Lawsuit waiting to happen
June 27, 2012 4:48 PM   Subscribe

At the 36th St. subway station in Brooklyn, one of the subway stairs is a little bit higher than the others. Filmmaker Dean Peterson set up a camera at the top of the stairs for about an hour, and taped what happens.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (115 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's a lawsuit in the making, isn't it?
posted by gingerest at 4:51 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Luckily that baby wasn't hurt.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:56 PM on June 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


Hah.

I hope he put up a little warning sign after he got done making his funny movie.

He could call his civic-mindedness an act of art, like the guy in SoCal who put up his own freeway signs 'cause CalTrans' stupid sign pointed motorists to the wrong lane.
posted by notyou at 4:58 PM on June 27, 2012 [26 favorites]


This is a great example of how the right music can make something not fun seem fun.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 5:02 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Goddamn!
posted by awfurby at 5:02 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well now that it is a known, documented even, hazard it certainly could be a lawsuit in the making if someone falls bad enough. Could see some front dental work being needed somewhere along the line
posted by edgeways at 5:03 PM on June 27, 2012


I'm surprised nobody's broken their neck yet. Stairs are practically a science unto themselves. Tread depths and riser heights are highly regulated, both to make them easier and safer to use, and because the rhythm your body settles into for efficient locomotion is easy to trip up (pun intended) on stairs. Combined with gravity - and in this case, concrete and steel - and it's only a matter of time until someone gets really fucked up here.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:08 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


they need to make this a tourist attraction. i would buy a souvenir step, if someone was selling it. also, i'm impressed with the recovery skills of (most of) these trippers
posted by camdan at 5:09 PM on June 27, 2012


A couple weeks back I was getting off the train. I was trudging up the steps into the semi darkness. As I am climbing something grabs around my ankle and I pulls me back. I grab onto the handrail with my right hand and clutch it as something grabs my left arm and pulls me back. I look back, seriously afraid of my life and I see two middle aged guys start to pinwheel back down the stairs. One was holding my ankle to keep from falling. He had also grabbed someone slightly behind me and to my left. That guy then grabbed my arm to stay up. The first guy had tripped on a step just like this and almost pulled the three of us back down the stairs.

They both managed to right themselves by sort of pulling themselves back up on me. The entire time my heart was racing because I seriously thought the fucking CHUDS had come for me. They were both really embarassed and sort of ran off but it took me a while to calm down.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:10 PM on June 27, 2012 [77 favorites]


I mostly transfer at this station, but on the occasion that I have actually taken the train from this station, I have found myself almost flying. There is no graceful recovery either!
posted by Yellow at 5:18 PM on June 27, 2012


Next time people ask why sociology is important, I'm going to show them this video.

On its own, when you see one person slip, you automatically assume that person slipped, was clumsy or not playing attention. But when you look at the aggregate, you realize that the failure isn't on the individual at all, rather the structures that cause certain people to fail with almost no fault of their own. And yet, without this data, they will very quickly ascribe the mistake to themselves.

It difficult to explain to someone that the reason they live their life the way they do because of the structures built to help them live that way. But imagine, instead of a stupid mislaid step, the faulty structure is a punitive late policy on a credit card, or a bank that has a minimum balance fee and very quickly the maintenance of the status-quo is laid bare.
posted by JimmyJames at 5:19 PM on June 27, 2012 [548 favorites]


OH GOD I AM NOT ALONE.
posted by The Whelk at 5:21 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Glad I'm not the only one who does that thing where if I trip I immediately speed up into a half-jog to make it seem less embarrassing.
posted by naju at 5:21 PM on June 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


This was like my first 2 months living in NYC. I'd trip on every sidewalk irregularity and odd stair and sign stump and pavement gap. People who have done it for 10 years or their whole lives don't even realize they're doing it, but you end up adopting this weird gait where you lift your legs higher so you don't destroy your toes 10 or 20 times a day. You've mostly got to lift up your feet a little higher in New York or you will regularly just wreck your shit. Maybe it doesn't affect everyone, but anyone I know who moved to New York from somewhere else did the same thing.

Once you've done The Walk for a while, it's unnoticeable to the outside observer. It feels weird at first but it's worth adapting to, especially if you ever wear flipflops or sandals. I think some of the people in the video are not newcomers to New York City though.
posted by mullicious at 5:31 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


BTW, I saw this on reddit earlier today and a few people tried to claim that slightly higher steps had traditionally been used in castles in order to cause attackers to stumble and give defenders more time. Someone also claimed that this practice survived well into modern times giving us the phrase "false step".

A physicist then showed up and said that after extensive study he had determined that people speed up because their center of gravity is ahead of their feet, so they naturally speed up to regain balance.

Someone found the New York State building codes and found that these stairs are clearly out of code as The greatest riser height within any flight of stairs shall not exceed the smallest by more than 0.375 inch (9.5 mm). and suggested city hall be notified.

Of course we know they are all idiots, as "false step" comes from Faux Pas and refered to a misstep while dancing at court.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:33 PM on June 27, 2012 [17 favorites]


Two books immediately come to mind: Tracy Kidder's House, which talks about the rookie mistake of building stairs without planning for an additional flooring layer. The slightly lower first step will cause all climbers, forever, to trip on the second step; apparently the stair-climbing mind shifts into autopilot as soon as it gauges the first step. Also, Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which describes a deliberate taller step used as a poor man's burglar alarm in order to alert the homeowner of an intruder unfamiliar with the irregularity.
posted by Mapes at 5:37 PM on June 27, 2012 [40 favorites]


Now every time I trip on the stairs I am going to have to go back and look. "See, they were uneven!"
posted by rosswald at 5:39 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


This will make me sound like some kind of prescriptivist asshole, but "unique from" made me trip up the reading-stairs a little bit. "Unique among," maybe, or "different from."

