Marie Singleton, a seven-year resident of Lithonia, GA, volunteers her time nearly every day at Lithonia city hall. She works directly with Lithonia Mayor Deborah Jackson and Jackson’s two – yes, two – person staff, filling, needless to say, a huge void. So when the Mayor received an email about ioby’s Trick Out My Trip campaign, she naturally passed the challenge on to Singleton, who moved quickly to bring on several volunteer partners. They knew they couldn’t pass up the chance to improve their transit system through matched community donations – but where to even begin? “We need a lot,” says Singleton.
Singleton and her team decided to start with the most trafficked, and highest-visibility, points in their transit system, setting their sights on four main bus stops right in downtown Lithonia – all of them rundown and in need of repair, some needing new shelters entirely. By the end of October, Singleton hopes to see all four bus stops outfitted with the new benches, new side panels, and new shelters they need. The team is currently researching companies that manufacture bus shelters, and trying to decide which will best suit their needs.
So yes, the city needs a lot, but Singleton believes that if they start in downtown – for now – she and her team will have a great impact. “We start where the residents come to, and we start where the visitors come. When they pass through our downtown, when they see change, when they see movement, it’s gonna start challenging that view that people have of Lithonia.”
No small feat, that. Singleton says that Lithonia is plagued by an image it doesn’t need to keep. “We have to come up with a way to renew the identity of the city, and to get rid of the bad image. High crime rates, low income residential, stressed neighborhoods, bad schools – I mean, there is negative urban stigma that you find in Lithonia, and it doesn’t have to be like that. So all these small projects that we start are to make positive change, and to get people involved, get them excited about the potential that the city has.”
“We have to come up with a way to renew the identity of the city, and to get rid of the bad image. High crime rates, low income residential, stressed neighborhoods, bad schools – I mean, there is negative urban stigma that you find in Lithonia, and it doesn’t have to be like that. So all these small projects that we start are to make positive change, and to get people involved, get them excited about the potential that the city has.”
As icing on the cake, Singleton and her team plan to use the new bus shelters as blank canvasses on which they’ll post interesting factoids about Lithonia. She’s had a blast learning about the town’s history through her volunteer work, and she wants others to have that same opportunity, to feel that same pride.
“The community has to pitch in,” she says. “We need involvement. But people want to see things happen before they get involved. So for this ioby project, by putting the benches in the bus shelter, they will see the care, they will see that effort is taking place. They will see the concern from the city, and through this project I hope to get more people involved.”
Bringing the public transportation system up to speed is an important part of the effort to show Lithonians that their city cares, that it’s investing in a brighter future, and that they should feel good about following suit. “One person at a time, one project at a time,” says Singleton – a woman after ioby’s own heart.
See All Trick Out My Trip Campaigns
The ioby Trick Out My Trip opportunity is funded by Transit Center.
Last year, something big happened for public transit in America. In 2013, a whopping 10.7 billion rides were taken on US transit. An impressive record high, the number reveals that the trend we’ve all seen in action – Americans, especially millennials, setting their sights on walkable, bikeable, train- and bus-able towns and cities – is a very real one, and could completely change the face of American transportation.
The news couldn’t be better. With climate change breathing down our necks, and study after study reporting that access to good public transit makes people both happier and healthier, America needs to get with the program. Sure, New Yorkers might have a million great – if loud, slow, crowded and smelly – transit options, but they enjoy nearly 50% of all US public transit rides, while much of the rest of the country gets the short straw. We all need the option to ditch our cars, and to become a country that walks, bikes, hops on the train.
“Overall for the transit industry,” says Transit Center research and development director Shin-Pei Tsay, “for all the transit agencies, all the operators, all the people who provide services and infrastructure and construction, I think overall they’re just really excited, because on the wholesale level, there’s finally public demand for transit services.”
But despite all the buzz about the increasing demand for public transit, says Tsay, “little has changed in the industry.” That’s because most of the big changes we need to see are bound to come very, very slowly. Projects like laying down new track, redesigning streets and intersections, and adding trains and busses to existing lines will be hugely expensive, and they’ll be forever in the making. Plus, some will also be disruptive for locals. Case in point: New York’s always-and-forever pending 2nd Ave subway line, with all the incredible noise and mess it’s brought to NYC’s east side.
Here’s the game-changer, though. We don’t have to wait. There are so many other ways – vastly cheaper, quicker, easier, and more creative ways – for us all to start making American public transit as safe and comfortable as it should be. Turning a single decrepit Memphis bus shelter into a celebration of Soulsville musical heritage, for example, can help to enliven an entire neighborhood. Introducing a public art installation at a neglected intersection can help people envision the space as full of possibility. Simply putting up a colorful, hand-painted sign at a metro stop, to let riders know it’s only a fifteen-minute walk to the park, can reinvigorate daily routines. These are projects that transit authorities would see as being outside of their wheelhouse, and would never tackle. And they’re exactly the types of projects we the riders, we the walkers and cyclists, can get started on right now.
This fall, ioby has sponsored ten such projects as part of its Trick Out My Trip transit campaign. The ten ioby team Leaders are community organizers, cycling advocates, transit authority staffers and volunteers, software programmers, artists and involved citizens, and they come from all over the country – Los Angeles, Seattle, Memphis, Louisville, Atlanta, Denver, Lithonia, and Brooklyn. Each of them has an innovative idea about how to quickly improve transit in his or her city, and – with funds raised through ioby, then matched by Transit Center – they’ll each complete a test run between now and Thanksgiving.
As researchers pay closer and closer attention to the psychology of public transit, studies have shown that the sorts of projects these ten ioby Leaders will be completing can have a very concrete impact on riders’ satisfaction. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have found, for example, that basic amenities at bus stops – shelters, benches, clear and accurate schedules – make people’s wait times feel significantly shorter. And that may be far more important than we’ve previously assumed. As Transit Center’s 2014 Who’s On Board study reported, “Transit is personal. Unlike the sewer systems, the power grid, and telecommunications infrastructure, transit can evoke pride, frustration, and even fear. It can shape our most personal decisions about where we live and work.”
“It’s super exciting,” says Tsay of partnering with ioby on Trick Out My Trip. “I love seeing ideas from people who are everyday transit riders. Change can’t happen without them. Seeing that there’s interest in the communities means that there’s a growing contingency who might really think about transit in a different way and put pressure on their transit agencies and on their elected officially to think about transit differently, and I think all of that really makes a big difference in the long run.”
Stay Tuned! This blog is the first in a series this week!
- Walk This Way, LA
- Sprucing up the Sketchy 4th & 9th Street Station
- Walk Denver
- Play Stations in the North Side of Denver
- Bus Stop Love
- Better Transit for a Better City Image
- Eco Louisville Bus Shelter
- Self Service Bike Repair and Bus Timetables in Atlanta