Subway Entrance Identification (Update 2)

In an unusual move, the full version of a report (almost a 70MB PDF) of a design charrette on entrance identification is available on the TTC’s report website.  If you want it, grab it while it’s still there as this situation may not be permanent.

I will add comments here after I have a chance to digest it.

Update 1:  I got all the way down to the last page after the file downloaded, and there was a pair of photos of the existing sign at Osgoode Station and a proposed replacement.  The “new” one looked terribly familiar.

A quick visit to the City Archives confirmed my worst fears:

You can see a sign that looks remarkably similar at the opening of the Yonge Subway in 1954, or at the opening of the University line in 1963.

Here is the original entrance on the south side of Bloor east of Yonge.

The old signs used the shape of the TTC flying keystone (the wings were added for the “Rapid Transit” image to the original 1921 design), and this was simplified to make the signs cheaper to build and maintain by the time the Bloor line opened in 1966. The main differences between the 1954 and the 2008 versions are the use of the “modern” TTC colours in 2008, and the absence of the word “SUBWAY” across the wings of the sign.

Update 2: As a public service, I have put a condensed version (1.3MB) of the TTC’s file on my site.

20 thoughts on “Subway Entrance Identification (Update 2)

  1. Thanks for posting this Steve. I attended this Design Exchange charette last year and it was quite interesting. There were numerous TTC professional participating, but more to observe. Some of them were even engineers(!).

    The consensus as I recall was that the TTC had a good brand image, but over the decades of underfunding & neglect have let is slide into a disasterous mishmash of styles, fonts, and images, that are often lost in the modern city. I’m posting my own notes next.

    There was a real mix of participants, some artists, graphic designers, interested individuals, and each of the 6 teams formed to suggest improvements to stations sketched out their suggestions.

    Unfortunately I haven’t been able to fully open or save the TTC report.


  2. TTC Station Design Charette at the Design Exchange (DX)
    September 26 2007

    I attended as the Sierra Club of Canada, Ontario Transit Campaigner.

    Excellent talk by Alex Bitterman, Professor at the School of Design at the Rochester Institute of Technology, on transit branding, which set the tone for the Charette. The following section is my summary of his talk.

    To promote the place brand of a diverse modern city is very difficult, as it means different things to different people, at different times. However it has been proven the most effective way to do this is to use the transport system. The Tube is the best known brand for London. The Metro in Paris and subway in New York City is a sophisticated and cosmopolitan brand for the cities, which are closely managed.

    Some very successful examples of transit branding:

     Santa Monica California saw a 400% increase in transit ridership with rebranding its bus system as the Big Blue Bus. Very easy to recognize, with minimal advertising to detract from the brand.

     Los Angeles’ Metropolitan Transit Agency has expanded its Metro Rapid express bus system ridership over 4000% over 4 years. This service has separate stops, which makes it seem like a choice, like a club, not taking the bus out of necessity. There are no ads, and the buses stops and urban objects are painted in Rapid Red. Even the grafitti has used Rapid Red. Metro Rapid is so successful, local bus lines have been rebranded as orange Metro Local lines. The benefit to the LA region has been $1.6 million per year, quickly making up for the lost ad revenue.

     York Region’s new Viva express buses have been branded, using unique Belgian buses painted blue, with minimal vehicle advertising, and intelligent passenger shelters.

    In general, such transit branding has the following costs and benefits:

    First Year

    $100 000 initial outlay
    $500 000 lost advertising revenue,
    $600 000 increased passenger revenue
    $0 Break even

    Subsequent Years
    $600 000 increased passenger revenue, subsequent years

    TTC Design History

    Ian Trites, Head of Architectural Design for the TTC, then presented the history of design at the TTC. Similar to information found on the Transit.Toronto website.

    Signage Priorities

     The TTC shield logo is the most identifiable component of the TTC brand, and is used for almost all subway and RT stations.
     TTC red is used universally on the system and its vehicles. There are red panel stripes on subway station surface vehicle terminals, most notably on the Bloor-Danforth line stations and TTC Red benches are used throughout the system.

    TTC shield logo signs are used primarily to identify subway/RT stations, but also a Harbourfront LRT underground station, and non-passenger facilities such as streetcar and subway car barns, and TTC offices such as Hillcrest.

    Writing out Toronto Transit Commission, as on the Sheppard subway TTC shield logo signs, is redundant and adds no value. The clutter actually detracts from the icon and brand.

