Tokyo, Procrastination
Published on December 24, 2007 By momijiki In Travel
One of the big construction trends in Tokyo has been putting train lines underground. Given the space crunch here, I can see how it makes sense. I think most of the land will be given over to construction and not green space. While I can understand the economic impetus, I really think it heightens a feeling of detachment from one's community and decreases the aesthetic value of a place.

Granted, the trains can be crowded, uncomfortable and sometimes smelly. But some of the best lighting I have ever seen has come through a train window and illuminates a person in just the right way that they seem to glow or take on the appearance of a sublime portrait. The time frame of this lighting is pretty limited, usually a couple hours in the morning and a few in the afternoon and not so much when it rains. Still, it's enough to give someone a moment to pause and go "wow."

A common complaint from people who ride subways is that they feel like a mole. They travel underground and pop up to ground level at various exits. These people often lament that they couldn't find their way from one station to the next if they had to walk on the street --even though some of the stations are only a kilometer apart. It's hard to feel how your area connects together when you have a patchwork of experiences to piece together.

This mole-like experience limits one's experience to a smaller area around the station. If you don't really know what's around, why bother leaving the station area? It's a natural reaction if one has neither the time nor inclination to explore. A number of times, I decided to visit some places to take pictures, some shops to buy bread or have a cup of coffee based on something I have seen from a train window. Sometimes these places are good, but just as often, there's a better place just a little bit out of view from the station exit.

In a way, more than people being hooked into their phones, portable games or internet, I think that this transition to underground transportation is going making the urban living experience more sterile and detached.

Comments
on Dec 24, 2007
I understand and agree! This reminds me of when I lived in NY. The trains are underground, famously known as the Subway, but there were quite a few above ground too. I found the ones above ground to be pretty interesting and much better for it's scenic value for the rider. You don't get the feeling of being a mole or underground rat (NY joke!!) all the time. Being "outside" when you have to be in the Subway made me feel human again!

It does mess with the aesthetic value of the area though, those train lines hanging overhead were not pretty to see, but I'm sure if they had found some way to make the look architecturally pleasing, there wouldn't have been much complaints!
on Dec 24, 2007

In the Washington, D.C. area (USA) much of the Metro system runs under ground.  I think it's roughly 60% of the system under ground, and 40% above ground.

Running above ground is typically cheaper to build, but can add a lot of costs over time as the tracks (heavy rail, not light) are exposed and need much more upkeep.  Bad weather screws up the system, makes the trains that run through/on exposed areas run slower and introduces a bunch of problems that you wouldn't think would be involved.

On the other hand, building underground cost a lot more money in initial investment, and there are lots of upkeep issues there as well.  You need to ventilate the train tunnels (shaft) and you wind up with water seeping into areas where you didn't expect it and again have to pay to keep up the system.  You also typically need to work to help heat and cool the train stations in those areas and that can get expensive as well.

There are tradeoffs either way really.  In urban areas, underground may be the only way to get the system built as there just isn't any above ground to use.  Besides, that above ground area is more valuable for green space, parks, office buildings, apartment buildings, etc.  Why not go underground, save the surface space and just build underground where you can use artificial lights to make the stations bright and/or to keep things bright enough on the trains to keep the environment there from being too depressing.

on Dec 24, 2007
Terf, I agree with all those economic reasons. And you make really good points. There is a train line being built from Shibuya to Shinjuku that is being completely built underground because there is no space at surface level.

It just annoys me that surface level trains are being moved underground. I think it also changes the pricing of real-esate since the areas that are immediately around the station become even more desireable since one can't see it. I can't support that idea with facts though. Far from the station is far from the station and so it's cheaper, but I think when you haven't seen a place as part of your common scenery it becomes even less desirable. I know that effect is certainly at work for me when I'm moving around Tokyo. And most of the time, these areas are not used for green space, just more ugly buildings.

Another point for the underground is less pedestrian or car accidents. The Chuo Line is a surface level train that goes a long way out of Tokyo. It's famous for train crossings that take forever and there are lots of them. Lots of people try to beat the rail guard and don't so there are a lot of accidents and late trains.

you can use artificial lights to make the stations bright and/or to keep things bright enough on the trains to keep the environment there from being too depressing.
For me, there could never be enough light to stop these places from being depressing. They would need some kind of technology that brought the outside visible in the station and train tunnels. Hello big TV or Hogwarts!

While the economic reasons are really valid, I think they also have an economically depressing effect on a neighborhood. It compresses shopping districts to smaller areas and makes us less aware of our whole neighborhood.

It does mess with the aesthetic value of the area though, those train lines hanging overhead were not pretty to see, but I'm sure if they had found some way to make the look architecturally pleasing, there wouldn't have been much complaints!


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