random transit thoughts

"I have always thought that the substitution of the internal combustion engine for the horse marked a very gloomy milestone in the progress of mankind."

Winston Churchill, 1954

The horse might have disagreed with the esteemed Mr. Churchill, but it's an interesting observation anyway. I spent 3 1/2 hours in the London Transport Museum at Covent Gardens proving my bonafides as a transit geek and it was worth every pence. The museum chronicles the growth and development of London through its transportation and the exhibitions are full of "gee, who knew?" moments, such as:

Ever notice how most contemporary transit maps have a similar graphic language? That great map of Washington's Metro system among others owes its clarity to Harry Beck,who worked as a draughtsman (note the contextual construed British spelling)at what became London Transport. He proposed the diagrammatic map in 1931 and it was first printed and used in 1933. His brilliance lay in abandoning a literal map of the system and substituting instead a wiring-like diagram that emphasized topological relations among stations. Thanks Harry!

London Transport also had a progressive and visionary CEO during that time in Frank Pick. He commissioned not only Beck's diagram but also series of wonderful posters promoting ridership and the famous logo. Thanks, Frank!

I'm fascinated by the double-decker buses and have wondered not only why no other city deploys them but how London came to have two-storey transit in the first place. Apparently, London has been double decking for a long time. The museum shows double-decker horse drawn omnibuses, of all things, with well dressed folks perched in the open air on top.

What was so inspiring about the museum was that the final exhibit was about not the past but the future. There was a bit too much blatant sponsor-driven content masquerading as content, but the series of 4 possible future time lines was thought-provoking. None was overly optimistic regarding resource depletion and climate change but it was a great way to end the exhibition: asking the visitor to contemplate what kind of future they wanted and the variables that might lead there.

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