Home View from Underground Study: Subways plagued by door-blockers, manspreaders

Study: Subways plagued by door-blockers, manspreaders

by Benjamin Kabak

Despite an ongoing MTA etiquette ad campaign, recent observers spotted an increase in manspreading.

As the subways grow more crowded, the way we take up space has garnered more attention. No one should care how we spread out, sit, or stand on a subway car that’s mostly empty, but when every square foot is precious, straphangers who take more than their allotted space come under the microscope. “Manspreading” was seemingly the 2015 word of the year in New York City as the unfortunate tendency of some riders to reserve space and take up multiple seats by spreading their legs became the Internet’s cause du jour. And now a Hunter College professor has taken a closer, observational look at subway etiquette.

The report — available here as a pdf — used observations across a variety of subway lines in both the fall of 2015 and the spring of 2016 to identify certain etiquette trends. Observers found manspreading to be a steady issue while door-blocking was more prevalent. Pole-hugging, another etiquette violation, wasn’t nearly as widespread, and riders eating made up only around 1/2 of 1 percent of subway passengers.

I found the passages on manspreading to be instructive. In the fall studies, observers found that 8.5 percent of seated male riders engaged on some form of manspreading, but this figure dipped to just 2.9 percent on crowded cars. “This finding suggests that manspreading is not a biologically-based phenomenon due to the body dimensions of males as some have argued,” they wrote. “Rather, its occurrence appears to be situational and depends upon the population density of the riders in the car.” In the spring, these totals jumped to 14.4 and 9.6 percent of riders, but the Hunter professors attribute this, in part, to a renewed focus on manspreading during the spring observations.

Interestingly, though, the Hunter observers spotted a problem the MTA has recently identified as a cause for delay. The study calls the phenomenon “disorderly exits,” and we know it more commonly as door-blockers. Riders will not get out of the way of open doors as straphangers attempt to enter and exit subway cars or those entering will board before everyone exiting has alit. Thus, passengers have to queue up to funnel through a confined space, and train dwell times at stations (and thus delays) are increased. In crowded cars, disorderly exits were observed during over 30 percent of peak rides this past spring.

The MTA has started an aggressive campaign of public address announcements aimed at reducing delays due to crowds, and I’ve worried this comes across as victim-blaming. Since the agency isn’t or can’t run enough trains to meet demands, they’ve taken to lecturing riders for delays that are kinda, sorta beyond the riders’ collective control. The Hunter study though suggests that perhaps riders on both sides of the doors are to blame for these delays. Some people can’t wait to run unto a train while refuses to clear the doors at busy stations. Delays mount one way or another.

It’s tough to draw sweeping conclusions from an observational study, but the authors offer up a few words of advice. They note, interestingly, that females are less likely to enter a subway car that’s relatively empty, and they have some words of wisdom on boarding. “If the subways are to run more efficiently and attenuate the frustrations of riders due to delayed trains,” they write, “then one priority should be to focus on reducing the incidence of disorderly exits.” Easier said than done, eh?

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SEAN May 11, 2016 - 8:07 am

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Rnq1NpHdmw&w=560&h=315%5D

A study says… you should watch this piece on studies from Last Week Tonight.

Marsha May 11, 2016 - 8:39 am


DF May 11, 2016 - 8:15 am

>Interestingly, though, the Hunter observers spotted a problem the MTA has
>recently identified as a cause for delay. The study calls the phenomenon
>“disorderly exits,” and we know it more commonly as door-blockers.

Not just recently…

JEG May 11, 2016 - 9:42 am

No mention in this study of people who cross their legs so that their leg and foot stick out into the center of the car, which significantly cuts down on the amount of space for people standing. When people sitting on opposite sides of the car do this move into and out of a car is difficult, and you either have to high step over their feet or weave around them.

While I find so-called manspreading rude, I’m no less irked by this self-centered behavior.

Chaz Antonelli May 11, 2016 - 3:37 pm

It’s easy to blame the passenger for all of this – but take this into mind:

– Some people have to sit/stand certain ways due to physical disability/ailments (for example, I can’t reach up to a pole, I require a vertical pole to hold, due to rotator cuff issues).

– Some people need to DIET! I’ve seen MANY women easily fill TWO “bucket seats” on the (6) train, one for each butt cheek and in many cases a bit more!

– Bad joints/knees make it sometimes impossible to sit as you wish they would.

