Thursday, November 6, 2008

New transit signs for Center City

A little over a week ago, the Center City District,in partnership with SEPTA and PATCO, unveiled a preview of new transit signage to be installed throughout Center City's transit network, including subway and trolley concourse and stations, and presumably at bus shelters as well. I haven't seen all of the signs yet, but it seems like they're largely identical.

I'm guessing that full implementation will not be until next year, and that the current design could be tweaked before then, but I have to say that at the moment these new signs are an unfortunate disappointment coming from the CCD, surely one of Philadelphia's most progressive and successful de facto city planning agencies.

The potential here is enormous. Though SEPTA has made an impressive turnaround in the region this year partly thanks to rising gas prices, it has a long way to go in shedding its dowdy and outdated image. Sure it desperately needs to improve service and physically fix up the decrepit Broad Street Line and underground trolley stops, but I wouldn't at all underestimate the wonders that good, distinct design and signage can do for how tourists and citizens alike perceive SEPTA. There are precious few world-class transit networks in the world that do not have well-designed wayfinding and signage systems. Need an example?

Not saying that producing a sign like that would be practical today, but many great transit systems like those in Paris, London, Hong Kong, or Boston here in the States have distinct signage systems that contribute greatly to the experiences of their users. Clearly, this is was one of the motivations behind the project, taken from PATCO's press release:
"Great cities have great transit systems made memorable by their visibility, clarity of signage and direction, and ease of use," added Meryl Levitz, president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation. "Philadelphia has an extraordinary opportunity to transform its transit system into one of the finest and friendliest in the world and implementation of this transit sign project represents a "significant step in that direction."
Yet I fear that the transit signs that went up last week fall far too short of that goal. It's true that green is all the rage these days but it's not a very striking color. I'm no design expert but the signs don't strike me as being bold enough or clear enough. If you've got an opinion on these definitely take the survey on the CCD's website. Let's hope that the final product will be a lot better as a result.

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