For a few days in early December, some 125 feet underneath the far West Side of Manhattan, New Yorkers were able to peer into a transit crystal ball.
At the gleaming 34th Street-Hudson Yards station, an “open house” was held to gather feedback from the public on the R211, the city’s subway of the future. The front of the train was curved and jet black, with the letter of the line profoundly illuminated. The doors were more spacious (eight inches, to be exact) than usual. A lit-up interior featured computerized displays that told passengers how many minutes until the next stop, and where exactly they’d be getting off at that specific platform. An “open gangway” model sat on display nearby, featuring accordion-style gaps between cars that run continuously, without division.
It was a peculiar site for a citizenry so routinely begrudged by systemwide delays, overcrowding, and station closures: a breathtakingly modern subway car that better resembled the sleek, hyper-speed trains of Asia and Europe, like something plucked straight out of Muskian fantasy. The car itself feels refreshingly innovative to step into—a sense of potential, at a time when fixing infrastructure in New York can appear so doomed. And in the coming years, transit models like these will define what getting around in America will look like, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. (Which, in other words, is closer to what some other countries have already achieved.) The $3.18 billion prototype is slated to replace the aging cars on the lettered lines of New York’s underground by 2023.
Of course, New Yorkers had their reservations: One older woman wanted to know if there was potential for smell drifting from one car to another. “There’s nothing we can do about that,” replied an MTA guide. But why the need for new subway cars, another asked, when just maintaining basic service seemed hard enough? “This is what most of the world has already,” another worker said. “It’s about time we caught up.”
Here at Tunnel Vision, we feel the same. That’s why we asked six illustrators a simple question: If you could design NYC’s subway of the future, what would it look like? What kind of subway would you want to ride in, come 2020?
Here's what they came up with, along with a few words from the artists.
"The MTA tries holistic healing to repair the L train line in general. Methods include—but are not limited to—color therapy decals, sage sticks mounted on top of the train, spiritual looking rocks hot-glued to the roof of the train, and changing the L train logo color to a pleasant calming aqua-marine."
Check out more of Brian's art on his Instagram.
Stephen Maurice Graham
"Everybody knows the cat bus from My Neighbor Totoro, but what if there were more types of animal-transport hybrids that only you could see after suffering an emotional trauma related to your mother's illness? All aboard the Rabbit Train! Sink into its plush, furry seating and drift away forgetting the cruel urban world outside the windows. The inside of this rabbit smells better than the L train! Wheeee!"
Check out more of Stephen's art on his Instagram.
Ida Eva Neverdahl
"In Norway, we don't really have subways. Maybe it's because the ground is a bit radioactive or something. I've only taken the subway in Moscow and Tokyo. They were very different from each other, but both were great in their own way. I like to zoom around underground, like a speedy worm."
Check out more of Ida's art on her Instagram.
"My idea for the train is based on the NYC wildlife, which I had the amazing opportunity to observe and study for a couple of weeks in November."
Check out more of Pedro's art on his Instagram.
"I drew this L train while sweating out a fever and imagining that the train was as feverish as I am. I imagined that the train was as sweaty and clammy as I am, and as lightheaded and hallucinatory as I am while rolling through those cramped dark tunnels, seeking its next station."
Check out more of Nick's art on his Instagram.
"Think of all the crazy critters living and breeding right beneath us all the time. There must be alligators down there. Don't forget the mole people... and 9 million rats. There's probably a secret subway beneath our subway."
Check out more of Rob's art on his Instagram.
Follow John Surico on Twitter.