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Bus-Node Businesses


An Equity Problem

Riding and waiting for the bus is disproportionately more unpleasant in Chicago's neglected neighborhoods. Ironically, this is exactly where bus routes trace former bustling corridors on the west and south sides. How might we utilize existing assets to connect local residents with local businesses (and vice versa)?



Installing bus trackers in storefronts within a block of a bus stop offers arrival times for peace of mind, provides another option for shelter, and allows residents to interact with neighbor-owned businesses.



Our commitment to systems-thinking demands us to investigate root causes. With this in mind, our interview questions for users are shaped by some foundational questions that we ask ourselves as a team.

  • How can we provide a more pleasant public transit experience in a distressed physical environment? Are these not the areas where it is most necessary?
  • What makes the experience of waiting for a bus tolerable?
  • What makes the experience of walking to a bus stop more pleasant in some areas over others?
  • How do storeowners connect with foot traffic?
  • How much do residents use their smart phone to track the bus? Why/not?


Current CTA shelters with bus tracker displays are located at major intersections, not prioritizing residents

Validating Assumptions

We conducted user interviews with residents and small business owners to validate our initial assumptions. Common insights were revealed.


After conducting interviews, residents and local small business owners are nostalgic of the bustling commercial corridors from decades ago. They have confidence that their neighborhood can sustain a local economy if the correct framework is laid out.

We also validated that waiting for the bus is unpleasant.

Assumption validated. Even if they own a cell phone, users don't want to bother checking it for the bus. Other users don't want to check their mobile device because it's too much of a cost with their data plan.

Assumption validated. Residents want to learn more about their local businesses. Some are even embarrassed to go inside.

Residents who prefer taking the bus to the train like taking it because it's safer and it's closer. They take these qualities over speed. Most of these users are female.

Small business owners are looking for more analog methods of connecting with customers. They prefer customers that live in the neighborhood because they are more likely to become recurring customers.

Target Personas

Persona A doesn't bother using the internet to track the bus.

Persona B is hesitant about walking into nearby stores just to explore.

Persona C is a shopkeeper and digital marketing isn't working well.

Persona D has taken the bus for years, uses the tracker but would like to see the vacant storefronts filled.



After hearing from users, we prioritized a design direction that could improve upon the bus wait. We also wanted to prioritize qualities that encouraged face-to-face connections and sparked conversations unique to the neighborhood.


Design Iterations

Previous Iterations

We submitted a previous version of this project to the Urban Urge Awards.

Digging Deeper

  • What kind of environment provides [the feeling of] safety and shelter?
  • Are storeowners willing to allow residents to browse their space?
  • What are the incentives for browsing in a store and returning in the future?
  • What mechanisms can encourage camaraderie over solicitation?

How would (personas) use this program?

For residents who take the bus regularly but don't have internet access, they can find arrival times within a block of their bus stop.

Small business owners can connect with potential customers that live within walking distance of their storefront.

Residents are encouraged to explore the storefront since the display acts as an unrelated first step to overcome any initial hesitation.

Current Iteration

relationship diagram

While some business storefronts install displays in established neighborhoods, the displays actually act as a catalyst in neglected neighborhoods.

cyclical diagram

This simple action can bring neighbor-owned business activity back to these struggling areas and drive residential infill by encouraging community-driven self-reliance.

hub diagram

Call for Storefronts

If you own/rent a storefront business in Chicago, in an area in need of economic and community development, be part of our simple but meaningful project. Apply here.

Evaluation Criteria:
  1. existing internet connection
  2. located on a main arterial street in Chicago
  3. located within 50 yards of a CTA bus stop
  4. storefront with visibility both inside and outside the store
  5. an owner who is involved and connected with the community
  6. allow people to browse, pro-actively chat with potential customers, understand they may not buy immediately
  7. an open mind - be part of fresh, evolving pilot project with goals to replicate to other areas
What You Get:
  1. a free display screen or laptop (donated condition)
  2. posters/signs directing bus riders to your store
  • schedule meeting with owner to discuss details and evaluate storefront
  • choose 3 potential storefronts
  • installation: 3 hours of consultation & labor, completed within 3-weeks

Apply here!

Please contact us about how to get involved.