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Bus-Node Businesses

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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)?

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Proposal

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.

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Research

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 amidst high commercial and residential vacancy?
  • 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?

Context

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.

Thanks to the many stakeholders who offered their valuable feedback.

  • Kusanya Cafe
  • Currency Exchange Cafe
  • FreeGeek
  • Sankofa Arts, Austin
  • Austin Coming Together

Common User Insights

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.

Waiting for the bus is more unpleasant than usual when unaware of its arrival time.

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 they'd rather not use up their data plan.

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

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

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

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Prioritization

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.

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Design Iterations

Previous Iterations

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

Current Iteration

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

relationship diagram
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

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.

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?

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

Steps:

  • schedule meeting with owner to discuss details and evaluate storefront
  • choose 3 potential storefronts
  • installation: 3 hours of consultation & labor, completed within 3-weeks
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Measuring Success

How many customers are aware that there is a tracker available for use?

How many of those waiting for the bus know that there is a tracker in a nearby shop?

How many of those waiting peruse the shop and/or buy their goods/services?

Please contact us about how to get involved.