University of Washington (Erin)



Sep '08 - Feb '10

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    Shoot, better get to work on my thesis.

    By copper_top
    Oct 1, '08 4:38 PM EST

    So I started school last week. Finally. I know we’re one of the last campuses to get going, and I took advantage of this by spending 7 weeks abroad: 5 in Rome as part of the design program, one in Paris, and one in London, just for fun and because I was over there already. I had never been to Europe before, so while my time in Rome was spent on photography (also in Orvietto, Civita, and other parts of Tuscany) and art history, my time in Paris and London (photos coming soon…) was pure play, with a little cultural enrichment thrown in. Though after a week spent living almost entirely on baguettes, it’ll be a while before I go to the grocery and think “ooh yum, bread!” Paris was unquestionably my favorite city on the trip, partly for architectural reasons: I found the coexistence of gothic, baroque, modern, and contemporary structures by far more interesting than the all-ancient-all-the-time feel of Rome, and I think I may have been a little too burnt out by the time I got to London to give it a fair shake, though I did still like it a lot. But if I could spend the rest of my life chilling by the banks of the Seine, or even Canal St. Martin (where I stayed), I would be a very happy camper. The excellent Paris Metro and Velib bike systems help a lot, too.

    I only got in from London last Tuesday night, and started school on Wednesday morning. I am taking a graduate seminar with Alex Roesler, who is a hilarious and abstract guy, and Environmental Design with Kristine Matthews (again. I will explain this choice at a later date). Other than that, I am focusing a lot on my job as a TA for INFO 424: Information Visualization and Aesthetics, and on my thesis. Dun dun, dunnnnnnnnn.

    Ah yes, the thesis: bane and glory of all graduate students’ existence. Kristine is my advisor, with Karen Cheng as my second committee member. I hit on my topic fairly early on, as an intersection of my interests in environmental design, information design, and alternative transportation, and will be designing wayfinding systems for bicyclists. I see a huge opportunity in this sector as gas prices rise and cities push their citizens to adopt greener forms of transport, install new bike lanes and paths, but largely fail to make people feel comfortable and safe in the use of these resources. Even in the bicycling capitols of the world, much signage is designed by transportation planners, not designers who are attuned to visual perception and movement through three-dimensional space, which I feel is a real shame and missed opportunity. So, my incredibly humble goal is to make a real impact in the field of wayfinding by addressing a need that designers have not been paying much attention to. Sounds easy enough, right? [/sarcam] Actually, of course, the weight of the realization that I am working in space that remains largely unexplored is enormous and slightly paralyzing.

    And I swear, the fact that I can get out of studio to go for a ride and call it ‘research’ is purely a coincidence. Really.

    (disclaimer: not my bike. Found in this condition in the Trestevere district of Rome. Strongly feel that I need to try out this position.)


    • your blog title is so oops, what I am doing spending ten minutes on archinect when there's this huge gorilla in the room?

      topic sounds interesting and obviously quite relevant. in addition to wayfinding, could you also look at signage for motorists to not hit bicyclists? maybe they are one and the same thing?

      Oct 2, 08 2:58 am  · 

      Yay for your awesome thesis topic! Can I blog about you? :o)

      Interestingly, at first read, I thought, 'well there's a topic I can get my mind around', but when you elaborated I thought, 'wow it sounds like mine - the incredible expanding thesis.' Coming from someone with a 5-week headstart, I encourage you to make task lists. It's the only way I haven't given up yet....

      Oct 2, 08 3:42 am  · 
      Courtney Healey

      Great topic! Spent the past year split between Rotterdam and Berlin, obviously both cities with big bike constituencies, but with very different approaches to signage, etc.

      Everyone is familiar with the Dutch system, and it is indeed great, smooth seamless paths, bike-specific signage and traffic lights, very little disturbance from cars and pedestrians, roadwork provides bike-detour routes, etc. etc. etc.

