… so long as you find beauty in anything that conveys a vast amount of content in the least possible space, or with the least possible complexity.
Perhaps this is a distinctly Zen sense of beauty, but it's also close to what mathematicians and scientists often mean by elegance.
If you know San Francisco, you know where Geary Blvd. is and you probably have a sense that the VA Hospital is out toward the west end of it somewhere. So this sign tells you a surprisingly complete story about what this bus does. This makes it useful not just as information but also as gentle passive advertising. Anyone can notice this sign out of the corner of their eye, and pick up a bit of information about the transit system ("there's a bus heading out Geary from here … good to know …")
For decades, San Francisco and Portland have used this simple style for all of their signage. I discussed how it works in Portland here. Even back in transit's "age of vinyl," San Francisco used separate roller signs for name and destination, so that they could present the same information in the same pattern consistently. (Photos were also blurrier back then!)
Many other cities, including Sydney and Seattle, habitually turn it upside down, so on the 38 above they might have said "38 VA HOSPITAL via Geary." A Sydney sign might read "380 DOVER BCH via Oxford St." I find that less intuitive, because the path the bus follows is usually more useful than the final destination in determining if the service is useful to you. Still, it's understandable in Sydney where street names change so frequently that it's hard to associate bus routes with them, as "38 GEARY" does.
But this post is actually an information request. Have you seen bus exterior signs that convey a lot of information briefly in an interesting way, either examples of the above or of other ideas? If so, please link or send them to me. I'm collecting them for a project.
Meanwhile, for a more literary perspective on bus signage, see here!
I think I see what you’re getting at. So in canberra, the north-south bus rapid line instead of reading, say, 319 SPENCE via City, should have 319 BLUE RAPID spence? kinda thing?
All of the Toronto bus signs are like the San Francisco example. And Toronto’s grid system makes navigation even easier. There’s one street, Steeles Ave, which forms the entire northern border of the city. So even if you’re in an unfamiliar part of town, you can always pick out a northbound bus.
The nomenclature on Toronto’s simple subway system also meshes nicely with the bus network. If you want to get to Jane Station, you go to Jane St and board a 35 Jane bus. And if you want to go somewhere on Leslie St, you know that you’ll be able to catch the 51 Leslie at Leslie Station.
I lived in Ottawa for 17 years and never really got a sense of how OC Transpo worked. After two months in Toronto I knew the TTC like the back of my hand.
Ironically, most bus stops in Toronto look like this: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/11/16680364_a4669e7134.jpg No route name, no destination, no number, no nothing. Just a picture of a bus on a pole.
Having grown up using San Francisco transit (and Santa Clara’s VTA), I’ve always appreciated that form of signage. In fact, I prefer that to the scrolling signs, which I have to stare at for several seconds to determine if it’s even my bus. I get that you want me to exit through the back door, but having that message on your destination sign for half the time is counter-intuitive, especially when I’m on an unfamiliar line or at a stop which serves multiple lines.
In fact, routes with numbers (or letters) and names describing the main street are the easiest for me to understand. Colors are a problem if the trains aren’t actually that color – a recent trip to San Diego showed me that the orange, green, and blue lines are all red trains, so that means nothing to me.
I have an old rollsign from what I think is the 1980s from San Francisco’s N and J streetcars, and unlike the bus signs these feature both the letter/name and destination on one panel, though they are divided in a similar fashion.
The Chicago Transit Authority’s bus signs are similar, but in a two-step digital scroll. The route name is displayed first, and is almost invariably the main street along which the route operates (since nearly all Chicago streets are very long and very straight.) The destination is displayed next. The route number is always shown.
Thus, for example, for the eastbound #66 bus traveling along Chicago Avenue and terminating at Navy Pier, the display would scroll between “66 Chicago” and “66 To Navy Pier.” The addition of the word “to” removes any doubt for locals as to which is the route name and which is the destination.
An important caveat, though–because Chicago’s streets are so long and straight, many people refer to the bus routes simply by the streets they serve. As in, most locals would simply call the #66 route the “Chicago bus.”
Leeds has a very complex road network, but that doesn’t matter for buses, because they nearly always follow the long, relatively straight arterials. They tend to form very frequent corridors that do a lot of branching when they’re far out in the suburbs.
So, indeed, the most important information is the name of the road, yet it’s frustrating how little emphasis is put on this. This route is on the Headingley Lane Corridor, as you can tell by the little text that’s only legible close up to the bus:
On Headingley Lane, your bus might also be a 1 or 6 to Holt Park or a 97 to Guiseley – few people I know have any idea where any of those places are.