– Some people are NOT PREPARED to alight when the train enters the station, mostly due to absent-mindedness, assisted by personal entertainment devices. These folks spring to attention and fight against the inbound passengers because they were not ready to alight.

– Many people stand in the doorway and don’t exit the train to re-enter (a huge pet peeve of mine), most times a kind “excuse me” will work — but we’re so shy to say anything or make eye contact with other passengers…

In a nutshell, it’s easy to blame everyone else without knowing the entire story, YOU might be that person making someone else’s commute a nightmare. Try to be patient of others, be polite and pay attention and everyone’s commute will be better.

I had one guy on the (4) train call me a “FAGGOT” because I was standing ‘too close to him’ during rush hour (as if it were my choice!). I saw him every day on my way to work on Wall St and never got the courage to challenge him — but being a gay man, I probably could have wrecked his life if I filed a harassment lawsuit. Is it worth it?

Onix May 13, 2016 - 1:44 pm

I can’t stand the overweight person that tries to fit into a space they can’t possible get into. Sorry, but I’m not going to sit on the edge of my seat because your tubby ass wants to force your girth in between two ppl.

Ryder May 11, 2016 - 10:07 am

How about people wearing backpacks? Wearing a backup takes up a lot of space (and whacks a lot of people) compared to if you hold it.

SEAN May 11, 2016 - 7:50 pm

I ware a backpack when I travel on mass transit, but I’m ALLWAYS aware of my fellow riders. What I have a problem with is when someone refuses to move when I say please excuse me & then they give me a look if I either bump them or most commonly step on their foot.

Janet May 11, 2016 - 7:54 pm

Ha. Then you don’t get it! There’s way more room at your feet. Next time, remove that pack and you won’t get glared at.

SEAN May 12, 2016 - 10:01 am

It’s a small one that doesn’t stick out unlike the ones I typicly see with riders. Plus I’m legally blind FYI – so tell me again who doesn’t get it?

Onix May 13, 2016 - 1:39 pm

I’m legally blind myself. I think that those newer cars are a godsend. The announcements are clear, and I can see what train I’m boarding because of the big red letter or number up front, nit to mention the side destination signs.

Matthias Hess May 11, 2016 - 10:15 am

This is timely–the platform controllers at 125/Lex were aggressively making announcements this morning (annoying, but much less so than the recordings) and people actually seemed to listen! It’s anecdotal though, and the train wasn’t crush-loaded (people seem better-behaved when they’re not being pressed from all sides). The worse crowding gets, the more boarding anxiety seems to set in, prompting salmoning and door-blocking. I would like to see habitual door-blockers pulled off trains and ticketed though.

22r May 11, 2016 - 10:18 am

While I believe the vast majority of riders are relatively polite, thoughtful, and aware of their surroundings, there never fails to be those people boarding who will cram their way into the doors before other passengers are done exiting. I just don’t understand how people could do something so illogical. I could comprehend (though obviously not excuse) this behavior if there were actually some benefit to the person engaging in it. But there’s zero benefit whatsoever! They’re just delaying themselves along with the train! How can people do something that makes absolutely no sense?

Dave May 11, 2016 - 10:24 am

If people would only watch this video and do what it says: Johnny T’s Subway Tips.

GregK May 11, 2016 - 10:47 am

Does anyone know if cars with wider doors are a possibility? If it’s possible, it seems like a no-brainer to reduce delays. I suppose it would have to be done at a reduction of seats though…

Herb Lehman May 11, 2016 - 12:39 pm

The R142 trains that have shown up on the 4/5/6 line in the past decade have noticeably wider doors than the R62 cars they replaced. I never thought that made much of a difference. But since a large percentage of the R142 trains were pulled off the 6 line a couple of years ago and replaced by the older R62s, delays have definitely increased.

tacony May 12, 2016 - 3:58 pm

The replacement of the R62s on the 6 is especially unfortunate ’cause it’s hard to hear in-train announcements when the train is in the station, which are frequently required to tell you that the 6 is skipping stops ’cause it’s so far behind schedule, which they often do. I spend too much time backtracking ’cause the automated announcements of the next train arriving in the stations are so loud they drown out the manual announcement being made on the train that they’re skipping stations. This was never a problem with the old (new) R142s, and another reason the 6 has been a mess lately.

Chris C May 11, 2016 - 3:17 pm

Anything is a possibility from wider doors to through having a PA system where you can actually hear the announcements!

But these all cost and have a long lead time.

