Information Requests

graphic artists! seeking ideas for book’s cover

If you're a talented illustrator who's willing to volunteer a few hours in return for a possible publication credit, read on.

My book Human Transit, which I hope will come out by November, needs some ideas for a cover.  The publisher has developed one that has promise but would like to see some alternatives.

The visual message of the cover must be:

  1. Hey!  Eye catching.
  2. Cool!  Minimalist, not emotional, not "hot"
  3. Transit can be simple.  The image must not convey a sense of complexity or confusion.  That's why I'm thinking "minimalist."
  4. Transit is about humans, their needs and desires, their joy and success, their jobs and families and recreation. 
  5. Transit is not about technology choice.  That's why I tend to prefer images that are based on transit map imagery rather than images of transit vehicles. 

The cover text is:


Human Transit


How clear thinking
about public transit
can enrich our communities
and our lives

(I like this "four-line poem" layout, but it can be in any configuration.)

Author:Jarrett Walker

All this text must be clearly legible on the cover, though the subtitle should be smaller than the rest.

The cover dimensions are 6×9 inches.

If you provide the image that becomes the basis for the selected cover, you'll be credited on the title page.  Please note, however, that I'm not running a contest, just welcoming ideas from anyone who wants to share them.  The final decision about the cover will be made by the publisher.

Please pass this on to graphic artists, or aspiring talented ones, that you know!  I would need to see your ideas by July 20 to keep the project moving.



information requests: the copyedit edition

I'm in the copyedit phase of my book, which I've been sternly advised is my last chance to substantially change the text.  So of course I'm stumbling on lots of odd little uncertainties, and I have a few questions for transit and transport experts out there.

Feel free to help me out on any of these!  (Try not to say anything too immortal in the comments, as this post will be deleted when it's served its purpose.)

  1. Roughness.  Based on usage I've heard from traffic engineers, I use this word to mean "delay in a traffic lane adjacent to a curb or parking lane caused by events such as delivery trucks and taxis stopping for customers, cars engaged in parallel parking movements, car doors being opened into your lane, slow cyclists sharing the traffic lane, and so on."  But attempts to google a definition founder on the more common sense of "pavement roughness."  Is roughness the right word for what I mean?  What word would you use?   I have my answer on this one:  friction.
  2. Relationship of Ridership to Density.  Rutherford and Spillar (1998) find that in the range of densities covering most North American urban areas, ridership's relationship to density is an upward curve.  That is, if you control for service quality, if suburb A is twice as dense as suburb B it will generate much more than twice the ridership.  Has anyone done or seen more recent research proving or disproving the same point? 
  3. Deterrent Effect of Various Kinds of Delay.  The Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual (2nd ed) presents these figures for how much different kinds of waiting time discourage ridership, compared to 1.0 for riding time.  For example, it states that on average, a minute of walking time has the same deterrent effect as 2.2 minutes of riding time.  These numbers are sourced, however, on a wide range of studies dating back to the 1960s.  Has anyone seen anything more recent?
    Delay Type:WalkInitial WaitRideWait for Connection
  4. Worker-Driver service.  Do any transit agencies in the developed world run worker-driver service, where a commuter bus is driven by someone actually making the commute, who is hired as a part time employee by the transit agency?  I'm aware of two outer-suburban agencies near Seattle that do this.  Is it commonplace somewhere outside my awareness?  UPDATE:  Just to be clear, I'm not talking about vanpools, which are for particular groups of people by pre-arrangement.  I'm talking about public transit vehicles running along routes, collecting fares, open to anyone.
  5. Driver shift start-end locations.  It's universal, in my experience, that driver shifts must end where they began.  The need to return drivers (on the clock) to their point of origin is a large part of the hidden cost of one-way commute express services.  Are there common labor arrangements in the developed world in which a driver clocks out at a different place from where he clocked in?

seeking information: performance-based investment policies

That headline may sound like a perfect storm of vague and bloodless words, but its meaning is actually pretty forceful. 

I'm looking for examples of policies, often at the level of planning authorities spanning an urban region, that state expected performance outcomes for major investments.  These policies frame the big infrastructure decisions as investments, which implies some risk but also some sense of expected level of return.  The return doesn't have to be to the transit agency's budget, though it certainly can be.  It could also be a return to the tax base or development goals of the city served. 

