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Or, why not to hire literature students... ;)


Oh God, I laughed all through this. And yet you're completely right, your critical judgment is sound as a bell.

Carter R

Here's a question: Why don't transit agencies insist that bus manufacturers build larger electronic signs on buses?

Obviously there are *some* constraints, but it seems like being able to read a bus' number and destination from great distance are important components of visibility/legibility.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Carter.  Many sizes of sign are available.  But in most agencies that procurement decision is often not connected to marketing or wayfinding thought, as it obviously should be. 


I hate the destination signs on Seattle's LINK Light Rail Line.

The text scrolls continuously. That means you cannot just glance and read the destination. You have to concentrate to read the scrolling text.

And every destination includes the unnecessary word "Station". There are really only about 4 destinations a train can have. Most trains are going either to "Airport" or "Seatac" or to "Westlake" or "Seattle". A few that will go to the yard stay in service to "Mt. Baker" or "SODO". Every one of these words can be the single word that should be displayed constantly, without scrolling, on the destination sign.

The interior signs are just as bad or worse, scrolling through "Next Stop: Stadium Station" etc. How about constant "Next: Stadium".


I understand that you prefer that the signs show the roads they go on, rather than the destination. Yet Sometimes it is really useful to know which direction a bus goes. In unknown areas of Montreal, or when coming out of the metro, I have, at times, taken a bus in the wrong directions. Then I would really know some cue as to where it goes, and a compass is good because it corresponds to the map one might've checked before.

But, don't do
Just do
if your direction is diagonal.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

No, signs need to have both street and destination, but visually
distinguished as on the SF examples. I don't like 17N because
personally I find letter-number jumbles to be harder to remember than
either letters or numbers. Perhaps it's different for Canadians who
learned those infernal postal codes (e.g. V5H 4N2) in the cradle?


Your recent post on your other blog brought me here. I didn't know this place existed!

These buses, like the flashing message boards highway crews put up, don't seem to understand that I have to take in an entire message at a glance, often. I always want to read an entire cycle, but I can't.

Wouldn't it be fun to program one of those buses to dispense Williams's poem over a minute? Magic bus! Zooming by and reading "a red wheel" or "chickens" would have pleased Williams, I think.

Colin Stewart

Jarrett -- alas, your Transit-ist reading of this poem blinds you to its true meaning: that of mass suicide, particularly as a form of protest against Swedish corporate practices.

The opening line, "17 MOUNT", doesn't refer to a bus route; it refers to a number of people -- 17 of them, in fact -- who are climbing something (as indicated by the present-tense, third-person-plural form of the verb "to mount").

The second line reveals what the group is climbing: "RANIER/IKEA". This is to say, they're getting up on the roof of an Ikea store. "Rainer" suggests that Ikea is somehow worse than other stores -- in the sense of "raining on one's parade."

(The slash is an unfortunate typo, which can be attributed to the rarity of good editors at publishing houses these days.)

The third line, "(NORTHBOUND)", has two meanings. "North" is often equated with "up," as it does on most maps, and it is thus that we should read it here. Hence, "northbound" is synonymous with "upward," which is where the group of 17 are heading -- both in the sense of "up the building," and, more crucially, "up to heaven."

The next two lines, "HAVE A / NICE DAY", are, given the context, morbidly ironic. They also recall one of the standard lines of an Ikea greeter, which strongly suggests that the 17 are disgruntled former employees.

The final line, "DRIVE SAFELY", continues the ironic tone of the previous two lines, but it is specifically directed at the Ikea customers in the parking lot below -- those who will doubtlessly rubberneck at the gruesome scene to come.

More importantly though, is that "DRIVE SAFELY" was once the slogan of the auto maker Volvo. Thus, with this one line, the poem associates Ikea with Volvo, conflating the two Swedish companies in a miasma of corporate hypocrisy, and excoriating their use of banal, feel-good expressions to fatten their bottom line.

Alon Levy

In New York, I believe NB and SB are common enough acronyms that people would understand. But omitting the B would make it incomprehensible. Is the 17N the northern branch of the 17, a bus that runs on North 17th Street, or what?

Tel Aviv uses unadorned directions on the Ayalon freeway, whose two directions are called Ayalon North and Ayalon South, and it's always confused the hell out of me.


Colin Stewart's comment, which reads the sign as a warning of imminent bloodbath due to employee grievances against a well-oiled Swedish profit machine, raises some useful contrasts. The frame of labor-management conflict will certainly draw Marxist admirers, but most literary theorists, I'm afraid, would sniff at the pre-postmodernity. (I left academia after my PhD, in part, because the obligation to sniff so frequently was making my allergies worse.)

