Is art public transit’s most powerful tool? Naples thinks so.

Is art public transit’s most powerful tool? Naples thinks so.

How art has become a must have for riders and transit planners.

Who doesn’t love a beautiful public space filled with art? Subways that incorporate full-scale art enhance the commuter experience and delight visitors. But many argue that dedicating scarce funds to art and other visual improvements is unimportant. However in Naples, Italy, and other transit systems around the world, providing an artistically designed subway environment has proven to be an efficient dollar-for-dollar investment in new and rehabilitated stations.

A study done in Naples comparing two subway lines—nearly identical in all ways except that one of them had been revitalized with immersive art—found that art and design are powerful tools in attracting riders. Commuters were willing to walk farther to get to the nearest station, pay about 50 cents more per trip, and wait for their train up to 7 minutes longer at the enhanced stations. The research suggests that artistic station design may have as much if not more impact on ridership than other more expensive investments. By taking the time and money to build beautiful stations, Naples changed the daily experience of individual riders resulting in a positive change in rider behavior and the kind of hard data that transit planners dream about.


Toledo station, Naples Italy

Toledo station, Naples Italy – Riders will pay more and wait longer to use stations that have incorporated large-scale art. Photo by Rachel Dinno Taylor

More than a dozen Naples Metro stations have been redesigned under the curatorial vision of Achille Bonito Oliva, the former director of the Venice Biennale – with stunning results. The Metro Toledo, one of the city’s deepest stations, was designed by architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca around a theme of water and light. It features expansive installations by art world greats William Kentridge and Robert Wilson. Skylights and an immense crater (the Crater de Luz) bring in natural light from the Quartieri Spagnoli plaza above to the depths of the station. Covered in white and blue Bisazza glass tiles, the walls around the crater glimmer like a grotto’s. A simple escalator ride through this space becomes an aesthetic journey.


Toledo Station, Naples, Italy

Toledo Station, Naples, Italy – Art designed by renown artist William Kentridge, Photo by Rachel Dinno Taylor.

With more than 200 works of art installed in the Naples Metro, it’s difficult to say what’s more impressive, the art or its impact on rider experience! The Museo station incorporates sculptures from Naples’ classical past that are replicas of main attractions that can be found in the nearby museum.


Museo Station, Naples Italy

Museo Station, Naples Italy – The culture of the city is part of the subway experience; the art-filled station has expanded the commuter radius ¼ mile farther. Photo by Rachel Dinno Taylor.

If the San Francisco Bay Area applied an artistic approach to station design for BART and Muni subways, the impact would be felt throughout the region. The Naples study showed that people were willing to walk 10 minutes farther (about a ¼ mile) to use stations that provided a more aesthetically pleasing experience; riders between stations would chose to walk to the farther station if it had a more artful design. Creating stations with an immersive art experience could significantly increase the ridership for transit, decreasing auto trips, congestion in the city, and greenhouse emissions.

We have a unique opportunity to change the daily experience for millions of riders for the better and increase ridership as BART begins its first full station modernization in 40 years. Read about how Art in Transit can happen in San Francisco. read more