Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In the Company of Frogs

One frog’s fountain flows forth magnificently, a glittering spuming arc in the late-afternoon light. His brother’s perpetual drool splutters out into a sad little puddle at his feet. An elderly man totters over, reaching into the weaker stream to rinse his hands. Spying him, a young boy dashes over and covers the mouth of the more enthusiastic frog, shielding the old man from an inadvertent shower. The man doesn’t notice, but I do, and I raise my polystyrene food container to the boy in salute.

Bounded by the Bowery, Essex, East Broadway and Grand, this chunk of Chinatown in Manhattan may be my very favorite part of the city. It helps that my top cheap meal—$1 pork dumplings and $1.25 veggie sesame pancakes at Prosperity Dumpling on Eldridge—is here, but even at those rare times when I’m not craving pork orbs swimming in soy sauce, sriracha and soup broth, a stroll through this section of town gives me both acute relief from Manhattan’s concrete sterility and fond reminiscences of eastern travels.

Streets here could have been airlifted wholesale from Hong Kong, complete with vertical signs lettered in sharp-edged characters, boba tea outlets with names like Quickly and Kung Fu, and cross-continental walking tours of Chinese cuisine. (Including the delicious, cumin-laced lamb burger from Xi’an Famous Foods, imported from one of China's most epically historic cities.)

But on this swampy afternoon I’m not too keen on walking, so I grab my dumplings and settle into the little playground at the corner of Hester and Eldridge. I choose the corner with the frog fountains, of course, where the gurgling of water dilutes the street noise ever so slightly. At the other end of the square, the play equipment swarms with children recently released from their school shackles. The benches are staked out by chattering elders, who I imagine have been holding court since sunrise.

A little girl wobbles over to the handwashing frog, her dark kinked hair flowing in lush twin cataracts down to her shoulders. With wide-eyed toddler goodwill she’s smiling at everything—the fountains, the doting park patrons, even me. Her gap-toothed older sister keeps watch from afar.

We’re between buildings and shade settles over the square, tempering the summer heat. Fewer children venture over to the cooling fountains as I inhale my tenth dumpling. On the adjacent bench, one of a quartet of gossiping old women breaks off from her group to perch on a frog, grinning like she’s that same little girl from minutes earlier, advanced eighty years or so in body if not in spirit. She knows she’s being irreverent and juvenile, and doesn’t care one jot.

She’s living in the moment, in the company of frogs.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Subway snapshot

2011 New York City subway ridership (hold shift and click-and-drag to move the map):
2011 ridership information is taken from the New York MTA's website. Some of what I call "stations" are actually "station complexes," which are two or more connected stations--for example, Chambers Street/World Trade Center/Park Place. The MTA counts these complexes as one station in their statistics. Geographical coordinates are from Google Maps.

I didn't include shuttles, the 6/7 express trains, or night-only stops. The size of each circle is proportional to the number of riders who entered the system at a particular station, not the number of riders who pass through that station. For stations with connections--the ones that look like pie charts--the share of the pie is not proportional to each line's ridership, but is only meant to be a visual indicator of where lines cross. Mouse over each station for additional info, and let me know if I missed anything major or make any glaring errors.

The first thing that gets me about the New York City subway map is how cushy Brooklynites have it. Brooklyn has almost exactly twice as many stations/station complexes as Queens (157 versus 78), but fewer than 300,000 more people (2,532,645 versus 2,247,848). Subway stations in Queens accepted an average of 3.08 million riders each in 2011; those in Brooklyn, only 2.25 million.  (For the Bronx it's 2.16 million, and for Manhattan a whopping 7.6 million.)

And it's not just numbers. Many commuters from Queens basically have two major options--the 7 and the E/F/M/R, which run adjacent to each other for most of their length. Huge portions of the borough are completely unserviced by rail, while Brooklyn's riders have the luxury of relatively lightly-used lines crisscrossing most of its area. (Brooklyn is also around 15,000 acres smaller than Queens.)

Of course, Manhattan is where the real crush is. The borough has nine of the ten busiest stations in the system (at nearly 19 million riders in 2011, Flushing-Main Street in Queens manages a respectable tenth place), including Times Square (the busiest at over 60,000,000 riders), Grand Central (42.8 million) and three massive stations on 34th Street which together accepted nearly 90 million passengers in 2011. The large green bulges down the eastern side of Manhattan are a testament to the need for the in-the-works Second Avenue Subway line--those circles can't get much bigger than they already are with current infrastructure.

A few tidbits:
  • Only five stations connect four differently-colored lines: Times Square (red/blue/yellow/orange), Fulton Street (brown/red/green/blue), Court Square (purple/orange/light green/blue), 74 Street-Broadway/Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue (purple/yellow/orange/blue) and Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street (red/orange/yellow/green).
  • The stations furthest in each compass direction are: Wakefield/241 Street (north), West 8 Street-NY Aquarium (south), Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue (east) and Bay Ridge-95 Street (west). Yep: the most westerly station in the system is actually in Brooklyn. I'm so used to seeing the tilted and skewed MTA map that I assumed one of Manhattan's stations would take that title.
  • The system spans around .327 degrees of latitude and .275 degrees of longitude. That's about 22.6 miles north to south and 14.4 miles east to west.
  • The station with the lowest number of riders is Aqueduct Racetrack, with only 54,183 in 2011--but that's misleading since the station is only active on race days. Absent that one, Beach 105 Street on the A line in Queens is the most lightly-used with 80,580 passengers.
  • There are no lines that touch all four boroughs, nor is there any line that is completely contained within one borough. (Unless you count Staten Island's railway.)