Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design


A Design Wishlist for Metro Los Angeles

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

A few months ago, I made a wonderful discovery: that Metro Los Angeles has a Creative Director. For more than a decade, Michael Lejeune has been leading a group of 20 people creating all things visual for Metro. When I first heard that at KCRW's mobility event last May, a light bulb turned on in my head. Here's the guy who would know what to do with all the things I wish my ride on the Metro had, so if you're reading, Michael, here goes:

Dear Michael,

I've been in Los Angeles for about four years now. In that time, I've taken the Metro a lot. I use it regularly to get to downtown, Little Tokyo, and Koreatown. I'm a pro at it, by now, but I know the experience could be better with simple graphic solutions that your team could create. Here's my wish list for the Metro. Is there a way to make some of it come true?

Tell me if I need to hurry to catch the train

The first thing a rider always wants to know is, "Am I going to miss my train?" Train stations usually have tiny televisions with equally tiny signs telling you what time the next train is departing. Because they only give you the time, I would have to find a watch and glance at the time to figure out if I have to sprint, or if I can simply saunter to the platform.

Can we have a current time included in the signage? Or, better yet, can we adopt what is already in place at some stations: simply telling people how many minutes are left before the next train departs. Below is a photo I took at one Red line station. I think it was Wilshire/Vermont station. I haven't seen any more roll out.

Big signs that tell people how many minutes to go before the next train comes. It's more useful than simply displaying the exact time a train is set to arrive. 

More prominent railway system graphics

The Metro goes everywhere. One complicated lit sign proclaims that. The problem is, the system graphic doesn't help the tourists and locals. It's too complex to untangle in the few minutes one has to wait for the next train to arrive. Yes, there's a simpler graphic of the train's route, but it's tucked to the right and below of other "more important" messages, where hardly anyone notices them.

You've got the right idea, Metro. Display the route where these trains will be going in simple graphic terms, but put it up somewhere prominently and at eye level.

This is the graphic of all the Metro's Bus and Rail system, which no one has time to figure out.

The small graphic on the bottom right hand corner is the most useful graphic in the Metro, but first-timers usually don't see it because the lit sign distracts them. 

Big bold signs and train differentiators

There have been more than one occasions where I've stepped into the wrong train, especially when I'm at the stops where the Purple Line and Red Line share tracks. Tired from a long day out on the field, I step into a train, only to find later on that it the Purple Line. Once again, I've mistaken one twin train for the other.

Who can blame me? Every Metro train basically looks the same. Only a small lit sign outside of it tells people, which direction it's going and which train it is. It's a tiny, subtle sign on the side of the car, which is a problem.

The Red and Purple trains both look like this. The red stripe only makes me think that I'm taking the Red Line, even when I'm not.

I wish, it would be easier to tell what train I'm stepping into, even before I step on it. Could we have big bold stripes of red and purple wrap around the train instead? Instead of tiny lit signs that one can hardly read while behind the yellow line, could we make the font bigger and bolder?

Signs inside the train

Once you step into the train, no other sign tells you which way you're going either. Only an announcement over the speakers confirms the train's direction. By the time the speakers turn on, it's usually too late to step back out of the train. I've often asked strangers "Is this train going to Union Station?" just to make sure I'm going the right way once I actually get into the train car. Wouldn't it be great to have signs inside the train cars that tell you where they're going?

There are no signs that tell you which direction this train is going once you step into the car.
Show me my next stop

Because of the way the Metro stations are constructed, my marker is often not the terminal point of train is, but where it is in relation to Union Station. It may not seem like much of a problem, but whenever I have to transfer to the Gold Line from Union Station I'm always confused. I can never remember which train goes to Little Tokyo or Chinatown, both of which are one station away.

Apart from actually showing me a simple, graphic such as the one available for the Red/Purple Line, can the signs also tell me where the next stop is? Currently, the signs only say Northbound to Pasadena and Southbound to East Los Angeles, but since Little Tokyo and Chinatown are so close those mental markers don't do me any good.

I can't tell if this train's going to Chinatown or not via Follow My Bliss.
Those TAP vending machines can be simpler
I know you guys have redesigned the screen options on the TAP vending machines, but I still often encounter people who have trouble with the machines. I think the confusion lies in the option to buy "Metro fares" or "Add fares." For riders, it's the same thing. Most often, time is wasted because people choose to go down one tree and have to backtrack again. I haven't given this part much thought, but based on the minutes people take at the Metro vending machines, I'm sure we can do much better.

One of my favorite things to show tourists to Los Angeles is that you can get around L.A. on the Metro, but making the ride smoother and less daunting without outside intervention would make my case even better. I hope you can help me with that. Thank you!

That's my Metro design wishlist? What's yours?


Get updates via RSS