It was jarring. I was jarred.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:44 PM on June 27, 2012 [20 favorites]


When I was in college, majoring in set design, we had a whole lesson on building stairs. (It seems that it's a pretty common thing for college students to think that a good way to design something that's supposed to be "crazy" or "off kilter" is to try and make stairs with inconsistent rise.) Anyway, our professor spent quite a lot of time drilling it into our heads that trying to be creative with stairs was a Bad Idea. I think he said something like, "Be clever and creative somewhere else, because if you try to do it with stairs, you're going to kill an actor someday."

Truth.
posted by devinemissk at 5:45 PM on June 27, 2012 [26 favorites]


This is both a testament to the human ability to internalize an action so thoroughly that we can calibrate our movements after a single step and run on autopilot for the rest of the stairway; and also a testament to the lengths the MTA is willing to go to troll New York City.
posted by chrominance at 5:45 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


He could call his civic-mindedness an act of art, like the guy in SoCal who put up his own freeway signs 'cause CalTrans' stupid sign pointed motorists to the wrong lane.

I actually vaguely know that guy from being in the arts scene in SoCal. At the time he did a lot of neon and electrical sculpture and he went by the nickname "Sparky" or something. It's cool and weird seeing the story getting so much - well any at all - notoriety over a decade later.

Supposedly one of the mis-reported parts of the story was that CalTrans noticed the edit right away - but it was intentionally left and decided to be good and fine. Perhaps simply by CalTrans workers in that district that willfully decided not to report it up the chain to save themselves the hassle of removing it and going back to the old, incorrect label.

Rick apparently had done his homework about not just the correct specifications for the materials of the sign, what exact colors it should be and what kind of retroreflective coating or film - but also precisely how it should be mounted and secured to pass CalTrans and DoT regulations.

Which means it meet or exceeded CalTrans own work and was properly secured and for all intents and purposes it was identical to a legit sign. The only thing not legit about it was the lack of regulatory oversight and official permission, but the labeling itself was correct and long overdue.

Anyone who has gone through that interchange knows that it was and is a huge pain in the ass, and for many years part of the reason why was panicked drivers trying to suddenly cross 5-6 lanes of freeway to make it to the right connecting ramp, which meant there was often a huge snarl of traffic backed up there during peak hours.
posted by loquacious at 5:46 PM on June 27, 2012 [31 favorites]


Anything that makes New Yorkers look foolish, I guess.
posted by crunchland at 5:49 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want an apartment that overlooks those stairs. I would sit on my stoop all day and watch people. All day.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:50 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Years ago there used to be a kink in the bike path on the beach at El Porto in Los Angeles. People riding rented bicycles, many of whom it was obvious hadn't been on a bike in years, would routinely get into trouble negotiating the corner.

Not only was it sandy, but it was also often crowded.

I hung out there once or twice and watched the faces of people as they came riding blithely along, chatting and smiling in the sun, as they were suddenly forced to cope with this sharp zig-zag.

Occasionally someone would completely lose it and go down.

It says something terrible about my nature, I now, that I found this entertaining.

When I went back recently, the fun-killing city engineers had completely straightened the path out at that spot.
posted by mmrtnt at 5:51 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


It difficult to explain to someone that the reason they live their life the way they do because of the structures built to help them live that way. But imagine, instead of a stupid mislaid step, the faulty structure is a punitive late policy on a credit card, or a bank that has a minimum balance fee and very quickly the maintenance of the status-quo is laid bare.

Gosh. This is why I read MetaFilter.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 5:54 PM on June 27, 2012 [25 favorites]


Once you've done The Walk for a while, it's unnoticeable to the outside observer.

Yeah, Seattle has a similar walk, but I bet it might even be a bit higher in the step than the NYC version.

Seattle's sidewalks are often a mishmash of asphalt, paving stones, poured concrete, gravel or even tile or flagstone. They're heavily lifted and vaulted from overgrown tree roots, filled with cracks and often wet or buried in wet leaves.

If you just walk everywhere like you're hiking - toes up, nice high lift to the step, solid foot placement - you're fine and just roll over everything like you're on a nice hike on an unimproved, rocky trail.

If you shuffle or drag your feet or don't watch out for slippery wet grates or metal plates on the ground, you're going to have a real bad time.

During the first couple of months I was here I went out to a techno/electronic show and danced myself to exhaustion. We were taking a cab home until we discovered our driver was fucking crazy and on a mission to pick fights with other cab drivers and drivers in general, so we bailed out at the next red light we were offered and walked the rest of the way home, uphill.

I was so tired I had to assist my legs with my hands, lifting them high enough to stagger up the uneven, hilly sidewalk so I didn't land flat on my face. I wasn't used to the hills yet, and I've had last miles of 20 mile hikes seem less exhausting and daunting because I was already so exhausted I could barely stand up.
posted by loquacious at 5:56 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I should note that I posted this because I actually fell DOWN a flight of stairs the other night in the Financial District, and this triggered a thought that maybe it wasn't all my fault. (Also, the people who saw me fall, helped me up and were not deterred by the crap-ton of blood are good people. I'm fine now.)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:56 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a staircase on the Track 20/21 platform in Penn Station where the first step is noticeably higher than the others. It's actually one of the old staircases that was preserved from the original Penn Station, just poorly integrated as is pretty much everything else in the "new" Penn Station. I've stumbled on it quite a few times, but now that I know it's there I take delight in taking an extra big first step and then ascending smoothly up the stairs.
posted by monospace at 5:56 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


There used to be a significant depression at the southwest corner curb cut on 2nd avenue and east 5th street that would collect rainwater/slush in the winter months. It was always one of those fiendishly deceptive slush puddles that on first glance appeared to be only a slush-covered piece of sidewalk but was in reality a frozen hellhole nearly 6 inches deep. One winter a friend of mine slipped on the ice adjacent to the hell puddle and, while flailingly trying to regain her balance, grabbed onto the arm of an innocent besuited early morning bystander and flung him full length into the icy mire.

