Transit design goal: have a design that has endured for a century, becoming synonymous with the city it represents.

This is an open thread.

32 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: London’s Transit Design Icons”

  1. A while back, someone mentioned that you can get stop data for Metro bus routes. How would I go about getting this?

      1. Interesting information, but based on the API, it does not have what I’m looking for. I’m looking for ridership — specifically for each stop on a route. Sounds Transit provides this for their bus (and train) routes, and my understanding is that Metro has this, you just have to ask.


    Couple of interesting articles, but still looking for the answer to question about car design that I’ve had ever since I saw first picture of one in like 1950:

    The large rounded curves of the rooflines. Does any other system in the world do this? Would appreciate it if anyone who’s ridden the London Underground could shed some light on this.

    Would especially like to hear from someone who can tell me firsthand what those roundings are like to ride under. Very curious.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Mark, I gave you an assignment to interview Intercity Transit riders and drivers, to see how the new fare-free policy is going. Since I haven’t read anything from you on this topic, I’ll assume you haven’t started yet. Have you at least ridden on an IT bus since they went fare-free?

      1. Sam, have you completed your assignment of carrying your bike on the train into Pioneer Square Station? Photos of the looks on staff’s faces would be appreciated.

    2. I’ve been on the tube trains that have rounded rooflines. As a 6’ 2” adult, the only space that is comfortable to stand is in the center, otherwise you have to look down or tilt your head.

      I love the exterior look of these trains with the blue doors that wrap around the top. I still have to duck to get through them. These are also very loud, old trains. The Bakerloo line is the one I ran into this based on my memory. The Circle and District trains are massively deluxe in comparison. Bigger tunnels, open walkways inside (the train itself is a tube within a tube) and A/C.

      1. Yes, the deep tube lines need to run in small diameter (down to 3.10m) tunnels that were dug 130 years ago. With the sub-surface or cut-and-cover lines you can run bigger trains. Circle & District lines are cut-and-cover, while Bakerloo is one of the deep tube lines. You can see a comparison of the two traincars here. [2] And how tight the fit is for the deep tube lines here. [3]


  3. Siemens DE, the parent company of Siemens USA, which is building and delivering the next huge batch of light rail vehicles for Sound Transit, tripling the fleet to ca. 180 cars, is coming under fire from climate activists for its contract with the Adani corporation of India to provide the track signaling technology that is needed for a large proposed coal mine in Australia to operate.

    While one can argue about the ethics of businesses pulling out of contracts, some have calculated that honoring all existing contracts would put humanity past the 1.5 degrees Celsius of global heating that scientists have begged and pleaded with us not to cross.


      Lot of this going around, Brent. Wonder, though, if Scott calls people like Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, and the Saudi king who murdered the reporter his friends.

      Our two Chiefs of State definitely feel the same way about how to treat children who find their way into his country so they don’t get raped and murdered. Performance with the piece of coal has familiar context:

      “How can these mineral-haters be so mean to us?” It’s perfectly fair to change course in technology, and government, so that working people don’t get suddenly deprived of their living.

      But backdrop of horrible death for half a billion animals and several dozen humans, with relief far over the horizon, and incalculable future damage to the land, indicates somebody you know is tough enough to govern because he’s not afraid to hurt the weak.

      In our Founders’ definition, term “Base” definitely fits the spirit that elects such people.

      Mark Dublin

  4. Looking at London’s narrower tubes and rounded train car tops (to fit inside some tube sections), I’m reminded how third rail power allows for smaller tunnels than light rail (with caternaries) does. It’s probably not as noticed by the public (unless they are counting stair steps) but it really does make tunneling more of a challenge as well as more expensive.

    1. The round “tubes” are probably the origin of the round icon symbol, and why London riders call it the “tube”.

  5. Have to check back, Sam, but feedback’s the same: 100% positive. Like they put it in New York and other places that not only have heavy-duty transit but also massive ethnic extraction who always answer a question with a question:

    “Nu, so what’s NOT to like about collecting fares where they don’t hold up service, or distract police attention from crimes, like for instance in a tax, which incidentally is different from “Free?” In Yiddish, which you can figure out if you know German, “Nu” does not mean “new”, but “WELLLLLLL!?”

    Hate to break this to you, Sam, but you’re not the most obnoxious proponent of fare- rigor. To about same percentage of voters and commenters who lost both the last Presidential election and the Civil War but took power anyhow, real purpose of fares is reliably credible threat to have uniformed enforcement throw somebody off the bus.

    About like happened to some documented US citizens held for hours of questioning at Blaine the other night. Based on whatever fires up the Base (which in our Founders’ time meant “low in the social scale”, and hence ‘reprehensibly cowardly, selfish, or mean”…)

    Main purpose of a cash fare is to flush out the inner homeless person whose main attribute is lurking in society ’till they get missed by a prohibition on voting. But coming from a culture that values curiosity, would like to see you take a few weeks on a public-finance survey of your own.

    A lot of us are really getting sick and tired of paying to get other people’s sewage out of their own borax-free bathrooms. Mechanism has long existed to limit toilet-flushing based on deposit of coins. But now that credit cards are being replaced by smart-phones and apps, should be easy “ask” to take the load (sorry) off the rest of us.

