Example of an updated next arrival sign with Sound Transit Link light rail.

Quick Look: Improving Link Signage

Part of my daily commute almost always puts me in a Sound Transit Link station. Every day something strikes as poorly planned: the next arrival signs.

Currently, the signage seems like an afterthought to the station design, almost like someone mocked up a first draft in PowerPoint and they just ran with it. (It wasn’t)

So let’s take a look at the current signs and some easy fixes:

Capitol Hill Station platform on opening day, March 19, 2016

The current signage in the Capitol Hill Link light rail station. Credit: SounderBruce

Cleaning Up The Mess

The first step in removing the clutter is considering what the user actually needs from the display. Looking around the station you’ll notice the station name is on physical signage throughout the whole station. Considering that most, if not all, riders know what station they are at having it on the display wastes valuable space.

The second piece of ‘useless’ information comes with the countdown until the next train. Saying that trains “X min” does not serve a purpose considering both the scale of time and unit consistency. A few trains maximum are ever displayed at a time with intervals between 3-15 minutes each meaning the countdown will never extend past an hour. By removing “min” we can save some useful lines space in the redesign.

Increasing Legibility

As with any public project it is important, if not legally required, to consider that users with limited vision and other impairments. For this reason I’ve used Source Sans Pro, Adobe’s first open type font, which features heavier, full-width letters with distinct open counters for easier reading from a distance.

Currently the train destination is considerably bigger than the arrival times. When considering what rider’s primary use for the signage will be the arrival countdown is significantly smaller than needed, especially from a distance.

By increasing the font size to be consistent with the destination it becomes easier to determine the next train even from across the platform.

Example of an updated next arrival sign for Sound Transit Link light rail showing the number of cars on the next trains.

Example of an updated next arrival sign for Sound Transit Link light rail showing the number of cars on the next trains.

Plan for the Future

The design Sound Transit is currently using ignores extensions to the rail system that they’ve already planned for.

So how do we show rail lines?

By adding a line color indicator circle to the beginning of each next train status, it helps riders focus on the route that apply to them on their first glance.

When Sound Transit launches the blue line in 2023, it’s easy to cut out at least 50% of the information that is irrelevant to them.

And while seven years in the future seems far out, once you consider the current line and its signage just celebrated its 7th birthday with no intention to replace it in the foreseeable future, it seems worthy to consider now.

In the meantime, while Sound Transit waits for their new fleet to arrive and create all four-car consists, this space can be used to showcase the number of cars on the arriving train. This will help direct people where to stand and allow faster, more balanced loading of each individual train.

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