Toronto’s less-than-ideal subway cars. Image via Flickr
Transit planners in New York are taking a novel approach to upgrading their subway cars: actually observing what people do and don’t do when they’re using the subway. Researchers from the Transportation Research Board observed subway passengers in the winter of 2011-2012 in order to make recommendations on how to design a perfect subway car, one that maximizes space and efficiency. To regular subway users, some of these findings should come as no surprise, but other parts of the research are quite interesting.The current New York subway car layout
Some common problems that the researchers were looking to solve are: how do we maximize space, make seating that everyone will actually use, and how do we keep people away from the doors? Currently, the TRB found that subways have to be at 120% capacity for 90% of the seats to be used, because people really do not want to squish up next to each other if they can help it. They found that people would rather stand than take the dreaded middle seat, especially women. They also found on shorter trips, people don’t care whether there is forward facing airline seating, though on longer trips they prefer them. They also observed that passengers much preferred using vertical bars than the overhead bars when standing.The Transportation Research Board’s recommended subway layout
Their optimized subway car design is pretty radically different from the current layout. They recommend that doors be placed asymmetrically in order to encourage passengers not to crowd in front of them, with branching poles instead of single poles in the middle of the aisles, again to encourage riders to stay away from the doors. Instead of placing partitions on the ends of seats, this new design has more partitions in the middle of seats so that there are fewer middle seats and more people will sit down. There is almost no overhead bar space in comparison to the old design. There is a mix of airline and side seating to address the different needs of short and longer term riders.
This is a pretty interesting study just in the fact that it was done at all — Toronto has already bought their new subway cars, and for the most part they are laid out the same way they always have been, and the same issues of door crowding and unused seats persist. Whether or not New York actually adopts this layout for their new cars has yet to be been confirmed, but the study definitely offers a lot of useful information that other cities and even companies that make subway trains and buses can use when designing the mass transportation of the future as most of these problems exist on all mass transportation everywhere. Toronto’s new cars have been designed for better accessibility for those with strollers, wheelchairs, or walkers (though there have still been issues), and allows passenger movement throughout all the cars, there are still lots of unused middle seats, and people still seem to really like crowding the doors during rush hour. It’s definitely interesting to look at the two very different design approaches and see where each could be improved (though I am a huge nerd).