During yesterday's very long, mostly-unproductive city council meeting on the recent rash of high profile subway fatalities, Queens Councilman Peter Koo was responsible for what was possibly the most brilliant—and likely the stupidest—suggestion to solve the problem: "safety rope."
Koo, wearing a leather jacket, had asked Carmen Bianco, the MTA's Senior Vice President for Subways, to estimate how much time two recent subway-shoving victims had before the trains came. Koo was trying to point out that since there wasn't much time, the MTA needs a quick solution for how people can aid anyone who falls. "All restaurants are required to have a CPR kit...could we have safety ropes, located in certain areas, so if a passenger fell or is pushed onto the tracks, you could just throw a safety rope there," he said, "like a cruise line? Is this something we could consider, a safety kit?"
Despite an audible chuckle in the room when he suggested it, Koo pushed the idea, also suggesting a "mechanical device" in lieu of rope: "It's really hard to save a customer. And no one wants to jump down and save you," he said, painting the scenario. "You only have five minutes before the next train comes." It was clear Bianco wasn't sure how to respond, starting to answer, "I wouldn't think that would be a good..." before deflecting the question by discussing "Help Points" again.
At first, we dismissed the idea outright as well. But as we thought about it, it started to make some sort of demented sense: Koo may not have sketched out many of the details, but what if there were some sort of long, heavy rope connected to the wall of the platform, encased in a "Break In Case Of Emergency"-type glass box? And imagine if every time you broke the glass, it sent a warning to MTA workers (or even, automatically shut off the power in that station)? It would certainly be safer for people on the platform to throw down rope to help a person back up than to jump down themselves, risking injury or death.
But then again, leaving large amounts of rope unattended in the New York City subway system is just asking for trouble. Forget the subway pervs and the mentally ill—we can think of a more than a few scenarios (hanging, bondage, fighting, ANCHORS) and other depraved, cruel things teenagers could do if they got their hands on that rope. (Yes, this is triggering some painful memories for us.)
Despite his sketchily drawn idea, Koo was on the right track by thinking outside-the-box. The MTA has rejected most of the other potential actionable solutions that they have been presented with—including platform doors, sensors, trains slowing down entering stations and more MTA employees on the ground—because they are cost-prohibitive or too disruptive to the daily commute.
So safety rope, at the very least, qualifies as a low-cost, low-impact idea that would be relatively easy to implement. Here's another: what about a plastic ladder in every station, housed in the small gap underneath the platform (or perhaps stored in one of the niches near the platform)? Then if you were stuck on the tracks, you wouldn't even have to rely on people on the platform to help you up.
The MTA would likely argue that they can't really come up with a singular response because the stations vary so much—not every station has space underneath the platform, etc. But with three people being struck by subways and one person being killed on average every week, it may be time to let go of the idea of a singular response. We have a vast, complicated subway system that demands complicated solutions.
The point is: these are the sorts of ideas that the city council and MTA should be knocking their heads together to come up with, instead of large-scale, unrealistic, technology-dependent ones. But who knows if the two sides will be able to take each other seriously. "I think it's a good idea," Koo concluded about safety rope. "You should explore it." Bianco tersely answered: "We'll look at it."