Eyes on the Street: Is this Our Stop? Signage Shortcomings on Muni Metro

IMG_0105.jpgLike most Muni Metro surface stops, the N-Judah stop at 9th and Irving offers little guidance to museum-bound riders. Photos: Michael Rhodes

Anyone who’s given a friend from out of town directions on riding Muni knows it can be tricky to describe just where they need to get off to reach their destination. Fortunately, buses now automatically announce upcoming stops and display them on screens at the front of vehicles, and light rail vehicles announce upcoming stations when they’re running in the Market Street tunnel.

When those same light rail vehicles get out of the tunnel and start running at street level, however, things get a little messier: stops aren’t automatically announced or displayed, and many train operators don’t announce stops themselves. Unlike most modern light rail systems, Muni Metro surface stops are often more like bus stops than stations, with little signage even at major destinations.

One of the most egregious examples is the intersection of 9th and Irving, a popular shopping and dining destination, as well as the nearest N-Judah stop for tourists on their way to the de Young Museum and California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Both museums advertise the N-Judah on their websites as an option for reaching them by transit, but once on the N, first-time riders, whether tourists or visitors from other Bay Area cities, have little guidance on when to get off or where to go once they exit at 9th and Irving.

Given the importance of promoting transit as a means of traveling to the museum for visitors, – who are currently swelling the park with vehicles – shouldn’t Muni do more to make traveling by transit simple?

"We’re always trying to improve our wayfinding," said Judson True, a spokesperson for the MTA. Indeed, the new T-Third light rail line has clearly marked stations, and some other Muni Metro stops, like Stonestown and SF State on the M-Ocean View line, are similarly station-like. For the most part, though, when Muni’s light rail vehicles reach the surface, even major destination like Dolores Park, Church and 24th Street, and the SF Zoo lack any signage beyond street signs, which aren’t always easy to spy from a train.

IMG_0123.jpgClear signs with directions to Golden Gate Park museums, like this one, seem to be reserved for automobiles.

"A lot of cities had systems very much like what Muni has now on the west side of town," said Livable City executive director Tom Radulovich. "Most of those other systems have been incrementally upgrading them. Muni kind of got stuck."

While the Muni Metro map identifies major stops, there’s no signage at the stops themselves. Those locations should be a priority, said Radulovich, who’d like to see "a real focus on important stops."

At 9th and Irving, there might be potential for the museums to design the signage themselves, given their respective architectural prowess. A spokesperson for the de Young hadn’t responded to an inquiry about the idea as of Monday morning. True was also still looking into why Muni Metro trains haven’t been equipped with displays announcing above ground stops.

What other Muni Metro stops would be good candidates for better signage, or even for an upgrade to full platform "stations"? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

IMG_0100.jpg9th and Irving "station", served by a shuttle bus this weekend.
IMG_0108.jpgThere are no signs on 9th Avenue to guide Muni riders to Golden Gate Park museums.
IMG_0128.jpgOne clear sign you’ve arrived at the de Young and the California Academy of Sciences.

  • EL

    This is great. If MUNI puts up the big guide signs, then SF Streetsblog complains about the absence of sidewalk / livable space. The photo at 9th/Irving already shows how little sidewalk remains after the bus shelter.

  • Troll much? Maybe a bulb out is in order then. People shouldn’t have to dip between cars to get to a bus/light rail. This would also provide more space for the signage and there would be no need to complain!

  • Seven

    I try to always carry a map for when I see lost tourists trying to find the museums in Golden Gate Park.

    One simple thing the City could do is provide better paper maps. Nearly all the tourists complain about the crappy maps (and rightly so).

  • Diane

    I live at 9th and Irving, and on a cold, rainy day when the windows are all fogged up, even I have trouble knowing when it’s my stop.

  • I have the same problem at the “Parnassus” stop on the N Judah.

  • Jason

    The standard map that visitors get from their hotels or maybe from the SF Convention & Visitors Bureau is atrocious.

  • dannnnnnny

    what all muni metro lines need are real stops, like on the t or f lines. right now muni metro functions like a bus on rails.

  • Haha, I have found myself providing such services for tourists on Muni as a fellow passenger (definitely for the 9th and Irving stop). I wonder how much Muni relies on the friendliness and volunteerism of residents.

  • I often find myself giving directions – be it on MUNI or just walking around. Though, living in North Beach everyone has a map and looks lost.

    On a side note, I think BART and Caltrain should have electric message boards to announce stops. On BART, not so much Caltrain, you can never hear the announcement for what the next station is. Maybe even a note saying if it is a left or right exit so people can position themselves better.

  • EL

    No, I don’t troll much, thank you. I believe the City is already planning to put a bulb-out at this very corner. If it’s the author’s position that the added space should be used for large wayfinding signs and maps, rather keeping this very busy corner wide where it’s needed the most, then the author should state that.

    Regarding “architectural prowess”, the sign illustrated in Golden Gate Park shows a poorly designed sign, where the bottom 3 lines are blocked by cars. The caption beneath the photo also suggests that pedestrians are somehow unable to take advantage of this really tall sign and that a separate sign for pedestrians is also needed.

