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Subway Door Chimes

Photo: The Atlantic.
Workers are assigned to push commuters through the subway doors in Tokyo at rush hour.

You know about setting different ringtones on your phone. And you know how your choices say something about who you are or what you think of the various people who call you.

But there are other sounds programmed to convey a meaning — for example, the subway door chimes of different countries. What do they say about those countries or about what their transit systems are trying to convey? As Sophie Haigney and Denise Lu report at the New York Times, civil engineer Ted Green has actually looked into that.

“Ted Green has been collecting the sounds and sights of transit systems for more than a decade,” the authors write. “He travels frequently for work, as a civil engineer, and in every city he visits, he rides the mass transit system and films video of the closing doors, replete with the announcements and the telltale chimes — beeps, ding-dongs, jingles and arpeggios that warn riders around the world to stand clear. …

“Like many aspects of mass transit systems, door chimes may seem banal, the dull background track to daily commutes. If you listen more closely, though, you’ll notice regional patterns and distinctions.

“For Green, recording videos of door closings started as a way to document his travel for himself, but he eventually compiled some videos on YouTube. He was shocked when one door-closing montage got more than two million views. He has made many more videos since; this past year, he’s noticed that there’s been a spike in viewership, perhaps because of nostalgia for train riding during global lockdowns.

“ ‘A lot of train enthusiasts are also collectors,’ said Adam Rose, an audio designer who works on train simulations for Dovetail Games, and who consequently spends a good part of his day listening to transit chimes. ‘So looking for different transit chimes can almost be a form of collecting.’

“Most chimes these days are computer generated, played automatically as part of the door-closing process. But some originally emerged from mechanical processes in older trains.

“In Montreal, where the first metro trains were put in service in 1966, there was an electronic circuit called a current chopper, which worked to slow down the electronic frequency applied to the motor. It made a sound as the trains pulled out of the station: ‘doo-doo-doo.‘ ‘Metro cars act as a sounding board, and amplify the melody,’ said Benoit Clairoux, a historian of Montreal’s transit system.

“When the transit authority wanted to add a door-closing chime in 2005, they tested various sounds, though none was as popular as a chime that mimicked this mechanical sound. So executives added a synthetic ‘doo-doo-doo.’ …

“In Paris, a simple ‘A’ note plays as the doors shut. This is also a throwback, a sound that mimics the vibrations of a mechanical part that is no longer in use on any of the system’s trains. ‘But for a half century Parisians and visitors alike became used to that sound, so we decided to keep it, and recorded a synthesized version,’ said Song Phanekham, a communications manager for the Paris transit system. …

“In Tokyo, each station has its own custom jingle to signal departures. In Rio de Janeiro, the subway’s door chime pays homage to bossa nova. In Vancouver, the doors still close to a three-note sound that was recorded in the 1980s on a Yamaha DX7. …

“One Russian train enthusiast, who also collects transit videos, said that he finds station announcements and certain chimes to be reminiscent of a romantic, inaccessible past. … ‘When I ride through the Old Town and hear the names of the stations located there, I imagine that I’m a hero of a Dostoyevsky novel. I imagine that I’m in the 19th century, and if I get to this or that station I will see carriages, kerosene lamps and people in black suits and hats.’ …

“When it comes to designing a new transit chime, there is much to consider. Length, for one, especially given what is called ‘dwell time,’ when a train is lingering in the station. ‘One of the biggest things about transit is just trying to get people to step lively on and off trains as the doors are about to close,’ said Max Diamond, a New York City Transit conductor. ‘It seems to a layperson like a door chime is innocuous, but it’s a really critical part of keeping the capacity of the subway up.’

“So, Diamond said, you wouldn’t want the chime to be too long, or it might slow things down further on an already overburdened transit system. On the other hand, according to [Ian Fisher, manager of operations planning at] British Columbia Rapid Transit Company, it can’t be too short or people might miss their window of opportunity to rush out the doors. …

“Then there’s the question of how best to get people’s attention. A relaxing melody might fail to rouse slow-walking commuters from their daydreams, as they shuffle out the door. … But there is rider experience to think about, as people hear the chimes day in and day out, often during stressful parts of their day. Fisher said descending chimes might be more soothing than the upbeat sound of climbing notes. …

“Even given all these considerations, most commuters likely won’t notice the sound as they go about their days. ‘It becomes, like everything else, a part of the background,’ [Bruce Alexander, former director of strategic innovation and planning for the MTA] said. ‘No matter how strong a signal is, eventually it’s going to disappear into the general cacophony.’ “

Listen to sounds of subway systems around the world at the Times, here. They are really fun.

