If you make it fun, will they come?

Both My Kind of Transit and Human Transit could make for interesting bus reading.

Still don’t have a gift for the transit enthusiast in your life? Consider My Kind of Transit and Human Transit, two books that espouse different philosophies about why and how transit works.

What, you don’t have such an aficionado on your gift list? Well, don’t let that stop you from checking out this engaging debate between the two authors, Darrin Nordahl (My Kind of Transit) and Jarrett Walker (Human Transit). Just start the video at 4:10 to bypass the setup issues and you’re on your way to an interesting introduction to two approaches to transit design.

Nordahl’s My Kind of Transit is predicated on  the idea that your transit journey is just as important as the destination. Public transportation, he posits, competes against the personal automobile and should be designed to lure people away from their “sexy” and culturally rich cars. He argues that transit should be considered as part of public space and designed as good parks are designed. By bringing “delight” to public transit design we can encourage more people to connect with their communities via transit.  He points to the success of local farmer’s markets and cafe culture in recent years as evidence that people seek that type of connection and that public transit is uniquely suited to fulfill the need. He believes that making transit fun is just as important making it work.

Jarrett Walker, on the other hand, believes that systems should be designed for utility before “fun.” While he agrees that public transit should be treated as public space and designed accordingly, he calls the transit bells and whistles that leave passengers with little more than good feelings, “endearing-but-useless transit.”  You can read his written response to Nordahl’s book at his blog, Human Transit. He brings up a good point in his discussion with Nordahl– some transit systems, particularly in dense urban areas, are so popular that service can’t keep up with the need. Shouldn’t the focus on those areas be on giving people what they want– more service for more people– over new technologies, particularly when transit budgets are shrinking?

The debate hosted by Treehugger.com’s Lloyd Alter touches on issues of density and connectivity, light rail vs. bus rapid transit, and even how bikes can fit in with public transit and help solve the “last mile” problem. Check it out and let us know what you thought!

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