The Subways And The Series

By Mark Green

The first Subway Series in 44 years has ended, but fans in Seattle and St. Louis shouldn't envy only our city's top-notch baseball teams. They should look with admiration at our top-notch mass transit system -- the best in the nation.

While there's much to do to improve our subways and buses -- more service and a new Second Avenue subway head the list -- we in New York City are far ahead of those other cities. They live and die by the automobile; we do not.

New York City's baseball and transit history are closely linked. After all, the 'House That Ruth Built' wouldn't have been possible without the subways that New Yorkers built and rode. The home of the Yankees was opened next to the 161st Street subway station, just six years after the IRT made its way to the neighborhood in 1917. Seventy thousand fans flocked to the stadium -- most by subway - that Opening Day to watch Babe Ruth hit a home run and the Yankees win, 4-1.

Shea Stadium also was intentionally built near a subway line -- the 7, which now is ranked the best in the system by the Straphangers Campaign. While parking lots surround both Shea and Yankee Stadium, experienced fans know that the subway is still the best way to get to and from the park.

Other long-gone stadiums also were built near mass transit. Ebbets Field, the last home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, my boyhood team, stood proudly at the corner of Bedford Avenue and Empire Boulevard, a block-and-a-half away from the Prospect Park station on the D line and the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. The Polo Grounds, home of the Giants and, earlier, the Yankees, was near subway stops at 155th Street in Manhattan.

The Dodgers were originally the Trolley Dodgers, named after the Brooklyn tradition of dodging the trolleys that plied the streets when the team started playing there more than 100 years ago. They may have been the only team in professional sports ever named with a mass transit theme.

How should we celebrate this century-old link between the city's baseball and subways?

Since the MTA is unlikely to lower the subway fare to 15 cents -- the fare in 1956, the last time there was a subway series -- it could move toward easing the congestion that subway and bus riders now face.

Just like the Yankees and Mets need great relief pitching, New York's transit riders need relief from over-crowded trains. In the last four years alone, subway ridership has increased 30 percent while service has only increased 4 percent. In a Public Advocate investigation released earlier this year, we showed that 10 of the subway's 20 lines could have increased rush-hour service right now -- if New York City Transit had enough subway cars on hand.

That's why I called on NYC Transit to keep hundreds of high-performing subway cars slated for the trash heap in service. These cars, many of which run 100,000 miles or more without a breakdown, could still serve passengers on the lettered lines. NYC Transit has said it is considering keeping some of the cars in service. Service could also be increased on the edges of the rush hour and during off-hours on every line.

New York's baseball fans can also help themselves by supporting the Transportation Bond Act, on the ballot on Election Day. The measure would give $1.7 billion in funding for mass transit improvements, including money for a new Second Avenue subway and new subway cars that could also be used to reduce crowding.

If the MTA makes the right moves by adding service and expanding the system, we'll be able to keep New Yorkers rolling to the city's ballparks for the next 100 years and the subway series our grandchildren will attend.

Mark Green is the Public Advocate for New York City.

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