Because of that branching, and the lack of a simple numbering system, while people from the suburbs know exactly what number bus they need, people travelling along the main corridor often don’t remember bus numbers, just which city centre stop they need. As such, the final destination, information needed by a minority, is prominently conveyed twice (name and route number), while the road the buses uses, information needed by a majority, isn’t conveyed prominently at all.
This post has me imagining a beautiful, legible world in which buses aren’t held up at stops in central Leeds by multiple people asking which way it goes.
1 HEADINGLEY LN / To Holt Park
50 BURLEY RD / To Horsforth
56 YORK RD / To Whinmoor
19 SELBY RD / To East Garforth
2 HARROGATE RD / To Roundhay Park
I can dream on.
I came across this manner of referring to routes in Detroit, but not just among users – staff, too.
While waiting for a bus with a number I’d ascertained on a network map to get along Woodward to the Amtrak station. I got on a couple of other buses to make sure with the operator that I was waiting for the right one. Both of them told me “wait for the Woodward bus”. Neither gave me a number, and the number seemed to be a mere formality.
Also, regarding Leeds: A new numbering system has just been tried out with the 7 series (formerly the 35, 45 and 71) on Scott Hall Road. The 7 to Primley Park, the 7A to Alwoodley and the 7S to Shadwell.
I’m quite fond of it. I think that conveying the route through a single number seems like a very good idea. Elsewhere, the idea of using a double-figure number with the first digit reflecting the route has occurred to me, but number and letter might be best in Leeds, where there are far more than nine frequent corridors.
Could you say that in North America the emphasis is more on the street as route and Australia / UK more on the locality as destination? perhaps because of American grid patterns, routes are essentially simpler. There’d be few routes in Sydney or London that you could characterise by just one street name. I wouldn’t really care which came first as long as they’re both presented.
If a bus follows more than one street, it can be confusing for its sign to refer to a street that it has already finished running on. More than once I’ve known tourists trying to take the “28 19TH AVE” from the Golden Gate Bridge south to points on 19th Ave to end up riding it in the opposite direction, east onto Lombard St, instead. Both directions use the same stop at the Golden Gate Bridge and both display “19TH AVE” most prominently even though the eastbound direction is not headed anywhere near 19th Ave.
Now that we’re past the “age of vinyl”, isn’t it possible to have signs changed mid-trip, so the sign only describes where the bus is going, not irrelevant information about where it has been?
I think you’re right that using the street name can be more meaningful to the customer — but it suggests a grid network where bus routes are tied to specific streets. That’s harder to achieve in some cities where there isn’t an effective grid street network to lay bus routes atop of. I spend some time early in my career trying to figure out how to adopt a grid network in Seattle where I live, and in most of the city I couldn’t figure a way to do it. The Ship Canal, Green Lake and I-5 disrupt most routes, and there are few activity center anchors at the ends of east-west streets to allow enough frequency.
Unfortunately, bus route design needs usually to conform to the street network available. And route design determines how to best communicate about where buses are going.
Vancouver isn’t really consistent with this. It’s probably a little confusing to people who don’t know the system well.
Most buses display the route number and the destination. The destination can be an actual place (e.g. 16 29th Ave Stn), the street the bus ends at (e.g. 9 Alma), the last street the bus travels on (e.g. 7 Dunbar), or one of the streets the bus travels on (e.g. 4 Powell).
There are a few routes that run only, or almost entirely, on a numbered street (e.g. 41 Crown/UBC on 41st Ave), and these buses use the street number as the route number and display the turn-around street.
Sorry for the long links, but considering it is in a foreign language, I’ll link to specific images.
This is a sign on the side of the bus, near the door you get on, that has the major destinations along the line:
Here, you can see an analog version of the sign on the side of the bus:
SFMuni has its version of the stopped clock syndrome. You know – “It’s right twice a day.” All too often the driver forgets to reset the destination sign before setting out from a terminus. So then you see a westbound bus with its eastern terminus showing at Balboa Park BART Stn (e.g. the #29). I suspect they haven’t put a cross-check in the onboard computer that matches the stop sequence to the destination displayed. Another way to check would be to have the bus transmit its location AND its indicated terminus to central control and have CC do the checking.
Sometimes the desire for brevity can go too far. Translink here in Vancouver recently changed all the signs for “Commercial-Broadway Stn” to “Com’l Bdwy stn”. There was more than enough room on the bus signs’ electronic displays for the previous full name but for reasons impenetrable to the riding public they went ahead and changed it.
Jarrett, you are working on contract for Translink, could you be a hero and mention the issue to one of your colleagues? It’s just an embarrassing state of affairs in its current form.
