For many of us living in major cities, public transit can often be more of a source of frustration than a piece of ingenious design. Delays, crowds, un-air-conditioned train cars: Who has time to look for the beauty in that? But transit is actually a treasure trove of interesting design, from graphics to colors to the design of the vehicles, particularly in big cities where there’s a wide variety in modes of transportation.
Luckily, graphic designer Peter Dovak is the type of person who can appreciate the wealth of design inspiration to be found in our transit systems. And for the rest of us, he’s made it easier with richly illustrated infographics of the buses, trains, ferries, aerial gondolas—you name it—that exist in 24 North American cities. Available online, in a searchable database, or in print, Dovak’s graphics offer an encyclopedic overview of transit across the country, as well as a chance to pour over decades of transit design and graphics.
Dovak started the project in 2016, after moving from Louisville, Kentucky, to Washington, D.C. Fascinated by the variety of transit options and operators (in Louisville, he writes on his site, “the TARC bus is the only option”), Dovak started to collect and illustrate them on Adobe Illustrator. His project soon expanded to other cities—Toronto, Seattle, Chicago—where he found even more variety in visual vernacular. “There are a number of modes out there, a few you might not expect,” he writes in an email. “Monorails, interurbans, aerial gondolas, people movers, funiculars—some are just novelties, but others are still core pieces of the city’s transit network.”
Working on this project, Dovak says he found some similarities between cities. The Bombardier Bi-Level commuter train, for example, with its octagonal shape, double-decker size, and green-and-white exterior, can be found all over North America. Same goes for New Flyer Xcelsior buses, a major manufacturer, most of which are consistent in shape but always different in graphics.
But there are also vehicles that are distinct to a city. The Angels Flight funicular is a landmark of Los Angeles, with its bright orange paint job and its ornamental rail gates. The Aquabus, a sightseeing boat in Vancouver, British Columbia, started operating in the mid-1980s, and it has a loud, colorful design to match the decade. “Each city certainly has its own identifiable set of colors, largely due to the fact that the main transit operators having the biggest fleets,” Dovak says. “Some cities are much more integrated than others, though. Chicago, for example, has one city bus operator and one suburb bus operator, so their graphics are very streamlined. The Bay Area has a long list of operators, so their graphics feel much more like a spectrum.”