MetroTransit’s Signage: Still Room for Improvement

Maybe it’s churlish, maybe it’s against some unwritten bylaw of Minnesota Nice, but it does feel a little bad to be criticizing Metro Transit’s signage in the week they finally got real time arrival information working on the light rail. Nevertheless I will …

In the last month little “Green Line” signs have appeared on the eastbound bus-stops on Franklin Ave SE, between East River Parkway and University Avenue.

Green Line sign on Route 67. Franklin Ave at Bedford

Green Line sign on Route 67. Franklin Ave at Bedford

It’s a little strange that the westbound side isn’t signed for the Blue Line that is barely 1.25 miles in the other direction, but we’ll leave the Blue/Green inequality issue for another day. On the face of it, it’s great that MetroTransit is putting connecting route information at bus stops. As posts by others at have laid out, the bus-stop signage in the Twin Cities is, on average, terrible. Many stops lack even basic information on which routes stop there, let alone a timetable or connection information. So, great, connecting route information! One small step forward.

But let’s step back and think a little about who could find this sign useful, and whether it’s really so useful for them. The bus stops on Franklin Ave SE are in a residential area, and my anecdotal observation from riding the one bus route on the street is that most of the people getting on or off are coming from houses on nearby streets. There are just not a lot of casual potential transit riders wandering up or down Franklin Ave who could find this information helpful.

Location of bus stops with new Green Line signs. 5-10 minutes walk from the Green Line.

Location of bus stops with new Green Line signs. 5-10 minutes walk from the Green Line.

But lets assume there is a casual transit rider on this stretch of Franklin Ave, or maybe a new resident checking out the neighborhood. There is no timetable and no indication of what route stops at these bus stops. So anyone using the information that the Green Line is an unknown length bus ride away is just going to have to hope that a bus comes along soon. Who does Metro Transit imagine is served by this sign that says the Metro Green Line is an unknown distance ahead on an unknown bus route? They clearly think you know where the Green Line goes since the sign doesn’t tell you. Maybe the signs are for some new urban adventure game where people who know the transit network but not the actual streets are driven, blindfolded, to Franklin Ave and then asked to find their way back to some location using only transit and never walking more than a couple of hundred yards?

As it happens Franklin Ave SE is served by the Route 67 which runs every 20 minutes for weekdays and Saturdays, hourly on Sunday morning and every half hour on Sunday afternoons. So a random person showing up at a random time, like in our game above, has an expected wait of 10 minutes and then a 5 minute ride to the Raymond Avenue station. Many of us might decide to walk to the station if we’d just missed the bus, or if we knew how close the station was.

See, here’s the crazy thing. That photo above of the bus stop at Bedford and Franklin is just a few minutes easy walk from the Westgate Station. For any reasonably fit person the new signs are, on average, going to waste your time. Why not have a sign pointing out how people can walk to an even closer station? And if we’re going to have these signs showing connecting routes from the bus, why not make it easier for people to work out whether it’s worth waiting for a bus by putting timetables and route information at the bus stop.

Most of you could walk to the station quicker than waiting for the bus.

On its own the idea to highlight connections to the Green Line at bus stops is great. Putting them up without thinking through who would be a potential user of the signs, and how they would use that information suggests a lack of care about a vitally important aspect of the transit network: telling riders when it comes and where it goes.

Evan Roberts

About Evan Roberts

Evan Roberts is an Assistant Professor of Population Studies and the History of Medicine at the University of Minnesota, where he teaches and researches demography, labor and urban issues. He counts it as a successful week if he has run more miles than he has driven. Connect on twitter @evanrobertsnz or now Mastodon

28 thoughts on “MetroTransit’s Signage: Still Room for Improvement

  1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

    This is the kind of post that makes me nuts–a snap judgement opinion posted without ever checking to see what Metro Transit is actually doing. They’re about to roll out an entire new signage program with information levels appropriate to the ridership at each stop. That should be acknowledged. In the meantime, all the bus service info is available on that smart phone in your pocket and has been for several years.

