I recently came across an interesting research project called “Zen in the Art of Travel Behavior: Using Visual Ethnography to Understand the Transit Experience.” The study was undertaken by Camille Fink, a PhD student in the UCLA Department of Urban Planning, and Brian Taylor, AICP, Professor and Chair of Urban Planning and Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA. The project’s final report was published in late 2010.
According to the study’s web site, the researchers attempted to “…examine people’s experiences as they navigate the public transit networks of Los Angeles.” They accomplished this objective by asking participants to photograph their transit-oriented commutes and record demographic information as well as details about their trip. The researchers then analyzed these rider-generated travelogues.
While the project’s sample size is small and the researches consider their work a pilot study, they nevertheless draw some interesting preliminary conclusions from the collected data.
- Transit planners and managers need to consider aspects of the transit experience that reach well beyond the bus or train door.
- The rules of behavior and discourse on buses, trains and at stops are a central part of the transit experience – both positive and negative – and transit drivers, attendants, and guards all can, though often do not, play important roles in creating positive social environments.
- The location and design of transit stops and stations can shape perceptions of safety, security, vibrancy, and beauty that both subtly and directly affect the transit experience.
- Improving the walking experience – in terms of sidewalk quality, driveway design, and street crossings – is critically important to users’ perceptions of public transit.
To learn more about this study, visit the project website. There you can view hundreds of photographs captured by the study participants, as well as read about their experiences traversing Los Angeles on public transit. I think you’ll find it well worth your time.