kottke.org posts about subway
Back in the days before the US bankrupted the Soviet Union with the space race and the nuclear arms race, the Soviets spent lavishly on some public works…like these amazing metro stations built in the Stalin era. Photographer David Burdeny got special middle-of-the-night access to these stations in Moscow and St. Petersburg and came away with these great photographs. Could you imagine an NYC subway station with chandeliers? Or even moderately clean walls? (via petapixel)
In 2012, Francois De La Taille posted a video of himself racing a Paris Metro train from one station to the next, on foot. He exited the train, dashed out of the station, sprinted down the street (after pausing for a bus crossing the road), ran into the next station (after falling on the stairs), and hopped back onto the same train he’d just gotten off of.
Two years later, James Heptonstall did the same thing on the London Tube and, after a slow start, it went viral. Soon, people from all over the world were racing their hometown subway trains: Taiwan, Stockholm, Hong Kong, etc. If you’re wondering whether such a thing would be possible in NYC, the answer is yes, even if you pick the wrong door to start with:
From the New Yorker, Rebecca Solnit on how the world’s places are mostly named after men.
A horde of dead men with live identities haunt New York City and almost every city in the Western world. Their names are on the streets, buildings, parks, squares, colleges, businesses, and banks, and their figures are on the monuments. For example, at Fifty-ninth and Grand Army Plaza, right by the Pulitzer Fountain (for the newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer), is a pair of golden figures: General William Tecumseh Sherman on horseback and a woman leading him, who appears to be Victory and also a nameless no one in par-ticular. She is someone else’s victory.
The biggest statue in the city is a woman, who welcomes everyone and is no one: the Statue of Liberty, with that poem by Emma Lazarus at her feet, the one that few remember calls her “Mother of Exiles.” Statues of women are not uncommon, but they’re allegories and nobodies, mothers and muses and props but not Presidents.
For her book Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, Solnit and her co-author Joshua Jelly-Schapiro commissioned Molly Roy to make a subway map of NYC that uses only the names of the city’s prominent women for the station names.
It’s a map that reflects the remarkable history of charismatic women who have shaped New York City from the beginning, such as the seventeenth-century Quaker preacher Hannah Feake Bowne, who is routinely written out of history — even the home in Flushing where she held meetings is often called the John Bowne house. Three of the four female Supreme Court justices have come from the city, and quite a bit of the history of American feminism has unfolded here, from Victoria Woodhull to Shirley Chisholm to the Guerrilla Girls.
Mini Metros features small and simplified maps of over 200 metro and light rail systems from around the world. Many of the systems are small and simple themselves, just a single line or two, like in Edmonton, Mumbai, Seville, and Qingdao. Others, like in Munich, Shanghai, Tokyo, London, Seoul, and New York, are densely interconnected.
Prints and mugs are available.
In the wake of the election, Matthew Chavez, who goes by “Levee” and is the instigator of Subway Therapy, encouraged New Yorkers to share their post-election grief on Post-it Notes stuck to the wall of the tunnel between the 6th and 7th Ave subway stations on 14th St. Joe Holmes visited the tunnel and took photos of people interacting with the wall. (All photos above by Joe Holmes.)
Whoa, this is the coolest! Jason Wright’s Brand New Subway allows players to alter the NYC subway system as they see fit. You can start with existing maps and the choices you make affect ridership and the price of a Metrocard.
Players can choose to start from scratch or one of several NYC subway maps (including present-day, maps dating back to the early 1900s, or maps from the future). They can build new stations and lines to expand the system to new areas, or tear it down and redesign the whole thing. The game intends to evoke an imaginative spirit, to empower people to envision transportation according to their needs and desires, and to arouse the fun of tinkering with maps.
