Works and Days

Metropolitan Transit Authority, New York: Taylor Allen, Winter Shadow 2016

On the night of January 10th, I stepped off a plane and arrived in New York. I had traveled across the country, and it was my first time traveling alone to somewhere that wasn’t Reed. It was dark and I was tired, but I was also nervous and excited for the start of my Big Apple Adventure.

Some months earlier, when I first found out that I had gotten this Shadow opportunity, I made a post on the Reed Switchboard, requesting a place to crash for a few days. Thankfully, Jon Steiner ‘93 responded and generously offered me a place to stay.

Day 1:

The next morning, I woke up at 7, to much protest from my body, (it thought I was waking up at 4) and got ready for my first day shadowing Tim Forker, a senior director for the New York City Transit Department of Subways, Capital Programs.

From left to right (in the above photo) is Zain, Tim, me, and Kim. Zain was the other shadower. He goes to Wellesley, a small, liberal arts college in Connecticut. Kim works with Tim. Tim oversees many different areas of the Department of Subways budget, and Kim specifically works with a couple of these areas, while also helping Tim manage his busy schedule.

Today, Tim arranged for Zain and I to meet with the Operations Planning department. Operations Planning ended up being my favorite department. They oversee the operations of the subways and buses, including planning routes and coming up with timetable schedules. Whenever a special event happens, such as New Years Eve, or the Pope visits, Operations Planning comes up with alternate routes so that the transportation system continues to run smoothly. After all, can you imagine a bus trying to get through Times Square on New Years Eve? Not happening.


Day 2:

Today built on concepts from Day 1. First, we went to the MTA’s (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) engineering center in Brooklyn. There, we saw a working model of the Communications-Based Train Control system, which we had heard about a little on Day 1. Very basically, it’s an upgrade in train stopping and tracking technology that allows for a smaller safety gap between trains, letting the MTA run more trains per hour.

At about 12:30, Tim took Zain and I out for a quick lunch and told us about his career path. Then, in the afternoon, we first visited the Rail Control Center. Our tour consisted mainly of one large room, called “The Theater”. It was larger than Kaul Auditorium and it had no windows. I learned that this is the place that handles the communication of incidents such as maintenance or the rare accident.

After this, we went to the Power Control Center. This is the place that controls the power delivered from the power company to the Third Rail (the source of current for the trains).

Day 3:

Earlier in the shadow, I had mentioned that I’m interested in maps, so Kim contacted a friend of hers in the Graphics Department and set up a meeting. Kim and I talked to them about how they make the posters and the signs that go in the stations and on the trains. Then we visited with someone who actually makes the bus maps and he talked about how he makes the maps using the programs Illustrator and CAD. The mapmaker explained how the mapmaking process was mainly an application of vectors.

This shadow was a very illuminating experience for me. For one, I learned that I am not a city person. Well, more specifically, I’m not a New York person. The sheer pace at which everything happens in the Big Apple exhausted me. However, I did enjoy learning all I did about the New York public transportation industry. I come away from this experience with the reassurance that there’s a job for everything and the confidence that I will be able to find a job doing something I genuinely enjoy doing.




Tags: winter shadow, externship, city planning, urban development, transit, urban engineering, transportation