NYC’s First Day of Phase 1 – An Afternoon within the Center of Manhattan and within the Subway
I took a walk, drive and subway ride through the heart of New York City on June 8, 2020. It was the first day of the city’s entry into Phase 1 ReOpening Status. Supposedly, tens of thousands would be returning to work and the Construction, Wholesale trade and other industries would be operating on a full time, if not part time basis.
What’d I find? What discoveries if any did I encounter?
Before I go on, I should point out that throughout my travels on this day, I ultimately found one thing to be certain. Roughly speaking, I’d say that over 95% of those individuals I came across and passed on the streets, sidewalks, paths and transit system of New York were adhering to the guidance of covering their faces properly. A fact I’m very happy to report – much different from my experiences over the past few months.
Boarded up storefronts were easy to find, or shall I say, impossible to ignore. You can say that the areas I walked through, from Grand Central to Times Square and towards and through the Herald Square section of 34th Street were chock full of plank covered windows and entrances. Even one major Subway entrance at 42nd Street was covered up. Of course, all remnants from merchants having either been looted or safeguarding against the possibility thereof.
As for the numbers of individuals on the streets, there were more than that which I’ve seen over the past two months. Is anything back to normal? Not by a long shot. Where was everybody? After all, the weather was beautiful, but then, why bother with midtown when you could be at the park?
Also, one couldn’t be faulted for thinking that recent protests might’ve kept kept folks away from these areas. Nothing ruins a day more than massive police presence.
After an hour’s stroll, zig zagging all over, I headed south along the greenway of Hudson River Park and beyond. Lots of people, lots of activity and lots of space. Runners, bicyclists and walkers can be found all along the way. Was it annoyingly so? Not in the slightest. Very comfortable and welcoming.
As a side note, I’ve ventured down that way often in past years and recall (at least last year) there being a good deal of construction going on which stretched for long distances. I’m happy to see how its completion now reveals a great deal of extra pedestrian spaces and paths.
The length of my journey, along the west end of Manhattan, on foot spanned from 34th Street down to Chambers Street.
Speaking of construction, there was plenty going on here and there. My drive into the city as well as my walks all about revealed this to be so. Nearing Hudson Yards as I walked westward, prior to my walk downtown, I came across dozens of eastbound construction workers along the sidewalks. No idea if they’d finished work or were heading to a job somewhere.
As for the subway system, it was just as devoid of common New York life as it was a week ago. Interestingly, the MTA’s Chief Communications Officer, Abbey Collins claims there was a jump of over 200,000 trips yesterday compared with the Monday prior. It’s possible that those numbers took place in parts of the city with a greater prominence of those industries reopening on this first day of Phase 1.
I’ve traveled into the city off and on since the COVID-19 crisis shut the Big Apple down. There was no discernible difference in the numbers of commuters within the subway system within Manhattan. Eyeing passing city buses revealed the same. However, I did witness increased signs of life within most of Grand Central Terminal. Beyond that? Not much.
On a positive note, the lower level of Grand Central is now open again, meaning the bathrooms are as well. For a little while they’d been closed. The upper levels of the concourse where you’ll find the western entrance on one end and the Apple store on the other? Closed.
Along the train tracks? Admittedly, I only traveled on 5 different trains in various directions; north, south and cross-town.
What I did find is that the areas I traveled within and explored (especially Grand Central Terminal and the Times Square Station) were devoid of the public awareness signage promised by the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority). I came across the social distancing platform markings at only a couple of platforms and only one single platform controller (person assigned for the control and assistance of crowd control and social distancing within the system). Not that there was a need considering how few commuters there were.
I finished off my day by attempting to drive, through the local streets, from Central Park North to the downtown area. Farthest I got was to Times Square. I’ve done this many times in the past months without the slightest hassle – yet there were street closures at certain points in and around the 40s and 50s. Most of this was in the Times Square section. As for the other nearby areas, I had no idea if it had to do with the protests. I could spot police stopping people at the barricades at every closed off block I managed to catch sight of.
Today, I was able to ask the Mayor about the subways during his daily press conference.
“Mr. Mayor. I traveled through the subways yesterday and I made sure I passed through major stations like Time Square and Grand Central. Admittedly there were barely any commuters. However, I didn’t see the slightest bit of public awareness signage. There were social distancing markings only on a couple of station platforms and only one single platform controller, understandably so. Would I be correct in thinking that this will ramp up as we go forward in time?”
Mayor Bill de Blasio:
“Yeah, look, this is, we have continued to work productively with the MTA. But I want to push them to do more and more and more. I believe the markings are crucial. This is an area we still haven’t resolved. I believe that it would be really helpful that markings on every platform. Look, folks who own grocery stores, supermarkets. They put markings outside to show people where to stand in line. Like it’s just so helpful. People make sense of things. When they see the markings. In my view, every platform, every MetroCard machine, every subway car, every bus should have markings to show people. If you sit here, or you stand here, then here’s the next place someone should be sitting or standing. I understand and I do feel sympathy. The MTA is trying to move a lot of people and they’re saying, they’re not sure that’s realistic. And I appreciate why they say it. I think we have a chicken and egg problem here at Luis. I think if they would put down the marketing’s more and more people would come back and be comfortable on the subways because it would give a sense of order. So, I would just urge the MTA to try it, try doing it more and more. See if it works. If it works, it might be a really great thing. If it doesn’t work, I’ll be the first to say it was worth trying, but it didn’t work. So, I would like to see that.
On the signage? Absolutely. That should be the one thing we all agree, the MTA needs to step up on that. The signage is obvious. People need that. It helps them. And on the personnel, we are going to work with them on that. We’re providing personnel to help them. They should maximize the use of their own personnel creatively. I think we can work together and make this work. But I do think a human directive presence, Luis helps. It helps people to think about what they need to do. I mean we’re human beings. If someone’s there who says, Hey, here’s a good way to address, you know, to deal with this situation. Why don’t you stand here? Why don’t you stand there? Or that car is too full, go on the one behind it. People respond to that. So, and again, I want — that’s, that’s all about education. That’s not about enforcement. That’s not about summonses. That’s not about the NYPD. We took the NYPD out of that. It is about education and helping people see the right way to do things.”