The Daily Parker

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Japanese train station psychology

CityLab's Allan Richarz reports on the techniques Japan uses to get 13 billion passengers through its rail system each year:

Ridership of that volume requires a deft blend of engineering, planning, and psychology. Beneath the bustle, unobtrusive features are designed to unconsciously manipulate passenger behavior, via light, sound, and other means. Japan’s boundless creativity in this realm reflects the deep consideration given to public transportation in the country.

Standing at either end of a platform in Tokyo’s labyrinthine Shinjuku Station, one might detect a small square LED panel emitting a pleasant, deep-blue glow. Nestled among vending machines and safety posters, the panel might be dismissed as a bug zapper. But these simple blue panels are designed to save lives.

Operating on the theory that exposure to blue light has a calming effect on one’s mood, rail stations in Japan began installing these LED panels as a suicide-prevention measure in 2009. They are strategically located at the ends of each platform—typically the most-isolated and least-trafficked area, and accordingly, the point from which most platform jumps occur. Some stations, such as Shin-Koiwa Station in Tokyo, bolster their LED regime with colored roof panels, allowing blue-tinted sunlight to filter down on to platforms.

It is an approach that has proven to be surprisingly effective. According to a study by researchers at the University of Tokyo published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2013, data analyzed over a 10-year period shows an 84 percent decline in the number of suicide attempts at stations where blue lights are installed. A subsequent study revealed no corresponding increase in suicide attempts at neighboring stations lacking such lights.

Japan also uses short ditties to let you know your train is leaving (cf. the horrible klaxon they use at O'Hare's Blue Line stop), point-and-call safety checks, and 17 Hz infrasound at busy platforms to shoo away teenagers.

So why haven't we adopted these things here? Maybe if half of Americans commuted by train instead of by car, things might improve. Notably, the UK and other European rail-friendly countries have adopted some of these techniques.

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