Train and Bus Cleaning

Well before the coronavirus struck, I noticed how trains in Asia were cleaner than in Europe, which are for the most part cleaner than in the United States. There are overlaps: the elevated BTS in Bangkok is similar to the cleaner cities in Europe, like London (but the underground MRT is similar to Singapore and Taipei), while the Berlin U-Bahn is similar to the cleaner American cities, like maybe Washington. But for the most part, this holds. The issue of cleanliness is suddenly looking more important now in a pandemic.

How much cleaning is necessary overall?

It is unclear. Singapore has 56,000 registered cleaners and Taipei has 5,000; even assuming Taipei just refers to the city proper, Singapore has five times as many per capita. When I visited Taipei in December it was visibly messier, and Taipei City Mall felt more lived-in than comparable underpasses in Singapore, but the City Mall was not dirty, and the Taipei MRT did not feel any dirtier than the Singapore MRT. The infection rates in both countries are very low – Taiwan’s are much lower per capita nowadays, though this has other explanations, such as higher mask usage and less international travel.

How much cleaning is necessary for specific tasks?

In Singapore, SBS Transit announced increased cleaning levels on January 30th. Cleaners disinfect vehicles and stations at the following rates:

  • Trains: every day
  • Buses: every week
  • Train stations: three times a day
  • Bus stations: every two hours

In Japan, JR East’s Shinkansen trains are cleaned at Tokyo Station in 7 minutes. There are many pieces on the subject, describing how a crew of 22, comprising one cleaner per second-class car and two to three per first-class car (“green car”), sweeps an entire train so fast. Many of the tasks are not required for metro service, but passenger density is higher in metro service than in intercity service.

One advantage of regular cleaning, say once per roundtrip, is that there hasn’t been so much time for the train (or bus) to become grimy. Two hours’ dirt is easier to pick up, sweep, or water and dry than a day’s dirt.

How much does all of this cost?

Cleaner wages track local working-class wages, and differ greatly; a city with the per capita income of New York, Paris, or London will have to pay more than one with that of Berlin or Tokyo. On top of what the English-speaking middle class thinks is an appropriate wage for an unskilled worker the agency will need to pay a premium to account for the fact that fast cleaning is a difficult job even if the required education level for it isn’t high.

What is more controllable and comparable is staffing needs. The sources for JR East’s cleaning crew productivity differ, but the reasonable ones say it’s 20 trains per day. This already accounts for downtime, so if trains aren’t quite frequent enough for there to always be some train to occupy a cleaning crew, an agency is probably still capable of squeezing 20 trains per daily crew shift. If a roundtrip with turnaround time is two hours, then this means about one cleaning crew is needed per 2.5 trainsets operated in regular service, rising to about one cleaning crew per 1.8 trainsets taking weekend days into account; this can be adjusted if a train runs peak-only, since part-time shifts are common in this sector.

How can equipment be made easier to clean?

Some materials are easier to clean than others. Transit agencies should use these in future procurement, and look into emergency orders to retrofit existing trains and buses. Metal poles are easier to clean than leather straps, and hard plastic and metal seats are easier to clean than padded ones. I suspect that bench seating is easier to clean than bucket seating, since it is possible to run a mop down the entire bench.

As with schedule planning, cleaning planning should integrate operating and capital expense optimization. That is, public transportation agencies should budget for cleaning whenever they buy a bus or train or build a train station, and make decisions on layout and materials that reduce the spread of disease and increase the efficiency of cleaning as well as maintenance and other operating costs.

What else can be done?

Hand sanitizer! Taipei and Singapore both distribute it at stations, and if I remember correctly, so does Bangkok. It made me feel less grimy, especially after long walks in Taipei or any exposure to the outdoor air pollution of Bangkok.

In addition, fomite removal is a good idea, which means any of the following:

  • Barrier-free train stations, or if not then automatic fare barriers like those of Taipei or Singapore or London rather than ones requiring pushing by hand as in New York and Paris.
  • Automatic train doors, since implemented on newer trains in Berlin and I think in the rest of Europe as an emergency measure, without requiring button pushing.
  • Disposable chopsticks for pressing buttons on elevators, as in South Korea.

Do passengers care?

Yes. I’ve taken the Berlin U-Bahn a few times in the last few weeks, to view apartments and most recently (earlier today) to buy matzos from a kosher grocery store far from my neighborhood. I don’t sit anymore, not trusting even the hard metal seats at the stations, let alone the padded cloth ones on the trains. Neither do many other riders, so there’s about the usual number of standees on the trains, trying to distribute ourselves as evenly as possible inside the train and avoid loud or space-taking passengers, even as many seats stay empty.

Would I sit if this were Singapore? Probably. As of the small hours of 2020-04-08 Europe time, Singapore has 1,500 infections and Berlin has 4,000 on two thirds the population, but a big share of Singapore’s cases are imports, and the MRT is vastly cleaner than the U- and S-Bahn here. And then there’s Taiwan, with 400 cases on a population of 24 million.

Why is this not done already?

Managers love metrics, and the costs of cleaning are much easier to quantify than the benefits. Therefore, they cut cleaning whenever there is a budget crunch. Within the English-speaking world, Singapore is a standout in cleanliness, because Lee Kuan Yew decided it was important and launched a campaign to sweep public spaces. In Japan, one of the articles about the seven-minute cleaning process talks about the history of how JR East hired a new manager who has previously been at the safety division – within the company of course, this is Japanese and not American business culture – and said manager, Teruo Yabe, improved morale by taking worker suggestions and promoting line workers to supervisory roles.

I don’t want to dunk on Anglo business culture here too much – London has cleaner trains than Berlin, and is about comparable to Paris. Nor is this quite a cultural cleave between the West and Asia, since Singaporean business culture pilfers the most authoritarian aspects of Japan (long hours, face-time culture) and the Anglosphere (at-will employment, no unions to speak of) and melds them together.

My suspicion is that low standards in the US in particular come from a sense of resignation among managers who don’t really use their own systems, and view the passengers in contempt. New York has an added sense of grit, in which people romanticize the 1970s and 80s and think enduring trash on the street, high crime rates (no longer high), delayed trains, cockroaches, rats, and drivers who play Carmageddon is part of what makes one a Real New Yorker. Consider how the New York- (and London-)suffused urban discourse treats “antiseptic” as a pejorative, viewing Singapore as a less real city because it isn’t killing thousands of its people, soon to be tens of thousands, from coronavirus.

Can Western cities get better?

Absolutely! Especially New York, which has nowhere to go but up.

Most of the positive aspects of Continental Western Europe that awe Americans, like convenient urban public transportation and six weeks of paid vacation per year, are recent, rarely going farther back than the 1970s and 80s. The Swiss planning maxims I repeat to Americans as mantras were invented in the 1980s and implemented in the 1990s and 2000s.

This is even truer of East Asia – in the 1960s Japan was middle-income and the rest of East Asia was very poor; the Shinkansen opened in 1964, but the speed and efficiency standards as we know them only go back to the 300 Series, put into service in 1992. Moreover, the state of Shinkansen cleaning was not so good 15 years ago, before JR East put Yabe in charge. The high cleanliness levels are a recent success, not some ingrained feature that goes back to the 7th century and can’t possibly be replicated elsewhere.

New York needs to look at itself in the mirror now, when it is the global center of a pandemic with death toll that will most likely surpass even the highest-end estimates of those of Wuhan. Is “antiseptic” really a bad trait for a city? If cleaning is a priority, see above for what it takes to do it right. And if it isn’t, I’m sure New York will be more than happy to have another pandemic in the future.