It is one of the greatest tragedies of my life that I did not get to witness this event.
posted by elizardbits at 6:03 PM on June 27, 2012 [58 favorites]


Back in the '90s there was a discount theater in Seattle, in Ballard, called the Bay Theater. It cost two bucks to see a movie there, and they generally ran the same stuff that was in the more expensive theaters, just a month or so later, and the decor was kind of run down.

There was a better reason than the price to see a movie there, however; the theater had been built so that the floor of the isles did not transition smoothly to the floors of the rows. In fact, each row of seats was set on its own tier, so that the transition between the row of seats and the isles formed a kind of step. I've seen something like this in other theaters, sure, but the step at the Bay was very pronounced and a bit higher than it should have been. This step had the effect of causing nearly everyone trying to enter the row to trip, sometimes fabulously, and flail around a bit, trying to find their footing in the darkened theater.

It was my friend Penn who first pointed this out to me. He took me to a showing of Primal Fear at the Bay, insisting that we arrive for the show at least 20 minutes early. He wouldn't tell me why, and he insisted that we sit in the back of the theater, which I do not generally enjoy. When I asked him why we had to sit back there he replied, "Just wait."

I had tripped slightly entering the row to sit, but thought nothing of it. 5 minutes later though, when a good looking young man tripped and spilled most of the contents of his popcorn container on his girlfriend, Penn's plan became clear; the real show came before the show, when people were finding their seats. One man would spill his soda on a stranger and almost start a fight, another would trip and accidentally grope someone sitting innocently eating skittles, another would trip and squeak in fright before righting themselves and sitting self-consciously down. And even once the lights had gone down and the film had begun to roll, we could still see latecomers amble awkwardly in, trip, and flail about like jittery shadow puppets in front of us. It was hilarious, and I tried to see every movie from then on at the Bay.

But interests more litigious than mine owned that theater, and the Bay has since then been remodeled. I think it's a live theater now, but it's been a while since I've been to Seattle, so I can't say for sure. Anyway, I miss that place, and though the laughs were a bit mean-spirited I guess, it was still a hell of a show for two bucks.
posted by Pecinpah at 6:06 PM on June 27, 2012 [21 favorites]


I'd like

a) to know how much taller that step is
b) to see a correlation of trippage incidence against some measure of kinesthetic sense (my prediction is that people with a *better* sense of where their body is are the ones who are tripping, because they are moving their feet more efficiently, i.e. closer to the stair tops)
posted by DU at 6:07 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Glad I'm not the only one who does that thing where if I trip I immediately speed up into a half-jog to make it seem less embarrassing.

A physicist then showed up and said that after extensive study he had determined that people speed up because their center of gravity is ahead of their feet, so they naturally speed up to regain balance.


Thank you, physicist, for responding so I didn't have to.

...these stairs are clearly out of code as The greatest riser height within any flight of stairs shall not exceed the smallest by more than 0.375 inch (9.5 mm). and suggested city hall be notified.

Did I miss the part where it showed it was at least 3/8" different? That's enough that you could almost see it and be aware. I'd bet that step is less than 1/4" out of true.
posted by DU at 6:11 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


A couple of weeks ago, I tripped and fell thanks to an uneven bit of sidewalk (and, to be fair, inattention). I came down hard on both knees and one elbow - the elbow because I was carrying a cup of coffee in that hand. I did not spill it.

I took my tumble about 10 feet from the fancy donut place by my house. The barista saw it happen and rushed out to make sure I was okay (I was; just out of breath with surprise at gravity). She declared that I must have crushed the donuts I'd just bought, and I needed new ones. She gave me an extra.

I got bruised and scraped knees and a hole in my jeans. And an extra donut. Not a a bad deal.
posted by rtha at 6:16 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I like how the body language of the people tripping goes *trip* "WHOA I AM FALLI -- wait, I caught myself ... equilibrium restored? Yes. Phew, thanks feet!" The whole mechanism by which we CATCH ourselves while doing such a complicated thing is itself amazing, and you can see the relief, because people certainly aren't catching themselves on purpose -- their bodies react before they can think.

DU, I think in the very first shot you can see the one that's out of size. At least, I thought I did: Oh, that one! And then people started tripping on it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:18 PM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


Oh, man, I've got a friend who lives off that stop. I haven't been to visit her yet, but whenever I do: NOTED.

This makes me think about how there's a point when you're riding the downtown 6 train, when it's going between 14th street and Astor Place, it hits this hard fast curve. After taking that path every day for 8+ years, I always subconsciously knew when to brace myself; it'd be interesting to see other people stagger and fall.

I've got a new commute now, so I'm learning all of those rhythms!
posted by whitneyarner at 6:19 PM on June 27, 2012


DU, I think in the very first shot you can see the one that's out of size.

Oh yeah, you're right. Wow, that one is waay taller.
posted by DU at 6:24 PM on June 27, 2012


Anything that makes New Yorkers look foolish, I guess.

This thread is about tripping over high stairsteps, not over high dudgeon.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:25 PM on June 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


Does the same type of thing happen when you go down the stairs?
posted by Brocktoon at 6:25 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love off this subway stop. Our community is diverse, complex, and in constant flux. But that stair binds us together.
posted by cal71 at 6:28 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


"unique from" made me trip up the reading-stairs a little bit.

It's not just you. I spent half the video thinking about how to reword it more melodiously. Once an editor, always an editor.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:32 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


i think it is really probably the stitches
posted by elizardbits at 6:33 PM on June 27, 2012


Maybe I am a schadenfreude enthusiast, but I really wanted to see a double-trip in one of the groups of four or five young guys: where someone in the first rank trips and recovers and someone in the second rank gazes witheringly at his buddy while clearly thinking, "Oh my god, Frank is such a kluWHOAAH, LOOK OUT!"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:36 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Why does he emphasize that EVERYONE trips on the step and then include video of approximately 2 dozen people not tripping?

