Visitors to the capital may have been surprised by the use of “minutes” to measure distance on many pedestrian signs. Metric Views has now come across correspondence between Ronnie Cohen and Transport for London (TfL) that provides the explanation.
On 12 July 2016, Ronnie Cohen wrote to the Transport Commissioner, Mike Brown, about signs provided to help us get around in London, and enclosed a copy of a Metric Views article entitled, ”Inconsistent and confusing distances on public signs“. Here is Ronnie’s letter:
I would like to raise the issue of muddled public signage for pedestrians and transport users in London. I wrote about this issue in June 2012 on the Metric Views website and enclose a copy of my article for you. Millions of tourists visit London every year from all parts of the world and we surely cannot expect them to be familiar with Britain’s archaic, medieval measurements.
Please replace all public transport and pedestrian TfL signs showing yards and miles with signs showing metres and kilometres for the benefit of tourists.
Everyone will benefit from the use of consistent information about distances to places in London. The metric system is used all over the world and has language-neutral symbols for metric units (e.g. “m” for metres, “km” for kilometres, etc.), which do not require translation. As the metric system is now used in all countries in the world, all tourists are bound to be familiar with metres and kilometres.
The modern metric system is now universally used in all countries. It would improve London’s image and show that this city is not living in the imperial past. It would bring London into line with the rest of Europe and the British Commonwealth. All Londoners and visitors will benefit from consistent, universally understood signage in modern metric units.
The views expressed by Ronnie are, of course, his own.
Here is TfL’s reply, dated 18 March 2016:
Signage on our network
Thank you for your letter of 8 February to Mike Brown MVO about signage on our network. Mike has asked me to reply and I am sorry for the delay in doing so.
We are committed to providing Londoners with useful, consistent and accurate information. In 2009, we introduced Legible London to help people navigate at street level.
We work with a range of organisations to ensure Legible London designs are as inclusive as possible. For example, the Legible London maps show steps, pavement widths and pedestrian crossings. Further information on Legible London can be found here:
Research by the London School of Economics on our behalf highlighted that 90 per cent of people were keen to see more Legible London signs introduced. The evidence also suggests people value distances shown on a minute basis. The minutes on our signs are based on an average walking speed and these are tested to make sure they are realistic.
Our design standards used by our staff, suppliers and design agencies are available on our website. These ensure that our information and communication is consistent. You can find our standards here:
The cost to update all the signs at the same time would be prohibitive. However, we are listening to our customers and we will continue to ensure that new signs, including those that are updated as part of our improvement programmes, will be consistent and use the minutes-based format.
Managing Director, Customers, Communication and Technology”
So there you have it. Pedestrian signage does not have to use a particular system of measurement. So long as the signs have planning permission or are authorised under other legislation, any units may be used.
UKMA’s view on the legal position regarding the measurement units used on signs appears here: http://www.ukma.org.uk/road-signage/are-metric-signs-legal