83 comments

  1. michaelrjames

    I’ve said it before on this blog, that the NYC Subway has an intrinsic built-in grot to it. Raw concrete everywhere, awful ceilings with exposed plumbing, wiring etc. It is going to make any attempt at cleaning a bit of a losing game, because it will still feel unclean. It is notable that the newer systems, BART and Washington-DC are very different and clearly aimed to look clean, with clean lines and easy-to-clean surfaces, which my guess, was partly at learning from the aesthetic mess of NYC subway and of course from the better Metros around the world (though London was really quite grotty until relatively recently).

    FWIW, I don’t think this cleaning has much impact w.r.t. viruses which simply don’t survive very long. That’s not to say cleaning is not important. And re your horror of cloth seats: turns out these viruses survive longest on hard shiny surfaces like stainless steel and plastic, and least on paper or cotton. This makes perfect sense because the latter are absorbent and dry off quickly (which most viruses won’t survive) while the former causes a droplet to dry more slowly and concentrate the virus in the process, into a tiny ball which is more likely to survive.

      • michaelrjames

        I’ll look for something. I recall hearing it, yesterday I think, on public radio in which the person expressed surprise at this result (I am pretty sure she was citing an old report from 2013 published in a sci-med journal).

        But anyway, you need to distinguish ‘retaining’ organic material versus that organic material remaining infectious. The reality for most viruses, and especially respiratory-tract viruses, is that they don’t retain infectivity in the ‘wild’ for very long at all*. And the vast majority of them don’t like being dry. Remember that ‘air-borne’ means that the virus remains infectious once its droplet dries, versus droplet-borne; they are 99.9% certain that this virus is not air-borne. So it really needs direct contact with a fresh spray from a sneeze, cough or even, as Fauci graphically described, just talking with someone up close.

        So yes, absorbent materials accumulated gunk which is why they need regular cleaning (esp. w.r.t. bacteria and fungi which will start growing on it, not viruses). It can look disgusting but be very low-risk in terms of viruses. One still hears so-called experts, or random commenters, saying that “non-absorbent” materials are critical, like in face-masks (I heard this morning) but it is simply misguided–they were saying that these homemade (cotton) cloth masks are no good. They may not be much good but not for that reason, and they could do with washing-decontam once a day.
        …………………………..
        *Which is to say, seconds and minutes not hours or days. There continues to be a lot of misinformation about this. Yesterday I heard someone blather on about this, “up to 72 hours” blah, blah, but this was based on PCR detection of viral DNA which of course proves absolutely nothing about infectivity. Even if it was virus particles (which it wasn’t) one would still have to know concentrations and relate that to its (if known) MOI (multiplicity of infection; viruses don’t propagate by single viruses infecting a host cell but gobs of them).

      • adirondacker12800

        The hydrophobic fabrics are synthetic ( I think spun kapok may be hydrophobic but as so is spun unobtainium. ) it rejects the ginomus droplet, when compared to ittsy bitsy pore size in non woven synthetics. And since it’s synthetic it is washable. The common commonly seen one, brand name Tyvek, is especially noted for repelling water so I’ll assume it’s safe to put it in a washing machine. For tens of cycles anyway. the stuff they make reusable clothing out of certainly is. Maybe not an automatic dryer but we are talking about small volumes of small things that dry easily, in each household and they will likely figure that out. And house wrap wouldn’t be a good idea. Something that is not an air barrier perhaps. Synthetic non woven can be fine tuned to the application. I use a piece of non woven natural fiber, one almost every day. And it’s quite durable when exposed to high temperature water. I wouldn’t want to breath though it for long. A paper coffee filter. I pick keeping most of the blobs on side over hoping the big blob dries out before the big blob breaks into smaller blobs and gets sucked through the enormous pores in typical clothing fabrics. that fits well so the blobs don’t escape around the cracks.

        • michaelrjames

          All reasonable observations, but note that materials woven from “hydrophobic” synthetics are still absorbent via surface-surface wicking. Like micro-fibre cloths etc.
          I heard this morning that a test of various materials that can be used for homemade face masks found that paper vacuum bags work the best. No surprise really. Best at trapping particles but best for breathability. Equally it doesn’t last as long with a human breathing thru them. I would guess the filter in N95 masks are like that.

          • adirondacker12800

            I assume one can weave hydrophobic fibers, all of fabrics I’ve used are non woven. I don’t have the equipment to evaluate what method of non woven-ness, don’t particularly care and don’t want to hope that today’s specification for what I have in mind is still exactly the same as what I saw. The manufacturers reproduce fine pore size reliably. Any that I can think of that are widely available, are probably not appropriate for a piece of costumery on my face that I can craft myself. My mother was a professional seamstress specializing in custom work. I still have the machines and know how to use them. Though I have given a bit of thought to it. The scrap copper AWG 12 gauge in the recycling bucket might be handy. And all the knit fabric laying around is stretchy in all directions and is probably elastic enough for the ties. I see that Los Angeles is requiring cargo cult voodoo in all public places. I can manage that real well real fast and already have. The thigh of thermal underwear that doesn’t fit. Looks very tidy folded right. Coffee filter as an inner layer doesn’t appear to be a good idea. I haven’t gotten around to last year’s pollen filter or vacuum cleaner bags. Plenty of time, I calculate I don’t have to leave the house for six days. I will be in the backyard a few afternoons. To catch some sun. There is plenty of warm extraordinarily dry air in my house all winter. The deer have decided it’s safe to wander around because for some reason there are far fewer humans wandering around. I might see one. I should look at the weather report. there are a dozen or so young invasive weed trees I’ve been meaning to cut down.

      • michaelrjames

        It was probably this (below) BBC report (of other studies) that was doing the media rounds. The thing is that most of these reports I find to be a waste of time. Most of the time there is no mention of what they are measuring, and most of the time it will not be ‘infectivity’ but some easier/cheaper proxy which mostly is extremely misleading. Sure, the virus survives much better at 50% humidity and lower temperatures, but low-humidity and >30°C, they merely report “not as well”. But 50% humidity is very humid and you are especially not going to find that in any modern Metro. Air-con spaces have very low humidity which is why they are terrible to sleep in for many people.

        Some of my extracts (emphases are mine):

        https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200317-covid-19-how-long-does-the-coronavirus-last-on-surfaces
        It is worth noting that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, touching a surface or object with the virus and then touching one’s own face “is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads”. Even so, the CDC, the World Health Organization and others health authorities, have emphasised that both washing one’s hands and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily are key in preventing Covid-19’s spread. So although we still don’t know exactly how many cases are being caused directly by contaminated surfaces, experts advise exercising caution.
        One aspect that has been unclear is exactly how long Sars-CoV-2, the name of the virus that causes the disease Covid-19, can survive outside the human body. Some studies on other coronaviruses, including Sars and Mers, found they can survive on metal, glass and plastic for as long as nine days, unless they are properly disinfected.
        ……
        On clothing and other surfaces harder to disinfect, it is not yet clear how long the virus can survive. The absorbent natural fibres in cardboard, however, may cause the virus to dry up more quickly than on plastic and metal, suggests Vincent Munster, head of the virus ecology section at Rocky Mountain Laboratories and one of those who led the NIH study.
        “We speculate due to the porous material, it desiccates rapidly and might be stuck to the fibres,” he says. Changes in temperature and humidity may also affect how long it can survive, and so may explain why it was less stable in suspended droplets in the air, as they are more exposed. “[We’re] currently running follow-up experiments to investigate the effect of temperature and humidity in more detail.