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

          i seem to recall being on that site once or twice. anyway, it’d be neat to see more information. thanks for sharing. maybe someone could do a post on it.

          1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

   ??? This? The Ladders of Opportunity? I cannot find anything related to this post and especially its types of signage on the website.

            Aaron, please remember that we are not ex-employees of MetroTransit. We don’t know the backway to ask for comments, and their comment section is very lacking. There’s not even an email or an “other” section for comments that aren’t common. How would one get in contact with more detailed information? Is the transit planning line for all general queries? There’s a lot of questions.

    1. Jaron McNamara

      I hear you 🙂 Silly me, when I noticed these on one of my local routes I just assumed they were added to help new riders venturing out for the first time to be assured that yes, they were indeed waiting at the stop, on the correct side of the street, to catch the bus towards the Green Line. Really, not knowing if you’re at the right stop for the direction you need to go can be intimidating and frustrating for a new rider, (Heck, any rider) at least from what I’ve observed joyriding buses over the years. Of course the upcoming larger system wide bus stop signage upgrade will help tremendously in that regard.

      1. Rosa

        Yeah, any improvement in signage helps and the Westgate train station is AMAZINGLY hard to find from the maps on the metrotransit site.

        I do wish they’d start with simple signs with route numbers, though. Just, which bus stops here on those generic BUS signs all over would be SO HELPFUL especially when a usual stop is closed because of construction. I had to call the personal help number last weekend to figure out where to catch a specific bus I’d by the Central library – the block north is not a stop, construction. I couldn’t see the bus stop sign on the corner where I expected the bus (it’s on a different pole, maybe a stoplight one? And then the pole was covered in Christmas greenery) and didn’t know if my bus was going to stop at the stop one stop farther north that I could see clearly.

    2. Wayne

      But when are they actually doing this? I feel like I’ve been hearing about it for a while and have yet to actually see any new signage.

      Also, I’m really sick of the “levels appropriate to the ridership at each stop” thing. Like how the amount of boardings required to get a shelter at suburban bus stops is ridiculously lower than urban ones, yet most urban ones that qualify still don’t have shelters of any sort, or even signage beyond the basic bus stop sign? Are stops that aren’t deemed important enough for a sheltered (boardings be damned!) going to get better signs or are we saving all the money to print big fancy ones for the suburban routes that run 3x a day?

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

      Real time bus departures are available on any type of telephone, and on any computer or web device. The number of people who have to walk to the bus stop to find out when it leaves is close to zero. When transit operating dollars are scarce, how do you justify cutting about $1 million of bus service (that’s what the sign program will cost to maintain annually) to put up schedules that aren’t really needed?

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        Because they are needed. The system as it exists serves only regular users who have been able to plan their trips ahead of time.

        The system excludes casual users, which reinforces perception of transit as a social service for those who can’t afford to drive, which undermines support for transit.

        Maybe that’s the price of provide that marginal bit of service, but it’s a real cost to the system too.

        1. Evan RobertsEvan

          Indeed, and it’s doubly stupid not to have timetable information on this route, since it is operating with newly expanded frequency and span to support the Green Line. Previously this route had half-hourly service at best (maybe there was an hour with 3 buses in the very peak) and no weekend service. It’s significantly better now to the point that it becomes a much more viable option. It’s not quite walk-up-and-wait service, but speaking from experience I no longer feel that if I miss one departure I’m going to have to re-think my entire trip.

          Putting up a timetable so residents and other people on the street can see when the bus comes should be an effective way of advertising this new service. If you’re a casual potential user you probably don’t know to search for the bus stop number on nextrip to find the schedule. Put the information there for people at the bus stop.

          Back in June when the Green Line was opening and the former Route 8 was becoming the much better Route 67 the signs Metro Transit posted at the bus stops said “This Route will be eliminated” and didn’t mention the significant improvements that were coming.

          Yes, technically true, but substantively misleading.

          So the new signs are part of a pattern of poor communication on this route by Metro Transit.

      2. Joe

        I do not have a smartphone, nor do I know the system well enough yet to just know when a bus will come. When I am out and about and need to bus home, I go look at the bus stop information. I find it hard to believe I am the only person in this city that does that.

