a smaller yard works, see this time-lapse of Corona Yard, home of the 7 train.

What does Coney Island look like in action? Stay tuned…

Interns Wanted (Day Job Edition)

I’m looking for students with superior storytelling skills to help me make videos this summer about New York’s amazing transportation network.

As a video intern with the MTA Press Office, you’ll help tell the story of the transit system and the hardworking men and women who keep it running. You’ll shoot onboard MTA trains and buses, inside stations and tunnels, and maybe even climb a bridge or two.

You’ll also sharpen your skills at all aspects of video production — from story development to distribution — and learn a lot about turning around quality packages cost-efficiently and on tight deadlines.

Internships will start in early June and can continue beyond the summer. For more info and to apply, go here. Please don’t apply to me directly.

(Want to help me at my night job? Check back here later this summer.)

Heady Choices

Today I had an early afternoon shoot in one of the subway tunnels under the East River. It was a beautiful day out so I figured I’d bike to the meeting point in Brooklyn from my apartment in Harlem.

There was only one issue: did I really have to bring two helmets? I hate biking with more weight than I absolutely need to carry. But I also don’t bike anywhere without a helmet and I’m not allowed on the tracks without PPE.

And if I were to just bring one head protector, which would it be? The options weren’t good: 1) biking around Manhattan and Brooklyn with my bright yellow MTA hard hat, or 2) spending a few hours underground with a track gang wearing my tomato red Bern Brentwood bike helmet and enduring the inevitable teasing. And that’s assuming my headgear would even pass the safety rep’s muster.

Ultimately, I realized neither my ego nor professional reputation could stand either scenario. So I brought ’em both. A little more physical weight to carry, but a lot of potential other weight off my shoulders.

Coming soon: Citi Bike

I’m really excited about Citi Bike and I think it has the potential to greatly change the way New Yorkers get around. The stations are going up now and the bikes come next month. Check it out, New York!

These Kids Are All Right

I don’t have any kids of my own (birthing movies every now and then while holding down a full-time job is about as much as I can handle at the moment) but I appreciate them more and more as the years roll on. Children are the best reminder that a cynical — and ultimately selfish — worldview has real consequences for those who follow us.

Put more positively: our good choices today can really pay off for those who come after us. Is there any better reason to do the right thing?

That was the simple idea behind these PSAs I shot for MTA in celebration of Earth Day. Last weekend, twenty-seven volunteers — all children of MTA employees — spent an afternoon in a makeshift studio that myself and my hard-working colleagues set up in our midtown headquarters.

Some of the kids had a little experience with cameras and acting, but the majority of them were entirely new to the process. They were incredibly eager to participate and their energy helped all of us get through an exhausting five hours of shooting.

Like many filmmakers, I find it difficult to watch my own work once it’s done. Oftentimes, all you can see on screen are the things you wish you’d done differently. It’s extremely humbling and sometimes very painful.

These cheap and cheerful PSAs are by no means perfect. I still see plenty of things I wish I’d done better. But they were made in less than two days, with a production budget of zero, and they communicate an important message for the public.

Most importantly, these kids melt my heart every time I watch them. They remind me that the world will go on long after I’m gone, and that my choices today have consequences for that world. And also that traffic on the B.Q.E. is always going to be an epic fail.

Filling Gaps at South Ferry

The old South Ferry station was known for its short, curvy platform and the gap fillers that kept passengers from falling into the tracks.

In 2009, the old station was decommissioned and replaced by the new South Ferry station directly adjacent. Unfortunately, in 2012, Superstorm Sandy “decommissioned” that new station.

Tomorrow, the old station comes back to life to fill the gap in service until the new one can be fixed. It was strange visiting the station today to shoot this video. It’s a real throwback, and I suggest those who have never seen it go visit. (Bring earplugs if you plan to hang out. The screeching is extremely loud.)

Despite its flaws, the station complex itself sure looks much better than when I shot there in October. Progress, definitely.

