IDEA #45. Take a ride on any form of public transportation. Watch where you go, and keep a good mental record of what life looks like through the window of the bus, ferry, train, or trolley; if you have a camera, take some pictures of what you see. (Of course, if you’re on a subway, you may need to just take photographs of stations or their entrances.)
While in some parts of the country this may be a near-impossible challenge, in others it should be a piece of cake. Most communities have at least some form of public transportation, either connecting them with other places or, in larger towns, to help residents get around.
One interesting way to try this idea might be to ride the full length of a bus, trolley, or subway route, stopping along the way to check out the neighborhoods through which the line passes. How does the scenery change, and how do the demographic patterns of the community change? What factors seem to be behind any changes that are observable? To what degree do communities along the route seem to be dependent on public transportation?
In most urban areas the settlement patterns are fairly clear; in suburban, exurban, or rural areas they may be less so. A century ago public transport systems threaded through many areas that are no longer served by buses or trains, and riding a trolley or an interurban car was a part of the common experience of growing up in America. A part of the challenge in this activity is to develop an eye for holdovers from those days, even when one is traveling by automobile, bicycle, or foot: station-stops converted to other use, the outline of tracks showing through the asphalt pavement, divided boulevards whose center spaces were once rail or trolley right-of-ways.
It is an unfortunate fact that parents and guardians may be concerned about the safety of public transportation in general or of specific routes or the neighborhoods through which they pass. This might be a good family activity, especially if there is a destination (a park, an ice-cream stand) at the far reaches of the route being explored. Cost, too, may be a factor; while city routes may be relatively inexpensive (and many offer reduced rates for students), bus, train, or commuter rail might make this activity better suited for a truly special excursion.