Posts about Wayfinding
Fort Totten is a convenient transfer point between Metro lines outside the core, but the station layout results in unnecessary crowding. Better signage could improve passenger flow and speed up trains, by helping users know where to stand on the platform.
Though crowding at Fort Totten is not as severe as at Gallery Place, the crowding at Fort Totten does cause delays to southbound Green and Yellow trains, and can also cause passengers to miss the train.
The basic problem is that the only access to the Green/Yellow platform is at the extreme northern end. Since Metro trains now pull all the way to the front of stations, there is a gap at the end of the platform for 6-car trains.
At most stations this isn't a problem, because escalators drop passengers closer to the middle of the platform. But at Fort Totten, riders on the Green/Yellow platform arrive well behind the end point of southbound 6-car trains. When a southbound train arrives, there is often a mad rush to get to the last door.
The result is that dozens of people try to push through a single door, which forces trains to stay on the platform longer, delaying the trip and gumming up the schedule. Even then, a clump of passengers is sometimes left on the platform to wait for the next train.
Metro could help alleviate this problem with clever signs. One potential solution is already in place elsewhere in the system. National Airport and Union Station both have entrances that are at extreme ends of the platform, similar to Fort Totten. They are also stations that have a lot of non-regular riders.
Because the escalators at these stations eject riders onto the platform well behind where 6-car trains stop, WMATA placed signs encouraging riders to walk further down the platform.
Signage like that could help at Fort Totten. However, simple overhead signs often blend into the background and are overlooked. A more visible and therefore more useful solution might be floor signage:
Montreal makes good use of signs like the one pictured above in its Metro. At Fort Totten, a large, colorful floor sign could clearly indicate to riders that they should move down the platform. Such a floor sign might look something like this:
Another option is to put signs on the wall across the tracks from the southbound platform, more precisely indicating where the sixth car stops.
To make boarding even easier, WMATA might consider encouraging riders to walk at least down to where the fifth car stops, rather than merely to the end of the sixth.
This is because with southbound trains, the sixth car is often the most crowded before it even gets to Fort Totten. Savvy Green Line riders intending to transfer to the Red Line cluster in the sixth car, to put themselves as close as possible to the escalators leading up to the Red platform, and thus reduce the likelihood that they will miss a Red Line train that's about to leave. Also, the escalators and stairs at Prince George's Plaza and West Hyattsville deposit riders at the sixth car's position, so a lot of people just end up in that car anyway.
During rush hour, as many as half the riders in the sixth car can be trying to get out at Fort Totten. In many instances, it takes the entire time the train has its doors open for all the exiting passengers in the sixth car to alight. There is frequently no time for people waiting outside the sixth car to start boarding. On the other hand, those who've walked further down the platform are already on board.
When 6-car southbound trains arrive at Fort Totten, the cluster of patrons who've been standing at the position of (non-existent) cars 7 and 8 dash up and cluster around the last door of the train, making it harder for the stream of riders leaving the train to reach the escalators to the mezzanine and the Red Line.
A touch under half of southbound rush hour trains at Fort Totten's lower level are 8-cars long. This signage would discourage riders at Fort Totten from boarding those cars, but that's not a problem. Riders from other stations would still use those cars, and people just arriving from the Red Line would still be able to board from the end of the platform.
At any rate, the advantage of moving passengers further down the platform outweighs any possible disadvantage of having fewer Fort Totten riders board the last 2 or 3 cars.
In many suburban jurisdictions, bus systems feel like an afterthought, with tiny bus flags at the side of a road and confusing or even nonexistent information about which bus to take.
Most suburban routes run less frequently than Metrobus routes in DC, making them harder to use. But it would cost a lot of money to increase frequency. Meanwhile, for a very small investment, jurisdictions like Fairfax County could make buses much easier to use with simple wayfinding improvements.
Bus stop flags should identify the routes that stop there; believe it or not, at least in Fairfax, they don't today. And buses should add automated announcements of the next stop.
Since the buses are so infrequent, better wayfinding is even more critical. If a rider misses a stop or misses a bus while waiting at the wrong stop, he or she could end up waiting an hour for the next bus, or have to take a very long walk to the destination.
Fairfax's county government offices are difficult to access by public transit. Only two Fairfax Connector routes serve them. But not all residents can afford to or want to own a car, and those who can't or won't drive are at a decided disadvantage in being able to fully participate in society.
