British Columbia·Opinion

TransLink's bus signs could be a lot better

The Early Edition's About Here columnist, Uytae Lee, finds Metro Vancouver transit signs confusing, so he designed his own to show how they can be improved.

The Early Edition's About Here columnist, Uytae Lee, says the current signs are confusing

Uytae Lee putting up his own alternative transit sign at a downtown Vancouver bus stop. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

I think our bus stop signs could be so much better.

Bus stop signs are good at telling you two things: which buses pass by the stop and at what time.

Take for example a sign on Granville and Robson Street. It tells us buses 4, 7, 10, 14, 16 and 50 all stop there. Beneath the numbered sign, is a timetable showing the schedule for each bus. But a crucial bit of information is missing. Where are all these buses going?

Say I walk up to this bus stop and want to go to Queen Elizabeth Park. Which bus do I take?

That's a trick question. None of these buses go to the park.

A TransLink sign at the intersection of Granville and Robson streets lists the buses that stop there but does not explain where they go. (Uytae Lee)

All that being said, our bus stop signs are really only helpful for people who take the same bus routes regularly. For everyone else, especially new users, they offer little help to navigating around our city. 

With that in mind, I tried designing my own, new and improved transit map based on a similar design by Jimin Huh, a UX designer and university student in South Korea. 

Like a normal bus stop sign, the new sign displays the stop number, TransLink logo, and all the bus route numbers at the top but the first difference you'll probably notice is the map.

A TransLink sign made by Lee showing the routes of each bus at the stop. (Uytae Lee)

On that map, I've outlined the paths of each bus route and assigned a unique colour to each route number. I've also left out any part of the route that came before this bus stop. As a transit user, you don't need to see where the buses are coming from, only where they're going.

To do this, I've added a 'you are here' marker on the map and let all the bus route paths branch out from that point.

Finally, I've added stops for key intersections and destinations along each route, making it look a bit like a subway map.

I also made a second version that forgoes the map and lists the key intersections and destinations instead.

An alternative TransLink sign made by Lee showing the main intersections and destinations of bus routes. (Uytae Lee)

Reality check

How realistic is this solution?

I reached out to TransLink for their thoughts on the signs and Jada Stevens, their wayfinding planner, kindly responded with some sobering but interesting thoughts.

First off, with our current technology, using my design would be a lot of work.

"TransLink has over 8,000 bus stops, and to include unique bus routing information by way of maps and diagrams at each stop would be an incredibly difficult task to undertake without the help of automation," said Stevens in a statement.

And feasibility aside, my design itself has some issues. 

"An effective sign utilizes a strong use of information hierarchy," said Stevens, noting that from a distance it is important passengers and bus operators are able to identify the stop.

"Therefore, I suggest that the T for transit brand mark be the largest graphic on the sign," she said.

To me, that makes a lot of sense.

There's only so much time, space, and money we can invest in our signage — some things have to be prioritized.

I'm sticking to my guns on this one point though: it's really difficult to navigate Metro Vancouver's bus network using our bus stop signs.

For now, I'll be pulling out my smart phone and using Google Maps like everyone else.

To hear Uytae Lee and CBC's The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn posting alternative TransLink signs in downtown Vancouver, see the audio link below:

Uytae Lee explains to Stephen Quinn how this might help get people around. But some bus riders remain skeptical. 6:07

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