1. Bus doors

YouTube video

Last year, 99% Invisible and Vox got together to produce a short podcast on “Norman doors,” seen above.

A Norman door is named after Don Norman, who in 1988 wrote a book, The Design of Everyday Things, which among many other things, pointed out a consistent problem with doors: many of them are counterintuitive. You push when you’re supposed to pull, or vice-versa. Ever since I listened to the podcast, I’ve been seeing Norman doors everywhere.

The most frustrating door in my regular experience is the glass security door just inside the main door at City Hall, the door I have to be buzzed through to enter the main hallway in the building. Every time I try to use the door I push instead of pull. This has happened dozens, maybe hundreds of times. I approach the door, knowing I did it wrong last time. I think to myself, there’s probably a fire regulation that says doors leading to an exit have to push outward from the interior of the building, meaning that I’ll have to pull this door. But even then, even with all my experience, even with telling myself I’ll have to pull the door, I get to the damn thing and I … push it.

A related problem occurs at many of the exit doors at buildings around town, where, halfway to better design standards, there’s a bar giving a clear indication that I’m supposed to push the door open. But the push bar on these doors extends all the way across the door, from one edge to the other, so I don’t know which way the door swings open. Inevitably, I push on the edge of the door closest to the hinge, so I appear incompetently weak, and I have to step back and recalibrate my push to the other edge of the door. This wouldn’t happen if the bar only extended out on the side of the door that was supposed to be pushed.

Thanks to the podcast, however, I now realize I’m not an idiot. Rather, the door is designed wrong. The podcast defines a Norman door as one meeting one of two criteria:

1. A door where the design tells you to do the opposite of what you’re actually supposed to do, or,
2. Gives the wrong signal and needs a sign to correct it.

“Why do you need an instruction manual?” asks Norman in the podcast. “Why do you need a sign that says ‘push’ or ‘pull’? Why not make it obvious?”

I was thinking about that second point — needing a sign to tell us how to open a door — when I was on the #7 bus the other day and three people in a row couldn’t figure out how to exit the rear door. I’m talking about the “wave your hand to exit” door that showed up with the most recent bus purchases.

Not only does the door need a sign, which is bad enough, but the sign itself is a confusing mess of contradictory messages. Here it is:

The problem is that you want to exit the bus quickly. You’re in a hurry, the people behind you are pushing towards the exit, the bus needs to get on its way… you don’t have 15 seconds to try to figure out how the thing works. And the immediate visual cues tell you to do the wrong thing.

In English, we read a sign from top to bottom. Therefore, in the split second a passenger has while approaching the door, they first see a green arrow pointing up. Down below there are red bars. In our cultural signing language, green arrows mean “go” and red bars mean “stop” or “don’t go.” So while the words on the sign tell us to wave our hands near the red bar that says “HERE,” most people instead raise their hands towards the roof and wave their hands by the topmost green arrow. I did this myself for months and months, until I spent far too much time thinking about it.

And now I sit on the bus and watch how other people use the doors — three-quarters of them raise their hands towards the ceiling. The door only opens for them if they’re close enough that their elbows happen to be swinging around the red-barred HERE. The rest wave and wave and wave, and the door doesn’t open. Sometimes they yell at the driver to open the damn door. Sometimes they run up to the open front door. Sometimes they miss their stop entirely. I’ve seen this play out thousands of times.

When people incorrectly use a door thousands of times, it’s not the fault of the user, but rather the designer. This is a Norman door.

But the bad design on the bus door goes much deeper than the sign.

Why were the “wave your hand” door installed in the first place? The old push bars, which were used intuitively and didn’t need a sign, worked perfectly well. The switch to the “wave your hand” door was, I’m guessing, a response to the overblown fears of bird flu and our increasing societal germ phobia. Some people, designers anyway, have it in their heads that we shouldn’t touch things with our hands that other people have touched with their hands.

But this is ridiculous. The chances of catching some horrid disease from touching a bus door push bar are slim, and anyway, every other door you’ll use that day — like those confusing building entry doors — requires you to use your hand to push them open. But even if you actually care about this, you didn’t need to place your hand on the old push bars that were on bus doors. You could hit them with your elbow, or a backpack or purse, and they’d open just fine.

Another problem with the “wave your hand” doors is that they take about three seconds to open, and then another three seconds to close after passengers have exited. The previous bus bar doors took maybe half a second on each end, so we’ve increased the bus exiting time by five seconds.