        A lot of that was still just “speculation” though obviously I find it to be better informed than most of the other comments/interpretations. Remember that PCR (DNA/RNA) studies are a dime a dozen and seriously uninformative. I looked at half a dozen articles that Google threw up and they were all just meta-studies provoked by this viral outbreak, and saying the same old thing over and over. Useless. Performing an infectivity study is seriously hard work for these viruses; and expensive and time-consuming. At the least need an animal model and that is already serious research load (just in the written red tape). It’s why there is surprisingly little research of much real value out there! One hopes this pandemic might get some serious studies done. Personally I find all the shots of spacesuit clad operatives spraying the air and road with disinfectant, not just ridiculous but more seriously it misleads people away from what is actually important in how these kinds of viruses spread.
        Here is what I possibly heard (excerpts today from earlier broadcast, this is Australian Broadcasting Corporation):

        https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2020-03-20/how-long-does-coronavirus-last-on-surfaces/12074330
        ABC Science
        How long does coronavirus last on surfaces?
        By science reporter Suzannah Lyons
        Updated 22 March 2020 at 12:55 pm

        The study looked at the stability of the virus in air and on plastic, stainless steel, copper, and cardboard surfaces. Under experimental conditions, it found that the virus remained viable in air for the entire three-hour experiment. On surfaces it was more stable on plastic and stainless steel, than it was on either copper or cardboard.
        No viable SARS-CoV-2 was detected on the copper surface after four hours, and on the cardboard surface after 24 hours. Whereas it was still able to be detected up to 72 hours later on the stainless steel and plastic surfaces.
        “[The researchers] did a pretty good study considering the different types of surfaces that we would encounter on a day-to-day basis,” Professor Tangye said, from the plastic seat you might sit on in the train, the stainless door handle on your office door, to the cardboard packaging you receive a parcel in.
        But just because viable virus particles can be found on a plastic surface for up to three days, doesn’t mean your risk of infection stays the same over that time period. There is a risk of infection, Professor Tangye said, but it’s diminishing every minute since the virus was put there, because of the breakdown of the virus on the surface over that time. For example, the study found the median half life of SARS-CoV-2 on plastic was 6.8 hours, meaning that 6.8 hours after it first got on the plastic surface there was half as much there as there had been at the beginning.

        I’m surprised its half-life is 6.8 hours but that is why I highlighted “experimental” conditions–because they will not be realistic. And lo, when I turn to the article itself, I find:

        https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMc2004973
        Both viruses had an exponential decay in virus titer across all experimental conditions, as indicated by a linear decrease in the log10TCID50 per liter of air or milliliter of medium over time (Figure 1B). The half-lives of SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-1 were similar in aerosols, with median estimates of approximately 1.1 to 1.2 hours and 95% credible intervals of 0.64 to 2.64 for SARS-CoV-2 and 0.78 to 2.43 for SARS-CoV-1 (Figure 1C, and Table S1 in the Supplementary Appendix). The half-lives of the two viruses were also similar on copper. On cardboard, the half-life of SARS-CoV-2 was longer than that of SARS-CoV-1. The longest viability of both viruses was on stainless steel and plastic; the estimated median half-life of SARS-CoV-2 was approximately 5.6 hours on stainless steel and 6.8 hours on plastic (Figure 1C).

        As to unrealistic conditions:

        https://www.nejm.org/doi/suppl/10.1056/NEJMc2004973/suppl_file/nejmc2004973_appendix.pdf
        Virus stability in aerosols was determined as described previously at 65% relative humidity (RH) and 21-23°C (Fischer et al., 2016)

        And remember that even scientists when being interviewed by media tend to the over-cautious, often regrettably to the point of being misleading. You can see it in this article by the citation of the longest half-life that study found, and not pointing out how unrealistic the test conditions were. We see this in the over-policing of open public spaces resulting from politicians over-reacting to some over-cautious hedged statement from an expert …

        • michaelrjames

          I wrote: “At the least need an animal model and that is already serious research load (just in the written red tape). It’s why there is surprisingly little research of much real value out there!”

          In fact, the best study that I cited used Vero6 cells, ie. an in-vitro cell culture system which is obviously much easier and cheaper than an animal study, but still hard work compared to PCR studies. Also, I don’t know how good a proxy it is for the real world, whole animal.
          It is this type of cell-culture system that is being used to identify drugs that affect the virus, like the recent Ivermectin. No one knows if it will translate to whole animals. Phase 2 trials will start on humans for Ivermectin in 6-8 weeks. (It is already a widely used drug so clinical trials can be much faster and safer.)

    • Herbert

      In my experience, some stuff gets harder to clean the older it gets. Much of NYC metro is fifty years or older…

      • Alon Levy

        Sounds like a great opportunity for a one-time stimulus to disinfect dirty spaces and then hire a smaller group of permanent cleaning staff!

        • Herbert

          No, even if you clean it, there are more cracks and stuff where dirt accumulates in old things than in new ones…

          • michaelrjames

            dirt accumulates in old things than in new ones…

            Yes, but most Metros including two (London, Paris) of the three oldest, were designed with knowledge of this from the age of steam trains, and the relentless nature of trying to keep these things clean. It seems the NYC subway designers simply never bothered, presumably a cost thing or even a well-established ethos (that New Yorkers don’t care about such fussiness like those poncy Europeans). It’s structural not simply superficial.
            As I said, cleaning is only a small part of the story. How one could retrofit the subway, eg. with false ceilings etc, is kinda unimaginable today. It would cost billions even if possible and money needs to be spent elsewhere.

            Reading the comments here about the world’s metros also tends to confirm perception biases. New Yorkers are probably mostly blind to its ugliness, though actually–like the graffitied trains in the 70s–it does have an effect on them and all who use it. Perhaps I am as guilty about Paris because I have never understood the complaints one reads in the Anglo media that it is dirty. As a habitual late-night user I also saw the armies of cleaners at work (all from the Magreb of course). Only during those ritual strikes did the Paris metro actually become visibly dirty, and that also gives a clue as to the problem which adirondacker pointed to: sheer number of users, especially at certain stations, and those are going to be the stations tourists are more likely to see. After all those innumerable commutes I did between Paris and London means I can never be convinced that London Underground wasn’t worse. If this is confirmation bias then it was seriously confirmed by the King Cross fire in 1987 (31 dead, 100 injured) which was caused by rubbish mountains (cigarette packets, Mars bars wrappers etc) under the wooden (!) escalators that the inquiry estimated was 50 years accumulation. This did lead to more systematic attention to keeping the LU clean, including structural issues to help keep it clean, and possibly total smoking bans.

            But then I had to laugh when reading comments about the design of CrossRail/Elizabeth Line which I found to be a significant improvement upon most of LU, yet the Brit commenters found it “slick but sterile”! Brits are habituated to shabby deteroriation and feel uncomfortable with shiny and new! It certainly looks a lot easier to keep clean. I find it amusing that many Brit designers, architects (or more likely architectural commentators) actually dislike Paris’ ceaseless ravalement (cleaning of stone facades) as somehow effete to reveal the way these buildings looked when they were new, presumably compared to the permanent fungoid streaked grot of public zones in Blighty.
            Hectares of white tiles may be a bit fatiguing, and a bit too reminiscent of men’s urinals, but they are easy to clean! And occasionally steam clean. Right from the beginning, but especially in the last 30 years, Paris has attempted to give some character unique to each station as it goes thru refurbishment to relieve from this white-tile overload.
            CrossRail isn’t using standard white tiles but I presume those panels are baked enamel on metal. I am slightly dubious about the dimples (look like grot accumulators to me) but we’ll see. Anyway, this sterile look is fine by me, but imagine attempting to achieve anything remotely like this on NYC’s subway:

            https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/aug/14/the-line-that-ate-london-our-critics-verdict-on-the-15bn-crossrail-colossus-elizabeth-line#img-1

          • adirondacker12800

            I’m going to hazard a guess that ceilings, real or false don’t have much to do with the current problem. Most people don’t lick them often. Licking things might increase your risks these days.

