Cincinnati Streetcar Signage

Cincinnati Streetcar Signage

As a matter to general principle, I’m always pro-transit. Honestly, though? These snazzy new streetcar signs [complete with QR codes!] are a funny sight in a city whose actual transit system could use serious design help. I know the funding is coming from a different source, yadda yadda, but this is a bit redonc to see.

When we first moved here five years ago, Metro bus stops were designated by faded paint stripes on utility poles. This has been slowly replaced by actual signage, which is helpful [well, except for the outskirts of the city, which still feature paint stripes for bus stops that no longer exist, and some stops with no signage]. The route maps were and are confusing, and only work if you’re already familiar with the city’s layout and major arteries.

The system in general is so frustrating. Drivers don’t advise on transfers. They run red lights, and don’t stop for passengers. There was one time when my driver stopped mid-route and went to McDonald’s, while the passengers waited for her to finish her lunch. Oh, I only ended up being 30 minutes late to my destination. Buses do or don’t come on time, seemingly without any accountability. There seems to be a “transit of last resort” culture surrounding the bus system, which means that quality of service is not necessarily important. [I have to mention that my comments ignore the positive experiences I have had, just to make a point.]

We moved to Cincinnati from Boston, and the MBTA has a “customer bill rights” and a “write to the top” policy [I wrote to the top several times, and my questions were always thoughtfully answered by senior officials].

So, here we are, with sleek new maps for a system that doesn’t exist, in a city whose public transportation could use a ton of help, starting with more sleek information design. Hmm.


17 thoughts on “Cincinnati Streetcar Signage

  1. It has to start with the citizens of the city demanding more. I think Metro has made strides, but man, there is a long way to go.
    When I heard they were putting up streetcar signs I was grimacing, just one more opportunity for transit foes to throw stones. For some reason there is a whole segment of people, the majority of which I don’t believe even live in the city who are invested in the status quo and fight improvements at every step.
    It gets depressing slogging through this fight constantly.

  2. I hope I’m not throwing stones here. I don’t have a problem with the various pro-streetcar initiatives or the streetcar as a whole. These maps, I think, serve as another important way to help potential riders visualize the plan.

    It’s just frustrating to see this, knowing how helpful it would be for bus stops to have route maps [plus a whole host of other needed improvements, only some of which have to do with design].

    Schwartz, you’re right that Metro has made improvements over the past few years, but there’s a lot that can and should be done as well.

  3. And a good point is made. How many riders have we lost on Metro over the past few years? Sure, we can chalk up high gas prices to increased ridership, but we need to encourage more people to just simply drive less and take the bus more despite the price factor. But that won’t happen when buses run their stops, cut through traffic, and have outdated fare systems.

    Granted that the new fare systems are a lot better, they still leave out the important debit/credit card option, which is a very much desired addition that other metros have.

    Build up the service we already have. It’s a system that works, but needs major improvements. Stop with the gimmicks and the “hybrid” buses that cost a lot more and do nothing to solve the poor transit times, the outdated fare systems, the lack of easy transfers, the connection issues with TANK, the lack of bus shelters, the lack of good and reliable signage, et. al.

    FWIW, I stopped using Metro after I had some poor experiences with the ride.

  4. Its sad that the name of the transit org, SORTA kind of describes the culture of it. They at the very least need to change the acronym if they are going to be serious about providing more than sorta a transit system.

  5. Also it can still be an effective transit system without rail. When I was in Seattle I was amazed at how good the busses were for getting around. Like Cincy, Seattle is hilly and doesn’t really have a good street grid. Yet everywhere there were express and local busses running at all times. It was a tad confusing but with Google Maps, I pretty much always found a route that could effciently get me to where I needed to go.

    SORTA should study this.

  6. critiquing the Metro system for its quality of service is like critiquing a cripple for not being a good runner.

    The appallingly inadequate amount of funding that the service receives (that continually gets cut year after year) is directly proportional to its ability to properly service the area.

    Have you had a chance to check out Nate Wessel’s guide to Cincinnati Transit?

