Research Project

The Making of A Healthy Central Nervous System 

New York City’s subway system has played a vital role of the lives of today’s typical New Yorkers. With the lack of parking and seemingly never-ending presence of traffic, the average New Yorker finds ease in utilizing public transportation such as buses and trains. With it’s unrivaled speed and vast routing networks, in a sense, the subway system works. But when asking the typical New Yorker walking down the street, some might conclude that it doesn’t work as well as it should. In other words, the subway system is an incredible system that has its benefits and its drawbacks that can make the average New Yorker’s commute not as enjoyable as it should be. The subway system is a hot, crowded, isolated and inefficient system that can be improved to be more comfortable, punctual and reliable for the many New Yorkers using it.  


New York City is one of the most famous cities in the world. The bright lights and busy streets have become signature aspects to the typical New Yorker’s life. The subway is also one of those aspects that New York City is famous for. While many outsiders may see the enjoyment in spectating talented artists playing on the subway platform, for those of us living in the city, the subway has become a vile necessity. “The density of city living requires mass transit; mass transit, in turn, is sustained by the people who pour out of the apartments into the subways”. New York City is probably once of the most populated cities ever. With that much traffic, even someone who knows how to drive might want to consider the subway due to the lack of free parking spaces and time wasted waiting in traffic. In fact, “Approximately half of the New York workforce commutes by subway”. The subway system is such an important part of New York that some might consider it to be “New York’s central nervous system” because of the mass population that uses it and the vast area of New York that it covers.  


To fully understand the full purpose and role that the subway plays in the NYC lifestyle, one must look back on the history of the subway system. It was proposed during the late 19th century and began to be constructed during the early 1900s. “[New York’s subway system] designs primarily served the function of providing convenient travel for workers and customers to shopping and manufacturing centers in downtown Manhattan”. The subway’s purpose was to speed up development of New York City. It’s creators intended to attract people to New York in order to take advantage of such a convenient system. The system followed through with its purpose. “When the subway opened on October 27, 1904, it quickly became the travel system of choice for New Yorkers and effectively sped up New York’s development as a world-class metropolis”. With the massive inflow of people coming to live in the Big Apple, the subway system needed to become expanded in order to provide proper transportation for all. 


The growing population of New York needed to find shelter when they would abandon their suburban homes in hope of a better life in New York City. With the already heavy population factored in, many began to move into apartment complexes. ““In the fi􏰂rst decade of the twentieth century, much of New York City’s population was crowded into tenement districts, with 80 percent of the population living on 25 percent of the city’s land area in 1910 (Jablonski 2006)”. These apartments played a big role in the development of the subway. It gave city officials a reason to expand the stretch of the subway system. “City leaders sought new subway service to help disperse the extremely high residential densities in lower Manhattan and to separate commercial development from residential areas, goals supported by the zoning code of 1916”. Over time, New York City’s “nervous system” expanded across the five boroughs and played a vital role in New York becoming the bustling city that it is today. 


The subway is a very important part to the city. It is mostly valued by all except for the shrinking percentage of residents who drive. That level of importance varies between the average commuter who takes the train and the one who is responsible for making that train go where it goes. City officials strive to keep the subway operating due to the number of people who rely on it. However, that same ideal seems to have served as a reason for neglecting any reason to improve it. Many public places around the world are abused or neglected by both city officials and citizens. Because so many people use these spaces, citizens may see it as a place to pollute, loiter or perform acts of vandalization thus leading to some trash piled, graffiti ridden stations. In fact, some stations have “peeling paint and cracked tiles” and rats [that] scurry on the tracks looking for trash left behind by travelers”. These careless citizens neglect their “sidewalk duty”. Every citizen has a responsibility to collectively improve the city they inhabit but many fall short of this task. They most likely see the polluted subway system as a necessary evil. Ignoring any cosmetic damage done to the subway, city officials proceed to operate the subway system as normal. What matters to most of them is that there is no mechanical or structural damage that can completely restrict commuters from accessing the subway. If there are no commuters buying Metro Cards because they cannot access the station, the MTA will lose profit. With such conditions on the line, city officials are aware of the many drawbacks of the subway system but refuse to take action unless there is any problem that will directly affect their pockets. 


One aspect that city officials fail to recognize is the uncomfortable temperatures of the subway platforms. “[New York City’s subway] stations are stifling hot in the summer [and] become damp when it rains.” The factors to blame are the basic braking systems installed on the trains and the natural underground location of the subway. When a train brakes to a stop, it generates an immense amount of heat that lingers at the platform due to the underground location. Fortunately, modern technology can be utilized to reduce the need for braking and the amount of heat that it generates. In order to counter the extreme heat given off by train brakes, regenerative braking systems can be utilized. “These systems [have] the dual benefit of reducing both the amount of heat generated by braking trains as well as the amount of energy required to operate the subway”. Alongside these braking systems, modern communication systems calculating the distance between train cars can also be utilized to reduce the necessity to brake so often. “Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) enables trains to maintain a constant distance from each other using their current forward inertia and only applying the brakes when absolutely necessary [and can] reduce the amount of heat generated from unnecessary braking that radiates inside the tunnels and stations.” These two modern technologies will be one major step in improving the rough conditions that many commuters face on a daily basis. 


