As the Subways Go Rolling Along

by John Delach


Once upon a time, a chap named Steve Karmen produced an album of songs about New York City. He released his album during John Lindsay’s administration when all hell was breaking loose at the start of what would become that long, hard, rough and crime-ridden era of a dysfunctional New York City. Those of us who lived through those years remember this period as the bad old days.


One of the cuts had the title:  “As The Subways Go Rolling Along,” that included the following verses:


Oh they’re wild and loud,

and make a merry crowd,

together they’re happy right or wrong.


And without a plan,

this is where the plot began,

as the subways go rolling along.


There are people you meet

fifty feet below the street

as the subways go rolling along.


Some snooze, some booze,

if you snooze, they’ll steal your shoes,

as the subways go rolling along.


The city went to hell; the subways included. Years and years of deferred maintenance finally caught up and overwhelmed the system. Labor strife, racial and class discontent and that damn Viet Nam war stressed every element of society. Municipal workers felt put upon, pissed-off and prepared to retaliate. Unions were aching to strike and strike they did; transit workers, police, firefighters, sanitation, teachers, draw bridge operators, postal workers and on it went. All demanded satisfaction. Disrespect for the law followed. Crime and graffiti seemed to be the only prospering industry in Gotham.  Belief in the viability of the city cratered as the crack epidemic exploded.


Ed Koch insisted on a wake-up call to everyone starting with himself. Mayor Koch stood at the exit from the Brooklyn Bridge walkway and asked his constituents, “How am I doing?”


A new light began to shine on the city and life began to stir again. Quality of life began to improve under Koch, not so much under David Dinkins, but it soared under Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Money was re-directed into the transportation infrastructure improving both the suburban rail and the subway systems.


Newcomers; Generation X and Millennials flocked to New York. Their numbers overwhelmed the affordable space in Manhattan bringing about the gentrification of neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. Park Slope, always viable as a community, was the first to rise from the dead. Brownstone houses that sank to less than $50,000 in the ‘70s rocketed to multimillion valuations by the turn of the century and even a two-bedroom, third-floor, walk-up railroad flat on Garfield Street went for just over $900,000 in 2016.


Faced with soaring prices Park Slopeans pushed north into Fort Green and Bed-Sty, east into Crown Heights and south into Windsor Terrace. Likewise, urban pioneers pushed the frontier eastward into Bushwick and Ridgewood when prices rose in Williamsburg,


Heady days, but these new pioneers had to depend on outer subway lines as they pushed further from Manhattan. Unfortunately, state and city overseers had failed to provide adequate funds for maintenance and repairs. Cutting corners and doing things on the cheap are formulas for disaster and kicking the can down the road is a politician’s best friend.


Subway signals, once inspected every 30 days, are now inspected every 90 days. Subway cars, once inspected every 66 days or 12,000 miles, are now inspected every 75 days or 15,000 miles. Meanwhile, ridership increased dramatically from 1 million trips each weekday in 1990 to 1.8 million in 2016.


Reality caught up with this combination of neglect and over-crowding with a series of breakdowns and accidents that have plagued the system this year. The summer of 2017 is shaping up to be the summer of our discontent while Cuomo and DeBlasio point fingers at each other. A pox on both their houses!


Laugh about it, shout about it,

when it comes time to choose,

any way you look at this you lose.*


*Mrs. Robinson: Paul Simon