I had to visit the county seat two years ago to register to vote in Virginia; my permanent address was then my parents' house in Kingstowne. I had to register in person during office hours, but my parents both worked. Living in the District and lacking access to a car, I took the Metro to Vienna and then took a Fairfax Connector to the county office.
I had never been to the county offices before and I wasn't familiar with the area. The stops weren't announced, so I had to be extra careful about when to get off. I ended up getting off the bus too early and had to walk the rest of the way.
When I left the office, I walked to what I thought was the stop for the bus back to the Metro. The bus stop sign didn't have the route number. Suburban streets also aren't marked as clearly as city streets, so finding the intersection where my bus stopped wasn't as easy.
It turns out I was at the wrong bus stop, but as the bus approached, I was able to hustle to the correct stop, which luckily was nearby. If the stop flag had been marked, I would have known at which stop I should wait. If I had missed the bus, I would have had to wait at least 30 minutes for the next one.
When traveling after dark, it can be hard to identify bus stops while on the bus. Announcing the stops would make it easier for riders to know where they are. Stop announcements don't always work, but having them fail sometimes is better than not having them at all.
Adding route numbers to bus stops signs would require a minimal investment, but would make it much easier for riders to know if they are in the right place. Fairfax Connector route numbers are often shown on shelters, where they exist, but not on stop flags. Metrobus, Montgomery's Ride On and Arlington's ART, on the other hand, show route numbers on almost all stop flags. Ride On's even show the route's ultimate destination, so you don't find yourself on the correct route but going the wrong way.
Automated stop announcements require that buses be equipped with GPS, which is a bigger investment. Ride On is piloting real-time tracking, which would be useful for the Connector. GPS tracking could also bring NextBus' ability to predict how many minutes until the bus arrives to Fairfax Connector riders.
More attractive, easier to understand bus service can make suburban communities easier to navigate and reduce the need for driving. These two wayfinding improvements won't suddenly bring residents out of their cars. But they can make life easier for current bus riders and make buses a better option for those hesitant to ride.
Visitors to DC generally navigate using the Metro map and a street map. The Metro map has become so iconic that it forms many visitors' mental images of DC. However, that map makes no mention of Georgetown, Adams Morgan, and other major destinations.
The Circulator serves those areas, and one of its roles is to serve as an easier-to-understand, no-change-required tourist bus to the places tourists might go, including the Mall, Georgetown, Adams Morgan, the Capitol, Barracks Row, and the ballpark. However, the Circulator's official map only shows Metro stations, not the lines themselves.
To really navigate DC, a visitor would need to look at both maps and figure out how to merge the two. Why make them do this work? Why introduce the potential for confusion and mistakes?
DC should create a merged map.
One side (when the map is printed on paper) should have the well-known stylized Metro layout with the Circulator added in:
Visitors would use this to understand how areas relate to one another and plot transit routes between them. Meanwhile, the other side should use a street-based layout, but including Metrorail lines as well as Circulator lines. Visitors would use that one to figure out where exactly to find a Circulator stop or a Metro station.
This map could go into guidebooks, be handed out in hotels, and be posted on kiosks in visitor-heavy areas. Maybe Metro could even include it, along with the regular map, at some downtown stations. This map could form visitors' new mental image of the layout of DC. Instead of leaving out many important areas, it would incorporate them.
Transportation agencies need to think beyond simply how to showcase their own services. Visitors, residents, and others don't really care which agency runs a service; they care what service gets where they need to go. We need maps that show people the services they might want, tailored to their needs.
With heavy track-maintenance schedules, growing train malfunctions and increased crowding, Metro needs to communicate better with its riders in the stations.
Several weeks ago, Matt Johnson had a series of posts in which he discussed a variety of permanent improvements Metro could make to its wayfinding throughout the system. Those changes are all fantastic suggestions, but Metro could also do a lot to improve the rider experience by improving wayfinding and notification for temporary changes in service.
This past weekend Metro riders saw a slew of service cutbacks and modifications due to extensive track work on every line in the system. For the second weekend in a row, Virginia-bound Blue Line trains were sent to Huntington instead of Fraconia-Springfield. And for the second weekend in a row, I watched as perplexed riders, most of them likely tourists, stared first at the train arrival screens, then at their maps, and then back at the arrival screens.