This project is an entry in The Power Broker Game Design Competition, the goal of which is to adapt Robert Caro’s The Power Broker into a playable experience. Wright explains how his game hits the mark:
Bottom-up vs. top-down design. Moses was infamous for his top-down approach to urban planning. He held “the public” as a concept in high regard while simultaneously showing contempt for the individuals who made up that public, in the form of arrogance, spitefulness, and an utter lack of concern for the millions displaced for his expressways and parks. Later on in his career, as the span of his projects increased, Moses would make monumentally important decisions about the fate of a neighborhood without once setting foot there. He was known for building 13 bridges and hundreds of miles of parkways despite never driving a car.
Although Brand New Subway might appeal to someone who enjoyed SimCity but who has never set foot in New York City, it’s targeted primarily at those who actually ride the subway and who might feel invested in what they design. In that regard, it inverts Moses’ paradigm by encouraging players to improve on transportation in their own neighborhoods and in ways to which they have a personal connection.
I reeeeeeally didn’t want to spend the rest of my day playing with this, but that super express train from Manhattan to JFK isn’t going to build itself! (via @byroncheng)
Londonist created a map of the London Underground with station names contemporary to medieval London.
The medieval period spans something like 1,000 years, covering the centuries from the Roman withdrawal around 400 AD to the rise of the Tudors in the late 15th century. Place names, of course, changed greatly over this time and those on the map were not necessarily all in use at the same time. Where applicable, we’ve favoured spellings used in the Domesday survey of 1086. Elsewhere, we’ve taken the earliest recorded version of a place name.
YouTube user DJ Hammers has been uploading videos of start-to-finish trips on NYC subway lines from the perspective of the operator at the front of the train. The realtime videos are interesting to watch, but the 10x time lapses are probably a better use of your attention. Here’s the time lapse of the Queens-bound 7 train (realtime version):
See also Slow TV.
The London Underground recently conducted an experiment on one of the escalators leading out of the busy Holborn station. Instead of letting people walk up the left side of the escalator, they asked them to stand on both sides.
The theory, if counterintuitive, is also pretty compelling. Think about it. It’s all very well keeping one side of the escalator clear for people in a rush, but in stations with long, steep walkways, only a small proportion are likely to be willing to climb. In lots of places, with short escalators or minimal congestion, this doesn’t much matter. But a 2002 study of escalator capacity on the Underground found that on machines such as those at Holborn, with a vertical height of 24 metres, only 40% would even contemplate it. By encouraging their preference, TfL effectively halves the capacity of the escalator in question, and creates significantly more crowding below, slowing everyone down. When you allow for the typical demands for a halo of personal space that persist in even the most disinhibited of commuters — a phenomenon described by crowd control guru Dr John J Fruin as “the human ellipse”, which means that they are largely unwilling to stand with someone directly adjacent to them or on the first step in front or behind — the theoretical capacity of the escalator halves again. Surely it was worth trying to haul back a bit of that wasted space.
Leaving aside “the human ellipse” for now,1 how did the theory work in the real life trial? The stand-only escalator moved more than 25% more people than usual:
But the preliminary evidence is clear: however much some people were annoyed, Lau’s hunch was right. It worked. Through their own observations and the data they gathered, Harrison and her team found strong evidence to back their case. An escalator that carried 12,745 customers between 8.30 and 9.30am in a normal week, for example, carried 16,220 when it was designated standing only. That didn’t match Stoneman’s theoretical numbers: it exceeded them.
But not everyone liked being asked to stand for the common good:
“This is a charter for the lame and lazy!” said one. “I know how to use a bloody escalator!” said another. The pilot was “terrible”, “loopy,” “crap”, “ridiculous”, and a “very bad idea”; in a one-hour session, 18 people called it “stupid”. A customer who was asked to stand still replied by giving the member of staff in question the finger. One man, determined to stride to the top come what may, pushed a child to one side. “Can’t you let us walk if we want to?” asked another. “This isn’t Russia!”
There’s a lesson in income inequality here somewhere…2
Update: The NY Times wades into the not walking on escalators debate: Why You Shouldn’t Walk on Escalators. Standing on the escalator, meet American self-interest.