      In Berlin, however, cyclists have to quite actively follow the bike lanes as they transition rapidly from clearly paved paths on the sidewalk, to painted lines on the street, to sharing a bus lane, to unmarked roads. Traversing intersections is often unclear, and one frequently finds oneself dumped out onto some very bumpy cobbled surfaces.

      The most striking difference for me, biking in these respective cities, is how the space for the bikes is defined. In Rotterdam you are usually riding between the road and the sidewalk, separated by curbs, which makes it difficult for cars and people to wander into your lanes. In Berlin you space is only defined, at most by a painted line, feeling a bit more like a battle for space... the different speeds of travel don't seem to be as considered here.

      Oct 2, 08 5:47 am  · 
      Courtney Healey

      also... not to heap all of my bike hang-ups on your thesis :)... but a friend and i were arguing recently about the new pay-bike systems in EU cities, Paris's Velibs, Berlin's DB Call-a-Bikes, Copenhagen's free bikes, Barcelona, London, Brussels, etc. etc. and why North American cities can't make something like that work, (though maybe some do, and we just don't know about it). anyway, the argument ended with us divided on the whole helmet issue and whether that is the real deal-breaker in the end...

      Oct 2, 08 5:53 am  · 

      Emily: of course you can. ;) I'll even do a guest blog later, once I get some actual visual material to go with. I don't know that you have a five-week head start though, because we worked on finding our topics and fleshing out some basic research in the spring quarter. So I've been casually collecting data for months. That said though, I do think that my meeting with my advisor tomorrow is going to revolve around schedule. Funny thing is that I looked at your thesis and thought that it was the sort of thing one of the VCD students would do around here (paired with a researcher in the Arch department for data sourcing). Odd that we went to such different programs but ended up with theses that go so well together.

      Nick: absolutely. That gorilla, he's your shadow, you can't go anywhere without him though he may not always say anything. Even though both of us did undergrad "theses", the guilt factor is high anytime I'm trying to have a little fun.

      Courtney: no worries! I think that helmets might be a big factor in it; after all, do bike renters have to bring helmets, or can they rent helmets, or do they HAVE to rent helmets with bikes? If so, will there be an outbreak of lice and bad smelling hair? I can see people being pretty squicked out by that. Though I have to hope that if the proportion of cars to cyclists continues to change as much as people estimate that it has in the past year, hopefully the balance will shift enough that cyclists don't feel so endangered and helmet laws might deserve a second look. I'll definitely take a look at Berlin- I keep looking at Copenhagen, Amsterdam, etc. and they're just not comparable systems to what I've got to work with in the U.S. The thing to remember about this is that I am not a transportation planner, I am not in an Urban Design program, I'm in the VCD program, and the scope that I can reasonably work with on this is limited.

      Oct 2, 08 11:33 am  · 
      Courtney Healey

      gotcha on the VCD issue... a few weeks ago some city maintenance workers here in berlin slathered an inch of bright red gooey asphalt to mark a 100m stretch of bike lane near the staatsbibliothek and mies's neue nationalgalerie... i still can't figure out why since it is a really dead zone and way further down the road at potsdamer platz is where the bright colour could really make a difference in marking out the path for both cyclists and the pedestrians who are getting nearly mowed down there every day.

      And yeah, Berlin's got the bigger urban scale and bigger car culture of US cities... good luck!

      here's a small link to get you started...

      you can input how fast you want to ride, what types of streets you want to travel on, if you want to avoid cobbled streets, etc. it's great... but maybe more in an urban design sort of way... good intro to the system though...

      Oct 2, 08 3:15 pm  · 

      cool thesis topic... looking forward to following it...

      i'm sure that you know this stuff already, but you need to go visit copenhagen where 36% of people ride their bikes to work... most of their bike lanes are separated from the flow of traffic by curbs and their traffic control systems (aka stop lights) give the bike lanes a head start!

      Oct 3, 08 11:23 am  · 

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