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Posts about Signs

Transit


Why can't Metro label escalators "walk left, stand right" or label where doors will stop on the platform?

Over 1,000 Metro riders submitted ideas for our recent MetroGreater contest. Two came up most often, but are sadly not possible: Signs or markings to encourage people to stand to the right on the escalators, and decals to show where the doors will stop on the platforms. Here's why they couldn't be winners.


Photo by Benjamin KRAFT on Flickr.

In New York, for instance, markings like the ones above show where the doors will stop and urge riders not to stand right in front of the doors.

The obstacle is simple: On the new 7000 Series trains, the doors are not in the same place as on the older trains. Metro plans to run 7000s on all lines and gradually replace all trains with them, but it will be a long time before any line has no older cars. Therefore, markers wouldn't be in the right spot for all trains.

Here's a comparison between the 7000 series (top) and older cars (bottom) by Sand Box John:


Image by Sand Box John. Note that the exterior design of the 7000 ended up somewhat different than in this sketch made from early plans.

It's too bad the markings aren't possible, but moving the doors closer to the center on the 7000 series does make some sense, as they could better distribute crowding between the middles and ends of the cars. It would have been even better to build them with four doors per side, but perhaps in the future. (If so, however, that will push off the day even further when these markings might be an option.)

Walk left, stand right?

Most of us stand on the right side of an escalator, if we're not walking up or down it, and walk on the left side. Thirty-three separate people submitted variations on the idea of educating people about this custom. It could be a sign, like this one that entrant Kristoffer Wright mocked up:


Image by Kristoffer Wright.

Or, what about footprints, as in this idea by London designer Yoni Alter:


Photo by Yoni Alter.

There's one straightforward problem with the footprints in DC: Many Metro escalators sometimes run up and sometimes down (though many do not). On those, at least, the footprints would make no sense with the escalator reversed. Not only would the feet be facing the wrong way, but the "walk" footprints would then be on the right side, giving people the wrong suggestions. ("You should walk backwards down the wrong side of this escalator"?)

As for signs, reversibility isn't the issue, but safety is. According to WMATA Assistant General Manager Lynn Bowersox, people walking on escalators "is the single biggest point of customer injury, and Metro does not want to endorse that." They know people walk on the escalator as an "informal commuter practice, but it is a safety concern and we do not want to encourage walking or running on moving conveyances."

Transit agencies around the globe have a wide range of views on whether this is a safety issue. Ryan Young, one of the people who submitted the idea, pointed out a few worldwide examples. Chicago, for instance, officially recommends "walk left, stand right":


Image from Chicago CTA.

Toronto, on the other hand, ended the practice in 2007 for safety reasons. Young also found this Polish article showing a "walk left, stand right" sign in a Warsaw department store and advocating for similar ones in the subway.

We could quibble with Metro's decision, but the fact (right or wrong) right now is that Metro's safety is under a microscope. We have people like US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx insisting that safety is the only priority and that he'd sooner shut down the Metro than have any safety problem whatever. In that climate, doing something on escalators that could be a little less safe, even if the change is slight, is probably not wise.

Personally, I still will be walking on the escalator and politely saying "excuse me" to people who stand on the left.

Transit


Exit Metrobus using the rear doors and more station name signs! These are two more MetroGreater finalist ideas.

Last week we announced the MetroGreater finalists and opened voting. Between now and August 26th, when voting closes, we want to tell you more about each finalist idea. Today's featured finalists: a campaign to exit Metrobus using the rear door and more station name signs for Metrorail.


Photos by pinelife and mirsasha on Flickr, respectively.

Exit through the rear doors: A campaign for improved Metrobus egress

There were many MetroGreater submissions that offered improvements to boarding and disembarking from Metro. One of those ideas is a campaign to encourage Metrobus riders to exit the bus from the rear doors. It became one of the finalist ideas.


Photo by pinelife on Flickr.

Here's the original submission:

Customers should exit MetroBus using the rear doors when possible. This will expedite the onboarding/off-boarding process at bus stops because onboarding customers in the front will not need to wait for off-loading customers coming out the front door.

The message to "exit from the rear" can be messaged through on-bus advertisements, pamphlets, social media, etc. The Portland, OR, are TriMet has instituted and marketed this policy for years and it is quite successful.

This proposal will significantly reduce the average wait time at bus stops for customers onboarding and off-boarding.

