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The 7 worst ideas for improving the New York City subway system

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Randy Gregory II is a graphics man by trade, but he also specializes in user experience design. That must be what led him to create his Tumblr, improvesubway, a list-in-progress of 100 potential tweaks to the city of New York’s world-class subway transit system. 

Are you listening, Metro Transit Authority? Because you probably shouldn’t.

While engineers and construction crews are working hard to open renovated stops and make the Second Avenue “T” line a reality by 2020, Gregory has a slightly more ambitious set of priorities—one that seems influenced by a life of some privilege, if not Portlandia itself. 

Gregory means well, and recently wrote that he’d like to present his ideas officially, but most are so hare-brained, Brooklyn-oriented and flat-out bad that the site scans as parody. Even if one of these astronomically expensive concepts were applied, MetroCard prices would quintuple. 

To his credit, an RFID swipe system might save a lot of grief, but Londoners will know he’s hardly the first to think of that, and he makes up for every sound (if major) proposal with absolute claptrap. He has 45 days to go before he hits the 100 mark, but here, without further ado, are his seven biggest clunkers so far:

1) Automatic Toilets

More like high-end bidets, the way he describes them. Gregory is concerned about the bathroom situation in a big way. He wants the floors repainted, better signage, easier access, superior plumbing, and automatic toilets with mood lighting, music, and eau de deodorant. Unfortunately, for almost every station besides Times Square, this would mean building restrooms more or less from scratch—and for a service every New Yorker has learned to live without. Besides, it’s gross enough on the trains themselves; no need to tempt fate here.

2) Portable A/C Stations

These appear to be regular air conditioners that sit on the floor of vast subway stations they couldn’t possibly cool. What’s “portable” about them is unclear.

3) Subway Timers

Gregory dreams of a world in which, to the side of each sliding door, on the exterior of the train, there is a small digital readout that informs you exactly how many seconds you have until the doors close. It’s just too bad that this would involve implanting decision-monitoring electrodes deep inside every conductor’s brain.

4) Smell Detectors

As Gregory puts it: “Wouldn’t it be nice to know if the train smelled bad? Especially in the summer? Digital smell detectors affixed to the cars light up as the train gets progressively worse. This way, you know which car not to get on!” First things first, of course: We’d need to teach a computer how to smell.

5) Door Locks

Yes, there’s certainly no way those could malfunction or be put to nefarious use.

6) Bike Racks

Gregory envisions putting some bike racks in each train, right about where the handicapped seating is, or was. He believes this would “encourage more people to ride their bikes.” For those cyclists unfamiliar with New York subway etiquette, the rule about bringing your bike on the train is: don’t. Maybe try just riding the thing itself?

7) Animated Train Ads

I don’t know how somebody can be in so much of a rush to make Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report our shared reality, but this is an appalling suggestion. It benefits only advertisers (and minimally so, given their current ubiquity) at outrageous cost to the MTA. Actual riders would consider this an intrusive bother. Or am I misunderstanding “improvement”?

Photo by rafaj/Flickr