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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Changing Colors

The subway can lull you to sleep if you're fortunate enough to get a seat after a long day at work.  The movement of the train, that rhythmic clack-clack clack-clack..... clack-clack clack-clack of the wheels on the tracks, and the warmth from so many bodies packed together can draw the shades over your eyes for a while. Then when you wake up... where are you?! Did you miss your stop?!

Looking out of the train, to the extent you can even get a glimpse past the bodies crowded between you and the windows, often does not provide any clear view of a station name. What you can almost always see in the old IND subway stations are the columns and possibly the band of colored tiles. Fortunately, they are... no... until recently they were color coded to help identify the station. If I wake up and see green columns, I know I've reached 125th Street. If the columns are yellow, that means I'm at 145th Street. At Tremont, the columns are red.

This easy identification by classifying sets of stations by color was a key design element by Squire Vickers. It was both functional and esthetic. The color banding provides a clean, modern artistic statement that maintains a sense of movement through the station. The transition along the color wheel as the stations change from green to blue to yellow provides a sense of progress as passengers traverse the system. Maintaining a feeling of movement when you are closed inside a crowded metal box can break up the banality of longer subway trips.

Unfortunately, Cuomo's MTA is destroying this historic design in its rush to look like they're doing something to address the subway crisis. Some of the new information display systems appear helpful, but elevators for people with disabilities or strollers are being left out while they inconvenience passengers with months-long full closures for gut rehabs. These station upgrades are essentially cosmetic, and yet the generic contemporary design is reopening indistinguishable, monochromatic gray stations.

If this program is allowed to continue, the stations will become a dreary subterranean Groundhog Day. Every time you open your eyes, it will look like the same station again.

When spending extensive sums of money and disrupting passengers' regular commutes for lengthy periods of time, it is important to understand the original design and how people use the system now, how they experience it. Instead, a simplistic esthetic is being rolled on in a misguided attempt to make the stations look more fresh.

Fortunately, the color of the columns is just paint. Hopefully the original, superior design will be restored the next time the columns need a new coat. Until then, maybe try not to doze off on the train.