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.