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Sound Transit Tests Future Link Wayfinding Sign and System Map Concepts

Sound Transit has produced new concept renderings of station wayfinding signage, including this one on the northbound platform of International District/Chinatown Station. (Credit: Sound Transit)

On Thursday, Sound Transit shared future designs for the Link system map and station wayfinding signs with members of the Sounding Board. System maps and station orientation signs are a big break with the past with the introduction of station numbering. This strongly suggests that the agency consider adding station-specific ID numbers. Currently, the stations are identified by a name and a corresponding pictogram.

Rail rapid transit systems in cities like Taipei, Seoul, Singapore, Tokyo and Bangkok use various station numbering systems (sometimes mixed with letters) in signage and cartographic supports rather than in pictograms because the numbering is simpler, more meaningful and universally understood whatever the language spoken by the runner. In North America, only two major rapid transit rail systems use station numbering, those in the Atlanta and Washington, DC areas. The numbering systems of these cities usually make it relatively easy to understand where a passenger is in the rapid transit system and to count the number of stations that need to be traveled between points. Runners can also easily tell if they are heading in the wrong direction.

Renderings of station wayfinding concept designs show two different types of platforms. One is a future interchange station (International District/Chinatown Station) and the other is a station that will not offer interchange service (Rainier Beach Station) as the Link system develops. This is important as interchange stations might have more complex wayfinding signage.

In the International District/Chinatown station example, the northbound platform is shown with two sets of signage: signage pointing passengers to stations serving lines 2 and 3 north of the station accessible directly from the platform and signage pointing passengers to the stairs to reach the platforms where passengers could catch the platforms serving Line 1 as well as Lines 2 and 3 with stations to the south and east of the station. With lines 2 and 3 shown on the signs, the lines’ terminal stations are shown alongside circular shields with the line number and color plus the station numbers included in the shields. Heading toward Mariner Station on Line 2, stations numbered “51” through “66” would be served while stations numbered “51” through “70” would be served on Line 3 toward Everett. These figures correspond to the conceptual maps of the Link system.

Similarly, with the Rainier Beach station example, platform signage would indicate the direction in which trains are heading to the appropriate terminal station (in this case, Ballard and Tacoma) on Line 1. In the Ballard direction , stations numbered “43” through “59” would be served while stations numbered “41” through “31” would be served in the Tacoma direction.

When it comes to Link system board concepts, Sound Transit is testing three versions with station numbers. All three are close permutations. Lines are displayed with typical shields, line colors, and station names in a schematic format, but only one option would number the Tacoma T line.

Option 1 would begin station numbering at the International District/Chinatown station with “050” as this will be the most important interchange hub in the system. Stations that follow this station are numbered relative to it with “higher” or “lower” numbers. All interchange stations would use the format “0XX” while stations that do not offer interchange would use the corresponding line number as the first number (e.g. “1XX” for line 1 and “4XX” for line 1). line 4). Smart cyclists will be able to calculate their way between stations if they know the logic of the numbering system intimately. Traveling from Mariner Station (066) to Issaquah Station (450), a rider might know to perform arithmetic as follows: (0(66) – 0(50)) + (0(50) – 0(46) ) + (4 (50) – 0(46)) = 24 stations/stops.

Option 2A is somewhat similar, except the lines have colored circles that match the line colors and only have a two-digit station number. At the top of the circles, the line number is displayed. This could arguably be interpreted as a three-digit number. At interchange stations, each line has a circle with the applicable station number. For example, Westlake station would have three circles of lines: “1-53” for line 1, “2-53” for line 2, and “3-53” for line 3. System numbering also starts at International District / Chinatown station as option 1.

Finally, option 2B adapts the approach of option 2A by using line shielding for each station on the respective line and drawing a larger light bulb around these that includes a station number. Functionally, this works the same as option 2A, but uses less space, especially for interchange stations. At Westlake station each line is designated by the line shield (i.e. ‘1’, ‘2’ and ‘3’) and the station number is added to the far right of these. ci (“53”). Runners would intuit that “153”, “253” and “353” for the station. This option would also number the stations on the T line “14” to “31” or “T14” to “T31” including the line identifier.

Perhaps less importantly, the system maps also show connection possibilities with other key services including: Stride Bus Rapid Transit, Ferries, Light Rail, Airport and Monorail, Commuter Rail and the intercity bus and the passenger train.

A member of the Sounding Board, which manages the Safe Lake City Way account on Twittershared with The town planner that members received an interactive survey linked to the cards. Members were asked to “take a few ‘virtual trips’ using one of the suggested map/signage layouts” and then rate the three map concepts. The resulting feedback will no doubt be important to Sound Transit’s decision-making and improvements around any particular approach.

Where Sound Transit ends up with it will be something to watch, but each of the cards has drawbacks. The most important are that the numbering can jump (like on Line 1 where there are no stations numbered “49” or “51”) and repeat near other stations (like Delridge and Beacon Hill Stations where are both numbered “47” but only two stops apart). It might be a bit confusing for riders who don’t understand the model, but it’s not a business killer and in any case there is international precedent for exactly that. However, not numbering the T line in a final system map would seem like a mistake if it happened.


Senior Reporter

Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is particularly interested in how policies, regulations and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. With stints in big cities like Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily covers land use planning and transport issues and has worked for The Urbanist since 2014.