Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
SoundTransit’s campaign uses disarming creatures to help riders in the famously passive-aggressive city learn how to coexist.
As Seattle’s light rail expands, so does it its ridership—and the bad habits they bring with them.
With two new Link stations opening up last year in the high-density Capitol Hill neighborhood and University District—and plans for further expansion over the next six years—more and more Seattlites are expected to ditch their cars for mass transit. The region’s transit authority wants to make sure new and old straphangers in the famously passive-aggressive city don’t get on each other’s nerves, so they’ve been using cartoon animals to get a few key points across.
“We were receiving comments every day about what it’s like to ride our system,” says the SoundTransit Public Information Officer Kimberly Reason. “’I keep getting hit in the face with backpacks!’ or ’People keep clustering at the doors!’ So we decided to use a graphic representation for what to do and not to do,” she adds. “As soon as the campaign took off, people loved it. Even outside of our service area.”
One poster politely suggests that if an octopus can keep all of his tentacles in one seat, a man can keep his legs confined, too. Another lets riders know that if two turtles can put their shells on the floor while standing in the aisle, a human can surely do the same with a backpack. “It was purposeful to use animals,” says SoundTransit Design Manager, Elizabeth Trunkey. “It keeps the message very neutral. All of our critters are friendly.”
The etiquette campaign, SoundTransit’s first, launched in late 2014 and can also be found inside commuter trains. But the agency seems to get the most out of sharing the campaign on its social media accounts. “When we do get a complaint, we can respond by putting [one] up as a reminder,” says Trunkey.
They can modify the posters for special occasions, too. On the first workday morning after Seattle’s Major League Soccer team won a championship last December, SoundTransit sent out an image online of the aforementioned turtles wearing Sounders scarves to remind fans about backpacks on crowded trains. Courteous riders should feel like winners, too.