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Don't Go Toward the Light: Subway Suicides

Local film and music critic (and Orientophile) Mark Jenkins sent me a link to an interesting story out of Japan. In an attempt to reduce suicides on its tracks, East Japan Railway is installing blue mood lighting in its stations.

“Blue is said to make people’s minds more serene," a spokesman told Japan Today. "The blue lighting is in part an effort to prevent suicides, while it is also aimed at reducing misdemeanors such as graffiti and littering.”

If blue is supposed to relax you, what can we say about the color Metro has chosen for its platform lights: red. Mark has never been a fan of the crimson LEDs, installed as a cost-saving measure but also in the (apparently unscientific) hope that they would keep people away from the platform edge. My gripe with Metro stations is with their overall lighting--dim--and the signage--shockingly insufficient.

Metro has definitely had a bad run recently, from the deadly crash outside Fort Totten, to the employee fatalities, to, yes, an increase in the number of suicides. There have been nine suicide attempts this year; seven were successful.

I doubt the red platform lights are driving people over the edge. And Metro does seem sincerely distressed by this micro-cluster of suicides. As bad as things may be in Washington, relatively speaking, the suicide rate is much higher in Japan--twice as high as in the United States. East Japan Railway had 68 suicides through March of this year. Of course, it operates 1,700 stations that serve 17 million passengers per day.

So, a different culture. You'll find another difference on the East Japan Railways Web site home page. There's a link marked "The Uetsu Line Accident," referring to a 2005 derailment that killed two and injured 30. Click it and you get a statement from the railway offering its deepest apologies, utmost respect for the commission investigating the accident and solemn acceptance of the commission's findings. WMATA's home page has link titled "Metro corrects and comments on Washington Post story entitled 'Sandwiching Older Metro Cars Was PR Move.'"

By John Kelly  |  September 29, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
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