I'm addicted to @NYCTSubway

Why I can't stop reading official tweets about the subway

Do you know about the Broad Channel bridge?

You probably do if you live in southern Queens or the eastern reaches of Brooklyn. You might if you've been hitting the Rockaways this summer, or if you frequent the Belt Parkway. Maybe you're just a lifelong New Yorker.

But if you're like me — you're a transplant who lives in northwest Queens and works in Midtown, and you don't own a car in the city — the reason you might know about the Broad Channel bridge is from the New York City subway's Twitter account.

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You see, the Broad Channel bridge is a swing bridge. Designed to connect Broad Channel island to the Rockaway Peninsula and carry the A train over Jamaica Bay, the bridge is required to swing open for water traffic — and thus temporarily disconnect the A train track — at all times except, theoretically, during weekday rush hours.

But as fate or physics would have it, sometimes the Broad Channel bridge gets stuck open, stranding commuters who depend on the A. While straphangers wait for what feels like forever, the subway tweets out the explanation: The bridge is stuck.

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This problem is neither new nor infrequent. Lawmakers have tried for years to adjust the bridge's right-of-way rules so that trains are prioritized over water traffic for more hours of the day. But still the bridge swings open, and still @NYCTSubway tweets apologetically.

There's no reason for me to know so much about the Broad Channel bridge, really; it's a very specific problem affecting a community about 12 miles from where I live. But I do, because I'm addicted to the @NYCTSubway feed.

On the average weekday, about 5.6 million people ride the New York City subway. The decaying system's woes have been well-covered; we commuters now know to build in extra time for whatever malfunction comes for us in the tunnels.

For me, that means every morning when my alarm goes off, I roll over, grab my phone, and pull up the @NYCTSubway feed, checking to see what horrors may await me in the Queens corridor. Along the way, I sift through the account's replies to my fellow commuters, reading as resilient government employees explain that the Zerega Avenue stop on the 6 is battling signal problems; that the agency is working on fixing that "dead rat" smell at the 145 Street stop on the 1; that B and Q trains are delayed because of fall leaves; that, yes, the pesky Broad Channel bridge is stuck open.

The truth is, despite the fact that I've lived in New York for four years, I've explored ruefully little of this city. My regular commute takes me through just eight subway stops. I depend on the train heavily — but most days, it takes me across this short route and no farther. Of course there's a long list of places I want to visit eventually, but, well, I have to get home to Astoria and make dinner and fold my laundry. You know how it is.

But as I read through @NYCTSubway each morning, I get a peek at what life is like in Mott Haven, or the Upper East Side, or Bensonhurst. I find myself scrolling through hours of messages — far past what I'd realistically need to know to plan my own commute — and lapping up these precious dispatches from the other boroughs. It's through the subway's Twitter feed that I get to know all these minute details about life across the city, even if I scurry across the same eight stops every day.

The nature of the @NYCTSubway feed, as well as the state of the subway itself, means the majority of messages are negative, revealing a neighborhood-specific annoyance I wouldn't have otherwise known about. But there's good news to be found, too — like a little extra help on the 1 train, a conductor with a sense of humor, or a cell phone rescue in Brooklyn. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the subway, has also promised more transparency in explaining delays, which means @NYCTSubway will tweet the occasional — and admirably thorough — mea culpa from the agency. It's also become a more useful planning tool than it was in the past, as the MTA has started suggesting specific travel alternatives for the many, many routes affected by impromptu problems or ongoing construction.

The reality is, I often find it incredibly frustrating to ride the subway. But at least I can hope my rage-tweets about it are giving a fellow straphanger a glimpse into what life is like in my corner of the city.

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Kimberly Alters

Kimberly Alters is the news editor at TheWeek.com. She is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.