Last night’s gubernatorial primary debate between Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon placed the issue of the New York City subway system front and center, with the two arguing over who should fit the bill for further improvements. Should upstate New Yorkers spend more money improving a 114-year-old transportation system or should the city fend for itself?
The Metropolitan Transit Authority, overseeing all public transportation in the New York City metropolitan area, is a curious organization given its size and power, beholden to both the governor and the mayor of New York City in some respects, and entirely independent in others.
To quote the City Journal, “Legally, it is an independent corporation, run by a board of directors. As the MTA told its bond investors as recently as February , it is ‘a corporate entity separate and apart from the state, without any power of taxation.’ The MTA board has 14 voting members—six recommended by the governor directly, including the MTA’s chairperson and CEO, and four recommended to the governor by the mayor (the remainder come from other downstate New York counties) and approved by the state senate.”
The age and condition of the subway were big factors in that debate — and in our on-going debate about how to make the New York City subway system a better functioning service.
To better understand the situation, it’s important to grasp the system’s long history. And that’s where we come in! Here are five Bowery Boys podcasts from our catalog that specifically dwell upon the history of the New York City subway system. Since this issue will only get more heated in the coming weeks and years, we recommend you give these a listen — perhaps even while you’re stuck on the subway somewhere!
THE FIRST SUBWAY: BEACH’S PNEUMATIC MARVEL (1870-1873)
Start here with the tale of Alfred Ely Beach’s subway prototype, an underground conveyance operated with wind power.
NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY: BIRTH OF THE IRT (1900-1904)
Where did the idea to build a subway come from and how did New York manage to construct it underneath a thriving metropolis?
OPENING DAY OF THE NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY (1904)
A closer look at the first few momentous hours of the subway’s opening. Could New Yorkers really trust a ride underground?
NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY: BY THE NUMBERS (AND LETTERS) (1904-1970)
How did New York City going from one subway line — to several? And how do you link together a vast city of five boroughs?
NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY: SUBWAY GRAFFITI (1970-1989)
And finally, a focus on the conditions of the New York City subway during the financial downturn and how they helped inspire a new art form — and one not appreciated by mayor Ed Koch.