Alex L. submitted this idea and notes that "getting people to exit through the rear door might sound like a minor change (and it is!), but it's an important issue that transit planners and academics actually think about." Alex shares how surprised he was when he moved here, after living in many other cities, to discover "that DC bus riders are just as likely to exit through the front doors than through the rear doors. How could a population that has so perfected the behavioral norm of 'stand right, walk left' on Metrorail escalators be so indifferent about "enter front, exit rear" on Metrobus?"

Seattle's brochures and New York's recorded announcements are two examples Alex offered for how Metro could roll out such a campaign here in the Washington region.

Tells us what you think about this idea by voting at MetroGreater.org. Or, share your thoughts in the comments section below.

More station name signs

Another finalist idea focused on more signage to help passengers traveling by rail know which station they're arriving at.


Photo by mirsasha on Flickr.

Here is the original submission:

Right now, it can be difficult to see from inside the train what stop you are at. We should have more signs to the station so people in a train car can see what station they are stopped at.

I think we should have more signs on the wall, saying the name of the station. The pillars with station listings only use two sides--the other two could say what the stop is. You can print out giant stickers and put them on the pillars. Even if you can't do the wall signs, the pillars should be cheap and easy.

Several commenters support Hester G.'s idea. Amanda says "Great idea! I want to vote for more station name signs." Rick also thinks this is a "great idea and a no-brainier. Especially with cars packed to the brim and packed station platforms, more station name signs are definitely needed."

What do you think? Would more station name signs improve the experience for Metrorail riders? Vote today at MetroGreater.org!

And, ICYMI, check out the two finalist ideas we profiled yesterday.

Transit


Here are the MetroGreater finalists! Vote for the gold now!

The Olympics may be in full swing in Rio de Janeiro, but we've got our own nail-biting competition going on here in the Washington region. Here are the 10 finalists for the MetroGreater contest, to devise quick ways Metro can improve the rider experience. Which are your favorites?


Photo by Asten on Flickr.

People submitted over 1,300 ideas to improve the rider experience on Metrorail, Metrobus, or MetroAccess. Eligible ideas are ones that Metro could implement in six months or less and for no more than $100,000.

The MetroGreater jury met last week and selected an exciting slate of ten finalist ideas. From bus to rail, art to parking, we think you'll find at least one idea you think should be the MetroGreater winner.

Starting next week, we'll feature finalist ideas in Greater Greater Washington posts to tell you a bit more about each. In the meantime, take a look at the finalist ideas below, then cast your vote!

More direct priority seating signsMore station name signs
Install split stanchions in trainsCompass rose decals at station exits
Kojo on Metro: Recorded rail announcements by local personalitiesExit Metrobus using the rear door campaign
System map decals for ceilings of rail carsFeature local artists' work in stations
Make the sign post maps more color-blind friendlyReverse commuter parking passes

Congrats to our finalist submitters: Mathew F. of Washington, DC; Hester G. of Cheverly, MD; Peter D. of Arlington, VA; Ryan W. of Washington, DC; Janet S. of Alexandria, VA; Jennifer S. of Chevy Chase, MD; Robert B. of Falls Church, VA; Diana B. of Dunkirk, MD; Alex L. of Washington, DC; and Dennis E. of Bethesda, MD!

Cast your vote by Friday, August 26

Voting is open and you can cast your vote starting today at MetroGreater.org! Anyone can vote, but only once, between now and 11:59 pm next Friday, August 26th.

To vote, you'll rank the finalist ideas. You can rank all 10, or just your top choice. Votes will be tallied using the instant-runoff voting system. That means we will eliminate entries that get the fewest votes and apply those votes to the next-highest one that's still in the running. Instant runoff voting is used to elect legislators and presidents in Australia, India, and Ireland.

Honorable mentions

The jury also identified 12 honorable mentions. These are ideas which the jury really liked, but for one reason or another could not be implemented safely, successfully, in six months or less, and for no more than $100,000.

Some are ideas which Metro staff really liked and could work on in the future with the luxury of more time and/or money, and we hope they will. Others are actually being done already.

We will be following up with more detailed information on the reasons each of these could not be finalists in posts on Greater Greater Washington after the voting ends.

What about the rest of the ideas?

As we've kept you updated on the MetroGreater contest process, several commenters have requested that we share more than just the 10 finalist ideas. In addition to the honorable mentions above, you can now see the semifinalists here, and can see all of the submitted ideas here.

Prizes

Thanks to Metro and its business partners, the grand prize winner, the remaining 9 finalists, and the people who submitted "honorable mention" ideas will receive a prize!