    So while you’re waiting for somebody official to close their coffin on hours of overwork by getting lynched by the mob waiting 27 minutes under your hanging bicycle, start asking people at random how they feel about liberals always forcing them to carry loads that aren’t provably theirs?

    STB, give Sam a column.


    1. I just thought it would be interesting to read a straightforward, in-person account of how the IT’s fare-free program is going from someone who lives in Olympia. Not how you guess it’s going. Not your esoteric musings on society and transit. I wanted to read a first hand report of your experience, with interviews of drivers and passengers.

      1. 2016 Election coverage – will never forget Public Radio people wailing like little children as results contradicted their predictions- gave me life-long proof of interviews versus observations based on experience. Especially the way stone quarry crew and landscapers viewed the world, mandating approaches from my side more likely to lose than gain their votes.

        Granted my calculator tells me it’s been 25 years since my thirteen years of hands-on (literally) bus driving came to an end. Truth to tell, like everything else in real life, highway, bridge, or especially tunnel, participation in the working world really is pretty much a series of guesses. Fact I only scratched a panel and knocked over a safety cord shows I guess pretty good.

        Through an eight hour shift at the wheel of a sixty foot bus, musing goes with the job, including maximum likely speed to keep your poles on the line at ten mile long series of curves and intersections. Also, best possible circumstances for gathering precisely the information you’re demanding.

        Little contest. Both of us ride, observe, and analyze passengers aboard same bus. And observe which one of our analytical modes leaves us an empty bus to analyze first. Though yours could give you advantage of having a transit policeman to speak with first.


  6. The long lasting success of the London Underground identity and style guide seems to be more a happy accident because it appears to have been designed in-house. I can’t think of modern work like this that could be as iconic and successful with in-house government staff.

    These days this is the kind of challenge that should go to professional designers who work to build such a lasting style and brand. I never realized how much work goes into this until I started working for a creative company in an administrative role. Making something similarly lasting and iconic is a high bar.

    1. I was actually inspired by the drawings from the early system. Drawings have visual impact that photos do not.

      It’s also note that talented graphic artists were probably paid better 100 years ago and that they did drawings and typefaces by hand (true to about 30-35 years ago). Applying a font required making stencils or printing plates to be filled in — not an easy task. It was harder work than it is today and it paid better.

    2. The long lasting success of the London Underground identity and style guide seems to be more a happy accident because it appears to have been designed in-house. I can’t think of modern work like this that could be as iconic and successful with in-house government staff.

      That is because it probably wouldn’t be done in-house. It would probably be farmed out to some third party private company, and they would come up with something boring, but in keeping with the latest styles.

    3. Well, there’s an egregious bit of anti-government slagging. Government employee = boring, uncreative drone.

      And you followed it up with a masterful humble brag. Thanks for enlightening the great unwashed here at STB.

  7. Remark of mine about the Australian prime minister really belongs aimed at the Chief of State I voted against, though two officials seem to share each other’s view of refugees.

    Having done, and much enjoyed stone quarrying in Maryland and awhile in the Skagit Mountains (open pit, not underground) I think Presidential candidate I voted for blew the election when she admonished coal miners in a scolding tone to get used to the fact they were going to lose their jobs.

    Too bad she didn’t have her staff find her the platform or cab of a working wind turbine to announce the truth that since wind and solar are now cheaper than coal and oil, main thrust of her Administration would be massive Federal program she could’ve called “Sky Mining.”

    Politically right now, our class-stratified society leaves working people feeling accurately that at least one party shares their hates, making it more attractive than the other one who shares nothing of theirs at all.

    Mark Dublin

  8. Though being a miner, Mark, you should know the difference between the Cascade Mountains and the Skagit Valley. Really has been awhile.


  9. Is there indeed all-door boarding on all routes along Third Avenue downtown? I took the bus there this weekend for the first time in a loooong time (been out of town). I saw readers at the stops. I saw a tiny little blue Orca card sticker attached to the sign that has the list of bus routes serving the stop, at the end of the list. I didn’t see any sign stating “All Door Boarding.” So, is there? And, if so, how is anyone supposed to know about it?

    1. Yes, it’s all-door boarding on 3rd Avenue on all routes, at least in central downtown. I’m not sure if it goes all the way north to Denny Way. If there’s an ORCA reader, use it. If there’s not, there should be a human with a hand scanner according to Metro’s announcements, although I’ve never seen one. If there’s neither, you’ll have to visit the driver up front.

    2. Sometimes the driver forgets to open the rear doors, so be prepared to run up front so you don’t get left behind. That used to happen the first several months although I haven’t encountered it recently.

  10. If there was only 1 homeless person in the city of Seattle, would the housing shortage in Seattle be 1?

    1. No, 3. Another person would be paying more than 33% of their income on housing, and a third person would be living with their parents or sleeping on somebody’s sofa because they can’t afford their own place.

  11. Have always been curious about the rounded rooflines of some of the London cars.

    Could reason be that the designers decided that that shape enclosed all the space the car needed inside its roof, without having to bother with corners where walls met ceilings?

    Since they long predated the space, or even the aircraft program, no need to imitate jets or rockets. Anybody know the facts?


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