Tag Archives: trip

Awesome Project: Free community book swaps at Seattle transit hubs

Kristina’s throwing in her copy of Cloud Atlas. Alex is going to donate his copy of Tipping Point. Another teammate is adding (meditatively?) Siddhartha to the stack. But these are just the first few in what they hope will become a very, very large pool of titles, because what Kristina Krause and her justifiably fired-up team leading this ioby campaign really want is all the books. That’s right. They’ve got big ideas about how to make Seattle’s public transportation system more inspiring, and they need all the books you’ve got lying around at home. You won’t get your own books back, but you will have the pleasure of knowing you’ve turned someone else’s mind-numbing commute into a journey of literary discovery. And they just might do the same for you.


Here’s how it’ll work. On November 21st, Kristina and her team – a group of public transit and library enthusiasts who regularly brainstorm over Facebook – will, at ten public transit hubs in Seattle, set up drop boxes for books: a free, communal library of sorts. While you wait to catch your bus to work, see if anything in the box catches your eye. If you do spy a tempting title, just enter your name into the logbook, and it’s yours for as long as you want it. Take the book home if you like, and drop it back in circulation anytime, at any of the drop points, along with whatever else you might want to contribute from your own personal library.

It’s an idea that’s already taken flight at Cape Town’s airport: the FlyBrary, which has been up and running, steadily gaining popularity, and completely sustaining itself, for 4 months now. Could book sharing be the next frontier in inspirational transit?

To be clear, Seattle’s not short on readers or on books; it’s been ranked the second most literate city in America for four years running, and Alex Epstein, one of Krause’s ioby teammates, says that many of his fellow public transit commuters already read to pass the time. But there’s something just that extra bit comforting, that extra bit exciting, about selecting your reading material from a collective pool – being a part of the community in that way. “It’s also being a part of the Seattle cultural brand,” says Epstein, who wants to see Seattle become the first city with a public transit-driven free community library.

“We need to save our transit system,” says Epstein. “A lot of people use it, but not enough. You have to wait for half an hour for your bus, and then it’s a bumpy ride. We need to make it more entertaining.” It doesn’t seem so hard to imagine that if ridership and general enthusiasm went up, the city might feel more confident about investing in and reviving the infrastructure itself.


The team is working with local artists and welders to create free-standing book boxes, which will look similar to the ubiquitous newspaper machine, only beautiful! And no two will be alike. Someone’s old file cabinet, for example, has been earmarked for repurposing as one of the initial ten book boxes.

Better yet, the book boxes will serve as community bulletin boards, too, where Seattle’s public library might advertise, say, a lecture with Cornell West, or a “lunchtime story” event. Epstein says the team wants to make more accessible the sorts of “thought leaders that people might not even know about, if they don’t visit the library.” To ensure that they reach Seattle residents of all socioeconomic backgrounds, the team has mapped out their initial 10 sites with diversity and traffic density in mind. They want to bring library services to new audiences. Free books, free advertising for libraries, and a – dare we say it – fun commute? What could be more Seattle than that, and what could be better?

And speaking of new audiences, the team wants kids on board, too. “We just want all the books,” says Epstein. “We’ve been thinking about how exciting it would be to have kids books. That’s so hard as a parent – taking kids on trains. That would be a beautiful gift to parents.”


Donate to this campaign

See All Trick Out My Trip Campaigns

The ioby Trick Out My Trip opportunity is funded by Transit Center.


AWESOME PROJECT: Walk this way, L.A.

It’s a sad fact that L.A. is designed for cars, yes, and that for a long time it’s been dominated by car culture. But the idea that it’s impossible to walk anywhere in L.A. is not one Angelinos have to subscribe to, and the folks over at pedestrian advocacy group Los Angeles Walks have plenty to say on the matter.

“So it’s actually an urban legend that people don’t walk here.”

“There’s actually a very large public transit-dependent population here,” says LA Walks staffer Colleen Corcoran. “So it’s actually an urban legend that people don’t walk here.” The problem is that even transit-dependent neighborhoods aren’t pedestrian-friendly. There’s a serious, city-wide lack of crosswalks, for starters, so that pedestrians are forced to walk far out of their way or dart across unsafe roads. There’s also a big “first mile/last mile” problem keeping people in their cars; there may be a transit hub a mile or two away, but people simply don’t feel safe walking it, or don’t realize how manageable that distance really is.