          • Henry Miller

            One deep clean, and a coat of good paint go a long way toward filling those gaps. Reapply paint every few years (in whatever the artistic color scheme fad is current) and things look more modern

          • Matthew Hutton

            I don’t get why false ceilings would be expensive. You just use plasterboard which is about $3 dollars per square metre.

          • Herbert

            Berlin U-Bahn has had two “house architects” who between them designed most of the network. The first was the Swede Alfred Grenander who died in 1931 and the second was a Mr. Rainer G. Rümmler who died in 2004. Both had a certain affection for tiles and Rümmler in particular liked giving each station a “signature color” so that passengers would know where to get off at a glance…

          • Alon Levy

            A few different systems try to give each station unique looks. Mexico City does this, because when the metro there first opened literacy wasn’t yet universal, so unique signature color schemes provided legibility to illiterates. Stockholm does this too, because the gneiss is hard enough not to need any lining, so the bare rock looks different at each station.

          • Herbert

            Mexico went even faster in giving every station a symbol in addition to its name. It’s helpful for tourists, too.

            Nuremberg subway has tried to make its tiles “talking” in another way. Every interchange station was supposed to get orange tiles. At Hauptbahnhof (U1, U2, U3) and Plärrer (U1, U2, U3), those make sense. At Friedrich Ebert Platz (U3 intersecting Tram Line 4) and Aufseßplatz (U1 intersecting Tram Lines 5 & 6) the interchange function from subway to subway can only ever come to fruition with at least partial replacement of the mention tram lines by some form of subway or subway surface lines…

        • adirondacker12800

          Because people who work without their hands on a keyboard are immune to the virus?

      • F-Line to Dudley

        Meh…Boston’s recent targeted station cleaning programs challenge that theory. It’s amazing what a power washer rental can do to improve lighting levels and “that subway smell” after just two consecutive night shifts blasting away at surfaces. Quincy Center (built 1971) and Davis (built 1981) on the Red Line each got the washer treatment about 2 years ago, and it was an impressive difference with that being the only touch. In the span of about 2 days each they went from decidedly of-their-era dank bunkers to looking brand new again with remarkably improved air quality. The T’s been doing targeted ‘brightening’ this year at certain stations, switching out lighting, signage/graphics, stair covers (particular attention to the yellow high-contrast surfaces on the tips of the steps), paint touch-up, and wall/ceiling cleaning. It’s made an immediate world of difference at Park St.’s Green Line level appearances. While anecdotal visuals are not much of a ‘metrics’ machine, they did solicit customer feedback on it and drew predictable raves for making the effort.

        The program definitely needs to be greatly expanded, but that’s more easily done at certain stations than others. Power washer is going to make an immediate mess of things if you’ve got any flaking paint or half-assed wiring laid atop previous generations of conduits. Quincy and Davis fared so well under the washer’s brute force largely because Quincy has just bare concrete walls/ceilings, Davis a generic “spray-popcorn” painted fireproof coating over bare concrete, and each were laid-out with largely open island platform with all-tile fittings. Structures like that can take a rigorous overnight blasting without much additional mop-up. Other older stations, especially the ones where constant water intrusion loosens the paint coat, are obviously harder to stage…and that’s probably inclusive of too much of NYCT’s stations to simply water-cannon your way into immediate improvement.

        But it’s getting easier the more that utility plant is being consolidated. Fiber optic signal and comm cable replacing old copper is much more water-tight, ‘native’ LED fixtures (i.e. sealed, not replacement bulbs) are generally water-tight…and on the T they’re sinking a lot of coin into new duct banks for power/signal cabling: either much-consolidated wall-mount bundles simplifying several generations of tunnel spaghetti wiring, or plastic-composite trackside box trenches with covers. All of that collectively is much better-fortified for a power cleaning than what was there before, meaning some of the grimier downtown stations (including the recently ‘brightened’ ones) can be fair game for a thorough wash without as many risks as before to shorting things out.

        And that’s probably key for legacy systems…do the fixture and duct bank replacements en mass on constantly rolling systemwide schedules so each station has better-fortified utilities passing through it. Then once you’ve started moving in that direction the power washer can start making hay at in one-shot at clearing out the grime and they’re capable of getting more cleaning done per overnight work shift than ever before without needing to be delicate or choosy around old utilities. Now, that is going to expose a lot of prior over-cheap paint jobs and spalled concrete underneath bad paint on first shot…but those are lazy shortcuts around deferred maint they never should’ve taken in the first place. Do a proper-setting patch and strip + prime before repainting and the station will be future-proofed for taking future washings on a regularly-repeating 2-/5-/whatever-year schedule as necessary. Utility renewal is hot right now on legacy systems for all that fiber being laid for next-gen signaling, comm cable for Automatic Fare Collection + security cams + multimedia displays, and LED lighting. If there’s some sort of overarching organization to it like also consolidating old spaghetti wiring into cleanly-mapped secure new duct banks that mutually fortifies stations for faster-paced/deeper/more-frequent power cleanings…those kinds of renewal programs can check off enough bucket-list boxes for what they enable to make their systemwide pace self-sustaining.

        At least that’s sort of what I’m seeing with the MBTA so far. It’s yet to go broad enough to pay serious dividends, but there’s enough rhyme & reason to how the mass utility renewal and ‘brightening’ programs are dovetailing to gradually make the stations easier via momentum to deep-clean faster/cheaper. NYCT I don’t get the impression at all that there’s even modicum of interest in connecting those dots. Look at how tortured their utility work has been with CBTC installs getting so bogged down simultaneously retaining the old signal relays in-parallel to self-justify the absolute most glacial possible pace of new installs. They’re not substantially consolidating anything, or approaching it with “how many separate pieces of old copper can we consolidate into new fiber that’ll fit into one easy-access duct bank”…just layering new utility spaghetti on top of old. So far it’s not proceeding in a way that’ll enable easier-anything–including cleaning–in the outflow from the effort.

        Also needs to be said: the running tunnels *themselves* need to be cleaned on ultra-long intervals too if you want station air quality to stay tolerable. Last time Boston did that was 1978 on the Green Line when they discovered the hard way that their first ever order of air-conditioned LRV’s was blowing giant clouds of tunnel dust into stations from the roof-mount HVAC units being so much more powerful than the wimpy fans on their prior PCC fleet. They power-washed the entire Central Subway walls/ceilings for the first time since open-air trolleys last ran through there in the 1900’s decade…and otherwise haven’t touched them since that ’78 crisis-cleaning. Underside HVAC on heavy rail subway cars can do a number too at kicking up a wind in the tunnels, especially as successive fleet renewal brings ever-more powerful HVAC blow. Mainly shows itself as a hazard when the agency is lax on trackside track pickup and discarded debris blows between stations amidst the tunnel “weather system”. But also look down at the trackbed…if the normally light grey ballast has turned completely turd-colored from caked-on dust, you’re breathing some of that with every passing train. That source of grime–both the blowing trash and trackbed dust–are endemic in NYC. Boston’s gotten slightly better of late: stepped-up trash pickups (but only after getting shamed into it by recurring fires), some more regular ballast dumps around station approaches lately, and a washing program they’ve recently been doing on the Red LIne in Cambridge in tandem with floating-slab anchor trackbed replacements. But it’s probably time to start thinking about at least doing a once-over of the *lower half* of the tunnel walls closest to the HVAC airflow if the consolidated utility duct banks are willing. Just like most Northeastern commuter rail systems run the leaf-sprayer train during Fall wheel-slip season, a subway-dimension track sprayer tank car is probably a good investment for NYCT to throw on its permanent work roster and for other agencies like the T to third-party lease on a slowly recurring schedule to pay more maintenance mind to in-tunnel air quality and the ‘weather’ effects of HVAC blow.

