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.

 
 
 
 

It’s time to rethink how the British railway network works

Nothing doing: commuters await a long-delayed train. Image: Getty.

The recent meltdowns on Northern and Thameslink not only left many passengers besides themselves with frustration about not being able to get to work on time, if at all. It also led to a firestorm of criticism and condemnation from politicians and media alike.

With the immediate shock of that first Monday morning of the meltdown passed, there’s a now a bigger debate about whether the way that rail services are provided for cities needs some far reaching reform. But before coming to that, the first thing to say – and as we set out in our Rail Cities UK report, launched today – is that the fundamentals for urban rail remain very strong.

Here’s why. All cities want to become denser, more dynamic places which attract the best people to the growth sectors of the economy (including the ‘flat white economy’ of media, communications and information). In order to achieve this, as well as to improve air quality, cities are also reducing space for motorised traffic in favour of space for people.

It’s very difficult to see how this can be achieved without expanding rail networks and their capacity. What’s more, if housing need is to be met without creating more sprawl and traffic congestion, then again its rail that will be key – because it opens up former rail-connected brownfield industrial sites, it extends commuting range, plus housing can be built above or around new or existing rail stations and interchanges.

In some ways there’s nothing new here. From Metroland to Docklands, successful cities have always grown with their rail networks. And to be fair, there is significant investment going into urban rail at present. Northern will get a lot better (the pacers are doomed) and both Merseyside and Tyne & Wear are getting a whole new fleet of trains for their urban rail networks.

However, much (but not all) of this investment is incremental, or replacing rolling stock on its last legs. It stops short of the wider vision for the rail cities that we need.


What would that look like in practice? There comes a point when the biggest cities need more cross-city routes, because running trains in and out of edge-of-centre termini can’t cope with the numbers. That explains the push for Crossrail 2 in London, but also the need for more cross-city capacity in cities like Birmingham (on the Snow Hill route) as well as in Manchester (on the Oxford Road to Manchester Piccadilly corridor, as well as a potential new underground route).

Tram-train technology can also help – allowing the lucky commuter that benefits to get on board at their local station and get off right outside their city centre office on main street in the city centre, rather than piling out at a Victorian railway terminal on the edge of that city centre.

Tram-trains aren’t the only tech fix available. Battery packs can extend the range of existing electric trains deeper into the “look ma, no wires” hinterlands, as well as allow trams to glide through city centres without the expensive clutter of overhead wires.

More mundane but equally useful work to increase capacity through signalling, station, track and junction work offers the opportunity to move to turn-up-and-go frequency networks with greater capacity and more reliability – networks that start to emulate the best of what comparable German rail cities already enjoy. Interlocking networks of long distance, regional express, regional, S-bahn, U-bahn, trams and buses, all under common ticketing.

But in talking about Germany and common ticketing I am now getting back to where I started around the debate on whether some fundamental change is needed on how urban rail networks are provided. Obviously there is a bigger national discussion going on about whether the current structure is just too layered, with too many costly interfaces and too fractured a chain of command. And in addition another, on whether the railway should be publicly or privately owned and operated.

But it’s been heartening to see the growing recognition that – regardless of how these debates are resolved – more devolution for urban and regional services should be part of any solution. That’s not only because fully devolved services have been out-performing comparators both operationally and in passenger satisfaction; it’s because local control rather than remote control from Whitehall will mean that the dots can be joined between rail and housing, between rail and the wider re-fashioning of city centres, and between rail and local communities (for example through repurposing stations as wider hubs for local community use, enterprises and housing). It will also allow for rail and the rest of local urban public transport networks to be part of one system, rather than be just on nodding terms as is all too often the case at present.

The crisis on Northern and Thameslink has been a miserable experience for rail users, affected cities and the rail industry. If any good has come out of it, it is that it shows how important rail is to cities, and opens up a space for some bigger thinking about what kind of rail cities we will need for the future – and how best we can make that happen.

Jonathan Bray is the Director of the Urban Transport Group which represents the transport authorities for the largest city regions. You can read the group’s full report here.