The grand prize winner will receive a paperweight made from a piece of historic Metro rail removed during SafeTrack as well as a personalized $100 SmarTrip card. Additionally, he or she will get to choose two packages of experiences donated by the Reston Association, Extraordinary Alexandria, Pike & Rose, Spy Museum, National Building Museum, Washington Capitals, Arlington, Big Bus Tours, Washington Wizards, the Washington NFL team, and Downtown DC.

Finalists will each get to choose one of the remaining packages and will also each receive a $25 SmarTrip card.

People who submitted one of the honorable mention ideas will each get a token of appreciation from WUSA9, Metro, Rockville Town Square, Main Street Takoma, or the Smithsonian Zoo.

You make Metro greater

Thank you to everyone who submitted an idea! Whether your idea made it through to the final stages or not, your participation demonstrates riders' commitment to making Metro greater.

Transit


Metro wants you to know when an 8-car train is coming

To make it clear when an approaching train will have eight cars rather than six, Metro has started displaying the number "8" in green on station display boards. The idea, presumably, is to space passengers more evenly along the platform. Will it work?


A PID with green 8s next to eight-car trains. Photo by the author.

Because Metro operates both six and eight-car trains, not every train services the entire length of the platform. When an eight-car train does arrive, there is often extra space in the last two cars because relatively few passengers move to the end of the train. Noting these longer trains in a different color on the Passenger Information Displays (PIDs) may encourage more people to move down the platform.

Will this help or confuse riders?

This will only serve its purpose if passengers know what the green 8s mean. While the green color does stand out against the orange and red text (for most—it might not be so easy to tell the difference if you're color blind), it is not initially clear that the change in color is intentional. When I first saw the green color, I just assumed the board was broken.

The green color could also lead to confusion for some riders. Since Metro names the different lines by color, seeing a green eight could make some think a Green Line train is arriving.

One thing to know is that the PIDS are capable of displaying only three colors (red, orange, and green), and with red and orange already used for the other information, green is the only remaining available color.

One in a series of changes

The green 8s represent one of a number initiatives that Metro has recently undertaken. A few months ago, it began testing floor decals that mark where six-car trains end on the platform. Metro is also rolling out new information screens that do a better job of prioritizing multiple streams of information.

Going back a few years, Metro even changed the programming on the PIDS so that the text is easier to read at a distance.

These additions, along with new mezzanine lighting and station manager kiosk screens, offer passengers tangible improvements in their daily commutes. No doubt the Metro system faces enormous challenges when it comes to maintenance, but it's nice to see other, smaller changes not falling by the wayside.

Pedestrians


To make streets walkable, empower pedestrians to cross anywhere

To make streets walkable, we need to re-think the basic principles of how people on foot and people in cars share the roadway. This is the fourth and final post in a multi-part opinion series.

To make streets truly walkable, we need to totally rethink how we run them. Crossing on foot should be legal anywhere and anyplace. Traffic lights should be red-yellow-green, with no walk signals.


Photo by Ian Sane on Flickr.

As the previous posts in this series have shown, these simpler streets would be far safer. They could operate with only limited changes in the rules of the road. Drivers would follow traffic signals as they do today—pedestrians would have the right of way when they cross on green, but yield to drivers when the light is against them.

The rule for crosswalks with no signal would not change at all; those on foot would still have the right of way at all times. Elsewhere, foot crossings would be allowed at any location, but pedestrians would have to yield. (This is the current rule in Maryland and DC on blocks that don't have traffic lights at both ends.)

How the rules went wrong

The evolution of roadways over the last century has progressively restricted movement on foot. Traffic engineers have had two goals: to speed automobile travel by getting pedestrians out of the way, and to prevent crashes by separating vehicles from pedestrians.

This approach has long since become obsolete. It's not just that roads designed for fast driving aren't good for city living. Even on its own terms, traditional traffic engineering fails. It doesn't make streets safe. And it's too complex and expensive to be fully implemented.

The poor suffer most from this failure. Declining suburbs, designed for travel by automobile alone, now house many who cannot afford a car. With sidewalks scarce and crosswalks rarely marked, travel on foot in full compliance with the law is a practical impossibility. This opens the way to police harassment of minority pedestrians—a practice whose most famous victim was Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri.

Pedestrians need clear guidance, not complex commands

Effective management of the roadway requires a different philosophy. Users of all types should be empowered to cooperate in sharing scarce street space. Rules must be simplified and decision-making decentralized.

