Reuters

The secret to catching a train there, revealed.

Today is the centennial of Grand Central Terminal, the nation's most iconic -- and certainly its most beautiful -- train station.
 
One of the most telling features of the station, having spent my fair share of time there, is what one might politely call the place's "flow" and what one might more accurately call the place's TOTAL CRAZINESS: Passengers zoom and zig and zag around each other, briefcases and backpacks and duffel bags and roller bags in tow, via criss-crossed pathways that if charted would probably resemble a Jackson Pollock painting. On the bright side, this explosion of out-of-my-way-I'm-about-to-miss-my-train effusiveness is a wonder of human ergonomics much like the city that surrounds it. On the other hand, it's a chaotic energy guided by social Darwinism and a collective assumption that racing the clock also means racing one's fellow passengers.
 
There is very little to be done about all this when space is limited, crowds are large, and humans always -- always -- put things off until the last minute. But Grand Central, for years now, has relied on a system meant to mitigate, if not prevent, all the crazy. It is this: The times displayed on Grand Central's departure boards are wrong -- by a full minute. This is permanent. It is also purposeful.
 
The idea is that passengers rushing to catch trains they're about to miss can actually be dangerous -- to themselves, and to each other. So conductors will pull out of the station exactly one minute after their trains' posted departure times. That minute of extra time won't be enough to disconcert passengers too much when they compare it to their own watches or smartphones ... but it is enough, the thinking goes, to buy late-running train-catchers just that liiiiiitle bit of extra time that will make them calm down a bit. Fast clocks make for slower passengers. "Instead of yelling for customers to hurry up," the Epoch Times notes, "the conductors instead tell everyone to slow down."
 
You might call this time-hacking; you might call it behavioral engineering; you might call it comical. Regardless, it seems to be working. Grand Central boasts the fewest slips, trips, and falls of any station in the country -- quite a feat given how many of its floors are made of marble. And given how many of the passengers treading those floors are, despite their grace period, cutting it thisthisclose to missing their trains.
 
This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.

About the Author

Megan Garber
Megan Garber

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic, covering culture.

Most Popular

  1. Modest two-bedroom apartments are unaffordable to full-time minimum wage workers in every U.S. county.
    Maps

    Rent Is Affordable to Low-Wage Workers in Exactly 12 U.S. Counties

    America’s mismatch between wages and rental prices is more perverse than ever.

  2. Butcher Gerardo 'Tolo' Martínez in a scene from "A Good Butcher."
    Etiquette

    A Hispanic Butcher Illustrates the Changing Culture of North Carolina

    This short documentary offers a glimpse into a butcher's store where whites, African Americans, and Hispanics are united by food.

  3. School district secessions are often motivated by race and income
    Equity

    School Secession Is Segregation

    As more districts splinter along lines of race and income, judicial processes meant to protect the fair distribution of educational resources are failing, a new report finds.

  4. Life

    When Artificial Intelligence Rules the City

    An expert panel ponders how AI will change our lives.

  5. Life

    The Future of Autonomous Vehicles Is Shared

    A dispatch from the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, where robo-cars were on full display—and predictions about how we’ll use them were flying.