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feb 17 2011

Do you love public transportation as much as these guys?

New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority has inspired cartoons, jewelry, even socks (you can buy all of these and more at the Metropolitan Transit Museum). But none of that can compare to Alexander Chen's creative re-envisioning of the New York City subway as an interactive string instrument.

Using a whole lot of technical know-how that I don't have, Chen, who is a developer for Google, created a map that draws on real (!) transit data to show trains moving through the system—each time two trains intersect, a sound is produced (like a string being "plucked" on a guitar). The result is a melodic ode to public transportation.

According to Chen's website mta.me, the piece "begins in realtime by spawning trains which departed in the last minute, then continues accelerating through a 24 hour loop."

Watch and listen:


Yes, I think it's fair to say that New Yorkers are obsessed with the subway. This is especially true for the under-five set as this hilarious New York Times article by Christoph Niemann demonstrates. In his words, his two little boys "can barely sit through an episode of "Sesame Street." But when we go for aimless subway joy rides on the weekends, they sit like little angels, devoutly calling out the names of every station for hours."

I may be a couple decades past five, but I'm obsessed with the subway too, and not just in New York. I ride subways (and buses, trolleys, and ferries) just about everywhere I travel, from D.C. to Paris to Mexico City. In fact, I think that taking public transportation gives a unique window into the culture of a destination, not to mention the fact that it's an incredibly cheap way to get around.

That said, not everybody feels comfortable taking public transportation in a foreign destination. You have safety to think about and then there's the learning curve to contend with—for example, it took me missing a train or two in Paris before I realized that you have to open the door to the train yourself on some lines (and nothing marks you as a tourist faster than fumbling in the subway). Speaking of that—if you have any hilarious subway "travel" stories, please do share!

So do you love public transportation as much as these guys? Vote above or tell us below.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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