Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Stranger's Eye

We will be using a good bit of public transport during our forthcoming trip and will be reliant on good signage at railway stations, tram stops and so forth. One of the hardest things in the world is to look at signage in an area you know and see it objectively, that is through a stranger's eyes.

London's Tube is excellent in this regard and it needs to be as a lot of walking needs to be done when changing lines and entering and exiting stations. It would be very annoying to make a mistake and have to backtrack. Generally in Europe I thought the signage was quite good. I was surprised at how many signs were in English in Budapest. Many less so in Austria and Germany but Amsterdam and Brussels did well enough with plenty of signs in English. Austria and Germany often used symbols, which were helpful.

Where have I been where signage is inadequate? While I may be being unfair because it is fresh in my mind, Sydney fell down several times for us. Trying to find a particular bus stand within the Bondi Junction bus terminal was one example, with arrows pointing in various directions but nothing saying the stand was actually outside, not within the interchange.

We used two more city bus stands servicing multiple routes with multiple stands, and both had contradictory and confusing signage.

We used Sydney's Central Station more than once and we had no problem finding our way around there but I've been reading in a discussion group that directional signs have been changed. Instead of 'Exit to Eddy Avenue', 'Devonshire Street Exit' and 'Country Train Terminal', signs now say, Grand Concourse, G for short, North Concourse, N, South Concourse, S.

A quick glance at Google Maps can tell you which street exit you need from Central. When confronted at the station by the letters G, N or S what do you do?

If ever there was a need for some overseas consultants, this is one of them.  The eyes of complete strangers are needed and the signage should not designed by someone who knows all about Central.

It will be interesting to see how things are done in Canada and New York and I expect the signage will be quite good. Seems though that when we are in New York, we need to remember what is uptown and what is downtown. I studied Manhattan maps enough, but I still haven't quite remember which is uptown and which is downtown. 

34 comments:

  1. ANDREW are signage in Europe is quite well and I am waiting what about North America.

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  2. Signage matters, and you are soooo right that they should be tested on someone who is NOT familiar with the area.

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    1. EC, my point exactly.

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  3. Oh dear im off to Sydney in september

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    1. John, I tried some different apps for travel around Sydney, but I found just Google Maps the simplest and most helpful.

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  4. I would be at a complete loss trying to use public transportation; it's not something used much in this part of the States. The only time I've used public transportation was in my early 20's, in another part of the midwest... a little more than half a lifetime ago, lol.

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    1. Jac, even here once away from the big cities public transport use is very low. It's a very expensive way to carry very few people.

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  5. I don't use public transit in Portland, well, I never get to Portland really, but even the descriptions on the news, the S Line, such and such a bus route, totally confuse me and I think I would quickly end up lost if I even tried. We don't really have public transit where I live. Two rarely coming through bus lines is all but nothing else. There is one seldom used Amtrak line north and south but is not used by many (mostly empty trains I see when at the crossing) and very expensive. I think we may be way behind other countries and even other parts of the nation in having public transit. When I lived in Corvallis, where I lived most of my life, the uppity more wealthy college town 15 miles from here, they have free bus service now. It was expensive when I lived there (without a car) and so cumbersome and slow, it could take all day to just get one bag of groceries via bus.

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    1. Strayer, you are smart enough. You would soon master Portland's system. Most people only know about what they need to use often. I hope along with now being free, the bus is much quicker.

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  6. The first map of London's train system was designed by Harry Beck way back in 1931. Even though it is not necessarily geographically accurate, those first maps (and their more modern incarnations) have helped squillions of people get around without a moment's concern. Ditto the signage on the walls in the stations and the streets outside.

    Who ever knew that design would be so important?

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    1. Hels, it was a bit funny telling a local London person who did not think a train went a certain way that it did and showing them on the tube map. Many have tried to improve on Beck's map, but no one has ever got it completely right. I felt foolish catching The Tube from Charring Cross to Embankment. It would have been quicker to walk.

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  7. I also think that we look at our own signage with a more critical eye than others might. I seem to recall that Paris left a little to be desired (both airport and train stations).

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    1. Craig, my memory of Paris is a bit hazy and we were mostly guided.

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  8. I agree with you about the lack of clarity in Sydney signage compared to much of Europe or many other places. As for New York, isn't it just a north-south thing? Shouldn't be too hard, even if the sun is going round the wrong way (which I'm sure always subliminally affects my sense of direction in the northern hemisphere). Or you could try singing: "The Bronx is up, but the Battery's down."

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    1. Marcellous, it probably will be quite simple. I'll will try to remember that, Bronx is up, but the Battery's down.

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  9. You should have gone to Parramatta station I am always finding people from out of town, wondering around trying to find the way out, and when they get out they have to work out the buses that's not easy.
    Merle.........

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    1. Merle, a couple of visits ago, we caught the ferry to Paramatta and then the train back. It seemed simple, but maybe not if going the other way on the train.

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  10. New York, New York, it's a helluva town. The Bronx is up, but the Battery's down.

    There you go.

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    1. Walt, the extra to what Marcellous earlier mentioned is even better as down has to rhyme with town.

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    2. Andrew, did you not know the song? I thought more than the line I quoted would be heavy handed. The tune (a further aid to memory) starts about 20 seconds in here.

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    3. Oh my god Marcellous. That is so camp. I had not seen it before. Thanks.

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  11. It's good if there is good signage, makes life easier no matter where one travels.
    Not into public transport as we don't use it here, but some do. If I lived in a place where one had to use it, then of course I would as there would be no choice..

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    1. WA, for us it often quicker, easier and less stressful to use public transport. I would not dream of driving into town.

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  12. G N S? WTF? Guess I'm never going to Sydney again; I don't like getting lost.
    Probably New York should be off my list too, uptown and downtown would have me running in circles.
    I don't take much notice of Adelaide signage, because mostly I know where I'm going, but if you are searching for a particular building, the street numbers are often just not there. Newer buildings have large easy to read numbers, but the older ones don't.

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    1. River, street numbers are a big thing and Melbourne city is sadly lacking. I will write a post about this at some point.

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  13. I used an amazing map service on my phone in both London and Berlin, it was called CityMapper. It is only specific cities, but it was so accurate and had so many different options for PT and the like. I loved it.

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    1. Fen, not one I have heard of.

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  14. I guess I don't ever look at our signage in Perth because I usually know where I'm going, but next time I go on the train I will take the journey through the eyes of a tourist to check it out!

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    1. Grace, it is quite hard to do that objectively when you already know.

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  15. When we were in NY last year I kept singing the Bronx is up and the Battery is down to Cs who was forever mixing up the subway directions and as the others who beat me to it said, no matter where you are travelling from going north is always uptown and going south is always downtown.

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    1. Victor, rather pre-empted a thought, how do you know..........no, it is too complicated. North up, south down. That is simple.

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  16. Having just arrived in the UK, I am most grateful for the excellent signage in Heathrow airport that allowed me to get to the Heathrow Express train to Central London with minimal fuss.

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    1. Ad Rad, as it was for my first visit to London in 2008 and we caught the Heathrow Express to Paddington. Really makes our public transport look pretty sad.

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