Category Archives: Urban interface

View from the Train

St Pancras from wikimedia commons

Arnhem-2013 09 20 at 09 26 01

Copenhagen backside

Train stations are marketed as important to the “Image of the City“, and that we need a grand gateway to attract or welcome visitors. Yet think about this. If you are already on a train arriving in the city, you don’t need to be attracted. And your welcome is not the building’s front edifice, but instead its unseemly backside. As you approach the station you are inevitably passing through the lower rent industrial areas of of the city (what else would be near the nuisance of train tracks without the benefits of accessibility), areas which are often strewn with litter and festooned with graffiti on concrete walls.

If you really want to welcome visitors, you would not restore the head house, but instead the arrival path. The head house may send visitors on a magnificent farewell, but is no place for a grand arrival, all arrivers want to leave the train station as fast as possible after arriving.

Feels like the first time: Transit interfaces and the first time user |

I have a new post up at Feels like the first time: Transit interfaces and the first time user:

“When arriving in a city for the first time, the visitor often seeks to move from the port of entry (the airport) to where they are staying (e.g. a hotel). Most airports have taxi services of some kind, but the urban Transportationist wants to take public transit.”

Posters and Promotion

130109 LU posters 1st

Como Zoo Poster at bus stop

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a city in possession of a good transit system must be in want of some posters. The art of the poster seems to have diminished with the emergence of so many alternative media, ranging from TV to Internet, and markets for commercial art from advertising to the Infographic. Yet we still want to communicate with transit users and encourage them to behave in certain ways (shop during the off-peak, don’t eat on the bus) or consider certain destinations.

While it would be great to have more new posters like the London ones in the upper left, we do not avail ourselves to the opportunities that are already present. I see ads for destinations at bus stops in the Twin Cities which don’t even tell you how to get there via transit. A recent one I saw was this otherwise excellent poster for the Como Zoo . How hard would it be for the Zoo ads (or all ads) to have a tag line at the bottom identifying which bus routes (the number 3) serve the Zoo? Maybe the transit agency could encourage posters for destinations to have brief transit information on the poster (by discounting the ad rate a little bit).

Sure, most customers won’t use it, half of advertising is wasted. Nevertheless, this piece of information lodges in the passerby’s mind that:

  1. It is in fact possible to get to the Como Park Zoo by transit,
  2. The number 3 bus goes near Como, if I need to go near there, I might be able to use a bus, and
  3. It might be possible to get other places by transit.

Forcing a round object into a square map

The earth is approximately a sphere, yet we try to force this round object into a square grid through the use of latitude and longitude and Ordinance Surveys. Why?
The rationale for use of grids depends on scale. We have naturally come to think of the earth rotating on an axis with a prime meridian reflecting that access on the surface, intersecting the axis at the north and south poles, complemented by an equator belting it. The equator has a natural physical meaning, but the prime meridian is arbitrary. Greenwich, England is no more the start of time than any other place. But longitude, if not latitude is arbitrary. The idea of longitude lines running north-south does have convenience in that it tends to align with the magnetic poles, and benefitting navigation.


Geodesic domes, developed by Buckminster Fuller (who did not invent soccer, but whose name was given to the Fullerene) enclose spherical areas with a mesh of triangles, forming many hexagons and 12 pentagons.
We could remap the earth using geodesic principles. Fuller did this with his Dymaxion Map. The triangular cut marks do not align with latitude and longitude. However, one should be able to align the triangles with either latitude (the equator) or longitude (a prime meridian), though that might cut land masses, which dilutes the political point Fuller was trying to make.

There are many ways to skin the earth, and stretch it out like a tanner stretches leather. The way we present this 3D object in 2D affects how we perceive it. We expect (in western countries) north to be up, and are disoriented when maps are presented otherwise. Yet we don’t expect our environment to clue us in very often, we don’t typically see compass marks in the pavement to show us which direction is north, to help us reorient (meaning turn to the east, oddly we never reoccident and turn to the west).
The map is the user interface to the environment, and we need to give it more consideration. We should also better embed navigation clues into our environment. Some cities post wayfinding systems around, especially near transit stops. Even (especially?) in the age of the almost ubiquitous smart phone, this still seems wise, so people can keep their eyes looking ahead, focused on the real environment, rather than face down in a phone, or staring into an imaginary distance with glasses.

Three Seeds for Vital Streets

Now at Five Rules for Vital Streets: “There are three seeds:

  • A concentration of people (customers, though they need not be spending money, that helps)
  • A concentration of stuff (suppliers, who need not be selling)
  • An environment that encourages people to spend time doing stuff (marketplace)”

Updated from a Transportationist post: July 12, 2007.

Welcome to Meteorological Spring

Today I saw one bus unable to get up a hill and one crash, both due to weather conditions (I got some video of the bus after its failure to climb the hill, but none of the crash, which was a minor fender-bender with some grill damage to the offending vehicle with apparently no injuries). Meetings are canceled left and right. My son’s school was canceled. My daughter’s school (a different school in the same building) was not. Welcome to Meteorological Spring.
More on Why we become such bad drivers when it snows at Streets.MN

QRious sidewalks


ST sends me to Rio (via AP) which reports Bar codes on sidewalks give tourist info:

“Rio de Janeiro is mixing technology with tradition to provide tourists information about the city by embedding bar codes into the black and white mosaic sidewalks that are a symbol of the city.”

