Friday, March 14, 2014

Email to TTC Re Changing Our Subway Names and Toronto History

I tweeted my outrage about the TTC changing subway line names to incomprehensible numbers to @BradTTC and our new TTC Chair Maria Augimeri. Brad Ross, the Head of Communications at the TTC, invited me to email my feedback to wayfinding [at] which I’ve decided to publish here.

Could you envision Toronto City Council changing the name of Yonge Street to 1 Street? Well, this is what the TTC is doing to our subway lines. Subway lines are underground routes for trains carrying people just like streets are routes for cars or bikes or buses carrying people. Our routes were named at the time of their creation, and main route names are rarely if ever changed because of their history and because it would cause major confusion.

Yet this is what the TTC plans on doing with not one but all of its underground routes. Worse, it's changing names to numbers, going from words with meaning to numbers that are inherently meaningless. Why? To improve navigability. Really? How is going from names that reflect the geography of the streets above, names that have meaning and history, require no memorization to have meaning to the user, and are familiar to every Torontonian no matter how cognitively challenged, to numbers that have zero correlation with the streets above, no history, and no meaning sans memorization, improving navigability?

Isn't it bad enough that Torontonians every few years have to relearn names of major buildings and lose part of their history without the TTC adding to our historical annihilation?

And when numeracy skills continue to be problematic and people hate numbers, how is going to numbers improving navigability?

subway sign 1 line Shireen Jeejeebhoy Mar 2014

If navigation is to be improved it should be improved with those who have the hardest time with it in mind: those of us with brain injury, memory issues, navigation issues. Changing names to numbers makes it immensely challenging. When I look at the new signage (see pictures), even though I'm fully aware "1" is a substitute for Yonge-University-Spadina, only the direction as stated in words eg "southbound", is clear to me. "1" has no meaning, and so I'm lost. And especially when I look at the big wide sign (see picture) I ask: Is this the subway line I'm supposed to be on? Where is the name of the line?!!

With only 2.5 lines and a stump RT at the end, it's hard enough. But if we had a robust world-class network like the New York system, it would be impossible to know where I was or to correlate with the above-ground city geography. We orient ourselves outside best. We can only orient ourselves underground by having a name connection that obviously links under to above. Numbers do not. At all.

I used the New York and London subways before my brain injury. I found the use of numbers and letters to name the NY lines obfuscating. I had to memorize in order to orient myself. And even though I had a photographic memory back then, it was still ridiculously too hard for just wanting to visit. And as a tourist, I often thought only the locals could navigate the NY system easily. In contrast, London using names made it easier, even when those names had no connection to the city above, like the Circle Line. At least I knew if I missed my stop, I could stay on and it would circle back around. I wouldn't have remembered that and been even more panicked if it had been named 10.

southbound subway line 1 sign Shireen Jeejeebhoy March 2014Numbers gain meaning and are understood through association with words. Names have meaning in and of themselves. No memorization required when use word names unlike numbers or letters. Calling "southbound" "1" is as meaningful as calling Yonge-University-Spadina line "1". 1 only makes sense if a person *can* memorize.

Brain injury is a hidden epidemic, people with memory problems are more numerous than you would think, changing to numbers is causing all sorts of upset.

Changing our history is just outrageous.

And one last note: I know my south from my west at least. But [someone I know] constantly gets all those mixed up. When she can't memorize numbers and has no clue where southbound will take her, how is this "new" "improved" signage going to increase her ability to get around? It won't. It'll make it much harder. This is the opposite of inclusive. Accessibility isn't just about wheelchairs, it's also about cognition.

Best regards,

Shireen Jeejeebhoy


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