        • Herbert

          That’s a general issue tho. I think building today is much less “forever” than it used to be. The 1970s era stations of the Nuremberg U-Bahn are basically beyond their design life already.

          Meanwhile there are bridges dating to far into the 19th century which were built of brick or steel frame and they seem to still be holding up – in fact, DB is accused of deliberately giving old bridges shoddy maintenance because maintenance is their purse, replacement is the federal purse.

          I blame steel reinforced concrete. That stuff simply won’t last forever. Brick, natural rock or unreinforced concrete do. At least if you don’t have barbarian invasions or neighbors using the “old stuff” as a quarry.

          • Alon Levy

            The Boston and Providence Railroad is the second oldest part of the Northeast Corridor and also the second fastest, with a viaduct on a gentle curve that opened in 1835 and is still in good condition today. The slow parts of the corridor opened in the 1840s, after Americans realized that trains could take tight curves and not derail.

          • Herbert

            One of the hiccoughs about the planned electrification of the Nuremberg-Hof corridor (A beautiful mess of a winding railway in moderately mountainous/hilly terrain which crosses the Pegnitz river countless times) are the bridges and tunnels. DB wants to tear down the bridges and replace them with modern constructions. Preservationists (or at least that’s what they claim their reason to be) want to preserve the 19th century bridges and accuses DB of intentionally shoddy maintenance and not taking the conserving of those bridges into account. The tunnels, of course, don’t have the loading gauge to put a wire in there…

  2. adirondacker12800

    requiring pushing by hand as in New York and Paris.

    You don’t need to use your hands if you don’t want to, Any I have used are designed that way

    • Alon Levy

      Okay, push with your body. In most cities with fare barriers, the doors open automatically, so no need to touch anything so forcefully.

      • adirondacker12800

        Where is the study with the high frame rate recordings that document self opening gates are faster than sorta kinda push operated? I assume some one somewhere positioned a few really cheap high frame rate cameras over a few fare control devices.

        • threestationsquare

          In Moscow there’s no waiting for the gates to open at all, instead there’s a light sensor that detects if somebody starts walking in without tapping their card first and slams the gate shut ahead of them if they do. Faster to get through than either NYC-style or London-style gates, and presumably lower wear-and-tear on the moving parts as well (since the vast majority of the time they aren’t moving).

          • yuuka

            Japan does the same thing, though over there it’s more of small little flaps at thigh level or so that someone might trip over. More embarrassing, but that’s Japan for you.

            That is of course among other things that Moscow does that would be unacceptable in the West (not just the English speaking world). I can’t imagine that being very popular in lawsuit-happy America unless you’re a personal injury lawyer.

  3. Eric

    Didn’t you say in a previous post that transit was responsible for a small fraction of coronavirus cases in any case?

    • Alon Levy

      Yes, in the context of Korea and Taiwan. My understanding is that this is probably also true in Western cities, but evidently in Berlin a lot of people are avoiding sitting, even though the seats look pretty clean. In New York meanwhile there’s a surge of infections among transit workers, which really shouldn’t happen given adequate PPE, train cab cleaning, etc., none of which is happening (health care workers in New York aren’t getting enough PPE, hence the trash bags).

  4. Aaron M. Renn

    I’m reading Andy Manshel’s book on Learning From Byrant Park. He argues that placemaking is mostly about operations and maintenance and very little about major capital investment. They really focused early on things like making sure trash cans were emptied such that they never overflowed. Cleanliness and basic maintenance is highly determinant in public perceptions of public spaces. (He also did similar work in Jamaica, which he said also had very positive results).

    It’s not hard to imagine this applying to transit as well. If you board a bus and it’s dirty with trash everywhere, you aren’t going to get a good feeling about it. Indy’s bus system just installed a new bus wash system that can clean exteriors frequently. I think that’s a great move.

  5. Herbert

    If anything about the cliches about the cities is right, Munich subway should be cleaner than the one in Berlin. Is that your experience?

    Also, having a chronic train shortage of course makes cleaning slightly harder…

    • Alon Levy

      I have never ridden it, I wouldn’t know. All I can say is that Berlin is definitely dirtier than London, Paris, and Stockholm, and that this is specific to the subway, my impression of city streets here is that they aren’t much dirtier than streets in Paris or Stockholm (or Singapore).

      • Olivier

        Paris must have improved greatly in the last decade because its Métro did not exactly have a reputation for cleanliness!

      • Herbert

        If and when normalcy returns, a fact finding trip south shouldn’t be too hard to do…

  6. Benjamin Turon

    Good post. NHK World ran a whole documentary (and they have been in one or two others) on those Shinkansen cleaners, I certainly wouldn’t call them “unskilled”. That’s likely true for most cleaners who have been well trained and worked for years — people like me — we know how to clean, usually better than managers. We are professionals. When I walk into a room, I know where to find the dirt, were it gathers. I think cleaning is a cost that many American companies (and public agencies) just don’t want to pay, its like deferred maintenance. Its like Amtrak’s dirty coach windows. On rolling-stock, I read that the Chicago Northwestern’s Pullman Gallery Car commuter coaches of the 1950-60 were designed so that they could be hosed down on the inside.

    The New York Times had an article on the MTA today: “41 Transit Workers Dead: Crisis Takes Staggering Toll on Subways”.

    • michaelrjames

      Yes, it’s shocking. But it isn’t cleaners, who in fact are probably the least impacted. It will be those transit workers who have most contact face-to-face with the public.
      I also saw a thing on paramedics and ambulance drivers in NYC. These people are working huge days and don’t have any PPE unless they buy it themselves (from hardware stores) and most are resigned to getting ill. Worse, most of them don’t have health insurance! Seems like a joke. A very sick joke.

      • adirondacker12800

        Almost all of the people responding to calls to 911 in New York City anyway, are employed by the city and have good health insurance. And where are these hardware stores with miraculous stocks of something PPE-ish?

        • michaelrjames

          Almost all of the people responding to calls to 911 in New York City anyway, are employed by the city and have good health insurance.

          That is why it was so shocking. This was a embedded reporter following two ambulance drivers for a day in NYC. On PBS-Newshour yesterday (Tuesday). They both claimed their base wage as about $36k which also was shocking, and is why they said they couldn’t afford health insurance. The reporter was William Brannan who was shocked but ….
          I wonder if there was some selection bias, in that maybe the only drivers willing to do this kind of public interview were not direct employees with less to lose? Dunno, and I agree it seems a bit unreal but OTOH we outsiders are constantly surprised at the perversity of the US healthcare system that we have lost our ability to be surprised … and the virus has revealed the worst that many expected.

          • adirondacker12800

            You said they don’t have insurance and are able to buy PPE in hardware stores. There are ambulance crews in New York City that are private contractors but almost always the ones responding to 911 calls are city employees. Ya can tell by what it say on the outside of vehicle. What did it say? I wanna know where these hardware stores are. I have the luxury of staying in. Have used PPE in the past and realize that you have to identify the hazard before you begin selecting the PPE and one has to be aware of creating a false sense of security because a rag over your face is good for nuisance hazards. I haven’t sprung this one on you yet. There are cultures where a significant fraction of the population covers varying degrees their face when they go out infrequently. Are there any interesting epidemiological studies examining them?

          • michaelrjames

            Alas, I have deleted yesterday’s PVR of that. The ambulances looked like the usual NYC ambulances but I admit I cannot remember what was written on them. These were responding to 911 calls but they said that now 9 out of 10 are covid-19 cases.
            Are you sure that public hospitals don’t use private ambulances? Even in Australia it has been revealed that the public hospital system does a lot of outsourcing of this (part of the privatisation by stealth), and of course this means poorer conditions for any of those employees (who won’t be part of the public health system).

