Ten facts about the New York City subway system

Opened in 1904 and the second-oldest system in the country, the New York subway is the biggest and busiest in North America.

Here are ten facts for perspective:

  1. Riders: 5.58 million on a weekday. (OK, even if most of them are probably using it at least twice, coming and going, that’s still over two million people. The busiest time is between 7 and 8 a.m.)
  2. Top speed: 55 mph.
  3. Average speed: 17 mph.
  4. Average voltage in the third rail: 625 DC.
  5. Route length: 245 miles.
  6. Total track length: 850 miles. (Remember, a route requires two tracks, one in each direction. And where local and express routes overlap, you can double that. Stretched out, the track would run well past Chicago.)
  7. Daylight: 40 percent of the track runs above ground, mostly in three boroughs outside Manhattan. (It doesn’t run on Staten Island.)
  8. Two sizes of cars in operation: The IRT tunnels, curves, and stations are too small for the cars running on the IND and BMT lines.
  9. Directions: The current official map by Michael Hertz Associates dates from 1979. It is not geographically accurate but makes Manhattan larger to accommodate for the borough’s having the most services. The earlier 1979 subway map by Massimo Vignelli is considered a modern classic but is flawed by its placement of geographical elements.
  10. Men working: Because the system does not shut down overnight, all track maintenance occurs while trains are running. It can account for delays and rerouting, as needed. (Well, some of them did inspire my novel now running as Subway Visions.)

 

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The changing face of downtown Dover

The Robbins Block storefronts are now gone and a five-story Orpheum is rising in their place. The hardware store, lower right, is still there. From the top left are the library, community center, and district court.

When I moved to New Hampshire 32 years ago, downtown Dover – like many other city centers across northern New England – had definitely seen better days. The old textile mill dominating the heart of the city was largely boarded up, and the retail stores that remained did so out of faith and loyalty and family tradition. How could they hold out against the big-box stores at the mall?

And then along came some visionary developers like the late Joseph Sawtelle and David Bamford, as a turnaround slowly took hold. Sawtelle restored the mill as it welcomed offices and incubated entrepreneurial businesses, while Bamford rebuilt mixed-use retail and housing on Central Avenue – some of it tastefully looking more natively New England than what it replaced.

Now that I’ve been a Dover resident the past 19 years, let me say it’s wonderful living within walking distance of a living downtown, one with a small-town feel. As I tell my wife, when we venture out for a weekday brunch, many people drive halfway across the continent for this.

Big change is in the air, though. That center is shifting from being primarily a financial, retail, and office center to more of a residential destination, presumably for young adults, child-free couples, singles, and retirees – people looking for an urban setting close to the ocean and mountains.

Part of the shift has already happened with the top floors of the two biggest mills being converted to apartments, a reflection of soaring residential demand in our part of the state. But now it’s getting serious.

For a city of 30,000, having four significant and mostly residential buildings going up in the central business district is exciting, even before we get to the waterfront development about to unfold across the Washington Street bridge. (Admittedly, some of us do miss the quaint covered bridge for children and other pedestrians that was there when I moved to town 19 years ago, but I’ll go with the tradeoff – landing the children’s museum was a definite coup.)

This doesn’t just happen by accident. A lot of incremental steps over the past two decades have made this a more desirable place to live. And now it’s kicking in big time.

The former Strafford Bank building sits at the corner of Lower Square. The Barley Pub is gone, replaced by the Thirsty Moose.

A curious insight from Spanish

As I look at the presence of a subway transportation system as a defining element of a great city, I am struck by the fact that “metro” is the Spanish word for “subway.” No doubt arising from “metropolis.”

But it also means meter, as in the metric measure of length.

So how many metros did you take the metro?

Oh, why does my mind run off in these poco loco directions, anyway? Just like my newest novel.

Also on our big plate

In my novel, What’s Left, having her family own a restaurant opens another dimension to the story – the changing food tastes of the American public.

If Carmichael’s continued solely as a burger-and-fries joint, we’d have a much different type of story, one based on the day-to-day interactions of line cooks, dishwashers, wait staff, and a slew of customers. One of my daughters has already drafted an exciting and entertaining story based on her own experiences in the trade – now, if she’ll only get it published! Realistically, a restaurant like that would likely wind up in bankruptcy halfway through the novel – or maybe even the victim of arson, if not accidental fire.

So having Carmichael’s expand, as I do, shifts the focus to a revolution in the awareness of food itself. We have plenty to play with that way.

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Mixmaster? Just look at ‘Subway Visions’

What, me as a Mixmaster?

Just look at the topics percolating in Subway Visions.

A great bartender is a Mixmaster, too. In fact, the origin of the dry martini is sometimes linked to one at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Manhattan in 1911 or 1912. (Wikimedia Commons photo by N. Renard.)

Here are ten:

  1. Underground mass transit rails. Not just in Gotham, but around the world, too.
  2. Weird chance encounters. A big city is all about people, most of them, I’d say, somehow eccentric. Get on a subway car and just look around – clandestinely, if you’re savvy.
  3. The nature of great cities. Tenements and trash are part of the scene.
  4. Bohemian underground. There’s always been a counterculture in a healthy society. It’s what makes great cities tick.
  5. T-Rex and graffiti. Ah, Kenzie shows up in Gotham just as its trains are being defaced by wild blobs of paint. And here he is as a photographer identifying himself as an artist, too. What’s the point of any art, anyway?
  6. Alternative means of transport. It’s also a time of hitchhiking on the open road. Kenzie discovers parallels in the bowels of the city.
  7. Crashing and couch-surfing. When you have friends, your options multiply. And it’s much better than the one hotel room he rents in his visits.
  8. The Dharma. Kenzie’s visits largely revolve around his studies under his Tibetan Buddhist guru in SoHo.
  9. Overcoming fear. His first ventures into the unfamiliar underworld are scary steps. By the second half of the novel, though, Kenzie is out along the fatal third rail and the elevated heights. How free can he get?
  10. Surrealist vision. He begins seeing in encounters in a fresh light. Maybe it’s a kind of X-ray? It’s entertaining, all the same, as well as refreshing. What else don’t most commuters notice?

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