Mississauga Transit (Mississauga is a suburb just west of Toronto) introduced W, E, S, & N onto its bus route numbers a few years ago.
Most of the eastbound buses head to the Islington subway station in Toronto – so all the buses will say XXE – To Subway – for example:
201E To Subway
There are other main terminals – but no “via” signage as I recall.
Since MT uses only LED or flip-dot destination signage they have to ensure the message flips back fast enough.
My favourite bus route is the Dundas Line, Route 1 C – because when it is heading eastbound the signage reads 1CE – from a distance it looks like the word “ICE”. I don’t know why that amuses me, but it does.
Two other signage cues that caught my interest:
Hong Kong buses that were terminating at an MTR station used to have the suffix “M” after the route number (87M, 92M) – while buses terminating at a KCR station had the suffix K (123K).
I don’t know how things have changed since the merger of MTR & KCR back in 2007.
One of the earlier comments mentioned Toronto – I liked how many bus routes were designed with branches, and some of the suffixes had “easy to figure out” meanings. For example, the 35Jane had the 35E as the express bus. The 35S was the bus that would short-turn somewhere along the route.
@sanchez. Something like that. Canberra's Blue Rapid will eventually need GPS-driven signage that presents what's appropriate for each segment of the route. Until it gets north of the City, for example, nobody cares that it's going to Spence.
@Chief Clerk. Yes, North America is more likely to emphasise street names, but really it should depend on whether street names are useful. Much of Melbourne (trams and buses) could use a similar system. (Melbourne tram signage is deeply mysterious to me.) Many North American cities have the right geography for this system but don't use it consistently; Los Angeles comes to mind.
@Anon 256. Yes, the possibility now exists for GPS-driven systems to update signs as you proceed. In many cases like Canberra (see prev comment) they'll be useful. Golden Gate Transit could use this system with profit on its long freeway lines that serve many nodes. You could justify this on many SF lines as well, but on the other hand generations of people in that city have been trained to think of number and name together, so that even "54 Felton", which is on Felton St for about four minutes, becomes familiar through repetition. Discouraging this way of remembering names could be a net negative in a city where so many lines do run the full length of a street, and are usefully remembered that way. J
@Ted K. GPS-based signage is already being used to eliminate the driver's task of setting signs, and thus driver error.
Obviously, while working inside of Vancouver's TransLink, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on internal deliberations or my influence on them. Infer as you will.
@ Moaz. I've always found letter-number combinations a little harder to read that pure numbers or pure letters. I once witnessed a hit-and-run and found the jumble of numbers and letters on a CA licence plate impossible to remember quickly. Canadian postal codes (e.g. V5H4N2) also take me about 10 times as long to commit to memory as, say, a US zipcode (five digits) I think we grasp all-letter and all-number combinations more easily.
So I wouldn't advocate mixing up directional details with the route number, but rather making them clear in text on signs.
Boston buses scroll.
1 | Harvard
1 | via mass ave
And when necessary, a third “window” when the bus uses two major streets
1| and ____ street
However, the names of the buses on the website reflects exactly what the scrolling sign will say
….except for December, when “seasons greetings” gets added in there. Not very useful to see a seasons greetings bus approaching.
Actually no, they dont scroll. The first message is displayed, then the second, then the third (if necessary). Theres no scrolling.
The messages INSIDE the bus, do scroll.
Ie, “Please use the rear door to exit” which doesnt all fit in the screen at once.
I often used to be amused when I would see an ACTION Bus in Canberra displaying its current location as its destination (generally a major bus interchange). Given the bus was a loop service the signage was technically accurate but completely useless (and not amusing) for anyone wanting to know where the bus would take them.
A variation I’ve seen (with modern electronic signs) is to show the number and route name in bold, then show various waypoints along the way. (This can have negative consequences if it shows the waypoints after the bus has passed them, but I like the principle). The trick is not to have too many waypoints, so that the route number/name appears often enough for identifcation purposes.
Probably not what you’re looking for, but LED and LCD displays have definately led to the downfall of well thought out displays here in the Netherlands. A “transit-nerds” forum I moderate actually has a whole topic related to errors found on such displays.
One of the stupidest and most frequent issues is a destination via another destination which adds nothing, such as “Utrecht Central Station via Central Station”. Another issue is that vowels are dropped from street names to make them fit (“street” becomes str, lane becomes “ln”, etc) or strange abbreviations (Amsterdam is normally abbreviated A’dam, but displays sometimes make it Amdam for instance)
Joel. I believe that the Dutch entrust their signage to private operating companies, without much guidance on how it should be done. In a surprising number of agencies, the choice of sign text is very close to the bus operations function, thus often entrusted to well-intentioned people who aren't trained in thinking about wayfinding, and information.