    The TTC jealously guards its branding, but does not apply it consistently itself. It rejects use of its icons and graphics, sometimes to the extreme of punishing those who support the brand by imitation. For example, the Spacing subway station buttons are extremely popular, but were initially rejected by the TTC. To make matters worse, the current lackluster merchandizing is lost potential for revenue and to increase the brand. There is a lot of creativity in Toronto which is being actively rejected.

    Design Charette Brainstorming

    I was on Team 1 which looked at redesigning the surface level entrances to King subway station. There were 7 people in our group, including a project manager from the TTC, a branding expert, 2 creativity consultants, and myself representing Sierra Club.

    The other teams brainstormed Bayview, College, Ellesmere, and Lawrence stations, and comprised a similar mix of people including a TTC engineer on every team.

    The brainstorming session was quite freewheeling and my notes here reflect that.

    Problems with King Station

     Disorientation upon exiting the station at the surface, in the skyscraper landscape.

     Near invisibility of station entrances at surface level, due to the small 2 dimensional signage lost in the visual landscape. This is even more significant at Dundas station due to the very large scale advertising and screens. The TTC red on the pylon sign is completely overwhelmed by Shoppers Drug Mart on south east corner.

     Unclear transfers to and from surface vehicles.

     Very poor accessibility signage

     No identification with the local neighbourhood

    More General TTC Branding Problems

     The subway and RT stations signs, often on pylons, are two dimensional signs are not visible from all directions, a key failure. This was rectified in the proposed St George signage experiment, with a 3 sided pylon also indicating which subway lines served and surface vehicle availability.

     The TTC shield logo does not view well at long distances, as the archaic font and overlapping of the letters TTC render it difficult to read.

     The original TTC shield sign has the profile of the logo have a good 360 degree recognition. However signs for stations built from the 1960’s onwards are rectangular and 2 dimensional with the logo printed on each side, much less distinct and recognizable. Some such signs inconsistently print SUBWAY within or below the logo.

     The small metal unlit signs on the Bloor-Danforth line pointing to off-street station entrances are now almost invisible on the streetscape.

     The original Yonge subway ‘Station’ font is most well respected and liked by riders due to its clean and easy to read lines, but was not used in any extensions and new lines. TTC fonts change considerably across the system, lessening the brand.

     Passengers can not use mobile devices underground, a significant reduction in passenger communication availability. If TTC truly wants to be The Better Way or The Way, it needs to be able to compete with drivers (and GO Train riders) who do have such availability.

    TTC Branding Goals And Concepts Resulting

    1. Make the TTC brand and imagery more cosmopolitan.
    2. Consistent branding of TTC icons, imagery, colours, across the system.
    3. Promote opportunities for the Brand, eg much improved TTC merchandise, approved alternate designs by third parties.
    4. TTC is The Way, as it is the only way to get around for many.

    Proposed Solutions

     Simplify and scale up the TTC shield logo, by using the original TTC station font in non-overlapping letters.

     Reintroduce the TTC shield logo 3 dimensional profile signs at a much larger scale.

     Distinguish the non-passenger facilities by removing the non-passenger facility TTC shield signs, and adding a symbol or design to specify LRT stations.

     The St George 1990’s signage experiment was a overall great success but was abandoned, it needs to be resurrected as a key part of the TTC’s brand.

     Create a large, street scale lit kiosk, with the TTC profile shield visible on top omni-directionally and a large TTC red stripe, and includes neighbourhood maps, garbage and recycling, surface transit schedules and connection information. The design must be able to scale up well for suburban subway/RT stations.

     Include compass roses into the walls or floors of station entrances/exits to aid exit orientation. Add surface transfer information, plus neighbourhood maps and attractions if possible, in the walls and floors.

     Cover station sidewalk entrances/exits from the elements, and have shelters for all surface transit transfer locations.

     Add a very recognizable red stripe on the outside of station sidewalk entrances/exits to aid in identification.

     Coordinate with the City’s street furniture initiative.

    Results From the Other Station Design Charette Teams

    Interestingly, all of the teams came up with very similar points and suggestions to improve signage and wayfinding.


  3. Reinventing the original design might not be so bad. The original design is timeless and elegant.

    Is the budget or cost of consultants the concern?


  4. Steve,

    Before I comment, I should note that I am not related to Stuart Ash, who helped design the signage in the PATH system.

    My general impression is that this report misses the mark.

    Issue 1:
    The TTC actually has one of the strongest transit brands; keystone logo, signage, and all, in North America. Very few people except tourists, understandably, are confused about the modes of travel that it provides. If there is a problem with the TTC’s overall identity, it resides mostly in the public’s perception of grumpy employees and dirty facilities.

