Students design public transit routes during JTerm workshop

Members of the Harvard University Graduate School of Design community have a unique chance to expand their horizons each January through JTerm classes. These non-credit courses, which are taught by GSD affiliates, allow students to hone their skills and learn about new subject areas in a relaxed environment. Among the classes offered during the 2015 JTerm session was Transit Route Planning and Scheduling, a unique workshop taught by Alexander Lew (MUP ’16).
This four-day course examined how design professionals can create transit routes that are efficient, attractive, and affordable. Lew designed the workshop based on his experiences working for the transportation consulting firm NelsonNygaard. Lew said that he was inspired to teach the class because, “I [noticed] that there are classes in public transit, but you don’t really go down into drawing things in a map.”
Lew’s class culminated in an activity that prompted teams of students to redesign the public transit system in Cambridge-Somerville. Lew said that the activity was “based on a game that [NelsonNygaard] plays with local stakeholders when we are redesigning a transit system. I asked students to redesign the public transit system in Cambridge-Somerville, but I said that you can’t go over the current budget.” Students also had to keep in mind the various needs and levels of mobility present in the population.
Students responded positively to the interdisciplinary nature of this workshop. Said Kevin Gurley (MUP ’15), “I thought [the workshop] was very useful because we all had different perspectives on planning. Some people have transportation backgrounds, others were interested in real estate.”
Reflecting on how conducting the exercise with design professionals was different than working with members of the public, Lew said, “All of us had a very set idea of what we think that transit should do. When most people talk about transit it’s related to their one particular trip. So if there is a change to that particular trip, then they are more likely to get upset about it, rather than if it’s something that happens on the other side of town. We were looking at [transit routes] much more as a system.”
For example, one team of students, which included Gurley and Sam Wright (MUP ’15), used the workshop as an opportunity to think about how local bus service might change after the Green Line is extended into Somerville. Said Gurley, “[The workshop] was a lot of fun. It was really nice to be able to work hands-on with something experimental.” Wright added that, “It was helpful to compare the transit routes that you produced to the other teams, as well as your perceptions of the city’s transit needs and the service that currently exists.”
Expanding the knowledge of students and encouraging such speculative thinking is exactly the goal of JTerm at the GSD. 
Photo: Ann Forsyth.