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Photos: Greek Ministry of Culture
Hellenistic era building foundations, found at Agia Sophia Station, Thessaloniki.

Having studied Ancient Greek for five years in school, I retain a soft place in my heart for the culture and history of that part of the world and am always interested in the latest archaeological finds. Here is a story about setting out to build a subway system in the city of Thessaloniki and finding unexpected treasures.

Nick Squires writes at the Telegraph, “The construction of a metro network beneath the Greek city of Thessaloniki has unearthed an extraordinary treasure trove of ancient artefacts, from gold wreaths and rings to statues of the goddess Aphrodite. …

“Archeologists have dug up more than 300,000 artefacts, from coins and jewellery to marble statues, amphorae, oil lamps and perfume vases. They were found in what would have been the thriving commercial centre of the ancient city, which was the second most important conurbation in the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople.

“During the construction of the metro network, archeologists found a stone-paved road, the Decumanus Maximus, which would have run through the heart of Thessaloniki in the sixth century AD, as well as the remains of villas, shops, workshops and an early Christian church. More than 5,000 tombs and graves were uncovered, some of them containing exquisite golden wreaths.

“ ‘The excavations are the biggest archaeological project of recent years in Greece,’ Yannis Mylopoulos, the chairman of Attiko Metro, the company building the network, told the Telegraph. …

“ ‘A large number of statues depicting Aphrodite have been found in the city centre, while several more came to light in the area around the Church of the Acheiropoietos (a fifth century AD Byzantine church),” Dr Polyxeni Adam-Veleni, the head of the antiquities department in Thessaloniki, told a recent conference on the discoveries. …

“Work on the new metro system, which is designed to ease traffic congestion and reduce air pollution in the city, began in 2006. The network of 18 stations was supposed to have been finished in 2012, but progress was stalled by the discovery of so many antiquities. It is now due to be operational next year.

“The 100 yard-long paved road – the Decumanus Maximus – will remain in situ and will be incorporated into one of the network’s stations, Eleftherios Venizelos, named after a prominent politician and national hero from the early 20th century.

“ ‘People will be able to see it when they enter and exit the metro station and can even go down and walk on it if they want,’ said Prof Mylopoulos. …

“Incorporating ancient archeological sites into an underground rail network was a huge challenge in terms of both engineering and expense. … Findings from the metro excavation will be displayed in various museums in Thessaloniki.”

More here.

Gold crown from a burial dating to the late 4th – early 3rd century. BC found at Syntrivani Station, Thessaloniki.

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Photo: The Guardian
In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, bus rapid transit on the Morogoro Road has cut typical commute times from four hours a day to 90 minutes.

Big challenges sometimes get resolved more efficiently when fancy solutions are bypassed in favor of more straightforward ones. That is what a large African city discovered when it chose the concept of dedicated bus lanes over building a subway.

Nick Van Mead has the report at the Guardian, “Dusk falls in Dar es Salaam, and for hundreds of thousands of people in this African megacity-to-be the daily chaos and frustration of the journey home begins.

“People cram themselves into dalla dalla minibuses, some even climbing through the windows once the entrance is blocked. Others hang out of the doors, but the Kilwa Road heading south towards Mbagala slum is jammed and these diesel-belchers are going nowhere fast.

“On Bagamoyo Road to the wealthier areas in the north, solo drivers in blacked-out 4x4s sit stationary too – captive customers for the hawkers. … So far, so normal for a sprawling megalopolis of 6 million with virtually no public transport and only eight lanes of major road heading to and from the centre.

