Mapping Transit in Tulsa, Oklahoma


Two years ago, while riding a city bus in Tulsa, I had a thought.

I’d been riding the bus off and on for a while. The service itself was really great — the buses ran on time, were generally clean, affordable, the drivers friendly. I was, however, consistently frustrated by basically every element of the graphics, maps, signage, branding and various printed schedules — and don’t get me started on their website (it’s since been updated, apparently using web standards from the late nineties).  The buses almost always went where I needed to go, but finding my way there via their maps and schedules was quite a challenge. People who rode often had a sort of route memory, and it’s easy to see why they needed to. Consulting the map was a source of endless frustration.

I’m a lover of transit design. The first time I saw a Massimo Vignelli NYC subway sign, I had someone take my picture with it. I was once given a transit map shower curtain as a housewarming gift, and I have a drawer full of maps from every city I’ve visited. I’ve always wanted to design a map, but never knew where to start. Then I read a newspaper on a bus (I’m a regular well-respected man-about-town, apparently) and came upon an article about a light rail proposal. Tulsa’s always proposing light rail. I love trains, but I suspect it would be a disaster, but that’s another post. I started thinking about what the wayfinding might look like on a Tulsa Train system. And I thought of the bus map, and I got sad.

And then I got excited.

5eb3114ecec811e192a022000a1d0114_7I got home and spent all evening sketching, doing research, completely re-thinking the transit system of my home city. What if there were Rapid Bus (BRT) corridors? A commuter rail system serving the suburbs and the awkwardly located airport? My mind was buzzing.

Over the coming days as I continued to work on this project, the scope intensified. While originally I wanted to plot theoretical new lines and rail service corridors as a kind of de facto Urban Planning exercise, it became clear that information design was the core of what I was after. I couldn’t do anything else until I had a solid core, building upon the existing service.

And so, two years ago on Friday, I started this project. Then I got busy with life and freelance work. Then I moved to Austin. I was pushing my pet project on down the road and making excuses. Lately I’ve been thinking about it again, and I’m committed to finishing it this summer.

I’ve been making progress. If you’d like to follow along, check out Transit Tulsa, a tumblr where I’ve been posting status updates and talking about what I’ve learned.