Monday, January 21, 2008

Transportation Modality Resolution

In Reykjavik, the names of neighborhoods and sometimes even streets are conjugated differently depending on whether one is arriving or departing. Catching a bus there depends on the ability to not only navigate an unfamiliar language, but also to recognize the root word, the core of the place name, from its layers of accreted prefixes and suffixes.

Public transit is the norm while traveling, but I rarely find myself using it in my home city. I've lived in Baltimore on and off for years but have never ridden a Baltimore city bus until today. It was easy, but fumbling with my exact change and wrinkly bill, even after the driver had pulled away from the curb, it's hard not to envy the more savvy bus riders who swipe their cards and stroll on like it isn't no thing. It makes me want to master the secret knowledge of Baltimore public transit. Where do you get those cards? Monthly? Weekly? Do they work on the light rail, too?

Every type of transportation, every speed and every mode, engenders its own set of perceptions. Walking along the Venice Beach promenade is not the same as riding a bike along it. The city falls into a different resolution for peds, cyclists, drivers and bus riders, even for runners and cab passengers. The grain expands or contracts depending on speed and attention. And every mode has its own secret language, its own way of reading and writing the city, its own layers of danger and opportunity. Bikers watch for cars and doors, not lights, runners plan every footfall to avoid a twisted ankle, and in the back of a cab you have the leisure to critique the route and imagine alternate scenarios.

I got off a stop too early, not knowing which would be closest to my house, and as I was walking the extra block, I was scanning for the blue bus icons marking other stops. What had been, as a driver, an obstacle, a no-parking zone, was now, to a bus rider, a chance for shortcuts and linkages. Maybe it's just because I'm only now getting around to reading Everyware, but it foregrounds the way that even a small city like Baltimore has so many layers that it's impossible to stay aware of them at all times. The brick types and street widths, the parking rules, building permits and Urban Markup Language, the signage and the window displays are all always already there, the meaningfulness presents itself effortlessly when looked for, but it's always ready to collapse back into texture when forgotten or reprioritized.


Rollie Fingers said...

Hey there, nice blog.

MTA week and month passes can be purchased at any Light Rail stop*, or at MTA HQ at 6 St. Paul St. I think at Penn Station, too. You can also buy a day pass from any bus driver. And yes, all passes work on LR, Subway and Bus.

MARC trains are a different story altogether...

*assuming the machines work

sevensixfive said...

Hey Rollie, likewise!

I'll be on the lookout for some monthly passes soon, thanks for the headsup!