Painting Bus Routes On Streets

Zack Booth Simpson
25 January 2007

A common problem with bus systems throughout the world is that they have significant learning curves and therefore would-be riders often avoid buses out of undo fear. In contrast, subway and rail lines have a sense of permanency and commitment – after all, one knows that the train isn’t going to leave its tracks. While there is still a learning curve for the first time train rider, the fear is usually less compared to the first-time bus rider due in part, I believe, to a false sense of impermanence. For evidence of the difference in psychological impact on the uninitiated between a bus and train  traveler, consider that many tourists in New York City are willing to try the subway system, but almost none attempt to use the bus system.

I propose that the psychological benefits of rail lines can be partially replicated for bus routes by simply painting the bus routes directly onto the streets. The demarcation of bus routes onto the streets has the additional benefit of educating car users and pedestrians of the bus system incidental to their usage of the streets. Through this training, car users can overcome the knowledge gap that prevents many would-be occasional bus users from using the system for the first time.

As an example, inhabitants of near-downtown who wish to go downtown would often do better in time, cost, and convenience to use the bus due to parking limitations or because they intend to visit a club/bar and do not wish to risk driving under the influence. Although those familiar with the bus system would not hesitate to ride a bus in such a circumstance, those unfamiliar likely have a conversation that goes something like: “We could take the bus… is it the 1 that goes there? No I think it is the 5? No the 5 I think maybe goes off east? Do you have a map? Oh, let’s just drive.” However, with incidental training afforded through painting routes, such a conversation might now be: “Doesn’t the blue line pass that club? Oh yeah, I know it does because I remember seeing the blue line in front of it.”

The permanence of paining lines helps to establish psychological permanence to the routes making everyone feel that the bus lines are more like a rail lines. The psychological shift associated with this permanence would be, I believe, extremely important in helping everyone accept the bus routes as a valuable part of the city.