May 23, 2008

NY Times article on Wednesday's G Rally

Not to be outdone by the New York Observer, today's New York Times offered this piece by Clyde Haberman:

Rallying Round a Train That Gets No Respect
By Clyde Haberman

If you will excuse a biblical flourish, the G train is the Moses of New York mass transit. Like Moses, it never made it to the Promised Land. That is, if Manhattan is your idea of divine promise. With its nosebleed-inducing apartment prices and rents, some think of it as flowing not so much with milk and honey as with bilk and money.

In any event, the G train has the distinction of being the city’s only subway line that makes no stops in Manhattan, the heart and wallet of New York. It is a lime green squiggle on the subway map, running from Brooklyn to Queens. Much of the day it barely gasps into Queens, making but two stops there. It meanders through Brooklyn neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Fort Greene and Greenpoint, places that are enjoying grand revivals and impressive measures of cachet among the young and mobile.

Would that the same might be said of the G line. That was the lament of about 100 people who gathered Wednesday evening at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Fort Greene for a sort of pep rally.

Next month, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will consider possible improvements in subway service. You might not want to hold your breath. But should there be glad tidings, those who ride the G train want to make sure they are not shut out. They attended Wednesday’s meeting much the same way college students ring bonfires before a big football game — to get the juices flowing.

Odds are strong that most of you have never ridden the G. Some of you may have never even heard of it. G train people understand. They’re used to being overlooked. “You can’t spell ‘neglected’ without G,” Councilman David Yassky of Brooklyn said. “You can’t spell ‘ignored’ without G.”

When G riders talk about their line, the phrase “unwanted stepchild” passes their lips a lot. Rodney Dangerfield, as in “I don’t get no respect,” gets his share of mentions, too. Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, who organized the church gathering, lost little time before making a Rodney-G connection.

By most measures, the G ranks near the bottom. Transit officials put weekday ridership at 100,000 a day. Only two regular lines, the W and the M, and the system’s three shuttle trains have lower numbers. By comparison, the ridership of the most heavily used line, the No. 6, is 700,000.

In a “report card” that the transportation authority solicited from riders last year, the G line got a dismal D-plus. Even a senior transit official, Peter G. Cafiero, acknowledged at a City Council hearing last month that G service, particularly on the Queens run, is “consistently inconsistent.”
DESPITE improvements in recent years, riders cite statistics showing that G trains still arrive less often than those on most other lines. “I stand at Hoyt-Schermerhorn and wonder when is the Toonerville Trolley going to make it,” said Thomas F. Schutte, the president of Pratt Institute.

That Toonerville Trolley line refers to another distinctive feature of the G train: It is only four cars long. That fact sticks in a lot of craws. With neighborhoods along the line growing, trains are often overcrowded. Then, too, with only four cars, trains do not extend the length of station platforms. “You often see a mad dash to that train,” Mr. Jeffries said. Twisted ankles are not unknown.

In truth, the G has always been short on glamour, even if Charles Mingus once wrote an instrumental number called “GG Train,” the line’s designation before a systemwide phaseout of double letters in the 1980s. A decade ago, Stan Fischler, who has written books on New York’s subways, gave the G his lowest ranking: one star out of five, meaning it was “hardly worth the token.” (Some day, young ’uns, we’ll explain what a token was.)

As much as anything, G riders share the long-simmering resentment of many New Yorkers who live outside Manhattan — namely that they don’t get their due because they are in “the outer boroughs.” Those feelings surfaced more than once on Wednesday, reflected in the applause for Jo Ann Simon, a Democratic district leader in Brooklyn, when she said, “We know that Manhattan is not the center of the universe.”

Clearly, transit officials are sensitive about the unwanted-stepchild charge. Mr. Cafiero went out of his way to reject it at the Council hearing. He also dismissed long-heard whispers that “we are secretly trying to get rid of” the G line entirely. Not so, he said.

Speaking of whispers, allow us to note that tradition holds that Moses stuttered. Kind of like the train service they get, G riders say.


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