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Life on transit interview: the authors behind the TransLinked tumblr

Life on transit interview: the authors behind the TransLinked tumblr


For March/April 2013, we’re spotlighting Life on Transit—observing and illuminating the quirks and habits of daily transit rides around our region!

There’s a little blog called TransLinked out there, which spotlights interesting things related to transit — a photo series of people coming through turnstiles, the lovely interiors of past buses, and more.

Well, TransLinked is run mainly by three Vancouver transit riders—Karen Fung, Richard Eriksson, and Jason Vanderhill—and as it’s about keen observations of public transport, I thought they would be perfect to interview for the Life on Transit series. So here they are on TransLinked, its aesthetic, and their own riding experiences. Read on for more!

Can you tell us a bit about TransLinked? How did it get started?

Karen: If my memory serves correctly, Richard and I were talking about transit, which was happening a lot in 2008 as I was working on my thesis about Toronto Transit Camp and was fresh from helping convene the first Vancouver Transit Camp in December 2007. I stumbled upon the name. We wanted to try Tumblr as a platform and, at the time, we noticed people using it in interesting visual ways analogous to the way Twitter was being used in interesting textual ways. I wrote up our very well-hidden manifesto in 2009 a month or two after we started. We’ve been at it ever since!

Jason: I was first invited to join TransLinked as a contributor by Karen in May of 2010, but I don’t think I actually began contributing until about 3 months later when I started my own Tumblr meme, Illustrated Vancouver. I was a very occasional contributor at first, but by 2011, I began spamming the site in earnest!

Wires at Broadway and Main, posted at TransLinked.

What do you try to capture through TransLinked?

Karen: For myself, I’m fundamentally interested in the human beings — the people and the life — that are at the centre of transit. This is mostly riders, but also includes the people who drive or maintain buses or trains. For me and a lot of other people, the feel and culture of our transit is the first stepping stone to the rest of our experience of a city. I’m mostly fascinated by transit as a public space and venue for life, that we make positive or negative, welcoming or intimidating, together — just as we do with our cities and communities as a whole.

Jason: Quite often, my posts involve the marketing or fine art of transit. By collecting examples of clever ad campaigns or gorgeous historical advertising posters, I’m able to see the best of public transit without the expense of traveling around the globe! Not that I don’t enjoy travel, but I do lament the fact there there aren’t MORE transit related art exhibitions. Collecting these artifacts digitally creates a virtual exhibition space that only gets better as it accumulates.

City Valentines from CEOs for Cities, shared by TransLinked.

How do you determine what to post?

Karen: As the three of us have gotten to know each other, the driving question for me has simply become, “Is this something that Jason or Richard would think is cool?” As I’ve become more professional engaged with transportation as a field, I save the critical policy analysis for my own blog or Tumblr. TransLinked, for the most part, is for celebration of the big and small, the old and the new things, whether it’s small features about stations or routes that show locals’ sense of ownership, or just the stories of how things came to be.

Jason: For the most part, I am just throwing up these posts without much filtration. If something I see online or elsewhere catches my interest and is transit related, I send myself an email and that basically gets the ball rolling. Once I’m sitting in front of my computer, I’ll add the image with a bit of reference text, a link to the source, and some appropriate tags. I may banter back and forth with Karen & Richard to see if something is appropriate or not, but thus far, I have not been voted off the island!

Richard: If it comes up in my Tumblr dashboard as transit related or trains is a big part of it, I reblog it. I’m particularly interested in music videos that take place mostly or completely on transit.

Who contributes to TransLinked? Can you tell us a little about each of you?

Karen Fung. Photo by Richard Eriksson on Flickr.

Karen: I’m a researcher and master’s student at the University of British Columbia studying transportation planning and the use of social media for public engagement and civic participation. Since even before I started my research, TransLinked as been one of the ways to highlight and draw attention to my two loves of how technology has evolved and how cities and our cultural practices change and influence what we want from each other and ourselves. It’s also a good excuse for me to keep in touch with the comings and goings of Toronto, where I first got interested in the conundrums and joys of transit planning.

Jason Vanderhill. Photo by Roland!

Jason: In a recent interview by Jillian Glover, I described myself as “an eclectic collector of curio, a fan of local art, architecture, culture, and design. Officially, I am a civil servant…and like Captain George Vancouver, my family hails from somewhere in the Netherlands. Alas, no family roots can be traced back to the Vancouver line, or the Vanderbilt line, for that matter, but I like to think we’re practically related!”

And hey, what about the phantom guest contributor, Roland! Famous for having more blurry SkyTrain photos than anyone else on flickr, he has yet to make a single post at TransLinked! Granted, he has been posting far more cycling photos lately, so that’s probably what keeps him busy!

How long have each of you been riding transit?

Karen: While I remember very clearly how frightened I was the very first time I took the #3 bus downtown without an adult at 11 years old, I didn’t become a full-time, regular rider until my first semester at university. The U-Pass referendum passed at SFU during my second semester in 2003. It’s been a 3-zone love affair ever since! I also had an hour-long, two-system commute in Toronto when I lived there for a year and a half in 2006/7, which gave me a lot of time to think about how and why transit did or didn’t work. Upon returning, it made me more curious about how Vancouver’s system came to be and what it’s like to live, work and thrive in different parts of the region.