“Dar es Salaam, the de facto capital of Tanzania, is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa. Its population has increased eightfold since 1980 and swells by half a million people every year. The latest UN projections anticipate it will become a megacity within seven years as its population passes 10 million. …

“Dar es Salaam is pinning its hopes on a solution that could offer a different model for Africa’s megacities, giving them an alternative to a future in thrall to the private car. Unlike many cities on the continent, Dar es Salaam isn’t trying to build a metro. It has chosen a less sexy but cheaper and more achievable route: the bus. …

“The Dart system boasts bus lanes separated from other traffic, mostly in the middle of the road to reduce stoppages. Ticket payment and control takes place at stations rather than on board, while step-free stations and boarding mean the entire route is accessible to people in wheelchairs or with buggies. …

“The average journey time from the centre to the terminus at Kimara has been slashed from two hours each way to just 45 minutes, according to sustainable transport group the ITDP. That adds up to a saving of around 50 hours a month for the average bus passenger making the full trip. The ITDP awarded the system Africa’s only ‘gold standard’ bus rapid transit (BRT) rating.

“ ‘The new buses are much, much better,’ says Paulas George, a young IT worker waiting at Manzese station. He takes the bus every day and it has cut his journey time by two-thirds. He says it is not perfect though, complaining drivers sometimes turn off the air conditioning to save fuel.

“That is not the only teething problem. A shortage of buses after the main depot flooded during the 2017 rainy season means the system is carrying 200,000 people a day – half the expected capacity. Smartcard readers at station entrances aren’t working either, forcing passengers to buy individual paper tickets for every journey. Each is printed with a scannable QR code, but there are no scanners. Station staff stand by the gates and tear tickets as people enter. …

“ ‘Much of the city will have access to a world-class transport system within the space of a few years,’ says Chris Kost, the ITDP’s Africa director. All phases are being planned to gold standards and, once complete, a third of city residents will be within a 10-minute walk of the BRT network. …

“Kost [sees the metro fad] as political expediency. ‘Because metro systems don’t take up road space and don’t take away from cars then they are politically easier,’ he says. ‘Politicians see it as a big project with no sacrifices. But what if it never gets built? What if what is built is too expensive and so limited in size it leaves the majority of city residents no better off?

“ ‘It can be tempting for those in power, but is it really addressing the needs of people of the city? Bus rapid transit has been transformational for Dar es Salaam. For millions of people in African cities, this is their best hope of ever being connected.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Nate Homan recently wrote a good human-interest story for the free subway newspaper, Metro. It’s about one of Boston’s subway musicians, a blind woman.

Michelle Abadia sits at Harvard Station early each morning that her T performer permit allows, strumming her guitar and singing to an audience she cannot see.

“ ‘Music was my passion from an early age. I don’t have a memory without it,’ Abadia said. ‘I am told that I was helping tune the piano when I was three.’ …

“She lost her sight to congenital cataracts at the age of 4 after six unsuccessful eye surgeries. She has started a GoFundMe page hoping to earn $20,000 to fund her musical career and to help pay for medical bills. …

“She earned a double degree in language studies and music in Boston College, and went on to earn a master’s in French literature and International Latin American Studies from Tufts. After that, she earned New England Conservatory master’s for vocal performances.

“Now she is trying to earn a living as a musician, after teaching Spanish at several colleges in the area and working as an interpreter in courtrooms.

“ ‘The commuters are half asleep, and I don’t know how effective I can be in brightening their days, but some people say the I do,’ Abadia said. …

“ ‘For anyone who is blind wants to be a musician, or anything, I would tell them to follow their dreams,’ Abadia said.”

More here.

Photo: Metro.us

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When you drop your cellphone on the subway tracks, who ya gonna call?

In New York City, you call the pick-up crew.

According to Matt Flegenheimer in the NY Times, the need for these finders is increasing as travelers seem more distracted than ever.

“The requests trickle through the bowels of the New York City subway system, funneled to workers more accustomed to calls about tunnel fires or ceiling leaks. A problem is reported at Columbus Circle one recent afternoon. A passenger could be in great distress. Delays are minimal, but movement on the tracks has perhaps never been slower.

“So would a crew mind collecting its helmets and hauling its mechanical claw to rescue the turtle — fumbled by a rider — currently plotting its very methodical getaway from Midtown train traffic?

“ ‘It’s a big city,’ a transit worker, Vinny Mangia, had said a day earlier, reciting a mantra of his office. ‘Somebody’s going to drop something.’

