Transportation advocate seeks quickest subway route to everywhere

Gray. (via Stefanie Gray)
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At noon next Tuesday, Stefanie Gray and a group of volunteers will board a subway at Penn Station for a long subway ride.

They'll be attempting to set a new Guinness World Record by traveling the entire subway system in fewer than 22 hours, 52 minutes and 36 seconds, a record set by Chris Solarz and Matthew Ferrisi in 2010

"It’s all logistics," said Gray, who coordinates Transportation Alternatives' campaign against fare hikes and is undertaking the awareness-raising feat as part of that effort. "My background is actually in geography and [Geographic Information Systems], so I’ve been using a lot of complex mapping software to try to figure this out."

According to the record-minders at Guinness, in order to qualify, Gray will have to ride trains whose doors open at every stop. In other words, she cannot take the Q train down Broadway instead of the R.

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She will also have to keep a detailed log book and take time-stamped photos of every stop.

Gray, a 24-year-old Sheepshead Bay native who really likes maps and studied GIS at Hunter College, says she has been wanting to do this for as long as she can remember, but that the M.T.A.'s imminent fare hikes give her added incentive to beat the clock.

"The simple message behind the 'Race to Stop the Fare Hike,' is that the fare hike is in fact looming, but Governor Cuomo can stop it by providing adequate funding for reliable and affordable transit," she said.

There are many, many ways in which to navigate the city's 468 subway stations. 

Prior to the Ferrisi/Solarz win, one mathematically inclined Wall Street Journal reporter determined the number of possible permutations:

...468 multiplied by 467 multiplied by 466 and so on to 2 and 1. That’s the number of possible routes, if you allow any possible route, even one where the second station is nowhere near the first. It’s also a number so big that I had trouble finding software to compute it; best I can tell, it’s about 144 followed by 1,046 zeroes, or a whole lot bigger than a googol (Google’s namesake, one followed by 100 zeroes) raised to the 10th power.

Further enhancing the difficulty, as per the Journal:

...certain stations are closer to each other than others, in terms of the number of stations in between and the time it will take. Adding to the complication is that train frequency varies throughout the day, and sometimes is expressed in terms of ranges — every five to seven minutes, say. Also, certain stations were open only at certain hours — for instance, the shuttle between Times Square and Grand Central doesn’t run late at night.