Pedestrians, empowered to cross whenever no cars are in the way, get to share the road more fairly. Walking is no longer delayed by rules set up to move cars. And legalizing mid-block foot crossings, which are unavoidable in many low-income suburbs, eliminates a pretext for police misconduct.

Simpler signals—no walk signs, so that the same traffic lights guide drivers and pedestrians alike—make roads safer. Drivers see what pedestrians see, so everyone knows who goes first. Simplicity also reduces distraction and provides redundant information to those who, inevitably, take their eyes off the signals. When movement begins, on wheel or on foot, anyone not paying attention gets a cue that the light has changed.

With this approach, rules of the road must still govern movement on the streets. Pedestrians have the right of way when crossing with a green light, or at a crosswalk with no signal. Everywhere else, vehicles have the right of way, with pedestrians allowed to cross if no traffic is in the way.

These right-of-way rules are only slightly altered from those in effect now, but they have a different spirit. Rather than telling people what to do, the rules create a framework where individual decisions add up to a collective gain. It's like economics, where markets usually work better than central command. Yet the system can exist only because laws set out basic rules and prevent harmful behavior like monopoly and fraud.

There are, to be sure, traffic problems that pedestrian empowerment cannot remedy. Where heavy foot and vehicle traffic meet, for example—situations like South Capitol Street after a Nationals game, or Times Square and the World Trade Center in New York—full separation of road users is the only way to keep traffic moving. Humans would have to direct traffic, as indeed they often do now in such places.

But a new approach to governing our streets cannot be judged against perfection; it must be compared to today's hazardous mess. The benefits of flexibility and simplicity will far outweigh the dangers created by loss of control.

This non-traffic engineer can only sketch out the needed changes. Details need to be added. Crossing freeways on foot, for example, surely must remain illegal.

New rules by themselves will hardly create safe walking streets. Roadways must be redesigned, and public attitudes must change. But without fundamentally rethinking how we control movement, the streets will never be safe and easy to walk on.

Pedestrians


Timing signals to work for pedestrians is impossible

To make streets walkable, we need to re-think the basic principles of how people on foot and people in cars share the roadway. This is the third post in a multi-part opinion series.


At Arlington's "intersection of doom," the traffic signals are so complicated they're nearly impossible to follow. Photo by author.

Walk signals are not only unsafe and inconvenient, they're also incapable of making pedestrian travel efficient. Engineers simply don't have the time or resources to correctly configure every traffic light for pedestrians.

Traffic lights and signs are not police officers standing in the intersection. When engineers use them to direct traffic as if they were, they impose on themselves a task they cannot carry out. In real-world practice, it is simply not possible to program the lights and place the signs in a way that moves people efficiently. The engineers are short of information, time, and money.

Highway departments don't even have the resources to fully optimize traffic controls for drivers. They traditionally simplify their work by planning for the busiest time of day. But traffic, especially foot traffic, flows all day. Outside rush hour, both drivers and pedestrians find themselves standing and watching empty streets, waiting for slow lights timed to minimize rush-hour backups.

It is possible, as New York and a few other cities have shown, for complex signals to make walking easier. Pedestrians get a few seconds to enter a crosswalk before cars can turn. Or turns are banned while people are crossing.

But if you try to orchestrate movement on foot in this way at every streetcorner, the traffic engineers' job becomes entirely unmanageable. They cannot possibly find the time to adjust every walk signal for the proper balance between walking and driving.

And even when walk signals are properly adjusted, the engineer still knows less than the person walking on the street. Anyone standing on the corner can see whether cars are coming. The pedestrian knows best when it will be safer to cross immediately than to wait for the green light and dodge turning vehicles.

In any case, highway agencies rarely give foot travel much attention outside big-city downtowns. At best, they make a half-hearted effort to meet federal minimums. By-the-book engineering creates hazards in the form of disappearing sidewalks, badly timed lights, and inscrutable signage.

Walk signals are expensive

Not only are walk signals costly in staff time and information, they are a financial burden. Highway agencies say that the cost of installing a full-featured traffic signal is a quarter to half a million dollars, and sometimes more.

There are thought to be more than 300,000 signalized intersections in the United States. (No one really knows the exact number.) Retrofitting all of them with walk signals to current standards would run up a bill in the ballpark of $100 billion.

Incremental fixes just create new problems

The rules for crossing streets grow ever more complex, and they have come to resemble the Gordian knot that the ancient Greeks were unable to untie. Straightening one piece out only creates new tangles.

