station design and virtuous society

Does the experience of gaining altitude cause people to behave less selfishly?  David Schroeder in Scientific American profiles a recent study by Professor Larry Sanna of the University of North Carolina:

Building on research showing the power of metaphors to shape our thinking, Sanna and his colleagues noted that height is often used as a metaphor for virtue: moral high ground, God on high, looking up to good people, etc. If people were primed to think about height, they wondered, might people be more virtuous?

In a series of four different studies, the authors found consistent support for their predictions. In the first study they found that twice as many mall shoppers who had just ridden an up escalator contributed to the Salvation Army than shoppers who had just ridden the down escalator. In a second study, participants who had been taken up a short flight of stairs to an auditorium stage to complete a series of questionnaires volunteered more than 50 percent more of their time than participants who had been led down to the orchestra pit.

The link between elevation and virtue, of course, is an ancient idea.  It's why universities are so often on hilltops, despite the problems this presents for cycling and often for transit.

But this specific research reminds me of my old post on the difference between end-stations and through-stations, and my visceral dislike of stations that require arriving passengers to go down into tunnels under the platform.  I far prefer those, like Melbourne's Southern Cross or Calatrava's Liège Guillemins, where arrival involves climbing an escalator to a bridge-like concourse.  The real virtue of those stations, of course, is that you are continuously in the same space throughout the arrival experience, while a conventional through-station is inevitably two different spaces — the train shed and the arrivals hall — connected by tunnels.  End-stations, of course, achieve the same thing by not requiring a change of level at all.

My question of Professor Sanna's work would be whether it matters that you are in a continuous space throughout a change of elevation, as you are in the Melbourne and Liège stations, as opposed to being transported from one space into another, as you are in the typical escalator or stair connecting platforms to an underground passage.  I get no sensations of elevation when rising from one room into another, whereas I do from climbing within a single large space. 

(via Andrew Sullivan)

8 Responses to station design and virtuous society

  1. Annonymous April 4, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    One problem that often arises with end stations is that travel patterns often change after the station is built so that end stations are no longer at the end of the area people are commonly traveling to.
    The result is you either have to have extra connections and long travel times for through riders, or another set of transit routes that simply bypasses the station entirely.
    The former option causes people that would have to travel through the station to complain that transit takes 3 times as long as driving and not ride. The latter option leads to a confusing mess of peak-only routes and all-day routes with long headways.

  2. Alon Levy April 4, 2011 at 3:30 am #

    What about stations that are elevated? You’d still have to climb down steps to reach the final destination, but you’d be going up toward the train.

  3. Bob R. April 4, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    This reinforces a belief I have about a phenomenon I have observed anecdotally… in shopping malls, airports, etc. where there are multiple levels, it is not socially inappropriate to stand on an upper level and look down at the people below, but if you are on the lower level, stand in one spot, and stare at people on the upper level, they will move away, get angry, stare back at you with a puzzled look, etc. One should always stare down, never up!
    I wonder if this has something to do with an evolutionary preference for hunters to look down on their prey, to be able to pounce, etc.?

  4. Ron April 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    The underground passages are probably to preent “marring” of the asthetics of the openness of the design of the trainshed. It’s from the architect’s view, not from the user’s view.
    And for wholly undergound stations, it’s probably cheaper.
    On Vancouver’s Canada Line, a couple of underground stations – 41st-Oakridge and 49th-Langara have underpasses to switch platforms. That’s probably because it was cheaper to excavate and build a narrow underground passage rather than lower the entire station (and guideway approaches) to allow headroom for an overhead mezzanine. Broadway-City Hall has an overhead mezzanine, but it takes advantage of the nature slope of the land at the station site to accommodate the mezzanine. Otherwise, each of the stations is only a a couple of feet below the street surface.

  5. Anon256 April 4, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    What goes up, must come down. Whatever effect elevation change has on the arrival experience will presumably be reversed in the departure experience.

  6. JJJJ April 5, 2011 at 12:32 am #

    Bob R., that is interesting!
    And yes, the original post make sense. There’s something “wrong” about being led down to a “dungeon”/

  7. teme April 10, 2011 at 1:56 am #

    Very interesting, it is also believed people in general go down easier than up in buildings. Compare to:
    Why, for instance, are so many malls, like Short Hills, two stories? Back at his office, on Fifth Avenue, Taubman took a piece of paper and drew a simple cross-section of a two-story building. “You have two levels, all right? You have an escalator here and an escalator here.” He drew escalators at both ends of the floors. “The customer comes into the mall, walks down the hall, gets on the escalator up to the second level. Goes back along the second floor, down the escalator, and now she’s back where she started from. She’s seen every store in the center, right? Now you put on a third level. Is there any reason to go up there? No.” A full circuit of a two-level mall takes you back to the beginning. It encourages you to circulate through the whole building. A full circuit of a three-level mall leaves you at the opposite end of the mall from your car. Taubman was the first to put a ring road around the mall—which he did at his mall in Hayward—for the same reason: if you want to get shoppers into every part of the building, they should be distributed to as many different entry points as possible. At Short Hills—and at most Taubman malls—the ring road rises gently as you drive around the building, so at least half of the mall entrances are on the second floor. “We put fifteen per cent more parking on the upper level than on the first level, because people flow like water,” Taubman said. “They go down much easier than they go up. And we put our vertical transportation—the escalators—on the ends, so shoppers have to make the full loop.”
    Read more

  8. Ron April 11, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    A reno in a pretty dreary environment in Toronto. Makes more sense to me to span an overpass over the tracks and descend to the platforms rather than continuing to use the sidwalk passages through the rail underpass as the main entrances.