LA Walks_group shot in crosswalk_Oct14

But maybe some of the biggest barriers between Angelinos and their nearest transit station are just psychological. Maybe if people were invited to experiment with walking, and provided wayfinding signage that stated exactly how many minutes away their destinations were, we’d see more feet hitting the pavement, more riders on the trains and busses. After all, signs work. Ever been confronted by a sign nudging you to “take the stairs, not the elevator: burn calories, not electricity” and found yourself actually heading for the staircase? In theory, signs may seem bossy, but in practice, they’re usually helpful – even comforting. Someone wants to help you choose, help you stay safe, help you find your way.

Corcoran and her team leading their ioby campaign plan to discover if very good signage can get Angelinos walking. Over the next year, they’ll work with two local artists to design10-20 signs in a hand-painted aesthetic, and install them around L.A.’s Leimert Park. The exact signage locations will be informed by a community mapping exercise. Their goal is to get people oriented through a pedestrian’s eyes, and to show them how easy it is to walk from transit stations to various points of interest in the Leimert area.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 10.00.55 AM

“The important thing with this type of signage,” says Corcoran, “is to show how many minutes it takes to walk somewhere, because a lot of people just don’t understand how long it takes to walk certain distances. So they’re like ‘oh my god, I’d have to walk a mile.’ But it’s only 15 minutes. Especially here, where the weather’s nice pretty much every day. People just don’t connect the dots. Their perception of the distance is more than it actually is.”

“Their perception of the distance is more than it actually is.”


Angelinos also may not realize how much time they spend trying to park their cars in congested areas, and that to walk a mile, two miles might often take much less time. But a shift may be happening; more and more young people are moving into transit-accessible downtown, and into areas near the newer rail lines, such as the arts district. “I think it is slowly changing,” says Corcoran, of LA’s well-documented history of horrendous traffic and overbearing car culture. “I think younger people here are less likely to drive. People are really burned out on the fact that they have to sit in traffic. They’re choosing to live in places that are more transit accessible or easier to bike to and from.”



Donate to this campaign

See All Trick Out My Trip Campaigns

The ioby Trick Out My Trip opportunity is funded by Transit Center.


AWESOME PROJECT: Walking to dinner and beyond in Denver, CO

Jill Locantore, policy and program director at pedestrian advocacy group WalkDenver, has a background in psychology. So her approach to making Denver a more pedestrian-friendly city is founded in a deep understanding of common misperceptions about the factors that shape human behavior.

north 1

“Typically we like to think of ourselves as very rational people who go through a deliberative process leading up to each of our decisions, and that’s not necessarily the case,” says Locantore. You’d think that in choosing their transit options, people would draw up some arithmetic, factoring in environmental impacts, health impacts, and cost impacts, and let the rational outcome dictate whether they walk, take the train, or drive. But Locantore knows all too well that that’s just not how people work.

“People more just respond to the environment that they’re in,” she says, “and what is the environment inviting them to do? Right now, in most of our communities, the loud and clear invitation is ‘PLEASE DRIVE!’” What we need to do, says Locantore, is shift the calculus so that our environments invite us to walk instead, to take the bus instead, to bike instead. “People are going to respond to that, even on a subconscious level,” she believes.

“People more just respond to the environment that they’re in,” she says, “and what is the environment inviting them to do? Right now, in most of our communities, the loud and clear invitation is ‘PLEASE DRIVE!’”

To that end, she’s taking on ioby’s Trick Out My Trip challenge, and working with her team to tackle a stubbornly pedestrian-UNfriendly section of Denver’s Federal Boulevard – the area around 25th Street. Back at the start of the 20th century, when the area was a streetcar suburb, Federal Boulevard was where streetcars came through. When Denver’s streetcars died out, that section of Federal Boulevard became an ugly, mammoth highway, and the business district in the neighborhood declined. Those shops and commercial buildings remained empty until just recently; in 2012, Walk Denver held a “better block party,” to temporarily demonstrate what it would be like if the area could be reanimated. The event was a huge success, and the area’s commercial buildings quickly filled up for the first time in decades. Now, on the east side of Federal and 25th, you’ll find a brand new coffee shop, a pizza parlor, an Italian restaurant under construction and set to open soon, a boutique men’s clothing store, and a Crossfit gym.

south 12

Almost impossible to believe, then, that there is still no crosswalk to connect people living in the residential community just on the other side of Federal Boulevard with the burgeoning business district.

