Is it a Bridge? Streetlamp? Stairs? Art? It’s Both!

“If the point of transportation planning is to get people to places where they want to be, then most transportation planning should really start with placemaking.”  Constance White

Infrastructure is the connective tissue of most places. How we get from here to there, whether that journey is five miles or five hundred miles. 

Today we are witnessing a trend in transportation departments that places the user’s experience critical to the planning process, a movement to not just build, but build more livable communities with a focus on improved quality of life. 

This quest provides opportunity for creative problem solving through thoughtful design and opportunities for integrating art and transit. The outcome is stronger community pride and engagement.

Over 20 years ago, the Federal Transit Administration recommended the marriage of public art and transit and in 1995 the FTA released a guideline recommending that organizations include arts in transit in their projects from the outset. 

St. Louis was an early adopter and today, St. Louis MetroLink transit riders consider MetroLink “their” light rail station. Art makes the objective and mundane something personal, and meaningful.

Currently, there are approximately 100 airports in the United States that have some type of art program. 

The Hartsfield Airport Art Program develops and integrates art, exhibits and performances into the fabric of the environment for the benefit of passengers and employees. The Art Program has three major components: commissioning artists to create site-specific artwork, presenting rotating exhibitions and scheduling performing arts series. Each part of the program strives to meet the Department of Aviation’s goal of becoming the world’s best airport by exceeding customer expectations.

Contemporary public art projects often focus on heightening awareness to conservation, climate and the environment. 

Robert Behrens’ Solar Intersections , covered in holographic Mylar, shimmers like a rainbow at a busy intersection on the UC Davis campus.  

In a similar way, Sunflowers: Electric Garden by Harries and Heder along Austin’s I-35 successfully demonstrates using renewable energy to provide safety and light. 

Can art change behavior? Volkswagen Sweden launched a marketing campaign called “The Fun Theory.” based on the idea that “fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better.”  A part of this effort was the installation of Piano Stairs in the Odenplan Stockholm subway station that invited subway users to take the stairs instead of the elevator. By transforming the stair steps into piano keys, there was a 66 percent increase in stair usage the day of the installation.

We all win when mass transit and arts agencies work together to improve user experiences by exploring public transit spaces in ways that go beyond the utilitarian. Regardless of the form of transportation, these projects encourage users and community members to feel a sense of ownership, as well as improves the profile of artists and arts organizations. 

Thoughtful, strategic, and inclusive planning positively impacts the places where we work, where we travel, and how we live. 

For more Information:  Americans for the Arts: Transportation