Anyway, as of about 90 minutes ago, his website has a picture showing that these stairs have been blocked off. The video appears to have gotten official notice.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:36 PM on June 27, 2012


I blame Phil Dunphy.
posted by cacofonie at 6:36 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


It is a shameful facet of my character that I love nothing more than watching people fall down. I am laughing so hard right now it's difficult to type.
posted by minervous at 6:41 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's one subway staircase with a wonky stair in NYC? Big whoop. Pretty much none of the stairs in the older Chicago El stations are even remotely the same height. I'm particularly thinking of the Thorndale and Loyola stops on the red line, because I've lived near them most recently, but all of the old stations with the red tile-covered steps have terrible, terrible stairs. I'll tell you, even when you know about the wonky stairs and they're all bad so it's not like you've gotten used to one mechanical rhythm that's suddenly changed, it's still hard not to trip.
posted by misskaz at 6:45 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, that is correct. There is only one staircase in the entire Tri State Area that has a wonky stair. This video proves that beyond a doubt!
posted by elizardbits at 6:46 PM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


A couple of weeks ago, I tripped and fell thanks to an uneven bit of sidewalk (and, to be fair, inattention). I came down hard on both knees and one elbow - the elbow because I was carrying a cup of coffee in that hand. I did not spill it. (...)

She declared that I must have crushed the donuts I'd just bought, and I needed new ones. She gave me an extra.


There are two heros in this heartwarming story of tribulation & triumph.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:48 PM on June 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


Why does he emphasize that EVERYONE trips on the step and then include video of approximately 2 dozen people not tripping?
That bugged me too.

Also, it would have been easier to see the wrong stair if he'd included a still photo as well as the video.
posted by jacalata at 6:50 PM on June 27, 2012


Was it Terry Pratchett who noted that this is a great thing to build into your stairs?
After a while your body learns the odd step and you cease to be aware of it, but assassins sneaking up the stairs at night in the dark...?

You'll be nicely forewarned.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:54 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Tangentially related: Several years ago, my cousin's family visited Washington, DC a few months before my family was planning a trip there. Among the highlights he mentioned was the door to the Upper Level men's restroom in the East Building of the National Gallery of Art. Because of the odd angles, the door opened less than 90° (floor plan), though it was not obvious from the outside. He reported that almost everyone who entered would push the door open, only to have it hit the interior wall and bounce back at them. I can confirm that this is in fact, true.
posted by yuwtze at 7:02 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


hmmm, I wonder if this is the station where my brothers gf broke her nose?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:05 PM on June 27, 2012


There's a staircase on the Track 20/21 platform in Penn Station where the first step is noticeably higher than the others.

I can't be certain of this, but I think the first step is the only exception to the rule regarding standardized heights in stair design. Not sure why, or whether that is in fact true, but it came to mind when I saw the video.
posted by purephase at 7:05 PM on June 27, 2012


The slightly lower first step will cause all climbers, forever, to trip on the second step
This is actually the situation at my station. I have learned to skip the first step going up. Coming down is a different matter though, and I have twisted my ankle a couple of times misjudging that last short step. This is despite that they have painted a large yellow MIND THE STEPS.
posted by unliteral at 7:07 PM on June 27, 2012


For heaven's sake, what is that piano bit called? It gives the site where I can find it, but it's got about fifty bazillion piano pieces and the fact that I've heard the tune before is driving me bonkers.
posted by KChasm at 7:08 PM on June 27, 2012


PAK CHOOIE UNF
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:23 PM on June 27, 2012 [14 favorites]


One winter a friend of mine slipped on the ice adjacent to the hell puddle and, while flailingly trying to regain her balance, grabbed onto the arm of an innocent besuited early morning bystander and flung him full length into the icy mire.
This story would be better if it ended with "Reader, she married him."
posted by moonmilk at 7:32 PM on June 27, 2012 [14 favorites]


Ad Hominem: Come down and eat chicken with me, beautiful.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:38 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is why I always raise my feet above my waist when walking up stairs.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:39 PM on June 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


KChasm, it's Amazing Plan by Kevin McLeod (scroll down). The filmmaker didn't have to include the title in his attribution in order to use it for free, but it would have been nice.

(Those of you who listen to WireTap on the CBC, or any number of Flash games or random YouTube videos, may find that Scheming Weasel sounds familiar.)
posted by maudlin at 7:53 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I blame Phil Dunphy.

I blame Phil Donahue. I don't know why, but he has to be blamed for something.
posted by bh at 7:53 PM on June 27, 2012


Among the highlights he mentioned was the door to the Upper Level men's restroom in the East Building of the National Gallery of Art. Because of the odd angles, the door opened less than 90° (floor plan), though it was not obvious from the outside. He reported that almost everyone who entered would push the door open, only to have it hit the interior wall and bounce back at them. I can confirm that this is in fact, true.

Aaagh, I went there a million times as a kid but could never have known this, not being a man. Damn male privilege. But it makes me think I must have never gone near that bathroom when with my father, or it is a newer bathroom, because he is an architect and would probably mention it 1+ times a week.
posted by sweetkid at 7:57 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Damn male privilege.

So that's why the feminists wanted men to stop holding doors for them.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:59 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The filmmaker should be sued for the phrase "unique from."
posted by univac at 8:03 PM on June 27, 2012


Funny! Until the kid almost got squashed. Close it down for a weekend, do-over on the steps.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:15 PM on June 27, 2012


My boyfriend and I lived off of that stop for something like four years, and that was our exit. But neither of us can recall tripping on that step.

It's possible that we missed it because we both tended to take the stairs two at a time.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:16 PM on June 27, 2012


"unique from" made me trip up the reading-stairs a little bit.

