The whole body of work that is this website originally grew out of my frustration with the complete absence of a legible map of Cincinnati’s transit system. I first began tinkering in late 2010. I wanted to get clear in my own mind just what services were useful, what neighborhoods had better transit service, and how is was all connected. SORTA hadn’t published a system map in over four years. Their outdated PDF map was not only literally wrong in places, but so hard to read that anyone looking at it would receive a strong encouragement to look only for the nearest car dealership.
After a couple days of entering data directly from paper schedules into a GIS I was able to see the basic structure of transit system for the first time. How thrilling! I started drawing some simple sketches, at first just the most useful, frequent lines. After some positive feedback I ran with it. I started including more lines and more details. I reduced the wild curves of Cincinnati’s hilly streets to 45 degree angles and smooth corners. I included meaningful information about the location of neighborhood boundaries and business districts.
A couple of recommendations led me to Kickstarter. After just five days I had raised my goal of $1,200. Less than a month later, I had the support of more than a hundred donors from Cincinnati and around the world. I printed 30,000 pocket-sized maps and even gave a speach and got included in a book.
After a year, I’d distributed them all, landed a cool job at the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics in DC and, with renewed interest, raised money again and printed 20,000 more.
All that got me thinking more and more about transit, and why it just wasn’t being as successful here as it was in other cities. Cincinnati was literally built on transit! What’s going on here?? In 2012, I started the Cincinnati Transit Blog to explore the way transit should work, the way it seems to work, and all the misconceptions and confusions that get in the way. For the first few years, I kept to a generally gentle, didactic approach, trying in good faith to add value and to educate my readers. I was getting more and more into cartography and quantitative geography, and the exploration of the technological rabbit holes these presented kept me distracted for a time from the fundamental impossibility of my goal. The more I stuck my head out though and the more I saw the way the sausage was made, the more cynical I became and the more contrarian my tone. I took a properly dialectical turn, wanting in some minor way to play a Joker to the inept and pathetic city bureaucracy, to stir to rising something the city needs. How has that been going? Well, I’m still looking for my match and afraid I won’t find it here.
About the Author
My name is Nate Wessel and I like bikes and buses and cities generally. When I’m not trying to squeeze humanity out of the
giant insane petrol boxes cars, I spend a lot of time writing, sewing, playing with maps, chasing new ideas, and trying to find a place in the world. I have a bachelors in urban planning, and am almost finished with an MA in geography. I’m currently looking for PhD programs in planning or quantitative urban geography or something like that. I don’t list these scholarly factoids as something I’m particularly proud of but only as something I’ve been spending a lot of time doing, and for anyone interested in such credentials. I prefer to let my work stand on it’s own merits.
I’m also a freelancing polymath with practical foci in cartography and fashion design1. If you like any of my work here, I encourage you to check out my portfolio too and send me an email if you think you may have a project I’d be interested in.