Spotted: Outlaw Subway Signs To Ease Riders Through The Labyrinth

Monday, February 10, 2014 - 12:30 PM

It's a high-order skill of the veteran straphanger: boarding a subway train at the exact car and door that will disgorge you at the other end close to your connecting train or station exit. For years, the only way to execute the move was either by accident or reliance on a complex map of the system that you carried in your head, embedded over the years by trial and error. Then came an app called Exit Strategy, which put the map on your phone. And now comes the latest attempt to make a once-specialized skill of the grizzled New Yorker available to all: rogue signage.

The first signs were spotted on Monday at L train platforms. They read, 'Board Here,' with the icons of transfer lines underneath. But they’re not installed by the MTA – they’re courtesy of the Efficient Passenger Project, whose website says the signs help rider "efficiently navigate the New York City subway system."

"It's a public, civic service," an EPP founder told WNYC. The founder asked to remain anonymous because the signs are not sanctioned by the MTA. The subways can be "a labyrinth of tunnels and transfers and stairways. The project is an attempt to kind of rationalize some of that environment, and just make a more enjoyable, faster commute."

Gene Russianoff, staff attorney of the Straphangers Campaign, was firmly in the 'pro' column. "I am all for sharing subway smarts," he said, adding presciently: "The EPP activists better have many replacement copies of the poster."

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz confirmed that the transit agency was, indeed, planning on removing them. "These signs have the potential to cause crowding conditions in certain platform areas and will create uneven loading in that some train cars will be overcrowded while others will be under-utilized." Besides, he said, "regular customers already know which car they want to get into."

His latter statement struck a chord with some of our colleagues. "This is hard-earned local New Yorker information," said one. "Posting it so flagrantly etches away at the quiet pleasure I get from stepping off at the door just next to the staircase I need reach the exit closest to my destination. Or of being the first person to reach the turnstile from my train, leading the commuter exodus up into the above-ground light."

What do you think? Are you pro or anti-sign?


Comments [17]

Zaxxon from --NYCity--

The author's description of the required mental map for efficient navigating is a bit dramatic. Getting to know what part of the train to get on is not rocket science. It doesn't take long to figure out, if one takes the same route a few times; and analyzing routes for efficiency becomes second nature. For "outlaw" action, these signs are a little touchy-feely and precious. I'd rather see more graffiti, it's much more interesting than blank walls and repetitious advertising. Maybe a good samaritan will produce deliberately misleading counterfeit EPP signs to counteract the crowding caused by the original ones and keep the newbies on their toes.

Feb. 19 2014 01:03 AM

The effort is misguided and possibly dangerous. The risk is that it fails to distribute people safely and increases the likelihood of a dangerous pinch-point or a crowded platform.

I also disagree with it on principle. When magicians give away their secrets, they degrade the profession and hurt the economic potential of themselves and their colleagues.

We should treat subway secrets the same way.

This is not about elitism or a local's priority over visitors.

Insider info should be kept inside info for those who need it most - regulars who are busy and have a time-sensitive commute - not every straphanger or passerby. Rather, those folks should learn to budget more time and learn the subway the old-fashioned way: through trial and error.

Their multi-tasking haste should not risk a stampede or a human crush.

Feb. 18 2014 08:35 AM
Dave in Astoria

I know the MTA isn't perfect, but I think we should leave something as important as running the subway to the professionals. And I've lived in NYC for 20 years and never thought twice about where the best place to stand for a transfer is. For crissakes, it will probably only save you a couple minutes at best.

Feb. 17 2014 05:38 PM
Joe from Manhattan

As a longtime transplant resident of NYC, I think these signs are a great idea. Sure, it was fun figuring all of that out when I first moved here, but there are plenty of visitors to the city that don't have the time to figure all of that out.

On a separate note... One of the more annoying things about New York City is the battle that goes on to "out-New York" other New Yorkers. I'm sure it's more of a defense mechanism for some transplants that like to create the illusion that they are "from" here, but it's annoying nonetheless. Hopefully these signs will play a part in equalizing things so we can focus on helping each other out instead of having to one-up.

Feb. 16 2014 11:00 AM
Jacob from Bk

The default should always be to give customers more information on how to make their trip faster. Yes, this may lead to more crowding in some cars, but this will also lead to less crowding in others, giving people a clear choice of shorter transfer + greater discomfort vs longer transfer + less discomfort. In the end, an equilibrium will be reached. Deliberately withholding useful trip-making information is extremely condescending and speaks volumes to how the MTA views its customers.

Feb. 12 2014 01:35 PM
Jorge from NYC

Obviously, the person/people behind this have good intentions, but I don't support this at all.

1. When the transfers are most important, like getting to work, you don't need every tourist in town crowding up the same space on the train so they can save 30 seconds of walking. Learning the best position is something that takes time, that you learn for your personal routine. You don't always need to be in the optimum position either.

2. People don't often read fine details. Tourists/newbies may see the big, colored letters, and start asking strangers more questions about where the hell they are. "Isn't this where the L train comes??" Or actually expect those trains to arrive there.

