The most successful public transport architecture comes from understanding and balancing process, people and place. To maximise the wider benefits of a successful public transport network, we need to keep an eye on the big picture, with transport as the catalyst for development and connection with the city.
We begin with an understanding of how the system operates. Buses come in different shapes and sizes and negotiate corners differently; trams can only go up certain gradients and come in low floor and high floor; trains are on the whole 23m long, need flat platforms and only go round slight corners. Trivial? We need to understand the system and the process to design a facility that truly works. There is little point in fantastic architecture operations are compromised.
Transport commissioning bodies appreciate that our understanding of the detail is what sets us as apart from other architectural firms: we speak the language of technical jargon and acronyms. It is vital, because as soon as you distance yourself from the technicality, you lose the ability to fully control the ultimate form.
Whether it be mass transit moving large volumes of people to and from events, or local buses with a few dozen passengers, end users’ needs are generally the same: enclosure, comfort, safety and security.
Understanding how people use infrastructure and move around it is key. From ticketing and information to cafes and retail, helping people move through a space and interact with it in the most seamless and fluid way is where we bring our skills to bear. The user expects a high-quality experience in pleasant surroundings. The perception of safety is also critical. The perception of the risk of incident is often the barrier to older people and women accessing public transport. Customer surveys show that if an environment is light and bright, it is perceived to be safer.
Increasing patronage and driving increased revenue through retail and concessions comes through understanding the complex commercial links between operators and owners. Links and funding implications will drive differing solutions in differing environments.
An interchange sits in the urban context as part of the wider cityscape. Ensuring its connection with the surrounding areas is critical to delivering the best opportunities and passenger experience.
Knitting routes back into the urban grain allows the passenger to move seamlessly through a city to arrive at the station, giving the immediate surroundings and interchange environment the potential to become destinations in their own right.
How many black and white films start or end with the meeting under the station clock… but how many of us would now choose to have lunch at the station restaurant? Many of our mainline city centre stations had hotels and restaurants that thrived as part of the wider city context, but we have lost the link between city and transport.
This is where we as architects come in. We are ideally placed, with an overview of many sectors, to look at maximising the potential of transport infrastructure to deliver improvements to the wider general public – reaching out to new users and parts of society who in the recent past would not have even thought about
using public transport. It’s time to bring them back.