Making Transit Fun!

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Volkswagen (yep, the car company) has a project called The Fun Theory that aims to
encourage better behavior through playfulness. They’ve found that more people will
take the stairs if they are painted like piano keys and make sounds when stepped on.
Also, people will throw more litter into a garbage can that makes sound effects versus a
regular old silent garbage can.
Fun is also a key ingredient, says urban designer Darrin Nordahl, in getting motorists
out of their cars. He notes that car companies have long employed creative people
to make expensive, dangerous, polluting cars seem alluring and loveable. Alternative
transportation needs to do the same thing: make the experience and image of walking,
biking and taking public transit more fun. “Bait them with delight,” he suggests.
One way to do this is to design distinctive buses and trolleys (think of the St. Charles
streetcar in New Orleans) versus using generic, run-of-the-mill vehicles. They’ve done
this with the tomato red, glass-ceiling buses in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois and
in Boulder, Colorado, where each bus line has its own distinctive design and name
(such as Hop, Skip and Stampede). Transit infrastructure can also be designed with
whimsy such as bus stops shaped like giant fruit in Japan. And bike racks don’t need to
be boringly uniform either, as Talking Heads front man and Bicycle Diaries author David
Byrne has demonstrated with his one-of-a-kind bike racks in New York City.
Alternative transportation also needs fun, hip marketing campaigns, Nordahl contends.
One exemplar is the in-house design studio for Los Angeles Metro that redesigned
everything from maps to passes to bus stop signs. Also noted is a multi-media
campaign to encourage walking and biking in Columbia, Missouri that uses youthful
graphics.
Another way to entice people to leave their cars behind is to make urban spaces that
people physically want to be in. Some examples include pedestrian-friendly alleys, pop-
up cafes, and parklets. Nordahl gives a shout out to Indianapolis for their inviting cycle
tracks that include patterned paving, landscaping, snappy signage and public art.
This book is very well written with plenty of examples (mostly from North America and
Europe) and photos showing what he’s talking about. It’s divided into seven chapters
with bouncy titles such as Seductive Transit, the Joy of Cycling, and Walker’s Paradise.
The last two chapters sag and alas, are less fun. There is funding to talk about and
naysayers to argue against. If I could redo the book, I’d move the final myth-debunking
chapter into an appendix and end with a firework finale listing twenty, thirty, forty
creative ideas to make alternative transportation more fun.
Nordahl, who earlier wrote My Kind of Transit: Rethinking Public Transportation
(Island Press, 2009), doesn’t expect that any of these measures will necessarily cause
motorists to ditch their cars right away. But little by little it might just get motorists
thinking that they are missing out on something fun by driving. This book encourages
urban and transportation planners to add in something fun and enticing whenever
possible, such as when they are buying new buses or repainting crosswalks. As he
says, “Joy may be the quickest way to erase the persistent stigma of getting around
without a car.”
By Kelly Nelson

Volkswagen (yep, the car company) has a project called The Fun Theory that aims to encourage better behavior through playfulness. They’ve found that more people will take the stairs if they are painted like piano keys and make sounds when stepped on. Also, people will throw more litter into a garbage can that makes sound effects versus a regular old silent garbage can.


Fun is also a key ingredient, says urban designer Darrin Nordahl, in getting motorists out of their cars. He notes that car companies have long employed creative people to make expensive, dangerous, polluting cars seem alluring and loveable. Alternative transportation needs to do the same thing: make the experience and image of walking, biking and taking public transit more fun. “Bait them with delight,” he suggests.


One way to do this is to design distinctive buses and trolleys (think of the St. Charles streetcar in New Orleans) versus using generic, run-of-the-mill vehicles. They’ve done this with the tomato red, glass-ceiling buses in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois and in Boulder, Colorado, where each bus line has its own distinctive design and name (such as Hop, Skip and Stampede). Transit infrastructure can also be designed with whimsy such as bus stops shaped like giant fruit in Japan. And bike racks don’t need to be boringly uniform either, as Talking Heads front man and Bicycle Diaries author David Byrne has demonstrated with his one-of-a-kind bike racks in New York City.


Alternative transportation also needs fun, hip marketing campaigns, Nordahl contends. One exemplar is the in-house design studio for Los Angeles Metro that redesigned everything from maps to passes to bus stop signs. Also noted is a multi-media campaign to encourage walking and biking in Columbia, Missouri that uses youthful graphics.


Another way to entice people to leave their cars behind is to make urban spaces that people physically want to be in. Some examples include pedestrian-friendly alleys, pop-up cafes, and parklets. Nordahl gives a shout out to Indianapolis for their inviting cycle tracks that include patterned paving, landscaping, snappy signage and public art.


This book is very well written with plenty of examples (mostly from North America and Europe) and photos showing what he’s talking about. It’s divided into seven chapters with bouncy titles such as Seductive Transit, the Joy of Cycling, and Walker’s Paradise. The last two chapters sag and alas, are less fun. There is funding to talk about and naysayers to argue against. If I could redo the book, I’d move the final myth-debunking chapter into an appendix and end with a firework finale listing twenty, thirty, forty creative ideas to make alternative transportation more fun.


Nordahl, who earlier wrote My Kind of Transit: Rethinking Public Transportation (Island Press, 2009), doesn’t expect that any of these measures will necessarily cause motorists to ditch their cars right away. But little by little it might just get motorists thinking that they are missing out on something fun by driving. This book encourages urban and transportation planners to add in something fun and enticing whenever possible, such as when they are buying new buses or repainting crosswalks. As he says, “Joy may be the quickest way to erase the persistent stigma of getting around without a car.”


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By Kelly Nelson

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Making Transit Fun! How to Entice Motorists from Their Cars (and onto their feet, a bike, or bus)

Darrin Nordahl, Island Press, 2012, 128 pages

One Comment

  1. Marcus
    Posted 8 August, 2012 at 06:10 | Permalink

    Sweet, Quad Cities! Here’s some more happenings of the QC. This article is about a good friend of mine.

    http://www.qconline.com/archives/qco/display.php?id=601296

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