It might be time for new subway cars, and the New York Transit Authority wants to do it right. So they sent a group of researchers into the subways to stare at straphangers over three weeks and make everyone super uncomfortable. Plus gather data or whatever.
The researchers concluded that people will go to pretty great lengths to avoid physical contact. They'll stand even when there are open seats just so they don't have to sit next to someone, and they tend to stay in the space between the doors rather than moving into the middle of the cars where all the seats are because there's less chance of brushing an arm or a knee there. Riders also prefer open areas because they have vertical poles to hold on to rather than overhead bars. When things get crowded enough people will move all the way in and fill open seats, but the cars have to be above 100 percent capacity for that to happen.
The train car layout proposals that came out of the study reflect these observations, and emphasize open spaces and a flow where passengers who are along for a longer ride may take seats out of the way, while riders with short trips can spread throughout open spaces. Gotta cut the awkward somehow. [Gothamist]