Monday, October 27, 2008

Developing New Senses on the Light Rail

That smooth feeling riding along the trains. The sights of buildings,trees, people, and cars as you whisk by while traveling. The sound of the train speeding along the tracks. The light rail is full of sensory experiences.

In his 1906 New York Times article "New Senses Developed by Subway Travel,"Dr. A. S. Atkinson discusses the possibility that "the New York tunnel grubber" or subway travelers have developed new or enhanced senses as a result of moving underground. Regular subway travelers, Atkinson noted, were inclined to talk louder because of the noise, and "the man who follows the line of the Subway,and uses his eyes, is better off than another who spends all of his
time staring at a paper of book."

We've wondered about the kinds of senses that might be affected by riding along the light rail here in the Metro East. How might the sights along the route enhance or limit our vision? What would the sounds do for our hearing? How does the feeling of riding the trains affect how we experience our surroundings?

We have already begun to explore the answer to these questions in some of our previous work. In "On the Outskirts" we noted how often we look outside the train windows at the various towns and scenery that we pass along the way. And, in "Viewing the City," we discussed what the St. Louis skyline might mean for commuters.Maybe sight is not the only aspect of our senses being affected by light rail travel.

Although the scientific theory that Atkinson posited in his time seems like common sense for modern readers, sometimes thinking on these basic levels helps us to more clearly understand the internal, sensory aspects of light rail travel.

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