Jason: I have been riding transit since a ride as a child on the TTC Subway many years ago. I started taking transit full time when I was going to school in Toronto, and for my first few years in Vancouver, I was almost exclusively taking transit, living close to the SkyTrain line. I’m pretty lucky to have been on the Underground in London, the NYC Subway, and the Tokyo Subway, as well as the Shinkansen / Bullet Train! The Shinkansen was probably my all time favourite train experience, but I was also impressed by the newer trains I rode last summer in Poland and the Czech Republic. I do look forward to some high speed California trains one day!

Richard: I started riding transit to and from high school on Vancouver Island, only because a school bus didn’t serve me. (The school board subsidized my pass.) In 1996, I moved to the Lower Mainland for university and I’ve never owned a car since I always lived near a major transit hub (first SFU, then Lougheed Mall, then Hastings and Willingdon, and now near Broadway and Cambie). I use car sharing to get around sometimes, but only as a luxury. I still prefer transit and walking to anything else.

YouTube video by Reema Ismail, shared by TransLinked.

In our series for April and May, we’re spotlighting the quirks, habits, and observations from riding transit every day. What do each of you notice about your own riding life?

Karen: Since I also became a cyclist in 2005, and I live by the Canada Line, I just notice how much attention to pay to how I’m going to get to where I want to go as a result of being a comfortably multi-modal traveler. Do I want to ride my bike home, but be on time for my morning meeting? Put the bike on the bus on the way there, ride my bike 10km on the trip back. I’m also a car-share user. Traveling with a lot of stuff? Drive there, bus home. For most of the traveling around I do, doing ‘other’ unplanned stuff — dropping in on my friends, visiting that grocery store in my old neighbourhood, walking with a friend to finish a conversation — is a complete breeze when I don’t have to worry about finding parking or fuming (in more ways than one) about traffic congestion.

Jason: Having taken the trains in Tokyo 10 years ago, it was clear that full engrossment with digital devices was becoming widespread practice. I was an early adapter of RSS, and for the first few years before the iPod Touch was launched, I was happily using a Palm Pilot and an RSS reader during my commutes. While I still typically carry my iPod Touch with me, I’m less interested in reading a small screen during my SkyTrain trips. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by iPads and larger LCD monitors; Twitter’s constant contact and short attention span may have also quelled my desire to read as much as possible while in transit.

Richard: No quirks, I don’t think, except if the seat’s available on SkyTrain, I’ll sit in the one facing forward. If a kid’s sitting nearby, I offer it to them, because how cool is it to feel like you’re driving the train?

A cute Japanese train! Posted at TransLinked.

Do you find you’ve fallen into any habits on your journeys?

Karen: These days I seldom get to travel lightly. On the bus, I like to put my stuff down, so I gravitate towards the back or I’m trusting so I’ll sometimes leave my stuff at the front luggage area near the driver.

Jason: At the moment, I am more likely to listen to podcasts than read or listen to music. My favourite podcasts at the moment are Judge John Hodgman and Stop Podcasting Yourself; I find that listening to either one of these podcasts results in permanent smile on my face, interspersed with the occasional burst of laughter. If you see me smiling on SkyTrain, that’s probably what I’m listening to!

From a post capturing people reading on NYC transit, over at TransLInked.

What do you think might be the unspoken rules about riding transit in Vancouver?

Karen: I think almost everybody has to adjust their personal boundaries or expectations at one time or another if they ride transit regularly, whether it’s about your own behaviour or feeding back to others about theirs. I think there has to be a live and let live going most of the time — transit’s too awesome to be stressed or angry in it all the time at other people as if we were driving. (Of course, this can be really different in other parts of the region where transit’s role is different — as I realized going to White Rock earlier this week.)

Jason: Please don’t step on anyone’s toes!

Richard: The main unspoken rule about riding transit is, ironically enough, is don’t speak to strangers. I’ve only done it a few times, the most memorable one being someone having the same Mandarin Chinese textbook, and we bonded about how much we liked the course’s teacher. There are so many interesting-looking people on transit, and I have a million questions, but I think everybody just wants to live in their own world for their 20 minute commute.

Does this differ from the experience you’ve had on other systems?

Karen: It’s different in degrees, perhaps as a result of local culture, but not in the fundamental elements — we stay civil and respect the people, the property, each other, and try to get to where we are going with minimum frustration. At certain times and places, I have felt slightly wary being a woman on a bus, or been challenged with how to act as a bystander in some situations. There’s a whole lot less eye contact with the train conductor when riding the SkyTrain. The outcome might be different but the need to negotiate — the spaces, the journey, the norms — remains the same.

Jason: Other systems don’t always say “Please”.

Richard: In America, people talk to me, possibly because they notice something “Canadian” about me. Maybe it’s my accent?

240 at sunset. Photo by jmv, posted at TransLinked.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Karen: I’m really excited about getting more community input and art into new transit facilities. I’m inspired by Sound Transit’s art program, which I took a video of when I was there in January, and I hope we’ll see this happening in Vancouver!

Richard: I’m the maintainer of the Flickr Vancouver Transit group along with Stephen Rees. Flickr has a new lease on life with its new mobile app, and I still, after all these years, follow the tags related to TransLink (like ‘translink’, ‘seabus’, ‘westcoastexpress’) and invite photos to the group every week. (It’s fun to sometimes see photos of the “other” TransLinks out there.) We’re up to over 15,000 photos and 850 members, and I love seeing it grow. There’s even a discussion board that gets posts every now and then. If you’re on Flickr, I encourage you to post photos to it, and if you tag it right, I’ll see it and invite it there.

Jason: Thanks for the feature! Buzzer blog is the bestest!

Thanks you guys! Visit TransLinked, it’s lovely!


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