The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is North America’s largest public transportation system; every day, over 8.5 million passengers take a subway, bus, or train across the five boroughs of New York City. Nearly 400 different routes transverse the urban metropolis, taking residents and tourists from Times Square to JFK, Harlem to Dumbo, and Wall Street to Staten Island.
The MTA and it’s activity reflects that of its inhabitants- rarely resting and ‘on’ for twenty-four hours of the day, seven days of the week. The map of activity also reflects the very shape of the city, defining the contours of the boroughs by its various routes. YouTube user STLTransit recently created a video that visualizes 24 hours of activity on the MTA:
The video begins at 4am, where random dots move about the screen in what seems to be a haphazard fashion. But as the day progresses, activity increases and the randomized dots change to defined patterns. The shape of Manhattan becomes visible as the MTA reaches peak activity, and then disappears again in disarray as the city passes rush hour and moves into late-night hours. The video invites viewers to experience the pulse of the city throughout the day while also giving viewers a better idea of the scope of the transit system- in both ridership numbers and available routes.
And while it’s evident in the film that the MTA is far reaching, the video also shows the gaps in service and underserved areas. In contrast to the film, another very different project lets the viewer create their own ideal transportation system for New York. Commute by Bobby Genalo and Alberto Brizio of PlaySomething is a piece of functional art that uses wooden dowels to represent train stations and colorful rope to represent routes.
Users are invited to interact with the art, placing the dowels and rope in routes of their choice across the five boroughs, effectively using their creativity to ‘redesign’ the public transportation system. While users could design a system similar to the current MTA map, the designers behind Commute see the art as a helpful ideation tool:
We like to think of it as an ageless work of art — one that can help people of all ages to discover their inner problem solver and provide a jumping off point for constructive day dreaming.
Watch as the neatly defined paths of the MTA get redefined in Commute below:
How would you redesign MTA routes?