Today’s Urban Design Observation: Checking Out the Design Upgrades on NYC’s Future Subway Cars

NYC’s MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) has been making noise about the new R211 subway cars they’re acquiring, which are supposed to have a bunch of design upgrades. To get public feedback, they’ve built two full-sized mockups and put them on display at the 34th Street / Hudson Yards station. So I headed up there to take a look.

The exterior of the new cars certainly looks snazzy. Which is important because when you spend so much time on the platform waiting for a hopelessly delayed train and imagining what it will look like when it finally arrives, you want that snazzy image in your head.

The mock-up is a half-length-car, cut in half so you can look in. It’s a weird perspective. Not because it’s cut in half, but because it’s empty and there aren’t any homeless people or manspreaders in there.

Inside we see a welcome feature: This double-grab pole, which I learned the fancy reporters are calling a “looped stanchion.” It may appear that this pole is designed to allow twice as many people to grab onto it, but we New Yorkers know better; it is so that inconsiderate jerks who lean on it, preventing people from holding it, can have better back support.

These are the new fold-down seats. The MTA calls them “flip-up” but I call them “fold-down.” This is the New Yorker’s version of glass-half-empty-or-half-full.

There is a chamfer on them, so that in the upright position you can at least lean on them, unlike those folding seats on the 6-train.

The MTA employee who demonstrated the seats (I was not allowed to touch them, I guess I looked germy) said that they don’t make the loud BANG when you fold them up. It’s too bad, that’s my favorite part; the noise always makes tourists turn their head, allowing us all to identify and judge them.

Native New Yorker and comedian Colin Quinn has joked that due to the gentrification of Williamsburg, the L-train, which had a predominantly black ridership during his youth, is now so white that it looks like a ski lift. Incidentally, this new bench design does look like it was borrowed from a ski lift.

The MTA rep explained that it has a lower grab bar, because “short people need something to hold onto, too.” I didn’t like the way she looked me in the eye when she said “short people.” But yeah, I must admit that at this height they are pretty easy for me to grab.

These arrows on the floor are meant to befuddle first-time subway riders: Should you move diagonally left, straight ahead, or right? The possibilities are endless.

The doors are noticeably wider. The size of the previous doors discriminated against obese thieves; when portly phone-snatchers made a dash for the closing doors, they’d often become stuck and get arrested. Now even a wide-bodied bandit has an even chance of getting away.

They’ve lined the doors with LED strips. You might think that the lights turn red when the doors are about to close and green for open, but in fact they are connected to electrodes that the conductor must wear, and the color of the lights indicates his mood and emotional state.

This button is pretty cool: If you press it, free Wi-Fi comes out of a transmitter in the conductor’s mouth.

The MTA rep explained that the onboard maps are going to be interactive touchscreens. Which is good, because the one complaint I had about the paper maps is that they’ve always lacked the ability to transmit flu germs.

Okay, I’ve been a wiseass for most of this entry, but there are a couple of neat design changes, on the information front, that I do appreciate. The overhead displays in the train will add transfer information for buses in addition to subway lines.

The display listing upcoming stations indicates how long it will take you to reach each stop, which is pretty cool.

Lastly, when the train pulls into the station, this display pops on overhead. It shows you where the exits are on the platform relative to the car you’re in, as well as which direction the transfers are in. That’s actually pretty nifty if you’re riding into an unfamiliar station.

The MTA says the R211s will start rolling out around 2020. But given their recent problems with delays, I’ll believe it when I see it.