The filmmaker should be sued for the phrase "unique from."


Whoa, whoa, you guys are totally missing the actual false step here: the description under the video says there's something "very unique" about the station. UNIQUE IS NOT A MATTER OF DEGREE.

Also, srsly, this one misaligned step in a complex infrastructure system just ain't unique.
posted by psoas at 8:32 PM on June 27, 2012


In Hoboken, a couple rivers away...just across the street and down the block from the PATH trains to the city, there's a bar on the corner. Like most Hoboken joints it has plenty of outside seating so that patrons can enjoy the views that Hoboken has to offer (namely attractive people of the opposite sex). I think its called Hobson's. Anyway, they did some construction work on the sidewalk in front of this bar a while back, and as a result, there's about a 2-foot wide slab of concrete that is angled up just a few inches to make a smooth connection between the lower slab on one side and the higher slab on the other. Not really noticeable to the naked eye, especially if the naked eye is checking out all the patrons of the bar as it walks by.

Now, if you're walking towards the trains, you'll usually step right over without even noticing the decline. But as the trains empty at the end of the working day, the majority of the crowd streams past this bar walking towards the incline.

What's the significance? The incline makes people trip, regularly and mercilessly. Walking home at night, I almost always make it a point to watch the people in front of me, and almost never do I see everyone smoothly sail over this undulation.

I've never seen anybody actually trip and fall, its just enough of a change in the slope to make you catch your foot for a second and start forward with the other foot a little too fast in order to compensate. A forced shuffle, if you will.

Here's the kicker. I heard two guys on the PATH train once, talking about this part of the sidewalk. They were, in fact, on their way to Hobson's, and the one was describing to the other how they would wait to get the table right in front of this sidewalk abnormality, so that they could watch people trip over it again and again. Well...at first I thought it was just one twisted guy showing his friend some low-ball entertainment. Its not. Its a malaise, I tell you. Tonight, for the umpteenth time, I walked past this spot, and sure enough, the table right there was filled with a group of guys (different guys), all watching in gleeful anticipation as the crowd from the train approached. They may even have been taking bets on who would trip, I'm not sure.

You can tell, though. The people at this table are not there to simply people watch. They are there for the clear purpose of people-tripping watch. They sadistically enjoy it.

I'm not saying I was better than them. I might have found some bit of amusement in it myself (doubt it). But I did love the feeling of looking the group right in the collective eyes, and firmly planting my foot on the incline and walking over it like it wasn't there. I may have been their sole cognizant disappointer.

I'll probably never know.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:51 PM on June 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


> or it is a newer bathroom

I was there in 2001, but apparently, the building was built in 1978. That particular restroom is a bit out of the way, so you may well have missed it. It's at the top of the escalator, up a few stairs, and around the corner (directly behind the blue and orange squares in this photo).
posted by yuwtze at 8:54 PM on June 27, 2012


loquacious: "Rick apparently had done his homework about not just the correct specifications for the materials of the sign, what exact colors it should be and what kind of retroreflective coating or film - but also precisely how it should be mounted and secured to pass CalTrans and DoT regulations."

These days, depending on your state (and assuming that they're actually adhering to their own, or federal standards), it's actually not that difficult to find that sort of information.

For instance, here's all the information that you could conceivably ever want to know about signage on the DC Metro.
posted by schmod at 9:04 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I live off this stop. I literally saw someone trip on that step last night! Glad to know there's a reason for it.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:21 PM on June 27, 2012


On the one hand, I'd love to see things like this get fixed.

On the other hand, I wouldn't love the $350,000 and eight months it would take to actually fix it.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:41 PM on June 27, 2012


Eyebrows McGee: "I like how the body language of the people tripping goes *trip* "WHOA I AM FALLI -- wait, I caught myself ... equilibrium restored? Yes. Phew, thanks feet!" The whole mechanism by which we CATCH ourselves while doing such a complicated thing is itself amazing, and you can see the relief, because people certainly aren't catching themselves on purpose -- their bodies react before they can think."

When I was recovering from a very bad foot injury (which, due to the whole weeks-on-crutches/weeks-with-a-cane issue, triggered the most debilitating sciatica attack I've experienced to date), I was delighted the day I stumbled over an irregularity in the sidewalk and managed to right myself without going down. Even if my brain were able to work fast enough to catch me when I trip, there's no way I'd have been able to add in the extra "plus don't reinjure your bad foot and don't tweak the back" factor and still remain upright.

psoas: " Also, srsly, this one misaligned step in a complex infrastructure system just ain't unique."

True. But (again looking at the sociological issues), how many thousands — or more likely hundreds of thousands — of people passed through that station and tripped on that step without thinking to report it as a problem, until this filmmaker did something to draw attention to it? That's a more interesting aspect than "yet another piece of crumbling infrastructure".

I've been thinking about this kind of thing lately because my workplace recently changed the process for requesting service on a broken copier/printer. The main printer on our floor was partly out of service for a day and a half before I called it in yesterday — apparently everybody was assuming that someone else would deal with it. So the Zen story about You are that someone has been on my mind.
posted by Lexica at 9:42 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


1adam12: " On the other hand, I wouldn't love the $350,000 and eight months it would take to actually fix it."

(Argh, used live preview & didn't see this as it came in.) One bad injury with one successful lawsuit = significantly more than $350,000 paid out. Deferring maintenance is always risky. Deferring maintenance when there's a known problem like this is a recklessly bad idea.
posted by Lexica at 9:44 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have a theory that when the rise has an unexpected difference, you find more people with problems going up than down, but when the tread has an unexpected difference, you notice the opposite result. Do y'all think that is plausible?
posted by Night_owl at 9:49 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


because the step is too DAMN high
posted by alabamnicon at 9:51 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


According to local news tonight, this went viral (not sure if that's true), and the MTA blocked off the stairs and will fix. Sure hope there's another entrance for locals.
posted by old_growler at 10:03 PM on June 27, 2012


He could call his civic-mindedness an act of art, like the guy in SoCal who put up his own freeway signs 'cause CalTrans' stupid sign pointed motorists to the wrong lane.