This might be a solution to improving navigability, though I think it will puzzle archeologists in 1000 years. The problem of course is it makes people look (1) at their phones rather than the city, and (2) at the sidewalk instead of what’s in front of them.

Menace 2 Society


For reasons mentioned in a previous post, we got a new car. I had been hoping my next car would be self-driving, but that was not to be. The new car needed to be bigger than the previous as we have 3 children who sometimes all need to be transported. The Subaru Forester and similar sized cars are incapable of carrying three children in the back row in three car seats (which is what the law requires in some states, seriously the car seat lobby must be making a fortune on fear-mongering). This requires 3 rows. After filtering for size of car, we considered the Dodge Durango, GMC Acadia, Ford Flex, Honda Odyssey, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Siena. Nissan was out of the running based on previous quality issues (damn poor Sentry that stalled out at intersections), and in the end that did in GM as well (damn poor Chevette that leaked over the driver’s foot when it rained, because water accumulated in the vents). Based on quality of ride and build, and reliability (both perceived and real), and the fact that I would not want to be in a minivan, we wound up with the Pilot, which we have nicknamed Menace 2 Society.
The car buying experience was not great (I purchased at Buerkle (pronounced Berkeley) Honda). The salesman let me do a short test drive, I would have preferred to be longer. They had their best price. I asked for lower. They had their Costco price. I asked for lower. They said ok to a lower price (take that Costco price guarantee). I probably could have pushed them more, but I didn’t have all day, and didn’t want to come back (since I was in a daily rental from Enterprise).
But then they had their financing people. I chose to finance primarily because I don’t carry around that much cash, but interest rates are so freakin’ low it would make sense in any case. Strangely the finance people also sell the service contracts. I don’t have special fondness for dealer service (though they are usually fine in my experience, if pricey), but I like to make one organization responsible for everything so there is a minimum of finger pointing. It seems break-even in costs, based on history with previous cars, though they get some money in advance, but like I said, the interest rates are really low. They also sell the undercoating/rust proofing after-market. There is controversy about this, some say it is like mattress protection, and too expensive or worthless. I plan on holding the car a long time assuming it doesn’t break, crash, or the price of gas doesn’t go about $10/gallon, so I am interested in long term preservation. My last car was held 14 years, and after treatment did not rust (but was beginning to rust beforehand at edges with scratches.) At any rate, they sold as a package and it is hard to decompose how much it is for each item. There is an insurance aspect to this, hoping I won’t use it, but if something goes wrong in the first 8 years, they can be held accountable.
As part of their service contract, they include a contracted service (Honda Care Roadside Assistance via Cross-Country Motor Club) that is like AAA for stranded cars etc. Good luck finding them though, this is not information they want you to have, or a service they want you to use (since you already paid for it, using it is a cost to them without future revenue.) In some ways I want to test it, and see if it works. I worry though that if I call them I will get a “no one is home” message. We are still AAA members from last season, I am debating re-upping.
Honda Financial Services are not swift with their systems. First, their site says this:

Please note: email spam filters may block our emails from being delivered. If you have a spam blocker, please set it to accept email from:

Why would this be? Was your server taken over by spammers? Can you not fix this properly?
Second, once you sign up for electronic payments, they don’t actually debit the first payment, only the second. Again, why? Then, since you didn’t make your first payment (assuming naively that since you signed up, they could deal with it), they send bill collectors after you. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just take the money that was offered the first time.
The car runs and rides very nicely. It feels like I am just gliding down the road (especially compared to a 1998 Subaru Forester). My main complaint is with user interface:

There are so many buttons and dials on the dashboard, if only they had voice control. It does, but it is voice control c. 1998 automated phone tree. You have to push a button, and then wait so long for it to tell you what you can do you have already reached your destinations. I complained about it in the test drive, and the salesman tried to explain that it wasn’t the most god-awful terrible piece of crap user interface (or something like that which I muttered), but really, this was a 2012 model, not a 1998 model.
The buttons are sort of randomly placed, environmental controls sandwiched between the radio and the navigation system. The problem is keeping your eye on the road and hitting the right button. I don’t have a solution, but I am sure Apple would. Start with fewer buttons, or maybe a touch screen that only gives you controls in the right mode (environment, entertainment, navigation, communications, car statistics, whatever), or maybe a good voice control that actually does what you tell it to.
The GPS is generally accurate in my limited experience, and not too intrusive, but programming it for the destination you want is a pain. Again touch screen would be really nice here. Give me a map, let me point to where I want to go, and then you find the best path from here to there. Or a smart voice control that could understand what I said at a normal rate of speech.
I periodically get surveys from someone on behalf of Honda about whether I would recommend it to a friend or family member. Thus far aside from the UI, I am happy with it, but as the saying goes, YMMV.