3. It feels good when you have insider knowledge. You spend a lot of time in the city using the subway, have your route, you learn these things and it feels good. If every tourist and newbie can now instantly have the same knowledge, you lose that perk you gained from the time you've invested living in the city and using the public transportation, and now your spot is going to be even more crowded (#1).

Feb. 11 2014 10:36 PM
Mario from Washington Heights

Efficiency is rarely a virtue. I know the car that is closest to the stairways I need, but I only use this when I'm running late. Boring people who always board the same train to exit from the same stairwell will meet their boring counterparts. Why did you choose to live in NYC if you detest variety so much? New York is at its worst when you're stuck doing routine things and have tunnel vision aimed at your destination. What makes this city wonderful is the spontaneous discoveries, and the moments that you could have never expected.

Feb. 11 2014 10:23 PM
marty T from Manhattan

regulars know where to board but late niters need a clustering & signage for that would be best. we do need signs about "NO EATING & DRINKING" as the hot containers of coffee seem to be proliferating & "TAKE YOUR PAPERS & TRASH WITH YOU" along with "THE FLOOR IS NOT A TRASH RECEPTACLE YOUR MOTHER IS NOT HERE TO CLEAN UP AFTER YOU"

Feb. 11 2014 05:51 PM
PN from NYC

The logical response to this should be a balance one. There are both pros and cons to how much signage a given line or station needs to have. Yes, I have, at times, needed to exit or transfer from a station that I have never been to, only to find on exiting the train that I have to walk all the way to the other end. In such cases, pre-boarding signage would have been very useful. However, I can also see how this can result in very dangerous crowding for popular and larger exit stations (such as Union Square). By now, the MTA probably has a decent idea as to how many people enter and exit stations throughout the system at various times during the day. Perhaps the best solution would be smart signage? Similar to the e-signs that tell us when the next train will arrive; the MTA could (depending on the time of day) have signs that provide exit info for key stations. I for one would like to be as close to the exit as possible when travelling late hours or when getting to the airport and don't desire lugging my bags the full length of a station. An additional note, the fact that many stations only have one entry point to the platform, usually
located in the center or an extreme end of the platform already results in overcrowding. If I don't know where the exit will be at my destination, I always resort to entering the middle car anyway (as do a lot of people, especially tourists). Done smart, signage can actually decrease overcrowding!

Feb. 11 2014 10:33 AM
Daniel Shatz from NEW YORK CITY

This is gonna cause so many problems. People who are ESPECIALLY ignorant are gonna pile up next to the sign, and they're STILL gonna ask if they're in the right area. For regular commuters it's gonna be a nightmare.

I agree about this being done by an out of towner. The new York subway system is RIDICULOUSLY easy. God.

Feb. 11 2014 09:52 AM

NY Officials like to keep people ignorant.
Kevin Ortiz gave a poor excuse for removal: "These signs have the potential to cause crowding conditions in certain platform areas and will create uneven loading in that some train cars will be overcrowded while others will be under-utilized."
There are many stops along a line. If people go to the best cars for their different stops, that will distribute people along the platform, but more efficiently.
At crowded times, people will also avoid the overcrowded parts of the platform naturally. We all know it's harder to board at an overcrowded spot.
The signs also provide local confirmation that you're on the right platform.

Feb. 11 2014 09:42 AM

One point I want to add is that the "best" boarding and de-boarding may not actually be the best for everyone. People with mobility disabilities who use the elevators have a different "best" boarding area because they make transfers and enter/exit at different points on the platform than people who use the stairs and escalators.

Feb. 11 2014 08:27 AM
Anthony from New York

This undoubtedly was done by an out-of-towner 1 month in to a frustrating move to a scaaaary big Northeastern city. THE SUBWAYS IS SO EASY. Literally look at the map and the signs. Anything else is overkill. I do not support this handholding (not to mention its extremely inefficient to create herds of people trying to enter specific cars for "efficient transfers." These transplants need to get the game right, and focus their efforts on dismantling the MTA for its bullshit or vandalizing MTA property a la the renegade N-train tilda scribler. YA'LL PUNKS

Feb. 10 2014 08:50 PM
Mark from Manhattan

The key needs to be getting people on and off the train fast. The more a train waits at the station for people to get into crowded cars, the slower everyone's trip will be.

Feb. 10 2014 08:33 PM
steve from Starbucks

It is NOT efficient if everyone at Bedford Ave piles into the "best" car to transfer to the 456. Didn't anyone see A Beautiful Mind?

Feb. 10 2014 07:16 PM
Emily born before everyone was named Emily from Brooklyn

Good idea! If it wants to, this group should be allowed to join the MTA and become legit. New Yorkers take too much schadenfreudin' pride in how alienating and confusing the subways are.

Feb. 10 2014 05:44 PM
Spence from Manhattan

Great idea! Regular commuters don't need it. But for people taking the train less traveled, or at night, it would be very helpful.

Feb. 10 2014 05:25 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.