    Issue 2:
    I agree that consistency and visability of TTC signage is an issue in general. I disagree that the above-ground signage is a significant problem for the majority of people trying to access the subway system, although I note that there is room for improvement.

    If anything, I believe that many of the suggestions and illustrations in the report demonstrate an attempt by participants to exaggerate problems at street level and/or to belittle the intelligence of the average patron in an attempt to pitch their fantasy entrance to the TTC.

    Although improvements are warranted, prominent bursts of red as far as the eye can see will only weaken the visibility and strength of the TTC signage above-ground; which is contrary to what this report appears to be tasked to correct.

    Further, I would encourage the TTC to work with property managers in the financial district, Bloor-Yorkville, and North York City Centre to improve and standardize the inadequate wayfinding signage in the PATH system. The signage improvements within the Eaton Centre are fantastic, but there is inadequate TTC branding at First Canadian Place, Scotia Place, and most other underground entry points.

    Issue 3:
    The newest above-ground TTC signage, installed at stations such as Broadview, Queen, and Dundas, are far more comprehensive than any of its predecessors. In summary, these signs are:

    Visible from quite a distance;

    Integrate all relevant information into one structure;

    Prominently denote the TTC’s corporate identity;

    Promimently assert that it is a subway entrance IN WORDS;

    Prominently identify the station name IN WORDS;

    And, more for the benefit of visitors than Torontonians, utilize colour to identify the subway line and, hence, the direction of travel.

    The proposed standalone keystone signage is a modern twist on TTC signage from the 1950s and 1960s, and is also reminiscent of the prominence of the London Tube’s logo, but it is inferior in all other wayfinding respects. Visitors to the city, who are unfamiliar with the TTC logo, will be more confused, not less, unless the TTC clutters pylons with secondary signage.

    The TTC should retain the existing above-ground signage at Broadview, Queen, and Dundas stations, and expand their usage across the system in the near term instead of timing signage replacement with station infrastructure projects.


  5. re: Compass roses at the entrances/exits

    EXCELLENT idea. When I first visited the city, and right after I first moved here, at any of the downtown stations it is very very hard to orient yourself and figure out where you are when you exit.

    Some stations have an “N” with an arrow painted on the sidewalk but its not consistent.


  6. Perhaps its time that the TTC establish a specific branding symbol for the subway, in the way that the Montreal Metro has its own logo that is distinct, but visually related, to the general STM logo.

    The placement of the word “Subway” within the wings of the TTC logo was an attempt to do so, although its use has (as others have pointed out) been inconstent over the years.


  7. I’d be happy if there were a sign, any sign, visible in some stations to tell me where I have to go to buses, or which of two distant sets of stairs I should take up to the bus platforms. I’d quit haggling about prettying up signs to get us into the subway, when you know we’re just going to get lost, once we’re there.

    What about signs to tell me, as I arrive on a platform, which way the trains on the platform are going? Londoners (and others) would be dismayed by the lack of clear signage, inconsistent placement of signage, and the inconsistent availability of signage throughout the TTC.

    Amongst other things, good signage is a matter of art design and placement, and is a long-term, strategic issue. Short-term politics and budgeting make this difficult to achieve

    FWIW, cleaning the platform walls once a month to prevent the health hazards they are might be nice, too. :-/


  8. is there any chance there will be a pilot test of any decisions about design? This looks (at least to me) like a classic example of what Steve was talking about earlier — professionals making decisions without consulting the people who actually have to live with the results of the decisions.

    If you’re making decisions intended to affect people’s behaviour, you need some empirical evidence that the variables you intend to manipulate actually affect their behaviour. The observation that traffic increased elsewhere after modification isn’t adequate — for one thing, it’s post hoc ergo propter hoc, and for another, this ain’t elsewhere.

    For example, I think it would have been smart to ask some transit users to review the new signs at St. Clair station. Then we might not have ended up with the sign at the south end of the passageway which says you can get to the buses and streetcars from there but fails to mention you can get to the subway.


  9. I agree that the “flying butress” logo of the TTC is very distinctive and iconic. In fact, it’s one of my favourite logos period, along with the tulip design of the Deutsche Grammophon logo and, yes, the Canadian flag. The original keystone design had many imitators (though I don’t know if the Beverley Hills one came first). It would be nice to revert to the retro look. However, if I’m not mistaken, didn’t the overlay of the letters TTC descend towards the left instead of towards the right as it does now?

    Steve: Yes, it did as in this photo of a Scarborough Division radial car at Russell Carhouse.