The problem is this: while Metro does a relatively good job notifying commuters and residents of upcoming track work and posts notices on its website, on the e-Alerts system, and on Twitter, they do very little in stations themselves to notify riders of planned changes to service.
Let's go back to the example of the Blue Line again. Last weekend, while I was waiting at Metro Center to catch a train to Arlington, I noticed that the incoming Blue Line train was diverting to Huntington. A German couple which had been carefully studying the route map on the nearby post, saw that a Blue Line train was entering the station, and moved to the edge of the platform to board the train. When they heard the operator announce "Blue Line to Huntington Station" they looked around a bit bewildered and decided against getting on the train.
After the train had pulled out of the station, they walked back over to the post and stared again at the Orange and Blue route maps. Having noticed their confusion and wanting to be helpful, I edged over to see if I could hear what the problem was. I heard them mutter something to the extent of "here it says the Blue Line goes to Franconia, I don't know why that one was going to Huntington, maybe the next one will go to Franconia."
At this point, I was beginning to comprehend their consternation, especially considering that Huntington is not even a stop listed on the route map they were looking at. I walked a little closer and asked if I could help. I explained that I suspected that there was maintenance somewhere on the Blue Line in Virginia and that they should get on the next Blue train and get off at King Street and ask a Metro employee about a bus or train to Franconia.
This past weekend, the same Blue Line diversion was in place again when I was riding a train out from downtown again and heard the operator announce at one point while the train was moving: "Please note riders that all Blue Line trains will terminate at Huntington. For service to Franconia-Springfield, please exit this train at King Street and board a shuttle train to Franconia." Now announcements like this can be wonderfully helpful, but in this particular case actually ended up being pretty useless.
Anyone who is headed to Franconia-Springfield who has the confidence to get on a Blue Line train which professes to end in Huntington most likely already knows that they will have to change at King Street. If anything, the announcement at best serves as a friendly reminder that these riders can't nap all the way to their destination.
Meanwhile, riders unfamiliar with the system will sit on platforms in stations along the line and wonder where Huntington is, and why a Blue Line train is going to a station that is not on its map. All because there is no warning in the station itself.
Why doesn't Metro do the same?
I suspect at least one mitigating factor is the lack of space in stations, particularly on the platforms where temporary signage could be hung, just one more example of how the system's cavernous design and sparse furnishing sacrifices usability for architectural beauty. Another factor may be the additional costs of printing service change notices every time there is track work.
This leads me to the overall point that Metro should make better use of the methods it has at its disposal to communicate immediately and effectively with customers: the electronic signage and station announcement systems. While you can find out every broken elevator in the entire system by watching the train arrival boards, the past two weekends there have been no notices about the Blue Line reroute. This lack of signage has accessibility impacts as well. Without visible service change announcements, hearing-impaired riders have virtually no way of knowing how to adapt their commute.
As for the station announcements, the Operations Control Center has the ability to direct announcements to any combination of stations in the entire system in real time. They could very easily pre-record an announcement about service changes and loop it every 10 minutes, just like they do with the "Metro's doors to not operate like elevator doors..." announcements.
Admittedly, many train operators will make such announcements as the train pulls into the station. Still, this varies from operator to operator and more often than not these announcements are hardly audible because of bad speakers on the outside of the train, the operator's mumbling, or the general din of a train rumbling into the station.
On-demand in-station announcements could prove particularly helpful in the case of door malfunctions. In many cases of malfunctions, Metro will lock an entire car experiencing door issues but keep the train in service to avoid delays and headaches associated with off-loading entire trains. When this happens though, especially at rush hour, by the time the hordes of riders waiting on the platform to board realize that one or several cars are out of service, it is too late to distribute themselves along the platform and inevitably some are left behind after trying to cram into the adjacent cars.
If a train operator were to radio the OCC when a door malfunction occurs With an aging system, Metro is likely to face an uphill battle of preventive maintenance and unscheduled disruptions or changes to service. Lacking the funds to make major overhauls, Metro should help itself and make the best use of its communication tools to help riders navigate the system when the need arises.