“And somebody, if the item is sufficiently treasured, is going to try to pick it up. These are the fishermen of the subway system, cobbling together homemade instruments to pluck items from the tracks and release them to a grateful city.

“Workers have returned a bag of hospital-bound blood and corralled a collection of artificial body parts, scooped engagement rings from the rails and reunited children with stuffed animals. …

“There is the occasional aggrieved passenger, chafing at the response time if a crew is traveling from another call at a far-off station. But almost universally, riders are appreciative. A few have tried to tip the workers, though they say they have never accepted.

“ ‘A little hug, we take,’ Leonard Geraghty said. ‘I usually tell them, if it’s a man: “Take your wife out. Have a good time on us.” ‘ “

More here.

Photo: Sally Ryan, NY Times
Bob Devine uses a mechanical claw to grab a book lost at 34th Street.

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I can’t remember at the moment how I came across this tidbit, but I knew as soon as I saw it that I wouldn’t be able to resist something cool about  Stockholm.

I took the Stockholm subway a few times in the 1990s, but I don’t remember anything like this. Relatives living in Stockholm will have to let me know if the subway today is really the magical mystery tour that Dangerous Minds suggests.

Go to the Dangerous Minds website for a wonderful array of pictures. It sure doesn’t look like the Red Line. If the Red Line looked like this, I would expect to encounter Ming the Merciless around every corner.

Might make the commute more interesting.

Click here.

Photo: Dangerous Minds
A human emerges from a wall in the Stockholm subway’s “wild underground fantasia.”

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Libraries are busting out all over. We’ve blogged about the Little Free Library in Cambridge as well as Sam and Leslie Davol’s uni, which got invited to Kazakhstan — not to mention a library housed in an unused pay phone shelter.

Now it seems that a subway system in China is getting into the act.

Writes Zhang Kun at China Daily, “Shanghai’s Metro Line 2 is turning a new page with a library taking literally an online approach. Passengers will be able to select a book at one station, and return it to any of the other stations with customized bookshelves.

“Readers do not have to pay a deposit or any rent for the books and magazines they take. Instead, they are encouraged to donate 1 yuan (16 US cents) to charity at the bookshelf.

” ‘Now you can read a real book, rather than staring at the cellphone through the metro ride,’ said Zou Shuxian, a spokeswoman for the Aizhi bookstore, which initiated the project jointly with Hujiang.com” and the Metro Line.

“The Chinese Academy of Press and Publication released a survey recently that said the general public between the ages of 18 to 70 read 4.39 books in 2012, much fewer than in Western countries.”

The library “has been a resounding success with office workers. Waiting lines have developed during rush hour. … All the books have green tape on the cover to inform people about the program [and] to remind people it is borrowed and should be returned.”

I myself find it essential to have a book with me whenever I take the subway, but that’s largely because I ride the oldest system in America and it’s always breaking down.

My husband, who lived in Shanghai for about a year, says subways there are fast and efficient. I don’t think book lovers will have time to finish their books before their last stop. A lot of green tapes will be going home with commuters. You can’t keep a book lover down.

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I saw these fiddlers a couple times while waiting for the evening train to Porter Square. For weeks there were tweets: “Who are those guys?”

Steve Annear at Boston magazine got the scoop. “Two former Berklee College of Music students have made a full-time job out of playing contemporary music on their violins for the swarms of passengers that crowd the platforms of the MBTA each day.

“After meeting in 2009 outside of the school, violinists Rhett Price and Josh Knowles got together and decided to form a two-piece ensemble and perform songs while standing on the Boston Common. But when winter got too cold and their fingers ‘started to get stiff,’ Price says the pair turned to the T for a busker’s permit so they could share their songs with riders traveling on the underground transit system.

“ ‘It’s been amazing. I was really nervous at first—we were nervous about playing on the T in general, and we didn’t think any one would give us any money. But there are people who come up and [request songs],’ says Price. ‘This is what we do right now to pay bills.’ …

“Price says he and Knowles play at three stops throughout the week, including North and South Stations, and at the Harvard Square stop. In a few weeks, they’re kicking the public transportation appearance up a notch, and will travel to New York City to play for riders there.”

Um. Forget about New York. Spend more time at South Station, please.

More.

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