katharine hearts public transportation

a couple of weeks ago, i was afforded the opportunity to follow a man named Joe Clark around a number of Toronto subway stations and take a gander at the tiles and signs and the various messes made by/in the TTC. i could try to regurgitate a bunch of half-remembered facts here, but you’re far better off reading Mister Clark’s reports and taking a (self-guided) tour yourself (or click through the TTTT Flickr pool).

the tour was, at times, like travelling around in a giant time machine. in one station, you emerge from the train into a 1960s bus depot.

go a little further and you’ll find yourself in some low-budget 1970s sci-fi flick.

our guide around the TTC world claimed Dupont to be the loveliest station in the system. and while it does have some pleasing and interesting elements, it remains dark and orange with burned out lights scattered around the walls. possibly this was a post-apocalyptic 1970s sci-fi flick.

if you head farther north, you disembark in a station befitting yuppies of the 1980s, rushing off to their lower rungs of the corporate ladder, stopping only for a Cinnabon.

design-wise, the stations are in a time warp. if you don’t like one time period, just wait and get off at the next stop.
when it comes to signs, there appears to be a conspiracy to confuse TTC riders. perhaps a plan hatched by the taxi drivers to lure weary travellers aboveground and into their plush, if odd-smelling, vehicles. from a designer’s standpoint, it’s all a hot mess—mixed typefaces, bad typefaces, advertising in materials that can be easily vandalized and pulled down). but then there’s also the lack of clarity. a lot of (newer, Helvetica-inspired) signs are not easily legible, especially if you have bad vision or are a bleary-eyed drunk trying to stumble home. some signs cannot be viewed by the handicapped or from a certain angle. just for giggles, try finding your way to the westbound trains in the Bathurst station, or try going westbound in surface vehicles from the Bathurst station.

overall, it needs work. my favourite quote from Joe Clark’s speaking notes is:

Type in the Toronto subway is a story of just how much of a mess you can make without adult supervision. They started out with something nobody else had and then, through a combination of ignorance and bad taste, they spent 50 years destroying it. 

As a non-driver who has lived in cities without reliable (or any) public transit, i’ve found the TTC to be a mostly pleasant experience. i’ve been fortunate enough to avoid panhandlers on trains, most of the stations smell no worse than Pleasure Island on a Sunday, and i haven’t been stranded in the snow for several hours. it could be worse, definitely, but it also has the potential to be so much better.

love,
katharine, age 5

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