Watch this video, and maybe you'll grasp the beauty of a great transit network, a beauty that has nothing to do with the technology it runs, but everything to do with the real life of a city and the feedom of its people. Public transit vehicles moving around Greater Vancouver, an entire day compressed into 2.5 minutes.
Long ago I posted another of these, for Auckland, New Zealand. It uses endearing tadpoles instead of white dots. It's also interesting because Auckland's is not a single unified network, as Vancouver's is, (although we're working on it!). You can see the difference if you watch closely, using the tips below.
So many people see public transit only as a vehicle on the street, or a thing they're waiting for. But when you watch this video of a well-designed unified transit network, you can see that it's a gigantic interconnected organism. And like all organisms, it's made up of complex but rhythmic motion.
Like your heart and lungs, the network effect of transit is quiet, ignorable, and yet the foundation of everything. The network is one being, moving to a beat. It's made of connections, little sparks of energy that you must imagine whenever two dots touch, as the dots hand off to one another like relay runners. For example, as you watch the video, watch this spot, especially toward the middle of the day:
That's Phibbs Exchange, an example of strong pulse scheduling. At a langorous pace (representing a pulse every half hour or even every hour) you'll see many white dots gather themselves into a single bright dot, shine brightly for a moment, then "pulse" outward again. What's happening is that many buses that run infrequently are converging on a point and sitting together briefly, so that people can transfer from any bus to any other.
I'm not sure I'll ever convey to my non-transit friends that regardless of what you think of buses, a pulse is a beautiful thing to watch. Phibbs is more spread out than I like, and I photographed it at a quiet time of day, but in an ideal one, like the ones in downtown Eugene, you see this gradual gathering of energy to a climax, then a release. Gradually the buses arrive, until finally they're all there. You see signs on the buses announcing different parts of the city, all the places you could go right now, from here. The drivers get off the bus briefly, chat with customers, point them to the right service. People meet by chance. It happens many times a day and yet there's always this sense of event: here, at this moment, you have service to all these different places, ready to go right now. Enjoy the banquet of choices, select your bus, and let's go. In a moment it's over, the buses all gone, the place quiet or even deserted, like a field after a storm has passed. And in half an hour or an hour it will happen again.
And it's not a random thing, like a storm, but part of a huge intentional network that (in Vancouver's case) is designed. This pulse is one of the network's many continuous, reliable heartbeats. It's one big organism, made of unconscious rhythmic motion and circulation as all organisms are. It's inseparable from the life of the city it serves. And you're part of it.