It would be hard to persuade people that “everybody wins” if they all merely stood on the escalator, Curtis W. Reisinger, a psychologist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., said.
“Overall I am not too optimistic that people’s sense of altruism can override their sense of urgency and immediacy in a major metro area where the demands for speed and expediency are high,” he wrote in an email.
Sam Schwartz, New York City’s former traffic commissioner and a fellow in transportation at Hunter College, said people’s competitive nature tends to trump logic and science.
“In the U.S., self-interest dominates our behavior on the road, on escalators and anywhere there is a capacity problem,” he wrote in an email. “I don’t believe Americans, any longer (if they ever did), have a rational button.”
There’s nothing more American than a few people gaining a few extra seconds at the expense of many having to wait a lot longer. See also Tom Junod’s piece from Esquire, The Water-Park Scandal and Two Americas in the Raw: Are We a Nation of Line-Cutters, or Are We the Line?
Transport for London recently released a document called the London Underground Station Design Idiom, a guide to the design aesthetic of Tube stations. After an introductory chapter called “A manifesto for good design”, the document offers nine main guidelines for how Underground stations should be designed:
1. Achieve balance across the network. Good design is achieved through balance. For us, this means balance between heritage and the future, between a station’s commercial activity and its customer information, and between the network as a whole and the station as a local place.
2. Look beyond the Bostwick gates. Stations are more than portals to the Underground; they are also places to meet, eat, shop and, most importantly, they are centres of community. Many people’s mental map of London is organised by Underground stations. A neighbourhood’s identity can be enriched by truly ‘embedding’ its station in the local area.
3. Consider wholeness. Good design starts by considering the whole: the whole station (from platform to pavement); the whole of the project from engineering to surface finishing; the whole team. It’s about making sure the right people are engaged from the outset. Considering ‘wholeness’ means creating entire spaces with clear forms, which are clutter-free and legible for all users and requirements.
4. Prioritise comfort for staff and customers. Well-designed stations support staff in their varied roles so they can provide world class customer service. It is this interaction between staff, customers and the built environment that makes London Underground stations so special and distinguishes us from other metros.
5. Delight and surprise. Every Underground station should include at least one moment of delight and surprise, to improve customers’ journeys and the working environment for staff. Such moments help put the network on the map, as a world-class leader of design.
6. Use materials to create atmosphere. The quality of materials has a huge impact on the way a station is perceived by both customers and staff. High quality materials that are robust and easy to maintain make better environments. Use materials to make atmospheric spaces that are dramatic and rich in texture. Make stations more memorable to customers and better places to travel to or through.
7. Create ambience with lighting. Lighting on the Underground is used to make safe and functional environments, with maintenance and costs often dictating the choice and application of fittings with no consideration on how this impacts overall perception of space. Although lighting must be functional to improve safety and increase feelings of comfort, it can also be transformational - improving spaces, drawing attention to heritage or special features and helping customers flow intuitively through a station.
8. Integrate products and services. Good design is not just about choosing the right materials and lighting, it also involves integrating the other products and services which make up the station. All network furniture, fixtures and equipment - such as customer information, safety equipment, ticketing, poster frames, advertising, CCTV and signage - must be fully integrated into the station so there is clarity and coherence from platform to pavement and across the network.
9. Prepare for the future. By embracing new technologies and understanding their benefits we can create better-designed stations that enhance the user experience. This also means considering the life cycle of existing and new materials and products. Designing in flexibility allows our stations to better respond to new challenges, opportunities and change programmes.
Aside from some of the specifics, that’s not a bad list of guidelines on how to think about designing anything. (via mefi)
Using Neil Freeman’s maps at Fake is the New Real, the Guardian created a quiz: Can you identify the world cities from their ‘naked’ metro maps? As interested as I am in both maps and subways, I did shockingly bad on this quiz. (via @daveg)
Update: Here’s a similar quiz using unlabeled street maps. See also Smarty Pins and GeoGuessr for more geography quiz fun.