“For so long Federal Boulevard has been this psychological barrier in people’s minds, and not someplace they could actually walk across,” Locantore says. The big lesson, it seems, as with so many of the Trick Out My Trip projects, is: stuff’s not that far apart! It doesn’t take that long! You can walk it – really! Even in a car-heavy culture like Denver’s, opening up new paths and getting people to try walking, says Locantore, can quickly open their eyes. “Once they start trying it, they realize that it can actually be really pleasant, it can save them money, it allows them to integrate healthy activities and exercise into their daily lives.”

In fact, Locantore has noticed word spreading right before her eyes: “I see people kind of going though conversions, where they’re like, ‘I don’t know why I never thought of this before – walking! Such a great thing to do!’ And then they kind of become evangelists and tell other people.” Her own neighbor went through that conversion. Locantore and her husband never talked to her about their car-free lifestyle, but she pretty quickly went car-free herself, and never looked back. “I think she just watched us, and saw how it wasn’t a burden, and that we were able to live full and active lives and do all the things she did without a car,” says Locantore.

The first step will be to hold an interactive mapping exercise in the community; Locantore and her teammates will gather community leaders, and brainstorm about where along the Boulevard a new walking path could be most useful. “We definitely want the community to be the owner of this project,” she says, “and for the project to be a reflection of the community’s vision. That increases the likelihood that people will actually take advantage of the path.” It’s safe at this stage to name at least three destinations that the new path will almost definitely link up: Denver’s Broncos stadium, the new business district, and a nearby Safeway.


Once a path is decided on, they’ll mark it through intentional, awareness-raising methods – making improvements at intersections along the way, installing public art and wayfinding signs. They’ll also, in partnership with Walk2Connect, hold a series of neighborhood field trips tailored to different demographics: one for families with kids, one for young people who might want to bar hop.

Finally, the team will hold a celebratory “walk to dinner” event, gathering locals to walk together to a nearby restaurant. Who knows, if you join up and walk to dinner, you discover a new favorite restaurant, making new friends along the way. Talk about inviting people to walk.



Donate to this campaignSee All Trick Out My Trip CampaignsThe ioby Trick Out My Trip opportunity is funded by Transit Center.


AWESOME PROJECT: Better Transit for a Better City Image

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.

Lithonia_Headshot of Marie_Oct14

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.”

Lithonia Bus Stop 2

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.


Donate to this campaign

See All Trick Out My Trip Campaigns

The ioby Trick Out My Trip opportunity is funded by Transit Center.


AWESOME PROJECTS: Self-serve bike repair kiosks and bus schedule scan codes in Atlanta

Atlanta’s cycling community is positively booming right now. What with a city-wide bike share program slated to launch this Spring, a fancy new condo building suddenly using its own private bike share program as a selling point to draw buyers, and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition (ABC) drawing new members into the community every day through awesome-sounding safety training classes (eg. “Confident City Cycling Class: Come grab some brunch and learn more about crash avoidance, lane positioning, and more”), there’s no denying it. Hotlanta is getting way into bikes.


Even Saba Long, an ABC board member who also does freelance communications work for MARTA, Atlanta’s transit authority, has been shocked by how high the numbers are. “The conversation around cycling has really shifted in the past three or four years,” says Long.

So when she learned about the Trick Out Your Trip campaign, Long took it as a challenge to find some way to make the city more open to cyclists, and to strengthen the relationship between the cycling community and MARTA. “The cyclist community is a natural ally,” says Long. “These are folks who are most likely to use our system. So we recognize that it’s a community that we need to have a great relationship with. We know there are going to be more people cycling, and from MARTA’s standpoint, those are folks who are pro-transit. We want to pull them into the fold and let them know that hey, we know that you are part of the conversation of shifting away from vehicles and into alternative transportation.”

“We know there are going to be more people cycling, and from MARTA’s standpoint, those are folks who are pro-transit. We want to pull them into the fold and let them know that hey, we know that you are part of the conversation of shifting away from vehicles and into alternative transportation.”

It turns out that one thing the Atlanta cycling community needs is more stations where they can pump up tires, tighten loose parts, and make other repairs, so Long and her team leading their ioby campaign are preparing to bring several repair kiosks online in the next few months. All of them will be situated at high-traffic transit hubs, inviting people to bike to and from the bus. Already there are three such kiosks set up in the Community Improvement District. Long has visited them and reports that they’re being used and maintained by the community – cyclists are taking good care of the new resource.

