Mapping the Decline of the New York City Subway

A writer weaves a "decade by decade" story, complete with diagrams, of how not to manage a public transit system.

1 minute read

April 19, 2018, 1:00 PM PDT

By Katharine Jose


Empty Train

robert cicchetti / Shutterstock

At CityLab, Jonathan English uses both text and diagram to trace "[t]hree broad lines of history" that explain how the New York City subway went from an impressive feat of infrastructure buildinghundreds of miles were built between 1904 and 1920to a beleaguered system that opened no more than a few extensions over the last 80 years.

“The first is the postwar lure of the suburbs and the automobile—the embodiment of modernity in its day. The second is the interminable battles of control between the city and the private transit companies, and between the city and the state government. The third is the treadmill created by rising costs and the buildup of deferred maintenance—an ever-expanding maintenance backlog that eventually consumed any funds made available for expansion.”

Last summer, after a derailment, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared the subway to be in a state of emergency, though he was subsequently slow to release a plan. Since then much has been written about the enormous task of restoring the system to a good working order, and the absolute importance of doing so.

Thursday, April 19, 2018 in CityLab

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