Friday, November 6, 2009

Language of Transit

One of the most interesting public transport web blogs is "Human Transit", operated byJarrett Walker, an international consultant in public transport who has led numerous major planning projects in North America, Australia and New Zealand. Walker also has a doctrate in literature and the arts, and writes on botany and Shakespearean drama , an interesting character by any standards. OK, OK, the Wabbit just can't resist this - a varied life but seemingly over obsessed with one essental question - (Route) 2B or nor 2B/ two bee or not two bee/ to be or not to be. (That is the question)

Back to normality! One of the things I most like about Jarrett Walker's postings is that treats the nitty gritty details of public transport with the committed interest and respect due, things like transfer patterns or timing of services, or the psychology of bus use, or prerequisites in urban development for different modes to be appropriate. When I tell people my main interest in life, apart from communal living and gardening, is public transport they do not yawn, they just look totally lost. How could anyone find any nourishment for the soul in a subject so mundane and dry I suspect is the underlying essence of their unspoken bewilderment. I have come to believe that any hobby or interest carried forward in depth offers a doorway to the whole world. One of course, one has to work hard to avoid monomania, being a bore or righteous paranoid delusions that there is only one answer (yours!) but this aside, a genuine interest will always call upon multiple facets of character, and developing knowledge in a dozen diverse fields intrinsic to mastering one's interest. Certainly public transport is bigger than a grain of sand, and it combines for me a lifelong interest in urban living, urban landscape and historic buildings (in part fostered by 15 years as a city bus driver and sightseeing bus driver whose intimate workplace was an evolving city) and history in general . In the late 1970's I interviewed retired tramwaymen whose working careers started as early as 1908, the rare honour of a window into a past world (running time of a tram, Cathedral Square to Stanmore Road, in the days before cars or traffic lights - time allowed 3 minutes).It brings in my interest in environmental matters, not least effective resource use. Following overseas transit systems, vitual travelling as a investigator rather as a tourist, is a bit like popping ones head up through the manhole in the middle of a different city - it experiences other cities at a very inside the system, underlying way. It has given me quite a feel for small city America, areas not normally even on the tourist periscope. Plotting out new routes, including schedules to match departure time patterns to key employment/education zones, is a complex evaluation of hundreds of variabilities and mathematical patterns that stretch my small intuitive brain, but an irresistible hobby (not least whilst sitting on buses). I would hate to do it under pressure, in the professional sense, because it often takes months before all those variables gel into a pattern. That almost nothing suggested ever gets past the bureaucracy does not surprise me, but I feel strengthened in my awareness confidence and knowledge of the city - often walking route proposals, discovering new parks and cut-throughs, examining attendance figures at event centres, and learning about proposed industrial developments. For me public transport is a very rich language, composed like the English language, of words derived from a huge variety of sources.And I believe it is a language we need now, and will probably need far far more in the years to come.

Jarrett Walker speaks that language and does it well - access his web blog by clicking on the title box above (I have to get a bit more computer savvy with my links, but that will do for now!). His recent posting on the cutting of services on the Portland light rail - the USA transit systems are being hard hit by loss of funding - is an interesting example, and of some passing relevance presuming the post-poned trip by Mayor Parker does go ahead.


  1. Thanks for the link! I note, though, that your post appears as light blue text on a slightly lighter blue background, almost impossible to read. (Feel free to delete this comment when you've fixed that.) I'll keep your blog on my list. Cheers, Jarrett

  2. Thanks Jarrett - computer glitches at home I have tried to add this in my lunchtime at work, but system does not support fine tuning the text. All I can do is change the header to a mutually readable colour, in this case lurid red, in the meantime.