Public transit and the spectacle of the city

Liz Kramer | Op-Ed Submission

I want you to support public transit. Not because it’s good for the environment. Not because it helps with economic development and jobs growth. Not because it provides accessibility to people who may not have other options for mobility. Those are all really good reasons to support public transit, but I want you to support it because it is fun.

It’s fun in the conventional ways, like taking you to fun destinations, and allowing you to do fun things. You can take the MetroLink directly to Busch Stadium. You can take it to the airport and go on vacation. You can take the 97 bus from Delmar straight to the City Museum. You can take the 59 bus to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, or the Red Line to the movies.  Those are all great things to do, but I would like to propose that the ride itself could be as fun as the destination on public transit.

On the Wash. U. campus, you see different, crazy things happening every day. There’s the people slacklining outside Graham Chapel, the student group in costumes in the DUC or the funny posters that have mysteriously appeared on every blank space on campus. Living in a community means that we interact with creativity, activities and excitement without having to seek it out.

Once you leave campus, these enclaves of interesting places, people and things, which I’m going to call spectacle, may be further apart. You may see them on Delmar, or maybe downtown during special events, but it’s likely the only place you’ll interact with spectacle is in public places. Public transportation offers a particular kind of public space to experience your community, giving a different face to the experience. Using public transportation, instead of traveling alone, you are exposed to the silliness that other people might bring upon you.

This has already happened in St. Louis. In October 2008, MetroLink Prom brought together sparkling, glamorous, St. Louisians on a train ride to remember, which they repeated with a crowd of over 150 in October of 2009. Participants in the event got to have a good time enjoying the transportation (if not the destination), and the innocent bystanders were confused, but excited about the mysterious party they had just encountered.

This type of fun and interaction in public space happens all over the world. For a sampling of some of the best, check out NextStop STL, Metro’s blog, and search for ‘My Favorite 10 Videos of People Dancing on Public Transit.’ You’ll see people getting together in our most public of spaces to pay tribute, enjoy the commute and start a scene.

St. Louis is ripe for this appreciation and public life on our public transportation system. We need a strong public transportation system, not just for all the good reasons to have public transit, but so we have a space for spectacle, connecting us with our community, our city and our region.