The purpose of such policies is to push back against purely political impulses in prioritization, including all the many aspects of parochialism that are inseparable from representative democracy.  The policy is polite, but behind the politeness it basically says:  We can't focus on how worthy or victimized or generous your suburb or community or electoral district is, nor do we care what our grandparents promised to your grandparents.  We as a regional infrastructure agency care about outcomes for our region, and we will not make investments that look unlikely to deliver those outcomes.

In my case, I'm interested in major transport infrastructure investments, both highway and transit.

These policies are in early stages of being invented in most of the agencies I'm familiar with, but I want to make sure I'm not missing any inspirational leadership in this area.  Anyone with knowledge of such policies in any urban area, please inform me of them, either in comments or with the email button under my photo. —>

bus signage can be beautiful

… so long as you find beauty in anything that conveys a vast amount of content in the least possible space, or with the least possible complexity. 

38 GEARY V A Hosp Crop

Perhaps this is a distinctly Zen sense of beauty, but it's also close to what mathematicians and scientists often mean by elegance

If you know San Francisco, you know where Geary Blvd. is and you probably have a sense that the VA Hospital is out toward the west end of it somewhere.  So this sign tells you a surprisingly complete story about what this bus does.  This makes it useful not just as information but also as gentle passive advertising.  Anyone can notice this sign out of the corner of their eye, and pick up a bit of information about the transit system ("there's a bus heading out Geary from here … good to know …")

For decades, San Francisco and Portland have used this simple style for all of their signage.  I discussed how it works in Portland here.  Even back in transit's "age of vinyl," San Francisco used separate roller signs for name and destination, so that they could present the same information in the same pattern consistently.  (Photos were also blurrier back then!)

35 EUREKA to Market

Many other cities, including Sydney and Seattle, habitually turn it upside down, so on the 38 above they might have said "38 VA HOSPITAL via Geary."  A Sydney sign might read "380 DOVER BCH via Oxford St."  I find that less intuitive, because the path the bus follows is usually more useful than the final destination in determining if the service is useful to you.  Still, it's understandable in Sydney where street names change so frequently that it's hard to associate bus routes with them, as "38 GEARY" does.

But this post is actually an information request.  Have you seen bus exterior signs that convey a lot of information briefly in an interesting way, either examples of the above or of other ideas?  If so, please link or send them to me.  I'm collecting them for a project. 

Meanwhile, for a more literary perspective on bus signage, see here!

information request: connection-activated civic squares

Thanks to all the commenters who responded to my too-vague request in the last post.  Let me now be clearer and, I hope, more concise. 

This image …

Surrey Central Plaza-1
… shows an idea for the design of a civic square intended to be the "living room" of a suburban city east of Vancouver.  It does not exist on the ground, so I'm looking for examples that do.  The core of the idea is that:

  • The square is successful as a civic heart.  It's a place people would naturally go to not just to catch transit but also (a) to eat a lunch that they've brought, (b) to meet friends or people-watch, (c) to rally for a political cause, (d) to watch a local sporting team on an enormous screen (e) to attend any of a range of festival events programmed for the space and (f) to feel, as one feels in great squares, that you're in the very centre of the community, a place that is credible as a symbol of the whole community.  I'll settle for most rather than all of those things, but the point is to define a certain kind of civic importance.  Note that the flexibility of the space to serve many purposes is part of what makes it effective as a symbolic centre.  It is, as they say of Portland's square, the community's "living room."  It may have some green landscaping but it is mostly hardscaped in the anticipation of handling large volumes of people.
  • To me, this means that the place is big, let's say at least 50m in its narrower dimension.  (Smaller plaza spaces around rail stations are routine in Europe, but this thing needs to be big enough to do the symbolic and practical work outlined above.)
  • The square is also an important node in the transit network, where substantial volumes of people make connections, either between mulitple surface transit lines or between those lines and a rapid transit line.  (In the last post I artlessly referred to the place as suburban.  I now realize that what I really meant was: a place where the high volume connections happen on the surface, not inside subway stations as is the case in most big European examples.  Such a place may well exist downtown in a North American city that lacks much of a subway network.)
  • All, or at least most, of the surface transit stops are directly on the square.  That is, when you step off the transit vehicle, you feel that you are in the square, not across the street or down the street from it.
  • These high-volume connections require walking across the square, not just along one edge of it. 
  • Finally, let me rule out plazas at universities, where the community served is artificial and intentional.  I'm after places that serve as the centres of towns or cities.

I'm asking because I want to discuss this possibility in my book, based on my experience in developing the idea sketched above.  It has particular relevance as a way to organize local bus connections at a rapid transit station that is also a local CBD.  If really successful examples exist, I want to praise them.  If they don't, I'm interested in credible theories of why not.  Is there something intrinsically wrong or unrealistic about this kind of design? 

