Prague transit stops start of massive project for US student

Photo: ŠJů, CC BY-SA 3.0

‘Every public transit stop in Prague’ is an unusual blog created by US student Guy Tabachnik, who spent a few years in the Czech capital studying Czech language and linguistics. His unusual project, which maps all of Prague’s 2,500 tram, metro and bus stops, helped him to discover the city, from the centre all the way to the outskirts.

Photo: ŠJů,  CC BY-SA 3.0
When I spoke to Mr Tabachnik over the phone to Washington DC, I first asked him how he ended up studying Czech language and moving to Prague:

“When I came into University, I knew I wanted to study linguistics, so I wanted to take some language and somehow I ended up with Czech. It was very pleasant, the classes were very small, the teacher was very good and I just really fell in love with the language.

“During my third, junior year, I studied in Prague for a semester, and I really enjoyed it, even though I lived all the way in kolej Hvězda in Břevnov, in one of the old communist-era dormitories.

And then after I graduated, I came back to Prague to do some linguistics research (I had a Fullbright grant for a year). And then I just stayed for a few more years.

“I really liked the city. It was a good place to live, I enjoyed speaking Czech and I enjoyed being in the Czech environment. And so I ended up staying for four years.”

So this is when you got the idea to map all of Prague’s 2,500 public transport stops?

“Yeah, it was when I was doing my research and I found myself having a lot of free time. I really wanted to have some sort of a big project that would not only take up my free time but would allow me to visit all the different parts of the city learn a lot more about the city. And this really checked out all the boxes.”

So what have you discovered about Prague by mapping its public transport stops?

“I really wanted to have some sort of big project that would allow me to visit all the different parts of the city.”

“One thing is that Prague has really good public transit. Most people know this, but as an American, I can’t really take that for granted that it is so much nicer to get around everywhere.

“Another thing that I noticed is that if you are in the centre or even just in the parts where the Metro runs, you have this conception of Prague as something a little bit centralised.

“But when I was going on all of these different stops, it became clear to me the extent to which Prague swallowed up all of these little villages.

“Obviously the city is bigger and a bit more developed now, but you still have these individual towns and villages with a little centre and a field and some ‘paneláky’ here and there.

“So even though it is integrated into Prague, you still have this little village centred around a small square, with fields separating all of them.

“I really had no idea that Prague would be like that on the outskirts. You can really see how over time Prague expanded way wider than just the limits of the urban development.”

As a student of linguistics, you were also interested in the etymology of the different names of the public transport stops. Where did you actually find information about them?

Photo: Ian Willoughby
“Right. I had it a little bit easier in the sense that most of the stops are named after the streets, and squares or even the neighbourhoods, where they are.

“It was a real struggle at first but after a couple of months I came after a book that really helped me. It’s called the Pražský uličník or Encyklopedie názvů pražských veřejných prostranství and it’s the encyclopaedia of the names of all the Prague streets and squares and boardwalks.

“So that was very helpful to me because it had the etymology of every single street name and most of the neighbourhood names. So from there I was able to piece together most of the names.

“Some of them were a little bit tricky after that so there was another book by the same people called Pražské usedlosti. ‘Usedlost’ is something like an estate or a manor, these large buildings with estate attached which you can find here and there in Prague. A lot of them are kind of worn down or public now, or just empty.

“And this also helped because it provides the history and description of the name of every single one of these. I just had to do some research and usually I would be able to find some sort of local history website. That is how I got most of the rest.”

Which are some of your favourite public transport stops when talking about their names?

“My favourite stop is called Madlina. It was actually named after this woman who worked at the Public Transit Authority for some twenty years.”

“Probably my favourite one is called Madlina. And that’s just sort of out in the middle. I think it’s by Trója. There is really not all much there.

“It was actually named after this woman Madlina who worked at the Public Transit Authority for some twenty years. They named a stop after her because everyone liked her so much and they wanted to honour her years of service. So I thought that was a very nice story.

“There is also another one, I think it is called Zatáčka or U zatáčky. It just means the curve. There is another similar, serpentýna hairpin turn.

“So these are stops kind of middle of nowhere and they just had to name it after something. So they were like: Well, the road turns here, so I guess we can call it the curve.

“So these very vague descriptive names that just come out of the need to have a stop and the need to name it something I always find those pretty amusing, too.”

And what were some of your favourite stops in terms of location?

“My favourite that I discovered pretty early on was the Krejcárek stop, which is if you come over from Palmovka and go down towards Žižkov. The line does this big loop around the city. If you sit on the right side going in the direction from Palmovka you can get a nice view all over the Žižkov district.

Tram line to Barrandov | Photo: Mestska,  CC BY 3.0
“I also really like the Barrandov stops, the tram stops all the way to the southwestern corner of the city. Those are relatively recent. They made these gigantic stations that are really architecturally distinctive and each one has a special colour.

“I am not sure I can say it was worth all the money but it really left an impression on me. It’s really fun to go along that line going down all the way to Sídliště Barrandov, where it ends. So I really like all those stops as well.”

How long did the project take you?

“It took me a while. I started in November 2013 and I didn’t finish until September 2017. So it’s almost four years. But as I was going through the checking everything before I finished it, it was really driven to me that I really did a lot of the work really quickly.

“I got a full-time job, I had other things to do, I was travelling and so the last bits really came in drips and drops until I picked up at the very end when I realised that I had to finish before the days I had already set for leaving the city.”

Where do you live at the moment?

“Right now I am in Washington DC for a few months. I am from New York originally. I am going to be going to grad school in September, but for now I am in DC.”

Have you tried to carry out a similar project in any other city?

Muzeum metro station,  photo: archive of Radio Prague
“No I haven’t. I have always been interested in public transit, especially in New York. But a similar project there would just be both very massive and very boring. They have busses that run along the main avenues and stop every couple of blocks.

“I know there are a few people who have tried to go to every New York City subway stop in one day - I think there is 486 of them and some of them are only open on certain day, so it is quite a challenge. I thought about trying to do that, but I haven’t got around to it yet.

Are you planning on returning to Prague sometimes in the future?

“I don’t have any plans right now to live in Prague. I am definitely in the States for at least a few years. I still have lots of friends there, I still really like the city and I would love to visit a few more times, but I am not sure when. Hopefully sometimes in the summer or something like that.”