This video from the MTA shows some of the vintage technologies that are still in use to control many of the NYC’s subway lines and how they are upgrading (ve. ry. slow. ly.) to safer and more reliable computerized systems. Some of control systems are more than 80 years old.
Whoa, after watching that, I’m shocked that the trains ever get anywhere at all. (via the kid should see this)
The New Yorker did a short feature on Charlie Pellett, the voice of the NYC subway.
This deep, sometimes vexing voice — which also apologizes for “unavoidable delays” — belongs to a man named Charlie Pellett. A radio anchor for Bloomberg News, Pellett was raised in London but cultivated an American accent by listening to the radio. His work for the M.T.A., which is done on a volunteer basis, is the only non-reporting voice-over work that he’s done.
The WNYC Data News Team is looking for the longest possible NYC subway ride. The MTA says the longest direct trip is 38 miles, but WNYC found one that’s 148 miles, requiring 45 transfers. They’re running a little competition to see who can find a longer ride…check the rules for more details (short version: you can repeat stations but not track segments). This is basically a variant of the travelling salesman problem, yes? Anyone care to take a crack at it? (via @ryandawidjan)
From Thrillist, the real subway map of Manhattan, your one-stop shop for Manhattan neighborhood stereotypes. (via @mkonnikova)
An exhibition by Danny Lyon of color photos he took in the NYC subway is being staged by the MTA. The photos have never been publicly shown before.
The trains shown in these two photos still run occasionally: just catch the M between 2nd Ave and Queens Plaza between 10am and 5pm on the two remaining Sundays in Dec.
Nice episode of 99% Invisible on how New York City got rid of the graffiti on all of their subway trains.
For decades, authorities treated subway graffiti like it was a sanitation issue. Gunn believed that graffiti was a symptom of larger systemic problems. After all, trains were derailing nearly every two weeks. In 1981 there were 1,800 subway car fires — that’s nearly five a day, every day of the year!
When Gunn launched his “Clean Trains” program, it was not only about cleaning up the trains aesthetically, but making them function well, too. Clean trains, Gunn believed, would be a symbol of a rehabilitated transit system.
Remember, the train cars used to look like this:
You’ve probably seen Bruce Davidson’s photos of the gritty 1980s NYC subway, which were collected into a book published in 1986.
Earlier this year, Time posted some previously unpublished photos of the NYC subway taken in 1981 by Christopher Morris, an admirer of Davidson’s.
I love this rendering of an abandoned Paris Metro station reimagined as a swimming pool:
This and several other renderings were created by OXO Associates for Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet’s Paris mayoral race. The others imagine subway stations turned into theaters, nightclubs, and underground parks.
Mini Metro is an upcoming game in the style of Sim City, except you’re only building subway lines.
Mini Metro is an upcoming minimalistic subway layout game. Your small city starts with only three unconnected stations. Your task is to draw routes between the stations to connect them with subway lines. Everything but the line layout is handled automatically; trains run along the lines as quickly as they can, and the commuters decide which trains to board and where to make transfers.
However the city is constantly growing, along with the transport needs of its population. How long can you keep the subway system running before it grinds to a halt?
Oh man, this is great fun for transportation nerds. Site says it’ll be out in “early 2014” for PC, Mac, Linux, iPad, and Android. You can play an early version on the site or d/l an alpha version for OS X, Windows, or Linux.
Update: A public transit planning consultant evaluates Mini Metro, which because of its simplicity, simulates the experience of transit network design quite well in some cases.
We have discovered the most realistic thing about Mini Metro: If you want to win, think of these “trains” as buses.