            Re PPE from hardware stores: yes. I have some myself which I bought some years ago for some dust-creating work at home. They are P2GV Carbon Filter Multi Mate Protectors. When I looked it up recently, they are a version of 3M’s N95 filter and certainly can substitute. Every big hardware store has a dozen variety of these things, as well as the cheaper paper ones. Though the cheaper ones I have are better than the cheapest paper ones and are 3M 9310 type (they do fit better and are more comfortable). There are plenty of clear plastic goggles too, though I found wearing both at the same time while using a power tool was awful.

            Re your last question, MERS originated in Saudia Arabia (or nearby) and camels are thought to be the intermediate vector between bats and humans. Most of the primary cases were camel handlers. It doesn’t easily transfer between humans. I am guessing most middle-easterners affected were men so there is no real data on the issue. But I doubt a burqa would really protect women if that is what you imagine?

          • adirondacker12800

            I may be wrong but 911 dispatchers send the next available ambulance that is closest to the address they determined. What hospital they are sent to is determined somewhat later. This detail may not have made it beyond local news. They have adjusted who gets sent to the hospital and which one quite a bit recently. Like deciding that if they can’t revive someone with CPR they call a removal team, they don’t go the hospital. Once the removal team arrives they go to the next call. More or less, I’m sure it’s a bit more complicated than that. And there are few new hospitals to go to.

  7. RossB

    It is possible that the disease is being spread quicker in New York because it is dirty. But it is also quite possible that if you applied Singapore level cleaning it would cause the disease to spread faster. That would require more workers, and at this point, we want as few people working in New York as possible. Of course if you tested all the workers daily, then things would be different.

    But that just gets to the general failure of the American response. Social distancing efforts have varied place to place, but those should all be secondary responses. The U. S. skipped the first response (and is still skipping it). There isn’t enough testing. Not even close. They lost control of it almost immediately, and still haven’t caught up. Essential workers should be tested daily, but instead, they are only testing those with symptoms. The city and state of New York has responded poorly, but even in areas that responded better (like Washington State) the death toll is way too high. As the disease slowly spreads across the country (120 dead in Georgia yesterday, 34 in Indiana) it is obvious, even months after this hit the U. S., that it can’t offer any of these areas anything more than social distancing advice (which often gets ignored). There just aren’t enough tests.

    None of this means that we shouldn’t have cleaner trains and stations. There are plenty of other diseases — and medical ailments — that are caused by lack of cleanliness. Mold can cause all sorts of problems (especially if it gets into the lungs). In that respect, a cleaner environment probably would save some lives in this pandemic, since lung disease is a major comorbidity factor. If this pandemic is used as an excuse to create a cleaner New York, that would be great.

    Likewise better general hygiene. My wife is a nurse, so I’ve been doing that for years. I don’t press buttons with my fingers, I use the back of my hand (or elbow). I wash my hands like doctors and nurses do, shutting off the faucet with the back of my hand. When riding a bus or train, I never hold onto the rail — I either ride it like I was surfing, or use my forearm to stabilize me. I could be spreading germs by sitting down (on my back and butt) but that is way less of problem than having the germs on my hand. I’ve noticed how easy it is to touch your face. It has been fairly cold in Seattle the last month, so when I’ve been out walking, I wear gloves. This has served as a reminder to be careful about touching my face, and it amazing how often I do it without thinking (and I’m sure that is extremely common). A disease is spread very easily through eyes, nose and mouth. It is very common to rub your eyes, which is why clean hands are very important.

    • adirondacker12800

      The city and state of New York has responded poorly,
      It responded better than Republican states. Some of which still haven’t implemented stay at home orders. As of 21 hours ago it’s still nine states with Republican governors and four those states don’t even have local orders.
      I’m not going to check. The beach is owned by the state in most states. The state graciously allowed the localities to regulate behavior on them and do things like provide police and emergency medical response, lifeguards and cleaning etc. The Florida legislature recently overrode any local beach closings. And the governor signed it into law. Yeah un huh sure New York is performing poorly. Okay. For days if you look at it on a county level and by cases per 100,000 the worst counties have been in red states. But New York is doing a poor job. Okay.

      • Onux

        On the only statistic that is reliable/really matters (deaths per population) New York is far and away the worst state with per capita deaths double the next state – which is NJ. Other states with high death rates include Louisiana, Michigan, Conn., Mass., and Washington State. Only one of those is red (LA) and one swing (MI). States with low death rates include N. Carolina, Utah, Hawaii, W. Virginia and Wyoming. I’m not seeing a pattern of Democratic states good and Republican bad.

        Cases per capita doesn’t change much. NY is still highest (by far) with basically the same states at the top. The bottom isTexas, Hawaii, Oregon, W. Virginia, Nebraska, Kentucky and Minnesota, but there either isn’t a Democrat/Republican divide or it is the opposite of your claim.

        On cases per capita at the county level you are exactly wrong, the five worst counties are Rockland (NY), Blaine (ID), Westchester (NY), Nassau (NY) and Orleans (LA). Suffolk and Orange are in the top 10, and NY City (given as a single county by the NYT) is 12th.

        Some of the highest per capita deaths by county are in Georgia, Louisiana, etc. but these are small counties (some less than 10k pop) where sample size bias is an issue. NYC and Nassau county remain in the top 10 for deaths per capita.

        Yes, New York has done a poor job. New York State has a per capita death rate worse than every country in the world but San Marino, Span, Andorra and Italy. You are confusing action (issue stay-at-home order) with result (few cases or deaths). Results matter. Florida’s case rate is 9.3% of NY’s and the death rate is 4.7%. Some of the states without an order have among the lowest death rates (Wyoming, Utah, N. Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas). South Korea doesn’t have a stay-at-home order either, but their performance isn’t suffering.

        If a stay-at-home order is important, note that NY’s order went into effect six days after California’s. Compare rates of infection and death. Who did a worse job?

        Data from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html and current as of when I pulled it, obviously figures will change as the disease progresses.

        • adirondacker12800

          The places that have outbreaks first tend to have stuff happen first. Place with lots of people will have lots of stuff happening and places without a lot of people will have less stuff happening. Before there are a lot of examples to examine. Without looking, todays numbers for Wyoming look a lot like New York’s looked like weeks ago. New York actually did something besides thinking happy thoughts and hope it will all go away which is what nine Republican states were doing at the moment the report I looked at was filed. Wyoming has the luxury of being weeks away from a peak and has multiple examples of what seems to have worked. They are thinking happy thoughts and hoping it will all go away.

          • Onux

            None of your arguments hold up to the evidence. California, Texas and Florida all have lots of people, more than NY. California and Texas both had their first cases reported at least two weeks before NY, and Florida had its first on the same day as NY. All three states have infection and death rates a fraction of NY. It was NY that had the luxury of cases showing up weeks after Washington and Calif. has cases in over a dozen counties. Whatever NY did it didn’t work, and I’m not sure I would use NY as an example of what Wyoming or anyone else should do. I’m not even sure what you consider “working” other than issuing stay-at-home orders, of which NY was one of the first in the country, but it sure didn’t help. I suppose if all deaths in NY magically stop tomorrow, and over the next few weeks the deaths in places like Utah, Texas, N. Carolina and W. Virginia increase 50-100x, then you might have a case. Otherwise, NY is the absolute worst response to Covid-19 in the country, reflected in deaths per capita.