The closest I've seen so far are as follows.  People who are familiar with these spaces are encouraged to chime in with views on whether they work on the above criteria, especially the perception of the space as a centre or "living room."  The notation C? means "I'm not sure if this really functions as a civic heart or livingroom.  T? means "I'm not sure if the transit connections are major, that is, I'm not sure if lots of people have reason to make connections here.)

  • Copley Square, Boston.  (C? T?)
  • Mont Royal station, Montréal. (C? T?)
  • Plaza on the north side of Gare Montparnasse, Paris. (C?)
  • Pershing Square, Los Angeles (T?)
  • Picadilly Gardens, Manchester, UK (C?) (not hardscaped)
  • Place Bellecour, Lyon, France (T?)  (very close!)
  • JFK Plaza, Philadelphia (T?)  (not clear where bus stops are)
  • Alexanderplatz, Berlin, specifically the area southwest of the elevated station, between there and Spandauerstr.  (C?  T?)  (Is this a major bus-rail connection path?)

Thanks for everyone who's commented so far!

    information request: suburban transit plazas

    NOTE: This obsolete post is retained to preserve its comments.  The updated post is here.

    I'm looking for examples of a successful civic plaza space which is also transit connection point, and where people making connections between transit lines need to walk across the plaza to do that.  In other words, I'm looking for something like this:

    Surrey Central Plaza-1
    (This illustration is of a an idea that was developed for a town center in the metro Vancouver area.  The place as drawn does not exist.  I am looking, by contrast, for something already built and working well.)

    The rapid transit station doesn't have to be elevated.  It could be underground or it could even be on the surface.  What I'm after are these key features:

    • We are in the high-wage "developed" world.  North America, Europe, wealthy East Asia, Australia/New Zealand, etc.
    • Local bus (or streetcar/tram) stops are directly on sides of the square, so that when alighting it feels that you are now "in" or "at" the square.  Ideally, terminating buses stop on the correct side of the street to put you right in the square, not across the street from it.
    • People walk across the square to make connections between local transit and rapid transit, so that they become, at least briefly, part of the life of the square.
    • A rapid transit stop is probably right at a civic square, though if someone found a square with trams on three sides and lots of people connecting between them, I could work with that.
    • The connection being made represents a major node in the transit system, so many riders are making the connection there.  Typically that means that the lines that cross at the square do not cross anywhere else nearby, and/or this is the most logical place to make a connection between those lines. 
    • The square is also successful as an urban place, a place where people like to go to have lunch, meet friends, watch people, see street entertainments, etc.  It probably has lots of retail nearby but it is an open public square, not a shopping mall.  It's a place that might be described (to use the well-worn term for Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square) as the local area's 'living room.'

    Anyone who can identify a place that matches these criteria, and point me to some good pictures of it including a picture or diagram that shows the transit circulation clearly, will get, at least:

    • a mention in the book (at least in the small print.)
    • a shout-out here on the blog
    • lunch or dinner on me whenever we're next in the same city

      Please forward a link to friends who might also enjoy the challenge.

      (Speaking of shout-outs, the above sketch is by Eric Orozco, based on a plan by Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden architects, in which I played a small role.)

      UPDATE: Clarifications in response to the first round of suggestions is here.

      information request: peaking patterns

      The book is coming along.  Expect a number of information requests in the next weeks, as I start pinning down details.

      I need some nice charts showing ridership per hour of the day for a typical inner-city transit line, and for an outer-suburban one.  Very simple bar or line graphs, covering a weekday, that I can use to illustrate the fact that outer-suburban service tends to be much more peaked and inner-city service busier all across the day.  If you're inside a transit agency and have access to such things, I'd appreciate it. 

      request for information: detailed studies of operations delay

      Long ago, when all transit data was collected manually by students with clipboards, I did a few studies that watched what happened on a bus or streetcar/tram in normal operation and counted the seconds of delay associated with each of the following factors:

      • Being stopped at signals.
      • Being stopped or slowed by traffic.
      • Being stopped or slowed by accidents.
      • Normal-pace boarding and alighting.
      • Wheelchair boarding and alighting.
      • Conversations with the driver that interrupt boarding/alighting.

      These studies are usually done deep inside of transit agencies and often not published (not out of secrecy or shame, but just because they're very technical.)  Have any readers seen or done any studies like this?  I'd like to pull some typical data for a couple of them.