“This is bullshit,” a Hispanic twenty-something said. Fidgeting, he looked at the subway entrance, then to his phone, then down the block to the ever-growing line of tired commuters, then back to his phone. “It’s my girl’s birthday. I’m supposed to go see her.” He took one last glance toward the entrance, guarded by a quartet of police officers, and then walked away from Lexington Avenue toward Park Avenue, to the back of the line.
This is how it was for thousands of New Yorkers Thursday evening at the F train stop on 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue, the last station before Roosevelt Island and then Queens. It was 7:30, past what’s generally thought of as rush hour, but because of the limited service due to Hurricane Sandy, the transit fares waived by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the F’s proximity to the 4, 5, 6 and N, Q, R lines, the train station had gotten completed overrun by New Yorkers traveling to Queens. It was overcrowded belowground, dangerous even. So around 6 p.m., NYPD arrived on the scene, cordoned off the entrance on the north side of 63rd street to be used solely as an exit, and told everyone waiting for the F to form a line on the street until they could fit on a train.
A gaggle of nurses, still in scrubs and sneakers, casually tried to cut to the front of line, as if they just stepped outside of a bar for a smoke. They were rebuffed by officers and, more rudely, by agitated commuters.
“Nice try, ladies,” an officer said sarcastically. “Get to the back of the line.”
“Fuck that,” said someone from the line, eliciting laughter. The line, to be fair, was moving surprisingly quickly even though in some areas, six people stood abreast, taking up most of the sidewalk.
So the nurses walked toward the back, toward Park Avenue. And the line seemed to theoretically getting shorter, as people continued to shuffle through the semi-darkness to the lights at the busy intersection, but they could never find the end. Soon, the young women had walked an avenue. The line snaked around the corner at Park toward 62nd Street. When the nurses reached 62nd, they saw they hadn’t reached the end yet. They made another left on 62nd and walked back toward Lexington. The line petered out just before the corner, a stone’s throw from where they started.
“Wow,” one said at a loss for words. Commuters just arriving to the rear echoed the same.
The wait to get into the station was only about a half an hour, an officer told the Voice. But it was cold, and late. For New Yorkers, the longer commute and lines feel like our own personal purgatory to match the mile-long gas station lines in New Jersey and the outer boroughs.
The lines are expected for Friday, as well. Cuomo freed up subway lines above 34th Street to run on a limited basis, as well as the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North. But there aren’t any trains below 34th, and no trains running between Brooklyn and Manhattan. If you live in Brooklyn or Queens, you have to schlep to midtown, catch a train across to Queens, and make your way from there.
With seven New York subway tunnels and six bus garages flooded after Hurricane Sandy, city officials say that the Metro Transportation Authority has worked tirelessly to clear debris and metal-corroding saltwater off the tracks so riders can again commute downtown and into Brooklyn. In fact, on Thursday, Cuomo and MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said in a press conference that the Joralemon and Rutgers tunnels that transport the F, 4 and 5 lines from the Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn are operational.
…But. “We can’t run subway service down there because without electricity we can’t run the third rail,” Lhota said. “We’ve been spending a lot of time on the tunnels. We’re ready. We just need the juice.”
Con Edison, however, isn’t expected to have power running again to the tunnels or to the hundreds of thousands in Lower Manhattan without electricity until sometime this weekend. And if you were expecting to just hop in a cab tomorrow, as many have done to get around the city this week, think again. According to the The New York Times, the city’s Taxi Commission warned that just a fraction of its fleet would be in the street tomorrow because of the gasoline shortage.
Slowly, though, New York is righting itself after the most damaging storm in the city’s history, which crippled the transit system and took the lives of 40 city residents. But according to Dan Wiener, the CEO of Adviser Investments, it’ll likely be years before the subways are back to normal.
“I think the thing that’s not being focused on enough,” Wiener said Thursday evening on Bloomberg TV, “is these subways were flooded with saltwater. And they may pump it out, but if you think of all the cracks and and little pipes here, and the salt getting into wiring and cabling, I think what we’re going to see over the next several years is an increase in the number of outages.”
He then elaborated. “You’re riding on the train, and all of a sudden, the train is going to go out of service because the signal went out. And this is going to repeat itself until everything gets replaced.”