Five seconds may not sound like a lot, but multiply that five seconds by the hundreds of stops that a bus makes through the course of its route, and we’re suddenly adding as much as 10 minutes to the commute time. That’s 10 minutes for tens of thousands of bus passengers, and don’t forget the return commute, so 20 minutes a day, times tens of thousands of passengers equals [calculates] eleventy trillion dollars in lost productivity because of those dog damned doors.

I’m told that the “wave your hand” doors so slowed down the buses that several routes needed to be rescheduled to accommodate the delays in exiting. What used to be an hour route from beginning to end became a 70-minute route, or whatever.

How is it possible that a) the doors were ordered in the first place, and b) they continue to be placed on new buses?

This is a classic case of transit management not testing for themselves a new design before implementing it, and then, once the change was implemented, not using the buses themselves to experience the real-world effects of the change. Because they don’t ride the bus, managers simply don’t know the frustrations caused by the “wave your hand” doors.

Moreover, there doesn’t appear to be an effective way to give management feedback on the doors. When thousands of passengers can’t use the doors properly and word doesn’t get back to management, something is wrong. I also know drivers are extremely frustrated by the “wave your hand” doors, but management either doesn’t hear their complaints or doesn’t listen to them.

The “wave your hand” doors are yet another example of why we should mandate that transit managers and city councillors take the bus on a regular basis. You can’t build and maintain an effective transit system if you’re only building it for other people.

2. Corey Rogers

Corey Rogers. Photo:

Jeannette Rogers, the mother of Corey Rogers, spoke to the media yesterday. You’ll recall that Corey Rogers was the man who died in police custody but whose name wasn’t released for over a year. Zane Woordford reports for Metro:

That night, Rogers believes, her son was put in a police cell with a spit hood over his head and died by asphyxiation.

She said Halifax Regional Police are supposed to check on prisoners in cells every 15 minutes and wake them up if they’re drunk.


Rogers disputes news releases from the Serious Incident Response Team and the province’s Public Prosecution Service that indicate that someone tried to resuscitate her son. She said no one did.

“They knew he had been dead for a while is my feeling,” she said.


Rogers expects several Halifax Regional Police officers will be charged, probably some time in the fall.

3. Whales

A right whale. Photo: DFO

“The carcass of a seventh North Atlantic right whale has been found off the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, CBC’s French-language service, Radio-Canada, is reporting,” reports the CBC:

The dead whale was discovered in the water near Havre-Aubert Wednesday night by the Canadian Coast Guard.

Quebec’s marine mammal research network, known by its French initials GREMM, confirmed that the carcass is new and not one it was already aware of.

Six other North Atlantic right whales, which are an endangered species, have been found dead in the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence since June.

Meanwhile, “an endangered North Atlantic right whale has been freed after getting entangled in fishing gear near the area where six other whales were found dead,” reports the Canadian Press:

Tonya Wimmer of the Marine Animal Response Society said the large whale was cut free of the fishing line in its mouth after it was spotted by an aerial surveillance plane in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s a good news story … thank goodness,” said Kim Davies of Dalhousie University’s Department of Oceanography. “It was disentangled pretty readily — they didn’t have to chase it over multiple days.”

The whale didn’t appear to have been snarled in the mess of gear for very long, and appeared to not have suffered serious injuries, Davies said.

4. Tires

“Nova Scotia is shifting from recycling tires to burning them, prompting anger from environmental groups and a company that has invested $5 million to find fresh uses for the scrap rubber,” reports Michael Tutton for the Canadian Press:

The province announced Thursday it’s going to pay LaFarge Canada about $105 per tonne — up to about $2,100 daily — in a one-year pilot project that will burn the tires to make cement in the company’s Brookfield plant.

Mike Chassie, the vice-president of C and D Recycling, said his Halifax firm is losing a third of its supply of about one million tires annually.

There are lots of details at the link.

5. Ayahuasca

“A former mixed martial arts fighter living in Timberlea is planning to bring the South American hallucinogenic tea ayahuasca to Nova Scotia, where he hopes to conduct healing ceremonies like ones he experienced in Peru,” reports Chris Lambie for Local Xpress:

Ricky Goodall, 33, wants to start hosting the rites this fall.

“I used to be a professional mixed martial arts fighter. I had 21 fights all over the country. I fought for world championships on pay-per-view television and everything, but I just couldn’t find happiness,” Goodall told Local Xpress.


That’s where the ayahuasca tea comes in, with its active ingredient imethyltryptamine, a drug known to induce intense hallucinogenic experiences.

“When you take ayahuasca, they refer to her as a living, feminine entity,” Goodall said.

