Joseph Cook, FCLC 2025

MAJOR: Urban Studies

BIO: Joseph Cook is an Urban Studies major in the Fordham College at Lincoln Center Class of 2025. He has had a lifelong passion for public transport and the way it serves society as a whole. He wishes to pursue a career in urban planning.

PROJECT TITLE: Strangers on a Train: The Unspoken Social Code of the New York City Subway

MENTOR: Christopher Toulouse, Department of International Studies

ABSTRACT: This project seeks to identify and analyze the unspoken social code adhered to by riders on the New York City subway system. Through riding all 24 services offered in the system in addition to special service variants and the Staten Island Railway, observations were collected about the social behavior of passengers accounting for differences between services, boroughs, time of day, and even position in the train. As a result of the observation, a very limited systemwide unspoken social code of “keep to yourself” was discovered to be adopted nearly universally among riders. In addition, massive differences in social codes and behaviors between services, boroughs, and time of day were observed. The flaws with these social codes as they relate to passenger comfort and safety are highlighted by various situations observed during data collection. The importance of these unspoken social codes in ensuring a rider’s sense of safety and/or comfort is demonstrated through the subsequent behaviors observed in these aforementioned scenarios. Solutions to address these shortcomings, and therefore make riders feel safer and/or more comfortable, are proposed using the data collected from observations on board trains. Overall, this project demonstrates the complexity and flexibility of the unspoken social code adhered to by riders on the New York City subway system dependent on the circumstances one may encounter on board the subway.