According to Legible London, an initiative led by Transport for London, all existing pedestrian direction signs in London will be replaced by 2015 with new wayfinding signs. The enamelled monolith-style signs will have maps as well as directions and distances in “minutes”.
In their 2006 wayfinding study, Legible London described the situation of pedestrian signage as, “Distance Information. Minutes, miles, metres or yards? Across the systems there are inconsistencies which can be confusing for a pedestrian”. For their new wayfinding system distances are shown only in “minutes”.
Prototype signs have been installed in the West End. The maps on the signs have no scale, but do have a circle labelled in “minutes walk”. The implication is that all places within the circle can be walked to within the time shown. This is quite misleading as roads mostly do not lead in straight lines from the centre of the circle to its circumference.
The distances to various points of interest are also listed on the signs in “minutes”. Hopefully these walking times have not been calculated “as the crow flies” too.
No indication is given of the walking speed used to calculate walking times. Walking speeds vary widely between individuals, and are dependent on prevailing conditions such as weather and how crowded the streets are. Anyone who walks particularly slowly, is disabled, has children with them, or is walking in wintry conditions will have to guess how to adjust the times shown accordingly. Consequently, the figures shown can really only be used in comparison with each other, and not as an absolute guide. Surely it would be more useful to show distances using standard units of distance rather than improvised units based on time.
Metres are widely understood by both visitors and Londoners alike; whereas feet, yards and fractions of miles are unfamiliar to the majority of overseas visitors. With OS maps using a metric grid system since the 1940s, and other London travel maps using metric scales, one has to wonder at the continued reluctance of authorities to use the metre as a unit of distance on signage in the 21st century. Transport for London are missing a golden opportunity here to standardise on metres for all pedestrian signage.
Feedback on the new signs is being invited at the following link.