Public Transportation and You

Detail, New York Subway Map, Massimo Vignelli, 1972

Detail, New York Subway Map, Massimo Vignelli, 1972

Systems and their corresponding maps have evolved a lot through time. There's a great book that creates of a collection of transit maps of the world, if you're into that. 

Cities all over the world have sought to find the best solution for seat layout. Should there be long rows of seats on trains to increase standing room? What about padded seats to improve comfort? Or is it best to increase the ease by which these cars can be cleaned over the comfort they provide?

Whichever route is chosen, someone has to make those decisions. We take for granted all of the choices that happen to create our daily commutes, but someone, somewhere, decided that this would be the most efficient design for our everyday rides.


I've had the most experience with Chicago's public transportation, via the "L" and CTA busses. I take the trains more than the busses, but with both I tend to see the same problem: too many people, not enough space. When I visited Barcelona this past spring, I was able to ride both their trains and busses. While I know that Barcelona's population is about half the size of Chicago's, their transportation was much more comfortable. There was more room to stand or sit comfortably. I didn't slide out of my seat near as much. With the trains, they seemed to have a bit of a different shape that allowed for more width on the trains interior.

Chicago "L" train car history. Source: Chicago Transit Authority, . Illustrations from  @ChiTribGraphics . Learn more  here .

Chicago "L" train car history.
Source: Chicago Transit Authority, Illustrations from @ChiTribGraphics. Learn more here.

So what's the does this mean for us?

If you live in anywhere where you rely on public transportation, these design decisions matter. In Chicago, one of the common complaints about the seats used on trains & busses is that the fabric holds the smell of urine and creates a breeding ground for bed bugs. However, the plastic seats provide little friction, so you are more likely to slide when the train or bus comes to an abrupt stop. Think about your surroundings the next time you're on a bus or train - what would you change? If you are really feeling moved, you could even send an email or call the transportation authority. After all, you are who they create these systems for.


Have you seen any great public transportation systems? What's your favorite?