Finally, A Subway Strap Design That Eliminates Awkward Hand Touching

The Japanese firm Product Design Studio wants to improve commutes through smarter train handles.

As subway offenses go, there’s plenty to scoff about: overcrowding, frequent delays, odious smells, and crumbling infrastructure, to name a few. Another annoyance that can have serious safety consequences? Too few handles for passengers to grip–and the awkward moment when you come palm to palm with with a stranger.


During rush hour, subway-handle real estate is scarce as an affordable apartment. Riders cling to poles, contort themselves in order to reach a handle, and are often not tall enough to comfortably hold on. Should the train lurch–which is very common–there’s potential for falls.

In the past, designers have approached grab handles a few different ways. The old MTA subway cars had pivoting, fixed-in-place handles that a person could hang onto. The London Underground has moveable plastic straps that riders can slide as needed. One independent practitioner even invented portable handles for shorter people. The problem with all of these is that they’re designed for use by just one person.

Keita Suzuki of the Tokyo-based firm Product Design Center has a solution: a handle that looks a lot like a gymnastics ring, but with a few key user-friendly adaptations that allow for more capacity on a single unit. He and his assistant, Sayaka Hiromura, developed the concept for Sagami Railway, the 15th-largest train operator in Japan.

First off, the ring has an elliptical shape that’s easier for hands to grip than a perfect circle. Second, it has a wide enough diameter so two people can hold it at the same time. Third, the vertical metal fitting that secures the strap to the ring is elongated and has rounded corners to let riders know that they can hold on there, too. Three simple details that allow three straphangers to grab a single strap. Genius.

Considering that many handles on public transportation are designed for solo use–like this clunky gem formerly on MTA trains–it’s a marked improvement.

[All Photos: via Product Design Center]


About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.