With an aging system, Metro is likely to face an uphill battle of preventive maintenance and unscheduled disruptions or changes to service. Lacking the funds to make major overhauls, Metro should help itself and make the best use of its communication tools to help riders navigate the system when the need arises.
approved funding to design and plan a Columbia Pike streetcar. This $3 million will let the county work on figuring out how to come up with the rest of the money they need to actually build the thing. (How about having VDOT use more transportation dollars for streetcars instead of all highways all the time?) P.S. I call on all DC area press to observe a moratorium on any Tennessee Williams-inspired headlines concerning streetcars and jurisdictions' desire for them. (WTOP)
Enough about the Apple store already: Roger Lewis thinks the 18-month process to approve an Apple Store design for Georgetown was way too long, and the glass facade of the original really would have been fine. (Post)
Go talk to that other agency: Mount Pleasant ANC Commissioner Jack McKay got stuck in "permit purgatory" when trying to get No Parking signs to take down a diseased tree. I've written before about the crazy process; McKay's experience was far, far worse, most of all because this time, the police actually followed the official procedure and made him get a permit. (DCwatch)
Now it's a "misunderstanding": Fairfax Supervisor Catherine Hudgins may vote for the I-66 widening at the Transportation Policy Board meeting Wednesday. But if she does, that'd be because VDOT now claims they'll finish this year that promised alternatives analysis they weren't going to bother to complete. With the previous vote, COG members were sending VDOT a message: don't reneg on your promises. (WTOP)
And: An Oregon legislator proposed a $54 bi-yearly registration fee for all bicyclists (Freakonomics, tip: John) ... Life in Mount Vernon Square is organizing to advocate for streetcars on K Street ... DDOT will revise a destination sign in Northeast Capitol Hill to point toward, local attractions like Eastern Market, not just "Downtown" ... and speaking of wayfinding, the Arlandrian mocks up some signs for their neighborhood.
Saturday afternoon, in the rain, Greater Greater Fiancée and I waited 31 minutes at 20th and K for a westbound Circulator. The Circulator advertises a bus every 10 minutes, all day. Three buses passed in the other direction while we waited. After 27 minutes, a bus in our direction zipped by without stopping. Another bus showed up four minutes later, but meanwhile we fumed at the Circulator and debated whether to wait for another.
Certainly, many of you have had similar experiences. We're not the first nor the last to suffer from bus bunching and unreliable schedules. Nevertheless, we shouldn't complacently tolerate this. We won't entice people to take the Circulator instead of driving to Georgetown if they have to stand around on K Street for 30 minutes to do so.
What can we do to make the Circulator experience greater?
- NextBus! Having a way to look up real-time bus arrival information would have eased the wait considerably, or at least told us to ditch the Circulator and take a cab. There's a phone number on the sign, but on weekends, all you can get from calling is recorded information about the Circulator or a message that their office is closed.
Unfortunately, NextBus won't work on the Circulator when it first launches. That means that by switching the N22 and 98 buses to Circulator service, we are keeping those routes off NextBus at least for now. DDOT should explore how to integrate Circulator locations into NextBus as soon as possible.
- Consolidate the stops. The Circulator stops on K Street. Meanwhile, the 30s buses were running at the same time on I Street, one block away. All of these buses should run on one street and stop in the same places. If we build the K Street Transitway, the street will be better able to handle the large volume of buses and help them all move quickly along the corridor.
Meanwhile, if well-designed, NextBus could also help with this situation. by letting riders know about parallel routes. In my case, it could have suggested walking one block and waiting for a different line. If Metro allowed riders to keep using the unofficial system, we could discover or experiment with use cases such as these and suggest improvements before it's too late.
- Fix the bunching. Metro has announced plans to enable supervisors to dynamically fix bunching problems on bus lines. What is DDOT doing about that on the Circulator?
- Improve the signs. There's a Metrobus map on the bus shelter at 20th and K. Unfortunately, it says nothing about the Circulator whatsoever. This is another silly consequence of having bus systems operated by different agencies.
As we waited, a pair of tourists waited even more impatiently. After 25 minutes, we discovered that they weren't even going to Georgetown. They were going to the World War II memorial, and thought that the Circulator would take them to the Mall. There's another Circulator that does circulate on the Mall. In the 25 minutes they waited, they could have taken the Metro, an 80 bus (one of which did pass by), or a taxi.
The Circulator is supposed to help people travel east-west and north-south along downtown's major axes smoothly and easily. Today, though, outside peak times buses often don't show up, and during peak times they crawl in traffic. We have to do better.
- Cyclists are special and do have their own rules
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools
- O'Malley announces first projects using new gas tax money
- ICC losing bus service in classic bait and switch
- Can Loudoun grow while protecting its rural areas?
- Silver Spring mall could get massive facelift, new name