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Very Bad Bus Signs and How to Make Them Better

Clear wayfinding displays can help bus riders feel more confident, and give a whole city’s public transportation system an air of greater authority.
State of the art: a bus sign in Paris.
State of the art: a bus sign in Paris.Shutterstock

Of all the challenges that riding the bus can present to riders, few seem as easy to correct as abysmal signage. From simple omissions of useful facts, to total illegibility, to plain nonexistence, bad signs are pervasive in public transit. Rail systems are no stranger to this—looking at you, Penn Station—but the problem is especially rampant in city bus systems, which often get the least amount of aesthetic and infrastructural attention from their municipal overseers.  

When I put out a call on Twitter for examples of transit signage fails, I received a host of offenders from coast to coast. In San Francisco—a “transit first” city—bus route numbers are spray-painted in tiny font onto adjacent, often weathered telephone poles. In Tampa, some bus stop signs consist of stumpy metal flags planted in tire-shaped weights. Wichita, Kansas,* has signs that are simply repurposed street parking placards; in Nashville, bus signs don’t even mention which routes appear there. Pittsburgh has bus signs that don’t mention the name of the transit agency. And the lack of wayfinding infrastructure at transit stations in Denver leaves riders wandering vast plains of asphalt.