He could write something in red on the riser part of the step like

"Mind this step! I’'s a bit higher than normal!
Want it fixed? Call 212-555-5555 and lodge your complaint."

posted by blueberry at 10:10 PM on June 27, 2012


Update from his blog:
Apparently they shut down the stairway in my video.
Posted on June 27, 2012 at 8:02pm with 17 notes
posted by blueberry at 10:13 PM on June 27, 2012


JimmyJames: "Next time people ask why sociology is important, I'm going to show them this video."

This isn't a sociology issue; it's a human factors engineering issue. Masai tribesmen, investment bankers, and schoolchildren will all trip here.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:36 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah. This video will be adopted by usability and design geeks as an example of why simple consistency matters. Step step step step step step trip FUCK! scramble step step step.
posted by pracowity at 12:39 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


DU: "Did I miss the part where it showed it was at least 3/8" different? That's enough that you could almost see it and be aware. I'd bet that step is less than 1/4" out of true."

And you make that bet based on this video? I'm going to go with the estimation of the guy who actually examined the step.

Internet experts.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:42 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"This isn't a sociology issue; it's a human factors engineering issue. Masai tribesmen, investment bankers, and schoolchildren will all trip here."

Wow, are you really that obtuse or was your comment ironic?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:49 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you disagree, explain why you disagree. Don't insult people.
posted by pracowity at 12:54 AM on June 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


This isn't a sociology issue; it's a human factors engineering issue. Masai tribesmen, investment bankers, and schoolchildren will all trip here.

Okay, you're right, Masai tribesmen, investment bankers and school children would all trip here. It's a poorly engineered step. My point was that if you think of the step like a systemic problem, like institutionalized racism, a sexist glass ceiling or a lack of legal protections for gay couples, you realize that not everyone is forced to walk up the same "staircase".

Certain classes of people are granted privilege and others are not. Some people are give bonuses that help them in life, others are allowed to pass on the things in life that make life hard and others feel their pain multiplied a thousandfold by social structures. My point was that these structures are so powerful they become transparent and we attribute our successes and failures to ourselves rather than the structures that empower or break us.

Your investment banker might have a town car with a driver and never encounter that step. A rich schoolchild might live next to the local school and just walk the two blocks and skip the subway entirely. And an immigrant Masai tribesman might take the subway and trip on that step every. single. day. and simply think he was clumsy.
posted by JimmyJames at 1:16 AM on June 28, 2012 [15 favorites]


"If you disagree, explain why you disagree. Don't insult people."

I don't disagree. All those people would trip on the step. His comment wasn't that the structure of our particular culture causes people to trip on that step. That you wrongly think it is, is why I think you're amazingly obtuse.

His point was that the step — how individuals collectively trip over it yet think that they, individually, are at fault — is a metaphor for how extrinsic and cultural factors can play large roles in the events in our individual lives which we wrongly attribute to being entirely idiosyncratic and personal.

I don't particularly fault you for having some trouble with the implications of his metaphor — that's fine, it's far-reaching and ambiguous and it's arguably problematic. I fault you for thinking that he was saying that Masai tribesmen wouldn't trip on that stair. That's a very lazy misreading that was, I very strongly suspect, motivated by your need to contradict the politically partisan view you believed was his implicit point and which you oppose. But maybe not. Maybe it was just a lazy misreading for no particular reason.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:41 AM on June 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Close it down for a weekend, do-over on the steps.

A weekend? This is NYC. Fixing this will require shutting down 2 lines every night for two months, about half a million on overtime pay, and a system wide fare increase.

And it will still be dangerous when it is "fixed."
posted by spitbull at 2:15 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Trippy.
posted by radwolf76 at 5:00 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


ActingTheGoat: I am sure those people who don't trip have taken that staircase for years and are used to it.
posted by Yellow at 5:05 AM on June 28, 2012


I note with interest that the stair that will trip you is not the big yellow one.

Because that would be too easy.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:33 AM on June 28, 2012


Out of curiosity, how do you actually fix this kind of problem? Even if you rip all the stairs out, aren't you still stuck with the problem of the space being too tall for x steps but too short for x + 1 steps?
posted by Georgina at 6:01 AM on June 28, 2012


naju: "Glad I'm not the only one who does that thing where if I trip I immediately speed up into a half-jog to make it seem less embarrassing."

So that WAS you! LOL.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:31 AM on June 28, 2012


One of the ongoing difficulties I face in walking through any paved area in Japan is that, well, there are rarely any sidewalks. When there are sidewalks, they're often uneven, lumpy, or just suddenly sag. After the quake last year, a lot of sidewalks developed new and interesting contours, especially the ones paved with brick. Or they'll have a concrete gutter running down the center of them, itself covered with slabs of concrete. The gutter is almost never level with the sidewalk or pavement around it. It's either a little lower or a little higher. Having seriously sprained both of my ankles a number of times each, they've got the tensile strength of sodden tissue paper. Walking with me through the streets of Tokyo is a veritable festival of stumbles, twisted ankles, and near dislocations. It's hard to just speed up to a jog when your foot just folded under your leg as you slipped off the one centimeter difference in sidewalk level.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:04 AM on June 28, 2012


I wonder if painting the step yellow would make a difference.
posted by any major dude at 8:28 AM on June 28, 2012


My point was that if you think of the step like a systemic problem, like institutionalized racism, a sexist glass ceiling or a lack of legal protections for gay couples, you realize that not everyone is forced to walk up the same "staircase".

That's a wild extrapolation. The video shows that a system can be arranged so that it trips up nearly everybody, but the victims won't blame the system until they can see it happen to everybody.

