Wednesday, April 29, 2009
To The Inspector General
The Deadliest Warrior is one of the best examples of unintentional humor on the air right now. The entire cast is made of rejects from “300.” Grown men in a gym pound on ballistics gel dummies and skeletons. Force pads measure the power of their strikes in pounds-per-square-inch. Adults are standing around and arguing, really arguing, and taking grievance over disagreements about which long-dead nation of people, existing centuries apart, produced men with greater martial prowess.
If you gave two eleven-year-old boys a special effects budget to live out their “Who would win in a fight?” conversations, this is the show they would produce.
A letter to Mr. Barry L. Kluger, Inspector General of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (published here and sent via USPS)
I am a born New Yorker, and I've been using the buses and subways of New York City since I was small enough to be carried on board.
A few weeks ago, I was leaving Grand Central Station, and I came across a scene that made me write you this letter. I was using the row of turnstiles in the annex where the hallway to the 42nd Street Shuttle meets the stairways to the platforms for the 4,5, and 6 trains. It was a weekday afternoon, around 3:00, so the area was busy, but not anywhere near rush-hour usage. There are about twenty turnstiles in front of the exit there. Still, there was a steady stream of riders moving out through each of the turnstiles.
I go through one of the turnstiles, and a couple is standing in front of me. It is a man and woman in their fifties, with their rolling carry-on-sized luggage, and the guy gives me this sad, polite smile. I turn around, and immediately see his problem: the constant flow of people exiting mean that there's no way he and his wife can get through. I had never seen it this way. I am used to charging towards a turnstile when I am trying to enter, counting on my focus and energy to announce to people exiting that I am about to use this turnstile, and they need to choose another one.
This is a very strange social negotiation that happens every minute, but I don't think that it has to.
When I was younger, I seem to remember that each station had the old, “herringbone” rotating exits, and these are still installed in many outlying stations, such as the 5 train station at Gun Hill Road, near where I live in the Bronx. I'm sure you know these; the exit is just a frame with metal slats and a rotating cage on a gear that allows travel in one direction. They are inexpensive, simple, reliable, have been in use for decades, because they allow people leaving to keep moving without having to negotiate a two-way turnstile.
They have been replaced by the push-bar exit door, but these doors are clearly marked as emergency exits, which play a harsh beeping alert to discourage their regular use. By phasing these out, you create the problem that this couple faced. Worse, during peak times at the busiest stations, you can stand aside and watch hundreds of near-collisions (and many head-on collisions), people tripping or bumping into each other as they side-step, looking for an exit or entry that is clear for a moment, headphone wires and bag straps caught and pulled – and so on.
So please, Mr. Kruger, bring back the simple, one-way rotating exits. If there is some fatal flaw in these that I'm not aware of, I'm sure that some ingenious person has developed a device that serves the same function in a catalog or on a drawing board somewhere.
Thanks for your time,