        1. Evan RobertsEvan

          With only slight sarcasm I ask if cities and MNDoT are going to save millions with all the road signs they no longer need?

          Just program your GPS or phone and it will tell you when to turn.

          1. Wayne

            THIS. Seriously I have road sign fatigue. When they roll out the temporary ones for construction or closures those things are HUGE and they almost always seem to place them on sidewalks or in bike lanes, blocking the entire width of them. Let’s start a group lobbying for fewer road signs.

        2. Rosa

          You might be, because the rest of us have learned the bus stops are useless. So we step onto the first bus that comes by and ask a driver.

      3. Holly Weik

        Aaron, would you mind walking me through finding a bus departure time on a flip phone? Assume I have no mobile web device and I am trying to get home to my computer, so obviously I don’t have it with me. How do I get from the airport to 3909 17th Ave S using public transit, and how do I find out when/where to grab the bus after using the Hiawatha Line to get to 42d St? How does someone else duplicate that process to get to a friends house?

        1. Rosa

          You call a real live human at 612-373-3333. Exept that’s another thing you have to know ahead of time, because it’s not on the low-information stops either. Even though it’s been the same the whole 15 years I’ve lived here and I assume for years before that.

          Or you rely on “knowing” the system. Which is how I ended up on a 21D that didn’t quite go where I needed to go, last Monday. Luckily the driver realized none of us meant to be on his bus and told us how to get on an A before he hared off into the weird part of his route.

  2. Evan RobertsEvan

    I know about the new signage grant, but I’m advocating that all bus stops should have information on which route serves the stop and a timetable. I think that’s a basic standard that Metro Transit is not meeting, and having the connecting route information without the basic information is silly.

    And I stand by my argument that a bus stop 5 minutes walk from a station should have directions about how to walk to the closer station, rather than suggest that people wait for a fairly infrequent bus with no information on when it will be along (albeit one that keeps to time well).

    1. Dennis

      Evan you right,whenI going to work people are waiting by Traders Joe only to see the#74 detour off the route waitin another 20 mins In Highland riders have to wait an hr for the #23H when they can pick another #23 C in l5mins by taking a#74-84-46 to 46th Ave S.

  3. Evan RobertsEvan

    Key thing from the Strib article is that “higher boarding stops” estimated at 1/3 of the total will have timetable and map information.

    Still well below what we should be aiming for which is every stop has a timetable and a map.

    1. Joey SenkyrJoey Senkyr

      I don’t disagree that perfection is a good thing to aim for, but at the same time, the article says that the cutoff for a timetable/map might be about 5 boardings per day. Ideally, many of these 66% of stops that get 0-4 boardings per day would just be eliminated, but if they must be kept on, I can’t fault MT for not spending the money to put a map on each of those poles.

      1. Wayne

        They really do need to eliminate a huge number of stops. It seems like rolling out new signage would be the perfect time to do so, but that would require some kind of coordinated effort and planning, so … nope.

    2. Wayne

      Are these the same stops that are supposed to have shelters and mostly don’t? I’ll be surprised if they even bother putting up that many signs.

  4. Dennis

    Reduce the number of stops In St Paul downtown some stops are barely 1/2 apart.It is absurd to think everyone has smart phone Aaron is a former Transit guy and think every one should memorized the complicated system with the many useless branches.Schedules should be posted at all stops.Metro Transit/Google give wrong info.

  5. Sarah

    I agree with the critiques – but I think the potentially exciting part of these Green Line signs is that they may help to advertise the service to the neighborhood.

    I am fairly certain that the vast majority of my neighbors (along 38th Street in south Minneapolis) have no idea which buses serve the neighborhood or where they go–and thus would never even bother to take out their possible smart phones to look up a route. Who would like to experiment with a campaign to share messages like, “Riding the #23 bus takes you to Uptown, the Blue Line, and Highland Park in just minutes” ? or, “#22: from Lake Nokomis to the West Bank and the IDS Center”?

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