As anyone who travels frequently by bus, plane or train can tell you, important service announcements are best when they're utterly incomprehensible: being able to hear and understand that your gate has changed or that you left your phone at a security checkpoint denies people of that rush of adrenaline and feeling of vitriol that makes getting from point A to B such a rewarding experience.
If you've ever wondered how the men and women behind the microphone are able to ensure that no one EVER has a clue of what in the hell they're saying, you'll want to head on over to Paste Magazine – they've got the goods on how New York City subway conductors warm up their voices before going on shift. It's all useful stuff. Knowing this one handy hint alone could help speed you on your way to a new career in the transportation industry:
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When used correctly, your tongue can make any vital service change announcement sound like it’s dialogue in a movie where an explosion just happened and everyone’s ears are ringing. As a warm up exercise, try to keep your tongue completely still, hovering in the middle of your mouth. Now try announcing, “F trains are now running along the A line.” With your tongue motionless, you won’t be able to articulate a single consonant sound. Your passengers will have no idea what the hell is going on. Feel free to also try this exercise while holding your tongue between two of your fingers.
In the early 20th century, James "Smelly" Kelly used his legendary sense of smell and DIY inventions to find hazards, leaks, elephant poop, and eels that were causing problems in the New York City subway system. Atlas Obscura's Eric Grundhauser profiles the the man known as The Sniffer:
In addition to finding water leaks and plumbing issues, Kelly was also responsible for detecting dangerous gas and chemical leaks. From invisible gas fumes that could be ignited by a random spark, to gasoline draining into the system from above-ground garages, Kelly was there to find them out using his allegedly hypersensitive nose.
The most sensational tale of Kelly’s sense of smell was the time he was called to a 42nd Street station to suss out a stench that had overtaken the platforms. According to Kelly’s own account, the smell was so bad it almost bowled him over, but as he got his head back in the game, he pinpointed the source of the reek as… elephants. Amazingly, he was correct. The station in question had been built beneath the location of the old New York Hippodrome, which had been torn down in 1939. The Hippodrome had often featured a circus, and layers of elephant dung had ended up buried at the site. A broken water main had rehydrated the fossilized dung and subsequently leaked into the subway. Until, that is, Smelly Kelly was able to identify it.
"The Man Who Used His Nose to Keep New York’s Subways Safe" (Atlas Obscura)
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Brand New Subway
is an online toy/game that lets you redesign, from scratch, New York City's mass transit system. The UI is complex and broken and slow to react to decisions (presumably in honor of the real subway), but once I gave up trying to actually make a better subway system the results were fun. Read the rest
Subway systems are circulatory systems, moving the lifeblood of a city from place to place beneath its skin. In the game Mini Metro, you get to be the engineer who maps out the veins, connecting all the stops in colorful tangles that keep the city moving as it grows around you.
Some of the biggest cities in the world are your transportation playgrounds: London, Paris, Hong Kong, New York, Berlin. Familiarity may offer a slight advantage as well; although I was complete garbage at building a tube for London, when I tried designing a subway system in my former home of New York City, it felt far more intuitive.
Although the map above looks complicated, and kind of is, the game begins very simply. You start with three stops, each one labeled with a shape—circle, triangle, square—and you connect them. The passengers at each stop are represented by shapes of their own, and your goal is to build lines that will efficiently route them to their similarly-shaped destinations. Unlike real life, these passengers aren't interested in reaching specific places; as long as a stop matches their shape, they'll happily disembark.
Things get more complicated as new stops pop up throughout the city, often in very inconvenient places, and you have to figure out how to link them in without turning your metro map into an inefficient mess. Fortunately, you can demolish and build new lines instantaneously, but if you make too many passengers wait for too long, and it's game over. Read the rest
The Newsstand is a subway shop inside Brooklyn's Lorimer/Metropolitan station that specializes in zines. Great idea! (And yes, it's already been nicknamed the "hipster newsstand.") Paper magazine interviewed the proprietors:
Lele Saveri: I think the zine idea was also because of the location. You're in the subway and people are used to grabbing something to read for the train ride. If it's not a newspaper or magazine, you just download [something] on your phone. [Zines] are something people can get for cheap and a unique thing. Also, you're [physically] underground and zines have always been about the underground world.
Jamie Falkowski: I think that space is really interesting because it's so different from going into a regular newsstand. You have to spend time and look at all the different titles and find the thing that speaks to you.
LS: Everyone who works at the stand are people who have been related to the zine world forever. They know exactly what they're selling. It's not like a dude who sells magazines and doesn't even look at them. Every day there's a new person and every day the person is curating or moving things around. I swear you'll see new stuff every day.
"MEET THE FOLKS BEHIND THE LORIMER STATION ZINE STAND" Read the rest
I always forget that Los Angeles has a subway at all, let alone the fact that it used to have a much more extensive one.
Parts of that old subway have sat, abandoned, beneath streets and buildings for decades. They've become part of the stratigraphy of the city, as humans do what humans have always done — build the new on top of the old and forget about what we covered up under there. It's no different than the way Rome was built, with the columns of old buildings serving as the foundations of new ones.
Back in May, blogger Gelatobaby got to go on a tour of one part L.A.'s lost subway, exploring a secret world exposed by renovations on a building that was once the city's main subway terminal. Her photos — including the one posted above — are amazing. Go check out the whole thing.
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Check out this great interactive map of the London subway system, showing the real-time location of the giant boring machines
that are currently digging new tunnels beneath the city. (Via Nicola Twilley) Read the rest
Kyle Chayka offers a history of deaths and injuries in the NYC subway system,
from Victorian tunnel collapses to gang warfare and commuter-pushing psychopaths. [Animal] Read the rest