Minding Your Manners at the Transit Museum Annex

Anyone who rides public transportation on a regular basis probably has their own list of pet peeves related to their fellow riders’ actions. So when I heard that the New York Transit Museum’s annex had a new exhibition about transit etiquette, I knew that I would likely identify with at least some of it. What I didn’t expect was how much I would enjoy the exhibit!

The Transit Museum Annex, located in Grand Central Terminal, is a small space. There’s really only room for one exhibition at a time, plus a store full of fun transit-themed gifts. At Christmas every year, the annex has a model train exhibition that we explored previously here. The current exhibition, Transit Etiquette Or: How I Learned to Stop Spitting and Step Aside in 25 Languages, is on display through July 2016. (And don’t forget, the Transit Museum Annex has free admission!)

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The Transit Etiquette exhibition consists of train etiquette posters from around the world. I’ve seen some of the New York posters before – some of them are on exhibit in the vintage trains on display at the transit museum, and the vintage holiday trains also have them throughout. The Subway Sun posters, as they were titled, got their start in New York City’s subway system in 1918 and continued until the mid-1960s, with a break from 1940 to 1946 because of World War II. What these posters really show is how the challenges subway riders face from rude fellow riders has not really changed in almost 100 years!

Here are a few of my favorites, created by Amelia Opdyke Jones, also known as “Oppy.” Oppy produced many of the most popular posters in the years following World War II. In fact, this first poster contains many of my greatest subway grievances all in one!

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One of the things that annoys me the most is someone “manspreading,” taking up more than one seat, when the subway is packed full of people. It was interesting to see that this must be a problem across the world. Here are some fun posters with that theme. The first photo shows two posters from SEPTA, the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania system. The second one shows another poster from the New York City subways. The third one is from the Tokyo train system. And the fourth one is from Translink, the system in Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada. Portraying the “Lounge Lizard” who takes over an entire seat on the train, this one is my favorite!

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The store even has items that continue the “manspreading” theme, such as this coffee cup with the current New York City poster’s imagery.

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There are many more fun and interesting posters in the exhibition, but I thought I would end with this one, a 1962 New York City poster, from the Etti-cat.

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Having had this small taste of the Transit Etiquette exhibition, I know you’ll want to see it yourself! So how do you get to the Transit Museum Annex? The 4, 5, 6, 7, and S subway lines all stop at Grand Central Terminal, as do numerous buses. You can also take the Metro North Railroad. The New York Transit Museum Annex is located in the Grand Central’s Shuttle Passage.

New York Transit Museum

I make no secret of my love of New York City’s public transportation system, which is why I recently had to visit the New York Transit Museum. Part of what makes the museum such a fun place to visit is its location – it’s in a retired subway station in downtown Brooklyn. Here’s the museum entrance. Doesn’t it look promising already?

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Once you go below ground, you pay for admission at a vintage station master’s booth before entering the first exhibit. Most of the museum’s exhibits are on the mezzanine level of the historic station. The first exhibit was a fascinating one: “Steel, Stone, and Backbone: Building New York’s Subways, 1900-1925.” I gained a new appreciation for the hard work and sacrifices that went into creating the New York City subway system, as well as the technological challenges and risk to human life. Every time I go through one of the tunnels under the East River now, I remember the exhibit’s explanation of the compressed air chambers used during the construction process.

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The exhibit also does a good job of exploring the diverse people who contributed to the subway system’s construction – men and women, immigrants and African Americans among them.

There is also a new exhibit called “Bringing Back the City,” which explores how the transit system has been affected by and responded to times of crisis. There are artifacts related to the September 11 attacks;  the 2003 power blackout in the Northeastern United States, which temporarily shut down the subway system and left riders stranded; Hurricane Irene is 2011; and Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. Among the exhibit artifacts, I was struck by this flood bench example. I’ve seen flood benches at numerous locations near the subways, but never knew their purpose or origins. The benches, both practical and sculptural, let air travel into subway vents but prevent rainwater from flooding the subway system.

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There are many interactive exhibits for children (and interesting for adults as well). Here are examples of turnstiles (still working) from every period in the subway system’s history.