          • Onux

            I looked through the Wikipedia list and I didn’t see NY doing anything better than other places. I did see Ohio’s Republican governor cancel a golf tournament on Mar 3, before there were any cases in the state. I saw Ohio declare a state of emergency the day of its very first case, while NY waited until 6 days after its first case. I saw North Carolina (Dem governor, but voted Rep in every election since 1980 but one, is it a “red state”?) close schools two days before NYC. I saw CA and Ohio begin stay-at-home orders or close most businesses 5-6 days before NY. Can you please explain what NY is doing that is so much better than other places?

            in any event, it doesn’t matter. Looking at list of actions is irrelevant, sort of like pointing out that NY spends the most per km on subways so declaring it to have the best transit system in the world. Only results matter, and NY’s results are the worst. This started with you saying that counties in red states have the highest number of cases per capita; this is not only false, it is opposite, since 3 of the top 4 counties in cases per capita are in NY. Saying over and over again that others are only “thinking happy thoughts” doesn’t change the facts that NY has the highest cases per capita, highest deaths per capita, and is top 10 in deaths per confirmed case. All the places you are belittling are 5-100 times better, depending on the measure. Maybe “thinking happy thoughts” works better than you suggest?

          • Alon Levy

            Upstate New York is doing fine, I think? But the city is a horror show in which nurses wear trash bags instead of PPE and contract the virus and die, and something like 1% of city population is confirmed with the virus, and the at-home death rate spiked from a background of 20 people per day to 200.

          • michaelrjames

            I don’t think anyone can argue that NYC is not doing terribly …. but (1) each nation’s major city, international entry point etc will be the worst and will be ahead of the rest (I suspect CA may not be as bad for the same reason Australia is not bad: weather) and (2) adirondacker has a point about timing; final outcomes need to be compared so let’s see in a couple of months, or 6 months; one suspects the awfulness will have been democratically shared more widely.

            For example, the UK has been behind Spain & Italy (and France and Germany) yet epidemiolgical geeks claim it is on course to be the worst in Europe, from the perfect storm of incompetent delayed political action, rundown health system with fewer beds and fewer ICU beds than Spain or Italy, poorer starting point re population healthiness, and overdependence for everything on imports (from China, or Germany!) including medical staff (who are deserting the system; now they are begging them to return, to risk their own lives for a system that treated them like shit for all these years of underfunding and rampant managerialism that even M. Python couldn’t parody). I think they should convert some of those Velaro e320s into HSR ambulances (like the TGV one) to spread their ICU load to “friends” across the water … oh, the irony. Hospital Lariboisière is right next to Gare du Nord and as it happens was built as a plague hospital. In fact if I remember correctly Eurostar uses the most westerly tracks so they could build a platform to directly serve the hospital which is right next to the tracks.

            I am sure I heard that Louisiana had the worst deaths per cap? Partly, or a lot, due to the far greater susceptibility of African-Americans (≈30% population but >70% of covid-19 deaths).

          • Alon Levy

            I don’t know what Germany’s major city is supposed to be, but the city with the biggest international airport, Frankfurt, is near-tied for the lowest infection rate in the country.

          • michaelrjames

            Yes, Germany is exceptional in several ways, like in not having one primate city. Frankfurt is for bizoids but Berlin probably gets more international visitors? And Hamburg is its port city, though it doesn’t get many of those gigantic cruise ships touring the Med the way the Italian ports do. In Australia our first covid-19 death was from the Diamond Princess, and one third of all deaths and >600 cases are from the Ruby Princess.

          • Alon Levy

            Berlin is below Germany’s per capita average infection rate. And the constant churn of connecting travelers and visitors should have created a huge infection cluster in Frankfurt if that were relevant. Besides which, the top city in the world in international visitors per the Wikipedia article I just checked is Hong Kong, which is very much not a big coronavirus hotspot.

          • Richard Mlynarik

            I came here to hear solely to hear “michaelrjames” and “adirondacker12800” incorrecting each other.

            MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

          • adirondacker12800

            Um connecting travelers all have a mutual cross cultural experience on the concourse, leave and get sick someplace.

          • Onux

            Upstate seems ok, but it is not just NYC it’s the whole metro area. Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, and Orange counties all have higher per capita infection rates than NYC, and higher death rates than any other state or territory except the Virgin Islands. Across the Hudson in NJ, counties such as Union, Bergen, Passaic, Essex, etc. have inflections rates slightly lower, but death rates just as high.

            NY’s death rate is more than double Louisiana’s, and heading toward 2.5 times as high. New Jersey’s death rate is higher than Louisiana too.

            Any excuse about NY being the “country’s major city” (size, international flights, etc.) could be said about LA, DC, Chicago, Dallas. Their death rates are an eighth to a thirtieth or less than NYC. Plus CA had its first death 3 days before NY and TX 2 days after, yet 10 days after first fatality the daily deaths in NY were 10 times higher than in either state, so “ahead of the rest but the worst is coming for them” doesn’t seem to apply either.

          • adirondacker12800

            Richard I’ve realized perhaps we are all looking at different things from different viewpoints and at least I got one of them to agree to look at one source as a point of reference. I haven’t confirmed that days are indeed a shorter period of time than weeks. Or that epidemics in general move at natural speeds ( some what accelerated by international jet travel but still natural ). One thing at time.
            I have a feeling you have flown a lot. And perhaps even connected somewhere. If you acquired a communicable disease while connecting would you expect to get sick at that airport? Assuming a moderately short connection period.

          • RossB

            Places that have lots of international travel are bound to get the pandemic first. So it is no surprise that New York got hit hard, given the general level of American incompetence. But incompetence at every level made things worse. Trump, Cuomo and de Blasio (who I’ve come to call the three stooges of the American response) screwed the pooch. There is quite a bit of evidence piling up to support this idea:

            https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/04/07/timeline-trumps-coronavirus-response-is-increasingly-damning/
            https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/04/americans-are-paying-the-price-for-trumps-failures/609532/

            https://abcnews.go.com/US/timeline-cuomos-trumps-responses-coronavirus-outbreak/story?id=69914641

            In contrast, places like Washington State and California handled things better. They didn’t handle it as well as Asian countries, simply because they had little to no federal support. There wasn’t enough testing, let alone tracking. There still isn’t enough testing. Unless you have symptoms, you can’t get tested (which is crazy, really). So the states and cities went into mitigation, and Washington and California responded sooner to the pandemic than New York. It wasn’t that they were perfect, but the folks in charge look like geniuses compared to those in New York.

          • RossB

            Weird. I’m not sure why that third link got embedded. That was meant to be four links (all in text).

          • adirondacker12800

            It just awful the way California shut things down effective 11:59 on March 20th the same day New York announced they would be doing it the day after that. Awful how long it was delayed. Terrible. ( California was closed down at midnight at the beginning of Saturday March 21 and New York on Sunday March 22nd. At 8PM, 38 hours later. Awful, terrible. )

          • adirondacker12800

            Miscalculated that. four hours less than two whole days is 44 hours. Even worse.

          • Onux

            But the Bay Area went into stay-at-home at midnight on the 17th, or more than five days before New York. And many businesses and activities in the region and the state had voluntarily shut down before that, ridership on BART was down 75% BEFORE the stay-at-home began. There is something out there comparing the tweets on March 2nd by Bill DeBlasio (telling people to keep going out) and SF Mayor London Breed (telling people to begin getting ready for possible closures). You began by saying that NY was taking action unlike red states who were just wishing and hoping. Now you are saying that taking action early doesn’t matter?

            RossB, as I mentioned before, places with just as much international travel as NY (LA, Miami, etc.) are seeing nothing like the problems in NY, even though LA/SF/California had cases before NY, so I don’t think it is accurate to say it is inevitable that NY would be hit hard.