Another approach that can be taken towards improving the temperature control of subway platforms is simple and lacks the use of advanced technology such as the last suggestions. A glass barrier can be built between riders and the tracks, allowing the MTA to install ventilation systems to maintain a comfortable temperature for riders. “Full-height platform screen doors would allow stations to be air conditioned (or heated in the wintertime), and would substantially reduce noise and passenger exposure to particulates.” Every commuter would probably benefit from having a train station platform that is cool during the summer and hot during the winters. Not only would it improve temperature control, it would also provide clean air for commuters. To reduce any health hazards and harm to the environment, it should be proposed that “the MTA [. . .] retire its diesel-powered service vehicles that emit “black carbon,” a health hazard, and replace them with all-electric-power equipment”. These approaches can greatly help to maintain a healthy population and environment.  


Next to its uncomfortable temperature and declining air quality, the typical commuter would most likely request for a little quiet time. The subway is extremely noisy. That notorious “click-clack” of the train rails affects the ride quality too. With uneven rails, the train makes loud noises and resonant vibrations that will turn a commute into arm workout with the commuter grasping the nearest pole at full strength. The first solution would be to improve the build quality of the rails by eliminating joints between them. “Continuously welded rail eliminates joints in the tracks, reducing noise and improving the smoothness of the ride”. After eliminating the joints in the rails, replacing the ties would also decrease the noise. “Railroad ties encased in concrete-covered rubber and neoprene pads (instead of the traditional wood ties in concrete), combined with continuously welded rail, would further reduce vibration and noise”. To maximize the amount of silence, materials used to build the platform walls can be changed in order to absorb sound rather than reflect it. “Most subway stations are finished with tiles or stone, which exacerbate and amplify noise. Low-maintenance sound-absorbing panels made of fiberglass or mineral wool have been installed in the new stations on the Second Avenue Subway, and should be made standard across all stations in the MTA network.” With improved rails and sound absorbing walls, the average commuter can be guaranteed a quieter and calmer commute. 


With the recent rise of smartphones, if one were to take a trip on the subway and count how many people in their car have one, they’d have to count almost everyone. Some people use their phones during the commute while some people don’t. Those who do use their phone will probably tell you about the pain of dropping cellular signals. No one is at fault in this situation. Technology has advanced tremendously, however, it cannot be blamed for not advancing to the point where cellular data signals can penetrate through tunnels buried deep under concrete providing commuters with continuous data. However, the MTA has declared a proposal to solve this situation. By working with various cellular companies and utilizing advanced cellular data technology, the MTA plans on introducing Transit Wireless in the near future. “Transit Wireless was formed to respond to the MTA’s Request for Proposal to design, market, install, own, operate, and maintain a cellular network for New York City Transit Authority riders within the city’s 277 underground subway stations.” It will “provide the infrastructure over which wireless carriers will need to offer cellular services. The intention is to have various carriers serve as tenants on the network”. Although it was an understandable problem, the MTA has already taken initiative to improve the commute of today’s typical New Yorker. 


Lastly comes the overall performance of the subway. While it does work (most of the time), a lot of New Yorkers can provide numerous testimonies about how the subway system made them late to work or school. “74% of riders had been late to work, 65% had been late to pick up or drop off a child, 13% had lost wages over a three-month period and 2% said they had been fired due to a delay”. The major issue that is the cause for such lateness is related to the dense population of New York City. When a train stops, there are too many people scurrying around the platform. It’s too crowded and consequently delays the train because the operator must wait for people to squeeze through tight, crowded exits. In order to improve the traffic flow, architects must consider expanding upon the small area of open space in the subway platform. “To move riders on and off of them quickly, station platforms should be decluttered of anything non-essential—such as newsstands that could be placed on the mezzanine—and in some cases widened. Vertical circulation could be improved by adding new stairways, escalators, and elevators. Riders would reach their destinations faster, and trains would spend less time in the stations”. This improvement will indefinitely improve the timeliness of the subway station and will gain the trust of today’s commuters. 


The NYC subway system has served its purpose well for the past century. However, time has taken its toll on the system, and now is the time for change. With the initiative of the people and many city officials, the subway system can be made better. It can be modernized and made more comfortable for all to enjoy. New Yorkers can get where they want to go, when they want to get there. They will also be able to enjoy the comfortability of clean air, a spacious environment, controlled temperature and a smooth ride.  








Works Cited 

“The High Cost of NYC Subway Delays.” Risk Management, Nov. 2017, p. 18. Academic OneFile, Accessed 15 Oct. 2018. 

“MTA To Vote On N.Y. Subway Wireless Plan; If the proposal is approved next week, Transit Wireless will pay New York City Transit approximately $46.8 million over a 10-year period.” InformationWeek, 21 Sept. 2007. Academic OneFile, Accessed 15 Oct. 2018. 

Sclar, Elliott. “722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York.” The Sciences, vol. 34, no. 4, 1994, p. 38+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 15 Oct. 2018. 

“Building New York’s Subway (1903).” Rapid Transit Tunnel Begun – Ground Officially Broken (1900),’s_Subway_(1903).  

Nigro, Carmen. “Subway Construction: Then and Now.”, The New York Public Library, 27 Oct. 2015, 

Rpa. “Modernize and Refurbish New York City’s Subway Stations.” The Fourth Regional Plan,