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Snowboarding in the Subway – 2nd Thesis Idea

Unlike my first idea, this new idea focuses on a younger audience. The question that I pose is, how can we physically challenge ourselves and others to become more aware of the three dimensional space that our bodies occupy? So you might be wondering why this is important? From an article at, “More often than not, sprains and strains have to do with balance.” This is relevant to most of us and will be relevant to us into old age when we start having to worry about falling over, which according to the CDC is the leading cause of death for people of age 65 and older.

A lot of New Yorkers are familiar with riding the subway system on a day-to-day basis. According to Wikipedia, ridership was up to an average of 5,086,833 riders per weekday in 2009. During these rides, there are times when you just don’t want to hold onto the metal railings because of sanitation issues. During the flu season, I’ve witnessed so many people coughing and sneezing into their hands and then grabbing onto the pole. No wonder when one gets sick in the city, everyone else gets sick.

The jacket over pole hold

The jacket over pole hold

The Two Finger Clench

The Two Finger Clench

As a result of this, I started to not hold onto the metal railings a few years ago and realized that the balancing act required on a NYC subway car mimicked that of being on a snowboard. After riding a specific line several times per day, I started to mentally take notes as to where the track would cause the train to jump up and down and shake from left to right just as though I was snowboarding and familiarizing myself with certain trails on a mountain. I was eventually changing foot positions and shifting my weight in order to counteract the forces imposed on me by the train. I’ve also noticed other people doing the same.

This past summer during my internship in Shanghai, I was constantly making mental comparisons between the rough NYC subway ride versus the practically non-abrasive and non-challenging ride that Shanghai’s Metro had to offer. I thought to myself, how would someone from Shanghai prepare for the NYC subway ride? The idea of snowboarding came back again and the following visualization came to mind.

A sketch of the NYC map as a ski resort map

A sketch of the NYC map as a ski resort map

The level of difficulty of each line could be captured with a seismographic app, where the line with the most disturbances would set the benchmark for a trail being super difficult, e.g. double black diamond. Now that we have a map interpreted as a ski resort map, people could perhaps manage their balance if they knew what to expect on certain segments of a subway line. My assumption is that this visualization alone will not get people to participate in such balancing acts. What if we induced a sense of competition and other forms of feedback to give us an idea as to how we’re progressing in the quest for better balance?

Some ideas that came to mind included hacking a Wii Fit board and having it connect to your iPhone via bluetooth. When riders board a train, they place the board onto the floor and then start the Trainboarding (?) app on their iPhone (there’s reception in NYC subways?). The app logs the start point and begins to read the data streaming from the Wii Fit board. Points are accrued based on an algorithm, e.g. difficulty of track, user getting off the board, sudden shifting in weight, etc. At the end of the ride, the rider picks the board off the floor and stops the app. The final set of data is then pushed to a site where others are able to view the rider’s results and/or perhaps even challenge the rider themselves.

Besides building a stronger physical core for better balance, another nice possible side effect could be riders trying out new train lines that they would not have otherwise ridden before. Higher scores and more difficult challenges can encourage this change in behavior. Also, with subway systems in other states and other countries, this has potential to become popular around the world, but before even thinking at such a large scale, it all starts from here in New York City.

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  • 20 Sep 2010

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