Issue 564May 2018

Member Profile: Jeff Wood

Think you’re obsessed with buses and trains? Meet the author of the Overhead Wire.

Urbanist Article May 31, 2018

Coruscant, from the Star Wars universe, is the favorite planet transportation enthusiast Jeff Wood.

Jeff Wood

Trained as a geographer and city planner, Jeff Wood did a lot of mapping and data analysis in GIS at his first job at a non-profit called Reconnecting America. But as he was also eager to keep up with all the information that was going on in planning, he read all the transportation and planning news he could get his hands on. He was so addicted to learning about these issues that he started a blog, really a labor of love, on the topic, called The Overhead Wire.

“I started sending my boss at the time an email each time I found something interesting,” recalls Wood. “I think that annoyed her because I was filling up her inbox. She suggested I put all the news in one email and send it to staff every day.” He did, and The Overhead Wire newsletter was born. It went to staff, then Reconnecting’s board — and then to anyone who was interested. That was 12 years ago. Today, The Overhead Wire which is devoted to sharing all that’s essential about transportation and cities, reaches lots of devoted — some might say fanatical — subscribers.

How and when did the obsession with transit start? 

I guess I’ve always been a fan. I was born and grew up in Houston and my dad took the bus to work downtown every day so I saw his example. On holidays we always came back to San Francisco, where my family is originally from, and would ride BART. I became fascinated with streetcars and light rail in college after I took a class on transit-oriented development with urbanist Hank Dittmar. He encouraged me to get involved with planning for transit in Austin. I ended up writing my master’s thesis on the politics and history of lightrail planning there.

How did you first get interested in cities — and how did you first learn about SPUR?

I’ve always loved maps and cities. When I was in third grade we had this exercise where we’d draw connections between “home” and different places like the grocery store or the park. It’s etched in my memory and probably my first thinking about how places in a city connected. I learned about SPUR when I moved to San Francisco in 2006. I was working in Oakland but I remember going to one of the first SPUR Trivia Nights, which was super fun. 

Favorite city?  

I love Vienna. So much history from the Hapsburg Empire and I love the trams and subways there. Very modern and yet historic. I especially like the smaller cities in countries like Italy and Germany. Cinque Terre, on the Italian Riviera, is amazing for its use of space and the fact that each little town on the coast is connected by an underground train. 

Favorite transportation system?

The London Underground. It’s so much fun to use and see the history. I wish we had that type of system in San Francisco. Getting across town would be so fast!

Favorite urban view?

I never get tired of the Golden Gate Bridge looking back towards the city but I think my favorite view is [looking] down Lincoln Boulevard to Sea Cliff. It reminds me of Italy.

Best film about cities?

I’d highly recommend the new (2017) Blade Runner movie. The visuals are stunning. But I’ll also never get tired of the design and futurism of the planet Coruscant, capital of the Republic in the Star Wars universe. It’s a planet covered by a single never-ending city. If I could do a podcast episode about the cities of Star Wars I’d be in heaven. 

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