Because MARTA isn’t an extensive transit system, many Atlanta residents live in suburbs of parts of town that have previously felt too far from any station to make public transit a feasible option. Long hopes that the new trend toward cycling will change that. “We think these folks in particular, if we can get them to cycle to the bus stop or train station, it will open up a transportation option they may not have recognized before,” she says.

Also cooking in Atlanta is another, much more high-tech project, this one led by engineer and software designer Binh Dam. Having moved from Paris, where arrival times are listed electronically on big screens, Dam was disappointed by the lack of scheduling information at Atlanta bus stops, most of which are nothing more than a pole and a sign that reads “MARTA.” So Dam decided to take matters into his own hands, and create a scan code for users with smart phones. The concept couldn’t be more simple – just scan the image with your phone, and up pops an accurate timetable.


By end of Nov, 15 bus stops in midtown and downtown Atlanta should be outfitted with both hard copy schedules (many stations don’t even offer that much, currently) and scan code stations.

“There’s a lot of work that could be done,” says Dam, but Atlanta residents are showing more and more interest in improving – and using! – their beleaguered public transit system. “I think the conditions are more favorable for transit to improve,” says Dam. The reasons? Dam points to: “public opinion, demographics, people moving more to the inner city, and of course issues with traffic.”

Dam believes that the new schedules and scan codes – the clarity they provide – will not only make life easier for current riders, but also draw in potential new riders. And when they do, he’ll be tracking the data. It’s a huge boon to be able to track usership in real time, and so accurately. He’ll know right away whether the service is being taken advantage of, and whether the program is worth expanding.


Donate to MARTA Bikes

Donate to Timely Trip

See All Trick Out My Trip Campaigns

The ioby Trick Out My Trip opportunity is funded by Transit Center.


AWESOME PROJECT: Play Stations at North Side Denver Bus Stops

It’s a cliché, yes, but can we all agree that time really does fly when you’re having fun? When ten minutes feels like sixty years, in kid-time, it’s enough to make any kid want to just stay home from school or soccer practice. Considering that a daily wait for a bus could stretch anywhere from ten minutes to an hour,. lots of kids in Denver’s North Side neighborhoods could use a little fun to pass the time.

Enter PLAY Denver, an organization founded by a group of North High School students who know firsthand that play  is one of the best stress-relievers available to kids, and especially to those living in poverty. They’re long out of high school, but they’re still on a mission to spread joy through play and activity. “Never underestimate the power of joy in changing a life,” goes their motto.

 “Never underestimate the power of joy in changing a life,” goes their motto.

So while many Americans seem resigned to the idea that public transportation has to be joyless – especially for those living in poverty – they’re singing quite a different tune over at PLAY Denver. Undaunted by the fact that most bus stops in their neighborhood are rundown and surrounded by drab concrete, they’re out to make the wait for the bus just a little better – by installing mini playgrounds. They’re hoping to make it to 15 bus stops by summer 2015, leaving a path of hopscotch grids, fun message boards, verdant planters, Tic-tac-toe and other stationary games in their friendly wake.

photo (3)

“At Play Denver, one of our big goals is to use underutilized spaces for play for children, and one of the things we’ve been observing in our neighborhood is that a lot of kids spend an extreme amount of time waiting at bus stops, and they’re so ugly and dreary,” says co-founder Ariel Smith. “And so we thought this is a great opportunity to promote play and wellness at bus stops. We figured that we could use it as an opportunity to inject some fun and joy into children’s lives while they’re sitting there waiting.”

In addition to creating hopscotch grids and installing stationary games, the team plans to repaint bus shelters in bright, cheerful colors (remaining intentional, as always, about the effects that some colors can have in particular neighborhoods, because of potential gang affiliation), and renovate benches where possible.

play denver

Even more importantly, though, the team is calling on local kids themselves to serve as consultants on the projects. At Play Denver, that’s protocol; when the nonprofit recently created a bike path in the area, they did the same. A boy named Jared helped design that path, and even cut the ribbon when it was unveiled. “Whenever we hold events, kids of all ages come and really give their input,” says Smith, “and that’s really exciting.”


See All Trick Out My Trip Campaigns

The ioby Trick Out My Trip opportunity is funded by Transit Center.


AWESOME PROJECT: Crowd-Resourcing for an Eco Louisville Bus Shelter

Fun fact: in 1906, residents of Louisville’s Shelby Park neighborhood each chipped in $2 to purchase land for a neighborhood library. That building still stands today – residents know it as their Shelby Park Community Center.