  • EL

    I just checked and confirmed that the backside of that Golden Gate Park sign has wayfinding directions for pedestrians. I guess it’s assumed that the large letters on the front side can be read by pedestrians as well.

  • I believe the point was that the sign you are referring to is not located near a transit stop and for the pedestrians to even see that sign they would have to already be walking in the correct direction – also implying that they would have needed to get off at the correct transit stop.

  • Nick

    They should be able to red zone 2-3 of those parking spots at 9th and Irving to provide a larger rain shelter/destination point. Who knows why this hasn’t been done like 20 years ago already.

  • DaveO

    “One simple thing the City could do is provide better paper maps. Nearly all the tourists complain about the crappy maps (and rightly so).”

    “The standard map that visitors get from their hotels or maybe from the SF Convention & Visitors Bureau is atrocious.”

    This is so indicative of the mindset of most San Franciscans that all our problems must be solved by someone else. You have each identified a need in the market. Go out and fill it.

  • Whenever I’m going to an unfamiliar destination on an unfamiliar bus, I just ask the other passengers. It *is* difficult to know your stop on Muni.

  • wheelchairgirl

    @DaveO:

    I used to rely on a steady supply of the Pedestrian and Cycle Maps which used to be available for cheap or free from the City; the maps have slope marked, which is really important for wheelchairs, and very helpful to folks who can’t walk well and want to avoid hills.

    Unfortunately, said map has somehow ended up in the sole possession of a certain SF bicycle group, and I am much more reluctant to give them my money when I used to get the map from the city for cheaper or free. Once again pedestrians and bicyclists seem to be at odds.

  • I don’t know the politics behind who owns the map, but you can still download a copy for free from http://www.sfbike.org/download/map.pdf

  • I went ahead and made a map of transit in the Golden Gate Park area: http://www.transitunlimited.org/File:Ggpmuni.png

    My issue is that Muni does not have consistent signage even for bus stops. Some stops you get a nice sign with numbers and destinations, some stops are marked by a yellow band on street poles, and some stops only have yellow numbers on the pavement. I’ve yet to see another agencies to have such inconsistent signage. Down in San Diego county, rural bus stops with service once a week are as well marked as those in downtown.

  • I consult my free downloaded pdf of the SF bike map all the time. I also get out my hard copy (that I admit I got free when I joined the SF Bike Coalition) to discuss optimal routes to take with my family members. It’s starting to fray at the folds. Am hoping the city someday soon will stripe new bike lanes and then I’ll get an updated one.

    We had a German foreign exchange student with us this summer. She had a dreadful map of the city that her aunt had given her. We got her the basic Muni bus map sold at drugstores, (not free, but worth the money) and then she successfully took Muni all over the city (although she did have the usual ridiculous waits, etc.) A good map is invaluable. Then again, I’ve always been a map person. Also worth noting you can download a pdf of the SF Muni map for free as well.

    It *is* difficult to know where to get off on Muni. That’s one of the big benefits of underground subway systems (besides the speed, lack of traffic, etc.) All the stops have names, they appear in a clearly defined order with big signs, and you can pinpoint just where the stop will place you in the city when you emerge. It’s far simpler to get from point A to point B on the Paris metro, even for someone who doesn’t speak French, than a comparable trip on SF Muni. Better signage, especially for likely tourist destinations, would certainly help. The announcements on the bus PA systems aren’t always so easy to hear or comprehend, especially when you usually have only five seconds to plow through a bunch of people and get out the back door before the bus moves on.

  • peternatural

    Here’s how they do it in other cities (besides SF and NYC):

    There are no maps of the transit system. There is one transit office, in an obscure, unmarked location. If you can find it (though you probably can’t), you are welcome to collect the individually printed schedules of each of the various bus or subway lines. Perhaps you are interested in the 33 bus, or the 17, or the 112X? Take a separate schedule for each. But if you don’t know which ones you need because you don’t even know what options exist to get from point A to point B, well then, maybe you can collect them all and then spend a bunch of hours trying to figure out how they all fit together. Good luck with that.

    In contrast, here in SF, high quality MUNI maps that show the whole system are widely available at stores throughout town, and they only cost a few bucks. Just about every bus shelter (like the one in the picture on 9th Ave.) has one inside it. And the light rail trains have them inside too. So it’s actually not that hard for tourists to figure out where they are and how to get where they are going, as long as they are willing to clue in just a tad and maybe shell out a few dollars for a lovely map.

    I’m failing to see the problem here, coach!!

  • Andy Chow

    I don’t know what you’re talking about. Some agencies do have customer service centers at transit centers (like Long Beach). Many have all the schedules and map in one book. A lot of agencies also have system maps in shelters.

    Muni isn’t any better than some other agencies. The fact that they charge for maps isn’t helping (many of them for free). Different styles of bus and Metro stops are unusual: http://www.transitunlimited.org/Muni_bus_stops , along with unusual fare policy.

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