I've been reading a lot about sardines today and the origin of the expression "packed like sardines" - I could think of nothing else on Sunday while traveling on the Lexington Avenue subway.
This trip to the Upper East Side and, ultimately, Central Park, illustrated beyond a doubt the need for the Second Avenue subway. Construction has finally begun this week on this much needed subway line - proposals go back over 80 years. The massive boring machine has begun digging and, according to the transit system, will not be shut down until the project is completed (2016).
The Upper East Side of Manhattan and east midtown is essentially serviced by one subway line - the IRT Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6 trains. This line is so heavily used that it has become not only the busiest in the NYC transit system - it is now the most used transit line in the United States, with more riders that the entire transit systems of San Francisco and Boston combined.
What may come as particularly surprising is the overcrowding on Sundays. The East Side not only has the typical density of residents found in Manhattan but also is home to many attractions, particularly museums along Fifth Avenue, aka Museum Mile, so this subway is heavily used by tourists on weekends.
This trip was also an experience in extreme diversity. On this one car of the train there were two Islamic women in black Burkhas. An extremely tall orthodox Jewish man with a wide brimmed black hat towered over two young black girls. A young Asian woman stood next to me with makeup so heavy, she had the look of a traditional Thai or Burmese dancer. A woman with very striking white hair and surreal skin tone took a seat near a black man completely hunched over listening to music.
My thinking was that sardines was a convenient metaphor, but I assumed that there was much more variety of humans in that one subway car than in a can of sardines. Now I have learned that sardines are actually several types of oily fish related to herrings, so actually, a fair variety are used. Everything considered, I think it is reasonable to say we're still packed like sardines :)
Note: Nothing compares to overcrowding of subways in Tokyo - if you want to see the most outrageous subway packing/stuffing, see a video here.