The Icarus Report

• On June 20, an ultralight craft taking off from Woodstock, New Brunswick crashed. The pilot managed to escape without injuries.

• On June 21, an ultralight pilot taking off from the Liverpool/South Shore Regional, NS airport crashed into some nearby trees; the pilot managed to climb down from the treetops, but the plane was a goner.

• On June 22, a PZL-104 Wilga pilot taking off from St-Hyacinthe, Quebec crashed into a parking lot across from the airport. The pilot was “slightly injured.”

• On June 25, a privately operated helicopter on a pleasure trip taking off from Calgary “collided with the ground… The helicopter sustained substantial damage and the pilot, who was the sole occupant, received a minor injury.”

• On June 30, a 71-year-old man flying an ultralight craft crashed behind a barn near Deep Creek, BC. He died.

• On June 30, Sky Air flight 7671 from Halifax to Montreal reported “an icing problem and loss of icing protection for the aircraft” and so returned to Halifax. Ice, on June 30.

• On June 30, Republic Airlines flight 4407, which can carry up to 101 passengers, landed at Pearson International in Toronto, and while taxiing “the flight crew was instructed to exit on Taxiway D4 and hold short of Runway 24R” but “failed to hold short and crossed the hold line prior to receiving further clearance to cross the runway.” Right at that moment, an Irving Oil-owned Bombardier Challenger 300 was taking off from the same runway, and flew right over that Republic Airlines plane. I mean, holy shit, ya know?

• On July 5, Delta Air light 209 from Edinburgh, Scotland to New York reported “an issue with the washroom” that was so bad the plane had to land in Bangor.

• On July 5, a Cessna taking off from Quebec/Jean Lesage airport bound for Rimouski crashed in a field south of Matane. Emergency responders found three people injured but, oddly, the TSB report notes, there was “no other impact on the farm.”

Lasers: July 4: someone near St. Stephen pointed a green laser at Jazz Air flight 8972, en route from Toronto to Saint John. The RCMP was alerted. July 5: two different Cessna pilots reported being hit with a green laser above Montreal. July 6: Porter Air flight from Chicago flying into Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto was hit by a green laser at 10,000 feet and then again at 5,000 feet.

Drones: July 1: Jazz Air flight 8971 reported a drone at 3,000 feet above the Quebec/Jean Lesage airport. July 4, the pilot of a Piper flying into St. Catharines, Niagara, Ontario, reported that they damn near hit a drone just a mile from the runway;  a pilot flying a de Havilland DHC-3T near 10 Mile Point, BC, reported a drone at around 700 feet; Air Canada flight 296 from Vancouver to Winnipeg reported a drone at 1,000 feet three miles out from the runway at Winnipeg. July 5: a Piper pilot reported a drone at 2,000 feet above Cornwall Regional Airport in Ontario; a RCMP plane descending into Edmonton reported a drone about 200 feet below the plane; WestJet flight 523 from Deer Lake flying into Pearson Airport in Toronto reported a drone at 10,000 feet above Toronto.

Animals: June 26: a private pilot doing touch-and-gos at Vernon, BC, reported three deer jumped over the airport perimeter fence and crossed in front of the plane. The pilot stopped, let the deer pass, and then continued on. Airport staff chased the deer out the main gate of the airport. June 29: a coyote was running around the runway in Hamilton. June 30: a pilot landing a Cessna in Lloydminster, Alberta reported that a deer had run across the runway in front of the plane. July 4: a coyote was running around the runway at Medicine Hat; a coyote was on the runway in London, Ontario; a Hydro Quebec plane landed at Grande Rivière, and then was chased down the taxiway by a bear. July 6: Sunwest flight 9852 out of Calgary aborted takeoff because a coyote was on the runway; Jazz Air flight 8103 from Houston landing at Calgary hit a group of ducks on the runway, with not-so-pretty results for the ducks.


No public meetings.

On campus

No events.

In the harbour

The seas around Nova Scotia, 9am Friday. Map:

5:30am: Dorado Leader, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Zeebrugge, Belgium
7am: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 36 from Saint-Pierre
11:30am: Dorado Leader, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
4pm: Hamburg Bay, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
6pm: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Pier 36 for Saint-Pierre


Those doors really annoy me.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. “The province announced Thursday it’s going to pay LaFarge Canada about $105 per tonne — up to about $2,100 daily — in a one-year pilot project that will burn the tires to make cement in the company’s Brookfield plant.”

    Why are we paying them to do this?

  2. Between the Icarus Report and the rant about doors, this Morning File has a great ‘Old Man Yells at Cloud’ vibe to it!

