Metro, Column

My Cities And Their Subways

In what seems like the year of Uber, city public transit systems are constantly getting overlooked in favor of speed and convenience.

Although the T, the Metro, the Subway, the L, and the Tube have been relied on by commuters for decades, it seems that now, these traditional means of transportation are losing their charm for many.

I have the pleasant opportunity to commute on the T at least once a week, and although squeezing into a packed Green Line car on my way back to campus from the Fenway stop isn’t the most ideal at 5:30 p.m. on a weekday, I never return back to my bunk bed without a good story for my roommates. For me, rickety T rides still maintain some of their vintage appeal, even if they are more crowded than a Mod on a Saturday night.

Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post recently published an interactive quiz of major city’s subway maps, including Boston’s T, stripping the rail systems of their stops and identifiers. The Buzzfeed-esque post is different from most of the articles typically produced by the paper that most frequently graces my father’s coffee table a few states south in the DC suburbs.

In the post’s brief introduction, Ingraham promises that this quiz will be hard to accomplish as all one is left with to identify a city is “a stylized skeleton of a region’s transit system.”

Although I am proud of my seven-out-of-ten on the quiz—which warranted a “pretty darn good” rating from the The Post—my apparent knowledge of city subway systems wasn’t the highlight of the post, but it was Ingraham’s so subtly intelligent notion of the subways as city skeletons that impressed me the most.

Of the 10 cities, stripped of their subway stops, I have roamed and ridden on the public railways of five of them: London, New York, Chicago, DC, and of course Boston. Although it will be disappointing to my Dad, who tried just so hard to make me city-sufficient on many trips along DC’s Red Line to a Smithsonian Museum of my choice, I should probably attribute my correct answers to good guessing.

Although I think of these maps as defining to the world’s major cities, when stripped simply to a rainbow of angled lines, they seem interchangeable. Primary colors make their way into one great junction from what I assume to be suburbs or city limits. It is as easy to imagine the increase in activity as one follows the lines in as it is to picture the briefcase-wielding worker who follows them as well, be it to a job at the Prudential Center or the EPA.

Yes, the B-Line will always be horrendous and yes, the Metro is significantly more terrifying post-House of Cards but a city’s subway system will always maintain a unique attribute that Uber is unable to conquer—the ability to both characterize and define a place’s “city-ness.” The “skeletons” that Ingraham presents aren’t in fact of a certain city’s transit system, but skeletons of the cities themselves. In the same way, once again coupled with their stops, the rail systems develop neighborhoods and personalities, the specifics of a city. This combination results in the inherent charm, regardless of the potential inconvenience, that subways like the T and the Metro will always bring to their cities.

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic

January 22, 2015