Home New York City Transit Everything old is new again: ‘Step Aside Speed Your Ride’

Everything old is new again: ‘Step Aside Speed Your Ride’

by Benjamin Kabak

Step Aside Speed Your Ride. The latest in Transit's crowd-control efforts on display along the 6 line.

A photo posted by Second Ave. Sagas (@secondavesagas) on

Thanks to a move north for my lawyerly career, my daily commute now takes me through the 51st St. station along the 6, and on the way home on Monday, I caught my first glimpse of the MTA’s latest pilot program. In a public awareness campaign that echoes back to the mid-1990s, Transit is testing two platform designs reminding passengers to get out of the way of those exiting trains. It’s a common courtesy that shouldn’t need to be repeated, but it’s also one that often escapes subway riders who rush to board crowded trains as soon as the doors open.

The two designs employ the familiar green characters from the MTA’s ongoing “Courtesy Counts” campaign and remind riders to “Step Aside” to “Speed Your Ride.” The idea behind the message rests in the MTA’s capacity constraints. The agency has recently reported that a recent jump in delays is due nearly entirely to crowds. As more people try to cram into subway cars, trains aren’t able to speedily move through stations. Thus, the MTA wants to streamline the border process, and in addition to this decal, the agency is trying to use customer service agents to herd passengers.

The design I saw is unique to 51st St. for now, and the pilot in place at one stop north at 59th St. looks slightly different. Consider it A/B testing for Transit:

As my Instagram photo atop this post shows, the installation also comes with signs hanging at around eye level on the platform support beams. I’ve had a chance to see it in action for only one train, and while one passenger was, at first, standing in the middle of the “Keep Clear” area, he moved over once the downtown 6 train arrived.

For the MTA, this slogan is not a new one. They employed it in 1996 to decidedly mixed results. A New York Times column expressed skepticism while a short AP story from early 1997 illustrated how nearly all riders simply ignored it. But times have changed, and the MTA is hoping this pilot will yield some improvements. Whether it survives the pilot stage — unlike those handy strip maps — remains to be seen. For now, though, it is apparently the best the MTA can do to help improve crush-load subway operations without an infusion of dollars in the billions. What that says about our hopes for an easy commute is something we best not dwell upon.

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Kyle August 4, 2015 - 9:22 am

I saw these this weekend too on my way home to Queens. Kind of reminiscent of my time in Tokyo. I think we need to be more aware to this, though I have seen times where the platform is so crowded people honestly have no where else to stand. Roosevelt Ave (74th-Broadway) comes to mind, but it is one I see everyday on my commute for work, I’m sure there are others.

As much as I hate to admit this; it would be a big cultural change for New York City and one I’m very skeptical of people doing. We can’t even get people standing at the doors half the time to step off and left the crowd off. I somehow doubt that we’ll be able to get people not rush onto the trains.

Tower18 August 4, 2015 - 10:05 am

New York runs with a orderly chaos that remains a hair away from anarchy at all times. The problem is, it takes a lot of people simultaneously stopping a lot of antisocial me-first behavior to get out of that pattern.

For example, let’s look at standing in the doors. I occasionally will stand in the door when seats aren’t available so I can read and hold my coffee (no need to hold the pole). However, when we get to stops and doors open on my side, I step out, stepping back in after passengers board. The problem is, more than half the time, I’ll step out to let someone on, and that person just stops in the door right where I was. So, as a rational actor, thinking only about myself and my behavior, why should I give up my spot?

D in Bushwick August 4, 2015 - 12:15 pm

At least once or twice a week I have to say “let us out” to selfish idiots trying to rush onto the train. They are children without manners, basically.

tacony August 4, 2015 - 12:38 pm

After the pilot will they replace the platform lettering with something that looks less like temporary construction signage? I like how they just installed it and it already looks filthy. (Would we accept the floor of… an airport being that dirty?! So 3rd world.)

The “Step Aside” lettering that’s been in the tiles on the 4/5/6 platform at Grand Central for a long time (since the 90s?) looks much better, but I guess the idea is to make it more noticeable? Of course the GCT subway platforms are some of the few that actually seem to be regularly cleaned…

JJJJ August 4, 2015 - 2:21 pm

Seriously how does it look so dirty already?

adirondacker12800 August 4, 2015 - 3:22 pm

people walk on it.

