New York's subways will never glide quietly from stop to stop like Disney World's monorails. Conceived when Abe Lincoln was president, and inaugurated in the Teddy Roosevelt era, our system allows for little fantasy as it constantly fights against time.
And now to keep pace with a fast-changing city, the MTA is trying to modernize pedestrian flow -- to thin out surging crowds around turnstiles and to make commutes feel more like a pleasure and less like a scrimmage.
We all have a lot riding on this experiment.
The MTA is adding turnstiles in growing Williamsburg on the L line. And it's minimizing standoffs on the 1 line at Rector Street, where emerging riders once confronted boarding passengers in a human wave only slightly less bone-crushing than the New York Jets' defensive line.
The subway has never been famous for fussing over clear signs, intelligible announcements and crowd control.
So anything the MTA can do to ease the chaos is a plus -- for riders and for officials who must balance the books with a ridership that remains strong. But it shouldn't stop with those measures. There's also the war against rats.
True story: The other day a southbound 1 train stopped at Chambers Street. As it waited for an express across the platform, the doors stayed open. Perched atop a tall pile of plastic trash bags was a rat -- which made eye contact with passengers for what seemed like an eternity.
Not the kind of ambience we have in mind.
The system will never work with seamless perfection -- not while it's providing 5.3 million rides a day on 34 lines over 656 miles of track through 468 stations.
But to emulate some of Disney's state-of-the-art crowd control, signage and sanitation techniques would be a promising idea. Our daily commutes are certainly less than magical.