            As much as there is to criticize about the Federal Govt response, I am not sure you can blame the feds for what is happening in NY. None of the other major metro areas, except New Orleans, is seeing infection or death rates anywhere near NY. If NY & NJ had death rates equal to the rest of the US, our national death rate per capita would be about the same as Germany and Austria. Even with the disaster in NY/NJ the overall US deaths per capita is less than Sweden, and multiples less than the UK, Netherlands, France, Italy, etc. As a country, the US is not a standout like Japan, S Korea, Taiwan, Australia, but it is Western Europe that has really failed the test.

          • michaelrjames

            I think you know that it is far too early to make those comparisons. NYNJ may well remain the worst but there is a lot of–most of–the US where the problem will only emerge soon. (So, especially trying to compare all of the US to any other nation is meaningless at this stage.)

            Sweden is interesting in that it represents a genuine experiment. The thing is that even if a clown mentions it, the herd immunity approach is not without foundation. Apparently Sweden’s was (is?) deliberate policy, however what I cannot tell is whether they have enacted any protection strategy for the most susceptible (elderly, esp. nursing homes). Looking at their rising toll, I presume not, which indeed makes it totally irresponsible. Rare to have old people in Sweden living with their younger offspring, which appears one of the big problems in italy (and Spain?). Yesterday I read the first report with some (incomplete) data on nursing home deaths and, as long suspected, it is shocking in many places. Some homes have lost one third to half their patients, and sometimes workers have spread it around as they work in multiple homes. Officialdom seems to have done nothing much, but I don’t know how anyone could be unaware of the massive risk. How has Germany avoided this (or has it?). Or Australia for that matter. Such places are the equivalent of those cruise liners, only worse, and one third of Australia’s deaths come from just one ship, Ruby Princess.

            https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/09/care-homes-across-globe-in-spotlight-over-covid-19-death-rates
            In Spain, the army has reported finding dead and abandoned people in their beds after it was drafted in to help disinfect care centres. Care homes in the Madrid region alone have reported the deaths of 4,260 residents who were diagnosed with coronavirus or had associated symptoms since 8 March, the regional government said on Wednesday.
            In France almost a third of all coronavirus deaths have been of residents in care homes. According to the latest figures released on Tuesday a total of 3,237 people have died in care homes. In Paris alone there were 172 deaths and over 2,300 homes have reported at least one case of Covid-19.
            In Italy …. 3,859 people have died in care homes across the country operated by the RSA organisation since 1 February …
            In Germany there have been reports of deaths in homes totalling hundreds across the country. In the worst case so far, 29 out of 160 residents at a care home in the northern city of Wolfsburg died after 74 residents became infected. Prosecutors are now investigating the home on charges of death through negligence.
            In Canada, health authorities have been grappling with coronavirus cases in long-term care homes across the country. At one retirement home in Bobcaygeon, Ontario, 29 of its 65 residents have died after contracting the virus.

          • adirondacker12800

            Each state closed down within 44 hours of each other. I was comparing New York apples to California oranges not counties to states.

          • adirondacker12800

            Some of us who have lived in multi-generational households like it. And don’t think it is odd at all. And if someday it requires someone changing Grandma’s diaper, she changed all of ours… We are stinking rich compared to Grandma and if it’s not appropriate we won’t but if it something we have to do, she changed ours.. Even if it’s helping occasionally in a different way for Abuela next door and we only met her ten years ago.

    • Matthew Hutton

      If you treat your cleaners like human beings they do a better job in my experience. I have a house cleaner from a company who employ their staff and they do a much better job than contract cleaners have in the past.

  8. Paul

    Washington as one of the cleaner American cities? The Metro is filthy in my experience, but I usually visit in January and some of the dirt is snow/slush/salt that gets tracked everywhere. They also seem to neglect other routine maintenance. Sometimes I’ve counted how many light bulbs are burned out. The lights look like standard fluorescent bulbs and shouldn’t take long to swap out.

          • adirondacker12800

            Yes they are. Some people seem to be comparing lightly used systems in the U.S., in some cases, with the New York City system. Like in the post I was replying to! The Times Square station complex would be the eighth busiest system in the U.S. which might be interesting to consider.

      • Jeff Mishler

        Having lived in NY and SF but traveled lots in DC, DC is much much cleaner than both. And the design of the Metro makes it feel so much cleaner, as Alon says. None come close to something like Taipei’s MRT though.

  9. Pingback: Coronavirus and Cities | Pedestrian Observations
  10. MucklaSSR (@mucklasuntermf1)

    Bout Frankfurt: There are several reasons I believe why Frankfurt underperforms.
    – Only 132,000 out of 750,000 residents were born in Frankfurt limiting the number of potential inter generational contraction within Frankfurt as parents/grandparents live somewhere else.
    – The majority of people employed at the airport commute into Frankfurt. People frequenting transmission hubs daily like the Hauptbahnhof tend to be commuters. At my office for example 3 people contracted covid during a meeting with an external participant and their cases were all accounted for in their respective home town (two of these in Bavaria). There are 350,000 commuters into Frankfurt.
    – Karneval/Fastnacht isn’t a thing in Frankfurt but huge in Baden-Württenberg and Cologne.
    – Unlike Hamburg Hessen’s two weeks of spring vacation did not fall into early March so no winter sport vacations in Ischgl

    • Alon Levy

      – Munich is full of immigrants too! And then farther west, Paris and London are both immigrant cities, and yet both have a lot more infections per capita than their respective national averages (though in France, Alsace’s infection rate is yet higher because the Mulhouse cluster).
      – The suburbs of Frankfurt have low infection rates too.
      – Does Bavaria have Carnival too? It’s a solid explanation for Cologne and I presume also for Catholic parts of the Netherlands, but does Munich have that tradition too?

      • MucklaSSR (@mucklasuntermf1)

        In Bavaria there are more people I presume visiting winter sports locations in Austria/Italy over an extended weekend in March.

        Regarding immigrants Frankfurt (at least from my perspective) is a city many work related immigrants from other parts of Germany do not see them self living permanently. They form little to no social connections and leave early on Friday to make it in time to go back to where ever they migrated from. Munich (at least from my not representative perspective) is a city which (German) immigrants seem to embrace far more (it’s also less convenient to go back to ur city town/village on the weekend if its farther away then say Aschaffenburg).

        Many people from other parts of Germany working in a office close to the Hauptbahnhof, Messe, Niederrad or Eschborn really hate it here, for them the city only consists of drug addicts, dirt and brown people.

        • Herbert

          I personally do not like Frankfurt, so take this with a grain of salt, but my perception of Frankfurt is of a city which is dominated by its business (banks, mostly) and the airport, so few people ever really “arriving” and “calling it home” might be true indeed. My brother and his non-German wife are Munich transplants. (Before he lived in Wolfsburg, another of those cities people move to for work but never call “home”). In my perception he’s more often undertaking the similar long trip to the mountains as the trip north to visit his family of origin. And the distance to Franconia is really such that he can do a visit on a whim…

          As for carnival in general, it is – in Germany at least – largely a Catholic thing. Old Bavaria is rampantly catholic, but carnival may have been prohibited or limited there at some point or maybe the Napoleonic explanation for Cologne’s carnival (the fake uniforms are parodies of French and Prussian designs) is not present in Bavaria. Some Catholic regions of Franconia (Franconia was incredibly fractured in the cuius regio eius religio era which meant a pretty eclectic mix of Lutheran and Catholic territories side by side, some of them relatively tolerant of Jews, others rampantly antisemitic) are pretty carnivalistic, but coming from a Lutheran background, I never quite “got the joke”….

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  12. Pingback: That MIT Study About the Subway Causing COVID Spread is Crap – Streetsblog New York City

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