Stephen August 4, 2015 - 6:41 pm

As adirondacker12800 says, people walk on them. I think that might be what tacony was thinking of, the tiles on the platform, not the paper signage on the pole.
I think somebody actually dragged something across that platform tile; the streak certainly doesn’t look like footsteps.

rr22 August 4, 2015 - 1:29 pm

Despite New Yorkers not following rules as well as people in Germany or Japan, I haven’t really noticed this issue being much of a problem. 99.9% of the time, from my experience, there’s nobody trying to force their way in before people have exited. However, I would appreciate additional reminders for people to “stand right, walk left” on escalators, and to not try to squeeze their way into subway doors that are closing.

jack August 4, 2015 - 8:47 pm

Really? I’m not in NYC now, but growing up I remember this happening all the time. Like, there was never a time where it didn’t happen. Even when I visit the city now (I live in Tokyo) I still see people doing it and I shake my head in shame.

Even worse, now living in Tokyo for four years, every now and then I find myself doing it here! the worst behaviour inherited from my city!

Andy In NYC August 6, 2015 - 9:34 am

From 2010 to 2012 I took the 8th ave. subway to catch a 7:39 train out of Penn Station every weekday morning, and every single morning I had to deal with this at Penn. One morning I was so fed up I just stood there and announced “You’re not getting on this train until you let us off first.” Idiots.

JJJJ August 4, 2015 - 2:22 pm

Other ways to speed ride:
1) Articulated trains to add capacity
2) More doors to increase boarding capacity
3) More frequent trains to reduce bodies on platform

No more delays due to boarding!

Stephen August 4, 2015 - 6:48 pm

I don’t know if points 1 and 2 are doable anytime soon, but running more trains should be. Although, considering the lead time it seems to take them to adjust their schedules, it might not be until Spring 2016 before we see more train frequency. I base my comment on the timing of the announcement, I think it was in May or June, where they said there would be more service, but the service wouldn’t start until December. Ok, so maybe 6 months from now, Feb 2016 we would get more #6 trains.

tacony August 6, 2015 - 10:32 am

Maybe it’s just my imagination, but it seems like everything fell apart on the 6 when they swapped out the old cars with the 7 due to the CBCT upgrade there. It seems like they just can’t keep to schedule since that happened. Constant problems. Not sure if it’s just a coincidence.

AMH August 14, 2015 - 10:57 am

The Lex is at capacity; it can’t handle any more trains, hence this sort of tinkering around the edges.

Herb Lehman August 4, 2015 - 3:06 pm

I’m glad the MTA is trying, but honestly, this has solved nothing. My northbound 6 train this morning *still* skipped 68th Street due to lateness. This happens at least once a week and often more. I ride at about 8:30 a.m.

It dwelled at 59th Street for three minutes to let off passengers who wanted 68th Street; that would be 70% of the train at least. In those three minutes, the train could have stopped at 68th and 77th and still had time left over.

Ironically, it also skipped 51st Street, where this initiative is taking place.

Want to reduce train delays on the 6? Reduce the headways in the morning rush from the 5-6 minutes they are now to the 3 minutes the line is designed for. Don’t do “battery runs,” which only make the delays worse and make passengers such as myself really pissed off.

rr22 August 4, 2015 - 4:51 pm

wait, what? the 6 train skipped some stations? what are the people who wanted to get off at those stations supposed to do? what a waste of time for everyone.

Rob August 4, 2015 - 11:47 pm

This happens all the time at 103rd st as well. Trains announce (if you can understand or hear on the older 6 trains) they will be going directly to 125 or 59 and that another train making local stops “directly behind”. So most passengers exit as their stop will be skipped and crowd onto the next train., which is sometimes directly behind. In the stations being skipped there is a unison groan when we hear the train horn signaling that the train will not stop. It is confusing for visitors and annoying for locals. And I can’t imagine it helps much between the time they hold for people to exit the train and the fact that they still slow down in stations.

Anonymous August 5, 2015 - 6:54 am

Dwell times are one of the most time intensive things on a railway.

At what speed does a battery run go through a station?

tacony August 6, 2015 - 10:19 am

They do it on the 6 all the time. They slow down quite a bit as they pass through the station on the local track, and often sound the horn, probably because they’re afraid people who think the train will be stopping in the station will be hit by the train.