It was a perfect execution of crowd-resourcing, way ahead of its time, and Mark Noll, project coordinator at Louisville Metro Government, thinks it’s time to try it again. “We won’t be able to purchase any land with $2 donations today,” admits Noll, “but we could get a pretty cool bus stop!” And that happens to be just what the neighborhood needs right now.

Today’s Louisville, Kentucky, is not known for it’s public transportation system. In fact, most Louisville bus stops are nothing more than a pole and a dinky sign. Not exactly inviting – especially with temperatures up in the 90s during summer – and ridership numbers reflect the fact that the system is run down. But change may be on the horizon: by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, Louisville residents will have two brand spanking new bus shelters to be very thankful for.

Louisville TransporStation_Bus Stop Rendering_Oct14

That’s thanks to Noll, whose background is in urban planning, and who, when he learned about ioby’s Trick Out My Trip campaign, was all over it. “I see the potential of so many neighborhoods that just need a little investment, love, energy, a little sweat equity,” says Noll. “I really think we can turn around a lot of our urban neighborhoods.”

Noll and his teammates are the right guys for the job; two of them work in the Mayor’s office, on the innovation deliveries team, and the third is in the Louisville office of sustainability. Naturally, then, the designs for two new shelters they’re envisioning will be both cutting-edge and green, and inspiration is coming from an unlikely place: the city’s rubbish bin. At least half of the raw materials for the new shelters will be sourced from a bike parts graveyard of sorts, over at Bicycling for Louisville, and from the warehouse scrap pile over at First Build, a community of makers who design and prototype everything from benches to tables to robots. “We’re trying to use salvaged materials wherever possible,” says Noll. That cuts costs as well as the city’s carbon footprint.

I see the potential of so many neighborhoods that just need a little investment, love, energy, a little sweat equity,” says Noll. “I really think we can turn around a lot of our urban neighborhoods.”

On board with Noll and his team are local non-profit and advocacy group Bicycling for Louisville, Shelby Park Neighborhood Association, and sustainability-focused architecture firm Luckett and Farley. The three are in talks now to decide on their designs, so it’s going to be a quick and energetic turnover, and it sounds as though Louisville residents have a real treat in store.

Here’s what the team has decided already: “We want to turn them into places, destinations, gateways for the neighborhoods and gathering places,” says Noll, “almost urban living rooms, so it’s not just a bus stop. It’s a place where people socialize.” To that end, the team will install comfortable benches and big maps to help people situate themselves. Doesn’t being oriented make the trip feel shorter, after all? The team is planning to use LOTS of vibrant color throughout, to brighten up the drab concrete corners. They’ll also keep an eye out for the needs of bicyclists who have previously had no place to rest or park their bikes while they wait. On the team’s wishlist – for down the road – is a bike repair station.

Louisville TransporStation_group photo_Oct14

The hope, as the team culls through various design possibilities right now, is that each of the two shelters will in some way reflect the culture of the neighborhood they serve – Shelby Park and SOBRO residents, get out your neighborhood pride!

“I think a lot of the time people may not be able to orient themselves and realize, ‘hey, there’s this really cool park three minutes’ walk down the street.’ So we want to draw attention to those neighborhood assets,” says Noll. Man, have we all been stuck in cars for a really long time, or something? Seems no one knows anymore how close and accessible our cities’ treasures really are to us.

To celebrate the completion of the two new bus shelters, and to make sure everyone’s got them well on their brainmaps, Noll and his team are planning a party on wheels. After biking (festively!) from one new bus shelter to the other, residents will land at a local bar and drink to the urban revival taking place right in their own backyards.

But that’s only the beginning. “We want this to be replicable,” says Noll. “We’re trying to do this on the cheap, and something that other neighborhoods can see and say ‘hey, we’d like to have something like that.’”

Donate to this campaign

See All Trick Out My Trip Campaigns

The ioby Trick Out My Trip opportunity is funded by Transit Center.


AWESOME PROJECT: Sprucing up Brooklyn’s totally sketchy 4th Ave and 9th Street subway stop

Brooklyn’s trendy Park Slope, Boerum Hill, and Gowanus neighborhoods, as any New York realtor will tell you, couldn’t be hotter right now – but smack in between these three lies a swath of Brooklyn that’s been, for some time, a bit of an industrial wasteland: 4th Avenue. It’s almost impossible to believe, given the prices brownstones are drawing less that a quarter mile away in any direction, but this largely neglected stretch of the highway is still pocked by empty warehouses and defunct garages. So while a few isolated luxe high rises have gone up on 4th in recent years, the area still lacks – relative to the rest of booming Brooklyn – the comforts of home. Small shops, walkable streets, trees. That Brooklyn feeling everyone wants a piece of.