  3. Don Norman… intelligent, funny and would probably make a great President or Prime Minister.

  4. re: tire burning in Metro

    2 quotes in the Metro story stood out and are a good indication of our free market, union bashing Liberal government,

    “A spokeswoman for Divert NS said the agency wanted to diversify the possible uses of the tires.
    “A single market is not a good situation, and we wanted to diversify to reduce the risk,” wrote Carolyn Pierce in an email”. (so the government creates another one damn it’s responsibility to the environment)

    “He also said that 60 to 70 people work at the plant in unionized jobs, and keeping costs low is important.” (Unionized employees are way too expensive. Doesn’t that sound familiar regarding the Liberals and their contempt for unionized employees)

  5. Thanks, Tim – the Norman doors podcast will forever haunt my everyday life. And those bus doors? I hate them so much I leave my seat a stop early so I can quickly exit the front door, hopefully without inconveniencing anyone wanting to get on the bus. Earlier this week I was on a short bus ride (I think it was the #7) and numerous people had difficulty getting the back door to open. The driver said “No, don’t wave your hand, HOLD it over the door.” WTF? BTW they had a similar system for bus doors in Fort Lauderdale, and while it wasn’t great, it wasn’t so bad.

  6. Sure planes can ice up in June. At cruising altitude, it’s about -57 degrees C. Going up and down gets you through all sorts of temperature and humidity levels. It’s rare, but it’s not that surprising.

    I still find the Icarus Report mostly heartening actually: look at all the crazy stuff that happens all the time and still hardly anyone gets hurt! I used to have serious flying anxiety until one day I looked up the NTSB database and discovered how few incidents end up resulting in actual fatalities – and how many crazy things can happen on a modern commercial jet where they just turn around and land again and no big deal. (I’m still twitchy on planes but at least I know it’s neurosis rather than justified fear).

    Tim I think you’re a bit older than me, so you probably remember even better the 70s/80s era of spectacular plane crashes (AA191 is the one that’s etched in my psyche) but these kinds of things were super rare even then, and are even more rare now.

    The most dangerous thing about flying is if you don’t have your seatbelt on and the plane hits surprise turbulence – you might hit your head on something (although the plane would be fine).

    I also don’t think it’s fair to count all the wacky stuff people get up to in private planes and the like – that’s like filing a report summarizing every single stupid thing people do in their cars. I mean, it’s funny, but it’s not really news.

  7. I listened to that podcast too and ever since Norman doors haunt me, and they are everywhere. And I have seen those wave your hand transit doors in other cities and they make me anxious, worrying I am going to hold everyone up as I flail my hands around like a crappy street mime.

    I hope there is a special place in hell for the evil building operators who unlock only one of two or more adjacent doors, leaving you to pull/push on each one until you find the lucky door. I call those the Monty Hall doors.

    It is incredible that with all of the engineers, architects and designers in the world, doors seem to keep getting worse.

  8. If you assume half the ridership gets off the back of the bus and those stupid doors take five seconds extra, it works out to roughly a year wasted per year – meaning that on average someone is always wrangling one of those doors.

    The present is a badly designed bus door slightly inconveniencing someone, forever.

    Psychedelics like Ayahuasca are incredibly cheap and effective ways to treat addiction and PTSD – they aren’t risk free like many of their proponents claim, however – but it’s still absolutely criminal that we haven’t studied that class of drug more thoroughly.

  9. The Design of Everyday Things is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. It may be 30 years old, and some of the stuff Norman notes has improved — but overall it remains very relevant. I think about the insights in that book a lot.

  10. You know the washroom is in bad shape when it forces your plane to land in Bangor.

  11. Re: Transit doors

    It is obvious to everyone that Halifax Transit does not 1) pay attention to feedback from riders or c) do much research beyond their own “expert” opinion on how to improve transit service for riders. For example, they still do not have an adequate real-time tracking of buses on routes. Their website is still a workman-like assembly of old fashioned PDF files which are hard to view on a desktop computer let alone a hand held device. Compare that to say OC Transpo in Ottawa which although far from state of the art is fast and user friendly. Pick a departure time and pick a destination and it tells you everything you need to take the bus including timing, duration etc. A couple of phone calls and Halifax could have the same system working. But because their “experts” didn’t invent it, it cant be good because Halifax transit is soooo unique.

  12. You should add a snarky footnote to the Icarus Report, along the lines of this:

    “Meanwhile, the other 1,213,000 commercial flights around the world, since June 20th, reported no major issues” (Average is around 82,000/day)”