Friday, November 07, 2008

Green Light for Transit

Navigating Philadelphia's underground transit system has always been a challenge, particularly for occasional users. SEPTA's underground offers riders an abundant, but confusing, choice of "modes" - that is, subway, trolleys and regional rail lines - not to mention connections to Jersey's Hi-Speed Line. Then there is the diabolically confusing nomenclature for the services. Are you looking for the trolley to West Philadelphia or the Subway-Surface Line or the Green Line? My greatest sympathy goes out to the poor out-of-town souls struggling to find their way to the exact right spot on the right platform for the right regional rail train going in the right direction.

In the hope of standardizing the system, the Center City District commissioned a bunch of new signs, which were unveiled last week. They're doing a trial run to see how people like them. So in addition to any comments you leave here, be sure to register your two cents at the district's special website.

The District's goal is to mark every underground transit entrance, and every bus and trolley stop, with the lighted green T sign you see in the first photo. The poles can take up to four vertical signs identifying the lines that are accessible from that entrance. The designers - Joel Katz Design Associates and the Bresslergroup - have standardized the colors. Blue is Market-Frankford, Orange is Broad Street. Additionally, the district wants to dispense with the various names for the trolleys and identify those lines exclusively as....Trolley, which gets a green sign.
In some respects, the system is similar to what's there now. (see second photo). But the designers cleaned up the graphics and presentation. They've also ditched SEPTA's familiar, patriotically-colored, double-chevron logo. I agree it's high-time to retire this Bicentennial hold-over. I like the look of the green T, with its stylized rail lines, though I do worry it won't work as well at bus stops. The last we need is two identifying markers.
If you wander near SEPTA's concourse entrances at 15th and Market, you'll as see some additional signage. You may
recognize the look of these wayfinding signs from the green destination signs that you see around down. Katz design created those too.

The idea of standardizing and color-coding SEPTA's various service seems like a good idea, but I wonder if it's as simplified as it could be. If you're a tourist, the words "Market-Frankford" and "Broad Street Line" might not be all that illuminating. (Especially when you're told that you have to go downstairs to get to the El.) Would we better off if every rail, trolley and bus line were assigned given a number and a color?

I also believe that bus routes remain one of SEPTA's closely guarded secrets. Yes, you can view a schematic image of each route if you go to SEPTA's site. But those pitifully scanned versions of their paper schedules are hard to decipher. Why can't SEPTA at least post these schematics at the bus stops, as New York does, so you can figure out where a particular bus goes at the stop? And would it be too much to ask for SEPTA to show the points where you can make connections to other bus and rail routes?

18 Comments:

Blogger rasphila said...

It's about time somebody did this. I'm a native Philadelphian and have long navigated the underground transit more or less by instinct, but I find it hard to imagine how a visitor could get around. To anybody visiting, our underground transit must seem confusing and intimidating.

Kudos to the Center City District for this initiative.

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Baffling Septa signage is one symptom of a city that is broken. Some the Broad St line stations look positively abandoned, station attendants won't make change for tokens, and why are we still using tokens anyway? Thank God for taxis!

3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Why can't SEPTA at least post these schematics at the bus stops, as New York does, so you can figure out where a particular bus goes at the stop? "

Actually they've had detailed bus route maps in many Center City bus shelters for at least a year or two. They do need expand it further to all bus shelters though.

8:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the graphics: In my opinion the green "T" needs work.

And the SEPTA logo would be better if they went back to the original one: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5a/SEPTA_logo_1970s.svg

You can actually tell that it's two arrows going from "here" to "there." But maybe my taste is too retro.

10:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you seen the "maps" the Center City District put up last year. If you look at one on a n/s street and then go to one on a e/w street you get an entirely different orientation. North moves around like a spinning compass needle.

8:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They are called "heads up" maps. They are oriented from your point of view.

The map is oriented based on your and the maps position.

7:06 PM  
Anonymous whycantseptabenormal? said...

i'm a philly native, but because septa likes to keep bus info a secret, when i'm away from my computer, i have no idea how to use bus lines other than those that pass directly by my house. oftentimes i'm in south philly or west philly, etc. and want to go home but have absolutely no idea which bus leads where, the frequency of stops, how late they run, etc. so i take an expensive cab. why can't septa be normal and post such info at stops like every other transit system in the world?

11:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks good, but why is the T slanted? Also, it would probably look better if the circle were red and the T black. That would stand out more and would give a touch of class (somewhat reminiscent of the London Transport signs). In either event, I do agree that SEPTA needs to ditch thier old logo - it seems so dated. Perhaps they could even re-do their trademark with SEPTA written with the "circle T" in place of the T

9:11 AM  
Anonymous SpeedyJ said...

I'm opposed to adding another logo to "simplify" septa way-finding. Are they going to overhaul all the graphics and add the new 'T' identity to all the buses, trains, trolleys, stations and shelters? Won't that be even more confusing? (nevermind the enormous cost of rebranding everything) I think they should stick with the old 's' we have all grown to recognize. Do we even need a reigning logo? Aren't the orange, green and blue signs enough? They should spend their money on (as previously mentioned) bus maps and metrocard machines like NYC. Most importantly, I noticed that there is not a single exit sign at the 13th street trolley station (two floors below ground)- shouldn't life safety signage be a priority?

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What impressed me was that the concourse maps are bilingual. Must be a first for this city.

6:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanted to wait until I saw one of the T signs in person before I commented, hoping I might like it better "in the flesh" (plastic?)
Anyway, I like it even less in person. My first thought, before even remembering this article, was, "Did they change the name of the High Speed Line to something that starts with a T? Or is it some new company?"
The old (and very old) SEPTA logos at least looked like an S. This new signage looks like it should be for a company name that starts with a T.
Maybe "Transit for SouthEast Pa"? Or how about "Transit for Rural And Southeastern Hamlets" (TRASH)? That's it!

12:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great improvement to what is a decidedly confusing transit system.

on a related note, looking forward to the introduction of septa's new train cars, as well.

will septa & center city district begin making announcements / posting signs / etc. in other languages soon? hope so! when i toured the new train on display @ suburban station, the septa rep said that he appreciated the suggestion to present info on more than 1 language - and that it was a new suggestion to septa.

AGREED about expanding the bus shelters.

looking forward to this and other improvements!

8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NYC does do a great job, but my money is on Washington, DC. You can buy maps with all the lines right in the map. For people who don't live here, it's hard to imagine that finding a map with the SEPTA stops is hard, because apparently it's proprietary, and only SEPTA or SEPTA approved outlets sell maps that are actual complete street maps with the stops and lines clearly marked AND labeled. Is SEPTA in the business of running transportation people can use, or is it in the business of cornering the market on maps? Get this info out there FREE, that's how to improve use.

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People at the Phillies World Series win parade in South Philly COULD NOT SEE the entrances to the trains, and neither could I, and I live here! The BSL is obscured by anyone standing or parking in front of it. They really look like just a hole with a staircase. That's what I told the poor hapless rider, who likely ended up being stranded all night anyway. Even Finland has gotten this 100% right. Helsinki's public trans compared to Philly's is tragic.

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tokens, wtf? Tokens, seriously? I can't believe it that I have to buy a token. Plus the whole subway looks like they are filming "The Taking of Pelham 123." Did anyone tell SEPTA that dank, moldering, cold, crumbling stops and stations are not a go? The sewers of Paris are more inviting. I'm glad to see more journalism on SEPTA improvements; I appreciate that very much. I like the green T. Now that someone explained it to me, I can tell people, "See the green T?" instead of "there's a stairway going into a hole in the ground that you don't see unless you really look."

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even online SEPTA does not have a complete bus route map, leaving one to spend half an hour guessing which of the many individual lines to look at, clicking through to the 'map' on each individual schedule and trying to align it with a google map to guess where things really are. Why only a full train route map?

They HAVE to fix that before spending money on re-doing a bunch of signs just to make Philly look exactly like Boston with green T sign for their subway/surface cars.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

T is for transit, no matter what flavor you are riding.

SEPTA is a stupid acronym and it really doesn't matter. You are riding a trolley, subway, el, or bus.

Geeze can someone appreciate that there IS an effort to make the wayfinding better.

I think the T is easy to pick out as an entrance to public Transit and it's new and different so you notice it.

It's easy to tell someone to look for the T.

8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Center City District ones in the Concourse at Walnut-Locust BSS stop are turned so the map is aligned with the street unlike the SEPTA maps all aligned with north at the top. Very confusing!

7:17 PM  

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