I’m a daily rider of Maryland’s Prince George’s County Transit. They have a nasty habit of being too nice with their destination signs, so you end up with signs that change every 10 seconds, resulting in something like this:
There are a couple of things wrong with this approach:
On the other end of the spectrum, my route is linear, except that the eastern end has a loop. Since there’s no fixed layover, the bus doesn’t have a concrete destination. Therefore, the headsign never changes. In both directions, the route is signed “11 Greenbelt East”. This is a relatively new route, and the sign has caused confusion, especially when the bus is headed west, toward Greenbelt Station.
I think that we can all agree that holiday greetings, safety messages, promotional text, and other information unrelated to route identification and way-finding ought not be present on the bus signage. It’s tempting to put it there because that’s where riders will often be looking–but it does customers a disservice.
Neither Tel Aviv nor Singapore has these displays: buses just display the route number, and in Singapore they may or may not also display the destination, I don’t remember. In Tel Aviv, it’s because there isn’t much of a grid, and even when there is, the buses don’t really follow it; not only are many streets one-way, but also the one-way streets aren’t consistently paired into couplets the way Uptown Manhattan avenues are. In Singapore, it’s because the major streets the buses run on are pedestrian-hostile arterials, and development is rarely linear as it is in American cities; Orchard is treated as a neighborhood more than as a street.
It’s been a decade since I’ve lived in SF, and rarely took public transit when I did, but names like 38 Geary and N Judah are still in my head. Whereas I’ll probably forget Seattle’s one-seat “# Neighborhood via Neighborhood” (example: 2 W Queen Anne via Downtown) system if I take a long vacation.
I have two suggestions that don’t quite fit the homework assignment.
1. Simple route maps like you’d see on subways would be really useful for buses. Yes, the driver would have to get up and change it when s/he changes routes. But it would help riders and minimize questions when people get on (“does this bus go to…”).
2. I once saw a rendering of a bus stop that I loved (yes, I’ve strayed all the way off the bus now). Just a pole with colored lights on top. Each light represented a bus and had a number. The frequency of the flashing light corresponds to how close the bus is, so you can tell at a long glance from blocks away how far away your bus is.
While on the topic of scrolling, I’ll rant on one of my pet peeves – the use of horizontal instead of vertical scrolling.
You see this here in Vancouver on the signs inside the Canada Line trains. The problem is that it takes forever to scroll horizontally through a message at a speed which keeps the text readable. But a message which shows a line of text for a couple of seconds, then rapidly scrolls vertically to the next line for a few seconds, etc. is much faster to comprehend.
I think the buses and trams should tell us how they are feeling like this one in Goteborg
@ Moaz: I found Mississauga’s recent route numbering change confusing (presenting direction immediately after the route number). By that time I had gotten used to the TTC’s practice of using “E” to denote express branches and “S” to indicate short turns, so as an infrequent visitor to Mississauga that’s what I think of first now when I see a bus showing 19S Hurontario or 1E Dundas.
I still fail to understand why so many North American bus stops don’t just have a small map of the route(s) buses take from there, including the connections that can be made.
Can anybody give some estimate of how much that would cost? Otherwise I might forever be wondering
Most Indian buses have the destination alone with the bus number (in LED display). The older buses which use handwritten boards not only show the source and destination, but also important stops on the route (including connections).
I have chosen an example from Mumbai, India; image below shows route 1 , from Backbay to Cadbury. The number stays constant, the source and destination keep moving across the screen.
Also, the signage changes from English to the local language alternately
When I was last in India in ’08, I noticed that on the new buses in Delhi, the electric signs on the half the new buses were in English, and the other half in Devanagari script. They didn’t alternate or scroll. Presumably half the buses were only for English speakers, the other only for those who read Hindi/Marathi/Nepali?
They were probably trying something out, but anyone can get into any bus as long as one knows where its headed. Language is a very sensitive issue in India and despite all the languages here, urban India speaks a lot of English. Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai are very English friendly as far as transit is concerned. Smaller cities have almost no English usage.
Even in the bigger cities only the air conditioned/volvo/high frequency route buses have dual signage. Most other buses have the number alone in English and the remaining information in local languages.
Railways (metro, local transit, long distance) are tri-lingual (English, Hindi, Local language) throughout the country.
This is an interesting table (in dutch) of all the destinations on the film of the Amsterdam Metro on one of the stock types:
It is in dutch, but it boils down to the destination, some intermediate stations incase of engineering works or breakdowns, and some special cases to denote the last trip (“laatste rit”). In addition, they also planned ahead to the renaming of the metro lines, from the current 5x scheme to Mx.