Rosslyn's "Intersection of Doom," where drivers turn right across a bike path, shows this dynamic at work. After much public agitation, the walk signal on the bike path was set to begin before the green light. But drivers still came through the busy crosswalk when turning right on red. So a flashing don't walk signal went in. Now drivers need eyes on three sides of their heads to comply with the signals.

Signals for the blind have undergone a similar evolution. When walking is controlled by a traffic light, those who can't see use traffic noise to tell whether it's green. But if there's a walk signal, they don't know whether it's lit. So crosswalks with walk signals need pushbutton-operated beepers for handicapped access. More expense, more confusion, and more obstruction of the sidewalk.

The complexity has gotten so bad that FHWA can't even keep its rulebook straight. It required beepers for the blind in 2009, but did not authorize a sign that says what the button is for. Rule-bound engineers are now blanketing streets with signs that comply with the rulebook but misinform their readers.

These miscues are not happenstance. According to the branch of mathematics known as control theory, they are the inevitable consequence of too much complexity. Beyond a certain point, increasing the number of signals sent by an automatic controller creates more error than it prevents.

Alexander the Great is said to have cut through the Gordian knot with his sword. We need similar boldness to make our streets walkable. My next post suggests how that might be possible.

Transit


Metro's new displays do a better job of sharing info

Metro has installed new passenger information displays at some of its stations. The new signs fix the long-standing problem of showing information about elevator outages at far away stations rather than when the next train will reach the platform.

Metro customers have spotted new passenger information displays at Arlington Cemetery, Ballston, Judiciary Square, and Takoma. Like the older ones the majority of stations still have, the new displays list real-time train arrival information in three lines.

The biggest upside to the new signs is that instead of using the entire screen to slowly cycle through elevator outages, they simply show the info in a scrolling feed across the bottom.

In addition to the stations listed above, Metro's latest Customer Accountability Report says the new displays will go in on the mezzanine level at Smithsonian, Tenleytown, and Ballston by May of this year.

Transit


Metro's inefficient info displays worsen crowding

By prioritizing elevator information rather than train arrivals on its platform displays, WMATA forces riders to make bad decisions. The result: inefficient use of sparse train capacity.


Not the best use of this technology. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Picture yourself in this scenario

Imagine you're descending into a Red Line station. You hear a train approaching and rush to the platform. The train pulls up and you see that it's full.

You glance over at the real-time train arrival display, hoping there will be another train a minute or two behind. If so, you'll wait for it rather than crowd on now. Maybe you'll have just enough time to move down the platform to a less crowded spot.

Alas, the display is cycling through elevator outages on the Orange Line in Virginia. Who knows how long until the next train arrives. You'd better crowd on now.

Prioritizing less important info results in badly informed riders

Scenarios like that play out thousands of times every day all over the Metrorail system. It happens because Metro's PIDs, the Passenger Information Displays that show how long until the next train arrives, are programmed to also cycle through each elevator outage in the entire system.

Cycling through elevator outages often takes a long time, making it difficult for riders to get the real-time train arrival information that the displays were invented to show.

In turn, badly-informed riders can't use the system efficiently, and exacerbate overcrowding. Without good information, riders push onto full trains when an empty one is a minute behind, and rush into the nearest door rather than move down the platform to a less crowded one.

Those are increasingly important problems given Metro's capacity limitations.

Wheelchair users need elevator info

WMATA displays elevator outages on the PIDs because it's crucial information for a small minority of riders: the wheelchair bound, and others who can't use escalators or stairs.

For those groups, having plenty of advanced notice about which elevators are out is absolutely necessary. Removing that information from stations would therefore be an unacceptable trade-off.

But that information doesn't have to be on the same screens as train arrival information. In fact, trying to display multiple elevator outages on the PIDs, where there's only enough room to scroll through them one by one, is a remarkably bad way to provide that information.


A better way, in Chicago. Photo by Matt' Johnson on Flickr.

Displaying elevator outages on the PIDs requires riders who need that information to wait and watch an entire cycle, even if a train they could take is on the platform now.

It would be far more efficient to display that info on a separate screen that can show several outages at once, like the larger more advanced screens at station manager kiosks.

Or even a low-tech dry erase board, the preferred solution for Chicago's CTA.

By trying to satisfy two entirely different sets of needs with one limited screen that runs on decades-old technology, WMATA isn't getting as much out of the PIDs as it could.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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