4th and Ninth_Grace and Amy plant on 4th Ave_Spring14

Local Grace Freedman and her 4th avenue community organizing comrades are done waiting for the area to pick itself up; they’re stepping in and giving it a boost. Working with Park Slope Civic Council committee Forth on Fourth (FOFA), as well as partners such as Park Slope Neighbors, they insist that the stretch of 4th Avenue is not a highway, but a neighborhood in its own right. A longtime homeowner on the Boerum Hill side of 4th Avenue, Freedman volunteers huge amounts of her time and energy toward greening and bettering the underappreciated neighborhood. Most recently, she was part of an effort to plant 50 trees along 4th Ave, and to bring her neighbors and local officials on board to help care for them – fostering both pride and community involvement, her bread and butter.

Now the team’s setting its sights on 4th avenue’s undeniably sketchy transit hub: a mammoth subway station at 9th street, in Park Slope, that despite being above ground manages to feel darker, more dismal, and less safe than many of its deep-underground MTA cousins. It’s been under renovation for a decade; the MTA has been at work – in fits and starts – constructing a much-needed pedestrian overpass, as well as shoring up the tracks themselves, for safety.

So the station must be safer now, technically speaking, as the MTA project begins to wrap up. The only problem is that you’d never know it to look at the place. The huge overhang – under which riders are coldly dumped out – still creates a cavernous dark space that even on sunny days makes you feel like it’s night, and cars zoom by just outside. Nothing has been done, in other words, to the make the face of the station any less sketchy. Freedman still won’t let her teenage daughter go near it alone, which speaks volumes.

4av9thst_before photo_Oct14

Stop by 4th and 9th on Friday, November 21st, though, and you should have a very different transit experience. Freedman and her team have plans to declaw the ominous overhand by carting in a truckload of lighting, and to introduce some public art installations created by members of Arts Gowanus, a neighbor organization that connects the many artists who have made their creative homes in the old warehouses and studios around the Gowanus canal. The installation will also be a rack of reading material on nearby businesses, as well as colorful wayfinding signs. “It’s like a labyrinth in there,” says Freedman.

It’s been difficult getting the time- and money-strapped MTA to start a real conversation with the community about the status of the renovation project. “We’ve talked to local community members and politicians who are asking, ‘What state will the station be in when they are finished?’ There is a real concern that the street-level experience will not change very much and that there is no plan for better lighting, way-finding or amenities like benches or bike racks,” Freedman explains. “As a community, we are saying ‘We want more – a better experience for 13,000 riders a day.’ Livable streets amenities could be added at a fraction of the cost but would make it so much better and safer. Ultimately it could encourage people not to always drive, and to see that subway station as a really viable resource and a vital community center.”

4th and Ninth_Planting on 4th Avenue_Spring14

Another goal of the installation will be to draw new businesses to the station’s street level, which is currently plagued by about five empty retail lots.

“We love that the MTA has included some retail spaces in the renovation, but it seems like they haven’t had that much luck renting. Maybe that’s because the station is kind of dark and dismal,” points out Freedman. “We would love if our pop-up installation to inspire some local businesses to see the space differently and inquire about renting. We also have reached out to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce for their advice on how to advertise the spaces.”

It all makes sense: if the space were a little brighter, if, say, the ugly blue plywood that now barricades the empty retail spaces were replaced with inspiring murals and “pretend” flower shops – something FOFA and their community partners plan to do as part of the installation – potential tenants might be able to envision themselves in the space.

So stop by on Friday, November 21st to give your feedback on the installation – Freedman and her ioby teammates will be out collecting comments, questions, and ideas from the public via chalkboard, and maybe even video recorder. If the installation is a success, she sees it morphing into a permanent revamping of the station. Instead of temporary murals, lasting public art. Instead of standing lights, a full-on commissioned light sculpture. Instead of make-believe flower shops at street level, a real one. Just imagine.

The ioby Trick Out My Trip opportunity is funded by Transit Center.TransitCenter-Logo-No-TM

ioby’s Trick Out My Trip Campaign

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!