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.

 
 
 
 

Mexico City’s new airport is an environmental disaster. But it could become a huge national park

Mexico City’s new Norman Foster-designed airport, seen here in a computer rendering, is visually striking but environmentally problematic. Image: Presidencia de la República Mexicana/creative commons.

Mexico City long ago outgrew the two-terminal Benito Juárez International Airport, which is notorious for delays, overcrowding and canceled flights. Construction is now underway on a striking new international airport east of this metropolis of 20m. When it opens in late 2020, the LEED-certified new airport – whose terminal building was designed by renowned British architect Norman Foster in collaboration with the well-known Mexican architect Fernando Romero – is expected to eventually serve 125m passengers. That’s more than Chicago O'Hare and Los Angeles’ LAX.

But after three years of construction and $1.3bn, costs are ballooning and corruption allegations have dogged both the funding and contracting process.

Environmentalists are also concerned. The new airport is located on a semi-dry lake bed that provides water for Mexico City and prevents flooding. It also hosts migrating flocks and is home to rare native species like the Mexican duck and Kentish plover.

According to the federal government’s environmental impact assessment, 12 threatened species and 1 endangered species live in the area.

The airport project is now so divisive that Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the populist winner of the country’s 2018 presidential campaign, has suggested scrapping it entirely.

An environmental disaster

Mexico’s new airport sits in a federal reserve. Image: Yavidaxiu/The Conversation.

I’m an expert in landscape architecture who studies the ecological adaption of urban environments. I think there’s a way to save Mexico’s new airport and make it better in the process: create a nature reserve around it.

Five hundred years ago, lakes covered roughly 20 percent of the Valle de Mexico, a 3,500-square-mile valley in the country’s south-central region. Slowly, over centuries, local residents – first the Aztecs, then the Spanish colonisers and then the Mexican government – built cities, irrigation systems and plumbing systems that sucked the region dry.

By the mid-20th century, the lakes had been almost entirely drained. In 1971, President Luís Echeverría decreed the area a federal reserve, citing the region’s critical ecological role for Mexico City. The smattering of small lakes and reforested land there now catch and store runoff rainwater and prevent dust storms.

The new airport will occupy 17 square miles of the 46-square-mile former Lake Texcoco. To ensure effective water management for Mexico City, the airport master plan proposes creating new permanent water bodies to offset the lakes lost to the airport and cleaning up and restoring nine rivers east of the airport. It also proposes planting some 250,000 trees.

The government’s environmental assessment determined that the impacts of the new airport, while significant, are acceptable because Lake Texcoco is already “an altered ecosystem that lost the majority of its original environmental importance due to desiccation and urban expansion.” Today, the report continues, “it is now only a desolate and abandoned area.”

Environmentalists loudly disagree.

Make Mexico’s airport great again

I see this environmental controversy as an opportunity to give Mexico City something way more transformative than a shiny new airport.

Nobody can entirely turn back the clock on Lake Texcoco. But the 27 square miles of lake bed not occupied by the airport could be regenerated, its original habitat partially revitalised and environmental functions recovered in a process known as restoration ecology.

I envision a huge natural park consisting of sports fields, forests, green glades and a diverse array of water bodies – both permanent and seasonal – punctuated by bike paths, walking trails and access roads.

The airport will come equipped with new ground transportation to Mexico City, making the park easily accessible to residents. Extensions from the surrounding neighborhood streets and highways could connect people in poor neighbourhoods abutting the airport – dense concrete jungles like Ecatepec, Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl and Chimalhuacan – to green space for the first time.

The nine rivers that empty into Lake Texcoco from the east could be turned into greenways to connect people from further out in Mexico State to what would become the area’s largest public park.

Space could also be reserved for cultural attractions such as museums, open and accessible to passengers in transit.


New master plan

This idea is not as crazy as it sounds.

As early as 1998, Mexican architects Alberto Kalach and the late Teodoro González de León proposed rehabilitating the lakes of the Valley of Mexico. Their book, “The City and its Lakes,” even envisaged a revenue-generating island airport as part of this environmentally revitalized Lake Texcoco.

Under President Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s National Water Commission also proposed building an ecological park in Lake Texcoco, which was to include an island museum and restore long-degraded nearby agricultural land. But the project never gained traction.

Granted, turning a large, half-constructed airport into a national park would require an ambitious new master plan and a budget reallocation.

But in my opinion, evolution and change should be part of ambitious public designs. And this one is already expected to cost an additional $7.7bn to complete anyway.

Toronto’s Downsview Park – a 291-acre former air force base turned green space – has transformed so much since its conception in 1995 that its declared mission is now to “constantly develop, change and mature to reflect the surrounding community with each generation.”

Local communities neighboring Mexico City’s new airport were not adequately consulted about their needs, environmental concerns and their current stakes in the Lake Texcoco area. A revamped park plan could be truly inclusive, designed to provide recreation and urban infrastructure – and maybe even permanent jobs – for these underserved populations.

Presidential race

Three of the four candidates in Mexico’s July 1 presidential election wanted to finish Mexico City’s new international airport. But eventual winner López Obrador was not so sure.

Early in his campaign, he said he would cancel it if elected. Instead, López Obrador suggested, a former air force base could become the new international terminal. It would be connected to Benito Juárez airport, 22 miles south, by train.

López Obrador has since said he would support completing construction of the new international airport if the remaining financing came from the private sector, not the Mexican government. Currently, some two-thirds of the project is funded by future airport taxes.

The ConversationLópez Obrador’s promise to review and likely upend the airport plan could open the door to its wholesale transformation, putting people and nature are at the core of a plan ostensibly designed for the public good.

Gabriel Diaz Montemayor, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Texas at Austin

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.