The New York City subway will order up to 750 open-gangway subway cars, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday, bringing the nation’s largest transit system in line with its global peers. Open-gangway cars—known here as the “open car end” design, and allowing free passage through the train interior—may not be familiar to American riders, but they’ve helped improve subway systems around the world. For New York, this move is long overdue.
Together with wider doors and seats that fold into the walls, this design shift will make the subway faster, less crowded, and more on time. Other customer-friendly improvements will include bifurcating poles on trains, canopies over stairways to the sidewalk, and at some future date, a second wave of countdown clocks.
The plan had been to request just one of these open trains, which eliminate separations between cars to increase capacity by as much as 10 percent, as a trial run. While the language leaves room for backtracking, a strongly worded press release suggests Cuomo has his eye on the examples of Toronto, Paris and London…and perhaps that he has been reading Slate, in which I encouraged the governor to order these open cars back in February.
Over the next few days, tabloid columnists will probably start the drumbeat against the open gangway trains, arguing—as one of my colleagues did this morning—that they will provide a fertile habitat for New York’s “unusually colorful culture of vagrancy.”
Don’t believe it. New train designs are the fastest way to increase the capacity of the subway, and congestion and the delays it creates—not “It’s Showtime!” or kids selling Peanut M&Ms—is the great straphanger hazard. Our rush-hour trains don’t smell any different than Tokyo’s.
The renderings generally augur a handsome future for the subway, with better lighting fixtures, gray tile floors, and glass barriers that signal that underground New York’s days as a locus of mayhem have passed. There are some questionable design choices: The blue-and-yellow color scheme clashes with the subway’s own color branding. There’s no way Massimo Vignelli’s high-design subway map is returning to use. The new cars promise USB ports, though outlets were deactivated on the Staten Island Ferry last week after customers fought over them and a transit worker got punched in the face. (And they say New York has lost its spirit!)
Worst of all, the new trains will be getting digital advertisement screens, bringing the horrors of Taxi TV to the commute.
On the whole, though, this is great news: In a few years, the subway will start running a little faster. Finally.