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.
"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.