SUBWAYS

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Fulton Street Subway Station

"The People Ride in a Hole in the Ground."

"New York, New York" lyrics by Betty Comden & Adolph Green from Wonderful Town

Subways are at the very, very top of the list of things New Yorkers really love to complain about. They are noisy and dirty and seem to never arrive on time especially when you're in a hurry and need them most. But, subways are still the fastest and easiest way to get around the city. First-time users are definitely going to get lost a few times and that's part of the experience. You live and learn. Don't be embarrassed; New Yorkers get lost too.

On February 26, 1870, New Yorkers first got a glimpse of something known as a "subway" when Alfred Ely Beach built a one-block subway under Broadway between Murphy and Warren Streets. This subway had a large waiting room designed to impress the public with fresco walls, paintings, a fountain, a large tank of goldfish, and even a grand piano (imagine that). New Yorkers rushed to see this prototype pneumatic train subway. So did powerful New York politicians who were not impressed. Shipping and railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt had investigated building an underground railroad as early as 1872 but determined it would not be profitable.

Not until October 27, 1904 would New York City’s first subway line open. It took a 26-minute journey from City Hall to 145th Street with then Mayor George B. McClellan at the controls. Both the BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan-Transit Corporation) and IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit Company) lines opened in 1904. Ceramic tiles with Beaux Arts designs, depicting historical events and city landmarks, were used to decorate the first subway stations. (Photographs of some of these designs can be found in the book, Subway Style: One Hundred Years of Architecture & Design in the New York City Subways by Anthony W. Robins and Andrew Garn.)

Subway fares were only five cents and remain so until the year 1948. In 1968, New Yorkers were shocked and angry when fares were raised from 20 cents to 30 cents. That's laughable to today's New Yorkers with current fares being $2.75 per ride.

Before subways, there were elevated trains (or Els), which were introduced in 1868. The first El ran up Greenwich Street and Ninth Avenue from the Battery to 30th Street. The Third Avenue El opened in 1878, the Sixth Avenue El in 1879, and the Second Avenue El in 1890. In 1883, elevated trains would cross the Brooklyn Bridge and eventually carried over one million passengers daily. Taxicabs first appeared in 1907.

Changes in transportation have played a large role in the way the City grew as it became easier for New Yorkers to travel from neighborhood to neighborhood and borough to borough. Horses, stagecoaches, horse-drawn omnibuses (introduced in 1832), streetcars, electric streetcars (introduced in 1900), buses, carts, steamboats, railroads (pulled by mules, horses and finally locomotives), elevated railways, trolleys, clipper ships, ferries, automobiles, taxis (first introduced in 1907) and modern-day buses and subways are among the numerous modes of transportation used over the years in the City. Before Fulton’s powered steamboats, ferries “were powered by teams of horses walking in a circle on the boat deck, turning a pole that was the dove shaft to the paddle wheel.” One city visitor described New York as "the city of magnificent distances."

The deepest subway station is 180 feet below street level and is the 191st Street station on the #1 line under a hill at St. Nicholas Avenue in the Fort George section of upper Manhattan. The Fulton Street Subway Station is one of the most modern and newest subway stations. It is not a typical station so be prepared for older and dirtier subways elsewhere. This redesigned subway hub opened on November 2014. The hub has an amazing "Sky Reflector-Net" glass oculus with a diameter of 53 feet. The station is near some of the city's most historic sites: the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Trinity Church, Saint Paul's Chapel, Federal Hall and Wall Street. It is only a short walk to Battery Park and New York Harbor where there are wonderful views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

The city of New York has a Transit Museum in Brooklyn.