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