One man's mission to put New York's secret subway back on the map

A detail from Stewart Mader's combined New York-New Jersey subway map.

So here's an odd fact for you. It's possible to be less than a mile away from Downtown Manhattan, and yet not be in New York City at all. Across the River Hudson, just moments from the financial district, you’ll find the independent city of Hoboken, New Jersey.  

What's even better, for those who fancy saving a cool 30 per cent on their rent, it's served by its very own 24-hour metro: the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) subway system, which links Manhattan with the suburbs just across the river. The system means that stretches of New Jersey suburbia are more convenient for the heart of Manhattan than anywhere you’ll find in Brooklyn.

And yet, even many New Yorkers are only vaguely aware that it exists.


The 13-station PATH network first opened in 1908, just four years after the first subway line in New York proper. It shares five stations with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) subway system; crosses the Hudson through two tunnels (one from the Village, the other from the Battery); and provides frequent services to Hoboken, Jersey City and Newark.

There are no free transfers between the two networks; but both are compatible with the Metro Card ticketing system. The PATH is as much a part of New York’s transport system as the DLR in London, or the S-Bahn in Berlin.

And yet, the city's standard subway map does its best to play down the existence of New York's second rapid transit network, showing it in the same thin blue line it uses for infrequent heavy rail services. What's even weirder is that it's entirely silent on the existence of the state of New Jersey. Look:

An extract from the current MTA subway map. Note the lack of New Jersey. 

So why has the MTA decided to exclude the PATH system? There's no rational reason for it from the perspective of the consumer, argues writer and digital media expert Stewart Mader. It's merely that, due to an accident of history, they've ended up run by different organisations.

This, Mader decided, is a bit silly. He lives in Hoboken, and works in Lower Manhattan, all of 12 minutes away on the train. And yet, "if you look at the map, you'd think there's nothing to the west of New York”.

And so, he's launched a campaign to get the MTA to start including the PATH on its subway map. It'd look something like this:

Click to expand. 

By making the map himself, Mader told us, he hoped to demonstrate to the MTA quite how easy it would be to actually, well, make this map.

This is not a new idea. As late as the 1960s, the PATH trains did appear on the subway map, albeit in a different colour to the main system:

An extract of the 1968 New York subway map.

Resurrecting this combined effort could be an easy win for the city authorities, Mader argues, expanding the functional area of the city for many residents at almost no cost. "We live in an era when capital construction is expensive. But ‘expansion’ doesn't have to mean building a new line – it can come from giving a clearer map."

Mader's campaign has attracted support from the mayors of Hoboken and Jersey City (well they would, wouldn’t they). Those who'd have to make the final decision, though, are the authorities at the MTA itself. Watch this space.

You can read more about this campaign here.

 
 
 
 

Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook