If you’ve taken the New York City subway in the last week, you might have spotted some fun animal footprint decals on the subway platforms. The creative and comedic social distancing decals are part of an effort by the MTA to encourage proper social distancing as New York City entered Phase 1 last week. The decals come in a total of twelve different designs placed throughout the subway system with the words “Please keep a safe social distance from others” on top. You’ll find chicken feet, horse shoes, pig trotters, cat paws, dog paws, duck feet, and more. We spoke with Sarah Meyer, NYC Transit Chief Customer Officer and Joseph Chan, NYC Transit Senior Director for Digital Content at the MTA about the decals, which were first noticed by our photographer Ryan Lahiff on June 10th as he was documenting the subway.
Chan told us that instead of just using regular footprint decal designs any vendor could create, he decided to tap into the creative talent within his “amazing design team” at the MTA to design decals that reflect the diversity and style of New York. The initiative follows a long precedent of trend-setting signage design within New York City’s transit system. “How can we create something, even though it’s an emergency time right now, and it’s really safety signage — how can we push a little bit further than just doing the default for this?” Chan wondered. He pushed his design team to create useful signage that could also “makes people feel better about taking the system” and to assuage the public’s fear of potentially coming back to the transit system. Beyond that he says, he hopes the signage will remind the public “why New York is awesome, why the subway is awesome.”
The dog paw was photographed by Thomas Hynes, appropriately also the author of the new book Wild City: A Brief History of NYC in 40 Animals.
Sarah Meyer, NYC Transit Chief Customer Officer also told us, “We are New York City, and we are New York tough right? We’ve been through a lot over the past couple months. Something we’ve been trying to do over the last couple of years since I’ve gotten to [NYC] Transit is trying to make sure that we are giving our customers the information they need but also representing the creativity and amazingness of New York. Knowing that we needed hundreds of thousands of decals, printing the same one over and over again doesn’t represent the diversity of New York.”
As far as non-animal footprints go, you’ll find high heels, a construction shoe, robot feet, and more! There is also a wheelchair one, to address the full range of accessibility in the subway. But the one you’ll find most commonly across the system is the “MTA Shoe.” This might not seem like a big deal, but this sneaker design is the MTA’s initiative to go beyond the standard footprint icon, which is almost always a male, dress shoe. Looking at the standard footprint, Chan tells us that they thought, “Why does it have to be male? And why does it have to be a shoe?” The sneaker felt much more New York to them, and they were reminded of the quote, “New York: tolerant of your beliefs, judgmental of your shoes.”
Since many industries have been purchasing decals in response to COVID-19, the MTA supplemented the “hundreds of thousands” of these decals that were needed with spray painted versions on the outdoor stations until the full order of decals arrived. According to Meyer, as the MTA increases its inventory of decals, it will replace the spray paint ones.
If you were wondering what that is, officially they are cloven hoofs, boar or pig.
Subway ridership is up since the reopening, +19% since last Monday according to Bloomberg and the chatter on social media reflects that. Yesterday, we started seeing a flurry of people posting images of the decals. Meyer and Chan told us that the decals have been effective and well-received so far by passengers. Many commuters have photographed the decals while others have used them to social distance in the increasingly crowded subway stations. “I was in the system when we were laying them down and it was really amazing,” said Meyer. “We actually had some young kids come over to ask if they could come help up. It’s really been amazing to see.”
Chicken feet decal / Courtesy of the MTA
In addition to these decals, the MTA has been disinfecting the fleet daily and just announced that they will move forward with disinfecting the subways with full spectrum ultraviolet technology.