In The Dark, Underground (Emotional Transit Planning)

Post by Steven Dale

I’m fond of subways, but I don’t like riding them. They’re fast and efficient and they make a statement. They’re also ridiculously expensive. But that’s not the point. The point is this:

What is the psychological impact of traveling to and from work every day underground, in the dark?

In my own life, if I have the chance to stay above ground instead of using the subway, I do so. I’d rather look at the world passing me by even if it means a few minutes longer commute. It’s more pleasant and that’s important. It makes me feel good to see the sun, people and buildings rather than simply the armpit of some guy in front of me.

In Toronto, when the subway bursts out from underground for a precious few minutes on the Bloor Street Viaduct you can feel a certain relief within the subway which only collapses back on itself the moment it plunges back underground.

So again, what is the psychological impact of commuting underground? I know of no study that asks that question and I doubt our current transit planning regimes would even consider it remotely important. But shouldn’t they? Shouldn’t it be important?

Economists are quickly learning a similar thing. A new branch of the discipline called Behavioral Economics is teaching policy-makers that humans make most economic decisions based on emotion and psychology not the cold, hard reality of logic and rationalism that standard economics takes for granted.

Shouldn’t the way transit makes you feel factor into your equations and models? Wouldn’t more people ride your transit lines if they actually enjoyed it? How about it?

Emotional Transit Planning anyone?

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  1. What I figured out during my time as a commuter of our metro system (underground in the very city and overground in the urban areas) : Going day by day the same track up and down it somehow gets annoying to have the almost same views and it is more a privilege to travel fast than it is to travel overground with views. If it's not sunlight and environment what you can see then it is the other commuters or your book or magazine. If there is nothing to see through the windows you may even get the chance to switch off mentally for a bit - which I consider as a rare moment in our time. Right now I live in the city center and I can do almost everything by bike or by feet and sometimes I have to use the tram. But visiting London for instance it is a bit different - which supports the idea of Steven. I do love to travel by the underground - it's a strange feeling to use it. Those small tubes and the many different people in it - but maybe not in a daily routine. Now the turn: using the buses (going overground) you get to know the city better. Feeling more connected to life in opposition to just function on a daily basis. Of course it takes ages to reach your destination. As a tourist in London I'm willing to pay the price - different than in the city I'm living right now. Well, in Hong Kong you will find screens in the tunnel in front of your window which play short clips. Probably more caused by financial aspects than an act of humanity. All in all: I don't think going underground is so wrong/terrible/uninspiring at all - but I do see the advantages of going overground. I believe nobody would be against the idea of using the same advantages of an underground transportation system and actually enjoying the ride at the same time. @Steven: I don't think more people would ride our transit lines if they actually enjoyed it. But I do think the influence our transit lines have on us should get an improvement. Just check this out. A video of a little but somehow real big improvement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jedd2FiZTqM About the psychological impact of a not well planned building there is a term for it in architecture. Sick building syndrome. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sick_building_syndrome To optimize quality of work and life someone has to make sure the surroundings are optimized first. I so believe emotional transit,urban and building planning is a development our society has to go through. It is a form of lifestyle which just sweetens your life - makes it a little more colourful, a little more intuitive, a little more friendly.
  2. On the other side residents and business along a transit line do not want their view obstructed or want that transit passengers can view into their offices,flats and gardens. There is a strong conflict which cannot be solved. Obviously the more wealthy a city is the more likely an underground system will be built. There are also cases of elevated or at ground lines being rebuilt as underground system to get rid of it. And a good view doesn't mater much as regular riders rather read their newspaper or play with their smartphone. Personally i rather have a fast transit than one with nice views.
  3. Matthias, I don't think speed and pleasure have to be mutually exclusive. I wasn't advocating for or against a specific technology or concept in the last post. I'd simply like to ask the question: What is the psychological impact of the way we plan and design our transit systems?
  4. I think the real issue is the impact on businesses along the transit route. If people can't see the business along their route, they aren't going to know about them or use them. When I lived in New York, there where whole areas of the city I knew nothing about, even though I'd traveled underneath them a hundred times. As far as consumer psychology goes, I think it's nice to have a view, but unless I am a tourists I'm going to use the fastest and most reliable transit option I can afford regardless of view. If there is a view I'll stare out the window, if not I'll bring something to read. I suppose people with winter depression would appreciate an above ground system though...
  5. @Kelly: it's the same with the London Underground. Since they couldn't manage to bring the view down they brought the information about it down: in a magazine called "the loop" and it informs you about areas, about hip locations and events. I like the idea about bringing the information to the commuter if the communter doesn't really try to get the information on him-/herself. And I suggest that magazin as a win-win situation. People get information about options (meeting, shopping) on their daily way and those nearby located shops get transit customers, which would probably go shopping downtown or by car in the suburban area.
  6. Originally Posted by Wilhem275 on skyscrapercity.com - London Transportation Topic: I wonder why the new Stock has so small windows, compared to the 1992's. Can anyone explain me? The answer: Customer feedback. Passengers didn't like the 'hall of mirrors' effect on their reflection when viewed in the opposite window. It's pretty academic on the 2009 stock, as the entire Victoria line is underground (at least the bits the passengers see), so windows serve little purpose.

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