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Visitors can step into a station master’s booth, pretending to help subway riders.

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In the exhibit, “On the Streets: New York’s Trolleys and Buses,” visitors can sit in the driver’s seat and pretend to drive models of city buses.

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Once you finish the exhibits located on the mezzanine level, head down the stairs to the track level. Although the station is no longer active, the tracks are still there – and full of vintage train cars. (The MTA has a number of these vintage cars, which are sometimes used for special events. I wrote previously about the vintage train rides offered each December before Christmas.) If you’re a fan of vintage trains or simply someone who likes public transportation like me, you will enjoy seeing the train cars. Both car exteriors and interiors are very different from the subway cars in use today, and the vintage advertising is fun to read as well. The museum also offers a highlights tour on the weekends, which includes the subway cars. You will notice one of those gallery talks in progress in the photos below.

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What’s the best way to get to the New York Transit Museum? By subway, of course! Take the 2, 3, 4, or 5 trains to Borough Hall; the R to Court Street; the A, F, and R to Jay Street-MetroTech (and the C as well, during weekday rush hours only); or the A or G to Hoyt Street-Schermerhorn Street.

Model Trains at Grand Central Terminal

It’s that time of year when the New York Transit Museum‘s annex at Grand Central Terminal once again hosts its holiday train show. Free to the public, the model train exhibit features scale models of Grand Central Terminal, the Met Life Building, and the Chrysler Building, as well as numerous other buildings and small details. It’s not a huge exhibit, but children and model train aficionados will still enjoy it. The train show will be on display until February 21, 2016.

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Unsurprisingly, my favorite part of the exhibit is the part related to the MTA system, specifically the subway train and the elevated train station.

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An additional benefit to the train show’s location: it’s in the New York Transit Museum’s store, where there are all kinds of train and subway-themed options for holiday gifts. And if you go before Christmas, make sure you stop by the Grand Central Holiday Fair as well – I’ve previously wrote about the Holiday Fair here.

How can you get here? The 4, 5, 6, 7, and S subway lines all stop at Grand Central, as do numerous buses. You can also take the Metro North Railroad. The New York Transit Museum annex and store is located in Shuttle Passage.

Traveling Back in Time: Vintage Subway Ride

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If you read Finding NYC on a regular basis, you know I’m a fan of public transportation. So when I heard that MTA was running vintage subway trains every Sunday during December, I was first in line to check it out. The trains are made up of R1/9 subway cars; the car I rode was an R6. (From my research, I’ve discovered that R6 cars were built in 1935 and 1936. Some remained in regular service until the 1970s.)

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The outside of the cars sets the tone for for the experience. They are riveted metal, painted dark green with “City of New York” stenciled in gold. It was fun pulling up to each station and watching the reactions of people who were waiting for the train. You could always tell when people had no advance warning that the vintage trains were running because of the surprised looks on their faces.

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There are many aspects that make riding in these vintage subway cars very different than the usual subway riders’ experience today. The overhead light bulbs would occasionally flicker, and ceiling fans kept the air circulating throughout the car. The seats had cushions filled with springs, making for a slightly bouncy ride. Vintage advertising stretched overhead – although the form is similar to what riders still see today, the content reflected days gone by. Another reminder that times have changed: the vintage subway cars have no intercom system, and subway workers stepped out on the platform each stop to announce, “This is the M Train to Queens Plaza! M Train to Queens Plaza!”

Here’s one of the route signs for the vintage subway train – it’s not correct, as the train started at the 2nd Street F Station, not the Houston-2nd Avenue Station, and it ended at the Queens Plaza Station, not Forest Hills.

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There were quite a variety of riders, from those who hadn’t known that vintage trains were riding but still hopped on when they had the opportunity, to families with children and train aficionados. I also saw a couple of young women dressed in vintage outfits, like this one here.

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If you have the chance to ride one of the vintage trains, I definitely recommend it. The ride was a lot of fun, and it costs the same as any other subway ride in New York City – $2.75. The MTA website has the list of departure times and stops. (It also mentions the vintage buses that are serving the M42 route on certain days this month!)