    It’s a guide to the bus system that was created after a young designer decided to do something to help the system – completely pro-bono – after hearing so many complaints.

    An inspiration to us all.

  7. Come on, it SORTA gets you where you need to go, right?

    Jenny, this is a service that people use, and I don’t think it’s unfair to critique the quality of service experienced. “Cripple,” though? Wow, what a word choice.

    Some of these issues relate directly to funding, while some I suspect stem from the culture surrounding the bus system. Courtesy, for instance, doesn’t require money or training. Of course, that goes both ways — riders aren’t necessarily courteous to drivers. I also don’t believe that these issues have to do with the specific mode of transit, and I have experienced better bus systems elsewhere.

    But, back to design — I have seen Nate’s project, and I think it’s great that he has stepped up with his own solution to a problem he’s experienced. On the one hand, I wish that people didn’t have to go through that much trouble to fix what shouldn’t even be an issue. On the other hand, I really admire his commitment to doing this!

  8. The entire issue plays into a much larger debate surrounding public funding and subsidy for transit – adequate transit in other cities is prioritized and subsidized (though not to the extent of cars, roads and highways) – there’s this perception that public transportation should pay for itself, and that’s just not going to happen.

    In a quasi-conservative city like Cincinnati you have a vicious downward spiral – policy makers cut transit funding (which they did by 30 percent to this year’s budget), and the transit service is forced to make cuts to routes, frequency, and staff – which they did this year. The result is a lower quality of service, which results in a lower ridership, which results in lower revenues, which “proves” the point of transit being a “money-suck” and “unnecessary.”

    It seems to me that SORTA has so many issues on its plate that unfortunately design, signage, and user experience gets pushed to the bottom.

    It would be wonderful if they were able to get a one time stimulus of a few million to make the upgrades they (and we) so desperately need – but until then I have a hard time adding fuel to the fire of an agency that is already struggling so much. More than anything they need support – and projects like Nate’s are a great step in the right direction.

    I think it would be fantastic if SORTA held a pro-bono contest for local designers for signage revamping – or even if the design schools dealt with it as a studio.

  9. Metro is funded primarily by the City of Cincinnati earnings tax, so there is very little service outside the city limits within Hamilton County. Countywide transit taxes have been defeated at the polls in 1970, 1979, 1980, and 2002. Every time the opposition campaigns have been dirty and every time the media sided with them. Those who have led these anti-transit campaigns have been rewarded politically. For example, Stephan Louis, who led the anti-Metro Moves campaign in 2002, was rewarded for his dirty work (he was reprimanded by the Ohio Elections Commission) by being appointed to SORTA’s board…right alongside Tom Luken. The media never reported that Louis was never the man he said he was — he said he was a “medical devices salesman”, when in fact he was a LaRosa’s pizza deliveryman. Yes, we had a pizza man on SORTA’s board for several years in the mid-2000’s, serving next to the old man who fought for years to disband OKI (federal law would never allow that, but the local media nevertheless reported it as a possibility).

    Also, the suburban express buses from Butler, Warren, and Clermont counties are paid by their respective county transit agencies. Getting all of the OKI counties to voluntarily join to form a BART-like agency will never happen. This shit has to change at the federal level.

  10. Jenny and Jake, thanks so much for your detailed comments. I don’t agree with the idea of a design contest, but a partnership with a DAAP studio seems like a great idea, especially if there were also a grant to implement the design improvements.

    In the interest of full disclosure, we were involved in the stimulus funding application that resulted in the “One for Fun” hybrid buses. You can see our contribution here. It was a quick design project and just one small part of the over all application., but we really enjoyed working on something that could tangibly affect our own lives here in Cincinnati.

  11. Rob, check out the link in my previous comment — we developed two potential design directions for the bus exterior, interior and corresponding bus stop signage, which were included as part of the application for federal funding.

  12. Hahahahahaha, that’s exactly what happened to me! I was only, you know, trying to get to work in the morning. If I’d known about the McDonald’s run beforehand, I could have gotten out and walked the rest of the way.

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