Colin's determination to interpret every nuance of the poem as part of a single narrative, driving toward a single conclusion, would today be dismissed as patriarchal, even phallic. Feminism and deconstruction have shattered the singular narrative, calling on us to see the diversity of possibilities as the only conclusion worth celebrating. Thus, while Colin's reading turns every line into evidence for a single conclusion, mine exfoliates* or "opens out" the poem by observing multiple ways that the text could mean, or do. My reading seeks not to impose a single truth but rather to create a space in which the reader can find herself.

* The verb to exfoliate is probably the single piece of critical jargon that I miss most from my academic days. In the image of a plant energetically leafing out, it captures the forceful, multidirectional, unpredictable and yet unstoppable quality of great idea. Perhaps when the Greens are done covering our cities with photosynthetic surfaces, they'll get back to the urgent business of requiring that we only communicate via metaphors that refer to natural processes, preferably those of (reliably pacifist) plants. Ideas already sprout, blossom and wither, so I'm not sure why we're not allowed to say they exfoliate.


@Alon. You write: Is the 17N the northern branch of the 17, a bus that runs on North 17th Street, or what?

Surely, the simplest answer is that a 17N is taking the nth branch of the line. This would signal that the long accretion of individually reasonable route variations (caused by the need to run a few trips past this senior center, then a few others to a social service office, and one or two to Judy's house so that she'll stop calling and writing letters) has finally reached the terminal condition where the number of branches is not merely infinite but has every possible value between one and infinity.

In this condition, the transit rider confronts the deep reality of particle physics, which is that probability is not just an approximation of reality but seems to directly describe its mechanisms. To oversimplify, a particle doesn't just have a 20% chance of bouncing to the left, rather it is bouncing 20% to the left right now, in a single event.

So 17N isn't any one branch of the 17, nor does it promise to go to all n branches. Rather, it's going only to the nth branch, just as it says. Most bus operations folk are pretty straightforward and literal in their expression, after all, so we should expect no less.


Jarrett and Colin,
I feel that you missed out on the very important dimension of interstitiality at work here, or the subaltern status of that which is not displayed. Clearly, that which is shown is not the point. We have to investigate the absent space and appreciate its subversive potential for creating different and ambiguous subject positions.
Any full description, or rather, any route at all, sets a narrative that establishes a hegemony of meaning. My very personal experience of traveling can not be accounted for in this way, but must rather express itself in a rejection of the symbolic order, i.e. numbers and street names.

Thus I advocate leaving entire field blank, as a projection space for our own desires and an acknowledgement of the ambiguity of our subject positioning when traveling.

Thanks for the post and the comments. I still think maps at the bus stops are the way to go; I like their complete lack of ambiguity, I guess.



Because you don't know what these bus drivers are going to do...

Hilarious post, Jarrett!


may be better than cheering towards a local sports team instead of showing any bus info, for most of the display time

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

or as I saw yesterday on Hastings St, Vancouver:

135 SFU

Ted K.


Poss. ans. : Please don't hit someone with your golf ball.

Re : 135 SFU
Puckish ? :-)
Jarrett's ref.:
Alternate meanings :

Art Busman

I find it intrusive for transit agencies to pollute their informational signs with safety advice, greetings, holiday greetings, or even worse poetry. I want information and that's it. I can't stand wasting even a couple seconds reading some inane, cliche, meaningless message. If I want literature or poetry, gee, guess what, are there like bookstores on this planet? Can I go online maybe? Sure, I appreciate buses that look aesthetic and are painted and pretty, but when I want information, I don't need some bureaucrat to impose his idea of a banal greeting or poetry on my time and life.


Even if it were great poetry, Art? I could envision a play -- well, at least a musical -- based on a bureaucrat who discovers his soul by writing what turns out to be extraordinary poetry used above a bus's windshield. In turn, he himself is discovered by a team self-important literary critics only after he is found guilty for involuntary manslaughter after someone is hit by the bus after being transfixed by the poetry (deer-in-the-headlights variation). Poetry-loving governor commutes his sentence to time served. No damages awarded in closing scene's civil wrongful death action because of persuasive defense testimony (one of the grander literary critics who, perhaps, works in the word "exfoliate") concerning the quality of the decedent's final moments.


[Errata: "team of self-important literary critics" and "found guilty of involuntary manslaughter."]


This was one of the most wonderful things I've read in a long time. Comments included.

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the firm

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