In my email today:
I am visiting Houston in a couple of weeks. … I was wondering: are there any particular routes that would be interesting to ride as an example?
Yes, I led the design process for the new Houston bus network, implemented in August 2015. Buses now run in simpler, straighter, more useful paths, and often at much higher frequencies. People can get to more places more quickly than ever before. The high-frequency network went from this …
to this …
But I don’t know how I would direct a tourist to experience this — the way it’s so easy to tour a piece of transit technology. You can ride one of the redesigned bus routes, but you won’t notice it’s redesigned unless you try to travel through the system for many purposes. You can ride a cool bus, and take pictures of it, but then you’ve toured another piece of technology, not the network.
You’d have to live in the city, and use the bus to go lots of places, in order to experience the thing that we designed, which is the sheer ease of getting to many places more quickly.
At best, you could tour information and wayfinding systems. If you stand at a bus stop, how obvious is the network and its usefulness? This is a kind of tourism that I encourage, and that I always engage in. But the wayfinding is not the network. Many transit networks are much better than you’d guess from their public information, signage, etc.
Here is yet another example of why cities often look at improving their bus networks only after they’ve tried everything else. There’s nothing to tour, nothing a visitor can see in an hour that would give them a sense of it.
I’m curious if anyone else has encountered ways to make bus network redesign an object of tourism. Because among urbanist opinion leaders, tourism is a huge part of how ideas are transmitted, and valued.