  10. I have to admit, because all of the diffrent signage out there, the TTC look dirty. I like the new signage thats on the Sheppard Subway and on the renovated stations. The existing pylon signage standard is great. Sure it could be improved, like rotating in a circle on a swivel to catch one’s eye, but if they wanted to use the men’s washroom at Finch they would hop back into the car.

    Call me crazy but the reason Ellesmere station looks like garbage, is because the TTC made it garbage. The station doesn’t even have escalators, and there’s a senior’s residence right there. Am sorry but the Ellesmere station example to me is a joke. Some signage, lights, and a few bike racks won’t stack ridership. The TTC won’t even sacrafice the parking lot for a transfer free bus bay. There’s a reason why people ride all the way to York Mills. For the record I have used the RT almost daily for the last ten years, times I got on or got off at Ellesmere? Four.

    Steve: I have transferred from the RT to the York Mills bus exactly twice, and it’s a huge pain in the butt. A long walk to the stop and no shelter.


  11. Simplicity of design doesn’t come easily to the TTC — their web home page being the obvious proof — so I think we have to congratulate them for possibly oversimplifying things for once. But I see a few problems:

    One, will the shield get lost in the visual clutter of the city’s streets? The white background on the most recent signs may help the shield stand out from what’s behind it. A test might find that design, especially in a three-sided version, is easier to spot from further away than an updated version of the classic lozenge. (BTW, I’m not clear on why resurrecting the old design is your “worst fear”.)

    Steve: My worst fear was that the charrette had managed to re-invent the original sign format and was apparently unaware that they had done so. A bit of historical awareness is useful in urban design.

    Two, the report had a list of all sorts of things they felt would be needed at the base of the sign. (A vicinity map showing entrances, above-ground services, and major streets would have obvious benefits.) There’s no solution for this in the design.

    Three, there’s no indication of an accessible entrance. Even when every station is accessible, people will need to be able to spot at a distance which entrance is the accessible one.

    The old “subway” on the wings might be useful to tourists. But I’m not convinced that all the other information is necessary: except for the Bay-Museum-St. George triangle, if you’re looking for the subway, the closest station is always your best bet. The station name, line(s), etc. isn’t terribly relevant from a block away. The attempt at simplicity is welcome, even if the details need a little work.


  12. The proposed subway sign looks like a dead ringer for the TTC lapel pin… I suspect it’s one of the approved plain Jane TTC logos from their Sign Manual… minus the marketing positioning “Ride the Rocket… logo… The BETTER WAY”


  13. Jason Ash, TTC’s new pylon signs come in many different forms, most of which do not even include the word “subway.” You could check my pictures. If you think these are so nice and recognizable, tell me what happens when you’re standing at a 90° angle to them. A better design is still in place now, and will be forever, outside the Bedford entrance of St. George.

    Of course the designs created at the charette were fanciful (especially ours, for Lawrence, the product of a dysfunctional development process where I was as dysfunctional as everyone else). That’s what you get from charettes: Flights of fancy. The charette was working as designed.

    I published notes and pictures from that event.

    (Inaccessible captcha word of the day: “ocelot.”)

    Steve: The captcha is going away soon. Be patient.


  14. I didn’t read through the entire document, but any chance the colour scheme could revert back to the old “red” colour that looks more like a burgundy with the gold accents?

    There’s a nice sign outside the TTC facility on Evans Road in Etobicoke that looks very retro, which I think looks cool.

    Retro is in, after all.


  15. Re: Matthew Kemp
    The seniors home was built within the past 5 years… way after the system was built. Granted there are many apartment buildings around ellesmere station, few choose to walk there and opt for the 95 or the 43 buses.


  16. Ellesmere is a mess. I think the major problem is the utter lack of pedestrian access to the station. No matter where you are in the area, it is a very long walk from the street to the station. I think just a staircase up to Ellesmere Road would do a lot to help the station grow. Not sure how feasible that is, but I think it should at least be studied.

    Oh yeah, and the obvious addition of a bus shelter would be nice. You’d think the TTC would have thought of that by now.


  17. I dunno, I still like the original 1954 inspired signage better, its an integral part of our transit system even to this day. Anyone here ever take a look at Kennedy station and the RT platform on the top level. Its a dead ringer for the 1954 ttc signs.


  18. I know about that Drew, and I don’t mean to sound rude as I say that. 🙂 I just think the TTC should shoot a three pointer and make serious adjustments with that station. I guess the cost overruns for that craptacular technology was getting ugly like a bowling shoe.


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