I agree with you that some of these systems are set up to favor one group over another. There are also systems that are set up to rob privileged people - that is after all where the money is. But this video is not a good illustration of discrimination, though it might be a good example of how discrimination can be be brought to awareness.
posted by nixt at 9:21 AM on June 28, 2012


You're misunderstanding the metaphor, nixt. He wasn't saying the stairs represent discrimination, he was just saying the stairs represent things that we don't realize are caused by the environment and attribute to individual failings.
posted by straight at 10:25 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh. The people who live in the front house of my complex tried to/threatened to/something sue my landlord because one of their steps was 1/2" higher than the other. I pretty much had negative sympathy for them (they weren't my favorite neighbors anyway). Now I have about 5% sympathy, but... there are still only two steps there. Maybe 2.5%.
posted by flaterik at 11:07 AM on June 28, 2012


I want an apartment that overlooks those stairs. I would sit on my stoop all day and watch people. All day.

A friend of mine lived in Paris for a while, and we would always go to this café on a corner close to the École Militaire metro. The Eiffel tower is in the general vicinity (among tons of other cool places), so there's a lot of tourists around.

In front of this particular café there was one of those big illuminated maps of the area that you can move with a couple of buttons, but the problem was that the map was rotated roughly about 195 degress from your position, so if you interpreted the top of the map to be the area corresponding to the direction you're looking to, you'd think the Eiffel tower would be to your back, when it would actually be in front of you (ish), it didn't help that this was one of the rare locations in the neighbourhood where the Eiffel wouldn't be visible to the eye. Those extra ~15 degrees of rotation didn't help either.

Conclusion, endless entertainment, watching people trying to figure out this relatively complex mapping issue (or perhaps the issue is overcoming your assumptions). Most people would get it wrong, and come back later to look at the map again, we'd sometimes help this people out if they had trouble figuring it out the second time around.

Another interesting thing was that women often made the correct navigation decision (and more quickly than their male parters), but were mostly overruled by men and their misguided sense of direction, only to come back and have to eat their words.

Also funny is that were tons of other signs pointing to the Eiffel tower, and other places, which would help with getting correct bearings (or the destination itself!), perhaps too many of them.

Good times.
posted by palbo at 11:28 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


JimmyJames: My point was that if you think of the step like a systemic problem, like institutionalized racism, a sexist glass ceiling or a lack of legal protections for gay couples, you realize that not everyone is forced to walk up the same "staircase".
Ah, you want to introduce this example as an analogy.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:28 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tracy Kidder on stairs (from House, p. 267-268):
In stair building, the steeper a stair, the taller the risers between treads and the narrower the treads. All the books, ones such as the handbook Richard pored over in trade school, prescribe that the width of a tread and the height of one riser should add up to seventeen or eighteen inches. The collective, successively refined wisdom of the tribe of carpenters seems to have produced that formula. It is the one that works best for the largest variety of human feet. A more basic rule for stairs says: Every tread must be as wide as every other, and every riser must be as tall as every other one. "Within a thirty-second of an inch," says Jim. "It has to be that fine. It's amazing. You start up a stair and after the first step your legs know what the next rise should be. You can trip on a bump in a flat sidewalk. A quarter-of-an-inch variation will do it. It's amazing. I bet if you took pictures of people climbing stairs, you would find their toes just clear each tread. You let your legs and feet take charge, but they're pretty literal-minded." In fact, it is very easy, a common mistake, for a builder of stairs to forget to add to his calculations the three-quarter-inch thickness of a finish floor that's not installed yet. Then he builds the stairs and lays the floor, and suddenly he has a staircase with a bottom riser that is three-quarters of an inch shorter than all the other risers. A stair like that will never stop tripping people, even ones who know its flaw. Stair-making carpenters are like school crossing guards or trainers of seeing-eye dogs. They take on one of society's small sacred trusts.
posted by littlecatfeet at 12:51 PM on June 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


Being fixed!
posted by yellowbinder at 1:42 PM on June 28, 2012


I enjoy watching men with those absurd extended pointy dress shoes duck walk up narrow stairs because their fake toes can't support any weight. I think of it as reverse Chinese foot binding.
posted by srboisvert at 1:56 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Recently you requested personal assistance from our on-line support
center. Below is a summary of your request and our response.

Subject
---------------------------------------------------------------
Dangerous Stair


Discussion Thread
---------------------------------------------------------------
Response (Jesse Zachary) - 06/28/2012 04:06 PM
This is in response to your e-mail regarding a potentially dangerous stairway at the 36th Street Station on the D,N, and R lines.

Please be assured that customer safety and security are among MTA New York City Transit's highest priorities. We are aware of the video you reported, and appropriate repairs have already begun. The repairs should be completed and the stairway re-opened by Saturday morning, June 30th. until that time, customers will not be able to use the stairs on the east side of Fourth Avenue. There are two additional stairs on the west side of Fourth Avenue. Posted notices will alert customers regarding the emergency repairs in progress.

Please note that you can now dial 511, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for help with any MTA New York City Transit-related question or concern. However, if you wish to speak to a customer service representative, you must call between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.am. You may also write to MTA New York City Transit, Customer Services, 2 Broadway, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10004.

We take the concerns of our customers very seriously, and thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Jesse Zachary
Manager, Customer E-mail & Correspondence
Customer Services Division

posted by Oddly at 2:06 PM on June 28, 2012


As of today, those stairs are actually blocked off and being worked on, so I guess this video caught someone's attention.
posted by Ragged Richard at 2:15 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


That trip step is just a little piece of England in the middle of New York.
posted by srboisvert at 2:15 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Trip Planner for those who like to think ahead.
posted by Oddly at 2:21 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sad to admit that I heard about this phenomenon from The Big Bang Theory.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 3:26 PM on June 28, 2012


Huh. A few years ago, the MTA redid all the stairs in my local stop, one by one. I was wondering why you'd both to do that, since they're all made of pretty hard-wearing stuff. Maybe it was because of something like this?
posted by Sara C. at 4:26 PM on June 28, 2012


Bother to do that, I mean.
posted by Sara C. at 4:27 PM on June 28, 2012


Trip Planner for those who like to think ahead.

