Even though there might be public outrage in the pace transit workers can recover or prevent an issue, the New York Transit Museum opened up an exhibition that offers a perspective on exactly how transit workers work behind-the-scenes to prepare for and respond to natural and man-made disasters.
Josh Feinberg, the exhibition’s curator, hopes it will provide a new lens on well known events.
“We gain new insight into these defining events, while also more fully appreciating the critical role the city’s public transportation system and its workers play within the life of the city — both in times of crisis and on a day-to-day basis,” Feinberg said.
The exhibition, entitled “Bringing Back the City: Mass Transit Responds to Crisis,” opened in late September and will run through the end of the year. The exhibit specifically follows major occurrences happening in New York over the last 15 years and the transit’s responses, including the response to the attacks of September 11, the rescues during the 2003 Northeast Blackout, the preparedness of the Blizzard of 2010 and Hurricane Irene as well as the resiliency while facing Superstorm Sandy.
“We started thinking about this exhibition when we reopened the museum two days after Superstorm Sandy and began to hear stories of what our colleagues were up against to restore service and recover from damage,” Gabrielle Shubert, Director of the New York Transit Museum, said. “We heard about MTA staff spending five straight days on the job, the extent of the damage and what it would take to repair it.”
“And then, remembering the other crises we’ve faced, it seemed like a story that needed to be told,” Shubert added. “ Most New Yorkers don’t realize that transit personnel are also on the front lines when disaster hits the city.”
Museum goers can learn about the unseen work through the use of images, artifacts and multimedia experiences. To get a firsthand account of employees’ stories, the museum also features oral histories and interviews, including from bus drivers who helped to evacuate people at Ground Zero or workers who repaired subway tunnels after Sandy.
While going through the exhibition, it’s astonishing to realize how quickly the transit system has to react to these events. During the 2003 blackout, New York City was struck at precisely 4:10 p.m. with no warning. There were hundreds of thousands of people commuting at the time. Over the next three hours, transit workers were able to safely evacuate 400,000 subway riders from tunnels, bridges and elevated train structures.
The exhibition also explores the ways transit workers are planning for a more efficient, sustainable future, in order to be even more resilient to challenges such as climate change and rising sea levels.
Along with the exhibit, the museum is presenting a series of panels and discussions that relate the response of transit workers to major events. The next event, called “Stories from the Inside,” will take place on October 20 at 6:30 p.m. Visitors will be able to hear from key voices who experienced the natural and man-made disasters and can now share their insights.
The museum is located at Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn and the general exhibit will be opened on Tuesdays to Fridays at 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.