Why do deaths on transit so captivate the imagination of riders, officials and the media? It may have a lot to do with the media’s perception of crime in the subway, but it may also have a lot to do with how the subway is designed specifically to feel familiar no matter what station you’re in.

A more convincing idea of the period is the “second neighborhood” theory, coined by Thomas Reppetto, the president of the Citizen’s Crime Commission during the 1980s. Here’s the concept: though the subway system is hundreds of miles long, through distinctive, uniform design features, any station seems instantly, intimately familiar.

For this reason, accidents and incidents tend to reverberate through the whole system. A front-page subway murder doesn’t enter our memory at one station, but at every station. So while an above-ground murder or a car accident in Times Square remains localized, a feature of a dangerous neighborhood, a man pushed to his death at the Times Square Subway station seems to occur everywhere at once.

This article from The Atlantic delves into the issue a bit more deeply. It’s interesting though because I never thought about how the sameness of each station would contribute to why subway deaths echo so loudly in the public realm despite them being so relatively rare.