Liveblogging the MTA Public Hearings

Public Hearing Number One

I’m sitting in the back of a ballroom at the Hilton Hotel on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, attending the first of a series of eight public hearings regarding proposed service and fare changes for New York public transportation.

blogger's row
Next to me is Benjamin Kabak, the author of, who is writing a very similar post.

Waiting to get into the hearing
After waiting in line about an hour, along with approximately 500 people, I eventually made my way into the hall, which seats a few hundred people, after being filtered through a security checkpoint almost as rigorous as one would find at an airport.

Press at the MTA Public Hearing
The press is almost as abundant as the mobilized groups representing riders of many of the buses that potentially will be cut.

Compared to the last public hearing that I attended in November, which addressed a proposed additional station on the Metro North that services the new Yankee Stadium, and at which I was one of about five non-MTA attendees, this place is packed and lively.

the last public hearing
The last public hearing, back in November.

Hundreds of people must have registered to speak, but at the rate things are going, it looks like only a few dozen will be able to, and everyone I have heard so far has been a politician. The crowd is getting annoyed at that, and periodically shouts out for the public’s voice to be heard. Even with this frustration, people are still enthusiastically participatory, cheering and responding to salient points and challenges to the MTA’s plan. So far, the most vocal support seems to be for disabled residents who would be affected by a reduction in Access-A-Ride service.

The MTA (including its earlier manifestations) has a long history of mistreating and short-changing disabled passengers, as I discovered in my archival research. As I have blogged elsewhere, back during the Great Depression the NYCTA changed its policy and refused sight-impaired passengers from riding without the assistance of another rider or transit employee. In response, a movement promoting the usefulness of seeing-eye dogs arose, but was met with resistance from the transit authority, despite the fact that federal transportation law stated that assistance animals was a safe and prohibiting their use on trains was illegal.

Smelling the Way Through Subways

Here’s a letter from the director of the Industrial Home for the Blind:

May 15, 1951

Chairman, Board of Transportation
New York City Transit System
250 Hudson Street
New York NY

Dear Sir:-

I enclose herewith a clipping from page 1 of the Brooklyn Section of “Sunday’s News” together with acopy of our letter of even date to the Editor of “The News”, since it is possible that some of our friends in the transit system - and there are many - may have seen the clipping and rightfully may have taken offense. I enclose also copy of a General Release which had been sent to “The News” and, hence, I feel that a copy of it should be sent to you.

Incidentally, may we seize upon this opportunity to express to you and through you to the members of the transit system, particularly those engaged in the operations of the subways, our sincere appreciation for the countless kindnesses and consideration given to blind persons when they travel in the subways, which is daily.

Faithfully yours,
Peter J. Salmon
Executive Director
The Industrial Home for the Blind


Blind Say They Can Smell Way Through Subways

For the man from Mars who migh want to bring back a zippy description of the city’s subways, here’s a late finding:

The BMT “stinks.”

The IRT is a modern Tower of Babel.

The Independent Line has an Arctic touch.

The finding comes from the blind men of the Industrial Home for the Blind, 520 Gates Ave., Brooklyn, who can name a subway line by the smell of the paint and variations in noise. Smell, noise and temperature receive an expert analysis from the blind.

Aided by Relief Map

Their discoveries were made during instruction on cane technique and methods of traveling around Brookklyn and the other boroughs.

A bas-relief map, showing routes, stations and transfer points on subways, has been built by Winfield Rumsey, an instructor in the vocational institute of the home. It shows all the parks, bridges and islands of the city, with parks indicated by bits of felt and bridges by pieces of wood connecting boroughs.

Symbols Are Cleared

The blind men have received instructions in subway travel by feeling the map, which is 4 feet by eight.

Round, square and triangular-shaped tack heads indicate the IRT, INdependent line and BMT, respectively. Bald-headed pins show express stops.