Not the most practical of emergency exits. (Photo by flickr user rlboston)
As the great social mixing bowl of New York City, the subways provide ample opportunities for people from all walks of life to interact on a daily basis and make choices that impact each other. Should one offer to give up a seat? Should one cut one’s nails on a half-empty train? Should one block the doorways as other straphangers try to exit?
While the answers to those three questions are “probably,” “definitely not” and “get the hell out of the way,” other debates are not so clear cut in the minds of many riders. Enter the emergency exit. The emergency exit doors represent the pinnacle and subway egress. The gates are alarmed sometimes, and they’re far faster than the traditional ways to leave the system. A commuter in a rush will bypass long lines at the HEET exits or turnstiles, and if the alarm goes off, so what? While it is against New York City Transit regulations to use the emergency exists in non-emergency situations, that stops no one.
Yesterday, as part of a new series on Underground Ethics, Hillary Fields, a writer and editor at Beliefnet, inaugurated her column with some musings on the Emergency Exit debate. She writes:
Each morning, as I approach the IRT line, the dilemma looms larger and larger. The Subway Emergency Exit. Meant, as is so clearly blazoned on its push-bar, to be used only in cases of, you know… emergency. Should you dare to make it your egress, it will shrill loudly–nay, I daresay deafeningly–piercing the eardrums of all those around you. The sound echoes off the dingy station tiles, lingers unendingly in the air, pisses off the riders on the platform, wears out the alarms, and drives the beleaguered station agent just that tiny bit closer to a lethal meltdown.
So why the f*&k does everyone and his brother think it’s OK to use it instead of the turnstiles?
It is, of course, a personal decision and one many make to maximize time, other riders be damned. Fields takes a life lesson from her emergency exit experiences. “It amazes me,” she writes, “how expedience takes precedence over values at times like these, and perhaps can explain some of the other behaviors I see on the fly.”
Anyway, check out this new series. It will make for some interesting debates over how to approach personal actions underground. No one, after all, likes hearing the emergency exit siren, and everyone likes to exit the subway faster than that other person on the train who elbowed them on the way up the stairs. Choices, choices, choices.