diamond geezer

 Monday, July 18, 2011

I've long considered the 425 to be a rubbish bus route. It's indirect, it's slow, and the buses are never ever full. People travelled from Stratford to Clapton before the 425 was introduced, and will do again after someone sees sense and scraps it. At the very least, I've always thought, it should be downgraded to a single decker to save some of TfL's hard earned cash. But I've changed my mind all of a sudden, because the top deck of the 425 now offers a sight unique in London. The very first Bus-Top.

Bus-Tops, you may or may not remember, are the capital's artistic contribution to the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Scotland's promised a timber football pitch, the West Midlands get a 10m-high Lady Godiva, and London's getting LED displays on bus shelters. That's LED displays on top of bus shelters, facing the sky, hence the name Bus-Tops. Each screen will be about the same size as a front door, maybe slightly longer, surrounded by a sturdy wooden frame of London plane. Thousands of points of electronic light comprise each array, in monochromatic red, capable of displaying anything from a single word to a panoramic landscape. Temperature and rain sensors help the screens to adapt to their surrounding environment. And, in a dongle-tastic twist, each display is 3G-connected allowing fresh artwork to be beamed in whenever the organisers deem fit. All very modern, all very clever, but if you're not on the top deck of a passing bus you're not going to see a thing.

The entire project kicks off for real on January 1st, with one Bus-Top scheduled to be installed in each London borough. But a prototype was needed to ensure that the entire set-up actually works, so the team hired an engineering facility to tweak one complete set of framed electronics and internal gizmos. Then earlier this month, as part of initial field trials, the entire structure was hoisted into place on top of a bus shelter in deepest Hackney. The organisers aren't admitting precisely where, but they've left enough clues if you know where to look. And there the panel sits, playing out its visual artwork to anyone who cares to look out of the left-hand window as a double decker goes by. [photo]

It's an interesting choice of bus stop. Seven different bus routes go this way, which you'd think would maximise the chances of this artwork being seen. Not so. Five of the passing buses are single deckers, so passengers in these won't have spotted anything unusual. One double decker starts only at the previous bus stop, so the number of upper deck passengers by this point will be minimal. The remaining bus is the 425, which we've already determined is a bit of a Marie Celeste, so is unlikely to bring many spectators to the party. And the entire street is one-way only for bus traffic, so there's not even the possibility of catching sight out of the right-hand window in the opposite direction. It's almost as if Alfie & Co really didn't want people to see this one. But I've seen it, and it works.

You don't get long to interact with a Bus-Top. The animation screens in a long loop, of which you'll only get to see a tiny portion as the bus draws alongside. If you're lucky the bus will stop, maybe even with your seat alongside the slanted display, but if passenger numbers are light it may speed straight past taking any viewing opportunity with it. So I can only base my opinions on what I saw during two brief drivepasts, and the mundane graphics may or may not be representative of the complete lightshow. First time past: a swirling red figure, could have been a human hand, perhaps a spinning fish, I genuinely couldn't tell [photo]. Second time past: flashing text, "Hello", then "Hi", then some foreign word beginning with "7". Except the foreign word definitely ought to have started with "Z", but it seemed there was a problem with malfunctioning LEDs across the entire bottom left corner of the screen. Prototype, to be expected, not a problem.

The graphics might have gripped me more if they'd been brighter. The display looks pinpoint-sharp in the studio, a genuine eyecatcher, proper wow. But stick that display on top of a bus shelter, in full daylight, and everything fades. The red light also has to shine through a protective plastic sheet which shields the electronic gubbins from raindrops, bird poo and lobbed bricks, and this extra layer dims the light a little further. After dark this is going to look great, no question, like having Christmas decorations up all year round. But mid-afternoon in light drizzle, not quite the attention-seeker I'd been hoping to see. Prototype, to be expected, not (yet) a problem.

There are 32 more Bus Tops to come, in locations yet to be revealed, starting in approximately six months time. Will they brighten your daily commute, as you strain to peer out of the window each morning to see what fresh animated treat awaits? Will you be tempted to catch a double decker you never normally use, purely to see what all the fuss is about? Will you submit your artistic ideas to the website and watch them become part of the Bus-Tops phenomenon? Or will the entire project be nothing more than a minor sideshow, experienced by the select few, overlooked by the majority of Londoners. Whatever, Hackney's Bus-Top is already there for you to enjoy [photo]. Best hurry, before somebody decides the 425 really would be better off as a single decker after all.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream