We had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Kulikowski, a student  founder of the DFA studio at Virginia Tech about a recent project of theirs, the BurgFinder. The BurgFinder is a series of town signs to promote alternative modes of transportation, involving visual cues that use time as a measurement of distance to a particular destination by biking or walking, making it easier to get around town outside of an automobile. 

How did you guys decide to tackle this local challenge?

We focused on alternative transportation for our first run at the DFA process last spring because it is a hot topic in Blacksburg and easily identifiable for everyone. Through the kickoff workshop, we were excited to conduct some guerrilla type experiments and avoid the red tape of seeking approval with controversial proposals.

Our challenge: How can we simultaneously encourage and raise awareness of alternative transportation? Distance can be an abstract concept for people, and many are unaware of the ease, speed, and convenience of modes of transit other than driving. We felt that people may consider biking if they were to see a sign saying that Torg Bridge (a common academic building) was only six minutes away by bike but fifteen by car when parking and walking time were taken into account.

What were you able to accomplish within your one-month project?

In the one-month project, we started out by making a video introduction to cycling in Blacksburg. Following its production, we moved quickly into ideation and prototyping; we then identified six locations in town to test the signs out. We found scrap plywood, developed graphic standards, screen printed the signs, gave them a clear coat seal for weather durability, and installed them with zip ties. (We wanted to be sure that they could be easily removed without causing damage.)

What type of impact have you made in the community so far?  

We assumed that the signs around town would remain up until we took them down or they fell. Conversely, we thought the ones on campus would be removed almost immediately because Facilities Services keeps a pretty tight watch.

Interestingly enough, the results reflected the exact opposite of our assumptions. The town manager was very upset that these signs were up without his consent and ordered for all the ones in town to be taken down. A video and article about a similar project that took place just a month earlier in Raleigh, North Carolina was sent to the town manager and helped him to better understand what we were doing. It had gotten a lot of press and received really positive feedback from residents, which reversed the city’s initial position against it.

The signs on campus stayed up all summer long and were still in relatively good shape at the beginning of the fall. The last one fell down just two weeks ago.

What’s next for the project?

We recently decided to keep moving the project forward starting now, and we will continue into the spring. We hope to gather feedback, compile more relevant data, develop a proposal, pitch it to relevant parties for approval, and launch a final iteration. This time, we are focusing on things like comprehensive coverage of locations, useful and interactive elements like QR codes, and longer lasting materials.

A few town council members are interested in our project, and we are hoping to get full support from the town and university for the second iteration. We are striving to have everyone on board for this project’s success and longevity. Beth, our community partner who is organizing Blacksburg’s Cycling and Pedestrian Master Plan, has expressed the desire to incorporate the ideas that surfaced in our project into the plan, which is very exciting!

To learn more about this, check out the Project Description page!

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