And its possible then when you widen the doors you have to lose a seat (or two) for the extra room.

AMH May 12, 2016 - 11:36 am

One idea would be a short railing in the middle of each doorway, encouraging people to enter/exit two abreast instead of single-filing it between door-blockers. It would also discourage door-blocking, since offenders would be more in-the-way and HAVE to move. I’ve seen this on some streetcars, and it really seems to help with simultaneous entry/exit.

Noi May 11, 2016 - 12:24 pm

“As the subways grow more crowded”

You guys are greatly exaggerating. What lines have seen an increase in commuters exactly? The Lexington Av subways always had this problem but where else?

Have you seen tokyo subways? Now that’s a crowded system. We don’t have that here so we’re good. Everyone still fits in the subways although it’s just a little crowded in there but again everyone finds space.

Tower18 May 12, 2016 - 8:03 pm

lol wut?

You guys are greatly exaggerating. What lines have seen an increase in commuters exactly? The Lexington Av subways always had this problem but where else?

All of them. These are facts. Check the data.

Herb Lehman May 11, 2016 - 12:41 pm

I know this has been mentioned on other posts about manspreading before, and I’m not denying in any way that manspreading is a problem, but please, let’s not single out just the men here. Rudeness knows no gender on the subways.

Janet May 11, 2016 - 7:51 pm

This study left out a key piece of bad behavior: not removing a backpack or lowering any large bag to the floor. A person wearing a backpack is like two people in one an there’s always more space down by the feet. This commission makes be think that the people who did the study may be inconsiderate themselves!

Fc May 11, 2016 - 8:33 pm

Why not have ta cops issue summons/ ticket to anyone blocking the door

Manny May 11, 2016 - 9:19 pm

Door blockers get too much blame. It’s only a ‘problem’ when the train and/or platform is totally packed. Most other times they are actually out of people’s way and allow those who need to sit to have a seat. On my list of things that annoy me about the NYC subway system, it’s WAY down the list.

John S. May 11, 2016 - 10:20 pm

No…it’s a pretty big peeve of mine. Sometimes trains aren’t that full, but enough people are hovering around the door (tourists on the 6 train!) and the nearby pole that getting past the two ‘sentries’ is a veritable nuisance. Obviously I don’t want to lose my place in the train, but if the crowd force me into said area, I do get off and stand to the side…and am certain to hop back on before anyone gets the chance to keep me from continuing on home. (Usually this is more of an evening problem.)

A related issue that really gets me is the people who ‘forget’ that there are people behind them waiting to get on. After waiting for people to squeeze past the folks piled up by the door, they get on and *stop.* It’s kind of like they’re thinking, “oh good, I got in.” This requires either a level of rudeness I’d rather not muster or a plea for further entry.

I think the announcements of late have been over the top, but ‘move to the center of the car’ is a simple message that just doesn’t sink in. I think a lot of times messages should be worded better to say ‘why’ you should do something. People don’t generally like being told what to do and if they don’t see the point, they won’t do it. “Please exit through the rear doors” for buses is a perfect example – no one pays attention to it. “Please exit through the rear doors, so other ‘customers’ may enter while you’re exiting, keeping this bus moving” might stand a better chance. (I really prefer ‘passengers,’ but I noticed they changed the wording on the Lex. Ave. line.) Alas, this doesn’t appeal to the selfish notion of “Oh, well, I’m getting off now, I don’t care about the people still on this bus,” but I doubt anything will reach such folks.

SEAN May 12, 2016 - 10:07 am

“Please step aside – & let the passengers off the train first.” Who hasn’t herd that one on the Broadway & Lexington lines.

Somebody May 12, 2016 - 1:29 pm

Can we PLEASE do away with this blatantly sexist concept of, “man spreading”? Blaming this sort of behavior on one gender is complete counterproductive and sexist. Yes, spreading ones legs is annoying and I’m sure men are statistically more likely to do it than women, but there are dozens of other annoying things too like riders placing their bags next to them instead of under the seat which are more likely to be found among women riders. It’s stupid to single out one gender and one action when there is so much that can be done better. Why not just single out fat people if we’re going to be that uncouth about who we blame for crowing?

Onix May 13, 2016 - 1:33 pm

I think that “woman spreading” is a huge problem. I’m talking about the ones that feel that their shopping bags also paid a fare. Not to mention the ones with the limousine strollers that take up huge amounts of space. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that they need their strollers but ladies, close em up eh.


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