The map that belongs to this network is at: http://www.gvb.nl/reizigers/plattegronden/Pages/metrokaart.aspx
Why not list geographic location? I’ve always found the name of final destination disorienting as a transit system newbie or visitor. I think it is always good for end of line stops to have the name of the area in the transit stop name, not just some random stop name based on surface streets and uses only locals are familiar with.
Here are the names for the end of lines for the Research Triangle: “UNC Hospitals” and “Alston Ave”; “West Durham” and “Greenfield Parkway”; “Cary Parkway” and *sigh* “NERC” (I’ve yet to discover what “NERC” stands for – Northeast Raleigh Center??).
The only name that represents any use to me is “West Durham”. How much more useful to all users is the following: “Chapel Hill” and “East Durham”; “West Durham” and “East Garner”; “West Cary” and “Northeast Raleigh”.
Lothian Buses in Edinburgh has pretty good directional signage as I recall. Their VIAs are not usually road names, they’re areas, since the road names change a lot.
San Francisco has an interesting variant on the letter-suffix thing.
Muni has variations of L for limited, X for express and AX and BX to refer to a kind of express service that originates from the inner west and outer west of the city and bypass center city stops for a fast trip to the Financial District.
Only the suffixes are exponential, on both headsigns and street signs.
There’s a limited variant of lines 14 and 38, but they don’t read as 14L and 38L, with the letter being the full height of the numbers. They are 14 or 38 to the Lth power.
It’s very easy to get on the wrong bus if you don’t look for the little letter.
My city uses digital destination signs on all their buses. This is in Champaign-Urbana IL, see http://www.cumtd.com. This system has won multiple awards, received 10 million riders per year (equivalent to Indianopolis IN), with only a 110,000 city population!!!!
The CUMTD uses 1, 2, or even 3 scrolls to get all its info displayed, for the overhead front and the side sign by the door. They also have a rear display with only the # and colour — really handy if you JUST MISS a bus, you can tell by its rear digital sign if it was your bus or another one.
We also have “Hopper” services for several routes, which provides 10 mins services for center portions of a long route, while the whole long route gets 30 minute service as a community route. so the signs also have to say “hopper” and different destinations for those runs.
I helped work as an intern on some of this stuff for the signs. Our route structure is complicated because the routes wiggle all over the place. For simplification, each route is colour-coded AND numbered.
I helped get them to add directional letter to ALL buses, not just the few that were doing it. It makes it much easier for people to know the “general” direction of the bus, as the actual bus could be facing any direction on any given street.
There is also a general numbering scheme:
1-19 are general community routes.
20s are campus-centric routes (for U of I)
on all days & nights of weekends, and after 7pm, evening and overnight services start, so a 0 zero is added after the number.
so, some examples (these are paraphrased a bit, i cant remember all the details):
2 N Red – Meijers, Market Place
20 N Red – Meijers, Market Place
20 N Express – NO MALL (skips the mall, once an hour in the pm when they are adding a 3rd run)
12 W Teal – Illinois Terminal
120 W Teal – Illinois Terminal
22 N Illini – Lincoln/Killarney via First Street
220 N Illini – Lincoln/Kilarney via First Street
5 W Green – Illinois Terminal, Country Fair
5 W GreenHopper – John/Springfield
5 W Green Express – Cherry Hills, NO downtown
50 W Green – Parkland College
50 W Green Late Night – Illinois Terminal
The 5/50 E-W Green, the 1/100 N-S Yellow, the 13/130 N-S Silver, and the 22/220 N-S Illini are the main workhorse routes of our system, and run 6am-3am sun-thu (yes, even on sundays!) and 6am-5am fri-sat.
amazing for such a small city! You can check out more on their website to see their routes and learn more info. There should be lots of pix too, probably on flickr or other photo sharing.
but if you need anything specific for your project, let me know as i am a transportation planner and can go out and get whatever pix you might need.
Seattle has done both ways. In the roller days the destination was always first and the via second. The electric signs originally said “# DESTINATION” alternating with “# via MIDPOINT”. Then they switched to “# MIDPOINT” and “# to DESTINATION”.
Nowadays they often dispense with the words “to” and “via” completely and just alternate “# DESTINATION” and “# MIDPOINT”. That can be confusing because you can’t tell which one is the destination, or whether it’s going to the midpoint or has already passed it. The reason for doing this seems to be that the newer buses don’t have as much room for letters on the sign.
Seattle routes don’t have names so they can’t put a route name in the first field.