North America

The Mezzanine  

What if, instead of building subway mezzanines underground, we put them at surface level, creating the space to do so by preventing automobiles from passing directly above each subway station?

La Rambla, in Barcelona

  • Eliminating underground mezzanines may become more viable as passengers pay for their subway tickets digitally rather than via fare booths or turnstiles
  • If each car-free street-level mezzanine was, say, 100-200 metres long, it would free up space for bus stops, bikes, wheelchairs, and pedestrians, making it easier to get to and from the subway
  • Putting the mezzanine at street level would allow the underground portion of subway stations to be made much smaller, reducing the cost of station construction
  • A street-level mezzanine could have a social and aesthetic value. By making the space above a subway station free of cars, it could become a nice place to wait for anyone you are planning to meet up with at the station
  • There would also be much more space available for stairwells, escalators, and elevators, making it easier to get in and out of stations quickly and comfortably and reducing platform crowding at busy stations. For deep underground stations especially, this would allow passengers to reach subway platforms from street level without having to fight through busy underground crowds to get from one set of escalators, elevators, or staircases to another
  • For subway stations that have central platforms rather than side platforms, the ability to put station entrances in the middle of a car-free street might allow the subway platforms to be located less deep underground than they would otherwise need to be. It would also allow the platform to be accessible via a single elevator shaft, rather than force passengers with wheelchairs or baby-strollers to ride one elevator to reach the mezzanine and then a second elevator to reach the subway platform
  • In certain cases, by making it easier to access central platforms, and by freeing up space for station entrances and exits generally, street-level mezzanines might allow for the Spanish Solution, to speed up and simplify passenger boarding and alighting
  • Maglev elevators? Having more room for elevator shafts, and also having the ability to access central subway platforms from surface level via one rather than two separate elevator rides, would be especially significant if technological advancements make elevators more efficient. In theory, elevators could be far more space-efficient than escalators, since they travel vertically whereas subway escalators tend to be angled at only around 30 degrees, which is actually quite a bit more horizontal than vertical. In practice, though, elevators are inefficient, since they tend to have only one elevator per shaft, leaving the majority of each shaft empty. If a technological solution can be found to this problem, then a car-free street-level mezzanine with elevators taking passengers directly from surface level to the subway platform could be a great thing
  • Staircase Diversity. The Mezzanine would leave more room for stairwells, which could allow each station to usefully have a number of different types of staircases. The staircases could differ in terms of steepness; steeper staircases are more space-efficient than less steep ones, but are also less easy to use going downstairs, less easy for seniors to use, etc. With more stairwells, some of the staircases could perhaps even be spiral staircases, which could be extremely space-efficient, but not attractive for anyone to use except when the normal staircases are overcrowded during rush hour. Some staircases could be bicycle-friendly

We probably shouldn’t need excuses to limit cars’ space or speed in urban areas, but all the same, a subway station could be an excellent excuse for doing so. Better yet, why not make the street above the entire subway line car-free? That way it would become even easier to get to and from stations, and the area around the entire subway line could become much nicer to spend time in, or to walk or roll through. I’m looking at you, Yonge Street.


2 thoughts on “The Mezzanine  

  1. With respect (and sorry to criticise two suggestions in a row), this seems a backward idea, given that the trend is for stations (even at grade stations) to more and more be underground.

    A few points:
    – you couldn’t use the space for bus stops, etc, for safety reasons. The point of having this space it to have it crowded with pedestrians milling about, and putting buses and the like into that space would be counterproductive!

    – putting the station at grade would vastly increase the cost, not reduce it, for the same reason that we build undergrounds at all: it is much, much more expensive to buy land than it is to dig a tunnel. Now, you can say that you’d build your stations just in the middle of the road. But for one thing, stations are huge things, not thing you can just plop in the middle of the street – just look at the footprint of a modern station like the upgraded tottenham court road, compared to the size of any nearby road. And for another, the road isn’t just there randomly. It’s there because people use it to drive down, and closing down a major road has huge knock-on effects.

    – you’d also cut out your revenue stream. With underground stations, you subsidise your costs by renting the space you create out to shops and restaurants and the like, but with a station in the middle of the road, the shops and restaurants are there already and don’t have to pay you rent!

    – it’s less efficient in terms of transporting people underground. As it is, the idea is to get everyone part of the way, and then people can spread out to go where they need to go. If you’ve got, say, three different lines, in two directions, all accessed directly from the surface, then you’re packing people less efficiently and you’re wasting money and electricity.

    – there is no conceivable reason why you’d need maglev lifts! Their top speed may be hundreds of miles an hour, but since you’re only going a few hundred feet at most, and often less than that, that top speed is irrelevant! It would be like owning a special Ferrari just to take you from your front door to the street…

    – elevators are not more space-efficient than escalators, because in this context the ‘space’ you save is space you’re not doing anything with anyway. Both methods connect a small footprint at the top to a small footprint at the bottom, and the fact that the connection between the two may be diagonal is irrelevant, unless you actually need to, I don’t know, herd giraffes beneath the escalator, since that space between the floors isn’t being used for anything else anyway (you don’t even need to excavate it in some cases). And of course, the actual horizontal footprint of escalators on each floor is much smaller than that of a lift.

    – why are you planning for ‘staircases’ at all? This isn’t the 19th century! We have electricity now! Staircases are just a hazard and an obstacle for the disable. [that said, spiral staircases are not unusual in tube stations, but they’re almost entirely for emergency purposes].

    – are you talking about staircases to the platform? Then you haven’t gained any space at all for them, because the concourse can be whatever size you need, so long as it’s underground. It’s only if you put it on the surface that it’s size-restricted.

    – important to underline: you can’t just put a concourse down a street and expect it to be meaningfully connected to platforms below because the platforms will almost certainly not follow the route of the street!

    – yes, eventually, more and more shopping streets will be pedestrianised. But inner city roads don’t exist for fun, and they’re not congested because everyone is lost: they’re there because they’re essential to the maintenance of the city and its population. You can’t just randomly shut down every road that happens to be near the route of an underground line! Civilisation would, and for once this sentence is not an exaggeration, collapse!

    • Hey, no worries, I really appreciate the feedback, positive or negative. Thanks very much.

      My line of thinking was that surface road space is being under-utilized because modern cars are so inefficient, compared to walking/biking/micro-cars/etc., whereas underground space is extremely expensive. So maybe you could improve a street’s throughput by limiting cars, so much so that you could still have some space left over to put in extra subway station entrances?

      Regarding the half-baked maglev elevator idea, my reasoning was that maglev elevators could (in theory) be efficient not because of their speed but because of their ability to circulate, which allows for many elevators per shaft. Basically you get the benefits of a circulating paternoster elevator, but without any of a paternoster’s speed/safety drawbacks. In other words, a maglev elevator could in effect be a vertical escalator, rather than the not-even-diagonal 30 degree angle of a conventional escalator. I take your point about giraffes, but I’m still not sure I agree.. humans are pretty tall too, and in many cases escalators take up a decent amount of space on subway platforms themselves. Couldn’t it be possible, hypothetically, for a maglev elevator to have a far smaller footprint per passenger than an escalator?

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