‘An engineering marvel’: Twitter users battle it out in viral NYC subway tournament bracket

To the average commuter or visitor, the New York City subway station at Seventh Avenue and 53rd Street is just a stop. Either you ignore it completely while on the subway and barely look up from your phone when you roll into the station, or you’re changing trains. Unless you commute there, can you even really describe it that well from memory?

To software engineer Sunny Ng, the Seventh Avenue and 53rd Street station deserves much more praise. And it’s important to keep that in mind when participating in Ng’s popular Twitter-based NYC subway bracket.

On Dec. 17, Ng tweeted his finalized bracket of the “top 256 stations” in New York — as voted on by his followers and members of what he calls “Transit Twitter.” Since then, hundreds of people have voted in Ng’s tournament and, of course, shared their hardened opinions on different stations.

“It’s such a daunting task to run a tournament bracket with 424 stations,” Ng told In The Know. “I ultimately decided to make it a go now, because in the last couple of weeks people have started to leave the platform, and I wanted to do it before it was too late.”

Ng grew up in Mississauga, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, and spent years depending on other people’s cars or the unreliable bus system that ran every 40 minutes. Within the last decade, Canada has funneled money into building better public transit, but shutdowns and overrunning costs have created significant delays to the projects.

In the U.S., urban transportation systems are not “world-leading,” a report by Investment Monitor said in November. The American Society of Civil Engineers wrote in its 2021 assessment that 45% of U.S. citizens don’t have access to public transit and most of the current systems are run-down.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is the largest transit system in the U.S., and significantly more New York City commuters use public transit compared to commuters in other major cities like Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

“It was incredibly frustrating and limiting,” Ng explained about living in the Toronto suburbs. “I already knew then that I wanted to live in a city where I can rely on public transit to go anywhere.”

Ng is so passionate about public transit that in addition to the bracket, he built a real-time subway map called the Weekendest a year before the MTA developed its own version of it. When the MTA implemented countdown clocks and real-time data feeds in 2018, Ng took the data and built goodservice.io, a subway status page broken down by train lines and stations.

He also knew he wasn’t alone in his interest in the New York City subway.

“To be honest, I’m not that surprised about the response,” he explained. “There are so many folks on Transit Twitter that are very opinionated and passionate about public transit, so I knew I could always count on them to participate.”

As the tournament continues into its final rounds, Ng has found that familiarity and ridership were key to participants. In earlier rounds, the more populated stations tended to win — even knocking out all of the Bronx stations before the fifth round.

“There were some quirky unique subway stations that were eliminated quite early on (e.g., Avenue H with its front porch and rocking chairs), likely because most people haven’t been or heard of them,” he said.

For stations people were familiar with, they had hard and passionate opinions about them.

“What’s fascinating about this bracket is that everyone has expressed their own criteria in picking their favorite station,” Ng noted. “Some judge by aesthetics and the views you can see on an elevated platform, some care more about the layout and user-friendliness, some think about the historical significance, some highlight the engineering marvels, some transit nerds care more about track layout and operational efficiency, and for some, it’s just vibes.”

Ng kicked off the final round of the tournament on Dec. 28 with Broadway Junction and Smith-Ninth Streets, both Brooklyn-based stations, in a battle for the top spot.

For Ng, though, his perfect fantasy subway station is a combination of what already exists.

“It needs to be accessible, first of all,” he said. “I would love to see our stations also incorporate platform screen doors and entrances that integrate inside nearby buildings.”

Out of the 424 subway stations in New York City, only 109 are accessible. Despite the proven environmental benefits of prioritizing public transit over single-occupancy vehicles, the systems the U.S. currently has in place are not inclusive enough to fully benefit everyone.

The platform entrance integration into buildings has also been proven to be “more inviting” for passengers, according to the Regional Plan Association’s 2017 review of the at the time newly renovated Second Avenue subway stations.

“Entrances should be located within buildings or off the sidewalk in pedestrian plazas, serve both sides of a street and provide stairs whenever possible,” the review said. “They shouldn’t obstruct sidewalks.”

Aesthetically speaking, Ng loves specific station characteristics that give the experience of taking the subway that much more “New York” feeling.

“I love the cross-platform interchanges at Queensboro Plaza and 7 Av/53 St [and] the interactive artwork at 34 St–Herald Sq,” he said. “Also, being in New York with its liveliness, it’s gotta have great subway performers, like 14 St–Union Sq, Delancey St/Essex St and Metropolitan Av/Lorimer St.”

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