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Friday, December 26, 2014

Seeing Differently by Traveling Differently

The way people perceive space differently based on the way they move through it has long been a fascinating topic. It is a rarity these days that I have a moment to put such observations into any kind of order, but the topic has surfaced for me twice in the past month.

The first was a realization of how differently Van Cortlandt Park in The Bronx is seen by drivers on the Major Deegan Expressway and those who follow the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail:
Then the other day, @TransitSleuth had a quick series of tweets observing differences between people driving and those riding a bicycle when their route was disrupted:

 Common to both sets of observations is a richer level of detail at slower speeds and the narrowing of focus to the needs of operating the vehicle while driving. There are a few hypotheses to ponder with the tweets by @TransitSleuth, and it is a regret I lack the time and resources to undertake some rigorous research.

Hypotheses on factors that may allow cyclists to identify routes to divert around roadway closures better than drivers:

  1. Cyclists tend to take shorter trips. Therefore, they are more likely to be in familiar, home territory when encountering a roadway closure.
  2. Vehicular queuing prevents drivers from approaching the incident as closely. Therefore it is harder to identify the specific network links that are closed and need to be circumvented.
  3. Higher operating speeds narrow the peripheral vision of drivers. As a result, they have not benefited from views down sidestreets to develop as much awareness of parallel routes.
  4. Cyclists must engage in more trial and error to optimize their routes, which provides them with awareness of their alternate routes. Whereas arterial streets generally offer routes optimized to meet the needs of drivers, cyclists often must travel different alternate routes before determining which path best meets their needs for travel time, safety, and other factors. 
  5. Mode selection reflects attitudes toward time and speed. People who choose to travel by bicycle demonstrate a lower priority toward speed and a greater willingness to spend time on their trips, which would are traits that would also make them more likely to periodically explore alternate routes.

Of course, I can't really say to what extent any of this speculation is actually true. Perhaps I will have the good fortune of stumbling onto an academic who takes an interest. It would make for some great studies.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Journey Should End in Poetry

Are iconic places at passenger terminals obsolete as an organizing element? I was surprised that seemed to be the consensus of leading architects on a panel recently. With smart devices, it is increasingly difficult to ever become lost. The scale of modern life has grown beyond the perception of a singular focal point.

I don't buy it.

People still want to feel like they've arrived, and a specific image best captures that moment. The term "selfie" may be new, but the compulsion to take a photo in front of the Flatiron Building, the Eiffel Tower, and every other salient landmark is as old as the point-and-shoot camera.

Great passenger terminals are among the most compelling forms of art that civilization has ever produced. These massive structures transcend their primary utilitarian purpose of moving masses of people to become some of our most memorable civic spaces. It is the iconic point of arrival that makes them memorable.

Of course, many terminals do not rise above their mundane functions. Some become inhumane from a meanness of design or subsequent neglect. When terminals do achieve greatness, they create an intersection of architecture and poetry. They embody the place where memorable journeys begin and end, where people depart and are reunited.

No place epitomizes this more than Grand Central Terminal, where the clock is the heart of New York City. As Billy Collins expressed it in his poem "Grand Central," the city "turns around the golden clock." The poem has been featured by the MTA's Poetry in Motion program: