Saturday, September 25, 2010

Book Review - My Kind of Transit

Darrin Nordahl's book, My Kind of Transit is a critique of American transit systems. The basic premise of the book, which I found to be overly simplistic, is that riding transit should be an experience in and of itself.

He came to this conclusion when on a trip to Hong Kong. He found that the trips he made on the city's transit vehicles were as interesting as the destinations. This led him to the conclusion that the banality of American systems is caused by the lack of an experience. Every system is similar in that the base system is based on cost. Small design changes, such as no tint, open air possibilities and seating at the front so passengers can see where they are going, can increase transit attractiveness.

The book is primarily chapters of case study comparisons, such as the monorails of Las Vegas and Seattle, shuttles in Santa Barbara and Phoenix and elevated rail lines in New York and Chicago. Using some of the methods described above, Nordahl explained why some systems are more revered and used than others. At he end, he gives suggestions to increase the transit experience.

Overall, I thought the premise was solid, if not 100% convincing. The ideas were portrayed more as a tourist, rather than an everyday user, which is the predominant user of a system, the primary theme of making it an experience seems to appeal more to a new user, rather than existing ones. Folks who use the system everyday are less concerned with the journey, since it is their routine. There may be merit in making it an experience to attract new users, who are then able to become regular users.

The read was easy. However, a basic knowledge of transit might be needed as a base of understanding before partaking in this one, since the ideas discussed have little to do with planning or running a transit agency or routes. Someone can do everything Nordahl suggests but if the routes don't connect people to where they want to go from where they are, it is still a moot point.

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