How was your TRIP? ah. it never gets old.
posted by camdan at 5:27 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I had a run-in with an architect about this sort of problem. I won't name the building or the architect, although he deserves to be named and shamed.

I saw a new building from a famous postmodernist architect. As the building neared completion, a photo of the interior appeared on the organization's website. I took one look and was stunned, the main lobby had a low step around it, only 2 inches tall. It was almost as if the architect deliberately camouflaged it. People coming down the step, suddenly there would be a 2 inch drop off you wouldn't see. And coming up the stair, you wouldn't see the step and trip right over it. Now the worst part of this is, this sort of architectural stunt is the signature of this architect's style. He does all sorts of stupid non-ergonomic stairs in the lobbies of his buildings. It's his showpiece. This is what I fucking hate about fucking postmodernist architects, they think their building should push people around and make them uncomfortable, in order to assert it's presence and power over them.

So I called a friend of mine who was connected with the building and told him my concern that this step was dangerous and it ought to be fixed before the building was opened. He said he was surprised I hadn't heard, someone had already been severely injured, an elderly lady fell down the step and broke both her ankles and then tried to get up and walk on her broken ankles. They had to carry her off in an ambulance. I was furious, this building wasn't even open before it claimed its first casualty. And it would continue to injure people as long as it existed, unless it was modified to remove the hazard.

I went to the grand opening of the building. The architect flew in from the east coast to attend the opening. As the event wound down, I managed to get a chance to talk to him. I asked him if he had heard about the woman falling down the step, and I expressed my concern that this step didn't conform to building code, it was too low and was a hazard. He seemed shocked and said "I made sure all the stairs in the building conformed to all building codes and standard practices." I said I couldn't believe the lobby stairs were up to code, the step was only 2 inches tall. He said, "oh that. It's not a stair, it's a ledge, it doesn't need to conform to code for stairs, it's an architectural ornament." I could not get him to understand the problem. Well it was his big night, I didn't want to harangue him, even though he was a goddam idiot.

The building owners finally recognized the hazard after several more injuries. The could not modify the structure, the lobby was cast in solid concrete. There was no way to remove the hazard without creating some other hazard. So they just put yellow and black striped hazard warning tape over the ledge corner. It wears off under foot traffic, so they put more tape on occasionally. I am sure people are still getting injured by this "ledge," the design is just too bad to avoid occasional missteps.

But it gets worse. Despite this hazard, and some other major problems with this building, the organization hired this fucking architect to build ANOTHER building. I called up the building committee and really told them off. I asked them if they knew about the hazard in the old building, they never heard of it. Once the building is built, they are done with it, and the long term hazards are someone else's problem. I insisted that they prevent this architect from creating designs that would maim and injure people. It was too late to fire him, but they better take a closer look at his designs THIS time. The committee member was enraged, he said they had perfectly fine supervision and the architect performed brilliantly and surpassed their expectations on the building. I asked them if they had any simpler, more basic expectations, like for example, that the building wouldn't be designed to injure people. Well you could see where this conversation ended up: a shouting match. I am sure my complaints were disregarded, and this fucking postmodernist architect will make another showpiece staircase in the lobby that will injure people as long as the building stands.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:19 PM on June 29, 2012 [15 favorites]


People rail against bureaucracy and regulations. I'll bet there's long, dull, technical documentation about the requirements for stairs, detailing the reinforcement along the edge of the step, the materials, wear resistance, and copious detail about the rise and run. You could hold up the big fat document (documents? binders?) and use it to show how the bureaucrats had run wild, and how difficult it is to get anything done in the face of so much regulation, how anti-business it is. And then you could watch people falling.
posted by theora55 at 11:23 PM on June 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


My dad & I once spent a joyous 30 minutes at the mall watching people trying to board an escalator that usually went up, but for some reason that day was coming down. People are really, really strange. I realize just now this moment it might have been more interesting, in a "pain is funny" sense, to stake out the *top*.
posted by Infinity_8 at 9:01 AM on July 2, 2012


Why is watching people trip or fall accidentally one of the bone-deep funniest things ever? Especially if you've spent time around kids, it's obvious that unexpected discomfort caused by gravity is like Humor Building Block #1 or 2.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:14 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


For my birthday one year, we spent the weekend at the Alpine Valley in Wisconsin seeing two concerts - Rage Against the Machine, then Dave Matthews the next day. It had rained for nearly all of the two weeks prior to the concerts, making the whole area ripe for mud and mayhem.

At the Rage concert, people were deliberately sliding down the hill of the amphitheater in the mud like a huge slip-n-slide. Mosh pits abounded. It rained even more. By the end of the night, I was covered in mud head to toe by just being in the vicinity of all the craziness.

When we returned to the venue the next day, the grounds crew had done their best to repair the damage - covering most of the muddy areas with straw. Tailgaiting in the parking lot, I watched dozens of girls wander around in their cute little sundresses and white flip flops and thought, "You have no idea what you're walking into." I wore rolled up jeans and my still-caked-in-mud tennis shoes from the night before.

Once the concert started, we staked out a spot near the beer vending stand in the center of the hill - which was near the mud sliding area from the Rage concert. As more and more people walked over the straw to reach the beer stand, the ground reverted to a slippery mud trap and hilarity ensued. We watched dozens of people walk unknowingly into the trap, and fall all over the place - some pulled their friends down too, others fell a second or third time while trying to get back up.

I can't explain why we enjoyed standing there watching, but it was one of my best birthdays ever.
posted by youngergirl44 at 12:42 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


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