Posts Tagged ‘NYC subway history’

When subway cars almost became women-only

December 29, 2010

They were called “suffragette cars” when they were introduced in March 1909 on trains of the Hudson Tubes, which took passengers from Manhattan to Hoboken (today’s PATH).

And test runs of these single-sex subway cars—the last car in each train reserved for women only during rush hours—were also deemed a success. So much of a success, IRT officials considered the idea for the then–five year old New York City subway.

One women’s group, the Women’s Municipal League, supported the idea, while a host of others opposed it, stating that it was impractical and unnecessary.

After months of debate, the idea was abandoned. Officials decided that the Hudson Tube women-only cars weren’t that successful after all, and that women didn’t want them anyway.

Said one official in an August 1909 New York Times article:

“Almost an equal number of people (to the advocates of women’s cars) stated that men are the best protection that women have in a crowded car, and that they prefer to ride in cars where men and women are together, that while there are rare occasions when some brute will take advantage of the situation to insult a lady, on the other hand the gentlemen are the best protection the ladies want against such conduct.”

And subway pervs all over the city continued rubbing up against chicks in crowded cars. . . .

[1909 Hudson Tubes photo from Photographs of Old America]

Old-school subway signage on the IRT

December 15, 2010

I don’t know exactly when “uptown” and “downtown” each went from being spelled with two words to one, but I’m glad the MTA didn’t replace these subway mosaics whenever that happened.

There’s just something so charming about having the signs spelled the old-timey way, seen here at the 86th Street and Lexington Avenue station.

The spelling change must have occurred between 1918, when the 86th Street IRT opened, and 1940, when the Sixth Avenue and 14th Street IND subway station made its debut.

Because this mosaic, at 14th Street, spells uptown the modern way.

Would you take this train to Coney Island?

November 10, 2010

Inventor Eben Boynton hoped you would; he tried to improve current railroad trains and came up with this thin, monorail-riding train design.

Called the Boynton Bicycle Railroad (for the single rail on the bottom and then second rail on top), Boynton first demonstrated his steam-powered train on tracks at Coney Island in the 1890s, shuttling passengers on the abandoned Sea Beach and Brighton tracks.

The BBR got a lot of attention, and it did manage to exceed speeds of 60 miles an hour.

Still, Boynton was never able to attract investors to his project, which could have set a precedent so all trains and even subway cars ran on a top and bottom rail (and were four feet across).

Boynton is the namesake of tiny Boynton Place, between West 8th Street and Avenue X, the location of the BBR demo.

The Wall Street station’s wooden token booth

August 2, 2010

Before MetroCards debuted in 1997, and tokens hit the scene in 1953, subway riders paid the fare the old-fashioned way.

That meant purchasing a ticket at a manned wooden booth, then handing the paper ticket to an employee at a ticket chopper box.

The Wall Street station still has an original wooden booth (below) and ticket chopper (right), beautifully restored.

The cost of a ride in 1904, when the ticket system (and the subway itself) started: five cents.

Turnstiles that accepted coins were installed in the 1920s, to save money and prevent theft.

In 1953, token-taking turnstiles arrived on platforms. And not long behind, as crime worsened, came the bullet-proof glass, fortress-like token booth we know today.

Before subways had air conditioning

July 19, 2010

This week, when you’re sweating it out on a hot and sticky subway platform, be glad that at least the subway cars are fortified with AC. 

Because of course, it wasn’t always that way.

The 1933 photo at left depicts city officials showing off what was then a major breakthrough, a ventilation system installed to cool down trains.

The ventilation system? Basically just ceiling fans.

Air-conditioning didn’t come to subway cars until the late 1950s, and even then only a few trains had it. 

Gradually more AC-equipped trains were introduced in the 1960s and 1970s.

Yet even by 1983, a subway rider had only a one in three chance of landing an air-conditioned train, according to a New York Times article from that year.