A Revolutionary Track

04/06/2015 04:42 pm ET | Updated Jun 06, 2015


Manhattan's N/R trains which run from Brooklyn to Queens or from Queens to Brooklyn depending on where you're coming from are remarkable illustrations of the space/time continuum as it manifests itself in mass transit. The trains not only effortlessly traverse three boroughs of New York, but they go East and West as well as North and South. Is there a subway in the world that's so defiant of the inertial force of the magnetic poles? Human consciousness has inevitably been retrofitted with primitive forms of directionality that are driving forces in the grid by which cities, states and even countries are navigated. Indian scouts who navigated pathways through virgin forest to modern highway designers are all subliminally driven by gravitational forces that have a formative effect on their consolidation of information. What caused the designer of the N and R trains (which were originally the BMT 2) to make such a radical shift from predictable and well worn paths? For instance say you want to go from 23rd and Lexington to Times Square. You could take an L shaped route that involves taking the 6 uptown to Grand Central, but because of the N and the R you can simply walk one block further over to Broadway and 23rd and make the same trip with one train instead of two! If time is money and all of life were looked at one a spread sheet, then the savings to the individual would be almost as dramatic as that incurred by the city which has expended that much less electricity in allowing its straphangers to take a path that, however, counterintuitive, is ultimately the shortest distance between two points. The N and R are literally so constructed that they cut a vertical line right across the city. Broadway, which makes a dramatic sweep from West to East as it descends in the southerly direction, of course, led the way. But when you consider that the last stop before Queens is 59th and Lexington (the epicenter of Manhattan's East Side), you begin to realize the transformatively inclusive swathe the N/R set out to cut when it first came into being. Robert Moses is either vilified or sanctified for what he did to mass transit, but the unsung architect of the N/R revolutionized not only Manhattan's subways but New Yorkers' attitude about directionality.

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}