More Follies With Station Signage

The Cumberland Street entrance of Bay Station re-opened recently at long last.  Construction had been delayed by unexpected conflicting structures when the old entrance was demolished.

It’s a nice entrance, as TTC buildings go, but something very odd shows up in the decor.  At the bottom of the entrance stairway, we find not a beautiful mural, not an historic account of Yorkville, not even ad advertising frame, but a copy of TTC Bylaw No. 1 at very large scale.  This is no cardboard throwaway, but a metal sign built to last the ages.


There’s only one tiny problem:  the date.


In fact, the TTC Bylaw was updated in 2009 as we can see by visiting the Bellair Street entrance.


Here, we have the same info as on the Cumberland panel (the Human Rights statement and the Bylaw), plus a “here’s the bylaw stuff you really need” sign.  However, this is the new bylaw from January 2009.


I have been advised that the Cumberland panel will be replaced.  Why did this happen in the first place?  What is so important about the bylaw that it deserves pride of place on a wall that could have held a decoration appropriate to the neighbourhood?  Why was a sign installed with text that was replaced 8 months earlier by a new and substantially revised bylaw?

There is a move afoot to set up a website where people can report signage foul-ups.  It may be hosted here, or maybe elsewhere.  Once this is in place, I will publish the details.

14 thoughts on “More Follies With Station Signage

  1. Hmmm, four signs and four totally different graphical treatments, eh? Differering colours, likely differing fonts, etc., etc., we’ve seen this too many times….

    Three signs in one photo, when one, neatly formatted sign would do…. They did not even have the decency to centre the sign on the left with respect to the tiles.

    Has nobody at the TTC heard of the concept of ‘sign pollution,’ let alone the constituent parts of said pollution? Why, oh why, can’t the TTC learn from those who have published how to do this? See:

    Basic Elements

    Supplementary Signs

    Summary of Standards

    to name but a few.

    There are even standards for colour, to ensure that the entire system has a consistent look and feel.

    There are even standards for signs for where the customer might be present:

    One of the most important being the London Underground signage pdf.

    I quote from its introduction:

    “Good signing assists our customers in negotiating the Underground system and minimises the need to consult station staff. This is the ideal for maximising operational efficiency, for creating the best impression and for gaining customer satisfaction.

    “The journey from station entrance to the platform, from train to train, or to the station exit is often extremely complicated. In the enclosed, confined and busy environment of the Underground, lack of clear directions can cause considerable anxiety. The principle aim in signing must always be to meet the information needs of the customer.

    “Good signing assists our customers in negotiating the Underground system and minimises the need to consult station staff. This is the ideal for maximising operational efficiency, for creating the best impression and for gaining customer satisfaction.

    “The journey from station entrance to the platform, from train to train, or to the station exit is often extremely complicated. In the enclosed, confined and busy environment of the Underground, lack of clear directions can cause considerable anxiety. The principle aim in signing must always be to meet the information needs of the customer.

    “The design, layout and content of each and every sign is a considered asset to enable London Underground to project an image of efficiency, consistency and modernity. Compromising the design or production quality would weaken the effectiveness of our signing and our corporate image.

    “To support our world famous identity, we need to make sure that we install signage which conforms to this Standard, and to ensure that any necessary modification is properly controlled.”

    It should be noted that it took no more than a minute to find all the above.

    Why does the TTC not have a version of the above (I searched. Hard)? If it does have these, why are they so hard to find? Why does it not use the London standards as a basis for its own standards? Etc., etc., ad infinitum.

    This post was longer than I expected, but I’m sure you understand. 🙂


  2. I have the TTC signage manual, such as it is, in electronic form (it’s a crappy PDF) and can send it out to interested parties. I have published excerpts.

    Why is this giant bylaw poster there? Well, for one thing, it turns fine print into actual print. It looks like they really mean their own bylaw. But more importantly, all the Sheppard stations have one just like it, and probably Downsview. So they’re just being consistent, something they take deadly seriously.


  3. Looking forward to any movement to encourage improved TTC signage across the system, and would be glad to contribute to the extent I can.

    Trevor’s comment is apt – ANY large organization, whether a private corporation or a large public transit system, should have standardized protocols for style and image. Beyond providing useful info for regular riders, it helps tourists, and assists those with disabilities. Imagine having limited vision and having countless differing images thrown at you depending on what station you’re in!

    The fact that there is an entire (albeit unpopular) Flickr group dedicated to handwritten signs made up to patch holes, so to speak, suggests the lack of sufficient signage policies across the board.


  4. A site to report TTC signage snafus! Can the current internet bandwidth cope? Will the web collapse? Will it make any difference?


  5. NJ and Trevor need to be more careful. A lousy standard is only marginally better than none at all. TTC constantly repeats the claim that they have a standard signage manual, which, they suggest, obviously solves the problem. It doesn’t. They don’t even know what the origins of this “standard” are, and what its problems are, even after I told them.


  6. Joe Clark wrote: “all the Sheppard stations have one just like …. So they’re just being consistent, something they take deadly seriously.”

    It would be good if the rest of the signage and decoration in the rest of the system were as consistent and useful. The excerpts, while incomplete, show exact measurements, rather than relative sizes. Given physical variability of stations, the TfL approach of specifications in proportions are surely the way to go.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, the Toronto subway, let alone the rest of the system, is, in graphical terms, as though someone had just thrown up: it’s so inconsistent as to be ‘lumpy’ and otherwise offensive. Much the same can be said of the effect that this has on the resultant usability of the system and, therefore, its efficiency.

