Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
It took a reporter 14 hours (and 54 transfers) to cover the 155-mile ride.
Nearly 155 miles and 54 transfers, from Wakefield in the Bronx to Far Rockaway, Queens.
That’s the longest ride on the New York subway without riding the same segment of the route more than once, according to WNYC’s Subwaytron5000. The program uses an algorithm to crunch billions of possibilities. The rules are simple: The computer gets one card swipe and unlimited transfers. It can repeatedly visit any station, as long as it doesn’t cover any stretch of the track twice.
But how long would that actually take?
Jody Avirgan, the host of ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight podcast, actually braved that trek on a hot day this week. The entire trip took him nearly 14 hours. He started at 8 a.m. at Far Rockaway and reached his final destination a little after 10 p.m.
“I had this notion that I would get on this train and have a lot of downtime and look around and be in the moment,” he said during an interview on the Brian Lehrer show on WYNC.
But Avirgan, who tweeted throughout his long journey, quickly realized how wrong he was. It was equal parts fun and torture, he said (kind of jokingly) on the show. He spent a good portion of the ride making sure to transfer at the correct stations. And because he couldn’t backtrack in the opposite direction on the same line, he went “around and around” to the same transfer hubs to get onto a different line.
“There would be like a transfer hub like Fulton or Broadway Junction, and you would kind of bounce in and out of it,” he said. “So I’d leave Fulton, go south for two stops, transfer, go back up to Fulton, go on another [train] for two stops, go back—I mean I went to Fulton like four times in 15 minutes.”
Along the way, he was also busy tallying the different things he saw, including “three delays because of train traffic ahead of us, two inexplicable delays, 43 attractive women, 41 good-looking guys, seven adorable old couples, countless lost tourists … 19 people reading books, and just one person reading an e-reader.” He also saw New York at its finest, with nine instances of people offering seats to someone else.
The most disappointing thing for Avirgan, though, was not seeing any showtime crews breakdancing on the car. “There are very few places in the world where people dance for you on the train on your way home!” he exclaimed. For him, it’s an important part of being a New Yorker.
Reasons for delay I've heard from conductors. Overall a very smooth day (he says as he rattles back to TimesSq @ 5pm) pic.twitter.com/ugU0rKWP4q— Jody Avirgan (@jodyavirgan) September 3, 2015
Of course, as with anybody enduring a ride lasting hours, Avirgan allowed himself to exit stations for bathroom breaks. But that means, he said, “There is a purer version for someone to do. I kind of encourage you to do it, but I kind of don’t.”
Here are some of his other notable tweets:
One transfer in the books. Phew. And I love the stained glass at Broadway Junction. pic.twitter.com/AdtvMf93iT— Jody Avirgan (@jodyavirgan) September 3, 2015
Guess it's good I got NYCs worst transfer - 14th 2/3 -> L platform -> F/M - out of the way early. This dude biked it. pic.twitter.com/FOOZrARa47— Jody Avirgan (@jodyavirgan) September 3, 2015
This thing made me do the Times Square - Port Authority transfer twice. Jesus. Good news is I'm on to column two. pic.twitter.com/pHqNkpAarQ— Jody Avirgan (@jodyavirgan) September 3, 2015
In the Grand Central 7 transfer the smart folks hang on the upper stair platform - it's about 15 degrees cooler there. pic.twitter.com/vT0Z1IpVpL— Jody Avirgan (@jodyavirgan) September 3, 2015