A couple months ago, as part of his master's program at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Randy Gregory II decided to take part in the Michael Bierut's famous "100 day project." The idea is for young designers to pick a theme, produce some creative work based on that theme every day for 100 days, and document the whole experience — a sort of intellectual marathon. Gregory realized that his experience commuting to and from school on the subway was a theme unto itself.
"Whether it was something obvious, like someone swiping their Metrocard multiple times in frustration, or something deeper, like a user in a wheelchair pushing himself from one end of the station to the other, I kept seeing 'pain points' in the process," he says.
So he chose to ease New York's pain a bit by spending his 100 days offering up 100 ways to improve the city's subway system (via Gizmodo). Some of the things he's come up with so far are pretty basic (like No. 57: straps to hold onto during the ride). Some are pretty fantastical (like No. 39: a suction garbage system). Some are of the please-MTA-do-this-now variety (like No. 66: hand sanitizers on the platforms).
All receive a slick design rendering and are posted to Gregroy's Tumblr page.
The 29-year-old Phoenix native says that while he's been criticized for failing to take cost into account he believes his ideas "are driven by deeper truths" and should really just be starting points for a broader discussion. He plans to stop when he hits 100, but the discussion may continue without him — the MTA recently contacted him about a few of his ideas. That's a dream come true for a young designer hoping to make a tangible social impact.
"Designers should strive to affect lives, create change, and inspire others to do the same," he tells Atlantic Cities. "If I can make one person's day easier or better through my ideas or output, then I've done a good job."
So are these suggestions coming from a place of honest criticism or personal frustration?
A little of both. If New York is truly "The Greatest City in the World," then we should be doing all we can to further our infrastructure and improve the quality of experiences. Ideas and creativity are a gigantic chunk of that process. Currently, I like the system. It has its flaws and quirks, but instead of complaining about them, I try to be inspired by them. In my experience, nothing good comes from complaining.
What do you think the system does well right now?
Off the top of my head, I feel that the station timers/LED displays you see in some stations are a fantastic addition to the system. As a culture, we're constantly connected to our devices, which means that we may miss out on train announcements. These displays help relay important information, and I feel they should be strategically placed in other stations that could benefit, like the Court Square Junction that links the E, M, and G lines with the 7 line.
What do you think it does poorly?
The current system of vocal announcements hurts more than helps. Different dialects, older speaker technology, and a culture that is more in tune with their devices leads to a miscommunication about when trains are arriving, station broadcasts, construction bulletins, and emergency notices. Perhaps a push towards an electronic-based system would get these messages to users more effectively, either through digital signage, phone applications, or computer-voiced announcements with clear pronunciations.
One of your ideas was inspired by Barcelona's subway, and I know from experience some of them exist on the Tokyo Metro. Are there particular systems you think New York should try to emulate?
I really enjoy the operational efficiency of Asian subway systems, and encourage us to emulate them, but at the same time, there are massive sociological differences in our cultures. We should look inward for examples to add to the brand of the New York City subway. The trolleys in San Francisco add a sense of wonder to the city, and the MTA has access to vintage trains — if they ran them more often and developed awareness of them, it would add character to the system.
Having written about the lack of bathrooms in the subway system, I especially enjoyed some of your "bathroom week" ideas. What do you consider the most promising ideas you've come up with so far?
I look at examples like utilizing the revised Massimo Vignelli map in stations rather than keeping it on the Weekender website, the development of an RFID entry system, and in-car WiFi are the most promising. I feel they would solve some of the bigger problems we deal with, like a geographically accurate but illegible map, miss-swipes, and being connected to our loved ones.
What do you hope subway riders take away from this series?
I hope that they look at these ideas and are inspired to take action. If we want improvements to the subway system, we won't get it through complaining. We'll get it by talking to the leaders and more importantly, the people who fund them. As a community in the 21st century, we should all at least attempt to improve the experience of our environment, even if it means picking up your trash in the cars.
All images courtesy of Randy Gregory II.