When a Transitway Becomes a Gallery >> Advent Policy Brief #6

My sixth Advent Policy Brief stems from my relationship with the northern chunk of the TTC's University-Line 1. The scenery and soundscape leave much to be desired. One section screeches so loudly that it's physically uncomfortable, and the kilometers of barbed wire lining large chunks of the track don't exactly project welcoming vibes. 

My recent TTC ride north got me to thinking that about how useful experiential audits for all public transportation would be. Mapping out the the sensory experience of a route advances accessibility and rider recruitment. If Toronto wants one of the best transit systems in the world, the city needs to assess and improve the experience of ridership. 

That was thought 1; thought 2 was questioning the way transit is treated as a necessary evil, even by many proponents. What if the narrative was reversed so that the time spent riding the bus or subway was a positive unique experience? It is possible for the experience of ridership to be crafted in a way that structurally encourages support for mass transit, but this task is not meaningfully assumed by any public agency.

When the conversation of "improving public transit" happens, the product is usually a list of complaints and directives to make transit "less bad". This approach is too narrow. Ideal sustainable transportation means transit is a (potentially) joyful experience for everyone

Making infrastructure enjoyable is incredibly efficient resource allocation. In ideal circumstances, infrastructure can be designed to be enjoyable and noteworthy. I raise the success of Singapore Changi Airport. The world’s best airport was designed as a tourist destination itself. 

I seek a culture that says “If you never take transit, you’re missing out", and I believe art and artists are a necessary investment to create that culture. Let's start by paying a handful of artists to reconsider the forgotten spaces between mass transit stops to create joy and beauty. 

It would not be complicated. An experiential audit would identify the segments of track with most dire visual landscapes. Obviously, not all of those sites would be safely able to host art installations. The top dozen or so sites that offer high-impact and low-risk installation potential would be posted in a call for proposals. A committee would assign/offer track segments to successful applicants. Selected artists would work with TTC/Metrolinx to put their proposed installation in place. 

I want to ride the TTC zooming through artists' renditions of fairy villages, and underground kingdoms, and legendary forests. I'm happy to ponder abstract installations too. 

When a transitway becomes a gallery, everybody wins.

Section of illuminated TTC subway map showing Line 1 from Eglinton West to Vaughan Metro Centre