Stephen August 4, 2015 - 6:44 pm

What’s a battery run? The 6 ends at brooklyn bridge, so it’s not like it runs all the way down to the battery.

Otherwise, I agree with you. The answer to reduce boarding times is to run more trains so that people know a train really is ‘right behind this one’ (or close to it) so that they don’t try to move heaven and earth to squeeze their body onto the train. In spite of what they might think, there is not always room for one more.

Joe August 4, 2015 - 6:57 pm

I think he means it runs express to a station down the line to relieve bunching.

Herb Lehman August 4, 2015 - 8:01 pm

Right, “battery run” is the technical term for skipping stations while the train is in service (the MTA customer service person used that exact term when I filed a complaint through their email system).

paulb August 4, 2015 - 9:11 pm

Good luck to them. Some people like to block doorways, and narrow halls. Thoughtlessness? Exhibitionism? Mild belligerence? No idea. I see it all the time where I work. They just do.

Brooklynite August 4, 2015 - 11:44 pm

Changing gears to talk about door holding for a moment, the doors need to be reconfigured to be tougher to hold open and C/Rs need to stop reopening them when people stick their hands into closing doors. People will quickly learn that doing so doesn’t work.

Anonymous August 5, 2015 - 6:36 am

“C/Rs need to stop reopening them when people stick their hands into closing doors.”

Except for when it goes wrong and the MTA inevitably gets sued. Or because that means that the circuit won’t be completed, meaning that the motorman can’t move away.

Instead of that all new trains to be ordered should be fitted with a system that allows the conductor (though at this rate we may see it once OPTO is introduced everywhere, AKA when pigs fly) to reopen only the doors that haven’t closed yet – so people won’t try to enter a train that only needed to open the doors to save someone who get trapped. A couple of systems have it on some trains and it definitely makes a difference in dwell times.

Brooklynite August 5, 2015 - 7:24 pm

The 160s, at the very least, have doors that automatically reopen if they detect an obstacle. Regarding C/Rs not reopening, the train won’t move until the person gets their hand out of the doors (and thus give the T/O indication). That’s the point. People will learn that trying to hold the doors open is pointless.

If someone is actually stuck in the doors, of course the C/R can eventually reopen. Doing so quickly just encourages more doorholding though.

AMH August 14, 2015 - 11:04 am

The newer cars do have separate door circuits that allow only obstructed doors to recycle. This has the added benefit of significantly reducing wear and tear.

Boris August 5, 2015 - 1:16 am

I believe that the underlying reason most people rush to board is because they don’t know for how long the train will be at the station before departing. Installing countdown-to-departure clocks in stations with crowding issues can help.

Herb Lehman August 5, 2015 - 11:25 am

That also hasn’t worked, on the IRT lines that have the clocks. When people are running for trains, their instinct is not to read the countdown clock to see when the following train is coming — it’s to run for the train that’s sitting there. (The clocks have been a really nice convenience, though.)

tacony August 6, 2015 - 10:27 am

Well the countdown clocks are also designed really poorly.

The next train to arrive is always shown at the top of of the screen, as it should. But the 2nd row alternates between showing all the trains after that, along with notes on service disruptions. So finding the 2nd train to come often requires you to watch the countdown clock screen for a LONG time. Too long to make a quick decision whether to force your way into the arriving train or wait for the next one. When a train is pulling into the station, the clocks should always display the 2nd train instead of continuing to cycle through the messages.

I’ve commented here before that the countdown clock information is great but they could do so much more to make it more useful. When you’re already on the train it’s often really hard to see the clocks in the stations unless you get off the train. The countdown clock information should be included in the automated announcements. “This 42nd st-Grand Central. Transfer to the 4 train, arriving in 1 minute, the 5 train, arriving in 11 minutes, the 7 train, arriving in 8 minutes…”

Herb Lehman August 6, 2015 - 12:28 pm

The second line on those countdown clocks not only is affected by the service disruptions, which can be useful, but those not-so-useful, noise-pollution automated announcements.

“May I have your attention, please! 1,451 tons of trash are removed…”

mattmaison August 5, 2015 - 11:55 am

This actually looks like it’s working at the 51st St stop.

Dave August 10, 2015 - 5:01 pm

Will the MTA try to register the trademark “Step Aside”?


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