Grand Central Uplift

Grand Central Terminal is beautiful from every angle, even the ones you didn’t know existed. You can catch this view for free from the Apple Store.

I feel really lucky that I get to walk through GCT on my way to work each day. The beauty and bustle of the place lifts me up on even the toughest of days. The endless supply of good things to eat there doesn’t hurt either.

This Station Needs a Hachikō

Flushing’s LIRR Main Street station is very lightly used compared with its nearby subway station, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve some sprucing up.

My recommendation, in all seriousness, is to put a dog on it. Just like how putting a bird on something can make it art in Portland, putting a Hachikō at a transit entrance can elevate an otherwise utilitarian space into something much more inviting. Maybe even inspirational.

A cat would be okay, too.

Montague Street Tunnel

Spent the midnight shift with a Signals crew as they worked on an ancient but critical piece of subway infrastructure inside the Montague St Tunnel. In a 24/7 subway system, the overnights are prime time for repairs and maintenance.

Every twenty minutes, we’d have to climb out of the trackbed and flatten ourselves against the tunnel wall to let a train pass. For safety, the train operator would slow to 10 m.p.h. as he travelled through our work area. But even at a relative crawl, the feeling of a 600 foot subway train passing inches from you is intimidating no matter what the speed.

The Signals crew worked as fast as they could between the trains, but sometimes a train would have to stop and wait a few minutes for them to finish up and clear themselves to safety. I’ve been on many a train in the wee hours that seemed to stop and/or lurch for no apparent reason. It’s a frustrating feeling that makes a long ride home feel that much longer, especially when you’re tried.

But now that I’ve literally been on the other side of that train, I think I’ll have a lot more patience next time I’m on a slow subway. And instead of being frustrated, I’ll think about those guys working just inches away and hope that they’ve all cleared up to safety.

Seward Park

After Years of Delay, a Lower East Side Gap Is Ready to Be Filled” from today’s New York Times:

For decades, advocates of affordable housing sparred with residents of the powerful Grand Street co-ops, who preferred more market-rate housing and commercial uses for the site. The new agreement splits the difference, calling for 1,000 new units of housing, half of which will be permanently affordable. The 500 affordable units will be a mix of housing for seniors, and low- to moderate-income housing for families earning from 60 to 165 percent of the area’s median income.

This is exciting news. Curious to see what will happen below this site, which I covered for MTA with my late colleague Peter Hine in 2011:


(MTA New York City Transit Linden Yard, Junius St, Brooklyn)

Caltrain 382

On a southbound Caltrain “baby bullet” from San Francisco, our train hit someone south of Palo Alto. The air brakes tripped and the train stopped between stations. We were told our train wouldn’t be moving and that another train would be coming to pick us up.

We couldn’t see any sign of the accident from the windows. One of the regular riders next to me (“I work in mental health,” she noted) said that there’s a suicide on the tracks about once a month. The passengers seemed generally nonchalant about it. The bike car, where I was, was rather chatty.

After about ninety minutes, a train pulled up alongside ours on the adjacent track. The passengers stepped out of our train to the trackbed and stepped onto the other. Us cyclists boarded the new train last with our bikes. The Caltrain staff were very courteous.

I got this shot of our stuck train as we pulled away in the rescue train. I didn’t look for any sign of the accident on the locomotive and you won’t see it in this photo either. We made all stops on the way back to San Jose.

RIP the person who died on the tracks today.

(Somewhere near Mountain View, CA)

Public Transit Displays of Emotion

Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters is magnificent, but hard to read on the train. I picked it up for the first time in years this morning and wept on the 3 train. Missed my stop too.

Lest you think this display of emotion happens rarely, just yesterday I cried laughing on the 2 train. I was watching THE FOOT FIST WAY on my iPad. I think spit may have flown out my mouth and onto someone sitting nearby. Hopefully on clothing, not mouth. Sorry, ma’am.

My utter lack of “street face” is a bit embarrassing, but this kind of escapism sure beats getting annoyed by fellow passengers on a crowded train. Transcendence on the daily commute is not easy to come by.