In real rail transit systems, you cannot simply abandon a rail line and build a new one — certainly not just to handle an overcrowding problem. But to do well in Mini Metro you must revise the network repeatedly, and the last phase of the game you’ll deploy lots of one-time-only temporary lines In fact, for best results, make sure you also have a spare tunnel, so that if you have to get a train quickly to a station on an island, you can build a temporary line to a destination across the water, deleting it after use.
To a rail engineer, all this is ridiculous, but to a transit network designer, it’s the game’s most realistic feature.
Build a subway line to run one train once, then tear it out? No, this is not how rail transit works, but it’s very much how buses work, and it’s good thing, too. That’s why buses provide a much better sandbox for network design thinking. When you build powerful networks with buses, mistakes cost thousands rather than billions, so they’re more likely to be repaired. Real-life transit networks do need to evolve, usually from radial beginnings to more gridlike structures.
A very pretty but almost completely useless circular map of the NYC subway.
There’s a London Tube version too.
Otter Bends, Queer Spank, Frog Innard, and Lob Horn are some of the stations on the anagram map of the London Underground.
Ah, the good old days, when people used to talk to each other in public rather than looking at their phones or listening to headphones all the time. Except that’s not been the case for awhile as XKCD demonstrates with a series of quotes from various publications dating back to 1871. This is from William Smith’s Morley: Ancient and Modern published in 1886.
With the advent of cheap newspapers and superior means of locomotion… the dreamy quiet old days are over… for men now live think and work at express speed. They have their Mercury or Post laid on their breakfast table in the early morning, and if they are too hurried to snatch from it the news during that meal, they carry it off, to be sulkily read as they travel… leaving them no time to talk with the friend who may share the compartment with them… the hurry and bustle of modern life… lacks the quiet and repose of the period when our forefathers, the day’s work done, took their ease…
In 1946, a young Stanley Kubrick worked as a photographer for Look magazine and took this shot of NYC subway commuters reading newspapers:
The more things change, etc. More of Kubrick’s subway photography can be found here.
XKCD has linked all the subway systems of North America into one map. That South Ferry to San Juan submarine line is a hike.
File this one under crying at work: a man finds a newborn on a subway platform and he and his partner adopt him and then blub blub blub, I’m sorry I have to go there’s something in both my eyes and my nose.
Three months later, Danny appeared in family court to give an account of finding the baby. Suddenly, the judge asked, “Would you be interested in adopting this baby?” The question stunned everyone in the courtroom, everyone except for Danny, who answered, simply, “Yes.”
“But I know it’s not that easy,” he said.
“Well, it can be,” assured the judge before barking off orders to commence with making him and, by extension, me, parents-to-be.
There’s not a whole not more to this radio than what it looks like, but I will forever have a soft spot for things that mimic the London tube map.
Now, if it contained vacuum tubes or something…
In a photo slideshow with jazz accompaniment, narrator Adam Gopnik takes us on a short tour of NYC’s A train, which runs from the top of Manhattan all the way out to the beaches of Rockaway.
From Harlem and upper Manhattan to Brooklyn, Queens and the Atlantic Ocean - New York city’s A Line subway route covers over 30 miles, takes two hours to ride from end to end, and is the inspiration for one of jazz’s best known tunes.
Here — with archive images and vibrant present-day photographs from Melanie Burford — New Yorker columnist Adam Gopnik takes a ride on one of today’s A trains, and explores the communities living along the route.
In an excerpt from the introduction to Subway, his collection of photographs of the NYC subway, Bruce Davidson recalls how he came to start taking photos on the subway in the 1980s.
As I went down the subway stairs, through the turnstile, and onto the darkened station platform, a sinking sense of fear gripped me. I grew alert, and looked around to see who might be standing by, waiting to attack. The subway was dangerous at any time of the day or night, and everyone who rode it knew this and was on guard at all times; a day didn’t go by without the newspapers reporting yet another hideous subway crime. Passengers on the platform looked at me, with my expensive camera around my neck, in a way that made me feel like a tourist-or a deranged person.