The MTA Needs Better Signs + A Homeless Man Biffed Me


Photo by ljheidel via flickr

After dinner and drinks with a few friends Thursday night, I got on the downtown A, C, E subway at Canal Street at about 12:45 am. The station was being power-cleaned. Mist was flying everywhere. The noise near deafening. And the ground slick with rivulets of soapy water.

I sat on a bench along with some other guy and waited for a train to Brooklyn for about 15 minutes until an MTA worker came up to me and said there was no A or C service to Brooklyn at this station. I asked him, Why can’t they put up a sign or two? He then pointed to about three signs that I missed.

I guess I should have caught the signs but I was tired and dodging power-cleaners, which can be quite distracting. Sometimes the MTA puts up something resembling police tape when a train is not running. There was none of that.

As the MTA guy was telling me this, an E train rolled into the station and he got on. As I thanked him and turned to walk away, somebody smacked me on the back of the head.

It wasn’t really a hard smack, more of what used to be known as a biff, so I turned around half-expecting to see a friendly or familiar face. Instead, I was face-to-face with a man, who was quite larger than me, and, I presume, homeless and emotionally disturbed. He was wide- and wild-eyed and he kept thrusting his head forward at me in a manner I would not describe as friendly.

I slowly backed away from him and toward the stairwell the MTA guy told me to use. The homeless guy started moving in the other direction and making karate kicks toward the station cleaners. When I got to the stairwell, the MTA power-cleaners wouldn’t let me up the stairs. I didn’t bother explaining that a homeless person just smacked me in the head. I merely told them—truthfully—that another MTA person in an orange vest said to use these stairs.

After some protestation, the MTA workers let me up the stairs, but turned on their hoses when I was halfway up the stairs, spraying me with water. I got a cab to Brooklyn.

A few questions and thoughts about this incident:

a) I should have looked for the signs, especially since there was power-cleaning going on, BUT, can’t the MTA do a better job with signage?

b) Why can’t the MTA put big signs at the bottom or the top of the subway stairs that say “No Brooklyn-bound A trains here.” Why can’t a sign like that be on street level? Why do you have pay to get on the subway to learn there are no trains running at the station?

c) If someone were pushed on the tracks by an emotionally disturbed person would the public outcry be worse if it were revealed that the person shouldn’t have been waiting for the train there in the first place? Would MTA sign reform be the outcome of a death such as that? Would politicians get involved and adopt stricter sign rules called “Michael’s Law” or something?

d) Maybe the MTA could start texting service alerts to people.

e) Does anyone have any similar horror stories about aimlessly waiting for trains that aren’t coming because of bad MTA signage?