    One never knows in which Toronto subway system one will emerge when alighting from a train. Each station is, ahem, a surprise. Sometimes, one feels as though one has travelled back 50 years. Other times, one feels as though the walls had eaten something so unpalatable as to turn them puce. Few stations make any kind of statement that relates to either Toronto or to the location of the station (Museum tries, but it was patently so nickeled and dimed by paper pushers that I sigh every time I use it. For example, the platform is missing many details and nothing was done to the entry. A station spoiled for a ha’pth of tar). Toronto’s system is quite simply not attractive or usable in ways that might entice non-users or visitors. At least the NYC system has a consistent, if grimy, character (it’s much cleaned up in the past few years, though).

    Consistency is important in a subway system and its signage, but not at the price of lack of usability or ugliness. Wasn’t it Wilde who said: “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative”? Perhaps the problem is that some TTC staff have read Wilde, and taken that to heart.


  7. All is not lost. Once it’s replaced, the TTC should auction this sign off through their lost property portfolio. As a built-to-last, mint-condition misprint (and famous, thanks to you), it should fetch a premium on eBay. The whole mistake might even turn out to be profitable.


  8. Joe Clark wrote: “A lousy standard is only marginally better than none at all.”

    Sometimes. It can also be worse, as might be in the case of the TTC’s standard, for which there are arguments to be made that it is worse than none at all; or that having one that is not assiduously followed can be worse than none at all.

    The evidence to be found all over the Toronto system clearly shows that, given that it exists, the standard that the TTC purports to have is simply not good enough to produce what one might hope is their desired effect.


  9. I think it’s time that the communications department of the TTC to be sacked. Time and time again this department fails to develop, let alone maintain proper communication protocols. Think about the amount of money that was spent on crap: Next streetcar display, The Pape station signs, Fake Helvetica, useless station area maps. And lets not forget those forgettable Metrons. About the only thing that was done right was the automated announcements, which was forced on them (whereas other bus systems had installed them in the early 2000s).

    I also lay blame on the Commission as well. Given that they travelled to learn about other subway systems, why couldn’t they demand better from the communications department?

    Steve: There seems to be a reluctance at the political level (and this applies to more than the TTC) to get involved in “operational details” of municipal organizations. The faith in the professional staff is heartening, but sometimes misplaced. Signage and information have never been treated as a core part of the TTC deserving of serious attention, and it’s often seen as a frill, not as a vital part of making the system attractive and easy to use. If we can’t even get simple things like maps right, how can we hope to make the Queen car run even vaguely reliably? Different departments, same attitudes.


  10. While I agree with Ernie (and almost eyeryone I know!) that the public communications aimed at passengers from the TTC are terrible; I am not sure that the “Communications Department” is to blame as I think they deal with ‘corporate PR’. I think that communications with customers falls under the “Marketing Department” and that surely gives one a clue that the TTC management sees that their role is to decide what to offer and then they go out and ‘market it’.

    If there were a “Customer Service Department” one might expect them to try to see what customers wanted and then try to provide it – accurately. I would say that all customers want services that run on schedule, that the schedules are clear and easily available in print, on the web and as ‘next vehicle arrives’ information. Customers also want signage which is current, clear, concise and accurate.

    The list could go on but the point is that a proper Customer Relations Department would listen to the customer and then work with the other parts of the TTC try to provide the services we want and they would tell us about them, accurately and in several ways! Customer Relations could even include the often-talked-about “Station Managers”, who could be the department’s ‘eyes on the street’. Yes, one can dream!

    Steve: I believe that the “Station Manager” concept has been badly played by its proponents in that it seems to be a way of giving the Collectors something to do once the TTC moves to automated fare collection. We need people who wander the system checking out various issues (signage, diversion notices, cleanliness, never-ending construction projects, etc.) without regard to which department they actually work for. Initially, this will produce a huge list of backlogged issues, but once that’s cleaned up (and procedures put in place to make some things happen automatically and correctly), there should be a lower workload for this position.

    We do not need one staffer per station per shift wandering around looking for new grafitti or a discarded candy wrapper.


  11. I wonder if complaints or problems such as these were routed through the City’s new 311 service would they be resolved any sooner. At least with 311 you have an external record of some sort rather than whatever record-keeping the TTC has which may never see the light of day. That additional external pressure may force them to clean up their act once the City starts to notice the number off TTC-related 311 calls.


  12. When did the maroon-and-cream cutout sign at Long Branch change?

    There’s a brand-new sign up. It’s still a cutout, but in ugly grey-and-red colours. The logo, in some awful font, reads “LONGBRANCH”. Sheesh.


  13. Just this morning, I used the west exit from the Spadina station. On the wall was a large poster headlined “Respect and Diversity.” Among other things, it bragged about the TTC’s respect for the disabled.

    The exit it was posted next to is, of course, inaccessable to the disabled.

    Steve: Down at the other end, the escalator from the westbound platform is out of service sitting in pieces, but at least the elevator is working.


  14. The Spadina Subway Station, at least on the Bloor-Danforth Line, only has exit (that say “EXIT” only, no less) signs pointing to the east side exits to the streetcar and Spadina Rd exits. No signage to the Walmer road entrance.


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